Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives

  • Awards & Nominations

Star Trek: Voyager – Juggernaut (Review)

Juggernaut is not a great episode of television.

The episode has any number of key problems. Most obviously, the episode illustrates how little the character of B’Elanna Torres has actually grown since Parallax, without even pausing to acknowledge everything that has happened in between in episodes like Extreme Risk. More than that, the episode’s core themes are undermined by an incredibly cynical conclusion that might work in the context of a larger character arc, but which doesn’t work when rooted in the series’ episodic approach to storytelling.

Calm under pressure.

However, in spite of all these fundamental flaws that hobble Juggernaut as a piece of television narrative, there is quite a lot to like here. This is very pointed a big “action” story told in blockbuster mode, evoking episodes like Timeless. It is all about broad strokes, ticking clocks and epic stakes. Juggernaut is fundamentally a runaway train story crossed with The Phantom of the Opera, which is almost perfectly within the show’s comfort zone. More than that, Juggernaut actually figures out how to do something vaguely interesting with the Malon before they disappear.

Juggernaut is a highly enjoyable episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

Here there be monsters…

It is worth pausing to acknowledge the very severe limitations on Juggernaut, the fundamental problems that hold the episode back from greatness. Many of these problems are typical of Voyager, and the fact that Juggernaut works as well as it does is down to the fact that Voyager has largely resigned itself to its flaws. Voyager is not trying to transcend these problems, as it did during the second or fourth seasons. Voyager has made peace with what it is, and how it chooses to tell stories.

This does not make the flaws any less obvious or grating, but it allows Voyager to feel more comfortable in its own skin. As terrible as the character work in Juggernaut might be, it never feels as embarrassing as something like Vis á Vis. This is in large part because Juggernaut accepts these characters as they seem to be, rather than trying to force them into an uncomfortable and unearned shape. Juggernaut is built around a very simplistic conception of B’Elanna Torres, but that conception is no less accurate for its simplicity.

Double face palm.

Juggernaut is a story about how B’Elanna Torres has a temper. If that story seems familiar, it is because Voyager has been telling this sort of story for a while. Torres’ emotional volatility is very much her defining trait, racially coded as her “Klingon temper” in Nothing Human or Blood Fever. Faces is forty-five minutes of therapy, in which Torres accepts her anger as part of herself. Day of Honour is about Torres’ pent-up anger preventing an opportunity for happiness with Paris. Extreme Risk is about Torres’ inability to confront her own emotions.

To be fair, this is how Voyager tends to approach characterisation and character-driven storytelling. Harry Kim’s defining trait is that he is the youngest member of the senior staff, so most of his stories are built around that youth. Harry’s flirtations with sex in Favourite Son, Harry’s desire to be taken seriously in Demon, Harry’s deep love in The Disease, Harry’s first command in Nightingale. It does not matter that Kim has aged sever years between Caretaker and Endgame. His personality is nothing more than an archetype. He will always be the baby on the senior staff.

“I thought we covered this almost five years ago?”

Some of this approach was inherited from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Several members of the regular cast on The Next Generation were similarly archetypal, prone to fall into particular stories because their characters were coded as archetypes. Riker was characterised by his sense of self-doubt, and the question of whether he had given up on a vibrant career in episodes like The Icarus Factor, The Best of Both Worlds, Part I, The Best of Both Worlds, Part II and Second Chances. Deanna Troi tended to get stuck in bad romances like The Price or Man of the People.

However, even the cast of The Next Generation was allowed to evolve over time. Wesley Crusher grew up a great deal between the second and third seasons, becoming a lot less annoying following his character-centric episode Evolution. As difficult as it was to write for Troi, the later seasons afforded the character something approaching an arc. She became more assertive and more authoritative in episodes like Chain of Command, Part I, Chain of Command, Part II, Face of the Enemy and Thine Own Self.

A toxic work environment.

It goes without saying that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was even better at this sort of character development. Dax and Bashir were almost unrecognisable between Emissary and What You Leave Behind. Sisko’s arc was organic, but it covered a huge distance. Sisko began his journey as a disillusioned career officer shipped off to a dead-end assignment, and ended it as a religious believer who planned to retire on his adopted home. Every cast member on Deep Space Nine fundamentally changed over those seven years, even those who claimed that they didn’t.

