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STAR TREK: Ronald D. Moore, Part IV
The writer-producer discusses working on VOYAGER.
By Anna L. Kaplan
January 26, 2000
Although Moore did not watch 'Survival Instinct' or 'Barge of the Dead,' he laughs and says, 'I watched 'Equinox' because I was involved with that. When we started the season, they had done 'Equinox I,' but they had no idea what 'Equinox II' was supposed to be about, which on one level is somewhat appalling, but it's not the first time that's happened. That had happened a couple of times on NEXT GEN, and Michael was actually kind of proud of it on NEXT GENERATION, that he left 'Best of Both Worlds' hanging without any idea how to wrap it up. I don't like to work that way, because it is really working without a net. We sat down and approached 'Equinox II' and tried to find what the show was about. What was the point of meeting this ship and this crew and this captain, and what did it mean? We finally landed on this idea that the two captains were going to go in opposite directions. Janeway was going to really feel the same kind of pressures and stresses that Ransom [John Savage] felt, and watch how it could turn a good, by-the-book Starfleet captain into what he had become. At the same time, his interaction with the Doctor [Robert Picardo] and Seven of Nine would rekindle his humanity. It was this nice, double track approach, but it just got lost in the translation. It has no coherence. You're not sure what's really going on. You've got some potentially good scenes. The scenes between Janeway and Chakotay had some real fire to them, and you kind of felt like she is going off the deep end, a bit. Then she relieves him of duty, and there is this crisis of command between the two of them. But at the end of the episode, it's just a shrug and a smile and off to the next. I just hit the ceiling. I remember writing in the margins, 'This is a total betrayal of the audience. This is wrong. You can't end the show like this. If you are going to do all this other stuff, you can't end the show like this, because it's not fair, because it's not true, and it just wouldn't happen.'
'But the show is what the show is. It just became about action sequences. Brannon is very proud of the fact that the show is more action-oriented than the others, and it's faster; it's stylistically a little more daring than the other STAR TREK shows. All that's great. I give him a lot of credit for changing the look and feel of the show. When he came aboard VOYAGER, the show started to look and feel different; it has a different sensibility stylistically. Even in the storytelling, it was starting to become a little more edgy. That's great, because STAR TREK needs that breath of fresh air to keep it vital. But it can't all be flash and sizzle. It has to be about something at some level. The things that Janeway does in 'Equinox' don't work, because it's not about anything. She's not really grappling with her inner demons. She's not truly under the gun and suffering to the point where you can understand the decisions that she's made. She just gets kind of cranky and bitchy. She's having a bad day; these things keep popping around on the bridge, and we just keep cutting to shots of people grabbing phaser rifles and shooting, and hitting the red alert sign, over and over again. It doesn't signify anything. It's kind of emblematic of the show. There is a lot of potential, and there is a lot of surface sizzle going on in a lot of episodes, but to what end? What are we trying to do? What are we trying to touch in the audience? What are we trying to say? What are the things we are trying to explore? Why are we doing this episode? That was my fundamental question. When I would say, 'What was the point of doing the first part?' there was never a good answer for that. As a consequence, it was hard to come up with the ending to the show that has no beginning. You just start throwing things around. 'Two captains on different courses' at least sounds like an episode. At least there is something in it. Janeway will take something away from that experience, but not in the current version. What does she learn from that experience? I don't know how it's affected her. Chakotay, for all his trouble, he just goes back to work. There is no lingering problem with Janeway; there is no deeper issue coming to the fore.'
Taking this idea further, Moore relates a story about one of his suggestions. 'When we were talking story before the season began, I thought, 'One of the shows you should do is the trial of Captain Janeway. You should have the crew, one day, put her on trial.' That would be a real major thing in life of the ship, if the crew can do that, if they really have the power to take command away from her at any moment. If they are really willing to put her under that kind of microscope, it calls into question the entire structure of the show, the entire social fabric, the command structure. Why are we behaving in this way? Why do we hew to these rules anymore? Do the rules still apply to us? What do we find within the rules that work? What do we find that doesn't work? What does it say about Janeway? I thought that there is ground to play there. Nobody wants to go there. On the one hand, you hear them say, 'We don't want the Captain to look weak.' They don't want to make Janeway look foolish. But then the things that you do make her look weak and foolish anyway. It's this strange, schizophrenic attitude about their lead character. I like Kate Mulgrew. I found her a charming, funny, very personable woman sitting on the set next to her. I think if they could let her do more of her own thing in the character, not straight jacket her so much, it would be a more interesting dynamic.'
