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Star Trek: Voyager – Nothing Human (Review)

Nothing Human is very much an example of Star Trek: Voyager doing archetypal Star Trek, those abstract morality plays with elaborate prosthetics that offer commentary on contemporary conundrums.

Nothing Human is essentially a story about scientific ethics, about the question of what to do with information that was gathered through amoral means. Is knowledge tainted by the mechanisms through which it was acquired? Is the use of that research an endorsement of the means through which it was conducted? At the very least, does employing such information erode the user’s moral high ground? Does the use of such data make them a hypocrite, demonstrating a willingness to reap the benefits of such monstrous work, but without getting their hands dirty?

Something inhuman.

These are tough questions, with obvious applications in the modern world. These are the sorts of abstract ethical queries that are well-suited to a Star Trek episode, and there is something very endearing in the way that Nothing Human often comes down to two characters debating scientific ethics in a room together. To be fair, Nothing Human is a little too cluttered and clumsy to be as effective as it might otherwise be, its conclusions a little too neat, its developments just a little bit too tidy.

However, Nothing Human is a great example of the way in which Voyager tried to offer a version of Star Trek reflecting the popular perception of it. Nothing Human is a little clumsy in places, but it is an episode that is very much in line with what casual viewers expect from Star Trek in the abstract.

A Cardie-carrying monster.

Star Trek is many things, including a show about ethics. It is a television series that frequently engages with the question of how to be a good person and how to build a just society. Sometimes that idea is there in the background, bubbling through the idea that mankind will survive long enough to build a truly equal society in which human beings have moved past greed or hatred or prejudice. Sometimes that idea is reflected in the specific plot beats of a given episode, whether through the primary characters making tough decisions or interacting with a society facing those choices.

There are any number of examples from within the canon. The Devil in the Dark is a story about the dangers of instinctively hating what is different. A Taste of Armageddon, Errand of Mercy, Friday’s Child, A Private Little War and The Omega Glory offer varying perspectives on Vietnam. The Measure of a Man is a story about what happens to a society when it allows itself to devalue an individual’s life. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is about the necessity of forgiving the enemy and seeking a peaceful resolution.

Picture perfect.

Even audience members with only a passing familiarity with the canon understand this to be an essential attribute of the franchise. The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise was an extended War on Terror metaphor. Although they never quite engage as heavily, and as thoroughly, as they might, even the JJ Abrams movies nod towards these ideas. Star Trek Into Darkness is a story about what it means to be a Star Trek movie during the War on Terror while Star Trek Beyond insists that its characters must be explorers rather than soldiers.

Even in terms of iconography, casual fans can point to metaphors like the half-black and half-white aliens in Let That Be Your Last Battlefield as a very crude metaphor to the pointlessness of racism, or to the overall arc of the Klingon-Federation Alliance as a metaphor for détente between the United States and Russia. By its nature, the Star Trek franchise was a series very much engaged with ethical debates and moral dilemmas, constantly asking its characters (and, implicitly, its audience) to figure out the right thing to do when confronted with an ethical challenge.

Doesn’t scan.

In some cases, Star Trek is even used as an education tool to spark debate and discussion, perhaps playing into the recurring notion of Star Trek as “children’s television for grown-ups.” Indeed, Doctor Fenneke Blom even uses Nothing Human as an example on his college course:

In the 1998 episode Nothing Human, the chief physician of a spaceship creates a hologram of an exobiology expert who he wants to consult in order to save the life a crew member. The consultation goes well, until the crew member sees the expert and refuses further treatment because of his involvement in a series of experiments that killed thousands of subjects. What is the doctor to do? There’s a similar discussion about science conducted under the Nazi regime. What do you do with data collected in an unethical way? The example is science fiction, but the dilemma is real and easy to imagine.

It is an interesting question to ask in an abstract debate, and one with a whole host of real-world implications. It speaks to the idea of Star Trek as an ethical sounding board, as a framework for asking tough moral questions that might engage the audience.

Chakotay let’s it slide(show).

