VOYAGER VS. ENTERPRISE:
OR, WHAT DOES SHE SEE IN THIS SHOW ANYWAY?
by Michelle Erica Green
For the past four years, while I reviewed Star Trek: Voyager for AnotherUniverse.com, my mail from readers had a common theme: I was too critical, too nitpicky, too unwilling to sit back, enjoy myself, believe in the magic, experience the wonder of having a female captain onscreen each week, fall in love all over again with the magic of the franchise. And a lot of those readers were probably right; if I'd been willing to overlook the flaws and take the show on what merits it had in the final seasons, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more. But I could never forget the dream of Voyager during the first couple of seasons, when it promised to be truly groundbreaking -- not just sticking a woman in the big chair but letting her explore, enjoy the journey, truly go where no man had gone before.
I freely admit that I never forgave the producers for bringing on Seven of Nine, and it had nothing to do with the catsuit, which was a minor annoyance compared to the way she became the focal point of the show at the expense of Torres, Chakotay and particularly Janeway. I had no interest in seeing Torres turn herself from an engineer into Tom's little Klingon wife. I despised seeing Janeway lose her enthusiasm for the voyage and become obsessed with personal redemption via the quest she'd set for herself. I stopped believing in most of the characters as multidimensional beings. I stopped caring about whether or not the crew got home. I did not cut Voyager any slack...I didn't think it deserved any.
Now an amazing thing has happened. The very same people who used to write to me every week at Another Universe complaining about my Voyager-bashing are now writing to me at the Trek Nation, complaining that I'm being too forgiving of Enterprise. "This is a kid's show," writes one. "There's no character development," says another. Each week I check the posts at the Trek Nation bulletin boards, and while there are always a few people who think I've been too harsh if I make any criticisms, many of the readers actually think I've gone too easy on the show. "There is too little or nothing Star Trek about it," says one of my regular correspondents, a Janeway fan who became a friend.
So...have I sold out now that I'm writing for a Trek site, or have I decided to "dumb down" my reviews, or do I just have a crush on Scott Bakula, or what?
Actually, none of the above.
When it went on the air, Voyager was MY Star Trek. Don't get me wrong, I adored all the previous series. But Voyager gave me that woman captain, plus a tough, smart female chief engineer who took no guff from no one. It had male characters who were pretty much the opposite of macho stereotypes -- a first officer completely comfortable playing second fiddle to (and possibly falling in love with) his captain, a pilot with a checkered past torn between the need for redemption and independent thinking, a doctor trying to learn to express emotion. Its premise took it outside the previous limits of the Trek universe, with a chance to explore completely alien cultures and to watch a Starfleet crew reevaluate their principles in the absence of Federation authority.
What did Voyager do with that premise? It became a series about a captain obsessed with getting home at any cost, a crew largely incapable of independent thinking (even in technobabble), and a sex symbol brought in to "save" the show who took over the roles of my three favorite characters, usurping the legitimate female authority on the ship. By "Endgame", it had trashed not only everything Voyager once represented but everything the Trek franchise had once represented.
Enterprise has never been my Star Trek. I watch it with my eight-year-old son, who fits in very well with its target audience -- some of the sexual innuendo goes right over his head, but he loves the special effects, the alien makeup, the ubiquitous cave sets. He has absolutely no trouble grasping the themes of the episodes and usually can predict the ending at the halfway point. This is not a bad thing for him, as he derives great satisfaction from solving the crises before the crew does, and he's not scared of the fighting as I suspect he is sometimes on Andromeda. There has not yet been an episode too complex for him to grasp, nor too morally ambiguous for him to be concerned about the ending. My son loves Tucker, who is always saying "the 'D' word'" and "the 'H' word'" and relishes dessert. He likes Archer, who like a good daddy plays with his dog and doesn't yell at crewmembers when they disobey orders. He noted during the pilot that T'Pol has really big boobs, but they don't seem to have distracted him overmuch.
Thus the running commentary I hear in the background during Enterprise is uniformly positive. By contrast, when I watched Voyager, I had both my husband (one of those coveted males in the under-35 demographic) and my best friends rolling their eyes and expressing their disgust right along with me. The letters I got about Voyager came primarily from women, sometimes long-term Star Trek fans but rarely hardcore sci-fi viewers -- most of those had long since abandoned Voyager for Babylon 5, Stargate SG-1, Farscape and a myriad of other shows. Long-term Trek fans have many of the same criticisms of Enterprise that I do, yet few of them seem to dislike it as intensely as long-term Voyager fans.
I gave Voyager a chance for more than three years, and I held out hope until the very last episode that it would find a way to redeem itself. For my faith, I got a finale that was a slap in the face to every major fan group -- Prime Directive aficionados, Janeway/Chakotay aficionados, Doctor fans, Torres fans, Paris fans, you name it. Even Seven of Nine worshippers seem largely disgusted by the Chakotay/Seven romance and their favorite Borg's meaningless death in the future timeline, except for Janeway/Seven followers who remain so thrilled with the captain's belated confession of love for her protegee that they overlook the rest. For me the ending didn't hurt much because after "Night," "Equinox" and other episodes that deconstructed Janeway and demonstrated her crew's incompetence, I didn't feel much for any of them.
Enterprise is not even half a season old. No, there hasn't been much character growth, but then there hasn't been much time for it -- the producers seem to be trying to forego Voyager's tactic of developing the crew while resorting to technobabble and recycled Next Gen plots for stories. Certainly there are a lot of borrowed, familiar issues and themes, but in a show set before the original series, isn't that to be expected? And certainly most of the aliens look and behave differently than one would expect from Kirk's era, but the Vulcans have been devolving steadily over the later Trek shows, and I'll admit I never paid much attention to Klingon ship design, anyway.
I enjoy Enterprise. It's a superficial, juvenile sort of enjoyment, yet I've never been bored enough to leave the room and more importantly I've never wanted to strangle the writers for character assassination or destroying everything Trek's supposed to stand for. Enterprise is not extraordinary like Deep Space Nine, but it's not a disgrace to the franchise, either, and it's still in its infancy. Maybe the show will grow up...or maybe in a couple of years my son will have grown out of it, and I won't have anything nice to say about it anymore either. I just don't see any reason to write it off now, certainly not in comparison to its immediate predecessor.