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Star Trek: Voyager – Lineage (Review)

Lineage is an extremely odd piece of television.

On one hand, it continues the engagement with archetypal social-commentary-driven Star Trek that defines so much of the seventh season of Star Trek: Voyager. Of course, Voyager has always defined itself as archetypal Star Trek, but it is particularly pronounced during the final season. Producer Kenneth Biller seems eager to offer fans a series that superficially embraces the recognisable elements of Star Trek. There are a number of Prime Directive stories like Natural Law and Friendship One, for example. The idea of the Federation as an ideal comes up in stories like Drive and The Void, for example.

Tom has the talking pillow.

There are also a number of episodes that adopt the classic issue-driven format that fans and even casual audiences have long associated with Star Trek, the sort of “science-fiction as a mirror on society” stories that can trace their roots back to episodes like Let That Be Your Last Battlefield… The seventh season of Voyager wrestles with the healthcare system in Critical Care and the death penalty in Repentance. More than that, it explicitly calls back to one of the highlights of the form when Author, Author stages a late-season remake of The Measure of a Man.

On the surface, Lineage belongs as part of that tradition. It is a story about genetic engineering and designer babies, two hot-button issues at the turn of the millennium, a palpable anxiety rippling through the popular consciousness in projects as diverse as Space: Above and Beyond or Gattaca or The Sixth Day. There was a real and tangible fear about what this sort of genetic tampering would do to society, and the set-up of Lineage promises to explore the implications of an idea with which the franchise had been grappling since Space Seed in the late sixties.

Duvet really know how much you care?

However, as with Critical Care, there is a sense that the production team want the credit (and the attention) for dealing with a hot-button issue without the possible political back draft that would come from actually taking a strong stance on the point. Lineage pays lip-service to a broader cultural debate around things like genetic engineering and designer babies, but it consciously veers away from anything potentially contentious to focus on a really tonally surreal soap opera that involves the casual violation of the EMH’s programming and an absurd stand-off in Sickbay without any emotional reality.

The result is something of a surreal roller coaster that doesn’t work in any meaningful way, veering dramatically in terms of tone and theme while completely abandoning any sense of nuance or complexity in favour of heightened melodrama. The result is deeply unsatisfying, but fascinating as a hodge-podge of different ideas thrown together to structure an episode.

Baby on board.

Lineage begins with the revelation of B’Elanna Torres’ pregnancy. It’s a big deal. Star Trek has done pregnancy plots before, but never carried one through to fruition with a primary character. There have been one-off episodes in which primary cast members have been impregnated due to the phenomenon of the week, like Troi was in The Child and Tucker would be in Unexpected. There have also been stories about secondary characters who have gotten pregnant and given birth, as Keiko did in Disaster. Notably, Jadzia’s desire to get pregnant in Tears of the Prophets all but signaled her impending death.

Perhaps the closest that the franchise had come to doing a proper pregnancy-and-birth storyline was, unsurprisingly, on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. To cover for Nana Visitor’s real-life pregnancy, the production team had a pregnancy surgically transferred from Keiko to Kira in Body Parts. Kira carried the pregnancy to term in The Begotten. The series got some nice drama out of the set-up, but Kirayoshi remained a child of the O’Briens. Although Kira remained a part of the child’s life, even if Dax would claim that the child’s fondness for her was “probably gas” in In Purgatory’s Shadow, Kirayoshi was not her child.

Kidding around.

In some ways, the revelation of Torres’ pregnancy suggests that Voyager might be inching itself slowly towards serialisation in its final season. After all, a character’s pregnancy and the subsequent birth is not a story that can be told in a single episode, it requires set-up and development. As with the basic premise of Voyager, it relies on a certain amount of serialisation from the writing staff. Elements have to be seeded, the character has to be constantly changing. It is an arc for everybody involved. Torres and Paris cannot be the same people at the end of the pregnancy. Parenthood changes people.

Of course, Voyager has flirted with serialisation before, only to retreat from it. The premise set up in Caretaker all but demanded serialised storytelling, with two rival crews stranded together on the other side of the galaxy. However, the two crews were pretty much aligned from the get-go, allowing for minor clashes in stories like Parallax, Prime Factors or Learning Curve. Similarly, the second season tried to tell a long-form story with Tom Paris and the Kazon in episodes like Alliances and Investigations, only for it to backfire spectacularly. As a result, Voyager has largely escaped any real attempt at serialisation.

