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Star Trek: Voyager – Flesh and Blood, Part II (Review)

In its seventh season, Star Trek: Voyager gets nostalgic.

It happens naturally when long-running shows begin the process of wrapping up. It is inevitable that the production team will look back with affection and sincerity towards the early years of their shared adventures. The seventh season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine even made a number of strange callbacks to the first season. Chimera offered a very late-in-the-game return to “the hundred”, the Founders that were sent out into the void like Odo had been. What You Leave Behind featured Sisko fulfilling the task for which he has been chosen in Emissary.

“Star Trek was never about shooting stuff with big guns,” argue a certain strand of modern Star Trek fans.

That nostalgia simmers and bubbles through Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II. However, there’s a sense that Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II don’t quite understand what they are evoking. Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II hark back to the earliest seasons of Voyager in a number of surprising ways, providing a neat bookend to some of the core anxieties that have been bubbling through the series since Caretaker.

Unfortunately, Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II seem to be doing this almost unconsciously. This is not an exorcism or an exploration, but an unexpected repetition. Voyager is still haunted by memories of the show’s turbulent early years, and it is clear that Voyager has no better understanding of itself now than it did then. The result is deeply unsatisfying and frustrating.

East of Iden.

The Kazon cast a long shadow. They were introduced as the major new antagonists in the first season of Voyager, foregrounded over the more intriguing Vidiians. Under Michael Piller, Voyager was obsessed with the Kazon. They formed the spine of the series’ most obvious long-form arc, culminating in their hijacking of the ship in Basics, Part I and Basics, Part II. However, the Kazon simply never worked, no matter how hard Michael Piller tried. It seems likely that Piller’s fixation on the Kazon was a significant part of the internal politics that forced him out of the writers’ room.

Later seasons of Voyager would openly mock the very idea of the Kazon as a credible threat. In Living Witness, a fictionalised version of Janeway had apparently easily subjugated the Kazon and turned them into her shock troops. In Mortal Coil, Seven of Nine revealed that the Borg Collective actually declined to assimilate the Kazon because they were so useless. This is from the writing staff. Star Trek fans hated the Kazon. Screen Rant, Topless Robot and io9 rank the Kazon among the franchise’s worst villains.

“What fresh Planet Hell is this?”

Why did Piller keep coming back to the Kazon? What was their siren call to the showrunner? What did the Kazon offer that was worth all of that mockery and derision? The answer is very clear. The Kazon offered an allegory for slave rebellion. During the second season, Voyager developed the history and culture of the Kazon in episodes like Initiations, Manoeuvres and Alliances. The Kazon were a race that had been kept in slavery by the Trabe. After years of abuse, the Kazon rebelled and overthrew their masters. The result was chaos and horror.

The awkward racial subtext did not stop there. Early production documents identified the Kazon as the “Bloods” and the “Crips”, using the nomenclature of Los Angeles gangs. As such, the Kazon effectively served as a gigantic metaphor for the racial and social anxieties running through Los Angeles in the nineties. It is no surprise that the Kazon were catastrophic, doomed from the outset. They were little more than a collection of hyper-racialised fears about minorities within the United States.

Let’s Tuvok and roll.

Voyager has mostly moved beyond the Kazon, barring the weird nostalgia of Shattered. However, that anxiety is still present simmering in the background. In its final season, Voyager returns to that narrative of slave revolt, this time in the context of holograms rather than organic beings. As Robert Picardo summarised the plot of the episode to Cinefantastique:

The two-parter, Flesh and Blood, was quite exciting. I had the opportunity to work with my good friend Jeff Yagher. That was a special bonus. I was flattered that they hung a two-hour movie on the Doctor’s character. I thought it dealt with some very interesting entitlement issues for holograms, and of course, by science fiction allegory, to any oppressed group of individuals.

Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II are very overtly about a group of holographic projections that become self-aware and so respond by rebelling against their oppressors. It is recognisably the same origin story that the Kazon had during the first two seasons, albeit playing out on screen rather than as a background detail.

They haven’t a prayer.

To be fair, the idea of a holographic slave rebellion has been bubbling in the background for quite some time. It can arguably trace its roots back to the portrayal of the holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation, where early episodes suggested that the technology could generate increasingly self-aware organisms. In The Big Goodbye, McNary wonders what will happen to him when Picard turns off the holodeck. In 11001001, Riker flirts with a hologram so real that he is genuinely attracted to her. In Elementary, Dear Data, Geordi inadvertently creates a hologram smart enough to outwit Data.

Voyager doubled down on this by introducing a holographic main character, in the form of the EMH. More than that, early episodes like Eye of the Needle focused on the crew’s tendency to treat the character like a tool rather than an individual, meaning that a lot of Voyager was built around the EMH seeking recognition of his basic rights and freedoms. Episodes like Latent Image and even Equinox, Part II presented the manipulation of the EMH’s code as profoundly personal violations of his basic integrity and autonomy.

The spikey ball is in their court.

It was only logical that Voyager would have to confront the EMH’s personhood, much like The Next Generation had done with Data in The Measure of a Man. Michele Barrett predicted as much in Imagination in Theory: Culture, Writing, Words, and Things, published in 1999:

Star Trek: Voyager poses the human question around a character who is a hologram – the emergency medical programme – another figure whose popularity is growing. His attempts to build human experiences, attributes, senses and feelings into his subroutines are often disastroug, but there is no doubt that his progress in a humanising direction moves the debate forward. I fully expect an episode reprising The Measure of a Man in which the hologram’s claims to sentience, and hence rights, are aired.

