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J.B. Nicholson
Thu, Jan 5, 2017, 6:11pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S1: Learning Curve

In "Parallax" Torres got her superior's job (Chief Engineer) by breaking Lt. Carey's nose in 3 places and dealing him a blow to the face so hard Chakotay said if she had hit Carey a little harder she could have put bone matter into his cerebellum (almost a quote of Chakotay's dialogue). In this episode one of the former Maquis crew says he and the others will do their jobs, but do them in the "Maquis way" and Chakotay responds by punching him in the face, causing the crewman to fall off his chair and then tell the Maquis in the mess hall "That's the Maquis way too, isn't it? And if you want to keep doing it the Maquis way that's fine with me. We can do that tomorrow, the next day, every day until you report to Lieutenant Tuvok.". Then makes the crewman he just punched get up and respond to him in the way "a Starfleet crewman answer[s] a question" while also giving the crewman a light slap on the face. The difference between the "Maquis way" and the "Starfleet way" is apparently fairly thin as both apparently have fisticuffs at the center.

Lt. Carey inexplicably accepted his demotion in episode 2, he said so under duress in front of the top 3 highest-ranking crew in Janeway's ready room midway into "State of Flux" (which we're supposed to take at face value, apparently). The same inexplicable happiness infects the end of "Learning Curve" too: there's no further discussion of how things got to be the way they are, nobody complaining to Janeway about violence taking a starring role in how things get done aboard ship. I understand that at the end of "Learning Curve" the Maquis trainees just got through a life-or-death situation but that doesn't erase the very recent past, either in this episode or with Torres' rather new position.

Viewed from within the story: The Captain takes responsibility for everything that happens aboard ship, certainly when it comes to her project of bringing the Maquis into the Starfleet fold via "field training". What I described above strongly undercuts Janeway as a respectable leader. She's apparently fine with violence as a means of enforcing her will, be it promoting someone who admits she's lacking the knowledge she needs to do the job (see my feedback on episode 2 on this site for details) into a senior officer position (Chief Engineer) over someone (Carey) who was apparently doing that job without complaint and had just received a beating from the person who would be given his job, to letting Tuvok use boot camp techniques on crew Janeway admits aren't new to running a ship but are merely ignorant of Starfleet protocols, or letting her first officer (Chakotay) ignore the Maquis trainees complaints and beat and threaten the trainees with more violence until training conditions are met. These things happened in front of plenty of other crew and thus many crewmembers have firsthand knowledge of how discipline is handled in the "Starfleet way". I can only imagine the rest of the crew comes away thinking that they'd better do their job or they too will get a beating from someone. I'd think this runs right along what any Maquis would expect of Starfleet given that the Federation forcibly and in short order made them ex-citizens (the formation of the Maquis began with a treaty which instantly made some Federation citizens go from living on a Federation planet to living inside Cardassian space). Force, not negotiation based on understanding, is the way of things even in the microcosm of Janeway's ship. To me this suggests that Janeway might know she either has no legitimate authority or she's got no clear idea of how to do better.

Viewed from a production standpoint: the writing is simply horrible because the characters are punished for no reason, violence is quickly becoming the means by which some important decisions are made amongst the crew, and the characters behave in entirely unrealistic ways that make them highly unidentifiable. The identity politics-driven agenda is so clear: By this time the major point of the series is to show how a woman captain would run things given free reign (no real Federation or Starfleet oversight, her writ runs no matter how inconsistent with her stated principles it is). But this season shows the major failure of identity politics; you can't make a feminist point by validating violence as a means of rising up through the ranks or enforcing compliance. This runs right along with women being raped as a part of institutional operation (some women are offered a job if they'll have sex with their superiors in an organization and this happens in the military too, or men and women are threatened unless they comply with their unethical superiors by going along with the unethical behavior or keeping quiet about the unethical behavior). A feminist standpoint would be to challenge violence as a means of getting work done and putting people through public trials as a way of showing everyone on the ship that the "Starfleet way" is better. But the writers never write Janeway to follow through with normal Starfleet protocol; instead ship's higher-ups quickly dismiss protocol as being unrealistic. ST:VOY is vastly overrated in terms of its ability to show how evolved Federation life is or what this Starfleet captain has to offer above other empire-building Star Trek societies. DS9 was considerably more honest in this regard by creating Section 31 and the Federation's attempt to commit genocide against the Changelings. "When the dirty work needs to get done..." (my recollection of Odo's line to Sisko explaining how Section 31's choices reflect on the Federation's self-appraised superiority in ethically running a society).
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J.B. Nicholson
Wed, Jan 4, 2017, 9:07pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S1: Heroes and Demons