Of course, the ethical challenges facing Voyager are quite distinct from those facing the original Star Trek. Janeway is operating within a different moral structure than Kirk or Picard, at least in theory. Janeway is stranded on the other side of the galaxy, without any support or infrastructure. She is commanding a crew that is composed of terrorists and officers who expected that they were only on a short assignment. Without the hierarchy afforded by Starfleet, how does Janeway deal with issues like a resignation, or a death, or an objection?

In theory, Janeway should have to make some very tough moral decisions. What happens when her crew disagree with her commands, which seems increasingly likely given how far the ship is (literally and figuratively) from standard operating procedures? Is Janeway’s primary moral obligation to the crew under her command or to the rules that govern an organisation half the galaxy away? In a situation where Janeway is confronted with several bad options, how does she identify the right decision.

“And thus concludes my lecture on the ethics of transporter duplicates. Next: consent and Vulcan mating rituals.”

This was a question that was very much of interest to Brannon Braga when he took over Voyager in its fifth season. Discussing Braga’s vision for the show with The Fifty-Year Mission, Bryan Fuller insisted that Braga conceived as Janeway as “this situational, ethical leader”, although Braga never got to follow through:

This was Brannon’s first time as showrunner. It’s a terrifying thing to be showrunner, because you’re responsible for a huge production. There are huge demands – ridiculous demands – on you brain and your abilities, and it is one of the stupidist jobs in the world. I think it was challenging for Brannon to stand up for his better ideas when Rick Berman was saying no.

One of the things that Brannon really wanted to do is to say we don’t have a Federation starbase nearby that we’re going to get backup supplies from, so he wanted to start cobbling together an aesthetic for this ship that was a mixture of new technologies that we found in the Delta Quadrant. It was that desire to really change the aesthetic of the show and do something different with Star Trek. And what he was told was that the Voyager had to look like a starship.

In many ways, this was a microcosm of Braga’ difficulties stewarding Voyager. The show had to look and feel like a traditional Star Trek series, despite the fact that its premise demanded a whole new style of storytelling and a new approach to the morality of Star Trek.

Engineering some conflict.

To be fair to Braga, there are moments when his approach to a more “situational” ethical framework shine through. Night finds Janeway trapped in a depression, unsure if she made the right decision for her crew in Caretaker. In Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II, Janeway aligned herself with the Borg in order to get her crew safely through their territory, with Hope and Fear acknowledging that Janeway had in effect been made an accomplice to every atrocity committed by the Borg Collective in that time.

Even in episodes less explicitly focused on Janeway’s ethical struggles, Voyager suggested Janeway was less concerned with broad moral principles than the immediate crisis. At the end of The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II, Janeway decides to protect her crew by giving the Hirogen access to holodeck technology in flagrant violation of the Prime Directive. In Counterpoint, she helps a group of refugees in spite of the Prime Directive. Even in Infinite Regress, Janeway does not hesitate to return a potentially genocidal weapon to an alien species.

It’s Crell or be Crelled out there.

In a more cohesive season of television, all of this moral ambiguity and nuance would build towards Janeway’s confrontation with Ransom in Equinox, Part I and Equinox, Part II. Janeway would find herself compromising, and then see those compromises reflected in the horrors committed by her fellow commanding officer. Were Braga more committed to this question of ethics in the Delta Quadrant, Equinox, Part I and Equinox, Part II would play out like something similar to Pegasus on Battlestar Galactica. However, Voyager was never that daring.

To be fair, Nothing Human teases out these questions in an interesting manner. Most obviously, there are a few small references to the fact that Janeway is making decisions in a very unique set of circumstances, one very different to those situations facing Kirk or Picard. This is most obvious in the episode’s penultimate scene, in which Janeway discusses her decision to override Torres’ refusal to grant consent to the medical procedure conducted by the EMH and Crell Moset.

Clouded judgement.

“I hope you can understand why I went against your wishes, B’Elanna,” Janeway states. “Losing you was unacceptable. I know you’re angry, but we need to put this behind us. Understood?” Implicit in this is the idea that Torres is simply too valuable to be allow to withhold consent, that her refusal to undergo surgery would deprive Janeway of a valuable resource and diminish the crew’s opportunity to get home. “Is that an order?” Torres responds. Janeway is decidedly firm and unequivocal in her response. “Yes.”

