This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.
Resistance is a very episodic instalment of Star Trek: Voyager.
It begins with the ship facing a convenient plot-generating fuel-shortage, the type of problem that the ship had encountered near the start of Phage or The Cloud or Tattoo. It is the kind of problem that was not mentioned in previous episodes, and which will never be presented as a potentially recurring problem. In fact, Resistance is the only episode of Voyager (or Star Trek) where the word “Tellerium” is mentioned. Many of the stock criticisms of Voyager apply here.
At the same time, Resistance is proof that the episodic model is not entirely without merit. For all that modern television has tended towards serialisation and arcs and long-form storytelling, there is nothing inherently wrong with a good old-fashioned done-in-one adventure. On a purely cosmetic level, Resistance is the typical Voyager episode; it relies on contrivance, it features a host of guest characters who will never appear (or be mentioned) again, it has no lasting impact. And yet it works better than any episode to this point in the second season.
As easy as it is to get distracted by arguments about serialised and episodic storytelling, or about arcs and standalones, the truth is that Voyager‘s problems are at once more simple and more complex than that. The grand irony of the second season is that it is the only season of Voyager to attempt a storytelling arc, but that storytelling arc is pretty universally derided as one of the worst things that the show ever did. (It isn’t really, but it’s still pretty bad.) The truth is that it doesn’t matter how Voyager chose to tell its stories, as long as it told them well.
Resistance is a fairly standard episode of Voyager, but it is elevated in the telling. The story seems unlikely to rank among anybody’s favourite Voyager episodes, but it is an efficient and effective character study with a solid script and a great central performance. The production team were able to recruit Oscar-winning actor Joel Grey as the primary guest star, lending the story an incredible level of pathos. Lisa Klink also makes quite an impression with her debut teleplay, providing a story that is careful to give most of the cast something to do.
The result is proof that there’s nothing inherently wrong with a largely episodic approach to Star Trek storytelling, as long as the material is up to scratch.
Resistance had a long an interesting life navigating from original pitch to the television screen. The story originated as a pitch from writers Michael Jan Friedman and Kevin J. Ryan, both of whom have a very long (and successful) career in tie-in Star Trek fiction. Michael Jan Friedman had been the chief writer on the monthly comic book for Star Trek: The Next Generation and had published a wide range of novels for the first four Star Trek shows. He even got to launch his own line of Star Trek books, the Stargazer series.
Kevin J. Ryan had collaborated with Friedman on a number of the Next Generation comics and the duo had also co-written the novel Requiem together. In his own right, Ryan had written a number of comics based on the original Star Trek crew. Ryan would go on two write two popular novel trilogies for Pocket Books, Errand of Vengeance and Errand of Fury, hoping to stitch together an internal continuity of the Klingon Empire across Kirk’s time. It is safe to say that both writers were familiar with the Star Trek universe.
According to Friedman, Resistance was far from their first pitch. The story also chanced significantly before it made it to screen:
Actually, my partner and I pitched to the various Star Trek shows several times before we struck gold and sold a story. The Trek programs were pretty much the only shows around that took pitches from pretty much anybody. Each time my partner and I sat down with the producers, they listened, smiled, and told us that they had our ideas in production already. That was discouraging and encouraging at the same time. Finally, we sold a pitch that was basically “Janeway plays Dulcinea to a Kazon Don Quixote.” Jeri Taylor, the show runner on Voyager, loved it and bought it almost on the spot. The next day, she called us and said she had gotten substantially the same pitch from someone else. Had we spoken to her a day later, she would have had to accept the other pitch rather than ours.
It is a great story about just how much luck and timing can be a factor, as Lisa Klink herself conceded when discussing her own history with the franchise.
Klink is notable as the first writer to graduate from a freelance job on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to a staff job on Star Trek: Voyager. She would blaze a trail for future Voyager writers Bryan Fuller and Michael Taylor, who would also pitch successfully to Deep Space Nine before becoming full-time staffers on Voyager. To be fair, Klink had something of a head start; she worked as an intern on Deep Space Nine before getting a chance to pitch the story and write the teleplay for what would become Hippocratic Oath.
Resistance aired just over a month after the broadcast of Hippocratic Oath, a remarkable turnaround for a relatively young and inexperienced writer. There is very much a sense that Klink had been thrown in the deep end during a particularly turbulent season. She rather quickly proved her worth. Klink would serve as a staff writer on Voyager for the second, third and fourth seasons of the show. Klink wrote thirteen episodes for the show, proving a valuable addition to the writing staff.
Klink had not even been aware of the fact that she was being considered for a staff job, receiving a cold call from Jeri Taylor asking her to join the staff:
I had no idea at the time that Voyager was looking for a staff writer. Ira Behr was pleased enough with my script that he passed it along to Jeri Taylor and Michael Piller. Jeri called me. I was happy to hear who it was because I thought I might get another freelance script. She asked if I wanted to be on staff at Voyager. Total brainlock: all I could stammer out was “really?” Yes, really. I must have said something coherent because I started work on Monday… after calling everyone I knew in the world with the news.