In contrast, very few characters on Voyager could be said to have changed between Caretaker and Endgame. Kim hasn’t really grown up. Chakotay is as reliable and indistinct as ever. Tuvok is still perfectly rational. Neelix is still annoying, even if he happens to be annoying in the Delta Quadrant rather than the Alpha Quadrant. Even some of the characters who have fundamentally changed have moved in judders rather than arcs. Janeway is not the same person from Caretaker to Endgame, largely because she is not necessarily the same person from episode to episode.

“Just going to wash off that pesky character development.”

So it is no surprise that Juggernaut should return to this archetypal conception of B’Elanna Torres as an angry young woman. Torres appears to have changed very little since Parallax, the second episode of the series. Early in Parallax, Chakotay holds Torres to account following an altercation with Carey in Engineering. Early in Juggernaut, Tuvok holds Torres to account following an altercation with the EMH in Engineering. The details are superficially different; Torres broke Carey’s nose and the EMH’s holoimager. However, the core idea is the same.

There is something exhausting in all of this, a reminder that these characters have essentially been trapped in amber since the first season, with no real evolution of which to speak. Indeed, Juggernaut might be able to get away with this broad strokes approach to Torres if the episode were willing to contextualise it. Is Torres still struggling with her depression following the events of Extreme Risk? After all, as anybody who lives with depression (or who knows somebody who lives with depression) will know, those feelings never go away.

“Do you ever think about Kes?”
“Who?”

To be fair, there is is some value in returning to familiar plot structures and narratives with certain characters over an extended period of time. There is no better way to illustrate how much a character has changed over the years than by putting them through the same basic scenario and watching how differently it plays. In its seventh season, Deep Space Nine built the episode Chrysalis around Julian Bashir, using a template similar to the second season episode Melora. The episode felt fresh and interesting because Bashir was fundamentally a different person.

The big problem with Juggernaut returning to the same basic character arc as Parallax is that it underscores that Torres has not really changed at all. Juggernaut never offers any indication that Torres is being especially emotional of late, that Torres is struggling with anything more than her usual emotional volatility. Juggernaut is not the story of somebody trying awkwardly to recover from a breakdown earlier in the year, Juggernaut is very simply a return to a familiar character beat that was first hit in the second episode of the series. It is a very cynical piece of plotting.

Spoon feeding the audience.

This cynicism is reflected in the climax of the episode. Juggernaut builds its central story as metaphor for Torres’ emotional volatility, pitting her against a rogue Malon who has been turned into a monster by his anger. (And high doses of theta radiation.) In Cinefantastique, Roxann Dawson spoke highly of the contrast:

“What’s wonderful, and I think Star Trek does very well, is when they take external plot devices that reflect internal struggles. This episode does that very well. It deals [with] forces of uncontrollable anger, both B’Elanna’s internal uncontrollable anger and also with this beast that is inhabiting this Malon freighter. This beast that is loose has been very destructive, and is hurting and is acting out of a kind of a rage that very much reflects B’Elanna’s internal rage, that she’s having a hard time controlling. She is forced to face this rage inside of her, personified in this character. Their final confrontation is a real eye-opener. It’s a really fascinating confrontation.”

In theory, this is not a bad idea. Torres finds herself confronted with another character who has been consumed by his righteous anger, who has embraced violence and brutality as a way of life. The climax of the episode throws the two characters into conflict. It is neatly set up, so Torres has to conquer her own anger to save the day.

Smoke and mirrors.
Mainly smoke.

Indeed, the climactic confrontation between Torres and Dremk is clearly designed to bring a sense of closure to Torres’ arc. Not only does confronting Dremk’s anger afford Torres the opportunity to find peace within herself, it also allows Torres to show sympathy for the Malon workers after spending an entire episode in conflict with them. The episode is clearly structured in such a way that Torres’ final argument with Dremk is an opportunity to redeem herself as much as to save the ship.

Torres seems realise this quite early in the sequence. As Dremk works at the controls, Torres lowers her weapon and begins the process of negotiation. “Listen, listen to me,” Torres pleads. “I know. I know that you’re so angry you want to destroy everything in sight, but there’s another way to make them understand. I’m on your side. I can help you. Innocent people are going to die if you do this.” Dawson is quite good in this sequence, selling the desperation of a character who is looking for validation as much as resolution.

“Boy, this place is a dump.”

