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Stardate 0007.21: News From the Side

Plus: Obsessions, Beltran Part 2, In Praise of Jeri Ryan

By Michelle Erica Green     July 21, 2000

Last weekend, fans from around North America and elsewhere convened for the excellent annual Toronto Trek convention. I attended as a panelist, moderating discussions on everything from real-world science to space romances to intolerance of gay fans to problems facing fan clubs. There were dozens of other panels, so I only had time to sample a few. I missed most discussions of Buffy and Xena, and learned that while Lexx has been airing in Ontario for nearly two years, Farscape has only just arrived, and on the kids' channel at that.

Toronto Trek's name is deceptive; it's certainly not an all-Star Trek con. While the Klingon community seems enormous--even bigger than the one in my native Washington DC--there were a substantial number of Star Wars costumes in the masquerade. There were numerous panels on Babylon 5, The X-Files, and Dr. Who, plus a terrific anime room, and readings and signings by SF authors. TT had a decent dealer's room in terms of finding medieval clothing and weapons, though I'm told the collectible pickings were sparse this year because of new taxes and crackdowns on 'zine dealers trying to bring slash across the border.

With the exception of one great costumed Seven of Nine, however, Voyager seemed all but unrepresented among the fans. At one early panel moderated by Krikor Ajemian about the return of Kes, the room was packed with several dozen fans airing their grievances about the show. Many of the people said they wouldn't watch next season, and most felt it would have been better if Voyager never brought Kes back at all, whether or not they liked her before Seven's arrival. Overwhelmingly, people also suggested that Paramount should wait at least two years before creating another Trek series, and get someone other than Berman and Braga to produce it.

This theme continued all weekend. At a panel on futuristic science, the moderator decried the technobabble which has replaced both scientific speculation and character development on Voyager. At a panel on sexuality, there was equal consensus among men and women, straight and gay, transgender and traditionalist, that Seven's catsuit is more outrageous than Uhura's miniskirt and that women in general seem to be making strides backwards rather than forwards since Deep Space Nine left production--not to mention the fact that we have yet to see a gay character, even an alien, on any Federation ship. At a panel on fan clubs, someone noted that Trek clubs have become increasingly diverse because there are so many better shows.

I realize that because I am a female in the over-30 bracket, Paramount couldn't care less what I think of their latest version of Star Trek. But the people on these panels were men and women ranging from under 18--those who had grown up with Voyager and never watched TNG--to over 60--those who wrote letters trying to save the original Trek from cancellation. These are fans who care enough to attend a convention, fans who are the target audience for the millions of dollars of merchandise for sale in dealer's rooms and toy stores and internet catalogues.

Spin the numbers any way you want: Star Trek is losing its audience. Ratings are down, film attendance is down, convention attendance is down, syndicated reruns are slipping off the air in favor of new science fiction series. When a roomful of passionate Trekkers sit around talking about how much better they like a dozen other series, how the ideals of Trek are better exemplified on other shows, how they didn't even see the last movie--not because of that film's individual storyline but because they're bored with the franchise as a whole--it's time for the studio to start thinking about making some changes. And I don't mean tighter costumes for the female characters.

Obsessions

Warning: potential spoilers ahead! Skip down to avoid them!

A few weeks ago, a highly-placed source in the Trek franchise whom I have known for years told me his suspicion that Voyager would never get home. I was inclined to believe that he was kidding, and when I dutifully reported the rumor, the people who passed it on added their own doubts to mine. I mean, what's mattered on Voyager for the past seven years: Whether or not Neelix would learn to cook? Whether or not Chakotay would ever get lucky? Duh. It's getting Voyager back to the Alpha Quadrant!

Now executive producer Ken Biller, proving he can be as sadistic as his predecessor Brannon Braga, has chosen to suggest that the voyage may have been for naught, as well. In an exclusive interview with Cinescape this week, Biller said, 'Our biggest challenge in this last season is going to be how we can both surprise and satisfy the audience. If we don't take the ship home, have we disappointed people that have invested emotionally for years in seeing this crew succeed with that objective? Without answering the question exactly, I will say...that it's a question we continue to struggle with, although we think we have ways to resolve it which will satisfy and surprise you.'