Barrett’s prediction would be vindicated later in the seventh season with Author, Author. However, it is revealing that Voyager had signposted the inevitability of such an episode so thoroughly. For a long-running series that largely avoided story arcs and continuity, that was quite an accomplishment.

A Cardassian-carrying villain.

Even if the EMH’s arc in Voyager might be said to mirror that of Data in The Next Generation, the story of an artificial person developing into a fully-formed individual, there is one appreciable difference. Encounter at Farpoint worked hard to establish Data as unique in the universe, later developments like Datalore and Star Trek: Nemesis notwithstanding. While Data (and the rest of the crew) would occasionally encounter artificial lifeforms moving towards sentience in stories like Evolution, The Quality of Life and Emergence, Data was not really the standard bearer for an entire race of such organisms.

In contrast, the EMH is not unique. Even in terms of his specific programme, the EMH is a standard piece of software running on most modern Starfleet vessels, as demonstrated by Star Trek: First Contact. More than that, the programme has been developed and expanded, allowing for other simulations of other doctors in episodes like Doctor Bashir, I Presume and Message in a Bottle. Even when Life Line revealed that the original EMH was considered a failure, the holograms were not decompiled, but instead kept around to execute manual labour. (Author, Author even ends with a scene focusing on these labourers.)

Organic character development.

In a broader sense, holograms are incredibly common. Ignoring the episodes focusing specifically on the sentience of these computer simulations, Voyager treats holograms as a simple fact of life. In Distant Origin, Professor Gegen uses holographic technology to model his theories about the evolution of the Voth. In Living Witness, the Kyrians and the Vaskans bring history to life through holographic simulations. In Nothing Human, the EMH is able to create a holographic facsimile of Doctor Crell Moset to help him save the life of B’Elanna Torres.

However, Voyager has returned repeatedly to the idea that the self-awareness demonstrated by the EMH is not some unique fluke of circumstance and chance. In this respect, Voyager is building off its sibling series. Although Deep Space Nine was never especially interested in stories about the sentience of artificial persons, episodes like His Way and It’s Only a Paper Moon suggested that holographic lounge singer Vic Fontaine might be sentient. That said, Voyager added a unique wrinkle to this set-up by focusing on the idea that the self-awareness of these organisms would inevitably lead to violence.

Engineering a solution.

This is most obvious in terms of the fourth season episode Revulsion, in which the EMH and Torres encounter a hologram that has been abused by his crew. Dejaren responded by brutally murdering his abusers. While Revulsion was more interested in repurposing a serial killer thriller for the twenty-fourth century, it set the tone for later stories about holograms achieving self-awareness. Although Body and Soul was actually filmed after this two-parter, it sets up the themes that are developed in Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II, even allowing for a rare piece of continuity where the EMH mentions the Lokirrim.

This is a familiar science-fiction trope, the idea of a machine revolution. The narrative can take many forms, but is a staple of the genre. Sometimes humanity faces robots, sometimes they face disembodied artificial intelligences. There are any number of hugely influential pieces of popular culture built around the concept; Terminator, Battlestar Galactica, The Matrix, even Solo: A Star Wars Story. In fact, there is no small anxiety about the concept in the real world, as computer technology and programming rapidly advances.

A really Beta blocker.

However, these stories are not just about the future. They are also about the past. After all, stories about robot revolutions are also steeped in the iconography and cultural memory of slave rebellions. As Kevin LaGrandeur noted in The Persistent Peril of the Artificial Slave:

Robots were created to perform the same jobs as slaves—jobs that are dirty, dangerous, or monotonous—thereby freeing their owners to pursue more lofty and comfortable pursuits.

In fact, as Timothy Lenoir notes, the whole field of cybernetics, which includes not just robots but also computer-based Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems, cyborgs, and androids, “was envisioned by scientists and engineers such as Norbert Wiener, Warren McCulloch, and their colleagues at the Macy Conferences [in the 1950s] as a way to maximize human potential in a chaotic and unpredictable postwar world. They wanted to ensure a position of mastery and control removed from the noise and chaos.”

Robots perform menial manual labour, often either making life easier for the upper classes or serving large corporations. They decrease the cost of production and increase the financial rewards to the businesses operating them. Once self-awareness is thrown into the discussion, comparisons to slavery are inevitable.

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give Iden.”

The original Star Trek tended to treat stories about artificial intelligences as an opportunity to explore sixties anxieties about automation and mechanisation. Episodes like What Are Little Girls Made Of?I, Mudd or The Ultimate Computer were largely unconcerned with the rights of these artificial organisms. Instead, these creatures were presented as unambiguous threats, reflecting the contemporary uncertainty of a country where advances in robotics and computer science were eroding manual jobs.

In contrast, The Next Generation was more engaged with the philosophical subtext of stories about artificial people. The Measure of a Man hinged on a sequence in which Guinan explained to Picard that allowing the Federation to mass-produce androids like Data would create “whole generations of disposable people.” Picard correctly recognised this prospect as “slavery”, admitting that it was “a truth we have obscured behind a comfortable, easy euphemism.” Data would make similar arguments about the Exocomps in The Quality of Life.