He continues, 'My one episode is a Seven of Nine episode. I wanted to do it because that was the most VOYAGER-esque character. I wanted to jump in with both feet. I didn't want to do a Klingon show the first time out. I wanted to play around with her. I have a lot of respect for Jeri Ryan as an actress. I think she does a remarkable job, for a character that could come off very one-note. There is a lot going on in those eyes. There is a lot that she can convey with just a look. All that said, that outfit has to go! I just don't know how else to put it. How can you really take her seriously in this getup? If you want to posit a future where we wear our sexuality on our sleeves, where it's very open, and no one is put off by people being very sexual, that's great. That's very much in tune with how Gene saw the future. The rest of Voyager is not like that. Nobody walks around with an outfit like that on the ship. You don't go down the corridor and see some woman strolling by in a bikini on her way to the holodeck, which would be perfectly plausible. If you are really going to have the holodeck, and you are going to have beach parties down there, every once in awhile you should see somebody just strolling to the beach, doing their thing, guys in Speedo's, or whatever. If you want to play that, play it, but to just have Jeri Ryan do it because Jeri Ryan is voluptuous and gorgeous and appeals to a certain demographic, is ludicrous! Nobody really wants to touch that. You bring it up in a meeting, 'She's a beautiful woman; we'll let her look beautiful.' Yes, she is a beautiful woman. I don't object to that. But walk her onto the bridge, and tell me that the audience's eyes aren't watching her walk onto the bridge. The original series did it all the time, but that was of a piece; it was of its time; it made sense in context. Uhura [Nichelle Nichols] could walk around the bridge in a miniskirt, and in the '60s nobody thought that was completely insane. That was just part of the era that show was produced, and people accepted it. Seven of Nine, what are you thinking? It kills me, and it was always just vaguely embarrassing when you would have to do serious scenes with her in the room. You are just sitting there thinking, 'Well, you essentially have this naked woman at the table.' Everybody is just supposed to pretend like that is okay, but you don't play anyone else like that. Why doesn't Janeway come to the bridge in a halter-top one day. Seriously, why doesn't Tom [Robert Duncan McNeill] where hot pants periodically. The characters don't act that way. They don't were their sexuality on their sleeve except her. I'll even go one more. Let's say that given all that, you still say: she's a Borg; she's expressing herself in a different way than the rest of the crew. She is shaking them up a little bit, and she is not afraid of her sexuality, or her impact, or the way she looks. Why isn't she sleeping with the crew? Why isn't she like jumping into bed with Chakotay, or jumping into bed with Tom, with anyone? If you are going to do it, do it. Otherwise, it's just eye candy with no content. It doesn't mean anything. It's just a way to watch her walk around the bridge. It's a disservice to Jeri, because she gets the brunt of it. She's the one that has to answer the questions about the costume, and has to defend it, and has to talk about that it doesn't really bother her. It may not bother her, and that's fine, but I think it does a disservice to her, and to her character, because it's the primary characteristic of her character, and that's unfortunate. It's the primary characteristic in the audience's mind, I feel. I just think it's completely unnecessary. The character is a good enough character, and she is a good enough actress, that you don't need to do it, at least not every week. Even if 'this is my preferred uniform,' it doesn't mean she has to wear it 24 hours a day, and wear nothing else. If you are going to go there, go there with everyone. Take them all along. It's an opportunity VOYAGER won't seize. Why aren't they developing their own social customs and morays? Why aren't they doing their own thing out there? They are a long way from home. Develop your own habits and your own ways of dressing. People probably would pad through the corridors barefoot periodically, and treat the ship more like it's an apartment building where they all live, and are stuck together for a very, very long time, and would stop being so straight-laced. In that kind of context, her outfit wouldn't stand out so much, because you would see people letting their hair down a lot more, and being more individualistic, and walking around with earrings, and growing beards occasionally. Doing things to stand out from the crowd, instead of just being this homogenized cookie-cutter thing, where she jumps out at you, because, why isn't everybody else like that?'
