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Star Trek: Voyager – Survival Instinct (Review)

Survival Instinct marks the beginning and the end of Ronald D. Moore’s involvement with Star Trek: Voyager.

Moore had been one of the most influential writers on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Moore had famously been drafted into the Star Trek franchise with no outside experience; The Bonding was based upon a speculative script that he wrote, and he had been invited to join the staff when The Defector proved that he was not a one-script wonder. Moore had inspired producer Michael Piller to open the franchise to speculative scripts, a decision which led to the recruitment of writers like Bryan Fuller and Rene Echevarria.

Drone warfare.

Moore had consistently pushed the envelope in terms of what Star Trek could be. Several of Moore’s scripts feel like trailblazers, expanding the storytelling language of an established science-fiction franchise; the Klingon-centric script for Sins of the Father, the quieter character drama of Family, the epic scale of Redemption, Part I and Redemption, Part II. Paired with Ira Steven Behr on Deep Space Nine, Moore really pushed the boundaries of what Star Trek could be; Soldiers of the Empire looked at life on a Klingon ship, In the Pale Moonlight stretched (and maybe broke) Star Trek morality.

All of the other writers on Deep Space Nine chose to bow out gracefully with What You Leave Behind, to part ways with the franchise having provided their own unique take on the Star Trek mythos. However, Moore was convinced to migrate across from Deep Space Nine to Voyager. There are any number of reasons why Moore might have chosen to stay when writers like Behr and Echevarria chose to take their exit; Moore was the longest continuous-serving writer on the Star Trek franchise to that point. In terms of second-generation Star Trek, only Rick Berman could have claimed to have a deeper impression.

Armed and dangerous.

Moore arrived on the sixth season of Voyager and immediately looked to make his mark. Like Brannon Braga, Moore had always been an extremely productive Star Trek writer. He was typically credited on six or seven scripts in a season of The Next Generation and Voyager, while also scripting Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: First Contact. Although not credited on the script, Moore was actively involved in the back-and-forth over the script to Equinox, Part II. He scripted the second episode, Survival Instinct. He was working on the story to third, Barge of the Dead.

And then the unthinkable happened. Like so much of Voyager, Moore’s arrival proved to be something of a false dawn. In early July 1999, Ronald D. Moore left Star Trek. This was within a month of the broadcast of What You Leave Behind, and nearly three months before the premier of the sixth season of Voyager. Even before Moore and Braga elaborated upon the particulars of what had happened, it was clear that something had gone disastrously wrong.

What We Left Behind.

By and large, Ronald D. Moore’s experience on Star Trek had been a happy one. He survived the massive hemorrhaging of writing staff at the end of the third season of The Next Generation, and became one of the show’s signature writers. The writing staff on Deep Space Nine had enjoyed a great deal of creative freedom to execute their creative freedom in whatever way that they wanted. Indeed, the writers on Deep Space Nine had been so satisfied on the series that they even crashed the characters’ leaving party in What You Leave Behind as background extras.

Voyager had been something very different. The early seasons of Voyager had seen the writers caught in a tug of war between two competing producers, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor. After this, Voyager became noticeably less ambitious. After Jeri Taylor left, Brannon Braga took over the day-to-day running of the show. Much less experienced as a showrunner than Michael Piller, Ira Steven Behr or Jeria Taylor, Braga’s tenure was decidedly more conservative. It was very traditional and safe Star Trek, in keeping with Rick Berman’s vision; unwilling to push boundaries.

Piecing it together.

Unlike the other writers on Deep Space Nine, Moore was convinced to migrate over to Voyager when his tenure on Deep Space Nine came to an end. As Moore concedes, he had some anxieties but pushed those aside:

I regret going to the show. I think that was my mistake. I should have known better. I should have been smart enough to know. He and I had been partners and friends for so long; ‘we can work it out.’ You get into that kind of situation, and things change. Things changed, and it was a slap of cold water. I think all the other writers on DS9 knew better. None of them flat out said it. None of them said, ‘You are making a mistake,’ and I am not saying that they should. I wouldn’t have listened to it if they did. But I knew at the time that they all thought this was a mistake. I should have left on Deep Space Nine because that was a high point. I could have left the stage with the audience still applauding and feeling good about the performance. You take your curtain call and you get off. That’s why I didn’t do the next movie, for just that reason. Rick asked Brannon and me to make the next movie, and I said no because I was happy to leave First Contact as my swan song to the Trek features. I should have been smart enough to do that and not take the Voyager gig. But I just didn’t want to leave. I loved it so much and I just didn’t want to go away from the franchise, and I just really enjoyed it. I was afraid to leave the nest on a certain level. They made it very easy for me. They gave me a lot of money. They let me stay in my own office, just change the business card on the front of the desk.