It is a very powerful and very effective character beat, one that suggests a more daring and divisive take on Janeway than most of Voyager allows. Janeway has been consistently and repeatedly characterised as reckless and stubborn, but Nothing Human is the first time that the show has confirmed Janeway’s willingness to coldly put the importance of the mission (getting the crew home) ahead of the rights of individual crew members. It is the sort of moral calculus more common on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in episodes like In the Pale Moonlight.

Smoke and mirrors.

Of course, the problem with Nothing Human is that it never quite commits to this idea. There is an interesting moment in the subplot focusing on Ensign Tabor, who is understandably uneasy about serving on a ship that would make use of the knowledge gathered by Crell Moset. At one point, he offers his resignation to Chakotay. “I have the right to resign my commission,” he insists, and he is certainly justified in making a moral objection. However, this just raises questions of how Voyager would handle these issues.

On any other Starfleet ship, this would be straightforward. Tabor could resign, or be transferred, or submit an official complaint up the chain of command. He could go home, or get another job, or hitch a ride to the next friendly outpost. However, Voyager is set against a very unique backdrop. What happens if the majority (or even a significant minority) have an objection to the direction in which Janeway is taking the ship? How would Janeway deal with such issues, in terms both practical and philosophical?

Seeing what makes it work.

Voyager has touched on questions like this before, but the plot has always conspired to make the answers very straightforward. In Phage, Janeway acknowledged that Voyager was not equipped to hold prisoners for long periods of time, and so released two organ harvesters into the wild. In Meld, the crew was confronted with a dangerous criminal on the crew, but the writers made a point to kill the character off only a few episodes later in Basics, Part II. Most of the storytelling on Voyager is consciously designed to avoid the more thorny implications of the premise.

This is the big issue with Nothing Human. The episode sets up interesting dilemmas, but then decides to resolve them in a manner that is not necessarily consistent with a single ethical principle, but which is designed to ensure that nothing is carried forward into later episodes. The crew decide to use Crell Moset’s knowledge, which keeps Torres alive so she can continue to be a series regular. Then the EMH decides to delete Crell Moset, so the issue goes away and Tabor does not have to resign.

[Insert your own caption here.]

There is certainly a debate to be had on this point, as Robert Picardo insisted to Cinefantastique:

Once the knowledge exists, is it not foolish not to use the knowledge to save lives? Did the Doctor make a mistake by deleting his program and all of its related subroutines and all of the knowledge that we could have gleaned from him to help us in future medical situations from Voyager’s medical database? I don’t know. [What] if the situation ever arose where we could have used some of Moset’s discoveries to save someone onboard and I have deleted them out of moral principle? Once knowledge exists, does it even have a moral component? Knowledge itself has no morality. It’s just the way people use it.

However, there is a sense that ending is not driven by a unifying moral principle so much as a need to avoid rocking the boat.

Torres can breathe easy.

Similarly, that penultimate scene between Janeway and Torres teases the idea of lingering resentment and antipathy between the two characters, which would be entirely in-character given how much pride Torres invests in her own autonomy. For her part, Janeway is unapologetic. She sarcastically motions to the Klingon candle burning in the quarters. “I get the feeling there are still a few demons in the air. Let’s hope this does the trick, huh?” It’s a beautiful moment, if only because it teases a fascinating dynamic true to both characters. However, nothing ultimately comes of it.

Indeed, there is a recurring sense that Nothing Human is tripping over the very particular story that it wants to tell with the conventional narrative (and moral) logic of that archetypal Star Trek template. As with a lot of talk-heavy and issue-driven episodes like The Swarm or Real Life or Extreme Risk, there is a sense that Nothing Human has a stock science-fiction adventure subplot grafted on to its more quiet and introspective narrative. This is most obvious with the weird recurring focus on the weird alien at the centre of the narrative, whose primary purpose is to attach itself to Torres.

Muddying the waters a bit.

