April 24 2024

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Retro Review: Alliances

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After an attack, Chakotay proposes that Janeway form an alliance with one of the Kazon sects for protection.

Plot Summary: A devastating Kazon attack leaves Torres and Chakotay’s longtime friend Kurt Bendera dead. Several crewmembers express anger about Janeway’s refusal to make peace by offering the Kazon a trade agreement, and Chakotay suggests that if Janeway wants the crew to survive to get home, she must consider being flexible in her interpretations of Starfleet dictums. Though she initially invokes the non-interference directive, a conversation with Tuvok about Spock’s insistence on a Federation alliance with the Klingons – which led to peace for much of the Alpha Quadrant – persuades Janeway to follow Chakotay’s advice and seek allies among the Kazon who will accept food and supplies from Voyager without insisting on advanced technology. Torres suggests that Seska would be an ideal contact, and though Chakotay doesn’t want to talk to her, Janeway agrees that the Kazon-Nistrim would make powerful allies. She also sends Neelix to make contact with the Kazon-Pommar, who imprison him along with a group of Trabe. While Janeway negotiates with the Nistrim’s misogynistic, belligerent Culluh and an angry Seska, Trabe leader Mabus helps Neelix to escape and takes him aboard the Trabe convoy back to Voyager. Mabus tells Janeway that his planet once enslaved the Kazon, who then overthrew the Trabe and left them wandering. Now Mabus claims that he only wants a truce and a place for his people to settle. Excited to have found a potential ally more interested in peace than fighting for dominance, Janeway seeks an alliance with the Trabe and sets up a meeting with all the Kazon sects. But Neelix finds evidence of a saboteur, and when a Trabe ship opens fire on the meeting, only Janeway’s warning prevents a massacre of the Kazon leaders. A furious Janeway sends away Mabus, who insists that chaos among the Kazon would be safer for Voyager as well as for his own people. Then she tells the crew that in an unstable region of space, the principles of the Federation are their strongest allies.

Analysis: If the measure of an episode’s quality can be measured in how emotional it can get viewers, then “Alliances” must be a pretty good one; I spent a lot of it yelling at the screen and writing notes in all caps, even though I knew what was going to happen on this rewatch. There’s no question that the machinations with the Kazon make Voyager a more complicated, dynamic show than it is when the ship is just traveling through space, stopping along the way to meet aliens and get in various kinds of trouble that we can’t take very seriously because we know the ship isn’t going to blow up or lose half the crew. The questions that Chakotay puts to Janeway about how Federation principles work when they’re so far from home and from any sort of support should always have been the cornerstone of this show, with more conflict from the outset about what it means to be a Starfleet vessel with a Starfleet crew…not just between the captain and the ex-Maquis officers, two of whom are Starfleet-trained and another of whom went to Starfleet Academy for a while, but between crewmembers throughout the ship. Clearly there’s a wide range of attitudes among the Maquis about Starfleet – there’s Hogan, who’s vocally critical of yet loyally serving Janeway, and then there’s Jonas, who’s more polite about expressing his opinions yet sneaks behind the backs of both Janeway and Torres to try to establish contact with the treacherous Seska on his own. But there are inconsistent beliefs among fully trained Starfleet officers as well, from Kim, who’s more insubordinate than Hogan when he interrupts a staff meeting to scoff that Janeway can’t be seriously intending to form an alliance with the Kazon, to Tuvok, who explains that it is logical to look beyond the letter of the law in the interest of wider peace and mutual understanding. Star Trek sets itself apart from other sci-fi action shows when it tackles ideology head-on like this, and Voyager has a unique opportunity to do so because it’s so far from the familiar Federation.

So how come it seems more like the senior officers make random stupid decisions so much of the time, then try to defend themselves with pretentious, noble speeches? A few weeks ago, Chakotay insisted he went after Seska when she robbed them because it was his responsibility to protect the ship and crew, not more accurately because he felt like an idiot for having taken as a crewmate and lover a Cardassian woman who betrayed Starfleet and the Maquis alike, though Janeway cited Chakotay’s actions as a betrayal of Voyager in turn. Now Janeway insists that the terrible situation in which Voyager finds itself, alone and friendless, just goes to prove that Federation ideals are all they can really count on. This is the same captain who decided that they were sufficiently involved in the Delta Quadrant to warrant destroying the Caretaker’s array to save the Ocampa, thus triggering conflict with the Kazon in the first place. When did she become such a prig about the Prime Directive that she can’t even consider an alliance until two of her senior officers pressure her? I’ve never been clear why trading replicator or transporter technology with a warp-capable species constitutes violating the rules in the first place, since we’ve seen the Federation share technology with all sorts of spacefaring species without vetting their long-term plans. The Federation knows full well when it shares discoveries with the Klingons that those discoveries eventually may be used to attack the Romulans, and if it’s fine back home that the enemy of the Federation’s enemy is the Federation’s friend, is it so different in the Delta Quadrant where these Kazon sects have been squabbling since long before Voyager’s arrival? Personally, I prefer Janeway’s anti-imperialistic aims, but we should hear some debate on this point, since it comes up in our own world. Nor should it be made to look like Janeway’s been asked to compromise her principles, but instead to see a larger picture, which her privileged position as a Starfleet insider has previously limited.