It would certainly have been an enticing offer for Moore, and it is easy to see why he took it. Similarly, it is easy to see why Deep Space Nine veterans like Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimer made the decision to move on, treating their tenure on Star Trek as one chapter in longer careers.

Borg on board.

Much like Brannon Braga, Ronald D. Moore had no real experience beyond the protective cocoon of the Star Trek franchise. Both writers had spent their entire careers working on the franchise, having been drafted on to The Next Generation with a minimum amount of outside experience. By this point, Moore had been working on Star Trek for almost a decade. His most significant work outside the franchise to this point had been a story credit on Mission: Impossible II with Braga, although the duo did not work of the finished script and the film would not be released for another two weeks.

As such, Moore’s decision to migrate over to Voyager made a certain amount of sense. The outside world could be a cruel place to former Star Trek writers. Several veteran Star Trek writers would eventually break out into the mainstream, like Moore with Battlestar Galactica or Naren Shankaar with CSI, but many found that leaving the franchise meant starting at the bottom rung of the ladder once again, of having to build their professional reputation from scratch. Measured against that alternative, an invitation to work on Voyager must have seemed quite appealing.

Better (assimi)late than never.

Of course, there was also some measure of ego in the equation. Moore admitted as much in The Fifty-Year Mission, conceding:

If anything, I stepped into it feeling like I was going to fix Voyager. I felt it was flawed and problematic and wasn’t working very well. And in my hubris at the time, I thought, well, I’m going to go and I’ll show them how to do a Star Trek show. I’ll fix that show. Brannon and I, we’ve worked together for years. It’ll be fun. He and I together – we’ll turn this into a really great show. So I came in and tried to change things, tried to play with the concept, but it was all different. Brannon was in a different space. He was in charge.

Moore concedes that his assumption was grounded in “hubris”, but it makes sense in context. Voyager needed to be saved, and who better than Moore?

Call of the Wild(man).

To be fair, the Star Trek franchise had arguably been in decline from the end of The Next Generation, with viewing figures falling across the remainder of the Berman era. In some respects, Deep Space Nine had been lucky in a number of respects. It aired in syndication, so ratings were less of a concern for it than they would be for Voyager. More than that, a lot of the hand-ringing that one might expect over the decline in ratings across the seven-season run of Deep Space Nine had been eclipsed by the joyful celebration of the franchise’s thirtieth anniversary in the middle of its fifth season.

More than that, Deep Space Nine arguably escaped a lot of the scrutiny heaped upon Voyager. Moore has referred to Deep Space Nine as “the bastard stepchild” of the Star Trek franchise, something that allowed the show to experiment in a way that Voyager never could. While the oft-repeated (nonsense) argument that Deep Space Nine was not “really” Star Trek could frustrate both fans and the production team, it offered Deep Space Nine a freedom that Voyager never truly had. Voyager had to carry the mantle of being “real” Star Trek, and so came burdened with those expectations.

Of course they’re on course.

With the afterglow of the thirtieth anniversary fading, and with ratings in sharp decline, the knives were out for Voyager. There was a sense that there was blood in the water, perhaps stoked by Kate Mulgrew’s suggestion that she might quit the show and other behind the scenes tensions. Robert Wilonsky would write of the franchise early in Voyager‘s sixth season:

In August, a company called Starbase-1.com sent out a press release announcing something called Altair Water — “the ‘Star Trek’ thirst quencher” named after “Dr. Bones McCoy’s drink of choice.” Even the buoyant press release couldn’t ignore the obvious, noting that the franchise has been “beset of late by death … box-office doldrums … and an all-but-empty TV nest.” Still, the company insists, “the advent of Altair H20 is a sure sign that the fandom is not lost.”

Sure. Drink up.

The obvious question at this point is, Who killed Star Trek?

The obvious answer is Rick Berman.

There was a clear sense among both fandom and culture at large that Star Trek was slipping out of cultural relevance. It wasn’t the franchise was a joke, or that the franchise had fundamentally lost its way, it was more that the franchise had ceased to push boundaries and to transcend expectation. A show that was supposed about charting the unknown had settled into routine, losing ground to science-fiction television franchises like The X-Files or Stargate: SG-1.

There’s only a fuse of them left now.

There are any number of narratives that account for the slow death of the Berman era, the gradual whittling away of the franchise’s audience and cultural impact which began with Caretaker (or maybe even Emissary) and culminated in These Are the Voyages… It is perhaps informative that, when it came time to draw down the shutters on the institution in Star Trek: Enterprise, Rick Berman and Brannon Braga largely ignored Deep Space Nine and Voyager as part of their farewell to the franchise.

