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Star Trek: Voyager – Favourite Son (Review)

Favourite Son feels like the culmination of something that has been festering across the third season of Star Trek: Voyager.

The Star Trek franchise is generally regarded as progressive and forward-thinking. There is some debate to be had about whether this is an accurate summary of the franchise, given some of the creative decisions made over the course of its half-century run. However, there are times at which the franchise feels particularly liberal and points at which it feels particularly reactionary. A product of the mid-nineties, running through to the turn of the millennium, Voyager tends to feel very conservative in places.

This is a little bit what watching the episode feels like.

This is a little bit what watching the episode feels like.

In the second season, this reactionary tendency played out through the treatment of the Kazon in episodes like Initiations and Alliances. In the third season, with the Kazon long gone, it seems that Voyager has turned its reactionary gaze upon its female cast members. To be fair, the show’s first two seasons had any number of unfortunate creative decisions when it came to various female characters. Most notably, the decision to turn Seska into a baby-crazed maniac in Manoeuvres did not bode for the first female-led Star Trek series.

Nevertheless, a misogynist streak has manifested itself across the third season as a whole. In some cases, this has been relatively subtle; like the awkward insistence upon sexualising three-year-old Kes in the eyes of her two mentor figures in Warlord and Darkling. In other cases, this has been the entire point of the plot; like the decision to have Q try to sleep with the franchise’s first female lead and introduce his shrewish wife in The Q and the Grey or to introduce a psycho stalker in Alter Ego.

The original red wedding.

The original red wedding.

Other times, this sexist attitude has bubbled through the background of various episodes to the point that it builds to critical mass. Torres is victimised by her male colleagues over the course of three straight episodes, and none of them are held accountable; she is sexually assaulted by Vorik in Blood Fever, stunned by Chakotay in Unity, and tortured by the evil!EMH in Darkling. In each of those cases, the show seems to shrug off the violence committed by male characters against one of the show’s female leads.

All of these elements come to the fore in Favourite Son, an episode that would have been painfully retrograde had it aired as part of the original series during the sixties. Favourite Son is that most uncomfortable myth dressed up in science-fiction drag, the tale of an island of beautiful women using their sexual prowess to lure men into their clutches to emasculate them. It is terrifying to think that this episode made it to air in the late nineties.

A beautiful dream.

A beautiful dream.

There are a lot of problems with Favourite Son. The most obvious is that it is horrifyingly misogynistic. The most unsettling is that it fits as part of a larger pattern of misogyny that runs through the rest of the third season as a whole. Taken alone, any of these instances might be forgiven or excused as folly, poor storytelling choices that reflect bad decision-making behind the scenes. Unfortunately, these issues cannot be taken alone. They are cumulative, each feeling like a smaller piece of a much larger puzzle.

There is something deeply frustration about this, given the fact that Voyager should be the franchise’s big bold feminist statement. It is the first Star Trek show to run seven full season with three credited female leads. It is the first Star Trek show to be overseen primarily by a female executive producer. It is the first Star Trek show with a female captain. The series scores better than any other Star Trek series in terms of the Bechdel Test, an imperfect but efficient feminist metric.

Spot the difference.

Spot the difference.

However, Voyager has always had a very confused relationship towards progressivism. As Brandon Nowalk argued, Voyager was very good at sending mixed messages about its feminist priorities:

With its cast of prominent female scientists who possess rich interests and social lives, the show routinely makes the Bechdel test a thing of the 21st century. But then there’s the way Janeway isn’t even the star of her show’s pilot. Janeway’s an authoritative figure, unquestionably the most stubborn of all the stubborn Star Trek captains, but her decision-making tends to seem reckless. When Voyager discovers super-powerful, super-dangerous Omega particles, Starfleet requires captains to throw out the Prime Directive and destroy them. One minute, Janeway goes on lockdown, preparing to leave her crew to accomplish this confidential task. The next, she’s spilling the beans to the ensign on her senior staff.

Nowalk is correct. Janeway was not the star of Caretaker. Instead of focusing on a female character or a minority character in the franchise’s most diverse primary cast, the pilot was drive by the show’s lone white male human.

"My middle name is Eugene, for Gene Roddenberry. Yeah, he'd love this."

“My middle name is Eugene, for Gene Roddenberry. Yeah, he’d love this.”