However, Juggernaut refuses to allow Torres that sense of closure. Torres cannot get through to Dremk, cannot find a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Torres instead falls back on her strength and her anger, viciously beating Dremk with a pipe. Even in retreat, Torres cannot save Dremk. Torres returns to the ship with Neelix and Fesek, but Dremk is left to die as the freighter explodes. It is a rather grim ending. Not only does Torres fail to save Dremk, she only manages to defeat him by giving into the anger with which she had been trying to come to terms.

There is a sense that absolutely nothing has been accomplished, a suggestion that is reinforced by the actual plot of the episode. At the start of the episode, Janeway assigns a team to travel to the runaway freighter in order to “reestablish containment.” However, once the team is on board, the plan changes dramatically. Janeway comes up with a clever plan to “nudge” the freighter into corona of “an o-type star” to absorb the damaging radiation. It is a clever concept, one rooted in physics that make sense; if Voyager cannot slow the freighter, it can direct it.

“What a waste.”

However, this plan is so simple and straightforward that it undercuts the original idea. Why send an away team to the freighter, exposing them to all of that radiation, if it is simply possible to redirect the freighter to an area where it can do a minimal amount of harm? Surely it would make sense to bring the away team back to Voyager once it becomes clear that the freighter can be directed from the outside? Given the risks involved on even setting foot on the freighter, it seems unnecessary to put the away team in such danger.

Of course, the script justifies this decision at the climax when Dremk fires up the manoeuvring thrusters to try and steer the freighter back on course. However, Janeway is oblivious to the existence of Dremk when she sends the away team over in the first place and when she concocts the “nudge” plan in the second place. While Torres’ confrontation with Dremk is necessary from a plot perspective, the episode never builds to it in an organic sense. It all feels like a cheat. The original mission to the heart of the freighter seems redundant by the end of the story.

“And thus was Star Trek: Enterprise‘s decon chamber born.”

There is something very cynical about the plotting of Juggernaut, and particularly about the end of the episode. The script underscores this cynicism through its closing scene, in which Torres returns to her quarters and steps into the sonic shower. With a simple verbal command, “Computer, activate sonic shower,” all the grim and dirt just washes away. All the horror and brutality is forgotten. Torres is washed clean of any guilt or any responsibility or any disappointment.

This could be a powerful ending. This could be a very insightful and clever piece of character work, suggesting that Torres will never actually defeat her anger and her aggression. However, it would need to exist in a larger context where the audience believed that anything on Voyager could have serious long-term consequences. The closing scene suggests that Torres is haunted by the brutality of her attack on Dremk, but the reality is that this will never be mentioned again. This character beat will never be explored again. Torres will be reset to factory settings.

Radiating enthusiasm.

In some ways, Juggernaut suggests the fundamental tragedy of Voyager, of characters who will never change and never grow. Torres will always be angry, and will never find peace. Kim will always be the baby of the crew, and will never be accepted (or even mature into) a grown-up. Chakotay will always be reliable, and kind of dull. Tuvok will always be rational. These characters have not changed in the five years since Voyager began, and they are unlikely to change in the two remaining seasons.

There is something exhaustingly cynical about Juggernaut, which seems to imply that nothing any of the characters actually do will matter in the grand scheme of things. The initial mission to reestablish containment is quickly rendered redundant. Torres’ attempts to centre herself using meditation are pointless. Juggernaut suggests that the characters are all caught up in the gravity of something beyond their control, Voyager is operating under a similar momentum to that of the freighter, that its course cannot be reversed and that its explosion cannot be contained.

Ship shape.

Still, in spite of these incredibly frustrating aspects, there is a lot to like about Juggernaut. The episode is very big and very broad. It is a blockbuster episode that is very much in keeping with the default aesthetic of Voyager, a live action cartoon approach to storytelling that is weak on character and strong on spectacle. This is a very high-stakes science-fiction disaster movie, a twenty-fourth century spin on something like Runaway Train or Unstoppable. It is an episode where the story is driven by momentum rather than logic, barrelling along like the freighter itself.

Writer Nick Sagan has singled out Juggernaut as the one episode of his Voyager tenure with which he was disappointed. He singled out the fact that he did not feel a sense of authorship over the finished story, conceding, “I’m pretty happy with all of them, except for Juggernaut, where there was a lot of people working together so I don’t really feel any authorship.” This makes a certain amount of sense. The other two credited writers on it are Kenneth Biller and Bryan Fuller, and Juggernaut feels much more in keeping with their sensibilities.

“What ‘soup?”

