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Star Trek Voyager review – Good Shepherd

Toto, we’re not in the Alpha Quadrant anymore!

One of the things that has distinguished Voyager from other Star Trek series, is Voyager’s emphasis on its crew as a family. Unlike previous shows which were part of the greater network of the Federation, no matter how tenuous it might have seemed at times, Voyager is alone in the Delta Quadrant and the crew have nothing and no one to depend on but themselves. This emphasis on the crew as a family versus the crew as professional officers has ranged from the obnoxious to the somewhat acceptable. Ideally we want our characters to be professionals rather than a dysfunctional family sitcom. Still, at the end of the sixth season it is pretty clear that Voyager has been a family of sorts and in every family there are the black sheep and Good Shepherd focuses on the black sheep of the Voyager family.

When it came time to produce the post-TNG series, the first shows not created by Gene Roddenberry, one of the more “edgy” concepts had it Star Trek Voyager good shepherdthat they would feature conflict within the crew, something frowned upon in TNG. And so DS9 and Voyager both kicked off with “A House divided against itself” crews which were supposed to feature conflicts within command and crew. Soon enough those conflicts though vanished. Some speculated that this was because the mostly white male writers were uncomfortable with minority Captains and unsure of how far they could push antagonisms without making those Captains look weak. The results of this have not been pretty.

On Voyager specifically the lack of any real opposition aside from the occasional heart-felt protestation from Chakotay when Janeway is about to do something insane, immoral and illegal. Ironically enough this lack of opposition and conflict has made Janeway not stronger but weaker. Without being subjected to acid tests and cross-examinations, without being tested by conflict Janeway’s

Star Trek Voyager good shepherd

"I'm just like jesus"

decisions and actions seem to lack basis and the backing that a decision tested by conflict gives. This is why “Good Shepherd” is such a refreshing change of pace. Ideally on a SF show the dialogue should be far more shocking then the special effects and the “Good Shepherd” dialogue was fascinating not because it was particularly Shakespearean but because a crewmember was actually rude to Janeway and contrary to what the producers had been thinking for six years, she survived.

“Good Shepherd” is by no means a brilliant episode or a particularly stunning one. It is meant to be a minor supporting player in this season’s cast of episodes but sometimes the supporting player walks away with the role and so too “Good Shepherd” is amazing to watch simply because it does what Voyager has been doing all along. It doesn’t tell us that Janeway is a good Captain by casting her in the right aura and keeping her crew silent or giving them strawman arguments or showing Janeway doing everyone’s job at the same time. Instead it simply shows us what she does, command an imperfect crew and interact with them on a human level. Not the “human level” interaction in which Janeway the icon sympathizes with Tuvok or Chakotay while keeping an invisible wall around herself, but seemingly the kind of human interaction Mulgrew has been pushing for.

In what is almost certainly a first for Voyager, Shepherd’s Janeway is not an icon but an accessible, believable commander. She can

Star Trek Voyager good shepherd

The antisocial elitist

participate in a no-holds-barred give and take with people who don’t much like her without getting up on a pedestal. She can can contemplate solutions to problems as they pop up and handle people in a way that suggests that is what she does every day and that the events of “Good Shepherd” aren’t particularly notable. Of course the problem is that Janeway doesn’t behave this way every day or ever has behaved this way. “Good Shepherd” presents a likeable, believable Janeway which is almost enough to make us think we’re watching yet another cloned Voyager or an alternate universe Voyager.

From the beginning Winrich Kolbe, who usually directs more high firepower Trek episodes like Scorpion 2, actually gives us a sense of Voyager and the crew’s relationships to each other by pulling away from Voyager and moving around the ship thereby giving us a sense of place for the characters. It’s wonderful, so is the cramped section of Voyager that time forgot and the new Janeway (The only problem is it comes about six years too late). Seven of Nine conducts her

Star Trek Voyager good shepherd

The neurotic

crew evaluations and it turns out that in Voyager’s semi-perfect family three black sheep have been overlooked for six years (Possibly there were other black sheep on Voyager once, but they all died at one point or another during the journey).

