Retro Review: State of Flux

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When Voyager’s crew discovers a Kazon ship destroyed by Federation technology, Seska is suspected of conspiring with the aliens.

Plot Summary: While on an away mission to replenish food stores, a Kazon raiding party surprises the crew. Chakotay must rescue Seska, who had wandered off to collect mushrooms in nearby caves. On the ship, Seska takes some of the mushrooms to make soup for the wounded Chakotay, but when he realizes that she raided the food stores, he disciplines her and rejects her overtures to resume their onetime romance. A few minutes later, they are summoned to the bridge, where Voyager has discovered a Kazon-Nistrim ship in distress. An away team finds that the Kazon have somehow obtained Federation technology and Tuvok suspects that someone on Voyager must have given it to them. Based on circumstantial evidence from engineering, Seska and Carey both become suspects. Seska beams aboard the Kazon ship without permission, claiming that she wishes to retrieve evidence to clear her name, but when she is injured, Tuvok suspects she may have been trying to cover up her collusion with the Kazon. While treating her, the Doctor discovers that her blood type is not Bajoran, but Cardassian. Seska tells Chakotay that she received a blood transfusion as a child from a Cardassian, but the Doctor says that that wouldn’t account for the DNA factors. Meanwhile, several Kazon arrive to demand the return of both their damaged ship and the one surviving Kazon crewmember rescued by Voyager. When Janeway asks for time to investigate how Federation equipment damaged the ship, the Kazon kill the survivor before he can talk. Torres discovers that the stolen equipment was a food replicator and helps Chakotay and Tuvok set a trap for the traitor on Voyager. They trace evidence of computer tampering to the terminal in sickbay where Seska is recuperating. When Chakotay and Janeway confront her, she says that Janeway is a fool for refusing to trade technology to gain an alliance with the Kazon. Before they can arrest her, Seska beams herself to one of the Kazon ships. Because Voyager is badly outnumbered by the Kazon fleet, Janeway is forced to leave without her.

Analysis: I’ve always loved “State of Flux,” though I hadn’t seen it in easily 15 years before this rewatch, and I noticed something at the end this time that has catapulted it much higher on my list of Voyager episodes I can’t live without…but more on that later. “State of Flux” lays the groundwork for two seasons’ worth of arc storylines and establishes Seska as one of the show’s most influential and memorable characters. I don’t like some of what the writers did with her later on, but that takes nothing away from how thoroughly she steals the limelight in two back-to-back installments, “Prime Factors” and this one, then disappears leaving a big shadow cast over the series regulars. We’re set up to dislike her – we’ve already seen that she’s a troublemaker, persuading Torres last week to go behind Janeway’s back to get her hands on Sikarian technology, and now we find out that she’s also manipulative, trying to reignite her onetime affair with Chakotay in order to inject a little Maquis rebellion back into the command structure. We don’t know yet whether or when Chakotay will clash with Janeway over the big picture, but it’s pretty obvious by now that he’s comfortable following Starfleet rules and protocol, particularly since Janeway has been quite fair to his untrained and in some cases underqualified crewmembers. He accepted the captain’s decision not to obtain Sikarian technology through underhanded means, so there’s little question that he’d go along with her refusal to empower the aggressive Kazon in order to gain an ally. Seska knows this, so although she wants to keep Chakotay wrapped around her finger if possible, she betrays him just as much as she does the Starfleet crew to strike a deal with Kazon leader Culluh. Seska makes a valid point that following the letter of the Prime Directive may make it impossible for the crew to get home, but that point gets lost in her collusion with the species that would have exterminated Kes’s people to steal their resources, which is precisely what Janeway was trying to prevent when she allowed Voyager to be stranded in the Delta Quadrant in the first place.

It’s not much of a problem if the ethical details of trading with Delta Quadrant species get muddled in “State of Flux,” since the problem comes up again repeatedly in future episodes. It’s more interesting to see how the characters are developing during this situation. Take poor Carey, who in a few weeks has gone from acting chief engineer to a suspect in betraying the entire crew, without motive and based on flimsy circumstantial evidence. It’s never stated, but I wonder whether Tuvok hasn’t forgotten that Carey was involved in the plot to gain the Sikarian trajector behind Janeway’s back, though Tuvok seems to have absolved himself for the same wrongdoing. Then there’s Torres, who’s confronted with the likelihood that one of her two closest underlings has stolen technology from Voyager. She’s getting along now with Carey, but Seska has been her friend since they were Maquis comrades, and though she seems determined to remain impartial while helping to catch the culprit, she quickly concludes from superficial evidence that Carey is more likely to be guilty than Seska. While I can appreciate Seska’s sense of humor and refusal to be intimidated, it’s less clear precisely what Torres and Chakotay like about her. Was she particularly loyal and fierce fighting for the Maquis? She must have done a much better job covering up her true agenda there than she has on Voyager, where she was ready to help Chakotay lead a mutiny only days after joining Janeway’s crew. She doesn’t seem to have a lot of empathy for other people, and it’s a shock to hear her scornfully tell Chakotay to go talk to his animal guide, making fun of something of spiritual significance to a man she claims to have loved. He never claims to have loved her back, but I’m not really sure why he liked her. And what a fool he must feel like now! As he plaintively asks Tuvok, if the Vulcan was working for Janeway and Seska was working for the Cardassians, who was actually working for the Maquis captain?