Voyager has been trending towards blockbuster storytelling since its third season, driven by producer Brannon Braga. To be fair, Voyager was always a plot-driven rather than a character-driven show, where the emphasis was constantly on “what happens next?” more than “how does this affect our characters?” This is most obvious in the way that Voyager tends to build its plots around twists, undercutting the effectiveness of its narratives by refusing to let them breath; shows like Worst Case Scenario, Random Thoughts and Waking Moments come to mind.

Writer Kenneth Biller is one of the writers on staff who is particular prone to this “… and then…” school of television writing, a tendency to switch premises as often as necessary in order to fill forty-five minutes of television. Biller’s scripts frequently twist and turn in awkward attempts to maintain momentum, frequently beginning as one story only to suddenly shift gears as soon as it becomes difficult to follow that particular narrative thread through to its conclusion.

“I get that mood is important, but do you think maybe you could just get your lights to shine white?”

The Q and the Grey starts as a weird courtship between Q and Janeway and then becomes a story about civil war in the Q continuum. Worst Case Scenario begins as an exploration of fan fiction and authorship and then becomes a revenge-from-beyond-the-grave narrative for Seska. Random Thoughts begins as a narrative about Torres’ inability to keep her emotions in check and then evolves into a creepy mystery with Tuvok. Demon begins as a story about supplies running low and then becomes a story about alien replicants.

Kenneth Biller is a writer who tends to treat plot as paramount, with character motivation secondary at best. Many of his episodes rely on broadly drawn caricatures of the primary cast, even after years of writing for them. There is no sense that Biller fundamentally understands these characters or their perspectives, beyond the basic summary in the writers’ guide. Torres is always angry. Paris is a little rebellious, but not threateningly so. Kim is naive and innocent. Biller’s broad stokes approach fits very well with the blockbuster stylings of producer Brannon Braga.

Labouring under false assumptions.

Braga has a strong affection for b-movies, a love that bleeds into his work on the show. Many of these massive two-part really pushed what was possible on a science-fiction television show on the later nineties, constructing miniature television movies with Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II, Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II, Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II, Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II.

In fact, Braga really pushed for blockbuster-style storytelling within individual episodes, leading to more and more spectacle-driven episodes of Voyager. A lot of this was driven by advances in technology, with computer-generated imagery making it possible to realise aliens and concepts that would have been impossible only several years earlier; the giant viruses in Macrocosm, Species 8472 in Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II, the literal water world in Thirty Days.

What ever it meditates.

However, there were also changes in how these stories were constructed, often with an escalation in stakes and scale within single episodes. The Next Generation tended to deal with individual planets or characters on a week-to-week basis, while Deep Space Nine built up a threat to the Alpha Quadrant over seven years. In contrast, Voyager seemed to put the quadrant or the galaxy or the timeline in danger every other week. There were existential threats on a constant basis.

Timeless found Harry Kim plotting to rewrite history itself to save the Voyager crew. Relativity finds Captain Braxton plotting to erase the entire show from history. Dragon’s Teeth finds Voyager accidentally awakening an alien menace that poses a threat to the entire region. These episodes frequently focused on complex special effects shots and tightly-wound twisty plots, with reversals and betrayals and revelations. They were quite different from the sort of character-driven narratives that Michael Piller had made a Star Trek staple.

Torres is a bit rusty.

The stakes in Juggernaut are considerably lower, with the runaway freighter threatening only a few sectors of space. Nevertheless, it is still an episode with a very clear central drive and with a very shallow character plot layered over that drive. Juggernaut is a race against time disaster movie, as the ship and crew try to prevent the destruction of a gigantic freighter that is careening out of control. A team is dispatched to the runaway ship, thrown right into the carnage and the chaos, struggling to regain control of the ship or to minimise the damage caused by its destruction.

At least some of the credit for the success of Juggernaut rests with director Allan Kroeker. Television directors are often overlooked in favour of writers and producers, which makes a certain amount of sense given how television has historically been produced. At the same time, there are any number of directors who have done great work within the punishing confines of a nineties broadcast television framework. Allan Kroeker is one of those directors, who joined the franchise with The Assignment during the fifth season of Deep Space Nine and quickly made a name for himself.

No mean feet.