Maybe it was just audience fatigue, the inevitable response of an audience overwhelmed by the glut of fifty television episodes every season during the height of Deep Space Nine and Voyager; that was before throwing in a feature film every two years and a variety of other science-fiction television series. This argument makes sense, but it is not entirely convincing. It ignores the very real issues with Voyager and Enterprise, the sense that producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga allowed the Star Trek franchise to effectively run in place for nine seasons as the rest of television overtook them.

“You know, having a hive mind isn’t the worst thing in the world. You could have a Twitter account.”

This frustration was increasingly finding expression online. As more of America connected to the internet, angry fans found more and more avenues to vent their anger. As the internet went mainstream, there was a sense that this fan frustration was building to critical mass, as reflected in baseless rumour-mongering on message boards and angry screeds on fan sites. As legitimate as their complaints might have been, the sheer and unrelenting hostility created an atmosphere that prefigures the toxic relationships between fans and creators that are even more common in the twenty-first century.

Voyager came of age with a changing internet, as fan sites were coming of age providing a forum for what had previous been whispered in exclusive forums. Muckraking and speculation became the nature of the game, with an adversarial relationship forming between fans who felt ownership over the property and the staff working on the series. It should be noted, for example, that the schism between Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga on the sixth season of Voyager was covered with a variety of rumours by Ain’t It Cool News, to say nothing of Moore’s infamous interview with Fandom.

Missing link.

Star Trek fandom was not a particularly pleasant place in the final seasons of Voyager and into Enterprise. In fact, Enterprise producer recalled receiving a bag of rotten garbage in the mail with a note, “This is what you’ve done to Star Trek.” The internet became a setting for shouting matches, with fans writing scathing parodies of Rick Berman and Brannon Braga while also shouting down any appeals to moderation or rationality. It was very clear that Star Trek fans were not happy with Star Trek at this point, even as the quality of the discourse deteriorated.

In this context, Ronald D. Moore was the perfect writer to fix Voyager. Moore had been one of the first writers on The Next Generation to push for long-form serialisation within the Star Trek universe. Moore had even argued with Berman over the ending to Sins of the Father, a story that closed on an open-ended narrative hook that would need to be addressed in later episodes; this hook formed the basis of stories like Reunion, Redemption, Part I and Redemption, Part II. Moore had similarly defied Roddenberry by exploring trauma in Family, and by breaking from the Star Trek format.

Some assimilation required.

There was some hope, for example, that Moore would bring some of the creative magic from Deep Space Nine to Voyager, injecting some life into the largely inert spin-off. One anonymous insider painted Moore’s arrival in such terms:

We all had reason to rejoice earlier this year when it was announced that Ron Moore had joined the staff of Star Trek Voyager, and that he might be working on the yet-to-be-announced new spinoff series. Unfortunately, neither the fans nor Ron himself knew that he was being outmaneuvered, and that he was never to be given a real chance to contribute to either Voyager or to the new series.

There was a sense that Moore might bring some of his more adventurous and ambitious sensibilities to Voyager, imbuing the series with the confidence to try something as bold and striking as In the Pale Moonlight or Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges.

Moore was already putting down roots.

Indeed, Survival Instinct seems to acknowledge this prospect head-on. The episode opens with Voyager docked at a sprawling space station. It seems almost as if Moore is easing himself into Voyager, adopting a setting that recalls the cosmopolitan surroundings of Deep Space Nine. Indeed, the space station in Survival Instinct is a striking concept, if only because it allows for Voyager to feel cluttered and vibrant. The corridor sets are crammed full of strange aliens, while Chakotay is introduced trying to shove his way through a crowded bridge.

Even superficially, these sequences recall the use of the promenade on Deep Space Nine. They create a sense of thriving community that is often lacking on Voyager. Seven and Naomi Wildman trying to squeeze through cramped corridors or fighting for space in the messhall makes the show feel alive in a way that it rarely does. It represents a rejection of the clean and sterile aesthetic that has defined so much of Voyager, a reminder that the ship is being used for a purpose very different than that intended by its designers.

Manning their stations.

More than that, the basic premise of the space station seems like a welcome change to how Voyager traditionally approaches alien civilisations. The crew have encountered peaceful aliens in high-densities before, whether the space station in Fair Trade or the generational ship in The Disease or any number of friendly planets in episodes from Prime Factors to Random Thoughts. However, there has always been a clear delineation between Voyager and the alien species, a rigid boundary that exists between the Starfleet crew and their new friends.