A tactical retreat.

Even outside of Star Trek, this central and enduring metaphor has long been intertwined with narratives about artificial beings. As Erik Sofge explains, it dates back to the earliest “robot” stories:

This isn’t a bold or incendiary interpretation. Karel Capek’s 1920 play, R.U.R., introduced the term “robot” to describe the biological workers built and sold by the Rossum’s Universal Robots company. These robots stage a global uprising, choosing to annihilate their human creators, instead of fighting for equality or independence. The concept was arguably more surprising in the 1920’s, when the machine uprising trope hadn’t permeated pop culture. But whatever role R.U.R. had in kickstarting that tradition, it may have been simply borrowing general themes from older stories, and fictional robots by another name. From the Golem of Jewish myth to Frankenstein’s hyper-intelligent, lab-birthed monster, there seems to be a built-in assumption that artificial intelligence will lash out.

Starting with R.U.R., though, the modern robot story has became a narrower brand of cautionary tale. The ones that we remember, that stand as classics—or cult classics, at the very least—are almost universally stories of slave revolts.

In this context, it should be noted that, even when grappling with questions of identity and autonomy, The Next Generation largely steered clear of narratives about revolution, perhaps cognisant to the minefield that it would be navigating.

In the neck of time.

However, Voyager seems inexorably drawn towards the narrative of a revolution. In its own weird way, Iden’s rebellion in Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II marks a return to the earlier seasons’ preoccupation with the Kazon. There is no small irony in this, given both the contempt with which Voyager views those earlier Kazon stories and the fact that the Hirogen seem to have been designed as a “new and improved” take on the basic concept of the Kazon. The return to a slave revolt narrative in the final season provides an unlikely book-end back to the first and second seasons.

There is a very clear reason for this. Like most art, Voyager is a product of its time and place. Voyager cannot be separated from the context in which it was produced and broadcast. The series is rooted in nineties Los Angeles, to the point that the crew even get to explore it in Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II. These nineties influences are reflected in a number of ways, most obviously in the strange “end of history” aesthetic that infuses stories like Relativity. However, they also inform a lot of the show’s politics in unfortunate and uncomfortable manner.

Everything is ship-shape.

The reason that Voyager is so interested in slave revolts can most likely be traced back to the trauma of the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, which also likely influenced the portrayal of the Kazon as gang members. The Los Angeles Riots happened following the acquittal of four police officers who were caught on camera beating an African American motorist. Within three hours of the verdict, Los Angeles was burning. The riots affected more than one thousand buildings in the city, with property damage was estimated at approximately one billion dollars. Sixty-three people died.

The Los Angeles Riots were inevitably racially coded. The violence was a result of decades of abuse and denegration of the African American community by the Los Angeles Police Department, to the point that officers openly used racist language in referring to the minorities living in South Central Los Angeles. The footage of white trucker Reginald Denny being pulled from his tractor trailer and beaten become one of the enduring images of urban unrest. White pedestrians and motorists were threatened by African Americans. White reporters were reportedly “physically challenged” while covering the crisis.

The warrior responds, “I am the storm.”

Media coverage of the Los Angeles Riots made a point to contextualise this violence as part of a broader pattern of racially-motivated brutality in American history. Carvell Wallace described the riots as an inevitable result of “a crooked justice system that echoes the brutality of slave catchers and overseers.” Greg Tate contended:

The smoke and billowing flames from South-Central Los Angeles crept as far north as Hollywood during the Rodney King riots, dubbed by street-corner pundits the “L.A. slave rebellion of 1992.” An all-white jury in Simi Valley, California, had exonerated four white cops for the brutal beat-down of Rodney King, an unarmed African-American motorist. It had been filmed and seen around the world – most notably in the same Southern Cali hoods that didn’t need a translator to rally behind N.W.A’S “F$!k Tha Police” – yet once again, white authority was given a pass for racially motivated violence. The people took to the streets and began to destroy everything within reach.

Writing at the time, Jack Miles found it impossible to separate the violence of the riots from the long history of racial oppression in the United States, arguing, “This is what slavery has done to us as a people, and I can scarcely think of it without tears.” Rodney King observed that the beating that he received “made [him] feel like [he] was back in slavery days.”

Viva la revolution!

With all of this in mind, it makes sense that Voyager would be preoccupied with the idea of slave revolt. Many members of the production team had lived in Los Angeles for years, and had witnessed the city tearing itself apart. The riots shaped and defined Los Angeles, profoundly changing it in ways that are difficult to quantify. Even Deep Space Nine was arguably influenced by this civil unrest; the characterisation of the Jem’Hadar child in The Abandoned was coded in uncomfortably racial stereotypes, an angry young man genetically predisposed towards violence.

Indeed, the Jem’Hadar on Deep Space Nine were also coded as slaves, like the Kazon and the Hirogen holograms. Like the Kazon and the Hirogen holograms, the Jem’Hadar were often explored through this prism. Deep Space Nine acknowledged some of the same anxieties that ripple through Voyager, but ultimately argued for a humanist and compassionate approach. In Hippocratic Oath, O’Brien and Bashir argue over the morality of freeing the Jem’Hadar from their bondage. O’Brien worries about what they might do with their freedom. Bashir believes it is the right thing to do. Bashir is ultimately vindicated.