Mortimer Hammer is a theorist who never puts anything into practice and is a loner on a forgotten deck of Voyager. He hates it here and spends most of his time theorizing about the origin of the universe. Celes is a Bajoran science officer who isn’t particularly competent and has become more so because the entire competent Voyager crew and especially the super-competent 7 of 9 never trusts her to get the job right. She has a neurotic connection to Telfer, a hypochondriac who constantly believes he has new and more interesting diseases. You can imagine how the first two got into Starfleet and the explanations for them being here are actually pretty plausible, but one supposes that Telfer developed his condition only once on board. Still as black sheep these three are not particularly terrible. Hammer is a potentially valuable crewmember with an attitude problem, Telfer and Celes are neurotic but not in ways that can’t be resolved. Casting herself in the role of Jesus, Janeway declares that she’s going to be the good shepherd who will lead them back to the flock and so off

Star Trek Voyager good shepherd

The ditz

we go on our three hour tour…

Of course once we’ve gotten past the bantering, Hammer bizarrely enough claims that nurture and society has no influence on who he is today (I can see 24th century science being altered in some radical ways, but none quite that radical) and has a rude exchange with Janeway that the Captain wins not by trying to dominate and crush her opponents or resorting to cheap rhetoric, but by actually trying to see her opponent’s point of view and responding to it; trouble strikes. A strange weird alien entity whose nature we never discover begins harassing Voyager.

This is the trial that Janeway and her charges have to go through. The Yellow Brick road with Janeway as Dorothy, Hammer as the tin man who needs a heart, Tefler as the cowardly lion who needs courage and Celes as the Scarecrow who wants brains. Modern audiences know that these characters need no wizard to grant them these things, we know that in true Disney fashion they already have them inside themselves and only need a crisis to bring them out. So Hammer Star Trek Voyager good shepherdshows he really has a heart by risking his life to save the crew, Tefler gets his courage by having his worst fears come true and coping with it while Celes finds that she’s not quite as stupid as she thinks.

In a nice touch the alien remains mysterious, Hammer’s action in shooting the alien feels very plausible and the more cliched elements of the crisis are overshadowed by realistic humorous touches such as Celes’s failed countdown. Even down to the end the interactions between Janeway and the trio feel far more real and believable than the usual Voyager interactions. In one sense this is a triumph but in another it also demonstrates the extent to which Voyager has failed to produce a likeable and cohesive cast and crew to be trumped by the hastily thrown together actors of a single episode.

In Good Shepherd, Janeway may be Dorothy the Midwestern girl thrown to a distant land and trying to find her way home back to Kansas, but in future episode it seems more likely than not that she’ll go back to being the wicked witch of the Delta Quadrant.

Star Trek Voyager: Child’s Play review

Compared to many competing SciFi shows, Star Trek has always excelled at doing is not simply showing weird aliens or giant alien star trek voyager child's playbattleships but instead focusing on relating those aliens to us on a very human level. We were introduced to the Cardassians, the enemy who would haunt and nearly take over DS9, not in an episode bristling with firepower but one that focused on Starfleet and Cardassian characters juxtaposed to each other leading to the revelation of the ultimate futility of the conflict. The first two TNG episodes that addressed the Romulan threat at full length, The Enemy and The Defector, also focused on individual Romulan characters driven by motives that hit very close to home.

In that tradition, Voyager’s Child’s Play is an episode that focuses on aliens doing horrific things for motives that are at once alien and human. Alien not because they’re incomprehensible but because we’d rather not comprehend them or imagine ourselves in a situation where we might act as they do. On the surface Child’s Play is yet another 7 of 9 character growth episode but in reality it is the story of Icheb and his parents, not only because of the amount of screen time they receive but because their acting and the issues on their end easily outweigh the Voyager aspects of the story. In a way it’s a shame because it indicates Voyager’s difficulties in finding stories that deal with their regular cast of characters on the same level of intensity. But in another way it’s a blessing because just as with the Romulan defector of The Defector or the Cardassian officer of The Wounded (played by Mark Alaimo who later went on to appear as a similar but far more prominent Cardassian, Gul Dukat) make the universe our characters explore a far more vivid place by populating it with disturbing characters who are at once human and yet not.

