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Star Trek: Voyager – Resolutions (Review)

This February and March (and a little bit of April), 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 for the latest review.

So, shipping.

Times change surprisingly quickly. It is fair to say that Star Trek: Voyager emerged in a different world than the original Star Trek. However, it also emerged in a different world than Star Trek: The Next Generation. In a way, the show had acknowledged as much through its experiments with serialisation earlier in the second season. Michael Piller was trying to keep the franchise at the bleeding edge of contemporary television, realising that the medium was not the same as it had been when Jean-Luc Picard emerged at the end of the Reagan era.

Reach out...

Reach out…

Resolutions nods towards a different type of change in the way that television storytelling worked, particularly conversations about television storytelling. Although it could be argued that Star Trek helped to popularise the notion of romantically (or sexually) pairing off television characters through the practice of “slashing” Kirk and Spock, the notion of “shipping” had begun to enter the mainstream during the mid-nineties. The raw sexual chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson on The X-Files played no small part.

Resolutions is essentially about “shipping” Janeway and Chakotay.

... and touch somebody.

… and touch somebody.

To be fair, this is not the first episode of Star Trek to touch on the awkward possibilities of a romantic relationship between two lead characters. The final season of The Next Generation had explored the dynamic between Jean-Luc Picard and Beverly Crusher in Attached, with the two characters meditating on their shared attraction to one another. However, that existed in the context of the final season of the show. It was the tidying away of a loose end that had been suggested fleetingly (but repeatedly) over the prior six years, dating back to The Naked Now.

It is ridiculous to suggest that the notion of pairing off two television characters was a radical concept in the mid-nineties. After all, Moonlighting had demonstrated the power of raw sexual chemistry between two leads to generate interest from an audience. Of course, the same television show also demonstrated the risks associated with acting upon that raw sexual chemistry. There is a reason that the tendency of a functioning romantic relationship between two leads to kill a successful show has become known colloquially as “the Moonlight curse.”

A beige mood.

A beige mood.

At the same time, it should be noted that so many of these “will they?”/“won’t they?” television romances were largely confined to traditional comedies or dramas. Cheers or Remington Steel, to pick two examples. Genre television had traditionally lacked these sorts of hooks, in favour of high concepts and big ideas. That is part of the reason why The X-Files represented a game-changer, demonstrating that audiences could invest themselves in romantic tension between the leads of what amounted to a science-fiction show.

There was another reason why The X-Files represented a game-changer: the internet. The term “shipper” famously originated on the X-Files message boards, shortened from the term “relationshipper” and referring to fans who believed that Mulder and Scully were destined (or deserved) to be in an explicitly romantic relationship with one another. However, much like the term “slash” from Star Trek fandom, the descriptor “shipper” took on a broader meaning. It was soon applicable to just about any characters from any show.

Tub time.

Tub time.

The internet was beginning to emerge as a cultural force early in the run of Voyager. Internet usage grew from an estimated sixteen million users in December 1995 to almost two-hundred-and-fifty million in March 2000. AOL faced difficulty meeting growing customer demand in 1996, crashing in August and earning the nickname “America OffLine.” Salon and Slate both launched in 1996. The fandom news site Trek Today would launch in 1999, during the Voyager‘s sixth season.

Star Trek had been part of the on-line conversation since the point where the internet was a niche object. “Without porn and Star Trek, there would be no Internet,” insists an oft-repeated internet quotation, frequently attributed to veteran Star Trek producer Rick Berman. However, the internet was becoming a larger part of the mainstream. The internet opened up new avenues for fan discussion and communication, beyond the old “fanzine” model. As a result, Voyager was broadcast in a very different cultural climate than The Next Generation. “Shipping” was part of that.

Neelix is not happy. Not. One. Bit.

Neelix is not happy.
Not. One. Bit.

“Shipping” is an interesting fandom phenomenon, particular when applied to traditionally nerd-friendly texts like Star Trek or The X-Files. It is frequently a divisive subject, both among the fandom itself and even on the creative team. However, it is also a division that is often rooted in gender. Traditionally, it has been the female audience that responds to “shipping”:

The explosive outbreak in shipping is surely an outgrowth of the radical shift toward target-market TV since The X-Files. Today’s prized demo? Adult females. Hart Hanson says he was spurred to create Bones after reading a study of TV viewing that concluded that women, not men, choose what to watch in the household. While Hanson says he never heard the term “shippers” before Bones, the producer acknowledges that a romance starring “one of the great shipper icons of all time” (i.e., Buffy’s Boreanaz) has certainly “mined the mother lode.” Adds another top showrunner: “Networks would love to have the next Lost, but they’d rather have the next Bones and Castle. They’re cheaper, easier to manage, and inspire the same buzzy interconnectivity that sci-fi does. They also encourage the thing that TV needs more than anything: passionate loyalty over time.”

This is, of course, a generalisation. There are undoubtedly male audience members who also “ship” characters on their favourite shows, just as there have to be female fans who watch shows like The X-Files or Bones or Castle purely for the plots without feeling the need to romantically pair off the two leading characters. However, time and research has suggested that there is some truth to that rather broad generalisation about the gender divide.

Tuvok will not let Harry's rescue plans disrupt his One True Pairing.