The structure of Nothing Human‘s teaser and opening act feels slightly askew. The teaser closes with Voyager being hit by what is effectively deep-space turbulence. It is an underwhelming introduction to the episode, on several levels. Most obviously, Voyager travels through deep-space turbulence with considerable frequency, sometimes several times within a given episode. More specifically, the big story hook in Nothing Human has nothing to do with deep-space turbulence, which really feels like a stock “anomaly of the week.”

The big story hook in Nothing Human is the medical emergency centring around Torres. As such, that would make a much more effective closing beat for the teaser. It is certainly more interesting to the audience, from both a visual and an emotional perspective. The Star Trek franchise is full of shots of the regular cast throwing themselves around standing sets in order to simulate impact, but placing a lead character in danger (particularly such a visceral and evocative danger) is a great way to capture the audience’s attention.

“I’m going to need some coffee if I’m going to be delivering this much exposition.”

Nothing Human is far more interested in the weird pseudo-science of the alien craft than is strictly necessary. It tries to create a compelling mystery around the alien. “It’s strange,” Janeway states. “The wave followed us but it didn’t cause any damage. Instead, we get a download to our database. I’d say it’s a pretty good bet somebody’s trying to tell us something.” Paris responds, “The wave left a residual ion trail. We might be able to locate its point of origin.” Later, Janeway and Chakotay sit around discussing how best to call for aid, summoning more of the creatures.

There is a very interesting, and very worthy, idea underpinning all of this. There is something reassuring in the idea that aliens that look monstrous are not always monstrous and that it is possible to establish friendly relations with creatures that are so fundamentally different. There is an interesting story to be told in explaining how and why Janeway is so sure that inviting a bunch of these aliens to surround Voyager is a good idea, but Nothing Human glosses over that point in favour of discussions about the “ten thousand separate sounds” in the signal or the “alien databanks.”

It’s hard to pin down.

Similarly, Nothing Human feels a bit misguided in how it builds up the mystery around Crell Moset. Early on, various members of the crew have a visceral reaction to the fact that Crell Moset is a Cardassian. “Have you mentioned to anyone else that this guy’s a Cardassian?” asks Harry Kim, the very embodiment of Starfleet values. “Maybe you haven’t heard. They’re not the friendliest folks in the galaxy.” Even before she knows who he is, Torres objects to Moset’s presence. “Hologram or not, he’s Cardassian. As far as I’m concerned, they’re all cold-blooded killers.”

In the context of the typical Star Trek episode, this feels very much like the set-up for what might be termed “a teachable moment.” After all, Jeri Taylor’s third script for the franchise introduced the Cardassians by telling a story about this sort of prejudice in The Wounded. The EMH hints at this possibility in conversation with Torres. “I’m surprised by your attitude, Lieutenant,” the EMH states. “I never took you for someone who would make generalisations based on race.”

“What, Doc? If anything Star Trek has taught me it’s entirely reasonable to generalise based on race.”

It initially seems like the episode is leaning in that direction. The EMH manages to strike up an improbable friendship with Moset, who talks a good game about the awkward relationship between Starfleet and the Cardassian Central Command. “I suggested an upgrade to the Starfleet people at a joint medical conference,” he states. “But they assumed I was just an arrogant Cardassian trying to prove his superiority. Or maybe they thought I was a spy.” He elaborates, “It’s an unfortunate reality. Sometimes even enlightened races can’t find common ground.”

Ironically, the big twist in Nothing Human is that Kim and Torres were right with their knee-jerk response to Moset. Neither Kim nor Torres knew who Moset was, but their racism is ultimately vindicated through the revelation that of course he was a war criminal. It is a very surreal twist in the episode, one confounded by the decision to open the episode by gesturing towards a lesson on tolerance and prejudice before pivoting into a very different type of story. The plot development is jarring and disorienting.

Making the Moset of it.

As with the idea of treating the creature as an alien rather than just a monster, there is nothing wrong with the fundamental concept of making Moset a monster. After all, there are any number of real-life analogues to the Cardassian scientist. The issue is positioning that twist in an episode that is initially structured as an episode about racism. It has the net result of seeming to suggest that sometimes racism is justified and that sometimes Kim and Torres don’t need to know anything about this scientist apart from his planet of origin.

