This is Star Trek after all and Federation rules will trump all others, so the outcome is never really in doubt; that being said the journey to get to that conclusion could be interesting if discussed in a thoughtful manner. Because the arguments being made are valid. Since Voyager is basically a generation away from Federation space just how valid are the Federation rules and who is enforcing them and why? How much does the Prime Directive outweigh the crew’s safety? Should “getting home” be the first priority to the point of bending a few Federation principals? And why should the Maquis crew give a damn about Federation rules and protocol in the first place since they are a) not part of the Federation and b) actively fighting them? Attempting to answer these questions can make for genuinely entertaining television even if we know that eventually we will end up on the side of the Federation because this is, as we know, Star Trek after all.
But the discussion is derailed almost immediately by the characterization of the viewpoints. Janeway is steadfast and strong and secure in her convictions and there is little to no doubt that she is correct because the show never lets us believe otherwise. And the argument against Janeway is first presented by newcomer and “guy we can hate because he’s not a regular cast member” Ensign Hogan. Hogan presents the opposition view but is so arrogant, disrespectful and unlikeable that we as viewers will never even consider that he might be right. Yes, Chakotay does eventually convince Janeway to bend a little but we never get the feeling that it will work, the whole episode is set up as: how will this fail so Janeway can be proven right? And proven right she is.
More on that in a moment, because now we come to the second big idea in the episode and probably the one with the most potential. After Neelix meets with a contact in a strip club (seriously) we are introduced to the Trabe, a race of people being oppressed by the Kazon. They seem sympathetic at first but it is then revealed the Trabe were once the oppressors of the Kazon who rebelled and now the slavers are the slaves. That’s a good story; one that would be wonderful to see. Unfortunately it is only briefly teased in order to setup the confrontation of the week and provide the “Janeway is right” resolution.
Add to this the fact that the Kazon are so uninteresting as villains that this reveal of their origins does nothing to engender sympathy toward them. It should mind you, but it’s hard to muster up the ability to care about a villain whose biggest character trait is “we hate girls because they are stupid and icky.” The Kazon as I’ve said multiple times are crap Klingon wannabes with no redeeming qualities. As such this really great idea falls flat and will ultimately go nowhere.
And so of course everything falls apart, the allegiances that were attempted actually cause Voyager to be in a worse position then it was and Janeway was proven to be correct. She then gives a pep-talk to the senior crew that tell everyone to double-down on Federation principals and that is meant to be inspiring but just comes across as smug and self-righteous. And the moral of the story is “don’t try to talk to your enemies because they will always betray you and you are better off on your own” I guess? This episode has great ideas, poor delivery and a mixed message.
I want to say that I prefer a show that has too many ideas over one that has none at all – that would be a positive spin on this – but what I really would like to see is a show that has great ideas and actually uses them to tell a coherent story. Voyager needs to do that.
The journey continues.