Götz Piesbergen of Warp-Core.de has written a review (in German) of my 2002 Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers novella War Stories Book 2. It’s a very nice review, based on what Google Translate tells me, with particular praise for how I wrote Commander Salek, which was nice to see.
Not the Avengers movie, not the Highlander movie, but instead the last episode of Voyager: time travel shenanigans, Borg, alternate futures, babies being born, and lots of questionable decisions. The Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch plays the “Endgame.”
Even if you ignore the very un-Trek-like message of this misbegotten finale, it’s still a big ol’ mess. Bringing the Borg back again was probably as inevitable to the writing staff as bringing back Q was for TNG’s “All Good Things…” But all having the Borg here does is remind us how ineffectual the Borg have become as bad guys, starting very early on when Voyager flies within ten meters of a Borg Cube and the Queen just lets them go for no compellingly good reason. Once again, the Queen is a mustache-twirling villain, this time actively disobeying the Evil Overlord Rules as Admiral Janeway is able to run rings around her in a manner that is totally unconvincing. (“I can beat you because I’m from the future” is extremely lame when we’re talking about the Borg.)
A look back at the good, the bad, and the awesome of the very-much-improved second season of Star Trek: Lower Decks, with more badass Boimler, more animated series references, less of Mariner saving the day, and fewer (if still too many) dumb office-sitcom plots. Plus Kimolu and Matt!
They manage to eat their cake and have it too by having Shaxs return in “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris,” but his method of coming back from the dead is shrouded in secrecy. This is exactly the sort of gag that Lower Decks does particularly well, taking a cliché from Trek and shining a funny light on it. Boimler and Mariner are both very blasé about Shaxs’ resurrection, because it’s just something that always happens to the bridge crew. (Witness McCoy in “Shore Leave,” Scotty in “The Changeling,” Spock in The Search for Spock, Picard in “Tapestry,” O’Brien in “Visionary,” Kim in “Deadlock,” Lorca in “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” etc., etc., etc.) And it means we get to keep Shaxs, whom I adore.
For its penultimate episode, Voyager decided to do one last spotlight on the EMH, as we get disguises, subterfuge, acrobatics, the Emergency Command Hologram, multiple EMHs on the holodeck, and the return of the Potato People! The Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch meets a “Renaissance Man.”
We’ve only got one episode left, and Robert Picardo is pretty much the breakout star of the series, so it seems fitting that he gets one final vehicle. He gets to sing opera, he gets to be the ECH one more time, he gets to histrionically confess his sins, and he gets to be repentant, yet still improve his relationship with Janeway. The rivalry between him and Paris gets two final acknowledgments, the first with the EMH being forced to kiss him while disguised as Torres, the second when Paris rather bitterly asks if the EMH has anything he wants to confess to him (he doesn’t, though Paris very obviously thinks he should, dagnabbit).
It’s Neelix’s swan song which, on the one hand, is very constructed and requires a huge suspension of disbelief, but on the other hand, is incredibly sweet and touching and feel-good-ish. And hey, Tuvok dances! (Kind of….) The Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch goes to the ol’ “Homestead.”
And while that’s nice, it also doesn’t entirely ring right. Neelix has completely embraced the notion of being part of Voyager’s crew, right up to the top of this episode when he’s painstakingly re-created the bar scene in First Contact. (Minus the tequila, anyhow…) Yet all of a sudden, he decides to stay with these people. Admittedly, Dexa’s probably a big part of that, and it ultimately is a very nice little happy ending for a character who has not been particularly well served by the writing staff over the past seven years.
The second season finale of Star Trek: Lower Decks has Captain Sonya Gomez! Captain Freeman Day! Tendi fearing for her career! Rutherford having a malfunction! Boimler saving the day! Mariner being a pain in the ass! Cetacean Ops! And a big-ass technobabble problem with a bigger-ass technobabble solution! My review of “First First Contact.”
However, my favorite part of this episode is when they go to Cetacean Ops. Established as part of the Enterprise-D in, among other places, the Enterprise-D blueprints by Rick Sternbach, it was never seen on screen mainly for budgetary reasons. It’s staffed a couple of dolphins, who help with navigation. After decades of wishing we could see it, Lower Decks (which already mentioned Cetacean Ops twice) finally shows it to us, and also gives me my two new favorite Starfleet characters, the dolphins Kimolu and Matt. These two are hilarious (they keep wanting everyone to join them for a swim, especially Rutherford and his broad shoulders, and they provided most of the funniest lines in the episode).
Chakotay and Seven crash yet another shuttle, and they commune with the locals. It’s one of Trek‘s few portrayals of Indigenous people that doesn’t make me cringe, though it still screws up the ending. The Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch must obey “Natural Law.”
