EATING MY WORDS
by Michelle Erica Green
8 August 1998
Remember all that stuff I took back about not wanting to see Janeway and Chakotay together in my essay "A Woman's Prerogative"? Well, guess what? I take it back.
Look, who am I kidding? I have my 9" Janeway and Chakotay action figures dressed in Barbie and Ken wedding clothes, and I don't even want to talk about what my 5" action figures are doing with thir lovely articulated limbs. Go ahead, accuse me of being a loser fan girl with no life. You're right on the first part, but actually, I do have a life. And it is precisely because I have a life that I just can't bear the thought of Janeway, even if she is a fictional character brought to us lately from the disgusting mind of Brannon Braga, not having the life she has indicated time and again that she wants.
Yes, I love Janeway smart and strong and independent, but you know what? I still think she should have passion. Even if it's with a member of her own crew, even if it's with a guy who doesn't deserve her. If she wants a lover or a child or two dozen naked Bolians, she should get them. Being a captain should NOT hold her back.
Deep Space Nine did something last season that I'd been anticipating and dreading literally for years: they got Odo and Kira together. Finally. After I thought I'd stopped caring, because Kira changed and became a babe in a catsuit, and then Odo changed and became an actual humanoid. They both changed back, but at that point the damage was done, or so I thought. It no longer mattered as much that they had chemistry, that Rene Auberjonois had been playing Odo as if he were in love with Kira for months before the writers put anything overt into a script, that Kira trusted Odo more deeply than she trusted anyone else in her life, that Odo loved her enough to abandon his own kind and trade the futures of the entire station's descendants on her survival. I thought I was over it.
Then I watched "His Way." It was an imperfect episode. Kira was a little too passive, Odo was a little too manipulative, the ending was a little too rushed. You know what? I didn't care. The minute they kissed on the Promenade--right in front of the entire crew, meaning there was no chance they could pretend it didn't happen next week--I screamed. I cheered. I cheered even louder the next week, when it was obvious that they were still together, although the romance itself was not a focus of the episode. And the week after that, and after that. During the season finale of Deep Space Nine, it occurred to me that more of the senior crew were involved in intimate relationships than not: Worf and Dax, Kira and Odo, Sisko and Yates, Miles and Keiko, Bashir and Garak...whoops. Those relationships enhance the show, they make us care about the characters, they add another dimension when anyone's in danger or experiencing something transformative. And for the record: Worf and Dax were in the same chain of command, and have given each other orders on many occasions. Odo has served directly under Kira since before Sisko arrived on the station. At present, since Sisko went on leave just before the season ended, Deep Space Nine is under the command of a woman who is having a love affair with the closest thing she's got to an XO. I think I might be in love with Ron Moore. On my other favorite show, La Femme Nikita, Nikita and Michael are having a relationship and Ops and Maddie are having a relationship even though they have to practically get one another killed every week. And they all work for each other.
One of the arguments which is frequently offered by the producers for not wanting Janeway and Chakotay to get involved with one another is ratings. Now Voyager has a recent article about Voyager's ratings which makes a couple of things abundantly clear. One is that the writers are kidding themselves when they say people don't watch Star Trek for crew romance, as Executive Producer Brannon Braga stated recently on America Online. "Day of Honor" got higher ratings than any of the Seven of Nine episodes last fall. "Coda" got higher ratings than "Blood Fever." Yet "Unforgettable" got the worst ratings ever for a new episode of the series: nobody, not adult women nor teenage boys, wanted to see Chakotay boff Virginia Madsen. Braga has said repeatedly that he doesn't want to tie Janeway and Chakotay to one another because he wants them both free to date other people. If "Unforgettable" is any indication, that might be the quickest possible way to kill the series.
Then there's what's called "Moonlighting" syndrome, which writers claim is inevitable when two characters in a courtship dance finally get together. It happened on Remington Steele and Lois and Clark, they say: the couple consummated their relationship, the ratings went down. What they fail to mention is that in all cases, the ratings were already slipping--often because the audience had gotten tired of of the stalling games. The couples were tossed together by burned-out writers as a last- ditch effort to bring ratings up, and it didn't work. But that was not the cause of the decline; rather, the decline was caused by failure to develop the relationships naturally.
Does this mean I think every couple with chemistry should have onscreen love affairs? Heck no. I liked Delenn better before she married Sheridan on Babylon 5, when she was independent and vital in her own right. I think it would be death to The X-Files to let Mulder and Scully get married and live happily ever after, or even get married and spend the rest of their lives saving one another from alien conspirators. Any show that can come up with compelling, moving stories about the lead characters can make the issue of their romantic lives entirely secondary. Fans seem to think it's weird that Chakotay didn't get laid for three years, but nobody seems to think it's weird that it's been as long for Mulder, because Mulder's life has been so complicated and interesting in every other regard. Like everything in storytelling, sex is (or should be) contextual.
Even when I haven't wanted it to, J/C's something that has always worked. It works on a character level, it works on a dramatic level. Everyone's always yammering on about whether or not they should make love, but the truth of the matter is that the most subtle, un-sexy moments have been the really wrenching ones: Chakotay grabbing Janeway's arm to stop her from going down with the ship in "Dreadnought," Janeway reaching out to him after he's saved the ship and come back from the dead in "Cathexis," Chakotay crying over her dead body in "Coda," Janeway refusing to risk him in a shuttle in "Vis a Vis." The question of whether or not they have sex is supremely irrelevant to scenes like that; what matters is whether or not they love each other. The more bimbos Chakotay fools around with, the more Janeway distances herself from emotional ties to subordinates, the less it's possible to believe that they do. And that takes a huge dramatic, emotional toll on the series and on the characters which no aliens-of-the-week or bouts of heroism are going to fill.
"'I have begged that Chakotay and Janeway have a deep and intense relationship. I want him as my confidant, and that means that we're going to cross over all kinds of lines together, in the privacy of my quarters, or his. Things will be said between us that nobody else on the crew will know about. We're going to have secrets, like good friends do- - they don't talk about their relationship to their acquaintances. I'm not going to sleep with him; it's too late now, if it would have happened it would have happened before.'"
--Kate Mulgrew in "Mania Magazine," August 1998
"'I think it's time something happened between them,' she admits. However, Mulgrew explains that she would like to see her character have a serious relationship or none at all. 'I think sex for a female Captain is not the same as for a male captain. I'm not being sexist, but who wants to see their female captain running around having love affairs? I have a ship to run! I don't think I can afford that kind of indulgence at the moment but I can afford an intimate relationship with someone I love very much.'"
--Kate Mulgrew in "Star Trek Monthly," August 1998
Methinks my beloved Kate contradicts herself: she says it should have happened already, yet she says they should be in love before anything happens. I think it's obvious to everyone, even people who hate the idea of J/C, that this issue isn't going away, this chemistry isn't going away. This is the fifth season of the series: it's a little late to rewrite these characters and their relationship, but it's definitely not too late to write this with passion and dignity. In fact, it's the logical thing to do.
As many of you know, I am running Kate Mulgrew's official fan club again. Look, I'm nuts about Kate, even if I do think she contradicts herself and she says some things that make me want to bop her over the head with a copy of Susan Faludi's Backlash. That's not being a bad fan: it's being a real supporter of her show rather than a mindless follower. Mind you, I think Kate could use some unconditional support after the way she and Janeway were treated last season...but I don't think pretending to think everything is perfect is the way to give her that.
I've always said I stick around in fandom for the fans. And I do. I love you people.
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