A parent trap.

However, as Voyager came to an end, it seemed reasonable that the seventh season might try serialisation again, and build towards the inevitable conclusion of the ship and crew getting home. Rick Berman acknowledged as much in an interview with Star Trek Communicator:

I don’t want the whole season to be based on how it is going to come to an end. We have twenty-six hours of television to produce. The first twenty-four hours are going to slowly build up to the final two-hour finale. I think we are going to weave in elements of how the series is going to be resolved. I think there are some storylines that will take numerous episodes to unfold and I think we are not going to have a show where the outcome is all held off until the last episode – as with Deep Space Nine. It will probably take anywhere from five to ten episodes to resolve the various things we think need resolving and to tie up the loose ends.

Deep Space Nine had paved the way in this regard, with an ambitious ten-hour conclusion that spanned the second half of its seventh season from Penumbra to What You Leave Behind.

A pregnant pause.

Of course, Deep Space Nine had done the hard work in the background. That epic ten-hour conclusion was the culmination of a move towards serialisation that had arguably happening since Emissary, but which had kicked into low gear in the third and fourth seasons before really taking off in the second half of the fifth season. That ten-hour finale was really just an extension of the ground-breaking six-episode arc that had opened the sixth season, from A Time to Stand through to Sacrifice of Angels. As such, Deep Space Nine was a show that had positioned itself so a massive closing arc was almost inevitable.

In contrast, Voyager seemed to be very actively resisting any form of serialisation in its final season. There are a few small character-driven decisions that do have continuity consequences, such as the awkward seeding of the romance between Chakotay and Seven in Human Error or Neelix’s departure in Homestead before Endgame. However, the execution of these elements is rather clunky and inelegant. These were the sorts of medium-term character arcs that most contemporary series could do in their sleep, but Voyager tripped over its own shoes in trying to execute.

“We never thought you’d be the couple to make it.”

After all, it should be noted that Torres’ pregnancy in Lineage is introduced at exactly the right moment to ensure that the production team won’t actually have to deal with the consequences of it. The EMH’s announcement that the pregnancy could last thirty weeks puts the birth outside the farthest confines of the series. Voyager was only seventeen weeks (and fourteen episodes) away from the end of its run. Of course, Torres’ pregnancy follows the rules of drama. It is Chekov’s Pregnancy, with the birth coming (inevitably) at the climax of Endgame for maximum effect.

This means that Voyager avoids the actual implications of Torres’ pregnancy, because the show doesn’t actually have to deal with anything that follows. The audience and characters (and writers) don’t have to explore how having a child affects the relationship between Torres and Paris, how they cope with “those oh-two-hundred feedings.” It is an incredibly cynical move, the writing staff positioning a beat that looks like development in such a way that they never have to deal with the consequences of it. (The show did this with Seska, writing a potential foil off the ship in State of Flux to preserve the status quo.)

Icheb it out.

This reflects the tastes of showrunner Kenneth Biller, who was vehemently opposed to long-form arcs and narratives unfolding across multiple episodes. As Biller told Star Trek: The Magazine:

Our research tells us that most people watch Star Trek like they watch any other television show. They like it, and if they’re home when it’s on, they tune it in. We’ve never wanted to do a show where, as I feel sometimes happens with the X-Files, it could be very difficult for a viewer to tune in to one of the shows and have any idea what’s going on. We’ve always tried to tell stories where the viewer can tune in and see a story play out: beginning, middle, and end.

Of course, it should be noted that The X-Files was, by far, a more successful show than Voyager. Indeed, as Biller made this observation, the highly serialised eighth season of The X-Files was actually growing its audience. Meanwhile, Voyager was slowly losing its audience.

Warped family values.

Still, there is something to be said for the logical progression of the relationship between Torres and Paris in the seventh season, from their marriage in Drive to Torres’ pregnancy in Lineage. (There is also something decidedly conservative in the implicit logic, articulated by Roxanne Dawson in interviews, that Paris and Torres needed to be married before they could conceive.) It isn’t quite as effective as the development of the relationship between Dax and Worf (or any of the major couples) on Deep Space Nine, but it suggests some growth and development.

