Voyager rewatch 6.08 – “One Small Step”

In which too many cooks spoil the leola root broth.

I should love this episode. I’m a sucker for space program nonsense, and filling the gaps between “now” (whenever “now” is) and the world of the Federation.

In late 1999, early in the first run of Voyager‘s sixth season, I made a list of things I wanted to see in the series. It was a very embarrassing list, so of course I’m going to link it, but there was one specific request which has haunted me through the years:

I wanna see Chakotay on a date with a woman who is what she appears to be, and who will let the relationship go somewhere.  Or Seven — they’d be a cute couple, don’t you think?  I’d love to see Seven on a vision quest. And I want to give Chakotay a chance to play captain and do a good job.

Oh Tiny Liz. Truly you held the monkey’s paw in your hand.

But I had definitely watched “One Small Step” around the time I said that, because this gives us another glimpse of Seven and Chakotay’s relationship, and how he guides her without pressure. And he gets to be a leader here! Does he do a good job? Um.

“One Small Step” should be a nice, straightforward episode. It has a situation, a goal, lessons for characters to learn. It has an amazingly handsome guest star in Phil Morris. Yet it’s ultimately less than the sum of its parts — and the four (FOUR!) different writing credits on the script probably point to why.

The script is credited to Mike Wollaeger, Jessica Scott, Bryan Fuller, and Michael Taylor. Wollaeger and Scott pitched the concept, and it sounds like it was going to be a Chakotay story — or so it is suggested in a fan site’s interview with Robert Beltran. But at some stage the story was revised by Fuller and Taylor, and, well, I’ll let Beltran take it from here:

“Everybody was so impressed and saying what a great script it was; I wasn’t so impressed with it, because it ends up the same way – Seven of Nine saves the day, and Chakotay’s prostrate on the bed and impotent, not able to do anything. It ultimately became all about Seven of Nine appreciating something that she hadn’t appreciated before. And how many times have we all seen that? So to me, it was the same thing dressed up in a different cloth.”

Now, I am no fan of Beltran, and I think his use of “impotent” is very telling, given how much he has complained over the decades about how female characters dominated Voyager. But I think his complaints about season six in general and “One Small Step” in particular are apt — this is a basically competent story, but it’s not doing anything new.

Once again, Star Trek: Voyager wants you to know that history is important, even if it’s not sure why

I am fascinated by Voyager‘s preoccupation with history. People talk about Star Trek as a series driven by STEM, but it’s also very much about the humanities.

But just as “learning to code” isn’t the be-all and end-all of STEM, reverence for history alone isn’t worth much. So it’s annoying that no one — not Janeway, not Chakotay — can really articulate to Seven why history is important. They speak in terms of individuals and hero worship, and Chakotay speaks at length of his lifelong passion for paleontology (which isn’t — I mean — guys), but what does it say about humanity that, in the years leading up to World War 3 and the nuclear devastation, people were exploring Mars? What does this tell us about the state of society in the 21st century compared with the 24th?

The flashbacks to 2032 give us baseball trivia, but little else. It feels like the opening scene of a new season of For All Mankind, except we never learn more.

And Seven’s eulogy for Kelly at the end is so rote that if Jeri Ryan wasn’t so good at conveying subtleties with her face as Seven listens to Kelly’s logs that — well.

I did not know this individual. Had I encountered him while I was a Borg I would have found his technology unworthy of assimilation, but we are more alike than one might think. In a sense, his desire to explore was not unlike a quest for perfection. His contribution helped secure Humanity’s future and in some ways my own.

I mean, this has  real “Connor Roy was interested in politics from an early age” vibes. Kelly’s determination to learn and conduct research, even as he’s trapped in the anomaly with no way to escape, is inspiring and powerful, but did it secure humanity’s future? Uh, no. There’s a disconnect between what has happened on screen and what the script thinks happened on screen, and it’s subtle yet jarring.

Also, Chakotay is just very bad at his job

“I’m gonna disobey the captain’s orders FOR KNOWLEDGE” is the sort of move you can only get away with if you pull it off. If you wind up injured, trapping yourself and your team in a weird and deadly anomaly, well. You kind of suck.

Especially if this bad decision comes on the heels of a conversation where you claim to have spent your entire life putting your dreams (of paleontology, which is, I cannot emphasise enough, a very different thing from history) aside to please others, and specifically cite leaving Starfleet for the Maquis and then serving on Voyager.

At which point, even the most casual viewer might be inclined to ask, “Yes, but what about all the OTHER decades of your adult life?”

Truly, is there anything less sympathetic than a grown man complaining about the outcome of his own choices? And yes, I am also subtweeting Robert “I could leave Voyager … but I won’t” Beltran here.

Other observations

  • The Doctor’s brief mention of a visit to Ar(r)akis IV raises all sorts of fun questions. Like, did he ride a sandworm? Did he get a selfie with the Lisan al Gaib?
  • There is some very fine work from Robert Duncan McNeill as he listens to Kelly’s log citing pilot error and winces in empathy and recognition
  • I know you should never overthink these things, but why is Kelly’s funeral held on the bridge? Did the honour guard carry his torpedo tube coffin all the way down to the torpedo bay?
  • Garrett Wang is usually pretty on top of things, even when he doesn’t have a big part, but he seems to be sleeping with his eyes open in the briefing room scene. It’s little things like this that are making season 6 of Voyager such a drag.

In conclusion

I don’t think Tiny Liz was wrong to want more interaction between Chakotay and Seven. But this isn’t the way to go about it. Two lost NASA command modules out of five.

Leave a Reply

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