Where it falls down is in the ending. There are serious Prime Directive issues here, and the episode half-asses it. The problem is that the violation has already happened: Chakotay and Seven have exposed the Ventu to people outside the barrier that was placed around their home, and the Ledosians finally have access to that continent again. The final solution is one that involves Voyager making a decision that is contrary to the decision that the Ledosians have made. And it’s an attempt to put toothpaste back in the tube, which is exactly as messy as that sounds.
Here’s the problem: nobody talks to the Ventu. Chakotay has already figured out enough of their language to at least have rudimentary conversations. The Ventu are the ones who are supposed to be protected, yet nobody actually asks them what they want. Up until the end, the script did a great job of showing that the Ventu are self-sufficient and worthy of being considered a proper civilization, yet when it counts, nobody bothers to give them any agency in a major decision about their future.
For 2021, KRAD COVID readings is covering the only short fiction I didn’t read in 2020: my novellas for the Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers series, a monthly series of eBooks that ran from 2000-2007. I’ll have a new reading every #TrekTuesday.
This week we continue the landmark 100th installment of the series, and also the last story in the S.C.E. cycle: Many Splendors. Part of the “What’s Past” event done to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Trek in 2006, this story chronicled the Gomez-Duffy romance on board the U.S.S. Enterprise-D, and also provides an engine-room’s-eye view of the second through fifth seasons of The Next Generation.
In Part 2, we see the events of “Pen Pals,” “Q Who,” and “Peak Performance” from Gomez’s perspective, as she starts to come into her own as an engineer.
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In honor of Indigenous People’s Day, I present three of my rewatch articles from Tor.com that cover the subject of how Indigenous folk were treated in episodes of the original Star Trek, the 1966 Batman, and Star Trek: Voyager.
Star Trek‘s “The Paradise Syndrome“
And that’s not even getting into the racist hogwash. Kirk is amnesiac, but he can still perform CPR, come up with a canal network, create lamps out of pottery, and leap tall buildings in a single bound. Meanwhile, the locals are so stupid that Miramanee is stumped when confronted with the notion of taking off Kirk’s shirt, and they go from zero to stone-the heretic as soon as a storm hits and Kirk can’t get into the obelisk. The setup of the Preservers saving a race from extinction is one that could shine a light on genocide, but instead we just get the standard white-folks-are-smart-Indians-are-savages horseshit.
More problematic is Chief Screaming Chicken. There’s a fine line between satire and offensive stereotyping, and this episode just keeps dancing all over it. Mind you, there are some brilliant moments. The genuine American Indian blankets made in Japan bit is hilarious, and Batman’s story about Screaming Chicken’s time as a bottlewasher when someone told him to go back where he came from, and Robin sadly notes that this country is where he came from is a biting bit. But there’s the egg-scruciating thing where Screaming Chicken talks like a not-too-bright five-year-old. The fact that it was, at this point, pretty well entrenched in screen portrayals of Natives (especially in comedy) doesn’t make it any less horrible.
Star Trek: Voyager‘s “Tattoo“
In order to apologize for centuries of oppression and war and genocide, and for many decades of portrayal in popular culture as inferior, we instead get New Age environmentalism. As a result, we get shiny happy Indigenous people who commune with nature and are pure and wonderful, which is just as patronizing an attitude as viewing them as technologically inferior savages was, albeit one that’s at least, y’know, nicer. It comes from a better place, but it’s still self-righteous, prejudicial nonsense.
Voyager seeks out a probe that 21st-century Earth sent out into the galaxy. They find it, and a planet devastated by a nuclear winter that they blame Earth for. Along the way, we get a totally gratuitous death. The Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch is really really annoyed by “Friendship One.”
I hated this episode in 2001, and I hate it more twenty years later, because I’ve learned that show-runner Kenneth Biller apparently specifically told scripters Michael Taylor and Bryan Fuller that it was okay to kill off a recurring character in this one. First off, Voyager has so few recurring characters that this seems silly. The others they considered were Wildman and Tal, and I really wish in some ways they had gone with Wildman, because then, goddammit, there would have been consequences, as Wildman’s daughter Naomi is one of the few characters who’s actually had character development, and her mother’s death might have had an impact beyond the scope of this episode.
On top of that, the death is just so badly handled. We’ve seen twenty-fourth-century medicine perform all kinds of things, yet the EMH just stands there with his thumb up his ass when Carey is beamed aboard and declares him dead. Paris made more of an effort in this episode to save Brin’s child, yet no heroic efforts are made to even try to save Carey. (We won’t even get into the fact that Seven’s nanoprobes—which are being used right here in this episode to cure the aliens—aren’t used to try to revive him the way they were for Neelix in “Mortal Coil.”)