It offers an example of just the kind of pressure under which the Voyager staff were operating. It is to Klink’s credit that she dove in ready for action.
Discussing the episode with Cinefantastique, writer Jeri Taylor had nothing but praise for the newest writer on the staff:
“She has been a joy and a delight,” said Taylor. “First of all, it is so great for me finally to have another woman on any of the staffs. I’ve been a Mom with lots of squabbling boys and so it’s really refreshing to find another female voice. Lise came to us young, inexperienced, and she has gelled so quickly that it’s just taken our breath away. She just knows how to write Star Trek. She didn’t go through a learning process, her mind just works that way. Her dialogue is clean and clear. She has a great deal of feeling and maturity about things that go far beyond her years. She has been a genuine find. I’m just delighted with her.”
It is quite easy to see where Taylor is coming from. The script to Resistance manages to be both efficient emotive, effective and affective.
The decision was made quite early in the process to change the story so that it no longer focused on a Kazon character. Instead, the episode would be built around a new race specific to this episode, the Mokra. Given the trouble that the Kazon caused during the production of the second season, this might not have been such a bad idea. It goes to show that there is nothing inherently wrong with standalone episodes, as long as they are done well. And Resistance is done very well.
A lot of this is down to the casting Joel Grey in the role of Caylem, the troubled old man who provides Janeway with shelter when her away team is ambushed by Mokra forces. Grey is an Academy Award, Tony Award, and Golden Globe Award winning performer, and quite a coup for the franchise. He is perhaps most famous for his performance as the Master of Ceremonies in Bob Fosse’s Cabaret, for which he took home pretty much all of the Best Supporting Actor trophies. (Academy Awards, Golden Globes, National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critics.)
According to Friedman, Grey was not exactly the kind of performer they had envisaged when they pitched the story:
Anyway, they made a few changes in our story and produced it as Resistance. We had Brian Dennehy in mind for the Don Quixote character but the producers cast Joel Grey, who was the complete opposite body type. As it turned out, he was brilliant in the role.
Grey really is phenomenal in the role, and he carries a lot of the episode single-handedly.
Joel Grey had worked with Kate Mulgrew on Remo Williams, and had received several invitations to appear on Voyager in a guest capacity. He had declined the invitations repeatedly, before receiving the script for Resistance. Lisa Klink is quite proud of the fact that it was this script that convinced Grey to sign on:
The biggest compliment I ever got on a script came from Joel Grey. Apparently, he’d been approached by various Trek shows to do a guest role, but had always turned them down. Someone sent him my script, Resistance, and he liked it well enough to sign on. An Academy Award-winning actor liked my script. Fantastic. It was the first episode I’d written for Voyager, so I hadn’t had the chance to meet much of the cast. On the first day of shooting Resistance, I went to the set and introduced myself to Mr. Grey. It came up that I hadn’t met Kate Mulgrew yet, so he brought me over to her and introduced us. It was a pretty good day.
That is quite an impressive accomplishment for a freshman writer turning in her first assignment on her first staff job. It is easy to see why Klink remains proud of her work on Resistance.
Joel Grey does phenomenal work bringing Klink’s script to life. There are several extended sequences in Resistance where director Winrich Kolbe is quite happy to leave the camera lingering on Grey as he delivers emotive monologues about the life and times of a sad old shell of a man. Grey breathes life into Caylem, creating a compelling portrait of a man who has been eaten away and eroded by his own sense of guilt and shame for a mistake made years earlier. It is a beautifully moving performance in the grand Star Trek tradition of humanising the alien.
There are long sections of Resistance where the episode simply would not work with a lesser actor. The monologue about the letters that Caylem writes to his wife could seem indulgent or overstuffed in the hands of a less capable performer, but it manages to be one of the most emotional moments of the episode. “And tell her it rained for two and a half days,” he recalls. “I don’t know if she can see the sky where they’re keeping her. And there was more. There was something about a friend. I… why can’t I remember?”
With only a single appearance, Caylem arguably feels more fleshed out than some of the regular cast members on the show. As with any great Star Trek character, the key is that Caylem is completely and utterly understandable and comprehensible. The audience can understand and empathise with him, even as they pity him. His confession about abandoning his wife to the authorities is a powerful moment, even though the audience has never met (or even seen) his wife, beautifully sold by all involved.
It helps that Lisa Klink’s script for Resistance is not afraid to go dark. It is a surprisingly bleak episode of television. It is quite clear early on that Caylem is not heading for a happy ending, but the revelation that the authorities have turned him into a cautionary tale can’t help but render the tragedy all the more affecting. “Sometimes he gets all the way up to the front gate,” Augris boasts. “We send him on his way and allow him to serve as a reminder of just how futile it is to challenge us.”
The episode is ambiguous as to just how aware Caylem is of his situation – just how thoroughly he buys into the narrative he has concocted. Is he simply trying to convince himself that his wife and daughter or alive, or has he repeated his mantra so often that it has become the truth as he knows it? Did he already know everything that Augris boasts at the climax on some level, or did he invest completely in his delusion? Both the script and the performance leave it to the audience to make that determination, making the script all the more effective.