More to the point, it feels like an acknowledgement of something that should have been baked into the concept of Voyager since Caretaker. These characters have effectively embarked upon a life-time journey together. Sure, they manage to travel seventy thousand light years in the space of seven years, but many of these characters assume that they will be spending their lives on Voyager. In fact, this assumption was all but written into Shattered, the previous episode. As a result, it makes sense that characters show start planning families. This is no new revelation; it was seriously broached as early as Elogium.

“I just want you’re off-duty time and your…”
(Guitar solo.)

So it does feel strange that this sort of plot development is only happening now, and only with two characters. After all, the last pregnant member of the crew was Samantha Wildman, and she was pregnant before Voyager got thrown into the Delta Quadrant, giving birth in Deadlock. Understandably, Roxanne Dawson was thrilled about the plot development in TV Zone:

“As for Lineage, it may just be one of the episodes I’m most proud of,” continues the actress. “I haven’t seen it yet, but I feel this way just from having read the script and worked on it. The story deals with everything from abortion to father’s rights as well as our ever-growing capabilities to genetically alter a baby in the womb. All these issues are so important, timely and identifiable. It’s a poignant, character-driven piece that allows a great deal of growth for my character.”

Again, it’s easy to see why Dawson would be so excited about the plot. Voyager has always been keenly focused on Janeway, the EMH and Seven of Nine. The rest of the ensemble have faded into the background; even in the seventh season, characters like Chakotay, Kim and Tuvok tend to get generic scripts for their character-focused episodes. The pregnancy ensures that Torres doesn’t get shuffled into the pack like the other background leads.

“I know you’re not happy, B’Elanna, but I would kill for a pregnancy storyline right about now.”

That said, Dawson’s remarks get at something interesting about Lineage. As much as it is an episode about pregnancy, it is also very much structured as an issue-driven stories about the potential dangers of genetic engineering. This isn’t a particularly novel concept, to be clear. This is well-worn ground for the Star Trek franchise, which has always had a fairly conservative attitude towards transhumanism. Lineage is really just building on a theme that ran through episodes like Space SeedUnnatural Selection, Up the Long Ladder and Doctor Bashir, I Presume, a general wariness of tampering with the human genome.

Of course, Lineage is arguably more relevant than those earlier examples, because it speaks to a very contemporary anxiety in the same way that Retrospect spoke to anxieties about the satanic panic or Critical Care reflected uncertainty around HMO’s. Lineage has a very “ripped from the headlines” feel to it, dealing with increasingly fears that had long lurked in more abstract form near the back of the public imagination. By the late nineties and into the twenty-first century, genetically engineered humans seemed like they might be spilling out from the pages of science-fiction into the real world.

“Let’s Delta Fly Away…”

There were a number of background factors. The cloning of Dolly the Sheep suggested that it was only a matter of time before somebody cloned a human. The human genome project suggested that any number of possibilities about what might be done with the genome when it was read. As the seventh season of Voyager was entering production, the Nash case was drawing public attention, as outlined by Julian Borger and James Meek:

Many couples with children with inherited diseases face the dilemma of deciding whether to have more babies, knowing that they too could also be born with the disorder. Some have conceived only to abort the foetus as soon as they discovered that it shared the defective genes. In vitro selection offers a less traumatic alternative.

Adam Nash, the baby at the centre of the case reported yesterday, was born on August 29. At his birth, doctors collected cells from his umbilical cord, which were then infused into his elder sister, Molly.

Fanconi anaemia is universally fatal without a transplant, but Molly is now said to have a 85-90% chance of recovering.

These were difficult moral and ethical questions. They understandably made people uncomfortable. Even the specific issue of “saviour siblings” is still being discussed, although surveys suggest that over sixty percent of Americans support the practice. Naturally, the issue is complicated and each inquiry opens up numerous possible tangents and qualifications for parents and legislators to navigate.

An in-gene-ious solution.

In some respects, Lineage was slightly ahead of the curve here. Culturally, the late nineties were increasingly obsessed with genetic engineering and designer babies, anxieties perhaps best expressed in Gattaca, Andrew Niccol’s superlative science-fiction noir. However, the theme came up again and again and again in science-fiction of the period. However, the actual public conversation took a while to catch up with ground that these allegories and explorations had already covered.

