Voyager rewatch – 6.07 “Dragon’s Teeth”

In a bit of a Prime Directive oopsie, Voyager revives some genocide survivors from suspended animation, then leaves them to die again.

SO FIRST OF ALL, you should know that I watched this episode out of order. As of the time of writing, I was a few days out from recording an episode of Random Trek, and this was my assigned random episode. I expect I’ll come back to this post and revise it after I’ve discussed it with Scott.

ANYWAY.

“Dragon’s Teeth” brings us back to three of Voyager‘s recurring themes: history — it’s not just a fixed set of facts! And helping people in need: it’s better if you just don’t.¬† And, unfortunately, Is it possible these genocide victims were asking for it?

This is actually a really meaty episode, rendered lightweight only by the total failure of the series to follow up. It feels like we’re introducing a new, complicated set of antagonists in the Vaadwaur and Turei, people who — given the expanse of the “underspace” corridors — could plausibly be with us for the rest of the series to come.

But no! This is Voyager, where Rick Berman and UPN have combined their powers to ensure as little serialisation as possible. And that’s a shame, because the Vaadwaur opened up some fun and interesting issues that could have been explored if we had seen them again.

Voyager’s history wars claim yet another episode

Don’t get me wrong, I really do like Voyager‘s frequent examination of history, memory, revisionism and propaganda. Here, the Vaadwaur initially seem to have been forgotten — save for a word in the Talaxian “Old Tongue” that means “fool”. Neelix assumes this is an insult directed at the Vaadwaur, only to conduct research into Talaxian folk tales and, via Seven of Nine, Borg databases, and realise that, in fact, anyone trusting the Vaadwaur is the fool.

One thing I particularly appreciate with this story is that Neelix’s research doesn’t end with Talaxian folk tales. I mean, imagine someone researching Jewish history exclusively through the lens of medieval fairy tales — that’s gonna end badly. Neelix demonstrates good research practices: he recognises the value of folk tales, but also seeks out contemporanous records, where possible, and then Janeway speaks to the people themselves. Who are like, “Okay, yes, we were absolutely imperialist assholes, and maybe we haven’t changed and don’t intend to, but that doesn’t mean we deserve to be wiped out!”

Which is fair! “Dragon’s Teeth” doesn’t specifically explore the fact that the Vaadwaur have only¬†barely escaped a genocide (and may not make it much past the end credits), but it’s an undeniable fact, even if the script keeps it subtextual. (“Don’t mention the genocide” is an extremely 2024 vibe.) I wish the script had been more overt, if only because “these people are assholes and yet they deserve to live” is a nuance I appreciate, what with being the descendant of imperialist assholes.

Helping people? Best not to bother

I’m not going to suggest that Star Trek: Voyager is deliberately following in the footsteps of Ayn Rand and other libertarian thinkers, but from the very first episode of the series, there has been a decided theme that helping others always comes at a cost — to yourself, but also to them.

The Ocampa stagnate because the Caretaker protects them from the Kazon. Voyager cannot give the Kazon the means to create water because they need to bootstrap their way to self-sufficiency, dammit. Helping refugees displaced by the Borg leads them to become demanding and unreasonable.

Here, Janeway’s instinct is that someone in the ruined city might need help, and Seven — driven by curiosity and, she eventually confesses, a desire to rebuild rather than destroy a civilisation — reawakens the Vaadwaur, triggering the political destabilisation of potentially the whole quadrant. And they’re not even grateful, the bastards!

Part of the problem, I suspect, comes from Voyager‘s premise: not just that they’re alone in an unfamiliar part of space, but they’re alone among hostile aliens. This is something that came up a lot in early discussions of the series — the alpha quadrant felt safe and familiar; Voyager would be in a part of space where no one knew of or respected the Federation, which mad the ship vulnerable in a way the Enterprise was not.

And there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this idea, except that you pair it with the misguided notion of modelling the Kazon on LA gangs, and suddenly you have a series about a nice, white lady locking her doors and avoiding eye contact with carjackers as she drives through a poor non-white dangerous neighbourhood. Six years of stories about paranoid, xenophobic, demanding or merely dangerous aliens add up, especially when it feels like every second distress call turns out to be a trap.

And then there’s the genocide thing. Again

You may recall that I was pretty unimpressed with “Living Witness”, another episode which suggests that maybe the victims of a near-genocide should have been nicer to their oppressors.

“Dragon’s Teeth” comes at it from another angle (“What if the genociders had a really good reason?”) but I still don’t care for it.

Both episodes had Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky involved in writing, and I’m just gonna go out on a limb and suggest that maybe they did not have the intellectual or emotional background to explore these themes with nuance.

But here’s what I did like!

Braga and Menosky were involved at a story level with “Dragon’s Teeth”, but the script is Michael Taylor’s, and you can tell. This episode has a few things in common with “Counterpoint”, and not just because the Devore Imperium gets a shout out.

For one, he continues to be very good at getting into the heads of fascists. The Vaadwaur are throwing up red flags even before Naomi reports that their kids are super racist — but the clues aren’t so obvious that they can’t be overlooked.

For another, he loves a twist, and his Janeway is always one step ahead of her adversaries. (So is his Sisko; never forget that Taylor wrote “In The Pale Moonlight”.) Just as you think Janeway’s about to get carjacked again, she anticipates the proposed hijacking of Voyager and stops it before it begins. The Vaadwaur may look like cobras, but Taylor’s Janeway is a snake in the best possible way.

This is also a great Neelix episode. “Not a high bar to clear,” you might scoff, but Taylor’s script and Phillips’s performance thread a very fine needle — Neelix is doing all his usual Neelix things, being a bit of a buffoon, caring for Naomi, representing the diplomatic face of Voyager, while also driving the plot and building dramatic tension. It’s easy to write a great Neelix episode when he’s being dark and dramatic — just look at “Jetrel” or “Mortal Coil”. Writing him in Regular Neelix Mode without having him become annoying or overweening? That’s the real challenge.

Other observations

  • “Be a good rat and find us the cheese.” Janeway, you CANNOT talk to your subordinates like that. Mere text cannot convey the lasciviousness in Mulgrew’s voice. Starfleet HR is going to have conniptions when she gets home.
  • naturally we only see one Vaadwaur female, but don’t worry, she can walk through rubble in high heels without falling over!
  • so can Jeri Ryan — I have to ask, how was this not a workplace health and safety issue?
  • I can’t believe they put so much work into designing the Vaadwaur and we’re just never going to see them again
  • the early scenes with Voyager finding the ruined city and recognising the nuclear winter feels TOS-like in a good way

In conclusion

This is a frustrating episode, because it’s really very good, and yet also inconsequential. Three ruined cities out of five.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *