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Star Trek: Voyager – Nightingale (Review)

During the production of the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, producer Michael Piller laid down a template for Star Trek storytelling that became a large (and underrated) part of the series’ successful. Following on from the unfocused and clumsy first two seasons, Piller advocated from a strong character-driven storytelling sensibility, advocating for a narrative structure whereby each episode would reveal or inform something interesting about a given character, quite apart from any phenomenon of the week or interesting alien species.

It was a template that was so sturdy that Piller himself could open the season by applying it to Wesley Crusher in Evolution. Ronald D. Moore was perhaps the first writer to really understand the appeal of the structure, applying it to Worf in The Bonding and Sins of the Father. Even when episodes weren’t about the main characters, they still offered some insight. Tin Man, Déjà Q and The Defector were both episodes focused on a guest star, but that guest star was largely seen through Data’s eyes.

Captain Kim.

There were stories that didn’t adhere to this template. Often, like in Hollow Pursuits and Yesterday’s Enterprise, they focused on a guest star rather than the leads. However, these episodes were the exception that proved the rule. Even the less successful episodes of the season, like A Matter of Perspective or Ménage à Troi were still elevated above the troubled first and second seasons by this attention to character-driven storytelling. Piller set a template that lasted for the next four seasons, and beyond.

In the middle seasons of Star Trek: Voyager, there was a tension between this template and the demands of contemporary television. The writing staff on Voyager understood the basic rhythms and structure of the template that Piller established, and kept applying it after his departure following Basics, Part I and Basics, Part II. Stories like Nemesis and Timeless found a way to apply that template to even neglected characters like Chakotay and Kim. The only issue was that the template felt increasingly outdated.

He’s (Nee)lixed.

Modern television was moving on. The X-Files and Babylon 5 were embracing sprawling epic television storytelling. Television series like The Sopranos and Oz were adopting a more novelistic approach to the medium. Even Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was consciously moving away from self-contained episodes in favour of longer-form storytelling, most notably the six-parter that ran from A Time to Stand through to Sacrifice of Angels. There was a sense that, even applied skillfully and correctly, the Piller template reflected an older mode of television storytelling.

One of the big issues with the seventh season of Voyager is a palpable feeling that even this foundational block of Star Trek storytelling dating back to The Next Generation has begun to erode. The seventh season of Voyager is packed with stories that look and feel loosely that familiar Piller template, broad narratives focusing on individual characters and big ideas wherein the characters develop or discover something about themselves. However, these episodes also tend to look like they were constructed from a faded photocopy of that classic blueprint.


This is reflected in the broad “Star-Trek-iness” of stories like Drive or Critical Care, episodes that gesture toward social commentary while working hard to avoid actually saying anything potentially engaging. It is also reflected in character-driven episodes like Imperfection or Body and Soul, which superficially resemble the template that Piller laid out for telling a good self-contained Star Trek story, but failing to connect all of the pieces in a way that makes any real sense.

Nightingale is perhaps the season’s best example of this, for so many reasons. It is the last Voyager episode to focus on the character of Harry Kim, but returns to what has been his standard character arc since Demon. It has a strong central throughline about the importance of taking command, and the responsibilities of being in authority, but it also never allows these elements to cohere into a strong central thesis. It contains stock Star Trek elements like an alien war and the challenge of non-interference, but doesn’t do anything with them. It is simply a mess.

As with a lot of the seventh season of Voyager, Nightingale runs on the combined power of “almost done” and “good enough.” There is a sense that Voyager is winding down, so why waste any unnecessary ambition or energy in telling any stories using it when the series can fall back upon familiar templates instead? Voyager has always been defined by its desire to be archetypal Star Trek, particularly since Jeri Taylor took over the series during the third season. However, only under Kenneth Biller has the series been so content to just look like archetypal Star Trek.

The seventh season of Voyager often feels like a series of checkboxes, a set of criteria providing a minimum threshold to be deemed a Star Trek series. As such, the production team crams references to stock Star Trek ideals into episodes like Drive and The Void or constructs old-fashioned and archetypal “Prime Directive” narratives with stories like Friendship One or Natural Law. The season checks off everything that is left on the list for a seven-season series; Tuvok experiences “pon farr” in Body and Soul, Neelix leaves the crew in Homestead.

“I, sadly, never actually choose a name because Janeway resets the timeline.”

The seventh season even includes “one last character-driven episode” for various members of the ensemble who have been neglected over the previous six seasons, although these seem to be offered out of a sense of obligation rather than any desire for innovation or insight. However, most of these episodes are strictly formula. None of these stories take these neglected characters in new or interesting directions, which is mildly frustrating considering that there is so much untapped potential there.

So Chakotay gets to be the centre of one more generic “phenomenon of the week” story in Shattered, a decision that feels like an extension of the use of his character in other generic “phenomenon of the week” stories like Waking Moments or Unforgettable or The Fight. Tuvok once again loses control of his mental faculties in Repression, the same character arc that he played in Meld and Riddles. In Nightingale, Harry Kim once again gets to emphasise his inexperience, a thread running through most Kim-centric episodes.

What dreams may Kim.

Garrett Wang has been vocal about his frustration working on Voyager. He was even vocal while the show was on the air, which undoubtedly caused some tension with the production team. (Along with his tardiness, which led to a reprimand in the third season.) During the shooting of the seventh season, Wang told SFX:

“I don’t know what it takes to get promotion on this darned ship for Kim.” Garrett Wang isn’t very happy, and as Star Trek: Voyager comes toward the end of its seven year voyage, he’s joined the list of actors who’s willing to go on the record to express his disappointment at certain aspects of the series.

That’s not to say he feels negative about the whole experience — “It’s been a long ride and it’s been fun,” he admits freely — but ask him whether he feels stretched by the role and he’s off and running. “I feel I have a lot to offer as an actor,” he says. “I haven’t really had the opportunity to use all the nuances I have in my arsenal of acting ability. That’s been unfortunate. Somebody who had seen a play I had done right before Voyager said, ‘They have under-utilized you, haven’t they?’ There were so many twists and turns in this play, it was such a challenge, that every night I was totally exhausted. Whenever an actor is exhausted after a performance, that actor has really stretched himself. On Trek, that’s not so much the case. The people who get to do some stretching are the alien characters or the Doctor — or the characters that the writers seem to like to write episodes for, because it’s easier. I guess for me to get absolute complete fulfillment from Trek, I would need to be reincarnated as an alien, or be a guest star in the next series.”

This is no surprise. After all, Harry has spent seven years as an ensign, as the junior character. In three and a half seasons of The Next Generation, Wesley Crusher went from civilian to trainee to field ensign. Geordi LaForge went from lieutenant junior grade to lieutenant commander in three seasons.

“We’d like to know a little bit about you for our logs…”

Even on Voyager, more senior officers have received promotions over the seven season run. Ignoring the fact that Torres is a lieutenant commander despite never finishing her time at Starfleet Academy, and that Tom Paris was demoted in Thirty Days before before being re-promoted in Unimatrix Zero, Part I, Tuvok received a promotion in Revulsion. In theory, it should be harder to reach the higher ranks than it is to get past the lowest rungs on the ladder. Kim should be a more senior officer. He even commands the late shift in episodes like Warhead.

This is not to suggest that character development is contingent on promotion within a fictional space service. After all, Jean-Luc Picard remained a captain from the broadcast of Encounter at Farpoint to the release of Star Trek: Nemesis, and was one of the franchise’s best developed characters. Deep Space Nine has dozens of supporting characters who never held military ranks, and more who held ranks but were never promoted, none of which was a barrier to character development.

Just to be (engi)neer to you.

Still, this lack of movement is one measure of the show’s lack of interest in Harry Kim. After all, Voyager is a show that is very enthusiastically and uncritically invested in the idea of Starfleet as an ideal. The Maquis crewmembers were all in Starfleet uniforms by the end of Caretaker. Episodes like Prime Factors and State of Flux made it clear that Voyager would be a ship that adhered to Starfleet principles, just as faithfully as Voyager adhered to the familiar Star Trek template. Starfleet matters to Voyager. The ranks of these fictional characters matter to Voyager.