The wider culture only seemed to catch on to the anxieties and fears about genetically tampering with embryos in the years following the broadcast of Lineage. It was 2004, for example, when the draft European Constitution included a broad “prohibition of eugenic practices” that was intended to legislate for the area. In that same year, the term “designer baby” was formally added to the Oxford English Dictionary, suggesting widespread use of the phrase and a common understanding of its meaning.

“Is there anything to be said for another round of row, row, row your boat?”

After all, the genetic modification (or even careful selection) of sperm, eggs and embryos was a much more tangible fear than broader debates about cloning. This genetic manipulation of the next generation was a pressing concern for bioethicists at the turn of the millennium. As Kristen Philipkoski outlines:

“It’s much more important than the debate about cloning people, which is a sideshow,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. “While we’re all spending a lot of time thinking about cloning, that is not the main area where genetics is going to force hard choices.”

Most people won’t want to clone, he said, but many want to use genetic knowledge to not only screen for diseases, but also to get just the kind of child they want.

“That starts down the road of designing our descendants,” Caplan said.

As such, this was an issue that was extremely relevant and tangible in a way that more abstract debates were not. Between 2001 and 2002, the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science of Saint Barnabas reported a fifty percent increase in embryonic screening.

“So, I had some thoughts about the ending of Insurrection Alpha.”

Lineage engages directly with the point. Much as with Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II, there is little concern with the specifics of Star Trek continuity here. There is no mention of the franchise’s own history with genetic modification, where there was at least one major human war rooted in the practice. Instead, Lineage is more interested in feeling like generic issue-driven Star Trek than it is actually wading into the particular internal logic of the franchise. There is nothing wrong with this. There is something to be said for keeping an episode like this broad and accessible.

When the EMH reports that the baby’s spine will have “a pronounced curvature to the left”, he conducts a quick procedure to fix it in the womb. He helpfully explains, “Genetic modification is the treatment of choice.” Again, there are obvious real-world parallels. Genetic screening was seen as one of the most likely applications of advances in the nineties. Recent years have borne out this prediction, as scientists develop ways to screen embryos for a variety of conditions. This is an interesting gateway into the issue, as relatively few people would begrudge parents for wanting to avoid serious life-affecting conditions.

A heated debate.

Naturally, the EMH’s discovery of the child’s curved spine serves as a stepping stone to a more contentious issue. Once Torres realises that “genetic modification” can fix her child’s spine, she starts wondering what else it might allow her to do. Torres is no longer concerned about the child’s physical well-being, but her physical appearance. Torres even goes to the holodeck in order to conduct her own experiments, getting real-time updates of the changes that she is making to the child’s “genetic sequences.”

It becomes very clear very quickly that Torres is planning to genetically modify her daughter in order to change her physical appearance so as to hide her Klingon features. These changes would allow Torres’ daughter to “pass”, to integrate better into a predominantly human environment. Torres initially attempts to disguise these changes as “preventative”, as a way to avoid potential health complications for her daughter. These arguments are not convincing, and the truth eventually comes to light. This understandably generates controversy among the crew, with both Paris and the EMH vehemently objecting.

Making light of the situation.

This is an interesting plot point, outside of the awkwardness of exploring it using a regular cast member in this context. One the most unsettling possibilities around genetic engineering is the way in which it could be used to effectively codify racism. As Herjeet Marway argues, genetic engineering could very easily become one more tool that is used to enforce social norms that favour particular racially-oriented physical attributes like skin colour and facial features:

Skin lightening is a longstanding practice that occurs in many parts of the world. It’s been done through the use of creams, lotions, soaps, folk remedies, and staying out of the sun. The desire for light skin has been extended to children too. Advice to “marry light” is not uncommon in Asian and black families, for example, in order to produce a light-skinned child.

Some have also tried to lighten the skin of their unborn child with the help of new technologies, whether or not these technologies are effective or safe. In Ghana, some women have reportedly taken a pill to lighten the skin of their foetus despite the questionable science. Others in the US using IVF technology have selected egg or sperm donors with light or white skin irrespective of the inaccurate results. There is even the possibility – however remote at the moment – of genetic selection of embryos for traits such as fair skin. If there was a diagnostic test for skin tone that could be carried out on embryos, for instance, reproducers could select “this” embryo likely to have fairer skin over “that” one likely to have darker skin.