Tuvok will not let Harry’s rescue plans disrupt his One True Pairing.

In many respects, it is no surprise that Voyager should attract a strong following of vocal shippers. Voyager is the first Star Trek show to feature a woman captain and a female showrunner. It is no coincidence that an episode like Resolutions should show up just as Michael Piller’s influence was weakening and just as Jeri Taylor was cementing her control over the show’s purpose and direction. Taylor had a vision for Voyager that was quite distinct from that of Piller, and the third and fourth seasons would come to reflect that vision.

Even though she was sharing day-to-day responsibility for the running of the show with Michael Piller, Jeri Taylor had made a number of strong creative decisions designed to emphasise Janeway’s femininity; “Janeway Lambda One” from Cathexis, Learning Curve and Persistence of Vision is probably the most obvious and controversial example. However, Jeri Taylor was also very interested in the possibility of romantic relationships among the cast. B’Elanna’s out-of-left-field sexual fantasies about Chakotay in Persistence of Vision come to mind.

Home sweet home.

Home sweet home.

As such, it was no surprise that fans would develop an interest in seeing Janeway become romantically involved with Chakotay. These fans adopted the descriptor “J and C”, taken from the initials of the the two characters and evoking the “slash” pairing convention that dated back to the earliest Kirk and Spock fan fiction. This segment of fandom was particularly vocal during the first few years of the show’s run, becoming a lot less pronounced during Brannon Braga’s tenure as producer. (Although he still took the time to troll them with Seven of Nine.)

The relationship between Janeway and Chakotay was very much a part of the media discussion around the early seasons of Voyager, with fans and journalists constantly asking about the possibility of a romantic relationship between the two characters. When Starlog jokingly asked the show’s leads to open a group interview by preemptively answering the questions they were most frequently asked, Mulgrew spoke straight to the shippers. “I don’t know yet if Chakotay and Janeway will really have a love affair.”

A romantic atmosphere.

A romantic atmosphere.

It is noteworthy that this shipping of the “male-and-female, captain-and-first-officer” cast members was unique to Voyager. There was much less investment in a possible romantic pairing of Sisko and Kira over on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, episodes like Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror notwithstanding. This was not something that just happened within fandom. Fandom did not unilaterally decide to start “shipping” Janeway and Chakotay because they were the two leads of the show and they just happened to be opposite genders.

Resolutions is very much an ode to these fans. It is very consciously and deliberately written to appeal to them, and it certainly did. In fact, the Now Voyager fanzine celebrated the episode by publishing an entire pullout section packed with material based on Resolutions. This was something of a novel approach for Star Trek in May 1996, an engagement a strong (assumed female) section of the fanbase that was typically overlooked in favour of the conventional (assumed male) segment of the fandom.

[Insert cheap shot about Robert Beltran's performance style.]

[Insert cheap shot about Robert Beltran’s performance style.]

However, despite the popularity of the pairing and the excitement of certain segments of “fandom”, it should be noted that “shipping” is not always a popular aspect of popular media consumption. When it came to The X-Files, for example, there was heated debate over whether the show should be read as a love story that just happened to feature monsters and conspiracies or a horror thriller that just happened to focus on two characters with incredible chemistry. This recurring conflict has become known as “the shipping wars.”

This sort of conflict tends to become particularly pronounced in fandoms that have traditionally been viewed as masculine, where it seems like there is vocal opposition to “shipping.” After all, The X-Files was the kind of horror series that would have traditionally drawn a very male demographic. However, it resonated with a large female audience which may have explained why “shipping” became such a large part of the discussion of the show. (It was also a popular part of the show, given the focus on the relationship in The X-Files: Fight the Future.)

[Insert second cheap shot about Robert Beltran's performance style.]

[Insert second cheap shot about Robert Beltran’s performance style.]

The conflict between “shippers” and non-“shippers” in fandom can be read as a conflict between traditional masculine interpretations of a text and more modern feminine interpretations. As Ödül Gürsimsek points out in Gendered Representations of Fandom:

This conflict between male viewers’ interest in science fiction and female viewers’ interest in romance and emotional interpersonal relations (a conflict that marginalises the latter) is reminiscent of the soap opera narrative and subsequent devaluation of the soap opera audience. Media scholar John Tulloch reports that in his study of Australia high school students’ reception of the British television series Doctor Who, male participants concerned themselves with themes that drew on historical knowledge that they obtained from school, while girls focused on the personal relationships depicted in the show.

After all, debates about “shipping” inevitably boil down to arguing about the “right” way to be a fan or to read a particular story. They serve as an attempt at gate-keeping, and in some respects could be seen as an attempt to define the mode of conversation for an entire fandom by insisting other readings are incorrect or exclusive.

A touching moment.

A touching moment.

In this context, it is worth noting that Star Trek fandom is traditionally seen as a male space. In popular culture, the traditional Star Trek fan is presented as a lonely and socially awkward young man. There are plenty of examples to choose from, but the three male leads of The Big Bang theory are perhaps the most ubiquitous contemporary example. Homer’s three college roommates from The Simpsons – introduced in Homer Goes to College – are another popular demonstration of the archetype.