This is one of the central paradoxes of Voyager. On paper, the show is fantastic on just about every level. It has a great concept; it has intriguing characters; it has a diverse ensemble; it has built-in drama. However, in practice, Voyager squanders every last ounce of its potential. It so ruthlessly and efficiently, to the point that Voyager has already managed to completely dismantle any sense of excitement or engagement by the third of its seven seasons. Virtually everything Voyager does is a betrayal of its core premise.

In terms of premise, Voyager never feels like a lone ship on the far side of galaxy manned by two different crews. Despite the intriguing character set-up, the writers quickly choose to ignore more than half the primary cast. Regarding diversity, the series priorities its white actors and reduces Chakotay to a Native American actor played by a Mexican actor in episodes like The Cloud and Tattoo. Concerning the baked-in drama, Voyager quickly decides to smooth anything resembling an edge off its primary cast.

"What's your next trick, Harry. Pull a shuttlecraft out of a hat? Because, I've been meaning to mention this, we could really use some new shuttlecraft."

“What’s your next trick, Harry. Pull a shuttlecraft out of a hat? Because, I’ve been meaning to mention this Captain, we could really use some new shuttlecraft.”

Despite all the indications that Voyager should be the most progressive and forward-thinking series in the franchise, it comes with a lot baggage. After all, this is a television series that is not about exploring the unknown but about returning to the familiar. The Delta Quadrant is presented as a dangerous place populated by untrustworthy species, minor squabbling alien nations desperate to get their hands on Voyager. In a particularly tone deaf decision, the show’s first recurring antagonists were a bunch of freed slaves who became gangs. Donald Trump would love it.

Even in terms of individual episodes, Voyager has a tendency to feel rather reactionary. Unity is an episode about the dangers of collectivism emerging in a balkanised Delta Quadrant, playing very much like an anti-globalisation screed. Displaced is an episode about the dangers of immigration, in which a bunch of new arrivals proceed to hijack and replace the crew of the eponymous starship. To be fair, the series goes out of its way to criticise holocaust denial in Remember and anti-science rhetoric in Distant Origin.

Getting his head on straight.

Getting his head on straight.

Still, Favourite Son stands out. It is an episode about an alien planet populated entirely by women, luring passing travellers to the surface to help propagate the species. These male visitors are tricked by these female predators; they are infected by an alien virus and converted into compatible mates, before their cellular material is harvested in a way that leaves them as little more than dried-out husks. It is truly monstrous, murder operating on an industrial scale. And it is all sold to these male travellers through the promise of sex.

This should all sound very familiar. The Taresians are consciously modelled on the sirens of Greek myth, those women who would lure male sailors to their island in order to brutally murder them. In case this concept is lost on the audience, Favourite Son has Kim spend the episode’s final scene explaining the parallels to Paris and Neelix. “But Odysseus had been warned that these women, the Sirens, sang a song so beautiful that any man who heard it would be lured to his death,” Harry explains.

Momma's boy.

Momma’s boy.

Of course, this Greek myth is horribly problematic, the tale of beautiful women using their sexuality to murder poor unsuspecting men. This is part of a long historical tradition of stories demonising female sexuality. As Deanna Petherbridge explains:

The dangerous bitch and the hideous old witch are complementary representations, intended to show up women’s iniquities and punish them, but also to warn and frighten men.

The monstrous old hag who is in contact with evil forces (such as the biblical witch of Endor) and the beautiful enchantress who turns men into beasts (such as the classical Circe) have been reinvented in many guises through the centuries in European art, literature, theatre and music.

The ancient crone – depicted semi-naked in early prints, so that viewers are repelled by her shrunken body and hanging, distended breasts – is riven with envy of youth, beauty, fertility and prosperity. In league with the Devil, she castrates and destroys by her ugliness, just as the beautiful young witch emasculates and corrupts by her beauty. The noisy old witch, like the screech-owl after which she was named in Latin, Strix, shrieks imprecations from her gaping maw, while beautiful Sirens open their mouths in honeyed songs to lure men to their destruction.

It is powerful and evocative imagery, although there is a sense that popular culture has become increasingly aware of the uncomfortable subtext. Writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang generated no shortage of controversy when they attempted to import some of the mythic stories of the Amazons into the origin of Wonder Woman.

Hey kids, it's Patrick Fabian.

Hey kids, it’s Patrick Fabian!