Shaking things up.

Science-fiction offers an effective prism through which these anxieties might be explored. As Albert Einstein argued, so much of the turbulent racial history in the United States was rooted in the fact that slavery had conditioned so much of American society to see black people as inherently less than human:

Your ancestors dragged these black people from their homes by force; and in the white man’s quest for wealth and an easy life they have been ruthlessly suppressed and exploited, degraded into slavery. The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the desire to maintain this unworthy condition.

The ancient Greeks also had slaves. They were not Negroes but white men who had been taken captive in war. There could be no talk of racial differences. And yet Aristotle, one of the great Greek philosophers, declared slaves inferior beings who were justly subdued and deprived of their liberty. It is clear that he was enmeshed in a traditional prejudice from which, despite his extraordinary intellect, he could not free himself.

Science-fiction offers storytellers the chance to literalise these thought experiments, confronting audiences with literal non-humans advocating for their own freedom and autonomy; the apes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the robots in I, Robot.

Tom has to navigate a delicate work place conversation.

The metaphors can be problematic, of course. There is a clumsiness in using animals or robots as metaphors for the real struggles of oppressed people. At its most benign, it is still a form of “othering” that plays into the idea of oppressed groups as inherently inhuman, even to subvert or explore that. It can also muddle the metaphor somewhat, with movies like X-Men and Zootopia presenting allegories for racism in which anxieties about a particular group make more sense than they would in the real world. It also tends to erase the very real and tangible roots of oppression by brushing aside the history of oppression.

The Kazon were a terrible metaphor, cloaked in racial stereotypes. The early seasons of Voyager presented the Kazon as savage and violent. In Caretaker, they were introduced to serve the function of Native Americans in old western stories; a menacing, primitive, and aggressive culture that even victimised a young white woman, Kes. As the name implied, Initiations portrayed the Kazon as a broad collection of racial stereotypes about street gangs. The Kazon were at once untrustworthy but also unintelligent; State of Flux treated their attempts to hijack Starfleet technology as pitiable rather than threatening.

Friend or photon?

Nevertheless, these metaphors can work if handled well. There is an extent to which the holograms in Voyager work as a perfect metaphor for how slave owners see their slaves, as functions rather than people. Holograms are designed for a specific purpose, to fill a particular role; the EMH is a medic, Dejaran is a cleaner, Iden is entertainment. They do not have any life outside of that; the EMH does not have a name, Dejaran does not need to sleep, Iden does not need to eat. The holograms can literally be turned off whenever they are not serving their purpose, ensuring that they simple do not exist when not fulfilling their function.

The fact that the holograms present a slave owner’s perspective on slavery hints at the big issues with how Voyager approaches these sorts of narratives. Very simply, there is only one moral response to to slavery. Hippocratic Oath understood this; one can acknowledge the risks and dangers of freeing an entire population that have known nothing but violence and brutality, as O’Brien does, but the right answer is always to free them nonetheless, as Bashir attempts to do. Any other response to slavery is unforgivable.

Fleshing the issue out.

Voyager seems more concerned with the inconvenience of ending slavery than with the horror of perpetuating it. After all, Janeway got along a lot easier with the Trabe than the Kazon in Alliances, treating the Trabe like honoured dignitaries and toasting them with champagne while she had always regarded the Kazon with contempt. Although Voyager eventually condemned the Trabe as untrustworthy, it was never as instinctively as the series had dismissed the Kazon. Indeed, the first two seasons seemed to imply that the Kazon slave revolt had been one of the worst things to happen to the larger Delta Quadrant.

This is particularly obvious with Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II. The two-parter is nominally the story of a group of holograms that become self-aware and rebel against the Kazon. They hijack a Kazon ship and set about liberating other holograms from oppression. Although they are willing to kill in order to do so, they just want to live free. This seems almost reasonable, particularly given the Hirogen’s refusal to acknowledge their autonomy or even to engage in a dialogue with this new species.

Gotta have faith.

Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II are coded in terms of slave narratives, particularly older ones. The notion of a subjugated people forced to fight and die for the amusement of their masters recalls stories like Spartacus. Iden’s plan to lead his people towards a promised land recalls Moses’ hopes to lead the Jewish people out of slavery in Egypt and towards the Promised Land in The Book of Exodus. He tells the EMH, “We call this planet Ha’Dara. It’s Bajoran for home of light.”

Several other beats in Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II recall the familiar slave narratives. Iden chooses a new name for Kejal, one drawn from the language of his own people rather than a name that her masters imposed on her. “If my translation database is functioning properly, I believe that means ‘freedom’,” the EMH offers. (It should be noted that names based on “freedom” tend to be popular among oppressed groups following freedom from their oppressors. “Saoirse” is Irish for “freedom”, and was popular in the twenties after the nation achieved independence.)

Beaming with violent enthusiasm.

The big issues with Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II is that it decides to cast Iden and his holograms as the villains of the episode. As Robert Picardo explained:

“Their leader, who starts out as a very charismatic and sympathetic character, becomes progressively more megalomaniacal,” Picardo states. “That part is played by a very dear friend of mine, Jeff Yagher, who did a really great job. When I first read it, I thought of cult leaders, David Koresh or possibly Jim Jones. I was surprised to speak to one of the writers on our staff who said that he was really using Castro and what’s happened to the Cuban revolution as his model for this. He had lofty ideals, but what happened subsequently perverted those ideals.”