It's not clear to me either precisely what are the rules of sentience in TNG/DS9/VOY Star Trek despite the importance sentience carries (sentience is a requirement for being given rights and responsibilities in the Federation). It's not clear to me that some computer-driven objects deemed sentient are genuinely deserving of rights when other computer-driven objects are not. It strikes me as a definitional problem where the definition of things is strategically set up so that some things qualify and others definitionally cannot. Put another way, it seems to me that the shows simply dictate that some are sentient (such as Cmdr. Data in that highly overrated TNG episode "Measure of a Man", and TNG's Moriarty, and Voyager's EMH is eventually given the respect of any other crewmember based initially on Kes' declaration it should be so in season 1 episodes) and some are said not to be (such as TNG's Cmdr. Maddox says about ship computers not being able to refuse a refit).

I get the impression the real difference comes down to physical appearance. Ultimately the argument is about flattering the humanoids who make the definitions; the more like a humanoid the sophisticated computer appears to be, the more likely it will be deemed sentient.
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J.B. Nicholson
Mon, Jan 2, 2017, 8:42pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S1: Parallax

"Sometimes you just have to punch your way through" doesn't make Voyager look good, it sets the stage for some ugly choices Janeway make about how to treat her crew.

It should come off as shockingly bad for the entire series that Torres got her job as Chief Engineer (a job she'd keep for the rest of the series) in the way she did. Chakotay's view of her is one-sided; he doesn't know Carey because by this episode they haven't worked together that much. But ultimately who is Voyager's Chief Engineer is Janeway's decision and she doesn't seem to care about technical things like "the latest Starfleet protocols" or professional behavior including not striking people when one has a disagreement with them.

It's also alarming how quickly injustice is laid down and what consequences come from this. By 26m3s into the episode, Tuvok tells Kim "There was an altercation, but it has been resolved." referring to the beating that started the episode. Resolved? I don't recall ever seeing Torres in the brig (she seemed to be briefly sequestered in her quarters when Chakotay yelled at her a bit, hardly a punishing place to be), being properly questioned about what happened, nor do I recall charges being handled in anything nearing an appropriate fashion. Tuvok continues "The situation may be described as tense, but one could hardly say they are about to become violent". There's already been violence, that's why Carey recently needed surgery for his broken nose (according to the EMH) which almost sent bone matter into his brain (according to Chakotay). Violent again, perhaps? The beating that launched this episode was far too quickly forgotten and ultimately serves to signal how much help Janeway needs to look respectfully authoritative. This also casts Kes' introduction in the first episode "Caretaker", obviously beaten by her Kazon torturers, in a different light now that violence is on the table as a right and proper way of resolving issues even on Janeway's ship and for something as relatively minor as a technical disagreement. Voyager does not do well to promote the idea that no trial, no punishment, denied opportunities, and job promotion are the proper consequences of violence.

Poor Lt. Carey was never told his job was on the line: he was never told that his job hinged on impressing Janeway at two senior crew meetings (one of which he was apparently not invited to) and an away mission with Janeway (to which he was also seemingly never invited). Torres got her Chief Engineer job apparently by beating up the current Chief Engineer (what is this, a Klingon ship?) and (as far as Carey is concerned) secret meeting time with the Captain. So, contrary to what Janeway told Paris about "hiding his credentials" on temporal mechanics, Janeway doesn't evaluate candidates for high-responsibility positions by technical qualification (further evidence of this is Torres' wrong assessment of which ship to dock the shuttlecraft with and why Torres got the answer wrong). We have too little input from Carey to evaluate Carey on this basis. Apparently Janeway promotes people who demonstrate they can think like her and let her in on personal problems Janeway thinks she can mold. As far as we know, Carey never got the chance to charm Janeway in this fashion.

I suspect Carey's fate was sealed when Janeway gave a nod to Chakotay at the end of that first senior crew meeting with both Carey and Torres. The next significant talk Torres and Janeway had was in a second meeting which apparently Carey wasn't invited to. In the shuttlecraft scene, Torres apologizes to Janeway(!) for the way Torres reacted to Janeway's assessment interview for Chief Engineer (a job for which she should not have been considered until after dealing with possible charges and possible brig time). There was no apology to Carey, the crewmember Torres beat. For a show so obviously concerned with showing women doing good work while in charge of important things, this mismanagement and highly unprofessional evaluation of the crew, and Torres' horrible choice of what to say to Carey when she effectively takes his job, does not speak well for the rest of Voyager. If this is indicative of how Starfleet conducts its reviews, it doesn't speak well of Starfleet and this reflects badly on the allegedly fair-minded future Star Trek wants us to think highly of.