Suddenly the possibility of the ship getting caught in an endless time loop, or getting back to an Earth in the wrong universe, or discovering that they've been in stasis in some Starfleet experiment all along, doesn't seem that implausible.

Biller also said we could look forward to more episodes featuring Troi and Barclay, including an episode early in the seventh season 'and most likely again as the series nears its end,' which would seem to suggest that Voyager won't get home until May sweeps or thereabouts if at all. He promised a focus on 'Captain Janeway's ongoing and single-minded quest to get her crew home. I'm not going to tell you whether or not she is going to accomplish that just yet, but it's something that has been her single purpose from the beginning, and...she'll have to decide just how far she is willing to go to succeed.'

What, you mean she could go farther than killing everyone on board as she did in 'Course: Oblivion' before the reset button kicked in? Might she turn into Captain Ransom of the Equinox, after risking her entire crew just to punish him for violating her sense of Starfleet principles? Might she even sacrifice her pet Borg or her on-again, off-again Maquis rebels? This could be fun...

Speaking of the Maquis, Biller said the show would revive some of the ancient Maquis/Starfleet tensions in a 'psychological thriller' that pits Starfleet officers against former Maquis. Plus, there's always potential for real crises if Starfleet's long arm reaches out to Voyager, where the Maquis may still be considered criminals...though it's not clear in the wake of the Dominion War exactly what their status should be, and it doesn't seem like anyone on Voyager's writing staff has watched enough Deep Space Nine to wonder about whether compensation is due for the Maquis planet Sisko destroyed in 'For the Uniform.'

Then there's the issue of the Paris/Torres romance, which Biller promises to resolve 'in a way that is surprising and in tune with Star Trek without being soap opera-ish,' which will include an episode about a Klingon generational ship traveling through the Delta Quadrant since the time when the Federation and the Klingon Empire were enemies. Plus, we'll get to see Harry Kim hit the roof when he realizes that if Voyager doesn't get home soon, he'll not only never be a captain--he'll probably be stuck spouting the same technobabble on the bridge for the rest of his life, so he might as well consider jumping ship and joining up with some aliens who offer more opportunities.

And he's not the only one. Surprisingly, Biller admitted that the already-hyped Voyager November sweeps movie, called 'Flesh and Blood,' focuses not on the Borg nor the Alpha Quadrant but on the Doctor and the rights of sentient holograms. The ship will encounter a society of self-aware holograms that have revolted against what they consider to be their oppressors and abusers, much like the psychotic isomorph from the episode 'Revulsion.' The Doctor will be 'forced to choose between his loyalties to his Voyager family and his desire to help what he considers to be his own people, the holograms,' says Biller.

Given Janeway's ongoing with the conflict over his rights as an individual, and given the fact that Starfleet will 'own' him once again when the ship returns home, this could be a fascinating exploration of one of the ongoing themes of Voyager. On the other hand, it sounds an awful lot like Odo discovering the Great Link, and there better not be any cheap reversals like in 'Revulsion' or fans are going to feel pretty cheated.

It was hard enough to believe back in the first season that no one left the ship when 'The 37s' invited the crew to stay. There's going to have to be some pretty good drama to explain why both Kim and the Doctor would put such value on their Voyager 'family' with its unstable captain and its Borg Queen. Voyager hasn't screwed up a Doctor episode in a long time, so let's be optimistic.

Cinescape's fall TV preview issue will be on sale soon. In the meantime, you can check their web site for more tidbits. Meanwhile, speaking of the Doctor, the official Star Trek site reports that Robert Picardo spoke at a presentation to television critics about the ongoing Screen Actors Guild commercial strike (which fellow supporter Armin Shimerman explains here). Picardo claimed that the advertisers' negotiating posture 'is such an attack that it's a clear example of a violation of the Prime Directive.'

