Star Trek has never had any trouble doing drama. Death, destruction and misery have always been up the show’s alley whether it be the
original Star Trek, The Next Generation or any of the spinoffs. Comedy though has always been harder and Star Trek has an uneven history when it tries to go on the lighter side of things. The Original Series managed to work up a near perfect comedy routine with its three main characters but still many of the lighter episodes like “Shore Leave” or “A Piece of the Action” don’t work on anything like a rational level. The Next Generation, with a persistently ramrod and humorless ensemble, mostly turned out comedic classics best forgotten and DS9’s idea of humor seemed to involve singing holograms and little people with big ears involved in crime capers. Like TOS, Voyager has a less serious tone, a cast with great comedic timing and is more open to campy humor than its darker and more painfully serious cousin and uncle. Like TOS, Voyager also has no shortage of unintentionally funny episodes and “Fair Haven” comes close to qualifying.
“Fair Haven” is the third Voyager holodeck hideaway the crew have tried and the indecisiveness and the lack of originality weighs on the episode. From the start “Fair Haven” can’t seem to decide whether it’s going for laughs or trying to make some points about internal Voyager crew dynamics and
Janeway’s lack of a love life. Unable to choose any kind of path, it hugs a middle road that leads to a bland episode that doesn’t even seem to care about its main storyline. “Fair Haven” is a stereotypical cartoonish Irish village into which the Voyager crew blend while looking for fun. The stereotypes aren’t nearly as offensive as TNG’s “Up The Long Ladder” but the problem here is more the banality of the premise than any of the P.C. aspects of it. “Fair Haven” is just boring. We know just about everything about the place because it’s been reused so many times that it’s meaningless. Even Spock and the TOS cast would have gotten little out of this material and so Voyager’s crew is helplessly stranded, lost among cliches rendered seriously as if the inhabitants of “Fair Haven” actually mattered.
Well one of them does anyway, to Janeway at least. The issue of Janeway’s lack of a relationship has been around for as long as the show has, at least in part because of the double standard which says that every female character on a show either has to be in a relationship or on course towards one. Isolated from the Federation or any long term contacts, Janeway never had much in the way of an opportunity for a relationship outside her own crew. With the producers ruling out her
crewmembers as a possibility while not wishing to offend those fans who still wants Janeway and Chakotay to get together, the only logical solution seems to be a hologram. Hence Janeway pays a visit to a lovely Irish village, meets a tall, dark and handsome bartender and spends some quality time with him.
What’s wrong here? Well for one thing he’s a hologram, a non-sentient lifeform which puts him somewhere between a computer program and a really smart ape. While “Fair Haven” is far more frank about sex with holograms than the prudish TNG it really doesn’t deal with the question of what to call a person who finds sexual and emotional intimacy with something below the human level. When the Doctor compares himself to the bartender this cleverly dodges the point that the Doctor is considered to be a sentient being as opposed to any of the millions of holograms that can be activated, deactivated and deleted with a word. In fact when the Doctor advises Janeway not to tamper with his programming he is not doing it for him but for her. It is not his rights that we are concerned with, but how best for Janeway to go about having a relationship with him.
“Fair Haven” does have its high points. Mulgrew seems more relaxed and loose than she’s ever been and at times seems practically human
herself. The rest of the crew though is reduced to diving for cheap laughs that never come because the gimmicks they’re based on are such cliches. There is a certain amount of cleverness behind some of the writing which makes the core stupidity of the entire thing so much more incomprehensible. Ultimately the success or failure of a ‘light’ episodes rests on the affinity of the audience for the characters. Star Trek fans are prepared to watch TOS episodes that would be embarrassing and painful with any other characters in them. Similarly, “Fair Haven” might actually work for those people as interested in the Voyager characters as Star Trek fans are interested in Kirk, Spock and McCoy. For the rest of us, the storm is preferable to the fair haven.