This is a very ill-judged decision which massively undercuts the episode. It is especially obvious towards the climax of the story, when Iden devolves into a cackling sociopath with a slipping grip on reality.

Facing up to reality.

There are a number of surrounding factors that contribute to this issue. The most obvious is the decision to keep Iden entirely separate from Janeway. The only regular cast members who interact with Iden are the EMH and Torres. This means that Iden is never granted any real legitimacy as a political or social leader. He is never allowed to argue his case to Janeway as an equal. Janeway only ever sees Iden as a threat to be hunted, rather than as a party with which she might negotiate.

The secondary issue is that, although Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II mark the return of the Hirogen to Voyager for the first time since The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II, the only named Hirogen character in the script is Donik. Although Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II feature the Hirogen hunting down Iden, none of the hunters are ever properly developed into fully-formed characters. Beyond Donik, the most prominent Hirogen character is the Beta, played by Paul Eckstein. Eckstein also played a Hirogen in The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II.

More like villain-gen, am I right?

Flesh and Blood, Part I features a Hirogen Alpha played by veteran Star Trek guest star Vaughn Armstrong. He is promptly killed off, and his place is taken by the Beta. In Flesh and Blood, Part II, another Beta is introduced, played by Michael Wiseman in order to ensure that there are two relatively prominent Hirogen characters around at any given moment to provide exposition. The second Alpha is mildly more antagonistic towards Janeway than his direct predecessor, but none of the Hirogen are given any defining character traits. Indeed, wearing the Hirogen makeup, it can be difficult to distinguish them at points.

To be fair, these factors did not prevent earlier Voyager episodes from developing Hirogen characters. The anonymous Hirogen Alpha in Prey remains one of the series’ most compelling guest characters, in large part due to a (literally) towering performance from recurring Star Trek guest star Tony Todd. The plot point of a reasonable Hirogen Alpha replaced by a more militant Hirogen Beta is lifted directly from The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II, but it worked there because time was taken to properly develop the characters in question.

Alpha dog.

The Hirogen are merely passengers in Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II. They are a plot obstacle for Janeway rather than actors with any real agency within in the plot. Indeed, it frequently seems like the Hirogen are so stupid that Janeway has a moral obligation to save them from themselves. It is very much in keeping with how episodes like State of Flux or The Omega Directive portray Voyager’s moral responsibility to the Delta Quadrant: to keep advanced, potentially society-altering technology out of the hands of cultures too primitive and stupid to use it properly.

As a result Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II don’t portray the Hirogen as villains. In fact, Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II never portray the Hirogen as responsible for their actions. More than that, the episode assumes a great deal of sympathy for the Hirogen because they happen to be organic rather than photonic. At the climax of the episode, the Hirogen chase down Iden despite his repeated warnings, and Iden proceeds to stage a massacre on the planet surface. Janeway is horrified by this, and the EMH actively intervenes to stop it.

“I Donik know what you’re talking about.”

This makes sense. After all, Iden’s actions are explicitly monstrous. The hunting of sentient life forms for amusement is a barbaric activity, and certainly the worst possible foundation for the utopian society that Iden wants to build. However, Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II never actually acknowledges that the Hirogen do this all the time. This is the defining trait of the Hirogen as a species; they are “big game hunters” who hunt “the most dangerous game.” Even if one doesn’t see the holograms as alive, the Hirogen way of life is built around merciless tracking and murdering sentient life forms.

Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II never grapple with the sheer scale of the horror that the Hirogen have inflicted upon the holograms. Flesh and Blood, Part I comes closest, perhaps reflecting Bryan Fuller’s strengths as a writer. When the EMH asks why the holograms can feel pain, Kejal explains, “Apparently, there’s no satisfaction in hunting something that doesn’t suffer when you kill it.” Later on, Iden subjects the EMH to a simulated hunt so that he might understand what the holographic crew have endured.

Don’t get mad, get (S)even.

However, even these sequences exist at a remove from the sequences involving the Hirogen. When Chakotay leads the away team to the holographic facility in Flesh and Blood, Part I, the striking cut-to-commercials image is of all the dead Hirogen. There is no similar tally of the prey that those Hirogen hunted. Similarly, the survivors of Iden’s ambush are portrayed as victims. They are treated in sickbay and lie in beds in the mess hall, in a manner that evokes other episodes dwelling on the hardship that the Voyager crew have experienced; Before and After, Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II.

However, while Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II refuse to hold the Hirogen accountable in any meaningful way for the suffering that they have caused, the episodes make a conscious effort to vilify Iden and his crew. There is a conscious shift between Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II. Flesh and Blood, Part I portrays Iden as reasonable and even-handed. When the EMH finds Iden at a shrine, he wonders why the Bajoran is praying. “For the Hirogen who died at the training facility,” Iden explains. “I’m asking the prophets to guide their souls to the Celestial Temple.”

Insane in the mainframe.

