Summary: Borg, Klingons, Romulans, Jem’Haddar, Breen and Starfleet…Oh My.
Voyager’s last November Sweeps episode is a two parter that with the combination of Nightingale manages to bring this portion of the season to a more dignified and weighty end. The ep is filled with space battles, every prominent Alpha Quadrant species, and the Hirogen who were themselves the subject of a previous two parter and a moral dillema. What is unusual about Flesh and Blood is that it is ultimately a Doctor character development story, rather than a threat to Voyager story or a Seven of Nine conflict story as most of the recent two parters have been. Since the Doctor is Voyager’s strongest character and Robert Picardo Voyager’s strongest actor, this is a major step in the right direction.
In the average episode, so many of the little touches, the bits of dialogue and the subplots get cut away to fill UPN’s bottomless greed for commercial time, but a
See... video games are evil
standard episode like Flesh and Blood stretched out to the length of a two parter leaves plenty of room for all that stuff which lets F&B feel more like a usual Star Trek episode, instead of the rushed affairs Voyager episodes have become under their reduced screen time. The Hirogen get the chance to have their moments of reaction time to Voyager’s actions, which is nice since an enemy which doesn’t react to what you’re doing especially if you’re blowing their ship to bits isn’t very interesting. B’Elanna’s interactions with the Cardassian holographic engineer are kept in, otherwise her behavior at the end would have been as confusing as the end of Dragon’s Teeth. Part of the problem though is that sometimes F&B seems like Dragon’s Teeth with Holograms or taking up the plot of the two parter that never got made and Dragon’s Teeth indeed would have made a much better two parter than F&B did.
The space battles are interesting and well done. The nebula is once again an annoying trick, especially now as even Trek retreads like Andromeda have borrowed that bag of tricks. But this seems like something we’ll be seeing over and over again for the next twenty years so there’s little point in complaining. Picardo’s acting is top notch and even the usually abysmal Mulgrew shares some surprisingly effective scenes with him. Surprisingly little use is made of the Starfleet holograms. Considering that the Bajoran hologram retained a whole lot of Bajoran elements to his psyche, it might have been very interesting to pit Starfleet holograms operating from a Starfleet point of view against Janeway. Bizarrely enough this never happens and instead we focus on the overused Bajoran “I’m an oppressed but spiritual” victim routine as if that hadn’t gotten tried after only one year of DS9, let alone seven.
The Bajoran did have the potential to be a stronger character with his extinguishing the flames for those he killed, but in service of the cliched plot he’s suddenly turned into a raving lunatic. This character might have been stronger if played by a stronger actor. Next week’s rerun features two DS9 actors, might have been nice if they’d saved one of them to play the Bajoran leader or brought over Mark Alaimo or Andrew Robinson for the job. B’Elanna’s Cardassian rant is intriguing because it feels as if something may be being set up here for when Voyager is closer to the Alpha Quadrant.
Quiet, careful direction sets off a story flawed by the same rot that has been eating into Voyager for seven years now and the name of that rot is Kathryn Janeway. Scorpion, Dark Frontier and Equinox were all driven by some bizarre irrational obsession Janeway got into her head and dragged the crew along for wreaking unnecessary havoc and causing complications that would never have been spawned by the decision-making of a sane Starfleet Captain. Unfortunately Flesh and Blood is no different. Like its predecessors Scorpion, Frontier and Equinox it manages to salvage a lot of good from the rot producing strong and memorable episodes but the Janeway Factor confines its storylines and plot to fairly predictable parameters and like a wrecked ship trapped and orbiting an insane planet, the laws of physics that govern Voyager demand an ending featuring Janeway wearing a halo and the rest of the story has to be crushed into shape to fit.