There is also something interesting in the decision to base an episode around the relationship between Don Quixote and Dulcinea. There is perhaps a feminist subtext to all this. Most interpretations of Don Quixote seem to suggest that there is an inherent conflict within the character of Dulcinea. She is presented as one of two alternatives. Don Quixote sees her as a romantic ideal, a truly beautiful maiden; this is contrasted against accounts that portray her as a wench or a prostitute.
The idea is that Dulcinea must be one or the other. Most adaptations suggest that there is some value in how Don Quixote sees her, even if it does not necessarily reflect the reality of the situation; however, it is always presented as a choice or an alternative in how Dulcinea really is and how those around her choose to perceive her. In Resistance, Caylem is convinced that Janeway is his long-lost daughter Ralkana. Janeway firmly rejects this in her early conversations with Caylem, insisting that she is a starship captain.
However, over the course of the episode, Janeway comes to gradually accept the role of Ralkana in her dealings with Caylem. She never stops being Kathryn Janeway, but she also understands that she can be what Caylem needs her to be. Their final moments are spent together with Janeway fully assuming the role of Ralkana and offering Caylem the forgiveness that he so sorely needs. She never gives up on her crew, she never shrugs off the responsibilities of command. She never stops being a captain, even when she takes on the role of loving daughter.
One of the recurring themes of Jeri Taylor’s tenure as an executive producer on Voyager is the sense that Janeway is torn between the obligations of command and her own personal needs. This is perhaps the reason why Taylor created (and pushed) Janeway’s gothic horror holodeck program and why she tended to amp up the sexual tension between Janeway and Chakotay. It frequently seemed like Janeway was torn in a way that her male counterparts never were. (Picard is perhaps the only other lead character with the same conflict, but his is much lower key.)
Resistance seems to suggest that Janeway can be both a captain and a daughter at the same time, that she can satisfy her obligations to her crew and to Caylem without favouring one over the other. In some ways, Resistance plays as a slightly feminist reworking of the story that inspired it. After all, Janeway is the central character in Resistance while Dulcinea del Toboso (or Aldonza Lorenzo) never actually appears in Miguel de Cervantes’s original novel. (She does apepar quite regularly in the adaptations, though.)
While Klink’s script is focused on the interplay between Caylem and Janeway, the episode never forgets about the ensemble. Pretty much every member of the primary cast is given something to do, no matter how small. Harry Kim and Tom Paris are perhaps the only underserved member of the ensemble, who are largely relegated to exposition. Janeway interacts with Caylem. Neelix organises the meeting and is wary of Augris. Chakotay manages things in Janeway’s absence. Torres and Tuvok are trapped in a Mokra prison.
The combination of Torres and Tuvok is quite interesting. In some respects, Tuvok would end up an underdeveloped character on Voyager, particularly in the show’s later seasons. Although never quite neglected to the extent of Chakotay or Kim, he was lucky to get a single character-centric episode in a season. It is a shame, given Tuvok’s status as the franchise’s first full-blooded Vulcan regular character and as the oldest and most experienced member of the crew. After all, the character’s strongest relationships tend towards mentorship.
Tuvok is Janeway’s oldest and most trusted friend. Tuvok was Chakotay’s tactical advisor. Tuvok is teaching Kes how to harness her telepathic powers. Tuvok oversees Neelix’s attempts at integration into the Starfleet crew. Resistance plays into that, positioning Tuvok as a character who has a lot to teach Torres. Given Torres’ characterisation as an emotionally volatile individual with serious anger issues, it is surprising that she has not spent more time in the company of the ship’s stoic tactical officer.
Resistance affords the two characters an opportunity to bond, contrasting Torres’ quick temper with Tuvok’s level-headedness. The two characters only share a few short scenes, but the episode makes a point to accentuate their differences. “You must feel some anger at what they did to you, some desire to fight back,” Torres protests after Tuvok is returned from a particularly brutal interrogation. Tuvok responds, “Under the circumstances, physical resistance is ineffective. We are fighting back by refusing to give them any information.”
Indeed, the script even suggests that Torres could learn a thing or two from Tuvok. She is shocked to hear Tuvok screaming in agony during his torture. “I guess I always assumed that Vulcans didn’t feel pain like the rest of us,” she confesses. “That you were able to block it out somehow. Until I heard. Was that you I heard?” Even in matters like that, Tuvok is even-handed. “Vulcans are capable of suppressing certain levels of physical pain,” he explains. “Beyond that we must simply endure the experience.”
In a way, it feels like Torres might have been better suited than Kim to fill the role of Tuvok’s protege during the third season. A number of third season episodes suggest that Tuvok is trying to educate Kim in the workings of the universe and even certain Vulcan disciplines, but this feels a little redundant. After all, an eager-to-please young officer fresh from the Academy makes too obvious a student. There would more excitement and intrigue in a combination of Tuvok with Torres. It feels like a shame that never developed.
Resistance is a solid little episode, easily the best episode of the second season to this point. Given how chaotic the season has been to this point, a little solidity is more than welcome.