What we get is portrayed not as a broadening of anyone’s perspective, but a series of mistakes and miscommunications. With the initial Prime Directive argument out of the way, the idea of an alliance is a good one; the crew just happens to pick the wrong allies because their own prejudices get in the way. I’m not going to defend a misogynist like Culluh, but Starfleet officers constantly do business with Ferengi, Klingons, Kriosians, and many other cultures in which women don’t have equal rights. It may rankle Janeway to have to put up with it more than it rankles Kirk, but if she’s going to pontificate about not foisting values on other cultures, she isn’t in a position to tell Culluh off about the Kazon treatment of women. Janeway doesn’t ask the Trabe whether their women are treated as equals before deciding they’ll make more appropriate allies; Janeway doesn’t inquire as to what they’d do if they were desperate for water and they had an opportunity to take it from the Ocampa. Of course Mabus is easy to like since he’s allowed to present his case without facing any hard questions. He isn’t belligerent like Culluh, or like Chakotay when the latter demands that Janeway consider an alliance with the Kazon, or even like Janeway herself when she obnoxiously threatens to blow up the ship before playing nice with the Kazon when the entire crew is feeling vulnerable and helpless after the initial attack. She doesn’t need a Vulcan as her top advisor; she needs someone who can identify with the emotional suffering of her crew, because it’s having a dramatic effect not just on morale and efficiency, but on security and discipline. I can forgive Janeway for failing to guess that seeming soulmate Mabus plans to go right back to persecuting the unimpressive Kazon, but it’s less easy to forgive her for her condescension and dismissal of her crewmembers’ earnest concerns about exactly what their mission should be…which is a fair question for the audience, too, and we don’t need to be preached at.

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5 thoughts on “Retro Review: Alliances

  1. I never liked this episode for a couple of reasons. First, as smooth as Mabus is, he’s a scumball. But he also looks more than a Federation species than the Kazon, who act like TOS Klingons, sorta. But the fact that TPTB insist on reusing the same actors, we know from the outset that Mabus is not all he’s cracked up to be. Second, at the time, I didn’t agree with Chakotay at all; I thought he was arguing with the Captain just to argue. But he was right. Further, as we will see, Janeway doesn’t have a problem with taking technology, like Quantum Slipstream and Transwarp and fussy Borg babes (and babies), so why not give a replicator? And, yes, it could be used to make a weapon, so what, the Kazon don’t seem to have a problem with that. She says that they are going to explore and fulfill Starfleet’s charter . . . well, unless I missed something, Kirk, Picard, and Sisko all gave tech away when it was convenient, so what is the problem here? We’ll see Archer do it, too. And, wait a minute, she will give holo technology, which consists of replicators, to the Hirogen . . . so come on, Kathryn . . . you all may never see home, Chakotay was right. But the writing was so hit or miss here and I could never figure out exactly why . . . was it because it was “network tv programming?” Guess we won’t know.

  2. It seemed as if what the Federation believed varied from week to week, depending on what the writers felt like doing. This is sloppy, and it greatly undermined the show. Decide on what the rules are, then stick to them. Decide on what the tech can do, then stick to that. Decide on what limitations the crew and ship are under, then stick to them. The writers’ weaseling out of things they’d posited a week or two before made the show far more squishy than it should have been or than was good for it.nnWhere’s Bob Justman when you need him? He was great at pointing out inconsistencies in the scripts and insisting that if they couldn’t do X last week, then they can’t do it this week, either. Where they really needed Tuvok was as continuity editor. 🙂

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  4. I really enjoyed this episode…. I felt it added to the broad Kazon arc of season two and while it doesn’t necessarily flow with the rest very well, it’s a good change of pace. nnnThe whole tech thing… I think there’s a huge difference. Federation sharing with Klingons… Klingons are allies, next door, broadly the same in tech. That’s a vast difference to basically flying through a quadrant littering advanced tech and leaving potentially a trial of destruction or upheaval. I think Janeway is right to be cautious.

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