The bizarre Janeway obsession that governs Flesh and Blood is Janeway’s notion that she is responsible for giving the holodeck technology to the Hirogen, hence she has to hunt down and finish off the holograms. Now in the previous Hirogen episode, The Killing Game, the Hirogen took over Voyager and killed and maimed its crew for sport. As a peacekeeping gesture, Janeway gave them the technology so that they could relieve their hunting instincts without using humans or associated sentient aliens as targets. Logically if Janeway should be feeling guilty for anything, it’s that she handed over a piece of Starfleet technology that has the potential to produce sentient beings, including one such individual already existing on her own ship, to predators who would hunt them and torture them for sport. That this technology also included templates of Starfleet officers is truly sickening. Yet historically Janeway rarely feels sorry for the victims in a situation but tends to side with their oppressors and so obviously her concern is that the Hirogen are being killed by the holograms. (One wonders if her response would have been any different, if her non-sentient Irish bartender boyfriend had been in the mix.)
Despite the Hirogen making it clear several times that they don’t want her help, Janeway insists on butting in anyway and ending the bloodshed, namely the killing of the Hirogen by their former slaves, thereby trying to save the Hirogen species for themselves. The fact that the Hirogen are big boys with lots of firepower, a big fleet and actually captured Voyager the last time Janeway got on their bad side doesn’t seem to cross her mind. Neither does the possibility that since neither side has asked for her help, that she should just stay out of the conflict. To Janeway apparently feeling moral responsibility for something, means she has undisputed authority over it and the right to shove everyone else into line and into agreeing with her solution to the problem. This is a very understandable perspective for a lunatic completely out of touch with reality, but a questionable one for a Starfleet Captain to operate under. Fortunately since her Stepford crew tends to fall in line, except for the Maquis and 7 of 9, this isn’t really a problem.
A professional Captain might have checked the Hirogen’s story before joining them in the hunt. After all Janeway’s failure to check the Borg’s story in Scorpion kept the
Giving advanced technology to people who kill for sport... who knew it could go wrong?
Borg alive causing the genocide of hundreds of Delta Quadrant species. But then again how can you not trust the veracity of good honest people like the Borg Collective or the Hirogen Hunters? A professional Captain might have put some effort into getting in touch with the Holograms before trying to finish them off. After all escaping, stealing a ship and fighting space battles are pretty calculated acts suggesting intelligence and purpose. Furthermore, last season in Fair Haven Janeway risked her crew rather than shut down a holodeck full of non-sentient Irish villagers. A professional Captain would have guessed that confining a few dozen Hirogen warriors in the mess hall with little beyond Neelix in the way of security is an awful idea.
Finally, a professional Captain would have recognized that there was indeed a conflict and tried to resolve it by working with both sides, instead of taking the side of your own enemies and those of the slave owners and trying to enforce your will by force. Janeway’s failure to do this forces the Doctor into the role of traitor. But since the Doctor can’t be allowed to leave Voyager and Janeway can’t admit that she was wrong, this leaves us with the inevitable option that it is the holograms who must be discredited. Along with the borrowed Breen and Jem’Haddar, F&B borrows a page from DS9’s disposal of Dukat by turning their leader into a irrational religious fanatic thus forcing the Doctor to turn traitor second time and make a groveling apology to Janeway. Janeway then bizarrely completely dismisses the entire issue as an error in judgement.
Now it’s nice that F&B does actually address the issue of the Doctor’s betrayal in the episode, unlike DS9’s first war arc which ignored Odo’s betrayal of DS9. But really, the Doctor’s actions caused some serious injuries among the crew and almost blew up the ship killing everyone on board. This isn’t just a violation of protocol, it’s treason, mutiny and a whole range of other level one charges. Admittedly the Doctor was right in opposing Janeway and Janeway is the real traitor, but in the context of the show it would be hard to imagine the majority of the crew who don’t have B’Elanna’s StarfleetMaquis understanding of multiple allegiances ever trusting him again. From their perspective what exactly separates the EMH from Mike Jonas, after all Jonas was just manipulated and led into error by Seska too. SpockData characters have always had a lot of immunity from consequences often breaking down or being driven by strange possessions, but on Voyager both Seven and the Doc seem to have a certain condescending immunity attached to their actions as if they’re too stupid to be responsible for the outcomes of their own choices.