However, the reality is much more complex. Much of early Star Trek fandom was female. Leonard Nimoy was more of a sex symbol than Nichelle Nichols. Bjo Trimble was one of the architects of the campaign to keep Star Trek on the air by organising a mass letter-writing campaign. Sue Sackett emerged from fandom before spending seventeen years as Gene Roddenberry’s personal assistant. Paula Smith coined the phrase “Mary Sue” in her contributions to Star Trek fandom. This is to say nothing of the mostly female authors of early fan fiction. (Yes, including “slash.”)

It's all about chemistry.

It’s all about chemistry.

However, this aspect of Star Trek fandom is traditionally forgotten or overlooked in the vast majority of discussions and portrayals of the franchise’s following. It is possible to read this, coupled with the derisive response to “shipping”, as an diminish traditionally feminine fandom. As Noah Berlatsky argues, male fandom can be quite insecure in its identity:

Geekdom is built on cultural knowledge; on how much you’ve consumed; on what you’ve consumed; and on how long before everyone else you were able to consume it. That knowledge is—deliberately, essentially, intentionally—used, and meant to be used, as an identity, and, therefore, as power.

A lot of the conflicts between traditionally masculine fandom and other fan subcultures can be read as an extention of this. GamerGate argues that viewpoints not conforming to its own represent the wrong way to engage with a text – “objective” reviews that conform to their subjective expectations. “Fake geek girls” are accused of being “pretty girls pretending to be geeks for attention.” Fans of Twilight are ostracised at Comic Con.

Planting seeds.

Planting seeds.

A recurring theme of all of these high-profile conflicts is the idea that there is a “right” way to do fandom, and that the “right” way is the way conforms to traditional and masculine expectations. Star Trek has traditionally been presented as a masculine space, regardless of the realities of its early fandom. The stereotypical Star Trek fan (really, the stereotypical science-fiction fan) is broadly assumed to be a straight white male. The average Star Trek writer is a straight white male. As such, the franchise broadly conforms to those expectations.

As such, it is strange to see Voyager attempting something like Resolutions in the context of 2016, let alone 1996. Resolutions is rather transparently a “shipper” episode. It opens with Janeway and Chakotay trapped on an alien planet alone together, and spends forty-five minutes with them as they learn to make a new life together. The two even take off their Starfleet uniforms and live in an adorable cottage together. Chakotay builds an adorable bath for Janeway, while Voyager’s inevitable return interrupts their plans for a romantic boat trip.

She don't have no time for no monkey business...

She don’t have no time for no monkey business…

In many ways, Resolutions loosely resembles fan fiction. There are two characters thrown into an unlikely situation with one another, generating considerable angst as they find themselves confronting a more emotional challenge than Star Trek usually affords. There are a whole host of elements of Resolutions that feel strange for a Berman-era Star Trek episode, but make sense in the context of fan fiction: the ease with which Voyager abandons Janeway and Chakotay, the largely planet-based setting, the inclusion of an adorable animal companion, the tidy resolution.

After all, Resolutions is rather messy as a plot-driven episode. Although Taylor sets up the idea that the Vidiians might have a cure as early as the teaser, it feels massively convenient that Tuvok just happens to run into a convoy that just happens to be able to put them in contact with a sympathetic Vidiian who just happens to be able to get them an antidote. But to focus on these contrivances is to miss the point. The actual mechanics of getting Janeway and Chakotay off the planet do not matter. The point of the episode is to focus on the interactions of the two characters together.

"I could get used to this."

“I could get used to this.”

Resolutions is not the only time that Star Trek has embraced a “fan fiction” model of storytelling. The late second season of Deep Space Nine produced its own “fan fiction” episode by essentially writing The Wire as a “hurt/comfort” story focusing on the highly “slashable” combination of Julian Bashir and Elim Garak. Much of the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise could be read as “fan fiction”, albeit focused upon more traditionally masculine fandom constructs like continuity and world-building. To say nothing of Star Trek Into Darkness.

In this context “fan fiction” is not a measure of quality, but the description of an aesthetic. Resolutions is not a plot-driven episode. It is made quite clear that there are fairly minimal stakes for Janeway and Chakotay. The two characters will not die so long as they remain on the planet. Janeway tries to work to find a solution to their problem, but the episode never focuses on the mechanics of her research. In fact, Janeway’s efforts to get off the planet are brutally sabotaged by a freak “plasma storm.”

All by themselves, don't wanna be all by themselves...

All by themselves, don’t wanna be all by themselves…

In many respects, the plotting of Resolutions mirrors the finer details of “Janeway Lambda One.” After all, “Janeway Lambda One” stands in marked contrast to the other recurring holodeck programmes presented in the franchise to this point; Data’s Sherlock Holmes from Elementary, Dear Data, Julian Bashir’s James Bond from Our Man Bashir or Tom Paris’ Captain Proton from Night. Those programmes are presented as plot-driven narratives with very clear “win” conditions for their male protagonists, while “Janeway Lambda One” is more about mood.

“Janeway Lambda One” liberally borrows from all manner of gothic literature, from Jane Eyre to The Turning of the Screw. In fact, “Janeway Lambda One” belongs to the same aesthetic as Sub Rosa, the weird (and divisive) gothic horror from the seventh season of The Next Generation. However, while there is definitely a plot, it seems like the holodeck programme is more about emersing the subject in a world and exploring the emotional reality of that world than it is about solving the mystery of what happened to Lord Burleigh’s wife.