The Taresians do not sing siren songs. However, like many of those demonised women of ancient mythology, it is their words that make them dangerous. They rewrite the life stories of their guests, building a narrative that serves to romance these men. Repeating the narrative that he has been fed, Taymon assures Kim, “You have been special all of your life. Feels pretty good, doesn’t it?” In the final scene, Kim confesses as much, “There was also something exciting about having a new identity, and being more than just young Ensign Kim.”

Of course, these are all lies. The Taresians are opportunistic predators waiting for the first moment to strike at the men who have wandered into their lair. When Kim confronts Malia about this reality, she does not deny it. Instead, she insists that everything that the Taresians told Kim was true in its own way. “You’ll be celebrated for your contribution,” she assures him. The Taresians are a race of manipulative and deceitful women, an unreconstructed addition to that long and problematic history.

"Actually, I'm not very kink friendly. I'm more a missionary-with-the-lights-out kinda guy."

“Actually, I’m not very kink friendly. I’m more a missionary-with-the-lights-out kinda guy.”

To be fair, words were never the only weapon employed by the sirens. As much as these legends fear female expression, they are also anxious about female sexuality. Favourite Son is quite candid about the Taresians’ manipulation of sexuality, as Djoymi Baker acknowledges in Every Old Trick Is New Again:

Despite the Star Trek edict of equality of races, this tendency seems little improved upon the Odyssey’s own distinction between Greek and non-Greed women. Although the allure of Homer’s Sirens lies in their promise of knowledge and epic poetry, the language they use is distinctly sexual, as is their location on a “flowery meadow”, a setting of sexual entanglements in early Greek poetry. The Tauresians bypass such allusions, instead overtly offering the lure of no less than group sex.

Tellingly, Favourite Son couches the Taresian rituals in explicitly sexual terms. Taymon’s wedding ceremony plays almost like a PG-13 scene from Eyes Wide Shut, as a variety of beautiful women dressed in red (because obviously they’re not dressed in white) use silk ties to blindfold him and tie his wrists before leading him away to his “wives.”

So... um... what's the safe word?

“So… um… what’s the safe word?”

It is all very sordid and sensationalist. For a franchise that had just celebrated its thirtieth anniversary, Star Trek had a very juvenile attitude towards matters of sex and sexuality. Indeed, one of the most refreshing promises of Star Trek: Discovery is the suggestion that it will feature prominent LGBTQ characters and embrace their sexuality and orientation. This would be enough to distinguish the new generation of Star Trek shows from the more sterile and awkward depictions of sex during the Berman era.

To be clear, this issue with sex and sexuality affects all the Berman era shows in their own way. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine stumbled when it tried to deal with Risian sexuality in Let He Who Is Without Sin… or the queering of the mirror universe in episodes like Through the Looking Glass or The Emperor’s New Cloak. This is say nothing of Star Trek: Enterprise, which seemed to believe that the definition of “sexy” was attractive people rubbing gel all over one another in rooms backlit by a moody blue glow.

"The Delta Quadrant has not been good for my skin complexion. Now I'll never win Sexiest Man Alive."

“The Delta Quadrant has not been good for my skin complexion. Now I’ll never win Sexiest Man Alive.”

Favourite Son has a decidedly conservative attitude towards sex, painting Taresian culture as decadent by emphasising the kinkier aspects of their ritual practices. It seems like Kim and Taymon should be suspicious of the Taresian women from the moment that they present themselves as sexually liberated. These alien women represent an unconventional approach to sex, with the suggestion of group sex and bondage. Favourite Son seems to suggest that Taymon is being punished for presuming to entertain those possibilities.

To be fair, as with a lot of Favourite Son, this reading is informed by the episodes around it. The third season of Voyager does make an attempt to deal with the topics of sex and sexuality in episodes like Blood Fever and Darkling. In theory, those two episodes are trying to be sex positive. Blood Fever seems to suggest that sex education is a necessary reality in modern society, while Darkling implies that burying sexual impulses can only lead to bad things. However, because Voyager is unwilling to actually candidly talk about sex, the message gets muddled.

"Let's not talk about sex baby; but let's still talk about you an me."

“Let’s not talk about sex baby; but let’s still talk about you an me.”

In theory, Blood Fever and Darkling are about the dangers of a lack of sex education and risks created by sexual repression. However, Voyager is so reluctant to actually deal with sexual matters that these episodes never bother to create a contrasting depiction of healthy sexual activity. As a result, the third season of Voyager seems to suggest that just about any sex is bad. This is particularly apparent at the climax of Blood Fever, where the crew determine that a fight to the death is the only way to deal with Vorik and Torres’ sexual impulses. Violence trumps sex.

