Voyager rewatch 6.09 – “The Voyager Conspiracy”

In which Seven briefly goes full QAnon

Star Trek is inconsistent about a lot of things. Stardates. Warp speed. Whether or not you can beam through shields. The Vietnam War.

But across the whole franchise, Star Trek has had an unchanging skepticism of conspiracy theorists. Even when they’re right (see TNG’s “Conspiracy”, Raffi Musiker’s entire arc in Star Trek: Picard), obsession with conspiracy is always depicted as coming at a terrible personal cost.

Maybe that’s because Star Trek is also a fairly complacent franchise, and one that doesn’t encourage its characters or viewers to think too hard about the political structure of the Federation or the fact that the space being “discovered” is already occupied by other beings. But in 2024, in a “post-reality” political climate where everything from vaccines to mobile phone technology to pizza shops are part of an evil plot, a bit of conspiracy skepticism feels refreshing.

Which brings us to “The Voyager Conspiracy”. It’s 1999, and Star Trek has belatedly noticed that The X-Files is wildly popular and launched a whole lot of spin-offs and imitators in its wake. (One, the alternative history Dark Skies, starred Jeri Ryan herself.) And who doesn’t love a conspiracy drama?

There’s a theory — a reasonable one, I think — that people get sucked into conspiracy theories because they’re bombarded with information and overwhelmed trying to sort truth from fiction. There are other factors, of course — social isolation, a sense of powerlessness, mistrust in institutions — but if you’re, say, isolated at home for most of 2020 due to a pandemic and spending all your time doomscrolling, you might find yourself trying to assemble a coherent narrative out of the unrelated and messy threads of real life spooling out before you.

Which is basically what happens to Seven: in an effort to improve efficiency, she bombards herself with context-free data and does a normal-citizen-to-crackpot speedrun. She has an elaborate set-up using Borg technology; these days we have Twitter for that.

But this is a good Seven story. She acts in good faith throughout, and her final conspiracy theory is revealing: on some level, and not all that subconsciously, she’s afraid that on reaching the alpha quadrant, she’ll be dissected for parts. A more adept show might tie this in with Ransom’s treatment of her in “Equinox” part 2. From the contemporary perspective, it feels like unintentional foreshadowing of the experience of xBs in Picard.

Hey, you know what this is not? A good story for Janeway or Chakotay

The idiot ball

I can only assume that Tuvok had custody of the command braincell this week, because Janeway and Chakotay are super cute and shippy in their interactions (dinner! flirting! threatening with phasers! yes, that’s cute, why do you ask?) but they’re absolute idiots when it comes to. You know. The actual plot.

I mean, maybe this is my 2024 perspective, but if my coworker or friend came to me with news of an elaborate conspiracy being enacted against me by our colleague or boss, I’d have questions. Chakotay at least attempts to verify Seven’s claims — Janeway not so much. They go from zero to phasers at dawn absurdly fast, and never once stop to, oh, I dunno, have a conversation?

There’s a problem with introducing this sort of conspiracy drama into a setting as isolated as Voyager. Conspiracy stories work best with faceless men in the shadows, lurking behind a cloud of cigarette smoke or concealed by their membership of the admiralty. There’s no one faceless on Voyager. Everyone is decidedly be-faced. Which leaves me shouting, “BUT YOU KNOW EACH OTHER! YOU ALLEGEDLY TRUST EACH OTHER!” at the TV.

(Again, this could have tied in with “Equinox”, but even then, the sheer scale of the conspiracies Seven constructs is so absurd, and the goals so obscure, that it simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.)

The script attempts to hang a lantern on this by giving Chakotay and Janeway space to be embarrassed by their behaviour, but it’s far too little, way too late.

Other observations

  • Scarlett Pomers is excellent as always, especially conveying Naomi’s fear when Seven turns on her
  • I don’t wanna scare anyone, but there are multiple conversations about Kes this episode
  • And a lot of footage — maybe too much — from “Caretaker”

In conclusion

I don’t think this is a bad episode, but Voyager is simply the wrong setting for a conspiracy drama of this type. As a character study for Seven, it’s marvellous, but the plot doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Two and a half mysterious tractor beams out of five.

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