The Voyager ConspiracyBy Caillan Davenport
Posted at June 18, 2000 - 12:39 AM GMT
I promised myself that I would never give this order.....that I would never
break up this family, but asking you to stay....would be asking you to die."
- Captain Janeway, "Year of Hell, Part I"
Some of us out there actually like Voyager. Strange but true. Apparently, all we Voyager fans care about is action, action, action, how tight Seven of Nine's catsuit is, and how many times Tom and B'Elanna have had 'intimate relations'. What if I told you that I, and others, think that Voyager is a deep, meaningful series, with an engaging cast of characters, and a strong recurring theme? Given most of the recent commentary on the series, you'd probably think I was mad.
Why can't viewers accept Voyager for what it is, not what they want it to be? There is a conspiracy against Voyager - a conspiracy that paints the series as a mindless action show with little real characterisation, drama or "heart". There are many of us out there who think differently, however. Allow me to present our side of the story.
The overall theme of the series is that of the "family". The characters have grown together as the series has progressed. In "Caretaker", there were two crews on the ship, by "Equinox", there is one distinct family. The writers have created a bond between the characters, and it is a tribute to their talent that episodes such as "Scorpion", "Year of Hell", and "Hunters" deal strongly with the overall theme of "family", whilst creating individual well-crafted stories.
I can see this thematic link branded across almost every Voyager episode - episodes like "Barge of the Dead", which although not explicitly dealing with the crew's journey home, still resonates in terms of B'Elanna's personal journey, and in her relationship with Janeway. "My mother never had a chance to be proud of me," she says to Janeway in a key moment - not only does it reveal the character's personal growth, but also her bond with the Captain. This signals significant development for a character who in "Parallax" punched another officer and wanted nothing to do with the "Starfleet Way". Many on the net have got on their high horse and declared that Voyager suffered because the two crews were not at each other's throats. We Voyager fans, however, see it as character development as it signals the natural progressive blending of the two crews. It's all part of Gene Roddenberry's positive vision of the future.
Let's take a look at Tom Paris - a character whose own personal arc was brought full circle in "Pathfinder". Paris started off as a man nobody cared about, a mercenary, a man spurned by his family and Starfleet. In "Thirty Days" he went from a being a rebel without a cause to a man who had the courage to actually stand up for something he believed in. His super-hero program, "Captain Proton", far from being mindless escapism, actually proves an inspiration to him - for once in his life he stands up to fight the good fight. When Paris laments that Captain Proton can't save the day, B'Elanna chips in with "What about Tom Paris?". "Pathfinder" continues his personal journey - when Admiral Paris says he is proud of his son, I couldn't help but be moved. This is the man who Tom spent years fighting with, and yet their separation has brought them closer together. This is what I mean by "heart": characters that we can care about.
Seven is yet another case in point. Despite all the claims of her 'overuse', the character still embodies the key thematic and dramatic ideals of the series. The theme of "The Journey" is one commonly used in cinema as a metaphor: Voyager is on a literal journey, whilst Seven's is metaphorical, and the two work together and complement each other. Dealing with the transition of an ex-Borg from drone to human being was a daring step for the series to take. Seven's rather flattering outfit is irrelevant to her potential as a character. Ryan's performance transcends her obvious promotional image of a sex symbol, and instead has come to personify the spirit of the series. Episodes such as "The Gift", "Prey", "Retrospect" and "One Small Step" play important parts in her sociological evolution. "One Small Step" itself embraces the human spirit of exploration, and we see this exploration through the eyes of Seven - a poignant moment for all fans of the series.
The strong relationship between the Captain and Seven continues this theme of the "family" - not only does Janeway symbolise the "mother hen", but she is also Seven's mentor. Ever since Seven's "adoption" in "Scorpion, Part II", we have seen their relationship grow. "Hope and Fear" provided an effective book-end to the fourth season, drawing upon the same themes - Janeway represented hope, while Seven symbolised fear; fear of living on a planet full of humans. Yet she adapted. Episodes such as "Drone" and "Someone to watch over me" continued her own personal evolution. "The Voyager Conspiracy" showed that Janeway is able to reach Seven through the bond that exists between them, even in the most desperate circumstances. It is this sort of relationship that has continuously grown and evolved over the series' run that demonstrates why Voyager is indeed a show with "heart".
