A WOMAN'S PREROGATIVE...
by Michelle Erica Green
You all know by now my stand on J/C, right? How it's about time that Trek gave us a substantive, committed relationship between adults, how I think it would do wonders for women get the message that lovers and starships are not an either-or?
Well, guess what? I take it back.
I wish we always saw the Janeway Kate Mulgrew embodies with a good script, a woman with great passion for science and adventure. But Janeway has also been presented as a woman who spent her youth trying to impress men, who prefers the counsel of holographic patriarchs to lively debate. It's time for us to see her as a take-charge person who deals with her personal needs via action instead of repression. I'd rather see her decide that she doesn't love Chakotay than watch her torment him and herself. I'm even tempted to encourage an off-ship love interest for Janeway. Not because I want to see this; I imagine it would be even more embarrassing than Kirk and the Green-Skinned Geisha. But I'd rather do without a meaningful relationship between the captain and first officer than watch it degenerate to the point where I can't stand either character.
I'm quite unhappy about this conclusion. At this point, J/C is the main reason I watch Voyager. I survive episodes like "Nemesis" and "Mortal Coil" for fifteen seconds of engaging interaction between Janeway and Chakotay. I wish Janeway alone held my interest more often--and she should. When Kate has something substantive to do in a show, I can usually sit through a mediocre plot. But just watching the captain give orders or aim a rifle doesn't do a thing for me, and watching her play mommy to Seven and the rest of the crew just makes me scream. With the departure of Jen Lien, who was terrific even in awful shows like "Warlord" and "Cold Fire," I have one less reason to tune in. Jeri Ryan's okay, even given the most embarrassing sexual dialogue in the history of television, but watching Seven save the ship with her nifty Borg equipment is getting tired, and listening to Janeway lecture her about getting more friendly sounds way too much like Janeway lecturing Tuvok about getting more friendly...for that matter, it's way too much like Kirk lecturing Spock on getting more friendly..
Janeway needs a friend more than she needs a lover...maybe even more than she needs consistency. "Scorpion" brought home to me that she's coming across as a negative example of a woman with power. She expects Chakotay to cater to her whims on and off duty, to give her whatever support she needs, day by day, around the clock--when he tries to act as First Officer, she accuses him of not really caring about her, though she demonstrates little regard for his professional opinions and evinces a preference for a hologram--a grotesque image of a partnership. "Year of Hell Part One" made that even more clear, when she pretty much slapped away his birthday present without even so much as a thank-you. If he were any other subordinate officer, I'd say her behavior was inexcusably rude; it's only because we're supposed to believe that they're friends, in spite of the way she treats him, that she can get away with this at all.
It's a woman's prerogative to change her mind, right? Janeway does it all the time, on matters from whether to pursue the Vidiians with the deadliest of force to how important the Prime Directive should be in the Delta Quadrant. Do these discrepancies represent change, or compromise? Let's just say that, after three years of my rationalizing Janeway's behavior to anyone who criticized her outside a circle of passionate fans, I am finding it difficult to tolerate let alone explain her contradictions. The fact that she defines her committment to her ship by her chastity is an issue on which Janeway has never wavered. I hate it, but at least she's never wimped out on that committment. Heck, she did get them lost in the Delta Quadrant and she does manage to screw up every opportunity she has to get them home. Maybe she should just have given Q what he wanted and demanded a return flight in compensation, if that's her goal in life. Maybe she doesn't deserve a lover. Maybe she doesn't even deserve a friend. But why in heck would I want to watch a show about such a character?
I read some interviews recently with some of the men connected with the show. Robert Beltran's theme for the season seems to be, "Poor Chakotay needs to get laid." After three years in space, a man gets a little stiff. Harry Kim gets more women than Chakotay does. Janeway keeps turning Chakotay down, so he must not have any genitals. Sounds an awful lot like the high school attitude that if she loved him, she'd put out-- and that is NOT something I want any girl in the audience to hear from Star Trek, god knows they hear enough of it anyway. Maybe the actor merely wants more quality screen time and is speaking in terms he thinks the male demographic will relate to--Robert's always a lot of fun in interviews because he's not afraid to curse, nor to diss the writers and the fans. But I don't get the feeling he's kidding when he says he wishes Chakotay could meet some nice alien babe. If his attitude starts showing up in Chakotay's behavior, it's going to be ugly.
Our new executive producer Braga told Sci Fi Universe (that bastion of young male Janeway-bashing) that Chakotay would make as good a captain as Janeway. Brannon thinks there should be more conflict between Janeway and Chakotay. Brannon thinks Chakotay would make a terrific hero, and he has been severely underutilized. Why do I have a feeling that we could get Dueling Captains next season, with Brannon at the helm of the show? Voyager needs a strong Chakotay, but it does not need a first officer acting as the equal or opposite of its captain--not unless TPTB think she's incompetent or irrelevant in the eyes of its viewers. Two years ago, debates like the one they had in "Scorpion" would have been wonderful; now, since the subtext of their argument is entirely personal, they both look incapable of putting the best interests of the ship above their private power struggles. If they were unified romantically, that wouldn't matter so much because we'd all know that Chakotay wasn't going to run off with Barbie of Borg and Janeway wasn't going to snivel on the holodeck, but as things stand, they make a pretty unimpressive team.
I can't stomach the idea of seeing Janeway as a woman scorned, nor as a woman with so little passion that she won't care if Chakotay settles down with someone else. I'd like to see her get on with her romantic life. At this point I'm not worried about anyone thinking that Janeway's a tramp if she has a fling with an alien; I'm a lot more concerned at the number of men who think she's frigid (like Sci-Fi Universe editor Mark Altman). Janeway needs connection in her life, and if Chakotay can't be that for her, then I think it's time we see her with someone else. Not a grand passion which could interfere with her devotion to the ship--I'd like to see her have a happy, uncomplicated relationship, chosen freely and understood to be temporary, so we'd all know that she's capable of romance yet won't have to deal with loneliness of command misery afterwards. Of course Janeway can't screw around the way Kirk did, but I don't think it's a good idea for her to hold herself aloof the way Picard did, either--I'd much rather her be a little too comfortable with her sexuality than keep broadcasting that good girls don't ever do such things. We all know better.
Of course the glaringly obvious alternative would be to do what Kate's been saying all along, and give Janeway and Chakotay a substantive, committed relationship, though I'd do it without all this phony virtue that makes them both look silly. I'm not suggesting onscreen sex scenes. Verbal confessions, more of the touching we get now but would lose if either were involved with someone else, the tension of being involved in a relationship that can't ever come before duty...it wouldn't be so hard to stop trying to force them into 20th century standards of sexual behavior, to recognize that there's opportunity for greater professional conflict if they're committed on a personal level. I bet the boys would have a much easier time with Chakotay waiting for a woman who loves him than one who takes him for granted. In an ideal universe, I'd want Chakotay to remain loyal to Janeway. It would be a lovely message to send the viewing audience--that people DO make sacrifices for love, that sex is not the sole means of gratification in relationships.
But we don't live in an ideal universe. We live in a universe dictated by marketing concerns and audience demographics, where Star Trek is not written with sophisticated dialogue and long relationship arcs but in choppy episodes without a long-term plan. Given the atrocious dialogue Paris and Torres have been given to spout and the adolescent attitudes about sex betrayed by Seven,'s characterization, there's no point in hoping for a mature relationship on this show, is there? So in the interests of salvaging Trek's first woman captain, I'm leaving the jaycees. I'm jumping off my jetskis. I'm bailing from the estrogen brigade. I'm voting Sheridan/Delenn in 2000.
Excuse me, now. I'm going to go watch The X Files.