Kroeker was responsible for any number of great big spectacle-driven episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager; A Time to Stand, Sacrifice of Angels, Once More Unto the Breach and Year of Hell, Part I. Tellingly, Kroeker would become the default director for season and series finales after joining the franchise; Call to Arms, Tears of the Prophets, What You Leave Behind, Unimatrix Zero, Part I, Endgame, Shockwave, Part I, The Expanse, Zero Hour, These Are the Voyages…

Kroeker does action very well, and Juggernaut succeeds in large part due to his direction. Juggernaut is claustrophobic and tightly paced, constantly creating a sense of momentum and movement that builds across the episode. Emphasising low angles and tight framing, along with atmospheric lighting, Kroeker builds a palpable anxiety on the freighter. This anxiety is strong enough to sustain the episode during some of the more awkward plotting decisions, whenever the action cuts back to the rest of the cast on Voyager itself.

Her quiet place.

Juggernaut is a testament to the production design on the franchise. It is very easy to take the production crew for granted, particularly after four hundred episodes within the Berman era. The Malon freighter looks disgusting, the smoke machine working overtime to create an atmosphere of dread. The make-up design is impressive, ensuring that the Malon look unsettling within the boundaries of family-friendly television. Juggernaut is an illustration of the sheer craft involved in putting together an episode of Star Trek.

If Juggernaut owes its sense of momentum to writer Kenneth Biller and director Allan Kroeker, than it owes its pervasive weirdness to writer Bryan Fuller. More than any other Star Trek writer, with the possible exception of Brannon Braga, Fuller is a horror writer. Fuller’s first two scripts for Deep Space Nine were both essentially slasher movies, The Darkness and the Light and Empok Nor. While Biller seems to pitch Juggernaut as a high-stakes blockbuster, Fuller infuses it with a sense of the uncanny and the supernatural.

She’ll always have Paris.

With the freighter careens out of control, there are suggestions of something unnatural at work. Pelk is convinced that there is a “Vihaar” loose on the ship. “It’s an old story shared among freighter crews,” Fesek explains. “Some of them say they’ve seen creatures in the theta storage tanks.” He elaborates, “Created by radiogenic waste. According to the legend, they are poisonous monsters that wreak havoc aboard Malon ships. It’s a common belief among our more superstitious recruits.”

Inevitably, it turns out that there is a “Malon Bogeyman” loose on the freighter, wreaking havok. However, there is nothing supernatural about it. The monstrous visage belongs to Dremk, a core labourer who has been driven mad by his exposure to theta radiation and the prospect of his own mortality. Dremk has decided to bring a terrible vengeance to bear on the freighter that disfigured him. It is a set up that rather consciously evokes a twenty-fourth century take on The Phantom of the Opera.

In the heat vision of the night.

More than that, Juggernaut quotes from other horror movies. At one point, Dremk stalks Pelk through the ship. The audience is invited to witness this chase from Dremk’s perspective, through his eyes. The visuals and the sounds channel the aesthetic of the movie Predator, in which a monster stalks the characters through the Columbian jungle. At the climax of the film, Seven of Nine manages to get a sensor reading on Dremk and overlays the display in Astrometrics. It evokes the use of motion-sensors to track the xenomorphs in Aliens.

Even Chakotay seems to recognise the horror movie trappings of the set-up, once Dremk attacks Pelk. As the team scramble to come up with an alternative strategy, Chakotay suggests, “Someone still needs to get up there and open the airlocks.” When Fesek volunteers, Chakotay interjects, “Hold on. I’ll join you. From now on nobody works alone.” Clearly Chakotay recognises the conventions of the horror genre. It might explain why the script takes him out of action so quickly, even beyond forcing Torres into a position of authority.

“Could be worse. We could be referencing Alien: Resurrection.”

 

To be fair, this is not the first reference that Voyager has made to Aliens and Predator. In some respects, the superlative fourth season episode Prey could be seen as the show’s twist on the classic monster movie mash-up Aliens vs. Predator. Still, Juggernaut embraces its horror trappings, whether asking the audience to step into the monster’s perspective or even just making effective use of the smoke machine to provide atmosphere. The episode clearly enjoys playing with these tropes. Bryan Fuller’s influence is very keenly felt on Juggernaut.

Juggernaut is also elevated by its focus on the Malon. Introduced in Night, the Malon are hardly the most compelling or engaging alien species to appear on Voyager. Earlier episodes like Night and Extreme Risk offered little nuance or detail for the new species, presenting the Malon as villains who had wandered right out of an episode of Captain Planet. They were polluters, aliens who dumped their waste with little consideration or compassion for those affected by the theta radiation.