This impression is only reinforced by Favourite Son, which seems to imply that any people on Star Trek willing to talk candidly about sex are monsters just wait for a chance to fatally harvest the cellular material of passing men. The third season of Voyager seems to insist that sex is a deadly thing that must be treated with suspicion and anxiety. The show seems particularly uncomfortable with women daring to embrace their sexual sides; the male crew would rather watch Torres fight to the death in Blood Fever and the Taresian women are monstrous in Favourite Son.

Everybody knows that the best DNA is in the neck.

Everybody knows that the best DNA is in the neck.

Even without this knee-jerk reaction towards sex, the gender politics of Favourite Son would be deeply uncomfortable. In many ways, Voyager feels nostalgic in its science-fiction stylings. Voyager seems to hark back to pulp science-fiction in terms of aesthetic and storytelling, embracing concepts that do not make a lot of logical sense to modern audiences, but are firmly rooted in the history of the genre. Cathexis was a red scare horror story; The 37’s implied that aliens abducted Amelia Earhart; Rise features an elevator that goes all the way to space.

The Taresians are a throwback, a concept that would have been dated during the sixties. Inheriting the concept from mythology, the history of pulp science-fiction features countless stories about beautiful warrior women who abduct human men for the purposes of breeding with them. This is such a stock masculine fantasy that it borders on self-parody, the heroic male lead who must prove himself virile enough to jump-start an entire species of (always beautiful) women. Naturally, Kirk went through variations of this in Wink of an Eye and The Mark of Gideon.

Kim gets kinky...

Kim gets kinky…

As Keith M. Johnston observes in Science Fiction Film, this sort of plot is associated with fifties British sci-fi:

Sex is a central element identified by scholars of British science fiction: displayed as conerns over postwar female sexuality and empowerment in Devil Girl from Mars; the teenage coitus interruptis by a phallic rocket rash landing in The Quatermass Xperiment; in the presence of an atomic-fuelled alien attracted by sexual potency in X – The Unknown; or disguised behind a narrative about ‘alien’ procreation in Village of the Damned. In the first of those films, the female Martian invader comes to Earth to acquire male breeding stoke. Nyah represents conflicting viewpoints on female independence. She is always in command, domineering, sexually aggressive and strong, from a Mars where women have been emancipated for centuries. Yet she is also dressed in leather, with a short skirt, fishnet stocking and long black leather boots, “straight from the pages of a fifties fetish magazine.” Few science-fiction films offer as strong a female figure, yet she is the film’s antagonist, in a narrative where audiences were presumably supposed to be rooting for the (largely bland) human characters.

Favourite Son fits quite comfortably within that framework, right down to the “largely bland” human character.

Okay, Kim gets a little too kinky.

Okay, Kim gets a little too kinky. I don’t think she’s feeling laser scalpel play.

All of this is made even more uncomfortable by the recurring sense that Favourite Son is trying to have its cake and eat it. The episode is very much luxuriating in Taresian culture. As quickly as Favourite Son rushes to condemn the decadence of group sex and bondage, it also enjoys teasing them out just a little bit. “Don’t be afraid to indulge yourself, Harry,” Taymon recommends quite early in the episode. Of course, Taymon is eventually murdered for his indulgence, but Harry does get to play a little. He gets to tie up and throw down various female cast members.

There is something decidedly cynical and voyeuristic in all this, as if Favourite Son is cheekily toying with perversity while still keeping its hands clean. It recalls the way that low-budget (and low-taste) horror films approach sex, those slashers that voyeuristically fixate upon young couples engaged in sexual activity only to brutally punish those young couples through murder and mayhem. As such, these films have the liberty to depict sex without being seen to condone or encourage it.

Locker room talk.

Locker room talk.

In terms of Favourite Son, it should be noted that the sexual elements of the script were added quite late in the creative process at the behest of the network. As Garrett Wang explained to The Star Trek: Voyager Magazine:

Some big-wigs looked at it and said, ‘More sex, more action,’ and suddenly, it became convoluted. The arc wasn’t clear. They added in the vampire-like, blood-sucking women. But they didn’t go all the way with it.

It should be noted that Voyager was the first Star Trek show of the Berman era to air on a network rather than syndication, rendering it vulnerable to such meddling. Seven of Nine looms just over the horizon.