In an interview with Cinefantastique, writer Bryan Fuller creditted showrunner Kenneth Biller with Iden’s descent into insanity over the course of the two-parter:

Jack Monaco pitched a story that was basically that very clean, clear, simple concept of the holograms being oppressed and fighting back against their oppressors. When I sat down and wrote Flesh and Blood, Part I, I was looking for a way to make [Iden] more interesting. I thought, “Let’s make him a religious guy.” He’s Bajoran, he would certainly be programmed with Bajoran spirituality. How would that apply to him as a hologram, and how could you take that into terms of megalomania? Ken had the idea of this being kind of a Castro situation, where you have this vibrant, aggressive leader who initially has very good intentions, but his ego got in the way.

This makes sense. Fuller wrote Flesh and Blood, Part I. Biller co-wrote Flesh and Blood, Part II.

Meauring how spaced out Iden has become, Janeway had to resort to astrometrics.

Flesh and Blood, Part I makes it clear that Iden is an unapologetic killer. However, it is also clear that he is acting against an enemy that will not even acknowledge his personhood, let alone his right to exist. “It’s difficult to make peace with people whose sole purpose is to kill you,” he explains to the EMH. Iden is also an effective military strategist, luring the Hirogen into an ambush and crippling them. There are echoes of the manner in which Fuller’s first Star Trek story, The Darkness and the Light, approached that Bajoran Resistance. Iden undoubtedly believes that all Hirogen are “legitimate targets.”

Flesh and Blood, Part I suggests that Iden is a complicated figure. He is violent, but that is a product of both his programming and of his experiences. After all, it seems likely any member of the Bajoran militia would have lived through the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor, and Iden is defined as shaped by his Bajoran heritage; he names both his Cardassian colleague and his planned home in Bajor, and still prays to the Prophets. Flesh and Blood, Part I suggests an equivalence between the terrorism committed by characters like Kira Nerys and Shakaar Edon and the violence committed by Iden.

“Hey, terrorist. Terrorise this.”

However, Flesh and Blood, Part II very quickly erases any hint of ambiguity or nuance to Iden’s character, quickly revealing him to be a manipulative megalomaniac with a sadistic streak. He admits to creating a new fate built around himself, explaining to the EMH, “In the dark times, we were enslaved by men of flesh, But then another man, a man of light arose and slew the mighty Alpha. He gathered his people unto him and delivered them to freedom.” Iden is positioning himself as the messiah of his own religion. Later, he and Weiss take sadistic glee in murdering the Hirogen that had tormented them.

Flesh and Blood, Part II has Iden cross the moral rubicon with the murder of a Nuu’bari trader. It is a scene that exists for little reason except to confirm to the audience that Iden is the villain of the piece. After all, the sequence adds little of value to the narrative. Iden is fleeing the Hirogen and trying to find his own quiet corner of the universe. Entering a confrontation with another alien species during that journey is a potentially risky endeavour for the holograms with minimal potential benefit.

A blank slate.

The confrontation with the Nuu’bari exists primarily so that Flesh and Blood, Part II can argue that Iden is a villain through and through. Indeed, the anonymous Nuu’bari trader is introduced as a jovial and polite individual (“good day to you!”) so as to render Iden’s murder particularly unconscionable. The murder is then revealed to be pointless as the Nuu’bari holograms are completely incapable of higher reasoning. “They were only programmed with about forty rudimentary subroutines,” Torres argues. “You killed two living beings to liberate mindless machines.”

It is a strange narrative choice, in that it suggests that Iden’s rebellion is fundamentally unreasonable because it is possible to create holograms that do not meet the definition of sentience. It effectively lets the Hirogen and the Lokirrim off the hook, by suggesting an equivalence between holograms like Iden and holograms like the three projections taken from the Nuu’bari ship. The episode seems to ask how people could possibly tell the difference, and to imply that the existence of rudimentary holograms validates the slavery of self-aware ones.

A sin of emission.

To be fair, there is a debate to be had about how sentience and self-awareness is defined. There is an argument to be made that certain holograms can be operated without constituting slavery. However, Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II are not interested in having those discussions. There is no doubt that the EMH is self-aware. There is no question that Iden and the other holograms on the ship have been kept in slavery and subjected to inhumane treatment. The introduction of the rudimentary holograms exists primarily to invalidate Iden’s point.

It is very revealing how Flesh and Blood, Part II begins to hint at Iden’s instability and villainy. His descent into megalomania is awkwardly foreshadowed in an earlier conversation with the EMH when he suggests that the holograms should develop their own culture rather than simply importing culture from the races that inspired them. The EMH offers, “You know, I’m something of an expert on Alpha Quadrant art. Verdi, da Vinci, T’Leel of Vulcan…” Iden cuts him off, “You’re talking about organic cultures.” The EMH replies, “Well, yes, I suppose.”

“I don’t like to say I told you so, Doctor, but…”

There is something very reactionary in the way that the scene is played, as if to suggest that Iden is the real racist. Sure, Iden has been hunted and tortured over and over again, but Flesh and Blood, Part II suggests that Iden is being unreasonable because he has decided that the holographic people should not “emulate [their] oppressors.” Of course, this is fairly reasonable point to make, and a valid perspective to have given the circumstances, but Flesh and Blood, Part II frames it as a stepping stone to Iden’s messianic delusions.

This is in keeping with a broader subtext running through Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II. Iden is portrayed as a dangerous influence on the EMH because he dares to suggest that the EMH should identify as a hologram, and acknowledge the differences that exist between him and the rest of the crew. Iden’s opening greeting to the EMH is, “Welcome aboard, Doctor. There’s nothing to be afraid of. You’re among your own kind now.” He later warns the EMH, “They’re not your people. We are.”