Still, these issues aside, Nothing Human is a fascinating morality play. It is an episode that consciously builds on ideas already established by the franchise in order to tell an interesting and novel story. The Cardassians have long been associated with Nazi Germany, something made very explicit through episodes like The Chain of Command, Part I, The Chain of Command, Part II, Emissary and Duet. The Bajoran Occupation was an atrocity that consciously evoked the Holocaust, an idea reinforced as recently as Waltz.

“Inhuman? The very term is racist!”

Indeed, the idea at the heart of Nothing Human echoes the original pitch for Wrongs Darker than Death or Night, an episode about a Cardassian scientist who experimented upon Bajoran children during the Occupation of Bajor, which was clearly modeled on the Nazi scientist Josef Mengele. To be fair, although Nothing Human borrows heavily from the back story to Deep Space Nine, its thematic elements are very much in keeping with Voyager‘s interests.

The Star Trek franchise has long been rooted in the Second World War, with The City on the Edge of Forever establishing the event as the foundation stone of the entire fictional universe. However, Voyager has been particularly invested in the legacy of that conflict. Part of this is likely down to the fact that Voyager was always more firmly rooted in the nineties than Deep Space Nine, and that nineties pop culture was fascinated with the shadow cast by the Second World War, half a century after the conflict came to an end.

“Hey now. I might be a monster, but at least I never started a cult dedicated to sparking a war between the forces of light and darkness for the express purposes of bringing about the apocalypse. Unlike some other key figures in the Bajoran Occupation that I could name.”

Part of Voyager‘s interest is purely aesthetic, an interest in the look and feel of the mid-twentieth century. This is reflected through the guest appearance of Amelia Earhart in The 37’s, the appearance of the Cadillac on Venus in Lifesigns, the black-and-white adventure serial Captain Proton! It is also reflected in little touches like the design of the alien in Nothing Human, which looks like it came from a fifties b-movie; much like the pulpy thrills of Macrocosm or Prototype, or the early Cold War paranoia of Cathexis or In the Flesh.

However, Voyager‘s interest in the Second World War played out in other ways as well. The show returned time and again to the idea of the bomb, whether through the metaphor of the metreon cascade in Jetrel or the omega molecule in The Omega Directive. (Voyager also had a fixation with “smart” warheads that rendered people largely irrelevant in the field of combat; Dreadnought or Warhead.) Naturally, the holodeck technology allowed the crew to visit the Second World War in The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II.

Here comes the mad science.

More specifically, Voyager was very engaged with the lingering memory of the Holocaust. For example, the early portrayal of the Vidiians in episodes like Phage were clearly intended to evoke the imagery and memory of Nazi Germany. As introduced in Phage, the Vidiians was monsters dressed in shades of grey who existed as the survivors of a nation of artists and philosophers, a detail evoking the collapse of the Weimer Republic.

More than that, the Vidiian imagery was quite consciously drawn from the concentration camps. In Phage, the crew stumble across a secret page where inhuman experiments have been conducted. In Faces, an away team find themselves trapped in a forced labour camp where they are subjected to experimentation by the overseer. It is no wonder that Torres is reluctant to go under Moset’s knife; this is not her first encounter with a pseudo-Mengele.

To be fair, there were subtle warning signs that Moset was not the nicest dude.

Voyager was a show concerned about the boundaries between history and memory, worried about what might happen if the past were not preserved. Remember is a pretty explicit Holocaust analogy, but there are also shades of it to Living Witness. It is no coincidence that Voyager was fascinated with the distortion of memory and history in episodes like Distant Origin or Latent Image at a time when the Holocaust threatened to slip from living memory.

Nothing Human engages with that idea of memory and history. As Moset points out repeatedly, he is only a construct of the real scientist, cobbled together from various sources and records. When confronted with accusations of war crimes, Moset responds, “Even if it were true, I’m only a hologram, and I have no memory of those events. They’re not part of my programming.” He is in many ways a sanitised version of a real-life monster, the version the exists in the official narrative.

“Would we really miss Tabor if he resigned? Surely ensigns are like shuttlecraft on this ship?”