These boundaries perhaps reflect the inherent conservatism of Voyager, the fear of the unknown and the investment in the established moral order of things. Voyager has been wary of immigration in Displaced, of globalisation in Unity and of refugees in Day in Honour. There is a sense that Voyager itself is a rigidly controlled environment that has been carefully calibrated and maintained; the ship and crew maintain their own integrity rather than mingling with alien civilisations and cultures; even after Kazon occupation, Borg assimilation, Hirogen invasion, Voyager looks just like it did in Caretaker.

In the neck of time.

Survival Instinct breaks down these barriers by enthusiastically allowing alien species to flood on to Voyager, bringing gifts and trade. Survival Instinct suggests Voyager at its most multicultural, alien civilisations throwing themselves into Voyager’s culture and Voyager crewmembers throwing themselves into alien traditions in return. This marks a very different outlook than most Voyager episodes that start from a similar premise. Indeed, this is Voyager filtered through the lens of Deep Space Nine‘s multiculturalism, embracing new worlds with the enthusiasm of Jadzia Dax.

“Come on, Tuvok,” Chakotay remarks. “After all the xenophobic races we’ve run into, don’t you find it just a little refreshing to meet some people who value openness and freedom?” Janeway agrees, “Well as far as I’m concerned, opening the ship has been a fascinating experience and an unqualified success. I’m very pleased.” There is something very affecting in something as simple as the basic premise of this episode, reinforced by the various bits of filler that simmer through the rest of the story.

“To seek out new lifeforms and… new rackets.”

At one point, Janeway discovers that Kim and Paris got caught up in a brawl with an unseen alien. “Harry and I wanted to explore the station,” Paris explains. “We wanted to broaden our understanding of alien cultures and…” Janeway cuts in, “Skip the recruiting speech. You were looking for a bar.” It’s a nice subversion and reconstruction of the franchise’s utopianism, one that also feels ported over from Deep Space Nine. High-minded idealism is great, but there is nothing wrong in seeking to engage with another culture simply for the enjoyment of doing so.

In some ways, these small scenes hint at what Ronald D. Moore might have actually accomplished with Voyager, a subtle shift in emphasis that led to a much different show. Moore was unlikely to have ever enjoyed the same freedom that he would with Battlestar Galactica, while Berman was unlikely to afford Braga the leeway to enable Moore in the same way that Piller or Behr had. Moore would never have been able to rebuild Voyager from the ground up at the start of its penultimate sequence, but he would most likely have been able to subtle (but firmly) alter certain aspects of its storytelling.

Bush with greatness.

Certainly, the emphasis on enthusiastic alien contact in Survival Instinct affords the episode a sense of texture that is often lacking from Voyager. The subplot even affords Moore the opportunity for smaller character-centric scenes that are often overlooked and ignored in Voyager plots, choosing to fill the empty space in his story with scenes that explore the dynamics between Tuvok and Chakotay or Paris and Kim. The brawl involving Paris and Kim happens off-screen, but it still suggests a more intriguing dynamic between the duo that any shared holoprogram or joint away mission.

At the same time, the primary plot of Survival Instinct also feels very much in keeping with Ronald D. Moore’s aesthetic. Most obviously, the episode is built around two elements unique to Voyager, as if Moore is immediately trying to establish himself on Voyager by writing a story that could only be told using two items in the show’s narrative toolbox: the concept of the Borg as part of the broader landscape of the Delta Quadrant, and the history of Seven of Nine as a liberated drone. As such, there is no way that Survival Instinct could be written off as a recycled Deep Space Nine or Next Generation concept.

Scarred stiff.

However, while using these familiar Voyager concepts, Moore is very clearly writing in his own style. Survival Instinct is a story that feels quite distinct from most of Voyager. It is a story about consequences and trauma, two ideas that Voyager frequently brushes aside through its use of the reset button and its rejection of linear progressive continuity between episodes. It feels very much like some of Moore’s work on Deep Space Nine, like his reworking of Bryan Fuller’s The Darkness and the Light.

This trauma is reflected in something as simple as the make-up choices for the three surviving drones. One of the big issues with Seven of Nine is how transparently sexualised the character is, how clearly the character’s purpose is to provide cynical eye candy and how this undercuts a lot of what would make the character intriguing. Seven of Nine has been a Borg drone since she was child, but she looks like Jeri Ryan in a catsuit by the end of The Gift. There is very little physical evidence of the character’s trauma, because that would distract from Ryan’s physical beauty.

Alone with everybody.