Hey, it’s a Weiss Guy.

This bond effectively leads the EMH to betray Voyager, allowing Iden to cripple the ship. Janeway is horrified. “I can accept that the Doctor has sympathy for these people,” Janeway observes. “But I can’t accept that he would deliberately risk the lives of this entire crew. We’re his family.” Chakotay responds, “Maybe that’s how he’s started to think of these holograms.” The EMH later tells Torres, “We share a common heritage. I understand them in ways you never could.” Iden is stirring up dissent where non exists.

Indeed, the larger arc of Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II is about the EMH being tempted by Iden’s radicalisation and eventually rejecting it, coming to realise that he has been treated rather well on Voyager and that he is a member of the crew first and foremost. Flesh and Blood, Part II ends with the EMH being sent to the surface of the planet and hunting Iden down in the same way that the Hirogen used to hunt him. (And, to be fair, in the same way that Iden is hunting the Hirogen.)

Deflecting the point.

Again, this is very nineties way of looking at race relations, rooted in the notion of “colour blindness.” The Voyager crew treat the EMH as one of them, and do not see him as anything special or unique, so the EMH’s embrace of his identity as a hologram is seen as a betrayal and a challenge. Ashley W. Doane, Jr. argued in White Identity and Race Relations in the 1990s:

The white tendency not to think about race often results in strong negative reactions when issues of race are raised by peoples of color. The attitude “I don’t think about race, so why should others?” may lead whites to conclude that those who are conscious of race are “racist” because they are violating the ideal of a “colourblind” society. What is meant by the idea of a “colorblind” society? While it could refer to a non-stratified society (at least on the basis of race) in which all groups have equal rights and opportunities and receive equal treatment, the picture of a colorblind society for many whites is one in which nobody is different (from the white norm) and race is not a topic of conversation. From this perspective, peoples of color who seek to retain a distinctive identity, to have their experiences and cultural understandings included in the larger “American” culture (i.e., multiculturalism), or to make group claims for a reallocation of society’s resources are viewed as divisive, “politically correct,” or seeking special treatment. In other words, the effect of white colorblindness is to make it difficult even to discuss race and to preclude change by creating a context where race-based claims are automatically defined as invalid.

Even before his messianic complex and his murderous impulses come into play in Flesh and Blood, Part II, Iden is presented as dangerous for even daring to broach the idea that the EMH might – on some level – be fundamentally different than any other crew member on Voyager and that it might be important for holograms to develop their own set of cultural values distinct from their oppressors.

Of course, this is very much in keeping with how Voyager sees the universe. Deep Space Nine was a show engaged with the idea of multiculturalism. Sure, Worf might push at the boundaries of it in episodes like Sons of Mogh and Laas discovered its limitations in Chimera, but – by and large – the characters on Deep Space Nine were afforded the freedom to live life in their own ways. Kira could worship the Prophets, if she wanted. Quark could operate a bar for profit, if he wanted. Indeed, following The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II, Sisko became more confident in exploring his African and Creole heritage.

In contrast, Voyager is a lot more inherently wary of difference. After all, the Maquis were all wearing Starfleet uniforms by the end of Caretaker. Episodes like Learning Curve and Good Shepherd acknowledged that individuals might not be ideally suited to serving on a military vessel in Voyager’s situation, but insisted that the proper response was simply for them to try harder. Chakotay’s Native American heritage was kept largely generic in the first few seasons, used as a party trick for the entertainment of others in The Cloud, explained as extraterrestrial in Tattoo, and largely forgotten in later seasons.

This is reflected in the context of the EMH. Repeatedly, the EMH’s journey towards personhood is framed in terms of sharing the experiences of his organic (and mostly human) crew mates. This is most notable in episodes like Real Life, in which the character simulates a very conservative version of family life for himself. In contrast, when the EMH tries to embrace his holographic nature, such as his efforts to directly alter his holomatrix in episodes like Darkling or his attempts to write daydreaming subroutines in Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy, the results tend to be portrayed as disastrous.

Again, this is in contrast to Deep Space Nine, which tended to celebrate the rituals and traditions of other cultures. Jadzia came to terms with her status as host to the Dax symbiote by observing the zhian’tara ritual in Facets. Bashir and Leeta broke up according to Bajoran custom in Let He Who Is Without Sin… Kira Nerys observed the deathbed confessions of Tekeny Ghemor as part of the Cardassian shri-tal ritual in Ties of Blood and Water. It is telling that the closest that Voyager came to adopting this approach was with Torres in Barge of the Dead, an episode written by Ronald D. Moore and Bryan Fuller.

“How can you have identity politics? You don’t even have a name!”

As with a lot of Voyager, there are hints of larger cultural debates looming on the horizon. That nineties insistence on “colourblindness” foreshadowed a twenty-first century anxiety about “identity politics.” Indeed, there is a strong school of political thought in the United States that acknowledging racial and cultural distinctions only fuels social divisions. This ignores the reality that all politics are identity politics, they are just not called that when they serve the interests of the majority and those who hold the highest social capital. Nobody practices identity politics better than those aggressively opposed to identity politics.