Hey kids, it's Kristanna Loken!

Hey kids, it’s Kristanna Loken!

Even leaving aside all the terrible gender and sex stuff, Favourite Son is just a remarkably shoddy piece of television. The third season of Voyager has demonstrated how weak the writing is on Voyager, with the production team struggling with basic structural elements like constructing a teaser in episodes like Warlord or Fair Trade or structuring parallel narratives in episodes like Alter Ego. The script for Favourite Son is very poorly constructed, from the ground up.

Most obviously, the entire premise is ridiculous. Early in the episode, it is suggested that Kim is secretly a Taresian male. His physiology begins to change as he nears his homeworld, beginning a process of transformation. This is not a bad story hook of itself; it could easily be used to tell a story about identity or adoption, forcing Kim to confront the possibility that his “home” might not be Earth or that his biological family might not be his family. Were Voyager invested in its own premise, there are interesting things to be done with that.

Putting the matter to bed.

Putting the matter to bed.

However, the plot quickly becomes ridiculous. The transformation is not just physical; Kim begins to think like a Taresian. He experiences deja vu (or “a paradoxical state-dependant associated phenomenon”) when travelling through nearby space. He has weird dreams about his mother and Captain Janeway. Again, there are interesting concepts here that could play into bigger ideas about the way that information spreads or the fragility of memory or the elasticity of identity. However, Favourite Son quickly follows the path of least resistance.

It turns out that Kim’s Taresian psychology does not allow him to think like a Taresian. It does not fundamentally alter who he is. It does not instil in him a biological impulse to further the species, despite the fact that such an impulse would make the Taresians’ harvest much easier. Somehow, Kim’s Taresian DNA is able to form “neural connections in his brain” that serve no grander purpose than convincing him to fire upon a particular alien ship so that the teaser has a nice dramatic hook.

Light sleeper.

Light sleeper.

To be fair, Favourite Son seems to acknowledge how ridiculous that basic premise is. Then the EMH just hand waves it. “All humanoid babies are born with certain instinctive knowledge. How to recognise the shape of a face, how to hold their breath underwater. It all comes from their genes.” There is a big difference between holding breath under water and hijacking tactic controls from the Tactical Station to the Operations Console in spite of years of military training that instil an urge to follow the chain of command.

Even accepting this ridiculous contrivance at face value, it does not make any sense. After all, if the Taresians can instil in Harry an instinctive urge to destroy a Nasari ship, it should not be too difficult to instil in Harry the urge to volunteer his DNA to the species without going through the whole Eyes Wide Shut thing. This is a concept into which the Voyager writing staff have not put any real thought. The episode continues to unravel from that moment onwards, after Kim’s magic alien DNA somehow inspired him to declare war on a bunch of strangers.

Massaging the narrative.

Massaging the narrative.

As is the way on Voyager, nobody dares to hold Kim to account for what he has done. Kim started a fire fight with an alien species. Torres is injured on Voyager. Nobody knows how many Nasari have been wounded. Voyager is sure to be hunted. The ship has been crippled. More than that, Kim cannot account for why he took that action. As such, the teaser to Favourite Son makes Harry Kim a massive security risk to the rest of the ship. However, in keeping with Voyager‘s lax approach to individual responsibility, Kim is let off the hook.

In fact, both Janeway and Kes insist on trying to comfort Kim. “I trust your intentions, Ensign, but your actions are going to need a little more justification,” Janeway insists. “I want you to analyse the sensor logs, and see if there’s any basis for Mister Kim’s hunch.” When Kim mopes to Kes about what happened, she advises him, “B’Elanna got hurt, but she’ll recover. Harry, you can’t undo what’s been done.” This tends to be the show’s attitude whenever anybody but Lon Suder does something wrong.

"Don't worry, Harry. It's pretty much every male character at this point."

“Don’t worry, Harry. It’s pretty much every male character at this point.”

After all, Tuvok staged a mutiny in Prime Factors and received a stern dressing down. Chakotay stole a shuttle in Manoeuvres and received a speech about how Janeway couldn’t punish him. Neelix was an accomplice to drug dealing and murder in Fair Trade and received a punishment that took place off-screen. Kim is the fourth male crew member to endanger Torres’ life while acting on impulse in the past five episodes;  Vorik in Blood Fever, Chakotay in Unity, the evil!EMH in Darkling. None of those four male officers are punished for what they have done.