“If galactic warming is a thing, then how come space is the ideal temperature for serving revenge?”

In Night and Extreme Risk, the Malon were crudely-drawn caricatures. They were moustache-twirling villains. At one point in Night, Janeway offered the Malon technology that would remove any need for them to dump waste, without any major cost or consequence. However, Controller Emck declined to accept this technology that would dramatically improve the lives of countless people (including countless Malon) because it would impede his waste management business. Nevermind that it would give him a monopoly on magic waste disposal technology.

Juggernaut offers a more nuanced and compassionate view of the Malon, right down to opening on a scene of two Malon officers enjoying a casual conversation about family. Pelk is playing with a space ship that he has built, and is planning to gift it to Fesek’s son. It is a cheesy way to build sympathy for the Malon, but it effectively humanises them. Suddenly, the Malon have families. Suddenly, the Malon are capable of compassion. Suddenly, the Malon have lives beyond illegally dumping waste across the cosmos.

Don’t inoculate it until you’ve tried it.

Juggernaut skillfully and consistently builds a society that seems slightly more plausible than the culture introduced in Night. Most obviously, the Malon cease to think of themselves as scenery-chewing villains. Very few people really think of themselves as monsters, and Juggernaut allows its Malon characters to offer some justification for their actions. There is a sense that the Malon have developed something approaching a social contract, a set of understandings and guidelines that govern their culture and provide a framework for their society.

Fesek is allowed to offer justifications for Torres’ criticisms of Malon society. “How many worlds are you willing to contaminate to keep your own home so tidy?” Torres demands at one point. “Do you have any idea of the trouble we go to, to locate isolated areas?” Fesek counters. His logic is unconvincing, given both the illegal dumping in Night and the crisis in Juggernaut. Clearly, the Malon do not go to enough trouble to protect the innocent. However, it makes sense that Fesek should believe that they do. That belief is necessary for Fesek to think himself a good man.

A highly charged work environment.

Similarly, the teaser makes it clear that Malon take no particular pleasure in polluting the Delta Quadrant. The Malon are not cackling villains who seek to make everybody else’s life miserable on point of principle. Instead, they accept such pollution as grim necessity. “Backup controls are down too,” Fesek reports. “Eject the tank.” Pelk is aghast at the suggestion. “Here?” he responds. “There’s an inhabited system.” Fesek presses the point, “We have no choice!” Once again, Fesek’s logic is unconvincing, but it is important that he believe this is a measure of last resort.

Juggernaut takes the idea of Malon culture suggested in Night and fleshes it out into something more than a one-note antagonist. Night presented the Malon as a broad environmentalist criticism of the system of capitalism, a blunt rebuke of any culture that would prioritise materialism over the protection of the environment. Night had little interest in the mechanics of how such a culture might work, beyond the end effect. Night had little interest in the kind of people who would live in this world, beyond cartoon villains.

Grease is the word, it turns out.

Juggernaut reframes the Malon as a more considered criticism of capitalist excess, couching its criticisms in terms more sympathetic to the workers within that system. In some ways, Juggernaut plays as a criticism of extreme capitalism as a system of exploitation. The episode’s philosophy is very much in keeping with socialist thought:

Marx thought that industrial capitalism, too, was created for a good reason: to increase economic output—something that “The Communist Manifesto” celebrates. The cost, however, is a system in which one class of human beings, the property owners (in Marxian terms, the bourgeoisie), exploits another class, the workers (the proletariat).

Capitalists don’t do this because they are greedy or cruel (though one could describe their behavior that way, as Marx almost invariably did). They do it because competition demands it. That’s how the system operates. Industrial capitalism is a Frankenstein’s monster that threatens its own creators, a system that we constructed for our own purposes and is now controlling us.

The Malon can justify all of their decisions in economic terms. “Have you ever been to Malon Prime?” Fesek challenges Torres. “It’s a remarkable place. It’s one of the most beautiful worlds you’ll ever see. Our planet would choke with industrial wastes if it weren’t for the sacrifices of people like me.” The system demands sacrifice.

Core values.

The episode implies that Malon lives are measured in largely economic terms, even if very few Malon would explicitly frame it in such terms. They accept these realities, but they do not seem comfortable verbalising them. When Torres finds a crewmember abandoned in the infirmary, Fesek rationalises, “It looks like he was being treated for long term exposure. He was probably left behind during the evacuation.” Torres sarcastically responds, “Tough luck, huh?” Fesek is unmoved. “There was nothing more we could do for him.” His life was not worth saving.