“I don’t understand why this isn’t in our database,” the EMH protests when the charges come to light. As Chakotay points out, quite reasonably, “The Cardassians didn’t exactly publicise their wartime medical practices. I wouldn’t be surprised if the real Moset went on to live a normal life.” It is worth noting that these atrocities are only explosed because of Ensign Tabor, because of a person with a real and tangible connection to what happened. Memory trumps the official record, experience is more powerful than the state-sanctioned narrative.

Although not an episode explicitly engaging with the idea of memory, Nothing Human is still a story about the official narrative. After all, the big debate at the heart of the episode is not only over the morality of using this information to help Torres, but also whether the information belongs in the official record at all. “Every trace of that man’s research should be deleted from the database,” Tabor argues. The EMH eventually agrees. It is a rare example of Voyager making a case for deleting (rather than preserving) history.

A bug bear.

However, the bulk of the episode has a more contemporary resonance. It is an episode about the ethics of using information that has been acquired through amoral means. As Robert Picardo has argued, this is quintessential Star Trek:

Nothing Human in my estimation is Star Trek at its best. It enables the viewer to examine an important moral question without the contemporary trappings of the question. You can really examine the core issue that was in this case: Is an advancement in medicine tainted by the manner in which it was accomplished?

Do you have a responsibility not to use those discoveries in respect to those who might have suffered or died as a result?

I think it is a very dramatic piece and I have shown clips from it at a medical ethics panel at the Yale School of Medicine a little over a year ago. I believe it was the 40th anniversary of NASA in a panel discussion that I showed two clips from Star Trek Voyager. I showed clips from “Message in a Bottle” – the Andy Dick episode and clips from the episode in question, “Nothing Human” for drama.

There are some wonderful questions that are raised in my arguments with the Krel Moset (Clennon) such as the hypocrisy of medical experiments on lower animals yet we are shocked by someone experimenting on people (in this case Bajorans.)

Given the obvious comparisons to Nazi Germany, the allegory is quite pointed. Would it ever be justified for the United States to profit from knowledge that was acquired by Nazi Germany (or even Imperial Japan) through immoral means?

What a sucker.

With this in mind, the comparisons between Crell Moset and Josef Mengele are something of a red herring. Mengele is one of the most famous (or infamous) of Nazi figures, if only because of the sheer brutality of the research that he conducted upon the Jewish prisoners held in the concentration camps. His notoriety is probably fueled by the fact that he was one of the few high-profile Nazis to escape into obscurity at the end of the Second World War. However, Mengele’s research was completely and utterly worthless. It is an important point to note in the context of this debate.

However, the debate is not purely theoretical. It is just focused on the wrong field. In the wake of the Second World War, the United States enacted Operation: Paperclip to smuggle key Nazi scientists back to the United States. However, their primary interest was not medicine. The hope was that the scientists who had worked on Germany’s missile programme could help the United States to reach the moon, and provide them with a key tactical advantage in the nascent Cold War.

Being Crell to be kind.

This is not an abstract moral question. This is something that actually happened. Wernher von Braun became a naturalised American citizen in April 1955, and died in Virginia in 1977. Even more controversial is Hubertus Strughold. During the Second World War, he oversaw horrific experiments conducted upon concentration camp inmates and went on to become “the Father of American Space Medicine.” As of December 2012, there was still a very prestigious prize awarded in his honour.

By the middle of the nineties, people were increasingly aware of this problematic legacy. The X-Files would incorporate Operation: Paperclip into its third season (even naming the second episode of the season for the operation) and identify one of its primary antagonists as Conrad Strughold in The X-Files: Fight the Future. In October 1993, Ohio State University took down a portrait of Hubertus Strughold in response to public protest. In September 1995, the United States Air Force was forced to rename the Hubertus Strughold Library.

“By the way, if we ever encounter another Starfleet ship that has compromised its ethics and morality, make sure you don’t mention this to them. It would just be embarrassing.”

A lot of this shines through to Nothing Human, particularly the recurring suggestion that Crell Moset is a pretty decent guy. Certainly, the EMH is taken in by his charm. When Moset downplays his accomplishments, the EMH objects. “You’re being modest, Crell,” he insists. “You made medical history. You won the Legate’s Crest of Valour.” The EMH even argues that he could use a new holographic buddy. “If you enjoy music we can run some opera programmes after we’re finished,” he suggests at one point.