How can Janeway still trust Kim? Why does she take him to the planet, if she knows his judgement is impaired? Why does she leave him there? The internal logic of Favourite Son makes no sense whatsoever. Even when Kim enounters the Taresians, their story makes no sense. “While you were still an embryo, you were placed in stasis and taken to Earth to be implanted in the womb of an Earth woman,” Lyris assures Kim, explaining how Kim could have been a Taresian born on the other side of the galaxy.

Taresia needs men.

Taresia needs men.

This should be a huge shock to Kim. After all, Harry has just discovered that his parents are not actually his parents. More than that, they have been subjected to experiments conducted by an alien species, recalling the kind of manipulation seen on The X-Files. Kim does seem to get a little angry on their behalf. “My mother,” he demands. “What did you do to her?” Lyris helpfully explains, “She would have been completely unaware of the procedure.” Somehow, that seems to calm Kim. Rather than seeing it as a gross violation, he drops the point.

Again, there are any number of interesting directions in which this story could go, exploring Kim’s sense of personal identity or his relationship to his mother. However, the narrative cultivated by the Taresians is so ridiculous that it distracts from any potential emotional hook that it would otherwise have. Lyris’ claim is horrifying, but it is also absurd. After all, the various logical plot-driven questions seem to come into play here, the myriad ways in which the Taresian narrative doesn’t make sense.

Holding a flame.

Holding a flame.

Why would the Taresians travel to Earth to plant Kim, knowing that he could never reach the Delta Quadrant in a human lifetime without some ridiculous contrivance? “Harry wasn’t trying to return here,” Janeway points out. “We came to the Delta Quadrant by accident.” The Taresians could never have know that would happen when they planted him, so why expend the energy or the effort when there are so many similar species living within the Delta Quadrant? If the Taresian species is facing extinction, one might expect pragmatism to take priority.

Lyris casually hand waves it. “His DNA was encoded with certain instincts, including the desire to explore space,” she states. “Your accident may have brought him here faster, but he always would have been driven to find his way back. You are the first to return from such a great distance.” That seems like a strange assertion, given the limitations on space flight within the Federation and the fact that Kim had never felt the urge to join a scouting mission towards the Delta Quadrant.

"Now, if only People magazine were this easy to please."

“Now, if only People magazine were this easy to please.”

Of course, it turns out that the Taresians are lying. Kim was not implanted in his mother by an alien species. He was infected by a virus while on an away mission, most likely following Darkling. So it makes sense that the narrative is ridiculous and contrived. However, it makes no sense that Janeway and Kim buy into it so readily. Janeway is supposed to a scientist, so where is her scepticism? Kim is learning new truths about himself, so he should at least be properly engaged. There is a laziness to the plotting of Favourite Son.

That laziness bleeds over into the climax, which is very much a typical Voyager climax. Kim discovers that something is wrong and confronts the Taresians. At the same time, Voyager is using a convenient techno-babble solution to get close enough to beam him up. Voyager succeeds just as Kim is surrounded by these beautiful women. He does not survive through the choices that he makes, nor does he survive through the skill that he employs. Kim only survives Favourite Son because a techno-babble solution makes it possible and because he is a series regular.

"Oh, is it forty-three minutes already?"

“Oh, is it forty-three minutes already?”

To be fair, at least the production team seem to have realised that they were working on turkey. Favourite Son is the second episode of Voyager to be directed by Marvin Rush, and it would be his last episode of the series as director. He acknowledged some frustration with how it came together:

Favourite Son is an example of a script that I didn’t get at all. I didn’t have a clue how to tell that story. I read it over and over, and nothing resonated. It didn’t mean anything to me. I couldn’t figure out what was important to that story and how to tell it well. In the hands of someone else, it probably would have been much better. But that’s what I was talking about when I said you don’t pick your scripts and they don’t pick you. The other thing about that show that was really unfair is that half of that was shot before Christmas and half after Christmas. If you’ve been on a set during Christmas, the crew’s focus is not on work. It’s on Secret Santa and cards and shopping. Then, after Christmas, it’s, “What did you do on the two weeks off?” So it’s like herding cats. You can’t get anybody to focus because nobody wants to. So I was handed – my opinion – a weak script. I think the lead actor for the episode was not the strongest character in the series. And I was certainly not the most inspired director for that because I didn’t get it. I just didn’t get it. I tried. I did everything I could, but I just wasn’t able to deliver anything like I wanted to do. I was depressed about it. I was disappointed in myself. So I thought, “I don’t have to direct things. I can shoot things, and I get plenty of pleasure out of being a cinematographer.” So, again, there was another fairly long hiatus. I didn’t ask for another episode, not that they would have given one to me. Probably not. I felt like I failed to deliver a good episode. I’ve mentioned other things I felt were causes of it being weak, but the real fault lies with the director, and I directed it.