Putting her neck on the line.

Putting her neck on the line.

Resolutions attempts to do something similar with Janeway and Chakotay, to the point that all the contrivances to get them stranded on a planet together – and, later, rescued from that same planet – feel tangential to the actual point of the episode. Resolutions is an episode in which Janeway and Chakotay get stranded in paradise together, and Chakotay builds Janeway a bathtub while they each evaluate their feelings for one another. In its own weird way, Resolutions is just as experimental as anything that Michael Piller was trying to do with the Kazon.

The truth is that Resolutions works better than the Kazon arc, but only slightly. Watching the episode, there is a sense that Jeri Taylor struggles with writing romantic angst in the same way that Ira Steven Behr struggles with writing broad comedy; there are moments when it works quite well, but there are also moments when the script either goes too far or stops too short. In particular, some of the banter sequences between Janeway and Chakotay feel awkward and forced.

Does not scan.

Does not scan.

Early in the episode, Janeway makes a comment about “roughing it for a while.” When Chakotay points out all the amenities available to them, Janeway has one sizeable complaint. “We don’t have a bathtub,” she reflects. “I love a bath. It’s my favourite way of relaxing.” That is a very strange observation to make at that particular moment in the company of somebody who was (until very recently) her second-in-command. It is a line that exists not because it is an organic thing for a character to say, but so that Chakotay can build a bathtub later on.

After a little time on the planet, Janeway admits to Chakotay, “You’ve done so many things to make our lives easier here. The cooking, for example. I hate to cook.” It seems like an over-written line. The fact that Janeway either hates cooking (or can’t cook) should be read into the fact that Chakotay volunteering to do the cooking has made their lives easier. Actually having Janeway then explain that she hates to cook feels redundant and forced. There are a number of these strange over-elaborations peppered throughout the script.

Peas in a (sleeping) pod.

Peas in a (sleeping) pod.

In some ways, Resolutions feels like a casualty of Voyager‘s loose approach to characterisation and development. There are a whole host of character and plot beats in the episode that would feel a lot more organic had they been properly foreshadowed and set up in earlier episodes, rather than arriving out of nowhere because the script needs them at this particular points. Those character beats would seem more effective if Janeway had mentioned her fondness for the bathtub over a sonic shower in an earlier episode, or if her cooking had come up before.

The sense that Resolutions is just re-writing its own history of these characters, instead of building on what came before, is reinforced during Janeway’s big farewell to her crew. “No captain could ask more than what this crew has given,” she reflects. “Bravery, compassion and strength of character. But I think what I’ll miss most is the fun. The times we joked together, the games on the holodeck. I’ll remember the laughter more than anything.” Really? The laughter? When did the crew actually game together, collectively? When did they laugh together?

There is also a sense that the script pulls back a little bit, that is unwilling to commit to its core premise. For an episode that is consciously designed to appeal to “shippers”, the episode is remarkably reticent to give them what they want. In Cinefantastique, Kenneth Biller admitted that the episode was deliberately murky on that count:

One piece of intentional ambiguity from the writers was the romantic intimations between Janeway and Chakotay. “The audience can answer that for themselves,” added Biller. “If they want to believe that more went on then they can believe it, and if they would rather not believe it then they need not believe it. There was an earlier version of the script in which it went a little further.”

The romance featured in Resolutions is left largely unspoken and implied. Robert Beltran was highly critical of this decision. As he confessed to Captains’ Logs Supplemental, “It’s Star Trek, which means we touch hands and it’s supposed to be thrilling.”

Pel in peril...

Pel in peril…

To be fair to Jeri Taylor, this makes a certain amount of sense. It could be argued that a chaste romance is inherently “purer” the alternative, that restraint is romantic in and of itself. This is the argument that Chris Carter has made when pressed on the relationship between Mulder and Scully in The X-Files, that their chaste dynamic is “a cerebral romance” and more compelling than a physical relationship ever could be. It is certainly a feature of the gothic romances that influenced “Janeway Lambda One”, largely owing to the social standards of the times.

There is something just a little bit prudish about this idea, something that dismisses the importance of physical (as well as emotional) intimacy. While it might be too much to insist that physical intimacy is a requirement of a deep emotional connection, it also seems rather old-fashioned to suggest that physical intimacy must somehow devalue (or even “sully”) a strong emotional attachment. Indeed, given the weird double-standards that exist around the portrayal of sexual relationships in popular culture, it is arguably important to acknowledge physical intimacy.

"... and let's never speak of this again."

“… and let’s never speak of this again.”

Watching Resolutions, the issue is not that Taylor declines to portray any physical intimacy between Janeway and Chakotay. The issue is that Voyager is trying to have its cake and eat it. The episode is stuctured so as to leave room for interpretation. There is a long gap between Janeway and Chakotay touching hands and the next time that they appear together. Certainly, Chakotay’s suggestion that the two take a boat trip together – and Janeway’s reflection that she can bathe in the river – hints at some sort of increased intimacy between the two.