In contrast, the three former drones featured in Survival Instinct wear their trauma on their skin. Their scars make it look like their Borg implants were pulled out at the root, and suggest wounds that have never healed. Survival Instinct even seems to hint towards the absurdity of trying to sexualise this trauma when the drones attack Seven in the Cargo Bay. Marika pulls her long leg out from under her skirt, evoking a femme fatale pulling a gun from a garter. However, instead the audience is treated to an implant on a leg that appears also necrotic.

Moore seems to be mocking the very concept of Seven of Nine as she exists on Voyager by presenting three guest characters who carry the wounds and the scars that she has so conveniently avoided in order to transparently pander to the young male demographic. Moore is playfully tweaking the nose of Voyager, drawing attention to the aspect of Seven of Nine’s recovery that has been largely glossed over in the rush to get from the clammy Borg make-up in Scorpion, Part II to the skin-tight catsuit in The Gift.

To be fair, the humidity on that planet was probably something else.

Survival Instinct even nods towards the absurdity of the fundamental character concept. “Why do they still call you Seven?” reflects one of the drones. “You should have a name.” Seven responds, “It is my name.” Another drone counters, “No. It’s a designation. You’re an individual now.” There is no small irony in the fact that Janeway should liberate a drone from the Borg Collective and then keep that drone’s designation. It seems to run counter to Seven’s core arc, a perpetual reminder of her status as an outsider rather than a logical step on her journey to humanity.

Survival Instinct also focuses on a moral failing of a primary character, evoking Moore’s script for In the Pale Moonlight. Indeed, Survival Instinct hinges on the reveal that Seven of Nine did something truly horrendous and grotesque to her fellow drones, and is effectively responsible for their deaths. More than that, she consciously “eliminated the evidence of what [she] had done”, suggesting that she was aware of the monstrous nature of her actions even in her weird transitional state between drone and individual.

“I’m glad we had this talk, Seven. See you in about eighteen months.”

More than that, there’s a sense that Moore is using the primary plot of Survival Instinct to engage in a conversation about the production of Voyager. At the climax of the episode, Seven of Nine finds herself forced to make a tough decision regarding the three drones that she re-assimilated. Seven can choose to either hand them back to the Borg and consign them to life as indistinct drones, or she can choose to sever the link and afford them a few months of life as individuals.

It is a very stark moral dilemma, and Survival Instinct deserves a great deal of credit for refusing to chicken out on the premise by affording a convenient consequence-free resolution. Indeed, there is something very affecting in Marika’s refusal to forgive Seven for her sins, denying any sense of trite absolution for the crimes that Seven committed. “I can’t forgive you for what you did to us, but I do understand why you did it,” she explains. It is an ending that feels emotionally honest. Naturally, despite her decision to remain on Voyager, Marika is never seen again.

Forgive a little to forget a little…

As much as Survival Instinct has the philosophical and moral nuance that defined Moore’s contributions to Deep Space Nine, the episode does not count among the writer’s best work for the franchise. There is an awkwardness in trying to adapt this storytelling style for Voyager, a television series that has largely avoided this level of ambiguity and nuance. There are points when the script for Survival Instinct seems to creak under the realisation that this is an episode of Voyager and so elements need to be translated to fit this framework.

This is most obvious when it comes to Seven of Nine’s decision to reassimilate the drones who have reclaimed their individuality. Deep Space Nine would trust its audience to understand the complicated emotional factors at play in this dynamic, as it did when Odo committed unforgivable sins in Children of Time and Behind the Lines. (Although You Are Cordially Invited… did gloss over the fallout from those decisions.) Jeri Ryan is a strong enough actor, and the script has established its concept strongly enough, that any viewer can understand her panicked motivations.

Putting their heads together.

However, Survival Instinct still makes a point to include an extended sequence of emotional and motivational exposition as Chakotay and Seven explain why she behaved in the way that she did. “Back on that planet, why do you think you reacted so differently from the rest of them?” Chakotay asks. “Why were you so afraid of becoming an individual?” Seven explains, “When I was first assimilated into the Collective, I was a child. They were assimilated as adults.”

She clarifies, “I let that fear control me. After I saw the drone die in the swamp, I panicked. I began to envision my own death. Alone, without even the sound of another drone to comfort me. So I forced them to return. I infiltrated their left cerebral hemispheres with nanoprobes and created a new interlink network. One that they couldn’t resist. And then I eliminated the evidence of what I had done.” All this information has been presented to the audience, even if it wasn’t explicitly stated in dialogue. Having the characters say this out loud feels clumsy and heavy-handed.

“Oh, don’t worry. We have the best supply of techno-babble cures in the quadrant on hand. Although only for members of the primary cast.”

