Retro Review: Basics, Part Two

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While the crew struggles to survive on a world with many threats, Seska and the Kazon fight a saboteur.

Plot Summary: On Hanan IV, where Voyager’s crew has been stranded by the Kazon, Janeway orders officers to split into teams to find food, water, and weapons. Hogan is killed by a lizard-like creature while collecting bones, and Wildman’s baby develops a high fever. Unable to start a fire using only wood, Chakotay requests some of Janeway’s hair as kindling. Though the crew is spared from having to eat worms when Torres retrieves eggs, Kes and Neelix are captured by a group of humanoids. Meanwhile, on Voyager, Seska activates the Doctor, who convinces her that he will fulfill his medical duties regardless of who commands the ship. He also shocks her by proving that her baby was fathered by Culluh, not Chakotay. When informed that one Betazoid life sign remains on board, the Doctor contacts Suder and summons him to Sickbay to help sabotage Seska’s plans for the ship. Paris contacts the Talaxians and enlists their assistance, then signals the Doctor to request that certain systems be disabled. Suder is troubled by the knowledge that, having mastered his violent impulses, he may have to kill Kazon. Back on the planet, Chakotay leads a team to rescue Kes and Neelix, though the humanoids pursue and force the team into a cave with a creature like the one that killed Hogan. While Torres creates a distraction, Janeway brings crewmembers armed with newly-made bows and arrows to help all but one of the crew escape. The ground shakes as a nearby volcano begins to erupt. When Chakotay saves one of the humanoids from the lava flow, their healer cures Wildman’s baby and helps Voyager’s crew find shelter. Seska discovers the Doctor’s sabotage attempts, but Suder is able to make his way to engineering, where he manages to kill several Kazon and overload critical systems before being killed himself. When Culluh opens fire on the Talaxians, a console explodes, fatally wounding Seska. Culluh takes their child and abandons Voyager, allowing Paris to return to Hanan IV and rescue the crew.

Analysis: My favorite thing about “Basics, Part II” – apart from Chakotay coming up with the most novel excuse ever to get his hands on Janeway’s hair – is that it ends the Kazon arc. We see the Kazon, and Seska, a few more times, but never as any serious threat to Janeway or the ship. As far as making us feel better about Voyager’s crew and their hopes for surviving to reach the Alpha Quadrant, with Borg space still ahead of them, this episode is not a great comfort. I don’t really object to the former Maquis convict, the current Maquis convict, and the hologram imprisoned in sickbay being responsible for saving the ship, though on a crew as diverse as Voyager’s, one would think there could be a way for someone other than three white men to be the heroes. It’s painful to watch the ineffectuality of the command team, who among them seem to have none of the skills one would expect to see on display…indeed, which have often been on display when senior crewmembers from other Starfleet ships and stations were faced with isolating crises. We all watched Kirk figure out how to defeat the Gorn without technology and without anyone else with whom to brainstorm; we all saw Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel; we’ve all seen Kira survive on practically nothing. It’s more complicated for Janeway and Chakotay saddled with so many dependents here, but they both just spent weeks on a planet where they had to make use of what resources they could find, “roughing it” – how have they become so helpless? Tuvok may have been an expert at archery, but how can he have so few practical ideas for tactics and security? If Culluh had been a little less arrogant and a little more willing to trust a woman, Seska would probably have kept control of the ship and taken over the quadrant, because she certainly seems more on top of things than Janeway. Seska just can’t do every single thing herself, whether it’s finding a way to search through a thoron radiation leak to see who’s trying to confuse tricorder signals or making sure there aren’t any crewmembers not accounted for in shuttle wreckage.

Chakotay at least gets a couple of heroic moments, facing down the natives to get Kes away from them and saving the native woman from the volcano, though it’s hard not to giggle at everything he says after the Hair Incident, when, after confessing that he’s “the only Indian in the universe who can’t start a fire by rubbing two sticks together,” he stares at Janeway’s hair and announces that his father once told him something else about how to start a fire. Putting aside the question of how he passed basic survival training at the Academy – I guess we can let that one slide, since Picard couldn’t start a fire in “Darmok” and Janeway says the rest of the crew isn’t having any luck either – the entire scene seems designed to get Janeway’s hair down, which on Voyager thus far has been the visual metaphor for the difference between When She’s A Captain and When She’s A Woman. Maybe if Chakotay keeps smoldering at her, her hair will spontaneously combust from the heat. I’d wonder how he ever got Maquis crewmembers to follow him except that, to a large degree, he didn’t – Tuvok was working for the Federation, Seska for the Cardassians, Torres and Paris were Starfleet dissidents, Dalby and Suder were just looking for a fight. Chakotay only ever had to be a mediocre captain. It’s more distressing to see Janeway yet again stripped of her ship and given the role of morale officer more than commander. Her most significant orders here? To tell the crew to eat worms and to snuggle for warmth. Chakotay may not be able to start a fire, yet at least he believes he can make solar stills to provide water for the entire crew. Tuvok can design and train the crew in the use of bows and arrows. Torres and Kim find food. I’m trying to think whether a single thing Janeway does makes a big difference – certainly not compared to Paris’s decision to go summon their allies and Suder’s sacrifice to sabotage Voyager. By contrast, Kirk and Picard lost their ships often enough for it to become something of a joke in later seasons, yet they almost always got them back through their own ingenuity.

Perhaps worst of all, the writers don’t give Janeway any clever lines or moments of powerful introspection where she wonders what she could have done differently. Like the heroism, the witty lines go to Paris and especially to the Doctor, whose role as always is invaluable in creating entertainment value, while Suder (played by the unforgettable Brad Dourif) gets most of the pathos. It all looks dramatic but feels very paint-by-numbers, since we know the crew will be saved, though evidently not by their captain’s ingenuity. The ease with which Culluh gives up Voyager seems as unconvincing as the speed with which Janeway evacuated her entire crew, leaving no one hidden in the conduits to perform the very sort of sabotage that Suder unexpectedly pulls off. Thus ends a two-season-long storyline involving a fascinating if compromised female leader. I don’t know which is a bigger shame: that Seska dies, or that the baby turns out not to be Chakotay’s after all – though I suppose it’s possible that the Doctor is deceiving her, and in some sequel, a half-Cardassian raised by Kazon will turn up to demand accountability. If ever there were a moment for a Maquis declaration of no confidence in the Starfleet leaders, this is it, yet instead the stranding and rescue seem to have the opposite effect: with Seska gone and Chakotay so clearly devoted to Janeway, there’s never any Maquis-Starfleet tension again except in contrived situations like time bubbles and holographic simulations gone wild. I recall the third season as being a bunch of decently written yet dramatically disconnected episodes on a show that doesn’t find cohesion until the arrival of Seven of Nine, which brings its own set of problems particularly where the captain is concerned. I’m trying to switch my focus and my loyalty away from Janeway in order to find enjoyment in things that irritated me the first time around – cheering for Paris as he struggles to find his own path, loving the Doctor’s path to becoming human. But she’s the captain. I love her as the captain. So it’s really, really hard for me to appreciate “Basics.”

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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