What about the relationships should have developed during this long trip? Notes Moore, 'Do the characters really believe they are not getting home for seventy years? They don't act like it. They all believe they are getting home in a couple of hours. There is no big deal for them, because otherwise wouldn't Janeway at some point have said, 'Realistically, this is becoming a generation ship. Time to start having kids, because somebody is going to have to man this ship 60 years from now, and it ain't going to be me. It ain't going to be Chakotay, and probably nobody on this bridge. So let's start making babies.' That's a realistic thing that they would really do, and they are nowhere near that. The Tom and B'Elanna thing, when we were breaking 'Barge of the Dead,' I just remember having these arguments. This should have big impact on their relationship. Her thing with Klingons, her mother, and her spirituality, how does that reflect to them? It was, 'Yeah, it's a relationship, but we don't want to do a show about the relationship. It's not that interesting, and it doesn't really matter anyway.' If the character is in a relationship, if it actually matters to B'Elanna, and it actually matters to Tom, then something like this that happens to her is going to have an impact on the relationship. It's going to get worked out in the context of that relationship. But STAR TREK: VOYAGER is afraid of any of the characters getting hooked, on any kind of real, steady, permanent basis. 'No, no, no. No relationships between the characters. We don't like it. It didn't work with Kes and Neelix. And the Tom and B'Elanna thing it's--well, we don't really care.' It's a weird attitude.'
Moore adds, 'VOYAGER won't accept itself. It won't believe it's really in this situation in this area of the galaxy and that these are really the prospects in front of them. They just won't embrace it. They fight against it. There have been more episodes that have taken place on Earth, or alternate Earth, or past Earth than I think the original series did in its whole run, and the original series was set over in the Alpha Quadrant. Kirk and company never went to present day 23rd century Earth, their contemporaneous Earth, ever. Gene wouldn't do it. Voyager is on the other side of the galaxy, and they have already run into some alien race recreating Starfleet Academy. They've run into Ferengi, the Romulans. It doesn't feel like they are that far away from home. It just doesn't feel like they are in that much trouble out there. At its heart, VOYAGER secretly wishes it was NEXT GENERATION. If you really get down to it, VOYAGER on some level just wishes it was NEXT GEN. It really wants to be back in the Alpha Quadrant: 'Just let us be normal STAR TREK.''
A good example of the yearning for THE NEXT GENERATION was obvious in 'Pathfinder,' an episode so much like TNG that Marina Sirtis [Deanna Troi] felt like she was doing her old show. It also may have started the process of getting the ship home. Comments Moore, 'Brannon goes back and forth on whether they should come home or not. They have been talking about it for a long time. I said this years ago: it's giving up on the show. If you bring that ship home before the series is over, you have given up. You've rolled over and said, 'We can't make it work. Let's just go back and do TNG all over again.' It comes back home, goes to Earth, there's like a two-part episode as they go down to Earth and revisit their old lives. What's going to happen at the end of that two-parter? All the characters are going to re-up and say, 'I love Voyager. It was such a family. I learned so much from you. Let's not break up. Let's stay here.' All the Maquis people will take regular commissions in Starfleet. Chakotay will chose to be second in command to Janeway. B'Elanna will embrace those warp engines. Now Starfleet has given you a mission, and off you go. Essentially what was the point of this entire series? It's a wasted opportunity. That's what pisses me off. You are not really taking advantage of this golden opportunity that you are handed as writers and as producers. You can do so much with STAR TREK. It is such a broad, flexible canvas. If DEEP SPACE NINE proved nothing else, it proves just how far you can take this series, and how far you can take the franchise. It can look totally different. It can be serialized, and it can be a war show, and it can do stuff about religion and politics, and it can be interesting and engrossing, and gray and ambiguous. You don't have to turn VOYAGER into DEEP SPACE NINE to take advantage of the fact that those opportunities exist. You just have to have the courage to do it. They are not speaking to me. They don't have anything to say anymore.'