This is acknowledged in the early conversation between Kim and Janeway, which acknowledges both Kim’s increased responsibility and his lack of promotion. “You and Chakotay are always a couple of decks away, ready to take over if anything goes wrong,” he explains of his command of the night shift. “I’ve been on Voyager for almost seven years and I’m still an Ensign.” It seems strange that this has never come up in any of his reviews. However, he is very understanding of the dynamics at play.

It doesn’t land.

Janeway begins, “If this is your way of bucking for a promotion–“ Kim cuts across here, “No, no, I understand there’s a command structure and that our circumstances are unique. But the fact is, if we were back home, I’d be a Lieutenant by now. Maybe even a Lieutenant Commander.” There is something vaguely interesting in Kim’s self-confidence there, which perhaps reflects his own desire to be more assertive as discussed in Demon. However, he never presses the argument. He never asks why Tuvok and even Paris can be promoted ahead of him.

The importance of the structure provided by Starfleet is particularly obvious in the seventh season, where Voyager has repeatedly made reference to the importance of Starfleet and the Federation as standard-bearers for Star Trek ideals. The crew encounter a make-shift Federation in Drive, form their own miniature Federation in The Void, and even have a Prime Directive crisis in Natural Law. Even within Nightingale, the series speaks unquestioningly of the virtues of Starfleet service. It is what elevates Harry above any member of the Kraylor crew.

In a bit of fix.

“You know a lot about engineering,” Terek concedes. Kim responds, “It’s all part of my Starfleet training.” Terek is confused, “Starfleet?” Kim clarifies, “Yeah, the organisation I work for.” Terek is intrigued, “And they teach you all these things?” Kim explains, “We train at an Academy ,and I guess I picked up a few new tricks during my time on Voyager.” In fact, Nightingale frequently plays like a weird propaganda video for a military service that does not actually exist. It is a strange extension of Roddenberry’s military fetishism in episodes like Court Martial or Turnabout Intruder.

Nightingale devotes a lot of time and attention to unnecessary details at the expense of drama and character. There is a strong focus on military structures and roles, and on techno-babble and procedure. This perhaps reflects the way in which writer André Bormanis approaches writing for Star Trek. Indeed, Nightingale is only his third script, following Fair Trade and Waking Moments. (It should be noted that Bormanis was also responsible for the stories to Demon, Riddles and Imperfection.)

Yes, Seven. We heard it too.

Bormanis is not a television write by trade. He worked as the science advisor on the Star Trek franchise. He is an avowed fan of the franchise. He is also quite conservative in his approach to Star Trek. Bormanis would become one of the writers working on Enterprise, where his scripts would include the fairly standard Star Trek plots like The Crossing, Extinction or Hatchery. Bormanis was never a particularly strong writer when it came to character; consider Reed’s dark secret in Silent Enemy, or the emotional emptiness of Mayweather’s return home in Horizon.

To be fair, Nightingale tips its hand quite early in this respect. It is very apparent that Nightingale has no interest in Harry Kim as a character once the audience gets a look at his makeshift ready room. Seven of Nine is impressed at how quickly and thoroughly Kim has decorated. “Why have you brought these items aboard?” Seven asks. “They make me feel more at home,” Kim responds. “It’s important to forge a personal connection with your vessel, make the ship your own. Ask Captain Janeway.”

Sax appeal.

There is nothing personal about the decorations. There is nothing that reveals anything about Harry Kim. In fact, the decorations seem to run counter to what the audience actually knows about Harry Kim. Kim plays the clarinet, as featured in episodes as diverse as Parturition, Night and Virtuoso. Th saxophone is a relatively novel instrument for Kim, having only been mentioned in passing in Ashes to Ashes. As such, it’s strange to see it given such pride of place in the ready room. This is a small example, but it sets a tone. Nightingale is disinterested in character.

Nightingale does not really work as a story on a fundamental level, because it doesn’t have a clear arc. Rather, the premise has a very logical internal arc that derives from the basic set-up, but the script never manages to deliver upon that arc. Instead, Nightingale is populated with extraneous details that never add up to anything particularly engaging or exciting. Nightingale contains a number of straightforward ideas, hardly innovative on their own terms; Kim’s central drive as a character, the question of intervention in foreign affairs. It then just lets them sit there.

Keeping those feelings at cargo bay.