But the episode maintains plausible deniability. Resolutions is an episode that is intentionally designed to appeal to the “shippers”, but it is palpably afraid of alienating other viewers. It is willing to leave wiggle-room for viewers who want to believe that Janeway and Chakotay hooked up together, but it is completely unwilling to commit to the consequences of that decision. In some respects, this is typical of how Jeri Taylor will run Voyager during her tenure. Basics, Part II opens the Taylor era by bending over backwards to avoid leaving any open threads.

"Yes, lounging is an important Vulcan pastime."

“Yes, lounging is an important Vulcan pastime.”

As such, Resolutions is a cop-out. In an interview with Cinefantastique during the third season, Robert Beltran would confess a sense of frustration about how the writers were dealing with the relationship between Janeway and Chakotay:

“The writers are straddling the fence on that,” he said, “because they don’t know if they want to continue with this possibility of a romantic thing happening, or if they want to just drop it altogether. I don’t think they really know what to do. I’m really confused about that.” He added, “Kate and I think it’s a good idea to follow it through.”

Resolutions is committed to being non-committal. Ironically for a script titled Resolutions, the episode stubbornly declines to provide anything resembling a definitive resolution. Realising that picking a side means closing off narrative avenues, Resolutions simply declines to make a decision one way or the other.

Facing up to their emotions.

Facing up to their emotions.

To be fair, it is entirely possible that Jeri Taylor was wary of the problems of writing Janeway into a romance. One of the biggest issues with characterising Janeway has been the difficulty posed by her gender. A lot of the awkward creative decisions made with Janeway seem to be an attempt to avoid conforming to one sexist stereotype or another. Most notably, the show has consciously avoided giving Janeway any romantic interests. Caretaker made a point to introduce Janeway’s fiancé Mark, who is waiting for her in the Alpha Quadrant.

As a result, Janeway is functionally chaste, particularly when compared to the other (male) Star Trek captains. Kirk’s romantic adventures are legendary, to the point that they become something of a joke in the JJ Abrams films. Picard had a number of romantic interests over the seven years (and four feature films) associated with The Next Generation. Sisko found himself involved in dalliances both serious (Second Sight) and creepy (Through the Looking Glass) before getting married on Deep Space Nine. Even Archer got some action in Civilisation.

It's a wash.

It’s a wash.

In contrast, Janeway is a much more isolated figure with a much less interesting sex life. There were brief hints of flirtation in Prime Factors, but the episode awkwardly tied them to a plot about betrayal and mutiny. Jeri Taylor seemed to acknowledge the double-standard being applied to Janeway in Persistence of Vision, allowing a vision of Mark to haunt her for playing out some romantically-charged programmes on the holodeck. Counterpoint is perhaps the best Janeway romance of the series, and it is a long con. The less said about Fair Haven, the better.

As such, it seems possible that the production team’s reluctance to allow Janeway to have a sexual (or romantic) relationship was rooted in the sorts of sexist double-standards applied to sexually active men and women. After all, Chakotay is portrayed as quite the lothario over the course of the series, particularly during the early seasons. Torres fantasises about Chakotay in Persistence of Vision; there are hints of romance in Unity; he becomes involved with an alien guest character in Unforgettable.

So ends Torres' torrid fantasy...

So ends Torres’ torrid fantasy…

In hindsight, Kate Mulgrew has suggested that a romance would not have been workable. At a convention in Sacramento in 2003, she joked:

I didn’t feel that I could have a love affair with the second in command because I had to get these people home, right? I was responsible to a hundred and sixty five in that crew. I got them lost. And I really couldn’t be doing things, you know, in the ready room and stuff, right? Right? Don’t you agree?

Again, the double standard seems to creep in there. Sisko was able to have a long-term romance despite being a senior religious figure and a key part of a war effort to save an entire quadrant. Nobody ever called out Kirk.

Welcome to New Earth.

Welcome to New Earth.

This is not to suggest that Janeway is the only problematic character here. The production seemed to struggle to write Janeway as a woman in a command position, constantly bouncing between portrayals in order to avoid problematic readings or interpretations of the character. In contrast, the problems with Chakotay remained fairly consistent across the first few seasons of the show. Chakotay is a Native American stereotype written by a white staff and played by a Mexican American actor.

Although Michael Piller was responsible for a lot of the problematic aspects of Chakotay in scripts like The Cloud and Tattoo, other writers played their part. In Resolutions, Chakotay decides to profess his love for Janeway by inventing an old Native American myth filled with stereotypes about a warrior who “longed for peace within himself.” Beltran himself was critical of the stereotyping, confessing, “What bothered me most was trying to find the location of that damned flute that was playing every time I had a private moment. I kept waiting for the pow-wow to start and it never did!”

Surrounded!

Surrounded!

Even outside of these issues and its stubbornly non-committal approach to the nature of the relationship between Janeway and Chakotay, there are other issues with Resolutions. The episode struggles to convey a sense of time passing. In theory, the episode unfolds over a stretch of weeks (if not months), but the script never communicates this clearly. There are occasional markers in the dialogue; one of Janeway’s log entries marks “day twenty-four”, while Tuvok’s log entry notes that “six weeks” have passed. However, there is no material sense of the passage of time.

