Voyager rewatch 6.11 – “Fair Haven”

In which Janeway’s new sex toy gets clingy and makes a scene.

There are two problems with this episode: its treatment of sex and romance, and its Disneyfied Ireland.

Let’s do the latter first.

“the 1830s but without all the racists”

That’s when Taylor Swift says she’d like to have lived, and frankly I have questions. Like, what else but racism was happening in the 1830s? Does she just really love leg-of-mutton sleeves? She knows about the Opium Wars, right?

Tom Paris’s Fair Haven seems to exist,¬† not in the 1830s (but without all the racists) but a nebulous late 19th century. The town has trains, but there’s no sign of famine, mass emigration, poverty, exploitation, sectarian divisions or the English.

For the record, my heritage is mostly Scots-English, but I do have some Irish ancestors. One was sent to Australia as a convict in the 1870s after he protested the mistreatment of tenant farmers by burning his landlord’s house down. (The landlord was inside.) (My ancestor’s wife and young children were also sent to Australia, as the authorities felt that being overrun with Irish Catholics was overall preferable to deepening the gender imbalance and running the risk of homosexuality.)

It’s a mistake to reduce Ireland’s rich and complex history to nothing but violence and disasters, but it’s equally erroneous to present Ireland as a peaceful, uncomplicated land of amiable, not-too-bright stereotypes. “Fair Haven” is not the worst thing to happen to Ireland, a country which has endured Oliver Cromwell, multiple famines, the English in general, civil war, the Troubles, Bono and the cancellation of Derry Girls. But it’s not great.

What’s especially strange about this whole situation is that it seems like Fair Haven was created as a “gift” to Kate Mulgrew, who had spent the preceding summer in Ireland and met her then-fianc√© there. Mulgrew seems deeply connected with her Irish roots in a way that’s unique to Irish Americans and frankly rather odd to my Australian eyes. It’s common knowledge that she was rather dissatisfied with her work around this time, and Fair Haven — and the whole “romance” — seems like a strategy to keep her onboard. But I do have to ask: why and how and what were they thinking?

Okay. Onto the sexbot.

Here’s where it gets. Weird.

Way back in season 1 of TNG, there’s an episode where Riker falls in love with a hologram. She was created by aliens to be irresistible to Riker specifically, and it works. On screen. But going forward, characters only fell in love with holograms who were depictions of real people (problematic as that is), so I’m guessing I’m not an outlier when I say it didn’t work for me. Most people can tell the difference between fiction and reality, and as much as some of us (me) joke about being exclusively attracted to fictional characters played by Jason Isaacs, actual Snapewives are relatively rare.

Separately, it has been pretty obvious since season 1 of DS9 that holograms are widely used for sex. This makes more sense to me. It’s not my jam, I have a lot of questions about logistics, hygiene, where the fluids go when you end the program and who cleans up, but I get it. People create technology, people use technology to masturbate. It’s how humans are, and since Star Trek is fiction created by humans, it’s how most Star Trek aliens are.

The problem I have with “Fair Haven” is not that Janeway wants to have sex with a non-sentient hologram. It’s that it’s framed as a romance, and worse, one that involves other people. It’s one thing to own sex toys; it’s another for your sex toys to get drunk, start a bar fight and cry in public because you’ve been prioritising other things. At that point, your masturbation has become a problem for other people.

There’s a joke in here about society’s expectations of women and the fact that Janeway has to perform emotional labour for her sex toy.

And there’s a much more complex and interesting story there, about how Janeway is a serial monogamist who wants, not just sex, but a partner with whom she can give and receive affection, and there is something profoundly tragic about the fact that she feels she cannot have this while also being Voyager’s captain.

(That she cannot have this is presented as an irrefutable fact, which is obviously a reflection of the sexual mores of the 1990s and attitudes to women, sex and power, but it’s also clearly something she herself deeply believes.)

Unfortunately, “Fair Haven” doesn’t really focus on what Janeway wants, why she might get a reasonable facsimile of that from a hologram, or even examining the social consequences of having interactive fictional characters who are almost indistinguishable from real people. It’s more concerned with her adventures with the character customisation screen, the “ethics” of having a customisable sex toy, and playing about with Irish stereotypes.

The closest it comes to nodding at more substantial matters is Janeway wondering if it’s possible to be in a relationship with a hologram, which is quickly dismissed by the Doctor with, “Well, I’m a hologram.” Mate, you’re sentient. There’s a difference.

The cognitive dissonance between the “romance” this episode thinks it is, and the story we actually get, is impossible to resolve. This episode is broken on a fundamental level, even before we get to the bit where all of these holodeck adventures take place while the ship just hunkers down and rides out a storm. Oh yeah, this is all meant to be the A plot.

And worst of all? This is a recurring setting. Oh yes, the nightmare isn’t over yet. In a few weeks’ time, we’ll be going back to Fair Haven.

Other observations

In conclusion

You can skip “Fair Haven” and absolutely nothing of value will be lost. One Irish stereotype out of five.

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