Voyager comes under a lot of fire for being 'just' an action show. Well, what sci-fi show doesn't need a mix of action, SFX and excitement? For every "Dragon's Teeth", there is a "Remember" - there is a trade-off in both thematic and stylistic elements in the episodes. But also look at episodes such as "Equinox", "Scorpion", "Dark Frontier" and "Living Witness", where the action stems directly from those precious "character moments" and the choices made by the crew. For example, the destruction of the Equinox was motivated by Ransom's desire to save Voyager, the battle scenes in "Scorpion, Part II" were caused by Seven taking Voyager into the realm of Species 8472. Action is an integral part of the show. But so are the characters, and when they are placed in these perilous situations, it heightens our emotional reaction. I cared as much about the fate of Harry Kim in "Scorpion" as I did about Nog in DS9's "The Siege of AR-558". I reacted as strongly to Kes' pyrotechnic departure in "The Gift" as I did to Tasha Yar's death at the hands of Armus. Is there a genuine conspiracy over Voyager? Of course not. But on the Internet there seems to be this relentless vendetta against Voyager. However, it is time for this "conspiracy" to end. To quote Captain Janeway, "Time's Up!"
I can't remember seeing any other show come under so much fire as Voyager has. Okay, it's had it's fair share dreadful episodes: any show has, and that's not the issue. Voyager is continually criticised for it's lack of continuity and characterisation. Voyager is a television series, not a serial - it does not need to have continuing plot-lines to succeed: the traditional format of a series is that the status quo is restored at the end of every episode for the next week's adventure. This is the same method the Original Series, The Next Generation, and much of Deep Space Nine used for story-telling. Yet they have not been vilified in the way that Voyager has. Voyager does have recurring themes and character traits and it is possible to tell meaningful, stand-alone stories: "Remember", "Eye of the Needle", "Barge of the Dead", "Unity" and "Mortal Coil" spring to mind. In my view, and the view of many Voyager fans, they are excellent examples of stand-alone stories that are well told and engaging, both visually and intellectually.
From where I stand, I don't see the series as a failure. I have not felt this way about a cast of characters ever - they have endeared themselves too me in a way that no other show has managed to do. I am proud of Voyager for its thematic continuity: the crew are a family, and they have undergone change over these past six years, just as every family does. They evolve. The crew of Voyager has evolved over the years, they have moved closer to home and their longing for Earth is constantly palpable. From episodes like "Pathfinder" and "Hunters", to "Resolutions" and "Bliss": this is a crew who are battling to get home, and we can feel their desperation. An alliance with the Borg? What other series has taken such a radical step? Voyager continues to tell riveting sci-fi stories full of drama, episodes like "Lifesigns", "Resistance", "Drone" and "Survival Instinct". I see Voyager as exciting a series as it was six years ago, and its continues to boldly go in the hearts and minds of the fans.
I live in Australia, so I don't get the hype of the latest UPN promo every week, or the full page ads of Seven of Nine. All I get are the videos which arrive on the store shelf every month. We must remember that there is another, much greater section of fandom that loves Voyager, and are ignorant of this great Internet "conspiracy" because they are not technologically enfranchised. These fans do not have the same "voice" that we have on the Internet, and they go about their Voyager watching unaware of the great criticism levelled against it. Maybe some of them don't like the series - but I don't think they're the group who ensure that the video shelves are emptied within a week of release. Trek fandom is a world-wide institution, and not limited to the pettiness of UPN ratings - Voyager is still a world-wide success just as every series has been. From where I stand, the series still embodies the undying spirit of Trek.
Voyager has its problems, I don't deny that. Personally, I'm not the biggest fan of Chakotay, but he just joins the ranks of Trek characters I'm not particularly fond of: Sulu, Rom, Dr. Pulaski. It's just my personal opinion. But all I can see written on the Internet is constant negativity about Voyager and Brannon Braga. All the positives of the series are completely ignored, or swept aside for heated arguments about how scurrilous it was of the writers to have Seven of Nine say "Commander Seska" in "The Voyager Conspiracy". The writers are only human, and I see no reason why it should hamper our enjoyment of the show - personally, after two minutes, I had forgotten all about it. Trek is bigger than dropped references, and Voyager shouldn't be punished for them: Deep Space Nine escaped relatively lightly after Sisko's father appeared when it was implied that he was dead. We shouldn't let such pettiness ruin our enjoyment of the show.
I implore everyone to embrace the spirit of Trek that is present in Star Trek: Voyager. Let's not allow this 'conspiracy' or 'fashionable bashing' of Voyager ruin our enjoyment of this excellent series. Fans of the show are constantly derided; snide comments about how bad it is are dropped left, right and centre. Nevertheless, many people, including me, are still ardent supporters of the series. I refuse to believe that all fans of the series are dimwits who sit at home ogling Jeri Ryan and waiting for the next round of pretty effects. There is so much more to the series than this over-simplified, narrow-minded stereotype. Next time you watch Voyager, "Eyes Open."
Caillan Davenport writes reviews and articles at the Australian site Voyager Extreme, as well as being a prominent member of the J-Team.