The basic arc of Nightingale is suggested by the pitch that producer Kenneth Biller provided in the lead-up to its original broadcast:

“[We’re] doing an episode where you’ll see Harry Kim pushed to his core, where he is forced to realise and acknowledge the fact that if Voyager doesn’t get home, he’s hit a glass ceiling. He’s going to be stuck on this ship as an ensign for conceivably his entire professional career. That means giving up his dream, which is to captain a starship. He’s going to be confronted with an opportunity to do that, and it’s really going to test him and force him to examine how to balance his own desires with his loyalties to his family on Voyager.”

That pitch is admittedly a collection of buzzwords; “pushed to his core”, “hit a glass ceiling”, “test him”, “force him to examine.” None of this is especially exciting, but it does suggest a story. Nightingale never delivers on that.

“Do I outrank Harry Kim?”

Kim never really confronts that “glass ceiling.” He acknowledges it in conversation with Janeway, who allows him to lead a mission to test his command authority. He certain doesn’t have to give up his dream “to captain a starship”, as Janeway actually allows him to indulge those dreams by taking command of the ship. Most egregiously, there is nothing in the story that forces him “to examine how to balance his own desires with his loyalties to his family on Voyager.” Kim is never torn. Kim is never tempted. Kim goes away, does his job, and comes back.

Of course, Biller’s pitch was all advertising fluff – the kind of “nothing will ever be the same again!” nonsense that audiences expect from writers and showrunners doing publicity. However, even allowing for that, Nightingale still seems hollow. What actually happens in Nightingale? How is Kim (or even the audience’s understanding of Kim) changed by what happens over the course of Nightingale? What is different between the opening and closing scene, in a way that matters beyond the politics of two alien races that the audience will never see again?

Sparks fly.

Stories are journeys, in both a literal and metaphorical sense. They are about characters who start in one place and end in another, whether emotionally or physically. This is admittedly a challenge in the context of episodic television, where audiences are expected to dip into and out of the show over an extended period of time and so a status quo has to be maintained. Late nineties and early twenty-first century television was a bit more ambitious, allowing longer arcs and more dynamic plotting. However, Voyager consciously eschewed such changes.

A cynical audience member might argue that the standard twenty-odd-episode-a-season television series simply offered the “illusion of change” in the lives of primary characters, hence frequent devices like the introduction of a dearly-beloved-but-never-previously-mentioned friend to spice up a run of the mill plot or the revelation of a dark secret in a character’s past that changed absolutely nothing material about them. These criticisms are fair, and apply to a lot of twentieth century television.

Icheb really needs a workplace sexual harassment seminar.

However, really good television could find a way to suggest profound change in characters through a combination of good writing and good performances. Jean-Luc Picard seemed fundamentally changed by the events of episodes like The Best of Both Worlds, Part I, The Best of Both Worlds, Part II, Family, Darmok and The Inner Light, even if the events of these episodes were rarely discussed in later stories. Benjamin Sisko underwent profound journeys in episodes like Rapture, Far Beyond the Stars and In the Pale Moonlight.

Voyager was always less effective at selling these sorts of character journeys than The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine, but it typically understood the importance of these sorts of arcs. Torres underwent the same journey repeatedly over the seven seasons of Voyager, learning to make piece with her Klingon half and its emotional volatility in episodes like Faces, Day of Honour, Extreme Risk and Juggernaut. While long-term viewers knew from experience Torres would have to repeat the arc, most episodes at least suggested that Torres had learned something of value.

“Our chemistry results are in.”

This is the appeal of the Michael Piller template, the approach that the executive producer had helped to codify for the Star Trek franchise. It was a sturdy storytelling format, most obvious in the fact that it was still being applied more than a decade after Piller had introduced it and years after Piller had been forced to step aside from the day-to-day production of the franchise. The formula was arguably outdated, and was working off a copy of a copy of a copy, but it still worked well enough that it could be applied to a basic story template to create passable results.

The issue with the seventh season of Voyager is that it frequently seems like that template has broken down. This is perhaps inevitable, that template just a faded copy of an approach that Voyager has never updated or renovated. Things fall to pieces after years of use without any care or attention. The seventh season of Voyager repeatedly sets up episodes that look like they might adhere to that template, only to stumble over the delivery. Body and Soul is one example, opening with a character-driven scene for the EMH and Seven that somehow misses the episode’s core themes.