There is something curiously static about the episode, no sense of movement or evolution between the scenes shown to the audience. Tuvok might be promoted to the role of captain, but he still wears gold instead of red. Chakotay talks about making organic modifications to the little shack using logs, but the domicile always looks like it just came fresh out of the Federation’s equivalent of IKEA. In a way, this arguably reflects Voyager as a whole; after all, there is minimal change over the show’s seven-year run, why would this few-month period be any different?

"I... have a cunning plan."

“I… have a cunning plan.”

Nevertheless, writer Kenneth Biller acknowledged in an interview with Cinefantastique that Resolutions could have handled the passage of time in a much more convincing manner:

“I had a hand in Resolution in the sense that I wanted to do a story about Janeway and Chakotay stranded on a planet,” said Ken Biller, “but I wanted to do a more sci-fi twist on it where they get stranded and Voyager literally left through a time eddy to get home. When they come back Chakotay and Janeway have aged 40 years and have a whole family. Jeri felt it was too reminiscent of Inner Light. That was kind of the twist I wanted to do on it. That is another problem with the style of our show – I don’t fault Jeri for that at all – which is how to convey the passage of time. If you go back and listen to the ship’s logs, the idea was they were months stuck on that planet and I don’t think it felt like that when you watched it. Maybe we should have done more to show the passage of time. That was a show that needed a montage sequence or Chakotay to grow a beard or something.”

It should be noted that Biller’s idea of a time-distortion would be used in several later Voyager stories. Gravity comes rather close to Biller’s original plans for Resolutions, but the storytelling device is used in a more high concept manner for Blink of an Eye.

She knows kung-fu.

She knows kung-fu.

Resolutions aired a week before The Quickening, an episode of Deep Space Nine that would also unfold over an extended period of time. The Quickening was much more successful at conveying the passage of time, cleverly using a number of cues to help give the impression of time passing. The Quickening had characters make more overt references to the passage of time, employed more montages to demonstrate the passage of time, had Bashir’s uniform get worn with the passage of time, and featured a pregnant character as a living ticking clock to mark the passage of time.

It also helped that The Quickening focused solely on Bashir. There was no subplot to divert attention away from Bashir’s time on the planet, so the editing tended to convey a movement in time rather a movement in space. Resolutions constantly cuts back and forth between New Earth and Voyager, which gives the impression that events are occurring simultaneously across the gulf of space. Given that the Voyager plot thread is very much a standard weekly adventure, it gives the impression that the New Earth scenes unfold over a similar period of time.

Tuvok is all ears.

Tuvok is all ears.

It is debatable what the Voyager plot threads actually add to the show, beyond giving the rest of the cast something to do and providing a suitably action-driven climax. Resolutions would almost certainly be a better episode if the subplot involving Voyager had been excised entirely. Particularly frustrating is the weird focus on a pseudo-mutiny plot. Taylor had been a major opponent of attempts to generate conflict on Voyager, and so the attention that Resolutions pays to the crew openly rebelling questioning Tuvok’s orders feels… disingenuous.

This is partially because the entire sequence is so toothless. Harry objects to leaving Janeway and Chakotay behind. Tuvok overrules him and follows orders. Harry causes a scene on the bridge. Harry begins plotting with the rest of the senior staff to figure out a rescue plan. He even brings Neelix into the loop, promising, “Have a seat, Neelix. We might have come up with the biggest morale booster you could possibly imagine.” This is mutiny on the scale of Prime Factors, crew members unilaterally deciding they know better than the commanding officer.

 "We will contact the Vidiians. This is my decision and mine alone. You are all absolved of responsibility in the matter. I will accept any consequences which may ensue. Including the harvesting of all of your organs."

“We will contact the Vidiians. This is my decision and mine alone. You are all absolved of responsibility in the matter. I will accept any consequences which may ensue. Including the harvesting of all of your organs.”

However, Resolutions is somewhat oblivious to the irony of having Tuvok face a mutiny just a year after leading a mutiny. The episode avoids the awkward implications of Harry undermining and undercutting Tuvok’s command by having Tuvok effectively concede to all of Harry’s demands almost immediately. For all that the basic premise of Resolutions teases something new and unique, it is very much typical Voyager. It teases something potentially groundbreaking and complicated, only to immediately retreat from the implications.

The most interesting questions raised by Resolutions are all ignored and overlooked. What happens if Janeway and Chakotay acknowledge their feelings on New Earth? How do they go back to a professional working relationship after that? It doesn’t matter, because the episode leaves the possibility that they did hook up ambiguous and the show never revisits the point. What happens when the crew refuse to accept Tuvok as their commanding officer? It doesn’t matter, because Tuvok caves to their demands immediately.

Explosive action...

Explosive action…

Resolutions doesn’t quite work, but it is still an interesting episode. It is a worthy narrative experiment, even if it is undercut by the kinds of storytelling compromises that haunt the seven-year run of Voyager. Watching Resolutions, there is a sense that script is a re-write or two away from being one of the best episodes in the franchise, held back by a reluctance to commit to its more radical ideas. Resolutions is ultimately an episode of Voyager, which means that it comes with certain built-in limitations that have become obvious over this troubled second season.