Moset is consciously written as a sympathetic figure. He seems almost tragic. Discussing his lab, he confesses, “It’s more of a home to me than… my home.” When he catches himself humming, he apologises, “I’m sorry. My wife tells me I’m tone deaf.” A lot of this charm is down to how David Clennon plays the role. He avoids a lot of the larger-than-life theatricality that defines other Cardassian actors like Marc Aliamo, Casey Biggs, David Warner or Harris Yulin, instead offering a more naturalistic performance under the make-up. Moset seems like a swell guy.

He was also probably a vegetarian.

Then again, that seems to be the consensus for many of the former Nazis who made their life in America after the Second World War. A former student of Hubertus Strughold, White McKenzie Wallenborn objected to the way in which the media portrayed his teacher:

Almost none of those attacking these leaders lived or could place themselves in the arena of Washington, Jefferson or Dr. Strughold, who taught me at the U.S. Air Force School of Aviation Medicine in 1957. He took our class through his amazing research lab, which was essential to our early space endeavors. On two occasions I had the pleasure of one-on-one conversations with him. We talked about life in Germany during World War II, the history of the German people and the derivation of German family names. He was friendly, relaxed and ended both encounters by telling me that he was very happy to be invited to live and work in America.

It is very easy to get sucked in by a little charm and a little wit. Working in close quarters with a person, it is very easy to be seduced by an ideal. The shock felt by the EMH on discovering Moset’s crimes – first denial, then anger – perhaps reflects how many Americans felt when they discovered the lives that these scientist had led in Nazi Germany.

Chat to Chakotay.

In some respects, Nothing Human adds an interesting layer of ambiguity to the entire Star Trek canon. At the end of the episode, Moset argues that the EMH is a hypocrite because he uses other information that was acquired through immoral means. Although the space race is never mentioned during Nothing Human, somewhat sidestepped by the focus on “exobiology”, it hangs over the rest of the episode.

Star Trek is a show rooted in the Second World War, but also anchored in the space race. The “final frontier” is arguably just John F. Kennedy’s “new frontier” extrapolated to its logical extreme. However, Nothing Human implicitly suggests that this optimistic future might be somehow tainted. Just like Torres owes her life to a murderous war criminal, is the bright and optimistic future of Star Trek built upon the legacies of men like von Braun and Strughold?

It is a logical question.

There is something very dark and cynical at work here. It is perhaps telling that Nothing Human would be the last Star Trek script to be written by Jeri Taylor, making it something of a farewell piece. Taylor had been part of the franchise since the fourth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and was a guiding light to many of the writers who would come to guide and shape the franchise in the years ahead.

Taylor was also one of the three credited creators of Voyager. She had stepped down from her role as executive producer at the end of the fourth season with Hope and Fear, allowing Brannon Braga to take over. There had been suggestions that Taylor would continue to contribute scripts and stories to Voyager, remaining an active part of its creative team, albeit in a reduced capacity. It was not to be. Nothing Human would be her last script for the franchise.

Inner workings.

Coincidentally, Nothing Human aired just over a week before the theatrical release of Star Trek: Insurrection. That feature film would become Michael Piller’s last contribution as writer to the franchise. Piller as another of those three writers credited with creating Voyager. He had departed the show two years before Taylor, ending his tenure with Basics, Part II. However, despite their staggered departures from Voyager, it felt like the franchise was bidding one final farewell to two of its guiding lights within weeks of one another.

Nothing Human feels like a very twisted ending to Jeri Taylor’s active involvement with the series, something that gnaws a little bit at the roots of the Star Trek franchise. In another coincidence, it is worth noting that Taylor’s first credit on a Star Trek script was for Suddenly Human. There is a grim symmetry that her final script should be Nothing Human.

9 Responses

  1. Another season, another evil reflection of the Doctor.

    I quite like these episodes, but you have to wonder if the Doctor is the only hologram with a moral compass. The rest are loons.

    “It’s an unfortunate reality. Sometimes even enlightened races can’t find common ground.”

    Hot damn, do I love Cardassians.