There are other differences as well. Moore expressed some frustration with how the Voyager writing staff chose to bulk up the runtime after he left, when the episode came in short:

When we were working on Equinox Part II, I remember the pages coming in, and I would take notes, and send the notes back. There were just pages of it that I have no idea what’s going on. It was just page after page of, ‘Reroute the so-and-so, and engage the blankety-such, and the subspace dewop is doing its other thing.’ Just pages would go by, and in reading the script I’m flipping through it to find something of substance. It just fell on deaf ears. To be honest I haven’t even sat down and watched Survival Instinct or Barge of the Dead. I have them; I just haven’t watched them. They sent me the final drafts of the scripts, and I glanced through the script of Survival Instinct, and I knew that they had done some extra shooting after the show was over. The show was a little short, so they had to add some pages, which was nothing unusual. But they added the pages with all this techno-crap in sickbay! I hate it so much. It is so off-putting. It doesn’t add anything to the drama.

Moore is entirely correct here, and Voyager is far too dependent on technobabble as both a means to solve narrative problems and as a crutch to stall for time.

Seven demonstrates seen keen Borganisational Skills here.

Something was lost in the transition from The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine to Voyager, something small but essential. Under Michael Piller, the writing stuff would extend episodes of The Next Generation with little character-focused vignettes; Data and Picard painting in A Matter of Perspective, the recurring poker game among various cast members. These little touches added a sense of depth to the world that was sorely missing when Voyager instead opted to add scenes of meaningless jargon.

In fact, Moore’s script for Survival Instinct even makes a point to include such a small scene between Paris and Kim. The sequence in which Janeway holds the duo to account for a brawl on the station is transparently designed to eat up time while using regular cast members to avoid accruing any further strain on the budget. However, it also works as a small character beat for everybody involved. Voyager would be a much stronger show with two or three of these scenes in any given episode.

Regeneration games.

The dilemma within Survival Instinct feels very much like a metaphor for the tough choices facing the production team working on Voyager, as assessed by a writer migrating over from Deep Space Nine. There was a broad sense that the Star Trek franchise was in decline, but some debate about how to counter that decline. Should Voyager take risks and forge its own identity, even with only two seasons remaining? Or should Voyager continue with the status quo, a lack any distinct individual sensibility, feeling like generic Star Trek.

“A month as an individual, or a lifetime as a drone,” Chakotay wonders. “Which option would you choose?” It is a tough choice to make, but a necessary one. Moore (and many Star Trek fans) would argue that Voyager needed to take risks and to embrace the attributes that made it distinct from any other Star Trek that had come before. UPN and Rick Berman were worried that these sorts of bold ideas might kill the golden goose, but Survival Instinct seems to argue that living well is better than living long.

All in favour, say “I.”

Of course, Moore would never win this argument. From the moment that he arrived on Voyager, he found himself fighting to make his case. Moore might have wanted to save Voyager, but Voyager did not want to be saved. In The Fifty-Year Mission, Brannon Braga talked about that era of the show with no small regret:

Ron came aboard as a writer and – God, I have a lot of regrets – he came aboard wanting the show to do all sorts of things. He wanted the show to have continuity. When the ship got fucked up, he wanted it to stay fucked up. For characters to have lasting consequences. He was really into that. He wanted to eradicate the so-called reset button, and that’s not something the studio was interested in, because this thing was a big seller in syndication. It wasn’t until season three of Enterprise that we were allowed to do serialisation, and that was only because the show needed some kind of boost to it, because it was flat. I made a big mistake by not supporting Ron in that decision or supporting Ron in general when he came aboard the show. That was a dark chapter for me and Ron and Rick. It was a bad scene.

Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga had one of the strongest creative relationships in the entire history of the Star Trek franchise, both emerging as the bright young things of the Piller era of The Next Generation and collaborating on some of the show’s best scripts. The schism was heartbreaking.

“This will go on page four of the security report.”

Of course, this painful creative divorce was just the latest in a long string of crises behind the scenes on Voyager. Michael Piller had thrown Voyager into chaos by quitting during the first season, and even more tension by returning in the second. Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor spent most of the second season wrestling for creative control of Voyager. The addition of Jeri Ryan to the cast in the fourth season had caused no end of tension with Kate Mulgrew. Kate Mulgrew has even threatened to quit during the fifth season.

Voyager had never been a particularly happy place from a creative perspective, but the breakdown of the relationship between Braga and Moore seems like a culmination of this tension. It is tempting to wonder what Enterprise might have looked like with Braga and Moore as joint showrunners, with Moore helping to design the show from the ground up. Of course, it is impossible to know how things might have turned out. It seems likely that Enterprise would always have been doomed on UPN, and Moore was lucky to get out and get a chance to do Battlestar Galactica.