The Captain is dead.

Nightingale is an example of this trend. On the surface, it looks like a standard character-driven episode. Harry Kim is placed in command of an alien ship and forced to learn some hard truths about being a captain. Nightingale is far from the first Star Trek episode to tackle these themes of leadership. Geordi LaForge had to learn to be assertive in Arsenal of Freedom, Data took command in Ensigns of Command and Redemption, Part II, Beverly Crusher made some tough calls in Descent, Part II, Deanna Troi took the command exam in Thine Own Self.

In fact, Nightingale hits upon a number of the obvious beats in story like this, with Kim learning that he has to delegate to his crew and trust those who serve under him. Seven even articulates these ideas to Kim during one key sequence. “When you first came aboard Voyager, did Captain Janeway help you?” she asks. “By doing your work for you?” Kim replies, “No. She gave me a lot to do, actually.” Seven presses the point, “Because she felt you were more capable than she was?” Kim answers, “Of course not. She wanted me to learn. To gain confidence.” Seven muses, “Interesting.”

Long live the Captain.

There is something very patronising and condescending in this, recalling Josh Marsfelder’s observation that Star Trek might be best seen as “children’s television for grown-ups”, teaching important life skills to audience members through the science-fiction framework:

LeVar Burton is playing Geordi as a “children’s educator” and he’s having him treat Data like the kids he reads to on Reading Rainbow: As a close friend, certainly, and not at all patronizing or condescending, but still as someone who needs support and guidance to make their way in the world and realise their full potential. The clincher for me is “I’ve just shown you one of my dreams, now let’s go and share in one of yours”, which first of all could have come straight off of Reading Rainbow, but also finally crystallized for me what Star Trek: The Next Generation should actually be about. The starship Enterprise is, as we have established, a place people go to learn and grow. It’s a place that, while conflict is few and far between, is not somewhere where we’re supposed to forget what the outside world is like. It’s a place that doesn’t pretend conflict doesn’t exist, but shows us how we can deal with conflict, confusion and negative emotions in a safe, healthy and constructive way.

To be fair, Star Trek has a history of being heavy-handed in such matters, particularly in the use of younger characters like Harry Kim or Wesley Crusher to address the audience. After all, Wesley Crusher had to learn his own lessons about command in Pen Pals. Ideally, Nightingale would be a little more subtle, but the basic arc is established in that conversation.

“Mister Chakotay, show him the (ambassa)dor, please.”

However, Nightingale severely bungles the execution. At the end of the episode, Kim seems no closer to or further from his dream of being in command than he was before the episode began. Kim suffers a number of humiliating and embarrassing moments in Nightingale, which should cause him to question his ability to lead. He then overcomes those doubts and betrayals to accomplish his mission. That should be a clear arc. After all, it is very similar to the journey that General Martok experiences in Soldiers of the Empire.

Nightingale doesn’t seem to grasp this most basic of narrative structures, the idea of the character experiencing a crisis of conscience and then pulling through it. Instead, Kim accomplishes his mission and then mopes about his ineffectiveness. “I’m not a captain, Neelix,” he admits. “Not yet, anyway.” This is a damp squib of an ending. It is just nonsense. It is a non-ending. It is a story that builds to a conclusion, but cannot seem to actually work out what that conclusion is.

Hardly captain of his destiny.

To be clear, Nightingale does not have to end with Kim convinced that he is captain material. Indeed, it is entirely possible for his experiences to lead to an entirely different conclusion. Journey’s End found Wesley Crusher deciding that he did not want to pursue a career in Starfleet. Shadowplay had Jake Sisko tell his father that his interests lay beyond the organisation. It would be a very sharp left turn for Nightingale to offer Kim a similar epiphany, and it would be a very hard sell, but at least it would be an ending.

After all, this is the seventh and final season of Voyager. There is a very good chance that this will be Voyager‘s defining statement on Harry S.L. Kim. This is the last time that the writers will give up so much narrative real estate to the character, and so it seems appropriate to offer something resembling closure or insight into this featured player. Voyager makes a number of extremely clumsy attempts to do this with other characters; with Torres’ pregnancy in Lineage, Neelix’s departure in Homestead, the romance between Chakotay and Seven in Human Error.