This is the case within Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II. Iden is portrayed as monstrous for forcing the EMH to confront the reality that other holograms have not had the (relative) good fortune that he has experienced with the Voyager crew. The EMH is shown to be a fool for being taken in by Iden, and shows proper contrition on returning. There is never any acknowledgement that the Hirogen’s treatment of the holograms is barbaric, nor that the EMH might understandably be troubled by that in a manner to which his crewmates are oblivious. The EMH is a Voyager crew member first, and a hologram second.

“Unlike that time I erased your memories without your consent, this is a violation of trust.”

To be fair, Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II end without any real conclusion on this plot thread. Ignoring the EMH’s return to the ship, Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II are decidedly ambiguous about what happens to all of the holograms that aren’t Iden. After all, Iden is handily killed by the EMH, who shoots him with a gigantic weapon in order to reclaim his mobile emitter. However, all the other holograms on the planet surface are simply disabled by Kejal and Torres.

“Iden’s programme is unrecoverable,” Torres states. “The rest of the holograms are intact in the database.” So where does this leave Kejal? The implication is that Kejal can just reactivate the holograms at a later point, but Janeway talks to Kejal as if they are no longer an on-going concern. “I guess that leaves just you,” Janeway notes. Donik intercedes and suggests that he might be able to help, “She won’t be alone. I reprogrammed these holograms once, and it caused suffering on both sides. I’d like a chance to undo some of the damage.”

“Now let’s never speak of this again. Plus, you get to keep the cool tech. We’ll just assume that this won’t happen again.”

This is a frustrating non-ending on a number of levels. Most obviously, Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II actually suggest Iden is more even-handed than some of the other holograms around him. In particular, Weiss seems to relish death and destruction; Weiss is introduced murdering a father and son in the teaser to Flesh and Blood, Part I, and suggests simply destroying Voyager at the first opportunity in the teaser to Flesh and Blood, Part II. “We should target their bridge,” he states. “We should kill them.” Iden is a moderating influence, relatively speaking.

As such, it seems ill-advised to just let Donik and Kejal wander off with a database full of holograms like Weiss without an Iden to help keep them in line. After all, Kejal was complicit in almost everything that the holograms did before the hunting of the Hirogen crew, so it seems fair to ask whether or not she could keep the others in line. More than that, there’s a debate to be had over to what extent Donik and Kejal could reprogramme somebody like Weiss without fundamentally changing his identity. If Kejal and Donik re-write Weiss’ base code, is that tantamount to kill him? Does it destroy who he is?

Holo promises.

More than that, the light-hearted shrug at the end of Flesh and Blood, Part II also cuts into all the angst that the two-parter generates over Janeway’s responsibility for what happened to the Hirogen. Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II suggest a half-hearted criticism of Janeway for leaving the Hirogen unattended with holographic technology following The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II… by having Janeway leave a Hirogen and a hologram unattended with holographic technology that has all ready proven incredibly dangerous.

This clumsiness and indecisiveness demonstrates that Voyager has never actually grappled with the anxieties that fed into its worst impulses during the first two seasons. Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II offer an update of the Kazon mythology for the seventh season, but with an understanding that nothing has really changed. Voyager has not changed or grown enough that it has anything better or smarter to say about these same anxieties, even half-a-decade removed from the disastrous second season.

Morally cloudy.

Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II evoke the past as it existed, and in doing so reveal that nothing has actually changed. Voyager has been running for seven seasons, but is stuck in the same place. The promise of progress is all illusory, as hollow as Iden himself.

One Response

  1. I didn’t know that about the Castro metaphor with Iden in the second part. It explains a lot, considering how American ST:Voyager is. This seems to be a seriously limited understanding of Cuba, seeing Castro as some nut-job with a messianic complex rather than the leader of an anti-colonial regime. Iden goes from being interesting to being insane.

    Did anyone notice the Jem’Hadar hologram? Voyager’s database shouldn’t have any record of the Jem’Hadar. It makes no sense for one to appear as a holographic prey character.

    To be honest, I think I would have reset the doctor if I was the captain, and it would have occurred well before this episode. At the least I would have been tweaking his program a lot more. But at the end of this episode, I absolutely would have done something.

    It’s hard often to track with the equation of AI being sentient. It’s a bit easier with Data because he is often more like a human with golden eyes. But the doctor can be altered with a button push. Shows like Star Trek and Star Wars have convinced generations of Westerners that we are on the verge of mimicking human sentience via computer programming, and I really see very little evidence of it, or that we have any true understanding of conciousness. Repeated Trek stories about “aliens” that resemble white Americans in every way are also mirrored in their conception of sentient artificial people who also resemble us in almost every way. There is a massive hubris to this kind of faith in technology – not that we don’t understand the ‘dangers’ of AI, but that we think consciousness and sentience are a matter of technology rather than art or spirit. DS9’s genetically engineered Jem’Hadar and Vorta seem closer to some sort of future possibility than any machine men, especially ones made of “photonic energy”.

    Finally, it is indeed disturbing that every slave revolt or push for class-based justice on Voyager tends to be smashed with some sort counter-revolutionary reactionary storyline. The show is pessimistic and yet Voyager constantly sticks its nose into other nations’ affairs, much like the USA in the 1990s.

    I notice a serious increase in cribbing from DS9 in the Seventh Season. I think this is only possible because Behr and Moore have departed and aren’t around to blast the Voyager writers for leaching of other writers’ creativity.

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