The Voyager Crew: Getting the balance right: Not too wide-eyed, not too cynical.
The crew of the USS Voyager. They’re not to naïve, but neither are they too cynical. Their guard is up, their approach to first contacts is welcoming but at the same time wary, but never going so far as to be distrustful. They don’t take a new alien species word for it when they state that they have no ulterior motives or hostile intentions. Upon a First Contact or when an alien species helps them out, they are welcoming and open-minded. This is even true if the alien is a member of a species they have had conflict with before, basing opinions on the actions of the individual rather than generalising, which is so often counter-productive.
They’re not galaxy-weary or jaded, Janeway is particular warns Kim (and by extension, the audience) against becoming jaded in ‘Emanations.’ Its a great scene at the end of the episode, I hesitate to say its a speech because it’s not one as such, it’s a conversation, but the sentiment is clear and wonderfully expressed. In a less-eloquent nutshell, it’s the Trek mantra of ‘don’t take the wonders all around us for granted just because you see them everyday.’ But it’s very important to understand that these people are experienced. They seen and been through a lot, had experiences both good and bad. For everything wonderous out there, there is something equally horrific to match it. Voyager’s crew has seen these aspects of the galaxy, both before their odyssey and during it. So yes, there is an element of a strange blase attitude towards such momentous life events. Janeway says it best in ‘Deadlock’:
‘Mr. Kim. We’re Starfleet Officers. Weird is part of the job.’
It’s about balancing the sense of wonder with practicality and experience, and Voyager gets the balance just right. (NB, Kim and Kes are exceptions to this rule during the very early seasons because both are the young and inexperienced crewmembers aboard at the shows start, and are intended to be such. Having a crew of hardened veterans all round like Janeway, Tuvok, Chakotay, etc, might make for a more capable crew in the early years, but makes for less drama.)
I don’t mean the other crews are naïve, they aren’t. But they are to naive for my taste. So much of the trouble the Enterprise-D gets in is just really, really avoidable, and that’s really bugs me. I like a little cynicism in my protagonists, maybe its my penchant for sarcasm in humour, I don’t know. I like someone to be wry and cynical about a situation, especially to ease the tension. I can only take so much po-faced heroism (and I like and admire po-faced heroism) before I just need somebody to crack a joke, even if it’s a rubbish joke. No matter the situation, no matter how dire or how minor the danger is, there is room for a wise-ass remark at some points. Like in ‘Demon’ when Paris makes what Kim later refers to ‘that stupid joke about the bicycle’ or Janeway and Chakotay’s light-hearted exchanges before or during dangerous situations.
As always, I give plenty of examples to prove my point, so here are some for your consumption:
- The photonic lattice entities from ‘Heroes and Demons.’ They seem to kidnap two members of the Voyager crew, and the Doctor initially has little success in his attempts to communicate with them via the holodeck, but the crew discover the cause of the misunderstandings and realise the abductions were a response to perceived hostility from them towards the aliens, not the other way round. During some earlier experiments they beamed photonic matter onto the ship for analysis not realising they were sentient lifeforms, and in response to the kidnap of their people the lattice aliens take Kim and Chakotay. In a gesture of what can only be described as hopeful goodwill, Janeway has the Doctor release the two lifeforms onto the holodeck. They return to their people, and Kim and Chakotay are then returned, safe and well.
- Danara Pel, the Vidiian scientist whom the Doctor has a love affair with in ‘Lifesigns’. They rely on her help to get Janeway and Chakotay back aboard Voyager in ‘Resolutions’, despite their conflict with the Sodality. Pel comes through for them, even though the other Vidiians that arrive try to take Voyager.
- Acturus, from ‘Hope And Fear.’ When he first comes aboard, the crew are welcoming and pleased to have him along, he offers them help in decoding the heavily encrypted message sent by Starfleet several months earlier. (See ‘Hunters.’) However, there is a vein of caution among the senior staff which goes beyond cautious optimism. Janeway and Tuvok in particular do not take the alien simply by his word (and one could forgive them for doing so with so much at stake), but do give him the benefit of the doubt initially.
- The discovery of the wormhole in’ Bliss.’
This swaying between wonder and hopefulness to cynicism and doubt is most clearly seen when pertaining to one of Voyager’s key themes: the journey home. Early on, if even the faintest scent of getting home is caught, they are there and for it all the way, jumping headfirst into the chance. Then, they get burned a few times, and painfully. The wormhole in ‘Eye Of The Needle’, getting back to Earth but unable to stay because they are in the wrong timeframe in ‘Future’s End.’ And as the journey begins to have more importance than the destination and Voyager itself becomes home, the crew’s reaction to potential ways home changes. They are still happy and encouraged by the large jumps home they make in ‘The Gift’ (10,000 light-years) ‘Timeless’ (10,000 LY) and ‘Dark Frontier’ (20,000 LY), but the reaction to a what at first sight appears to be a direct route home becomes very cynical and even openly doubting. If something seems to good to be true they suspect that it is, rather than stubbornly hoping it’ll somehow work out. Compare the difference in reaction to a promising looking wormhole in Season 1’s Eye of the Needle’ to Season 5’s ‘Bliss.’ Wow. What a difference. Well fuck, the wormhole leads to Sector 001! I was half expecting Janeway to say something along the lines of ‘Hell! What an amazing coincidence!’ the first time I saw it. Her sarcastic statement of ‘Wormhole?’, the first line of dialogue in the episode, makes me smile every time I see it. The crew immediately suspects possible problems or subterfuge with the data they are receiving from sensors instead of immediately assuming ‘a way home woohoo!’ This turns out to be the correct attitude, as the wormhole actually turns out to be a HUGE. STARSHIP-EATING. CREATURE so caution was entirely warranted. (Of course, attitudes change when the creature starts manipulating the crew to force them into its maw, but that was the result of alien psychotropic effects and the main threat of the episode).
To summarise, I say: It is better to see too much than too little, as long as you keep an open mind. The crew aren’t wide-eyed rookies, but nor are they jaded old coots, the balance is struck just right.