The Vaughning of a new age.

There is some suggestion that the tension between these two creative figures was not merely a clash of egos, that it was encouraged and abetted by outside forces. In The Fifty-Year Mission, writer Bryan Fuller suggested that Rick Berman had stoked these tensions in order to give himself leverage over the two writers:

Rick would taunt Brannon, saying things like, “I should have hired Ron to run Voyager instead of you.” So of course Brannon is going to be insecure and vulnerable. Brannon is a very complicated guy, but an amazing storyteller and a good guy ultimately. Both Ron and Brannon are good guys. But when you’re in a situation where you are feeling vulnerable and insecure and you’re having somebody essentially say I wish you were more like that guy, you’re going to resent that guy. And when that guy is told, “I wish Brannon was more like you,” then you’re going to feel like you should come in and you should be in a position where you’re exerting a certain sense of control over the story.

This is very much in line with other criticisms of Berman as a producer in this period, such as his alleged bullying and manipulation of Terry Farrell on Deep Space Nine and Wil Wheaton on The Next Generation. Berman’s top priority seemed to be maintaining his own authority through the manipulation of others.

Moore the merrier.

None of this happened in a vacuum. Brannon Braga was a particularly vulnerable showrunner. He had arrived on The Next Generation as an intern. When he collaborated with Moore on early scripts for episodes like Reunion, Braga had been the junior partner to Moore’s (relatively) seasoned veteran. He had no prior experience writing for television. When he was elevated to the position of showrunner following Jeri Taylor’s departure, Braga had no grounding or foundation. This meant that he could stand up to Berman in the same way Piller, Taylor or Behr might.

In fact, this seemed to be part of what appealed to Berman about the appointment of Braga as showrunner on Voyager. As Bryan Fuller explained to The Fifty-Year Mission, Berman had great difficulty controlling the writing staff and imposing his vision on Deep Space Nine, with Behr pushing for every possible concession and compromise. In contrast, Braga lacked that sort of leverage. When Behr wanted two seasons of Deep Space Nine focusing on the Dominion War, he did it. When Braga wanted one season of strife, he settled for Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II.

What’s up, dock?

When he arrived on Voyager, Moore aggressively pushed for bold and provocative new ideas that would up-end the status quo. As Moore confesses to The Fifty-Year Mission, he has heartbroken to discover that Braga simply did not have his back:

He was very contemptuous about some of it, and I bristled at that. I just felt like they weren’t willing to try to change the show, because in their minds they thought the show was working fin and it didn’t need to be challenged. I was the one saying no, this does not work. This can be better. This does not work.

I kept pushing, and out of that dynamic Brannon stopped wanting to have me in meetings and stopped wanting me to be around, and then the whole thing blew up once I found out that that they literally were having meetings where I wasn’t around and they were developing stories that I wasn’t part of, and the staff had been told not to tell me these things. I walked into Rick’s office and said, “I want out.” He was shocked and Brannon was shocked, and Brannon and I had it out. It was a hard, very emotional and painful scene. Brannon said, “You’re right. I’m sorry. I don’t know why it’s been like that, but I’d really like you to stay.” But I was just done.

This was a tragic way to end a friendship and creative partnership that had lasted for nine years, since a young writer on staff had been assigned to help a plucky intern with a script about Worf’s secret son.

All by myself…
Don’t wanna be…

This sense of betrayal and compromise, this refusal to allow writers to play with particularly bold ideas in favour of more conventional narratives, is a reiteration of a familiar story from the production of Voyager. During the fifth season, writer Michael Taylor would pitch interesting and provocative plots only to have them rejected; the pitches for Once Upon a Time and The Fight are among the most interesting Star Trek episodes never written, while the finished episodes strive for mediocrity.

The departure of Ronald Moore could be seen as the true beginning of the end for the Berman era of Star Trek, a firm rejection of a genuinely iconoclastic Star Trek writer because his narrative ideas threatened the status quo of a franchise that was already in decline. Moore had written for the franchise for a decade, and been responsible for one of the best loved films and some of its best-loved episodes. His departure from Voyager sent a very stark message; if Ronald D. Moore could not be allowed to save Voyager, then what chance did Star Trek have?

“Oh. Please consider this awkward emotional exposition as foreshadowing for any future relationship.”

Indeed, Moore’s departure was quickly incorporated into the narrative of franchise decline. The anonymous studio insider who claimed to have in-depth knowledge of what happened provided a template for this particular back stage myth even as it was still unfolding:

I am deeply disappointed that studio management has tolerated (and perhaps even encouraged) the sickening power-play that has led to Ron’s departure. But even the fans have begun to realize that this is merely a symptom of the deeper disease threatening Star Trek. With the prosperity of the Star Trek “franchise,” too many people have used the show purely as a vehicle for the promotion of their own careers. Many of these people make no secret of their contempt for Star Trek and its fans, and that contempt shows in the mediocrity of their work. For years, Star Trek has shown remarkable resilience, due in large part to the tremendous loyalty of its those fans. But there is a limit to the tolerance of even the most devoted fans, and Paramount has been stung in recent years by a steady decline in viewership as fans have become more and more disillusioned with the quality of the show.

To certain observers, Ronald D. Moore’s departure from Star Trek signalled that the decline was irreversible, that this iteration of Star Trek was doomed; a clear line could be traced from Survival Instinct to These Are the Voyages…, six years later. Not coincidentally, There Are the Voyages… would chose to nest the finale to the Berman era inside The Pegasus, a Ronald D. Moore episode.

One is the happiest number.

With all of this chaos and fury, Survival Instinct remains an oddity. It is not a masterpiece, nor a blueprint for success. This is not successful enough to signal a bold new direction, nor is it fully formed enough to be considered a false start. It is an episode that feels awkwardly shoehorned into Voyager. It is a piece that does not belong, something feels uncanny. It is an episode of Voyager that has been copied over from a parallel universe just ever-so-slightly to the right of the show’s usual location.

Still, Survival Instinct remains tantalising. It is easy to imagine how, had Moore remained on the writing staff, the episode’s tone might have slowly eased across the rest of the sixth season. However, the notion of “business as usual” reasserted itself so quickly that Survival Instinct feels out of place, the return to the familiar template so sharp and so decisive that it feels like whiplash. The sixth season ultimately feels very much like an extension of the fifth season, and so Survival Instinct feels like it belongs in neither.

Station-keeping.

Still, Moore could leave Star Trek with his head held high. The writer had fought the good fight, even if he did not triumph in the end. Moore’s story would have a bittersweet ending, with Battlestar Galactica going on to redefine twenty-first century science-fiction in the same way that Star Trek had redefined the twentieth-century equivalent. Even Moore’s last day on the lot would involve a mixture of emotions:

My last day was Thursday, July 1 and I spent most of it walking around the lot, saying good-bye to various members of the cast and crew, some of whom I’d worked with for a decade. It was a melancholy sort of task and I was eager to be done with it and get outta there. So when Bryan pulled me aside and said that my birthday gift had come in, my first reaction was to put him off for another day, but then I relented and he walked into my office with it hidden behind his back.

It was a bat’leth. A genuine, metal, leather-handled, sharp as all hell, bat’leth. Made by our prop department, which is as close as you can get to getting one from Kronos itself. I was touched and I laughed, but it wasn’t until I was on my way home that I realized what Bryan had really given me: an ending to my own Star Trek story. You see, ten years ago I walked onto the Paramount lot for the first time with a script under my arm and last week I walked off with a bat’leth. I left carrying my sword. There’s a certain poetry to that and it went a long way toward making me feel as if I’d left with my head high and my “honor” intact. Thank you, Bryan.

Ronald D. Moore left carrying his sword. Few writers can claim that. He certainly earned that right. Ron Moore would go on without Star Trek. For a while, Star Trek would go on without Ron Moore. However, both would be forever changed by their decade-long intersection; an individual voice had departed the collective and wandered boldly into the unknown.

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5 Responses

  1. >The writing staff on Deep Space Nine had enjoyed a great deal of creative freedom to execute their creative freedom in whatever way that they wanted.

    Perhaps “execute their ideas”?

    >although the duo did not work of the finished script

    “work on”?

    >In some respects, Deep Space Nine had been lucky in a number of respects.

    Redundant.

    >This meant that he could stand up to Berman in the same way Piller, Taylor or Behr might.

    “This meant that he could not”

    These nitpicks aside I quite enjoyed this article. The fallout surrounding Moore was already known to me, but your analysis of the Borg trio being a tweak on how Seven’s recovery was played is a very compelling idea. And, of course, you told the story of Moore’s departure with great clarity, context and intrigue.

    I recall it was around the time of this season that I first heard someone blame Braga for the decline of Trek. I pointed out Braga had written a lot of great episodes in the past… then realized all of them were co-written with Moore. Oops.

  2. Very interesting piece, I really appreciated the context about Moore’s departure that you wove into the review. I’ve never gotten around to seeing this episode, so I’ll have to take the time to check it out.

  3. Give Braga his due: at least he never broke up with his girlfriend in the middle of a fan expo while screaming “YOU ARE ERASED” like Sheldon Cooper.

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