Retro Review: Favorite Son

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Harry Kim is drawn to a world of beautiful women who insist that he is a descendant of their people.

Plot Summary: While Voyager is replying to a friendly greeting from a Nasari vessel, Kim warns that the Nasari are charging weapons and fires on their ship without permission. The resulting battle causes serious damage to Voyager and nearly brings about Torres’s death. Janeway dismisses Kim from duty, suggesting a medical examination that initially suggests only battle injuries, though soon afterward, Kim begins to develop unusual skin characteristics. The crew discovers that the Nasari were in fact charging weapons just as Kim claimed, and when Kim says he has a hunch about where they should travel to be safe, Janeway agrees to follow his lead. Voyager arrives at Taresia, a friendly planet populated mostly by women who greet Kim enthusiastically. The leader, Lyris, tells Kim that he is a child of Taresians, one of many embryos sent away to be implanted in an alien womb so that the offspring can find their way back to tell the Taresians about the galaxy. The Doctor finds that Kim’s DNA now shows non-human characteristics, and Kim decides to explore Taresia – a planet where males are so rare that each takes several wives. Many attractive women express interest in Kim and he becomes friendly with Taymon, a Taresian man about to married to three women. But Kim soon finds that his communications with Voyager have been blocked, and when he seeks out Taymon for help, he discovers that the brides have sucked the life out of their groom. The reason there are almost no men on Taresia is that the men must die to produce enough genetic material for the women to conceive children. Meanwhile, the Doctor finds that Kim’s human DNA was recently altered by a retrovirus and tells Janeway, who also learns that Taresia is now blocking Voyager’s signals. The crew fights past a Taresian patrol ship to rescue Kim and is able to escape when the Nasari engage the Taresians.

Analysis: I’m of a double mind about how to review this episode, which I had not seen (and had tried to block out) since it first aired nearly 20 years ago. The first review is the one I wrote last time – the one you all probably expect me to write – where I point out that the science fiction is terrible, the actors are all flat and unconvincing (though really, with that dialogue, I shouldn’t blame them), and the level of misogyny reaches new lows. “Favorite Son” might actually be worse than the original series offering “That Which Survives” – the one with sexy women who kill the men they touch – because that one has an explanation that, while stupid, at least makes a modicum of scientific sense, as opposed to Taresian reproduction, which makes none and should have led to extinction already. But the part of me keeping score of all the sins of “Favorite Son” and making note of all the sources from which it steals its plot can’t help but notice the time-honored tradition of which it’s a part. The myth of the succubus is at least a thousand years old and earlier mythologies had their own versions, to which Star Trek adds the twist that the fetuses produced when rapacious women take advantage of innocent men are carried through space to be implanted in unsuspecting females of different species. It still makes no sense – even if the fable Lyris spins about male Taresians finding their way home across the galaxy had been true, even if Kim had been driven genetically to want to travel into space, Voyager’s crew must know that logically it’s just an accident that Kim made it so far into the Delta Quadrant – but the legend that a demon could collect seed from a sleeping or dead man and turn it over to Incubi or the Devil to implant in a human woman makes even less sense, yet people believed it for centuries.

All this to say that it’s sometimes interesting to think about the sources of the sexism and sexual anxiety that pervade Voyager, not all of which is the fault of the writing staff. The teleplay for “Favorite Son” was, after all, written by a woman, Lisa Klink. It’s nothing as simple as carrying over the non-progressive expectations of the original series, in which Gene Roddenberry concluded that an audience was more likely to believe in an alien first officer than a female one and gave the senior female bridge officer little to do beyond acting like the ship’s receptionist. The Next Generation reflected a time-honored tradition of fearing women in power as well, whether it was Ardra posing as the Devil, the women of “Angel One” keeping their men oppressed and sexualized, or Lwaxana Troi using her position as a diplomat and empath to try to take advantage of male crewmembers. Now we have a female captain yet it seems as if the series doesn’t know how to create women who are full-fledged individuals with independent sexuality. “Favorite Son” isn’t the first Star Trek installment to give us women who swear that they exist only to give men pleasure, nor the first culture where aggressive touching that would be considered harassment in many human societies is treated as though it should be every young man’s dream. The women here don’t sound vacuous like the ones in “Spock’s Brain” who need a man to control their city, and although the science behind their reproductive technology may be absurd, they’re scripted as clever enough technologically to make it work across multiple star systems and to fend off alien adversaries. Voyager‘s writers supposedly were told by UPN that the initial draft of “Favorite Son” did not have enough sex or violence, so many of the problems with this episode were not of their own making.

That said, it’s frustrating that they can’t find a way to make it all a little interesting, a little less by the numbers. These writers still don’t know anything about Kim besides the fact that he loves his parents. Being told that one’s mother was violated by aliens should evoke a bitter, life-altering response, like Sisko’s when he learned that his mother was taken over by a Prophet, or, since this show has been oblivious to its casual dismissal of rape for several weeks in a row, at least we should see a more Harry-like response to being fawned over by women as if he were James T. Kirk. His initial discomfort marks the most believable part of his interaction with the women who want to suck out his life force; the later kissing and snuggling feels icky, since it’s not even being played for humor. The initial plan for the story called for Kim to discover that he really was an alien, a delusion he treats here only with pleasure rather than the concern and uncertainty that nearly all adopted children experience upon learning of their biological parents, whether their relationships with the families that raised them are wonderful or awful. And yet I find myself snickering inappropriately. Kim winds up with the wonderful actress and stuntwoman Patricia Tallman, best known as Lyta Alexander on Babylon Five, chasing him with a pain stick! The terror in his reaction to her is so much more believable than his pretense at interest in bondage when a woman playfully offers to let him tie her up. I can forgive “Underwater Bimbos From Outer Space” for sheer hilarity; I like to imagine that Paris got his idea for Queen Arachnia not from 20th century cheesy movies, which it’s silly that he would have with him in the Delta Quadrant, but from Kim’s experiences with the spider women of Taresia. Unsurprisingly, Paris finds the women exciting, as he tells Kim even after he knows what the women intend for their mates. I bet he’d have done fine with Losira. “I am for you, Tom Paris!”

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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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