All ready, there have been a number of prominent cases exploring this exact area. Jennifer Cramblett sued Midwest Sperm Bank of Downers Grove after her sperm doner turned out to be (unexpectedly) African American. This case has a number of deeply uncomfortable implications, particularly with regards to the control that a potential parent might want to exercise over things like race and skin colour.

Klingon to her insecurities.

So Lineage is playing with some very big and very relevant ideas here, and it deserves some credit for that. Unfortunately, this ambition is undercut by a number of very serious issues. Most superficially, it returns to the uncomfortable racial politics that have largely defined B’Elanna Torres. This is no surprise, as the most explicitly racially charged characterisation of Torres came from Faces, an episode in which the character was neatly split into her human and Klingon halves for some awkward commentary. Faces was written by Kenneth Biller. Although Biller did not write Lineage, he is showrunning the seventh season.

To be fair, Torres’ internalised racism – often validated through the show’s characterisation – is a recurring thread across the seven seasons of Voyager. The series repeatedly and consistently portrays Torres as emotionally volatile and unstable. Sometimes, as in Juggernaut, this is explicitly framed in the context of her Klingon heritage and genetics. Sometimes, as in Extreme Risk, this connection is left unspoken. There is also, it should be noted, something decidedly ill-considered and ill-judged in casting the show’s emotionally volatile female lead as Latina, playing into a variety of unfortunate racist and sexist stereotypes.

“B’Elanna, please try to understande. If I am seriously going to compete for a place in the Star Trek Bad Dad Canon, I need to be completely insensitive.”

To be fair, there is something interesting in the way that Voyager presents Torres’ Latina half as the more civilised version, even if it just underscores the gap that exists between the character’s “civilised” and “othered” halves. As Denise Alessandria Hurd argues in Forward to the Past, Torres’ characterisation is hugely uncomfortable and deeply rooted in a number of uncomfortable stereotypes:

The culmination of this use of the mulatto stereotype occurred in Faces, when Torres was split into two people, one Human, one Klingon. As if to underscore that the hybrid stereotype was directly based on the tragic mulatto stereotype, in itself derived from the persistence of Anglo stereotypes concerning black people, the two “selves” were behaviourally and figuratively marked as stereotypically black and white. The Klingon Torres had darker skin and kinkier hair; she was savage, instinctual, anti-intellectual, and possessed of a voracious sexual appetite (referred to, not demonstrated). Though she possessed the same store of knowledge as human Torres, she didn’t know how to do anything but fight, hunt, kill. In the end, she dies sacving the human Torres, continuing the tradition of a black character sacrificing oneself to save a white one. The human Torres, on the other hand, appeared to be the poster child for the cult of white womanhood. More delicate and weaker, she used her intellect and eschewed savagery. In the end, she makes the tearful admission that her life is destined to be a struggle because she will always be fighting her blood. This episode left practically no aspect of the stereotype undramatised. The only missing element was an attempt to “pass” for the “more civilised” race; that is, human.

Hurd’s observations are particularly pointed because Lineage might be seen as both a bookend to Faces and as delivering on that one last cliché. Lineage is not about Torres trying to pass as human, but it is about her efforts to ensure that her daughter might be able to. It is a very thorny direction in which to develop this particular character’s arc.

A motherlode of issues.

To be fair to Lineage, there are moments when it seems to realise the minefield that lies ahead of it. In one early scene between Torres and Paris, it seems like Lineage might acknowledge the inherent conservatism baked in Voyager in the same way that Child’s Play did. When Torres confronts Paris with her plans to make these genetic changes, he tries to sell her on the diversity of the crew. “When the people around you are all one way and you’re not, you can’t help feeling like there’s something wrong with you,” Torres confesses. It’s a very emotionally honest moment, particularly in a franchise that prides itself on tolerance.

Paris replies with the stock Star Trek logic, “Voyager isn’t just ‘one way.’ We’ve got Bajorans, Vulcans, a Talaxian.” This is Star Trek congratulating itself for its diversity, for the fact that the bridge cast on the original Star Trek were so ethnically and culturally diverse. However, Torres is not convinced, “And hundred and forty humans.” As with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and Chimera, there is a sense of acknowledging the very narrow boundaries of diversity that exist within the Star Trek franchise. After all, the franchise was still refusing to engage with or acknowledge the contemporaneous gay rights movement.

“Don’t mess(hall) it up.”