    When they’re done poorly, they stomp around and grunt out threats. But when they’re done well, they’re simply the best villains this series has to offer.

    The physicality is as important as the attitude. Clemmon is one of the most convincing: tall and soft spoken with a large forehead. No headpiece needed this time.

  2. I have seen some Americans try and hold Unit 731 over the heads today’s Japan. Some demand that Prime Minister Abe should apologize on behalf of something that happened before he was even born. Yet when I point out that the US pardoned the men of Unit 731 in exchange for their research data so that Japan couldn’t even hang these people if they wanted to, the first reaction I usually see is them defending America’s actions. A common excuse I hear is “There are atrocities, and then there are atrocities”.

    It’s a chilling thought on how atrocities can be so quickly and easily be defended and excused. It’s so easy to point the finger at someone else.

    • Yep.

      The other side of that is that it’s possible to both accept your own atrocities and to worry about how foreign powers are dealing with their own. It’s possible to think that Ireland did horrific things to an entire generation of young women in its laundries, but also to point out America’s difficulty reconciling with slavery, and to worry about Japan never quite acknowledging the horror of what it did during the Second World War.

  3. This episode is relevant to the puritanical morality that our society is very much obsessed with today. The Right uses any support of socialism or abortion to trash a liberal politician, while the Left looks up every voting record of a politician and use that one impure vote as a punching bag.

    The question is – where do we draw the line for the moral purity of an idea, a knowledge, an entity, or a person? Ultimately, many ancient piece of human knowledge had likely come from immoral or unethical means, when judged by today’s standards. We had since unearthed the racist, sexist, and violent histories of many who we regarded as great.

    Janeway’s pragmatism draws the line between the present and the recent past. Crell was long dead before the hologram was created, so embargoing Crell’s knowledge would not do any direct or material harm to Crell himself. The act of cancelling Crell thus was more about self preservation than creating immediate social change.

    When executed correctly, puritanism is a symbol of discipline and honor; but oftentimes it feels like it’s used as a shorthand to dismiss (or “cancel”) an authority figure quickly as a nihilistic form of comfort.

    Besides, what’s at stake in this episode was medical knowledge, not philosophy nor ideology. Facts cannot be defined as moral nor immoral. While the execution of such knowledge can be immoral, as evident with Crell’s intent to sacrifice the alien, the Doctor should be intelligent enough to separate knowledge that would remain neutral regardless of how it was obtained from those that would not. It is entirely possible to keep the neutral knowledge and remove the parts that aren’t. It would make no sense to try to re-obtain a piece of knowledge with moral means when that piece of knowledge had already been proven.

    • Facts can be defined as “evidence” and regularly in the justice system, evidence is thrown out if obtained immorally. Even if facts cannot be defined as moral or immoral, it is logical to throw out immorally obtained facts so as to not incentivize the practice.

  4. It was a good episode, if a bit clumsy. The addition of the Cardassian/Bajoran dynamic made it seem like Voyager is desperate to get a piece of the DS9’s rich story fabric into their show. They can show a Cardassian for a bit and take a play at a Kira episode, and mooch on the massive world building done by their sister show.

    That said, I can’t complain because I do enjoy Cardassians.

    It was annoying to see Kim construct essentially a second EMH in seconds, when we saw him struggle to even get a new Doctor to speak in the previous season. Here, he just adds a “recursive algorhythm” and presto, a Cardassian EMH is born.

    Janeway is starting to have a catch phrase about “dealing with the morality discussion later”. We’re now seeing her settle into her role of frequently smashing the norms of conscience that should have seen her court marshalled at the end.

    I was at first annoyed that everyone’s racist opinions of the Cardassian were confirmed, but then distracted by the Mengele metaphor. Still, there is something very Voyager about the “aliens are evil” subtext.

    Good episode for Voyager, but it could have used some tightening up.

  5. Someone somewhere made a good argument about Voyager’s hypocrisy in this episode as they’ve been using Borg technology acquired through much more horrific means for over an year now. Bajorans are but one species, the Borg assimilated thousands of species to obtain their technology and the Voyager crew hasn’t shown any qualms about it.

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