Marvin Rush would not direct another episode until the final season of Enterprise. This was a massive loss for the franchise. Rush has a great eye for more stylised direction, as demonstrated by his work on The Thaw and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II.

"Look, we'll talk about maybe getting you a good episode next season."

“Look, we’ll talk about maybe getting you a good episode next season.”

Favourite Son is a disaster of an episode, but it is not a disaster that exists in isolation. It is very much a product of the third season as a whole, and what Voyager has become. These flaws are all compounded through a terrible premise executed in the worst possible way.

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3 Responses

  1. Ugh! I’m so glad that I never saw this episode. Heck, I’m so glad that I never saw *most* of ST: Voyager’s run.

    Darren, you are undoubtedly one of the most well-versed, intelligent Star Trek fans that I have ever come across. As you have observed in this review and various others, Voyager seemingly had so much incredible potential, but it squandered pretty much every opportunity. Given your in-depth knowledge of the franchise, why do you think it was that, at the exact moment Deep Space 9 was engaging in such amazing storytelling, launching a serialized narrative that successfully examined numerous thought-provoking issues and which developed some fascinating character arcs, Voyager was repeatedly fumbling the ball, resulting in a succession of cringe-worthy episodes and an embarrassing misuse of its female & non-white characters?

    • Good call on dodging this episode. It is terrible.

      As for why DS9 was more adventurous and VOY wasn’t, I suspect there were several factors:

      (a.) DS9 was syndicated, while VOY was tied to UPN; as a result, the Voyager staff frequently found themselves having to deal with the fickle demands of the network; there’s a suggestion that the network insisted the production team add the sex stuff to this episode; in contrast, DS9 only had to deal with the studio, who would occasionally add a note like “do Klingons!” or “add a TNG character!”, which the DS9 staff would do an continue on their way; DS9 never had to write an episode around the Rock to cross-promote WWE;

      (b.) DS9 launched as the second Star Trek show, while VOY was intended to replace TNG; as a result, DS9 had he freedom to experiment while VOY was kinda trapped into “do the things that we liked about TNG and expect from a Star Trek show”; the DS9 writers tend to talk about being abandoned as the “red-headed stepchild” of the franchise family, which allowed Ira Behr to do pretty much whatever he wanted while VOY was supposed to be traditional generic Star Trek;

      (c.) the talent involved; because Michael Piller couldn’t run DS9 himself, he headhunted Ira Behr for it; Behr has made it abundantly clear that he felt suffocated on TNG and only took DS9 on the conduction that he could do things his way; in contrast, VOY was run by Piller and Taylor, with Taylor being very conservative in what she wanted from television; more than that, when the TNG writing staff broke up, DS9 inherited the strongest TNG character writers (Echevarria and Moore) while VOY got the most mind-bendy writer (Braga); that would not have been enough on its own (it’s fun to imagine Moore under Taylor and Braga under Behr), but the combinations basically pushed the shows to extremes;

      (d.) the timing; DS9 launched as the Star Trek franchise was secure and approaching its peak, it was the second show on the air; it ran seven years and wrapped up just as accusations of franchise fatigue kicked in; as a result, it arguably had a lot less scrutiny that VOY; in contrast, VOY was supposed to replace TNG, was the centrepiece of a network that was failing from the get-go, and ended at a point where everybody was talking about whether it was time to put Star Trek out to pasture;

      (e.) the tone behind the scenes; the DS9 writers loved one another, they’d have lunch together and eat together and party together; the VOY writing staff notoriously hated one another; Jeri Taylor and Michael Piller had a huge falling out in the first two seasons and took swipes at each other in the fan press, and during the second season it looked like the pair were actively sabotaging one another’s competing visions for the show (Taylor wanted an episodic show, Piller wanted a serialised show; the result was the Kazon arc); Braga was notoriously difficult to work with, and had tense relations with both the writing staff and Rick Berman; when Moore joined the show in its sixth season, he noted that the atmosphere was toxic.

      I think these are the reasons why DS9 was so adventurous while VOY was so staid and generic.

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