As such, it looks like Lineage might be positioning itself to make a criticism of Voyager itself, to acknowledge that there is something fundamentally wrong with a culture that has allowed Torres to internalise this fear of one half of herself, much like Child’s Play openly acknowledged the horrific implication of Janeway’s uncritical assumption that Icheb would be better off with his own parents. Has the crew of Voyager created an environment where Torres feels fundamentally uncomfortable being herself, and has that fueled these feelings of self-loathing?

After all, Voyager is nothing if not conformist. The Maquis were wearing Starfleet uniforms by the end of Caretaker. Neelix and Kes both wore comm badges. Those crew members who did not choose to join Starfleet and who might not be best suited to joining Starfleet are forced to conform to rules set by an organisation half the galaxy away in episodes like Learning Curve and Good Shepherd. As Torres points out, Janeway even forced Seven of Nine to conform to physical appearance and beauty standards of humanity. It is understandable that this would play into Torres’ deep-seated anxiety.

“That is some truly stellar cartography, Icheb.”

Indeed, Lineage repeatedly and consciously emphasises that Torres feels smothered by the rest of the crew. Once they announce the pregnancy, Torres and Paris find themselves subjected to a lot of outside conversations and discussions. “What annoys me is all of the free advice about feeding, discipline,” Torres complains. “Why does everybody feel they’re entitled to give us advice? This is our child.” She is entirely right. However, as soon as he discovers that she is pregnant, Neelix starts suggesting baby names. The EMH plans out parenting classes around “birthing techniques, feeding options, bonding strategies.”

Lineage understands that this is all a bit suffocating for Torres, to the point that she explicitly mentions it to Chakotay. When she mentions that she has received thirty-two potential baby names, Chakotay takes the hint, “On second thought, you and Tom ought to come up with your own name.” However, the episode never draws a connection between Torres’ abiding fear of her non-conforming racial identity and the pressure to conform that his heaped upon her by the rest of the cast. Lineage is oblivious to all of this surrounding context.

All the best half-Klingons have daddy issues.

The problem is compounded by two other major factors. The most immediately uncomfortable one is the decision to reduce all of Torres’ anxieties to nothing more than “daddy issues”, to suggest that they can be neatly traced back to her father’s divorce of her mother. As Deanna Michalopoulos argues, it is a sexist and dismissive approach to female psychology:

“Daddy Issues” is a label that reeks of that antiquated, sexist expectation that women don’t dictate their own destiny. Not only does the language itself infantilize women, it unwittingly chains them to the men from their past. Whether untimely deaths or sh!tty acts of abandonment or neglect took place, the idea dooms them to play out a set of red-flag relationship patterns.

To be fair, Star Trek can equal-opportunity offender when it comes to reductive parental psychology, as demonstrated by episodes like The Icarus Factor. However, there is something particularly reductive in the psychology suggested by Lineage, particularly in the way that the episode develops Torres’ character to suggest that what she really wants is a surrogate father to absolve her of her perceived responsibility for her parents’ divorce.

“Don’t worry. I picked up all my parenting techniques from Star Wars.”

Lineage argues that Torres just wanted her father’s love and approval, and was defined solely by that. She recounts trying to run away. “It was so stupid,” she admits. “I mean, where was I going to go?” Paris offers, “You probably just wanted him to stop you.” When Torres tries to blame her father for how he talked about his wife and daughter, Paris’ first instincts are to dismiss her complaint and to suggest that her father might be innocent. “Maybe he was right. Maybe you misunderstood.”

More awkwardly, Lineage insists that Torres’ entire character arc over the course of the episode is rooted in the fact that she sees Tom Paris as a surrogate father figure. “B’Elanna, I am never going to leave you,” Paris promises her. Torres is on the verge of breaking down. “You say that now,” she remarks. “But think about how hard it is to live with one Klingon. Pretty soon it’ll be two.” In essence, the climax of Lineage comes down to Paris talking Torres down and promising that he won’t leave like her father did.

“So, eh. Mood lighting, am I right?”

Not only is that extremely reductive. Not only is that extremely creepy. Not only is that extremely condescending. It also plays into the idea that Paris was right in his reading of Torres psychology and that she is still that little girl. Watching the climax, it still seems that all Torres actually wants is for a father figure to stop her and tell her what she needs to hear, whether that father is John Torres or Tom Paris. It strips out any agency out of Torres’ actions. It also very consciously shifts the focus of the episode away from the hot-button issue that was earlier positioned as the heart of the story.