As it stands, Resolutions still looks and feels different from any other Voyager episode – and any other Star Trek episode, for that matter. It teases a unique engagement with an emerging fan culture, a kind of knowing fan service that provides a contrast to the more continuity-heavy references of Enterprise‘s much lauded fourth season. Resolutions seems to foreshadow changes in the way that television writers would engage with fandom concepts like “shipping”, acknowledging that conventional modes of fan discourse were changing.

Jeri Taylor remains one of the few prominent female voices to work on the Star Trek television franchise, with only D.C. Fontana operating at her level of influence. Taylor’s work is – and remains – divisive among Star Trek fans. In many ways, she was a much more conservative executive producer than Michael Piller or Ira Steven Behr or Manny Coto. Taylor’s approach to storytelling favoured conventional episodic adventures where everything was neatly tidied away at the end, an approach that was beginning to look a little quaint and outdated by the end of the nineties.

However, episodes like Persistence of Vision and Resolutions demonstrate that Taylor did bring her own unique perspective to the Star Trek franchise. Taylor offered a more stereotypically feminine approach to Star Trek, providing a contrast to the action-adventure storytelling that Michael Piller brought to the Kazon arc or the hard science-fiction that Brannon Braga applied to scripts like Projections or Deadlock. Taylor demonstrated a willingness to attempt more emotive-based storytelling, one less driven by plot than by character dynamics.

There is no small irony here. Michael Piller’s attempts to add serialised storytelling to the second season largely backfired because he was fixated upon plot elements that were no interesting and which simply did not work. Piller tended to sacrifice character for plot, which made his arc-based storytelling feel hollow. In contrast, Jeri Taylor’s more introspective character-focused style would have been better-suited to long-form storytelling. Resolutions would be a lot stronger if it were part of a broader investigation oft he dynamic between Janeway and Chakotay.

Resolutions does not work, but it is interesting in the ways that it doesn’t work. It teases a very different way of telling a Star Trek story, even if it retreats from the logical conclusions of that approach.

You might be interested in our other reviews from the second season of Star Trek: Voyager:

Episodes produced during the second season, but carried over to the third:

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24 Responses

  1. “… everything was neatly tidied away at the end, an approach that was beginning to look a little quaint and outdated…”

    Not much has changed since Taylor’s day. We’re just conditioned to expect a season arc… of which little survives into the next season. Change is unavoidable over the long term, but overall I am surprised at how repetitive shows today get after 2 or 3 seasons.

    • It’s a fair point. But I think the fact that we’ve reached the “season arc” level suggests the next leap is “series arc”, whereby it’s expected for a show to radically and dramatically change from beginning to end. (I mean, there are obviously shows that do and have – The Wire is the example that comes to mind – but in terms of reaching a point where it is expected.)

  2. I would like to share an anecdote from the Highlander: The Series DVDs. I happened to read a review of Highlander: The Raven which was supposedly infamous for its lack of chemistry between the two leads. The audience isn’t aware of it, apparently, because the screen has its own persuasive powers. But apparently just putting these two in a room was a major headache. It sounds similar to Beltran’s relationship with Mulgrew at the time.

    The executive producer, whose name I think if David Panzer, had this line in one of the featurettes where he says, “If there’s heat, your bodies are close together. If you see [the actors on our show] there’s a space between their crotches. They can be kissing like maniacs, but if that ain’t happening…” and then he just shook his head.

    That’s me done. Thanks for the review, it was thought-provoking to say the least.

    • Beltran’s interviews later in the series are really something.

      He openly gripes about Braga, Mulgrew and Picardo while the show is still on the air and while he is still working with them on a daily basis. I find it hilarious that the production team seemed to fixate on punishing Garrett Wang for his transgressions. But we’ll get to those behind the scenes issues in time. Beltran is practically well-behaved at this point in the run.

  3. What is interesting about this shipping history is how the writers, by the end of the series, successfully alienated virtually everyone. This episode essentially marks the end of any potential Janeway and Chakotay relationship. During Jeri Taylor’s tenure as head writer in season 4, Janeway began to drift away from Chakotay, and began to fixate on Seven of Nine, which I believe led to many Janeway-Seven of Nine shippers. Instead, the writers decided to make Seven of Nine and Chakotay a couple, which made less sense than either Janeway-Chakotay or Janeway-Seven of Nine.

    • I am sympathetic to Brannon Braga, broadly speaking. He’s not one of the franchise’s best showrunners, but I think he’s a really great writer if he’s given the time to properly craft a script. I sincerely believe that he meant These Are the Voyages… as a tribute to the franchise, regardless of how it turned out and how he should have seen it turning out.

      But the decision to pair off Chakotay and Seven makes absolutely no sense except as a clear and deliberate attempt to sabotage those two ships.

      • Evidently Beltran and Ryan did not get on. I believe it (Chakotay-Seven) was a new form of torment.

        As much as we sing Braga’s praises around here, this is the person who goofed on Garret’s weight (by having Tom comment, “You’re heavier than you look!”) in one of his scripts. He’s no Mother Theresa.

      • Yeah, by his own admission (and others’), Braga could be notoriously unpleasant on Voyager. Moore’s exit interview implies as much in discussing the treatment of low-level staff writers like Michael Taylor and Bryan Fuller, but there are also lots of stories about Braga’s inappropriate behaviour during pitch meetings. He has since apologised for a lot of that, but it doesn’t stand him in a great deal of credit.

