RepentanceBy Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 11:21 PM GMT
See Also: 'Repentance' Episode Guide
Voyager receives a distress call from a small vessel and beams the survivors aboard. A Nygean guard informs Janeway that he and his crew are transporting eight murderers to their home planet for execution. Although Janeway and her senior staff aren't comfortable about delivering the men to their deaths, the captain insists that Voyager has to follow the Prime Directive and wait for a transport to pick up the aliens. She also insists that Voyager guards be present in the cargo bay they modify into a jail, and that Tuvok make certain Federation standards for the treatment of prisoners be obeyed. When Nygean guard Yediq beats up vicious killer Iko, Tuvok sends the prisoner to sickbay for treatment.
The Doctor, who is very troubled about the planned executions, uses some of Seven's nanoprobes to save the abused prisoner, though she finds it inefficient to save a condemned man. Once he has been treated, Iko acts like a different person, experiencing guilt and sorrow for the first time. Meanwhile, Neelix serves food to the prisoners and befriends Joleg, who explains that he is a Benkaran and Benkarans are often tried and sentenced by Nygeans for crimes they didn't commit. Neelix does some research and discovers that Benkarans make up just 10 percent of the local population, but take up 80 percent of the space in prisons, and are more likely to be executed than Nigeans. Paris notes that in the prison colony in New Zealand, everybody had a story, but Neelix points out that those people weren't facing death.
The Doctor shows Janeway and Seven that the nanoprobes haven't just healed Iko's head injury, they've rebuilt his brain pathways so that he is now capable of having a conscience. Iko now recalls star-watching as a child and asks Seven about her Borg implants. Neelix learns from Joleg that under Nygean law, the family of the victim determines the punishment for a crime; hence some murderers can buy their way to freedom, while others will be killed for their crimes. When Neelix says that doesn't seem fair, Joleg asks Neelix to transmit a letter to his brother to let him know what has happened to him.
When Janeway learns that a condemned man can plead his case to the family of his victims, she asks Yediq to help Tuvok draft Iko's appeal. Iko tells Seven that death is what he deserves; she explains that she hurt thousands of people when she was Borg, but now she is a different person, as is he. She asks Janeway to give Iko asylum, but Yediq reminds the captain that she agreed to work within the Nygean legal system. Seven admits to Janeway that she wants to give Iko the same opportunity she was given when the captain helped her reclaim her humanity: "He should be given chance to atone." Janeway wonders whether it is Seven who feels the need for atonement because she still feels responsible for crimes she committed as a Borg.
An alien vessel shoots at Voyager, disrupting systems and taking the transporters offline. When the unknown assailant tries to beam the Benkaran prisoners off the ship, Janeway orders her crew to target the other vessel's transporters. But the prisoners have gotten loose in the corridors, and Joleg takes Yediq hostage, threatening to kill him. Iko convinces Joleg to turn over the weapon, then gives it to the guard, who convinces the family of Iko's victim to hear his appeal. He tries to explain that he is a different person, but they turn down his plea for mercy.
Neelix loses all sympathy for the Benkarans when he learns Joleg's brother used the communiqué as a means to track and attack Voyager. Janeway tries to comfort Seven by saying the younger woman lost 20 years of her life to the Borg, which is punishment enough for any crimes she committed.
One of the most heavy-handed "issue" episodes ever seen on Star Trek, "Repentance" makes The Next Generation's "Justice" and "Angel One" seem subtle by comparison, and also makes one long passionately for Picard's sane attitude towards the Prime Directive. Janeway's is inconsistent, wishy-washy, and often revolting, as is her record on the rights of the individual. She saves the Ocampa in clear violation of the PD (and all power to her). She goes berserk trying to save one member of Species 8472 hunted by the Hirogen -- to whom she later gives holographic technology that comes back to haunt them all, because of the autonomy she grants the Doctor on rare occasion. But she refuses to let Torres choose to die rather than accepting medical treatment on ethical grounds. She threatens to execute Noah Lessing for not turning over Captain Ransom to her vigilante justice. She does execute Tuvix over the objections of many on her crew.
If Janeway wanted to, she could find a way to save the eight condemned men -- of course they're men, which is how we know from the start they're going to die, since television's generally squeamish about killing off women under controversial circumstances. Joleg wants to send a message to his brother? Duh, it's a jailbreak! Still, the aliens are on Janeway's ship. Chakotay and Tuvok both get jittery when they hear talk of capital punishment; they'd have backed her if she refused to assist a government in killing its citizens. There would be no Prime Directive violation if she chose to send the guards home on the transport and give the criminals asylum.
Of course she can't do that, because these are really BAD criminals, as the episode tries and fails to demonstrate in a few scenes of prison posturing. Sure, the Nygeans might mistreat the Benkarans personally and as a race, but Joleg personally betrays Neelix and then lies to him...that just proves that Joleg deserves to die, doesn't it? Neelix certainly seems to think so. More than half the other prisoners are Benkaran; statistically, based on what Neelix learns, at least one of them probably doesn't deserve to be headed to his execution. And that's assuming one agrees with Seven in the first place that the death penalty is sometimes warranted, even in a civilized society capable of true rehabilitation.
But no one raises a voice to defend any of the condemned once Joleg gets caught threatening vicious, bullying, abusive Yediq. Janeway's got the perfect opportunity to play dumb and let the prisoners get rescued, and what does she do? She takes every possible precaution to make sure they end up back in their holding cells to await execution. I'm sure the Voyager writers believe this episode makes a strong case against the death penalty, but the verbal arguments offered by the Doctor are so clichéd and poorly presented that it's hard to get any real sense of the ethical issues involved, and the captain seems absolutely committed to defending a government's right to slaughter minority groups.
This would be a problem if this were seriously an episode about capital punishment or unfair criminal justice systems. But it's not, as we see by the total lack of concern at the end of the episode about the grossly unfair judicial system of the Nygeans. It's all about Seven and her guilt, one more chance for her to gush about how Janeway salvaged her humanity. The captain uses Seven's guilt as a way to distract her from Iko's situation, refusing to consider any responsibility towards this mentally damaged criminal who's going to be killed for doing something he was physically incapable of comprehending at the time. There's no serious attempt to parallel Iko's fate with that of mentally retarded or unstable individuals who commit violent crimes and are sentenced to death, because Iko's a fantasy figure, a stargazing innocent whose repentance is absolute and overwhelming. It's as if one cannot have a conscience and still want to survive, like Joleg, who doesn't seem any more deserving of his fate than Iko.
The oversimplifications are grotesque. Iko says he's a different person, the crew of Voyager has helped him to see that, but in truth it's Borg nanoprobes that have helped him -- the source of all of Seven's grief and guilt. Of course he has to die, lest we should miss full pummeling by the message that executions are Very Bad. My favorite Trek heroine, Kira Nerys, is a murderer; she killed a Bajoran collaborator when he caught her snooping. I've no doubt Kathryn Janeway would have turned her over to the Cardassians for execution. Though Janeway says she's there to talk if Seven needs her, she walks out on her protégée twice -- once right after bringing the news of Iko's impending fate, and again at the end, when Janeway appears concerned she'll get emotional in front of Seven if she doesn't flee. This woman follows her gut when she should be acting like a Starfleet captain, and then follows the regs when Kirk, Picard, or Sisko would have stood up for what they believed in.
Michelle Erica Green reviews 'Enterprise' episodes for the Trek Nation, for which she is also a news writer. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.