As a result, Lineage avoids reaching any real conclusion on the issue of genetically engineering a child. If anything, it represents a strong step back from the hardline that the franchise had espoused in stories like Space Seed or Up the Long Ladder or Doctor Bashir, I Presume. While the earlier Star Trek series had been adamant (perhaps even too adamant) that genetic engineering could bring nothing but evil, Lineage just doesn’t care. That shrug is articulated by Janeway around the half-way point of the episode. “The biggest problem you two have isn’t ethical, it’s marital.”

Slice o’ life.

This is very much how the seventh season of Voyager operates. There is a strong sense that showrunner Kenneth Biller is pushing Voyager towards something that looks and feels like Star Trek, meeting all of the superficial trappings that one expects from the franchise, without actually following through on any of the big ideas. Drive casually drops a pseudo-Federation into the background of the story to reinforce the importance of working together. Nightingale has Kim stress the value of a Starfleet education. Critical Care engages with American healthcare. However, none of these episodes actually say anything.

Drive never explains why separatists might be uncomfortable with the idea of ever-closer unions, it just uses them to provide a climax for an episode about a space race. Nightingale is one of the muddled episodes of Star Trek ever produced, which often reads like a parable strongly in favour of American intervention in Vietnam that was written decades after America had long accepted that the Vietnam War was a catastrophe. Critical Care cannot even bring itself to argue that capitalism might have something to do with the state of American healthcare, and so frantically hedges its arguments.

Things come to a forehead.

Lineage wants the credit for broaching a big and important issue, without actually doing the work of articulating anything meaningful or insightful about that issue. So Lineage employs a number of very cynical tactics to avoid saying anything particularly bold about the issue with which it flirts. This creates a number of imbalances within the episode. Most obviously, the pacing in Lineage is glacial. Lineage takes about fifteen minutes (or one third of the runtime) to even broach the issue of genetic engineering. The first fifteen minutes are given over to characters talking about Torres’ pregnancy without anything happening.

So Lineage delays the introduction of its plot until one third of the way through the episode. It then quickly tries to pivot away from it at the climax, but transforming itself into a bizarre heightened melodrama about Torres’ internalised racism and insecurities. The climax of Lineage effectively comes down to Paris and Torres arguing on a standing set. There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach. It is not a bad idea. Indeed, Voyager could always use more character-driven drama. The show is too often driven by plot and by action.

“Lieutenant, the ship’s internal chronometer suggests that the episode is entering its closing act. It suggests that events may escalate in unanticipated and unexpected directions.”

The issue with Lineage is not that it attempts to take a sharp turn into melodrama. The issue with Lineage is that it takes a turn into bad melodrama. Some of the best Star Trek episodes come down to little more than two characters talking and arguing; Duet, Waltz, Shuttlepod One, Stratagem. In fact, the Star Trek franchise had produced a character- and dialogue-driven meditation on genetic engineering less than half a decade before Lineage, with the superlative Doctor Bashir, I Presume. That was an episode that hinged on much of what drives Lineage; parental anxiety, choice, determinism, identity.

There is a sense that Lineage is in a catch-22 situation. Lineage is overwrought and poorly written character drama. However, it is most likely overwrought and poorly written character drama because Voyager does not have a lot of practice at writing character drama. This is an approach to storytelling with which Voyager has very little practical experience, and so it makes sense that the results would be underwhelming and clumsy. As superlative as Doctor Bashir, I Presume might have been, the writers on Deep Space Nine had spent three full seasons figuring out how best to write for Julian Bashir.

“Oh, hi Tom. I accidentally deleted half of the lighting code in Sickbay when I re-wrote the Doctor’s matrix.”

There is a sense that Lineage would work a lot better if Voyager had tried to write this sort of character-driven drama on a more consistent basis. As it stands, the episode just doesn’t work. There is no sense of rhythm or flow to the storytelling. This is most evident in the weird glacial pacing that takes a full fifteen minutes to get to the actual plot, but is reflected in the structuring of the episode. There is a sequence where Torres sits in bed, remembering her childhood. The sequence plays out a flashback. It cuts back to Torres in bed. It then fades out on an act break. It then fades in on a continued flashback.