        At the same time, I’m fonder of Braga than most, if only because I’m fonder of his pulpy sci-fi aesthetic and themes than most. Although I think witnessing the vitriol that Berman and Braga received during Enterprise has made me a lot more sympathetic towards him. I don’t think he was qualified for the responsibilities bestowed on him, in that I don’t think he was “groomed” for a showrunner post in the way that Ira Steven Behr was by Michael Piller and arguably Ronald D. Moore was by Piller and Behr, but I do think there was a certain amount of predetermined tragedy to his tenure as showrunner.

      • Was that Braga’s fault though? I thought Keneth Biller was in charge when that decision was made. It always seemed to me that Braga was more interested is Seven and the doctor.

      • Beltran likes to tell the story that it was a dare to Braga (via Ryan). But I’m not sure Beltran is a particularly reliable narrator for that story.

      • Ed, when did Tom say to Harry “you’re heavier than you look”? I remember Croden saying it to Odo in Vortex.

      • I think it might be Demons?

        PARIS: Hang in there, buddy, and I’ll get you back to the shuttle. Have you put on weight?
        KIM: You’re just out of shape.

        I remember being fonder of that episode (and Course: Oblivion) than most.

      • I still think it’s Vortex but it might be Demon.

      • It can be two things! 🙂

      • I apologise for the double reply but my IPad was a touch slow putting the first one on.

      • No worries. I deleted that extra one there!

  4. I was an unashamed Seven/Doctor shipper during the run of Voyager.

    One thing I find fascinating about the shift in genre TV is how ahead of their time sitcoms and soap operas look in retrospect with their focus on relationships and arcs. In some respects Science Fiction was remarkably conservative in catching up, far more so than it’s sister speculative genre Fantasy (Buffy and Angel obviously need no elaboration but you also had Charmed and Xena – actually its remarkable how strongly female driven TV Fantasy of the 1990s was.)

    Amusingly the longest running ‘arc’ I know of from a TV show was from a sitcom – the painting of the Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies from ‘Allo ‘Allo (1982 to 1992).

    • I would have been very happy with Seven/the Doctor. It would have been sort of a version of Neelix and Kes that was less predatory and creepy. It’s about the only Seven ship I see working. I have difficulty imagining a Janeway/Seven working in a healthy way, but that’s in a large part due to issues with Janeway’s characterisation during the Braga years rather than anything to do with Seven herself.

  5. I think a possible romance between Chakotay and B’Elanna was hinted at in episodes like Twisted but nothing ever came of it, just like Janeway and Chakotay. And on Enterprise, was it ever a consideration to pair up Archer with T’Pol until she finally got it on with Trip in that infamous nude scene. It’s funny that nothing is ever said of Janeway’s relationship with Mark in this episode. In Tuvix, she told Kes she still dreamed of being with him, and yet nowhere in any of Resolutions does Mark come up.

    The passage of time might have been better conveyed if we had learned what Voyager had been up to in those six weeks; like a passing reference to any alien races they had encountered or were about to encounter. And it never even occurs to the crew that Janeway and Chakotay are happy where they are.

    I think the title of the episode is telling. It’s perhaps the show’s way of telling the audience that Voyager is about to come to the end of a phase and start a new one. It’s just like B’Elanna telling Harry that they should move on, and S3 is the beginning of a new era for Voyager.

    Denara wasn’t on the convoy Voyager encountered Darren; she had to board a ship to greet them. “Chakotay volunteering to do the cooking has made their lives either”; did you mean easier Darren? We got the same picture twice over with Janeway and Chakotay making friends with the monkey. Kate Mulgrew thinks the crew of Voyager is made up of 165; the crew compliment seems to change from week to week. Voyager can feel mismatched, like writers or directors doing the wrong episodes. Once again, Janeway doesn’t punish Tuvok for disobeying orders. We have to wait for episodes like Thirty Days, Prey and The Disease to see members of the crew receive more then a dressing down.

    • … or even having Chakotay grow a beard or have Janeway change her hair or have Tuvok put on a command uniform. There were a lot of potential ways that Resolutions could convey the passage of time, but the episode avoids them studiously.

      Does Mark really come up that much between now and Hunters, when Janeway discovers that he has moved on? It think the show makes a point to forget about him after Persistence of Vision. Which is probably for the best, given that the show was unlikely to actually have Janeway deal with that on her own terms.

      • I think when Resolutions dangled the possibility of a romance between Janeway and Chakotay and then took it away, the writers left it as a peripheral issue in episodes like The Q and the Grey and Unity, expecting that they would come back to it, probably some time after Hunters. But it never emerged that way and the relationship between Chakotay and Seven of Nine (instead of he with Janeway or her with the Doctor) is something that came completely out of left field. Frankly, I never bought it.

      • Oh yeah. Chakotay and Seven.

        Apparently it resulted from Robert Beltran daring Brannon Braga to write a scene where he makes out with Jeri Ryan.

        Yeah, the Voyager set does not seem to have been a happy or healthy place.

      • At least with Tom and B’Elanna you could see the seeds before it flowered into a relationship and then eventually marriage. Not so Chakotay and Seven.

      • Yep. Tom/B’Elanna is not the perfect relationship, but it better than Voyager usually gets credit for.

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