Because Chakotay proves to be a stickler for Starfleet rules and Tuvok was just as fooled by Seska in the Maquis, Janeway doesn’t come off badly for failing to notice or do anything about Seska before the betrayal. There’s a gorgeous, tiny moment between Janeway and Torres when the former assumes that Torres is exaggerating how long it will take to set up an engineering task and the latter insists that she means what she says, not needing to be seen as a miracle worker, which Janeway acknowledges with a combination of respect and admiration conveyed in just the slightest movement of her head. Janeway also deals very well with the Kazon, declaring that she doesn’t like bullies and she doesn’t like Culluh, then making him back off with a fairly vague threat backed up by unmistakably aggressive body language. She’s equally fair and terrifying while interrogating Carey, and he’s clearly petrified despite not having done anything wrong. But I love her most at the end, when Seska is ranting at her and it’s clear that the captain is as sad as she is angry. She doesn’t bother to argue with Seska, now that she knows Seska represents not the Maquis but the common adversary of the Maquis and the Federation; from the moment Seska claims she gave away technology for the sake of Chakotay and the rest of the crew, Janeway can see that Seska will say whatever is most expedient to try to undermine the command structure rather than to present a reasonable argument. If anything, however, Seska’s betrayal unites the senior officers more strongly than ever. Chakotay knows that he was right to reject Seska’s suggestion that morale would improve by bending the rules a little, and gets over his resentment of Tuvok for spying on him because Seska’s betrayal hits so much closer to home for him. Plus Janeway sees that Chakotay will adhere to protocol even when one of his closest friends and onetime lovers comes under serious threat.

My love/hate relationship with Voyager the first time around stemmed in part from what I perceived to be three-plus years of teasing on the part of the show’s creators about the unspoken yet apparent bond between the captain and first officer – which can be traced line by line, mutual flirting in “The Cloud,” Chakotay declaring that Q’s propositioning Janeway bothers the hell out of him in “The Q and the Grey,” Chakotay sobbing “Kathryn!” in “Coda,” the conversation about Janeway’s post-Mark dating life in “Hunters. Then the writers changed their minds, reimagined Janeway as a menopausal woman who slept with holograms while Chakotay was pursued by the much-younger Seven of Nine, and declared in interviews that fans had been crazy to think there had been any attraction in the first place. The experience of how the relationship plays out is significant to so many fans I’ve known over the years – particularly women – and I don’t care how many tantrums people like David Gerrold throw about how the creators’ statements about the characters are more important than the fans’ perceptions, the creators are not allowed to tell viewers that their lived experience of a story is invalid. So here’s one example of how the teasing works: at the end of “State of Flux,” Chakotay asks Tuvok to be honest about whether Chakotay was particularly naive for failing to notice all the people on his Maquis ship with secret agendas, to which Tuvok replies that he is always honest – this so soon after sneaking around to get Sikarian technology! – and when Chakotay points out that Tuvok lied by passing himself off as Maquis, Tuvok insists that he was honest to his own convictions within the defined parameters of his mission. Chakotay mutters, “You damned Vulcans and your defined parameters!”

The phrasing isn’t really important except that the most important relationship conversation Janeway and Chakotay ever have – the one from the second season’s “Resolutions,” in which they’re stranded together for months, Chakotay builds her a bathtub, Janeway catches him trying to look down her towel, Chakotay gives her a backrub, Janeway’s all hot and bothered – begins with Janeway announcing that they need to define some parameters about themselves. To which Chakotay demurs that he doesn’t think he can define parameters, then he tells her a fake ancient legend and makes her cry and they hold hands and I don’t care how it got retconned afterward, TVTropes agrees with me that it’s perfectly obvious there’s something there for many, many episodes afterward. So “defined parameters” are loaded words for Janeway/Chakotay fans. Thus, more than a decade and a half after I officially stopped caring, I shrieked out loud when I heard Tuvok say those words in an episode that originally aired before I thought they were important. The writers probably never even noticed, but since we fans have been spoiled by shows like Deep Space Nine where little throwaway moments come to have great significance later, we pick up on such things. To me it signifies that presumably Janeway has heard Tuvok say “defined parameters” – probably in a situation like the one in “State of Flux” where Tuvok uses it to retreat behind Vulcan logic. It’s a chicken-out phrase. Chakotay calls Tuvok on it here, and he calls Janeway on it, more subtly, in “Resolutions.” There are a hundred such moments in Voyager‘s early seasons, either because of sloppy writing or because of how Mulgrew and Beltran chose to play their scenes together. I’m still seeing those moments, even now when I don’t want to because it would make me less frustrated when the characters start to change in the later seasons. It’ll always be part of my experience of Voyager, and I can’t even be sorry, because although intellectually I know this show was never TNG or DS9’s equal, that anchored ship is why I loved Voyager so.

What do you think? Chat with other fans in the Star Trek: Voyager forum at The Trek BBS.

Michelle Erica Green

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Michelle Erica Green

Writer, mother, reader, traveler, teacher, partner, photographer, activist, friend, fangirl, student, critic, citizen, environmentalist, feminist, vegetarian, enthusiast. TrekToday staffer for many years, former news reporter, current retro reviewer.

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