This is disjointed and uneven storytelling. Why cut back to Torres in bed at all? Why not just include the act break in the flashback, fading both out and in within the flashback? Even if the show feels like has to provide a framing device on a scene-by-scene basis, why not apply it consistently? Why does that one flashback need to be bookended by Torres sitting up in bed, but the next flashback can play without the need for such a transition? These might sound like trivial observations, and they most likely are, but they reflect the way in which Lineage doesn’t so much flow as judder.

“Can we keep what happened on the download?”

This character-driven approach to plotting hits another snag in the final act, when it is revealed that Torres has reprogrammed the EMH in order to convince him to perform the procedure on her unborn child. This is a pretty big deal. Voyager has tacitly accepted that the EMH is a sentient and self-aware individual, a person in every way that counts. To alter his programming is a gross violation of his identity. This was a central theme of Latent Image. More to the point, tampering with the EMH’s code was used as a shorthand for out-and-out villainy in Equinox, Part I and Equinox, Part II.

Lineage introduces this plot point too late in the game to develop or explore it. Indeed, Torres’ decision to tamper with the EMH is just an excuse for the episode to provide a very tense and dramatic final act, with Tuvok and Paris racing against time to break into Sickbay. There is a sense that Voyager does not trust a simple character-focused dialogue-driven scene to offer a satisfying conclusion, so Torres’ actions provide a suitable justification for “action!” They provide stakes. The final scene does feature Torres apologising to the EMH, but it is a shallow and perfunctory scene that cares little for the EMH’s feelings.

All good in the motherhood.

More than that, the climax of Lineage turns Torres into a soap opera villain who does something that is completely unforgivable to a fellow crewmember. At best, this plays into the infantalisation of Torres that runs through the episode, suggesting that Torres lacked the awareness of what she was doing without other people to tell her what she should do. “Not guilty by reason of biochemistry,” the EMH suggests. While Torres disputes that fact, there is never any reckoning or acknowledgement of it. It undercuts any attempt to present Torres as a complex or multifaceted individual. She becomes a cartoon.

In some ways, the difficulties that Lineage faces in trying to tell a character-driven story prefigure some of the problems that the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise would face trying to construct a more character-centric vision of what Star Trek could be. The first season of Enterprise is appreciably better than its reputation, largely due to slower character-focused episodes like Breaking the Ice or Cold Front. However, these choices misfire more frequently than they work, perhaps most (in)famously in the “Malcolm Reed’s dark secret is that he likes pineapple” subplot in Silent Enemy.

It takes a while to get to the spin of the episode.

Lineage is an interesting episode from a conceptual point-of-view, but the execution speaks to many of the problems with the seventh season as a whole, showcasing the weaknesses of a very flawed piece of television.

One Response

  1. This episode feels like they tried to cram a season’s worth of character developments into a single episode so they could get back to the usual plots about spatial anomalies and time travel again. We get a pregnancy, Paris moving in with Kim, communal celebrations of the pregnancy, a huge ethical dilemma, a health issue with the child, a marital spat, background character history, and resolution all in 45 minutes. Rather than space these things out gradually in a natural manner, the writers smash them all into the same episode to avoid forgetting or revisiting these things. Everything my stay in its episode. As a result the episode feels extremely out of place and inconsistant.

    I also felt that the writers made a huge flaw here, with some horrific implications. Torres and much of the crew treat being Klingon as some sort of disability. Mind you, they tend to treat Tuvok that way as well. But in this case Torres has internalize the racism. Even though we supposedly saw her move past many of these feelings in Barge of the Dead, her character is reset here to a Season One level of self-hate. Worse, she takes criminal action to perform surgery on herself and her unborn baby to strip away its Klingon heritage. This is like some African-American mother getting a procedure to ensure her child is some Aryan pure kid. Torres mutilates a sentient character to do so. Everyone shrugs it off, yet she acts out in such an extreme form that it is very hard to see how she would not be disciplined…and how Paris might not be deeply unsettled by his wife’s willingness to commit horrific crimes and purposely remove him from any position to help or stop her.

    I longed for Worf to beam in and see how he would react to Torres’ decisions.

    Whenever Voyager tries to write a ‘cutting edge’ episode, like Tattoo, it seems to convey nightmarishly offensive messages worse than the problems they think they are engaging with.

    Torres’ father may have been a racist, but she seems to have done more than internalize that racism. Torres has accepted it and doubled down.

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