The real divide in F&B doesn’t come about because of the Doctor’s actions. He’s merely the pawn of a predictable plot caught between two different sides. The Hirogen who want to enjoy the fun of torturing and killing their holographic slaves; the slaves who want freedom and a good dose of payback. Neither side much wants peace at this point and Voyager has no real role in this conflict beyond the fact that both sides hate Voyager. Janeway coming in on the side of the slavemasters forces the Doctor to do what he feels is the right thing. The problem is that the slaves themselves are far from the Starfleet saints the EMH wants them to be. F&B castigates them for this but it seems that they’re behaving very realistically. They’re rebels fighting a war behind the lines against those they consider their oppressors, they’re not nice guys but neither are the Hirogen.
Starfleet morality is a very noble thing, but if you’re powerless, on the run and hunted by ruthless predators the only thing Starfleet morality will get you is a quick death. Like all codes of government Starfleet and Federation morality is meant to restrain the great powers of government and the military that the Federation possess. They’re not necessarily meant to be foisted on everyone at gunpoint and certainly forcing the holograms to abide by Federation morality, while making no such demands on the Hirogen is absolute lunacy. It’s like asking one side in a war to disarm, while letting the other side keep on doing what they’ve been doing before.
Janeway claims a moral responsibility for giving the Hirogen the dangerous technology they used to get themselves killed. Except of course as the saner members of the crew point out, it’s not the technology that’s evil but its application. If Janeway had given the Hirogen toaster ovens, they no doubt would have managed to kill each other using them too. Worse Janeway is taking responsibility for the choices of sentient adult beings as technologically advanced as her who are in fact older than humanity itself, she takes this to a head by then taking responsibility for the Doctor’s choice. In Good Shepherd, Janeway recites a parable that casts her in the role of Jesus. Now she seems to be taking the godhood thing seriously and treating everyone else as outgrowths of her own will. Worst of all despite all her moral posturing, Janeway shows no concern about leaving the same technology that produced a few hundred sentient beings to be tortured and mutilated, back in the hands of the Hirogen.
Although hologram rights are the underlying issue here, Janeway refuses to address it denying the holograms, equal sentient status without actually opening up the issue to debate. If holograms can’t by nature be sentient beings then why does the Doctor have any rights and autonomy on Voyager at all? And if Holograms are indeed family pets then just what was Janeway sleeping with in Spirit Folk exactly? And if the Doctor really is an equal member of the crew and the bartender a valid companion, then on what basis does Janeway deny the Hirogen holograms themselves based on the Doctor, equal rights?
But then again Janeway’s morality is no more rational than any of her decisions. She will time and time again ignore logic and reason in favor of emotional appeals. She time and time again claims that Voyager is a family, but Voyager is not a family it’s a Starfleet vessel filled with crew which is ordered to abide by Starfleet regulations. It is not her own private domain. Situations such as this should be governed by Starfleet regulations or by reasoned decisions based on Starfleet principles. Instead Janeway’s moral reasoning seems to consist of high pitched self-serving rhetoric coming out of the childish notion that if she can just find the right slogan and say it just the right way, that magically this will make her decisions right. While this works for a certain portion of the audience in a TV drama, Star Trek has the fandom it does not because its Captains were men who repeated the right slogans but because they were people you could respect. Captains like Kirk and Spock who genuinely searched for the right thing to do, questioned their own actions and listened to their first officers.
These are all ideas foreign to Janeway who wants nothing more than to be a martyr. To sit back in her chair and sigh about how hard her job is, how much she carries on her shoulders all the while climbing further up on her own self-made pedestal positioned well above her crew. To her, commanding a Starship is a form of omnipotence which allows her to exercise absolute judgement and her pips like a pope’s hat renders her judgement infallible. And this is why she needs her crew’s mistakes, so that she can absolve them of their sins against her and confirm her superiority. She’s not part of a team or in charge so much as the head of a matriarchal family. As the Doctor learned when he programmed his own holographic family, having a real family is hard. But Janeway’s fake family are professionals paid and trained to obey her orders and if there’s any trouble well she can always blow up Voyager… again.
Next week: Reruns…well aren’t all Voyager episodes reruns anyway?