Falling between Ashes to Ashes and Good Shepherd, Child’s Play on the surface continues the running theme of Voyager’s crew straying from the fold. Unlike either of these two episodes where Voyager crew members must choose between being good Voyager officers or something else, Icheb really has no choice in the matter. Seven’s growth on Voyager has usually come down to Seven and Janeway struggling over some choice Seven wants to make. This is common enough for TV characters but what makes it different for Seven is that as a former Borg, coming from a system where the concept of individual choice was non-existent, making choices on her own was the way she reclaimed her humanity. The main emphasis of Child’s Play is to point out just how little of a choice Icheb has in any matter.

Before it aired, TNG’s Suddenly Human was rumored to address child abuse. In fact though, the actual episode glossed over the actual abuse in favor of a celebration of “cultural differences”. Child’s Play picks up where Suddenly Human failed and really does deal with abuse though – as is the habit of SF – in a slightly abstract form. Unlike Suddenly Human, Child’s Play doesn’t find its root in cultural differences but in motivations. Where Seven has had plenty of time to develop emotionally and intellectually before becoming entangled in any personal relationships, Icheb with only a short time of being free and independent of the Borg is torn between his real parents and his surrogate parent.

Ironically enough where Seven the Borg drone is motivated by emotional needs, Icheb’s parents are driven by practical exploitative considerations. Seven really cares about Icheb, Icheb’s parents love him but want to feed him to the Borg as poisoned bait. Icheb isn’t capable of really making a decision one way or another. When he is emotionally manipulated by his parents, Icheb moves towards them but more out of instinct than any rational decision making process. To the credit of the writers, the episode doesn’t end with Icheb making any final decision on the matter, but with confusion over the entire episode and a desire to explore his independence.

Still, despite Icheb’s prominence in Child’s Play, an episode built around him, it is not his character who really gets developed but 7 of 9 and star trek voyager child's playhis parents, whom we will likely never see again. Seven’s character development in this episode is easily superior to that of most of the more obvious and obnoxious “Seven grows in her humanity” episodes which again demonstrates that the best way to develop a character rests in the little things and not in the big showy “Let’s develop X this week.” Still it is Icheb’s parents who are brilliantly acted, that provide some of the most disturbing moments. Interestingly enough Child’s Play is an episode that works best on second viewing because the shocking nature of the interactions between Icheb and each other really doesn’t sink in until you’ve seen them in their final scene discussing using Icheb as a human sacrifice. More like a play then an episode, the real impact of Child’s Play lies in the conflicted tangle of motivations and emotions of Icheb’s parents. Depicted as neither evil or good, they are just ordinary people in a society and circumstances that drives them to do terrible things, which they try to justify in their own minds.

Seven meanwhile displays some of the truest and most genuine feelings since Drone which was also another Seven Motherhood episode, a subject that apparently resonates with Jeri Ryan. This ties in with Voyager’s general emphasis on Family, capital F, beginning with Janeway as Matriarch who mothered Seven and now it’s Seven’s turn. Voyager as a good family for Icheb is contrasted with the Brunali as a bad family for Icheb. Earlier on, the idea of Voyager as a family instead of a vessel of Starfleet professionals seemed obnoxious and insulting to the idea of a female Captain only being able to command in that way. Still, by now it’s become Voyager’s main theme, love it or leave it.

In the next episode Good Shepherd, Janeway pulls three crewmembers back into the family. In the previous episode Ashes to Ashes (which is strongly suggestive of TNG’s Suddenly Human) she has to let one go. Still all these are crewmembers. Icheb is a child. The Next Generation which has served as the origin for all the succeeding Berman-era spinoffs so far placed an emphasis on children binding the crew together. DS9 followed that up with Nog and Jake. For quite a while Voyager avoided the children route (though you have to wonder if Beltran would be complaining as much or as loudly today if instead of being completely eliminated from the picture, Seska’s baby would have been left for Chakotay to raise) but now for better or for worse Voyager has its own family.

In defense of his people’s ejection of him while still unformed, Odo pointed out that a society can be judged by the way it treats children. Child’s Play makes the same point quietly but subtly about Icheb’s parents and the Brunali and by making it also applicable towards Voyager itself.

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