None of the episode’s emotional beats land.

Deep Space Nine made a point to find something for every major character to do in the final season, to the point of giving over large parts of Extreme Measures and The Dogs of War to plot threads and character dynamics. The writing staff on Voyager understand that the show is coming to an end, even if there is no real indication of this fact in the mapping of the seventh season as a whole. It is extremely frustrating to end the last Kim-centric episode on what amounts to a limp shrug.

Similarly, this is not to insist that endings must be concrete and absolute. Some of the best works of fiction end on ambiguous statements with dangling threads. There are a number of beloved Star Trek episodes that end with a conscious denial of closure, such as Far Beyond the Stars or In the Pale Moonlight. However, even those ambiguities are meaningful, offering insight into the world and the characters, rather than shrugging off everything that happened within the previous forty-odd minutes.

They make a fine (re)pair.

Instead, Nightingale refuses to offer any commitment. The “not yet, anyway” exists to put off anything resembling a definitive statement on Harry Kim as a character. It is just nonsense. Nightingale has nothing meaningful to say about Harry Kim as a character, no insight to offer into his mind. The episode ends with the character roughly where he started, which was never especially well defined. This is sloppy. Nightingale is not a story. It is a bunch of events loosely chained together to fill forty-five minutes of television.

Nightingale feels curiously incomplete, as if the first half of the story was assembled according to a lost set of blueprints and then the writing staff found themselves scrambling desperately in the dark to reach a fast-approaching deadline. This is reflected in the episode’s subplot focusing on the Annari and the Kraylor. These are two empires at war with one another in the Delta Quadrant. Voyager has normally been quite anxious about allowing its characters to involve themselves in such conflicts, as demonstrated in stories like Alliances or Nemesis.

Annari the battle to the strong.

However, Nightingale is curiously comfortable allowing Kim to lead a Kraylor ship into combat with the Annari. Normally, stories that allow our heroes to make such quick alliances tend have clearly defined antagonists, such as when Janeway aligns with the Mawasi and the Nihydron against the Krenim in Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II. The premise of the episode suggests that the Annari should be monstrous and villainous, the Kraylor presented as innocent victims.

Certainly, the initial introduction of the Annari plays into this dynamic. The Kraylor appear quite human, while the Annari are almost reptilian in design. While Star Trek has been subverting this dynamic dating back to The Devil in the Dark, this contrast is televisual shorthand for good and evil. The Kraylor are presented as familiar and trustworthy, while the Annari are presented as alien and deceitful.

Cardassian-carrying antagonists?

At one point in the episode, Kim returns to Voyager to discover that the Annari have arrived. The Annari are presenting themselves as friends to the Voyager crew. “Just because they’re talking doesn’t mean they formed an alliance,” Kim tells the Kraylor crew. “It’s probably just a friendly meeting.” Loken offers a more ominous prediction, “That’s how the Annari operate. They come to you as friends and when they’ve won your trust, they declare you subjects of the Annari Empire.”

All of this is very broad and very cliché, but it is the kind of basic internal logic that allows a story like Nightingale to operate. The audience needs to believe that the Kraylor are the heroes of the narrative, so that they can get past the incongruity of Kim meddling so directly in the internal politics of a Delta Quadrant power. This approach would be clumsy and potentially problematic, but at least it would make a certain amount of narrative sense and justify the rest of the plot.

If it ain’t Loken…

Instead, Nightingale bungles all of this in a frustratingly haphazard manner. It is later revealed that Loken is entirely untrustworthy. Loken is not a doctor, and he is not ferrying medical supplies. In fact, Loken is a scientist who has been developing cloaking technology to aid the Kraylor in their war with the Annari. Kim is not bringing much needed aid to a struggling colony, but instead delivering a piece of technology that will change the tide of the entire war effort.

Nightingale effectively transforms into a bizarre pro-Vietnam allegory, possibly the most overt pro-Vietnam metaphor that the franchise has produced since For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, if not The Omega Glory. Harry Kim effectively becomes a “military advisor” on the ground, helping one side in a small war far from Federation borders. The audience is asked to trust Kim on this, to cheer him on, without any real understanding of the context or even the reality of the war that is raging.