The Malon characters in Juggernaut repeatedly justify their objectively crazy decisions by reference to economics. These are characters who work in appalling conditions that will shorten their lifespans and cause harm to other people. However, they continue to perpetuate this system because it provides them with both comfort and financial security. From the outside, to Torres and the audience, this system looks completely insane. To the Malon themselves, it is treated as perfectly rational. It falls within the framework of their society. “Occupational hazard.”

“Don’t be labour the point.”

The fact that the Malon have codified this system makes it easier for the workers to accept. This is simply how things are. It is only when the social contract is breached that the Malon recognise the horror of what is unfolding. During the teaser, a random officer breaks down when Fesek orders him to seal the tanks manually. “I didn’t sign up for core labour,” the officer responds. “I’ll be contaminated.” The officer was perfectly happy to serve in his own capacity, and perfectly happy for core labourers to be contaminated, but only balked when his status was challenged.

Torres is horrified to discover the conditions facing core labourers, who face in incredibly high mortality rate. “Only three of ten core labourers survive a standard mission,” Fesek tells her. Why would anybody take such risks? “Core labourers can make more in two months than most Malon make in a lifetime,” Fesek explains. Torres is not convinced. “What good is the money if they’re not around to collect it?” she demands. Fesek replies, “It will go to his family.” As such, this loss of life is presented as heroic, rather than tragic. The suffering of these people is valourised.

Warts and all.

“I’m a waste controller half the year,” Fesek assures Torres at one point. “Do you know what I do the rest of the time? I’m a sculptor.” He elaborates, “Every year I give up work I love to expose myself to radiation that will probably cut my life in half.” Fesek does this because he needs to be done. The wheel needs to keep turning. The system needs to be perpetuated. “I have a son. He’s seven years old. He wants to be a waste controller when he grows up.” This is a system where a seven year old child wants to take a job that will halve his life expectancy.

In Night, the Malon were a bunch of one-dimensional polluters. However, Juggernaut reinvents them as a bunch of out-of-control capitalists. Indeed, in the grand tradition of Star Trek analogies, the Malon could stand for almost any broken self-perpetuating social system; for generations of children who dream of being soldiers who are sent off to die in unnecessary wars, for people who vote against their own health insurance because of their broad objections to socialism, for anybody who acts against their own self-interest because of their vested interest in an unfair system.

Heated discussions.

Indeed, Dremk is presented as an individual who has confronted the insanity of Malon society and been driven mad by the revelation. Dremk has realised how fundamentally broken Malon culture has become, and argued that an act of terrorism is the only way to open people’s eyes to the horrors of what they have become. “There’s no other way to make them understand,” he warns Torres. “They poisoned me!” Dremk’s actions are horrific and brutal, with Juggernaut never presenting Dremk as less than monstrous. However, the episodes retains some sympathy for him.

Juggernaut is a very broadly drawn episode. It does not work as a character piece. It essentially replays the same character conflict that has defined Torres since Parallax, with little in the way of innovation and insight. More than that, Juggernaut seems almost cynical about this process of repetition, suggesting that this arc is ultimately pointless, that Torres will never move past her character-defining anger, because Voyager will not let her. It is an extraordinarily bleak episode, deeply frustrating in its own way.

Torresolution.

At the same time, Juggernaut is also a highly pulpy blockbuster adventure that finds the crew in a race against time to avert disaster. The script is ridiculous and absurd, but in ways that feel engaging and exciting. It is a very good example of the kind of storytelling that Voyager has come to embrace over the past few seasons. A weird hybrid of a classic monster movie and a runaway train thriller, Juggernaut is consistently entertaining, for all its mangled character and plot arcs.

Juggernaut is not a good episode of television by any measure. However, it is a fairly solid episode of Voyager.

Advertisements

2 Responses

  1. Tonight on voyager: A sweaty and feral Dawson beating an alien with a pipe! Enterprise could’ve used more of that.

    Then again, watching a sweaty and feral T’Pol pawing at Reed’s hazard suit is the antithesis of fun.

    • Yeah, Torres is underrated as a Voyager character, in large part because she really only has one setting (“emotional”) and character arc (“be less emotional”). However, Dawson is always a pleasure to watch and she is more dynamic than the vast majority of her co-stars. To be honest, I’m surprised the production team didn’t do more with Torres and Seven or Torres and Tuvok.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: