June 14 2024

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Retro Review: Basics, Part One

7 min read
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When Seska sends a message to Chakotay that the Kazon plan to kill their son, Voyager sets out to rescue the baby.

Plot Summary: Suder, who has been growing orchids, tells Tuvok that he wants to do something to help the crew and asks permission to work on samples from the airponics bay. Before Tuvok can bring this up with Janeway, the ship receives a message from Seska, who begs for Chakotay’s help, claiming that Culluh plans to kill their baby. Though Chakotay initially believes Seska to be laying a trap for the crew, a vision quest and conversation with his father makes him decide that even an unwanted child is still a member of his tribe. The crew rescues Seska’s aide Tierna, who claims that Culluh killed Seska and tried to kill him too. Tierna claims the baby will be raised as a slave on a nearby planet, and reluctantly agrees to guide Voyager there. On the journey, occasional Kazon raids disable the secondary command processors. As Voyager approaches the planet, Tierna blows himself up, disabling the ship and destroying the restraining field that keeps Suder in his quarters. Culluh’s men board with Seska and take the crew hostage. Janeway calls for the ship to self-destruct, but because of the targeted raids, the secondary command processors are too damaged to comply. Paris is able to flee in a shuttle to seek Talaxian aid, though the shuttle goes missing. When Janeway pleads for the life of her crew, Culluh slaps her and says the women from her quadrant talk too much. Seska promises to take good care of Chakotay’s child, which she has told Culluh was conceived because Chakotay raped her. The crew is held in a cargo bay while Culluh orders the ship to land on a remote planet, where he exiles Voyager’s entire crew except for Suder – who is hiding in a ventilation shaft – and the Doctor – who suspends his own program. Culluh takes all technology from the people would not share it with him and takes Voyager back into space with Seska, leaving the crew on the planet, where they find few resources, active volcanoes, enormous dinosaur-like lizards, and humanoid natives carrying weapons.

Analysis: I really did not like “Basics, Part One” when it originally aired, so this is one of those episodes that I knew deserved to be looked at with fresh eyes. A great many people think it’s pretty good. So I told myself I was only going to look at what really works this time while ignoring the things that aggravate me, even knowing that Part Two isn’t a very satisfying conclusion to this storyline or two the Kazon arc. And, in fact, I did notice how well put-together the episode is: the pacing is great, the visuals are memorable, the main cast members are all at the top of their game with none of the phoning-in that occurs in later seasons. It’s a compelling idea to have the entire crew stranded without technology – which is basically what the Kazon felt Voyager was doing to them by refusing to share – and it’s always a pleasure to see Martha Hackett chew scenery as Seska, not to mention the Doctor having a hilarious moment stranded in space. There are some nice special effects in the battle sequences! Plus there are some genuinely shocking moments, like when Culluh transforms himself from an adversary whose cunning we might still be able to respect into a despicable bully through the act of striking Janeway, and the way she pulls herself together in a matter of moments is a real pleasure to see, one of Kate Mulgrew’s little gems. A lot of character development comes together: we see Chakotay embracing his father and his heritage as he ponders fatherhood to a child he never wanted, we see Paris risking his life in a bid to find friends, we see that the meld with Tuvok that transformed Suder has continued to show the latter that he can keep his sociopathic tendencies under control and contribute to a society in which he will never be a full participant. There’s certainly nothing boring about “Basics, Part One” and the episode ends on a note that suggests the follow-up may require a sort of ingenuity from the command team they’ve not yet demonstrated, perhaps a breakthrough in Starfleet-Maquis synthesis because of their very different training and survival skills…

…because for all the ways in which “Basics, Part One” is a nicely packaged episode, for all the ways in which it makes for good stand-alone drama, it remains problematic as an episode of Voyager. It’s not a Big Questions episode like “The Best of Both Worlds”: when Janeway offers to chase down Seska to retrieve Chakotay’s son, it’s never discussed in terms of the rights of the child of a Federation citizen, nor the potential impact on the Delta Quadrant of mixing human and Cardassian DNA into local genomes, nor even crew morale since the entire bridge staff overhears Seska’s seemingly desperate plea for help. For that baby, Janeway willingly takes the crew into what she knows is probably a trap, though in previous episodes she’d been unwilling to delay their voyage for an extra few hours here or there to see whether various devoted crewmembers might be retrieved, whom in most cases are saved by pure luck. Because this follows just after “Resolutions,” it suggests that Janeway is still emotionally involved with Chakotay, which I could forgive if the rest of her decisions didn’t seem so emotionally charged for no apparent reason. All the clever strategic planning comes from Kim, Torres, and the Doctor, since even though the latter isn’t kept in the loop on engineering decisions, he has a brilliant idea about creating holographic targets for the Kazon. Janeway’s decision to rescue a Kazon seemingly left for dead by Culluh makes sense from both a strategic and humanitarian perspective, but leaving him unguarded, giving him the run of most of the ship, and not subjecting him to a detailed search all seem very careless – and how come the Doctor can detect the greatly increased quantities of iron in Tierna’s bloodstream, but not the trigger hidden in his toenail? When the bridge is seized by a small number of Kazon, the crew surrenders without pulling a phaser – so Janeway is willing to kill everyone by self-destructing the ship, yet not to risk them in a hand-to-hand fight? When they’re rounded up (for execution, for exile, they don’t yet know), Janeway doesn’t even march at the head of the line.

It particularly irks me that the writers make a point of discussing her gender in an episode in which she’s made to look so weak as a commander, even if she personally has nerves of steel. Culluh’s complaints about the women of her quadrant don’t inspire the proper outrage when the audience is too irritated that she isn’t doing more to fight him, particularly when Seska has just demonstrated that the Cardassian Maquis infiltrator knows their systems better than they do. Even while in denial about the fact that the Kazon must have been shooting at one area of the ship for a reason, did no one think to ask the computer what systems would be offline if the secondary command processors were damaged? Suder thinks long-term more than his mentor Tuvok, who’s supposed to be the head of security and as such the chief strategist in such situations. Instead Chakotay’s the one most concerned about all the evidence they may be headed into a trap, but we see him in this episode very much as a reactive character, not as a leader. He doesn’t know what he wants until Janeway makes him ponder it. I’ve never been sure whether we’re meant to take Chakotay’s vision quests as objectively true or something happening only in his own psyche – whether he sees the father he always wanted to see, not Kolopak’s true spirit – but it’s very sad that the only counseling Chakotay receives after being violated comes from a vision of a parental figure. I’d like to believe Kolopak is a projection of Chakotay’s mind allowing him to admit to himself that he wants to raise the child, because otherwise his passivity starts to look like trauma. Given that he tries to beat up Tierna just because he doesn’t trust him, it’s a wonder Chakotay doesn’t take a swing at Seska when he learns that she told Culluh she was raped by Chakotay. There’s some icky sexual politics going on, so seeing Janeway stripped of command of her ship two episodes in a row is pretty hard for me to take.

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