Making an (amb)ass(ador) of himself…

Loken argues that the Kraylor are the victims of Annari aggression. “I convinced Captain Janeway this was a humanitarian mission,” Kim tells Loken. Loken assures him, “It is. The Annari are choking us to death, slowly. If we can’t get supply ships through the blockade, we can’t get food to our people. Or medicine.” Kim shrewdly responds, “For all I know, that’s another lie.” Kim eventually agrees to help Loken, but that observation is entirely correct and rational. Loken has lied repeatedly to Kim, and there is no reason that Kim should trust him.

In fact, what little Nightingale presents of the Annari suggests that Lokan’s characterisation of them is unfair and unreasonable. They are friendly to Janeway, and never attempt to hijack or commandeer Voyager, despite its weakened position. The only point in the episode at which the Annari are presented as adversarial or antagonistic towards Janeway comes when they discover that the Starfleet crew have been offering material aid to their enemy. Even then, their response is even-handed.

Prepare for a full-scale invasion.

“I’m under orders to escort you out of Annari space immediately,” Geral tells Janeway. “You’ve been supporting our enemy.” He clarifies, “A shuttlecraft matching your hull composition fired on one of our ships several days ago, and we recently detected two human bio-signatures on a Kraylor warship.” All of this is true. He adds, “If you don’t leave immediately, we’ll be forced to fire on you.” When Janeway points out that the warp drive is being repaired, Geral accepts her at her word. “Then we’ll escort you at impulse. You have five minutes to lift off.”

Complexity and nuance is not a bad thing. As observed above, a version of Nightingale in which the human-like aliens were good and the reptilian-like aliens were bad would be uncomfortable for other reasons. The problem with Nightingale is that it has no idea how to actually tell a story using these scattered plot details, and these finer details all clutter what should be a fairly simple and straightforward narrative, turning it into an unsatisfying mess.

“Um, actually, I got a field commission three years back. We didn’t invite you to the ceremony because we thought it might make you uncomfortable.”

The climax of Nightingale asks for the audience to cheer Kim as he leads the ship into battle, and to applaud as he outwits the enemy vessels standing between his ship and his objective. However, Nightingale has repeatedly stressed that neither Kim nor the audience have any understanding of the actual mechanics at play in this conflict, which causes problems when the episode tries to attach moral weight to Kim’s adventure. It is a spectacular misfire, a horribly ill-judged piece of television, one that seems almost nihilistic in outlook.

Nightingale is an episode about how nothing actually matters. It doesn’t matter whether Kim learned anything of value from his time in command, only that it is over. It doesn’t matter whether the Kraylor are the aggressors or the victims in this conflict, only that Kim is going to help them potentially tip the balance of power. It doesn’t matter that the most senior Kraylor in the episode cannot be trusted or taken at his word, because Kim wants that command so badly.

Nightingale is bleak and vacuous. Like so much of the seventh season of Voyager, it takes on the superficial markers of Star Trek, but without any fundamental understanding of its storytelling. It is no small irony that Voyager feels as lost as ever, even as it comes into the home stretch.

3 Responses

  1. Do you plan on finishing up Voyager or is this a one off review?

    • I hope to finish them. My schedule is very busy at the moment, so I don’t want to make promises that I can’t keep. I’m doing what I can. But I will be publishing reviews of both parts of Flesh and Blood this week. And I’ll try to get to Shattered next week, even though I can’t commit to it.

  2. My main enjoyment in this episode came from watching Ron Glass, who I love as Sgt. Harris in “Barney Miller”. He holds many of the scenes with Wang together with just his facial expressions.

    By now I am numb to the lack of world building with alien races, or the lack of rational behaviour by characters and civilizations. However, the cool shots of Voyager being repaired made me want to know more. What is this planet they’re on? Has anyone gone out to explore it (since that is their “mission”)? Why did they pick this planet, which seems to leave them quite vulnerable? Why haven’t we seen any of the serious system repair needs before?

    I fully expected Kim’s new alien friends to be transporting a biological weapon or something, because they’re excuses for hating their enemies were so vague. Instead, it was just bad writing, lol.

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