The next time we see Torres (around 39m46s), she's being walked into Engineering by Chakotay who is telling her the Engineering crew is "your staff" to which she responds "I'll try not to break any of their noses." and Chakotay apparently agrees (repeating the dialogue two lines later), which highlights how insensitive management is to this entire appalling affair. The new Chief Engineer's last line to Carey is how she's "not up to date on the latest Starfleet protocols" (something you'd think you'd want in a Chief Engineer on a Starfleet ship!) but she "hopes that [she] can depend on [Carey]". Carey, still far more professional than anyone else involved in his demotion, replies "you'll never get less than my best" and congratulating her on her new position. If I recall correctly, Carey's undeserved demotion is not taken up again (I vaguely recall Carey look silly by having him later acknowledge he thinks Torres is a fine engineer and then later killing Carey off).

The worst thing I can say about Carey's choices here is his only line in the only meeting to which he was apparently invited: He questioned whether fixing the EMH's projectors are really the priority. I think that's a bad way of seeing things because it should always be a high priority to keep one's only medical staff (their only doctor, in fact) fully working. I don't charge Carey with much wrongdoing here though because of Janeway's horrible reaction to learning that the EMH's projectors are not working correctly. She heard about the problem (more than once), knew of its adverse effect (including how this would worsen over time), and there was no indication she chose to make good on her promise to get the projectors looked into. Since she's the captain of the ship, she sets the tone and the tone she set was indistinguishable from dismissing this as unimportant. Putting a fine point on how little they value anything in Sickbay, Janeway responds to the EMH's repeated call for someone to fix his projectors and Janeway's last line is to tell the EMH "We're a little busy right now, Doctor, but I'll send a crew as soon as I can.". The EMH has shrunk to the point where he can't possibly do significant parts of his job. We're supposed to think it's hilarious to see the circus mirror effect on the EMH (shrunken so small he's standing in a chair he normally sits in) but the obtuse writing apparently forgets when the sole medical staff is now rendered incapable of doing his job. I guess they're all fortunate that more people didn't require the EMH to be tall enough to reach the biobed, mix a new medicine, or perform surgery as is so often the case in Star Trek (and was in the start of this episode).

If Carey's and Torres's sexes were reversed, this show would have (even at the time of original syndication) been quickly dismissed as horribly misogynist; the horrible treatment I critique would be too obvious to deny. The misandry present in the episode shouldn't be taken as a social step forward for Star Trek. Making a woman benefit from violence and inequity is bargain basement feminism and is no better than the misogyny found in early Star Trek. Given how much room this show had to work with (new crew, new ship, new quadrant of the galaxy), it's sad the writers couldn't come up with anything egalitarian that would have highlighted how a skilled former Maquis engineer with social skill problems or anger management problems rose to the top after working hard in multiple episodes, thus earning respect from her peers and the audience. If I recall the rest of the series correctly, Carey will end up spending the rest of his life as an engineer serving under the unpunished criminal who beat him. Perhaps if more than two Voyager crewmembers knew how Torres got her job and knew of Carey's plight there would have been more complaints about this and they wouldn't have been so rosy serving under Torres or Janeway.
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J.B. Nicholson-Owens
Sat, Jul 17, 2010, 1:20am (UTC -5)
Re: TNG S2: The Measure of a Man

More about "Measure of a Man": In addition to Trajan's objections, I'll also add that the episode strikes me as a huge dodge of the issue they set themselves up to decide.

One wonders how Data got to serve at all if his entrance committee only had one objection -- Cmdr. Maddox's objection -- and that committee based their decision on sentience like Data said.

But there's another problem: the slavery argument (should we or should we not let Maddox make a race of copies of Cmdr. Data?). The slavery argument only works if you already agree with what Capt. Picard had to argue. The slavery argument fails if already agree with what Cmdr. Riker had to argue (Data is property, he can no more object to work than the Enterprise computer can object to a refit). It seems to me that the slavery argument presupposes the very thing the hearing is meant to decide and therefore this argument has no place in this hearing.

And Cmdr. Louvois' finding essentially passes the buck (as she all but says at the end of the hearing): she has no good reason to find as she does but she apparently believes erring on the side of giving Data "choice" is a safer route.

I think this episode might merit as the most overrated TNG episode.
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