Y'all probably know by now that Brannon Braga has signed a three-year deal with Paramount, giving him the flexibility to work on projects other than Trek Series V. I'm trying to decide whether I think this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Beltran's Big Mouth, Part II

Those of you who have read Mania at the Fandom Store site may remember that Steve Johnson and I used to write a column called 'He Said, She Said,' in which we debated issues about popular entertainment. After I reiterated some of Robert Beltran's recent comments about Star Trek: Voyager last week--which, as reader John Mangan pointed out to us, were actually made in Norwich, not London--Steve passed on the following:

Robert Beltran, who plays Chakotay, made some comments (quite a few comments, apparently) at a recent convention that were highly critical of the series, its bosses and its scripts. Several fans wrote in to suggest that Beltran had no business making those comments while he is a part of the series, as it shows disloyalty to his employers.

The fans who thought Beltran was being unprofessional are only half right.

Yes, when you take the producers' money, you accept an obligation to support them and their efforts. To call public attention to your company's shortcomings is to risk harm to your company, and your employer is within his rights to fire you.

But no, remaining silent when it is already widely agreed that Voyager has become very, very bad indeed is not part of that implicit contract. After a certain point, loyalty to your employer becomes complicity in his crimes; to remain silent means you are condoning, supporting, and abetting his actions. Consider: if someone appears in a very, very bad movie, don't you think twice about seeing them in something else? They have shown that they are willing to lend their name and likeness to a shabby, inferior product. That hurts the actor quite as much as the show--more, because producer's names aren't attached to shows as prominently as actors' names, and of course, we never see their faces.

I suggest that Voyager is being done so very cynically badly that anyone who remains loyal to its producers is doing Star Trek, television in general, and the series in particular a grave injustice.

Brannon Braga can say, and possibly even think, what he likes. The plain truth is that Voyager is a spectacular failure, more so than any of the movies ever were, and its failure will blight Star Trek in whatever incarnation it next appears. Myself, I would have gone to see Insurrection if Voyager hadn't shown me how bad something can be and still have the Trek logo slapped on it; that's eight bucks right there the producers of Voyager have cost Paramount, multiplied by however many people reasoned as I did.

If Braga does indeed get to create Series V, then I may have been wrong, years ago, when I asserted that nothing could kill Star Trek. I pointed to the fact that they let Shatner write and direct the fifth film, and Star Trek somehow survived. But what if they'd let him do every film, and refused to remove him no matter how horribly self-indulgent things became? I submit that if instead of The Undiscovered Country, Generations, First Contact, and Insurrection, we'd gotten four more Shatner films, there would never be a tenth Trek movie, not until everyone who'd seen the Shatner films had died.


My own aside: I liked The Final Frontier better than Generations and First Contact--well, I loved the first contact storyline but I hated the Borg Queen, and I believe Voyager has borne out the reasons I think having such a queen was a bad idea in the first place. But I agree with Steve, who has acknowledged more succinctly than my own column last week the reasons it's hard to condemn Robert Beltran for expressing his disgust about the show. I still wish he'd actually read the scripts and make some attempt to give us an interesting Chakotay, however.

You can still find Beltran's comments on his official site, at http://www.robertbeltran.com/uk2000.html.

In Praise of Jeri Ryan

Yes, that's right. Let us speak not of Seven of Nine; other people are better qualified than myself to sing the praises of Seven's, err, attributes. I have not been subtle in my reviews in expressing my dislike of Seven of Nine, nor of Voyager's degeneration since the character came onto the show. But those statements do not reflect my feelings about Jeri Ryan, as an actress or a human being, and I am sorry if I have suggested otherwise.

Like Beltran, Ryan has been refreshingly honest with the fans and the press, and her comments are often bandied about on message boards and newsgroups. The one which seems to receive the most attention is her public admission that she and executive producer Brannon Braga are dating. Some of the fans who wrote in to defend Beltran, both here and on America Online, have made much of Ryan's confession, suggesting that Ryan's private life is the source of the show's decline and a sort of unprofessionalism worse than Beltran's statement that he doesn't read the scripts.

That's nonsense. In fact it's worse than nonsense; it's unfair.

For better or worse, the network saw in Seven of Nine a character who could be used to attract young male viewers, and pushed her hard in every forum available; the actress' presence on magazine covers and talk shows came from the publicity office, not the producers. Moreover, Braga has been involved with the Trek franchise for more than a decade; his Voyager scripts were showing signs of burnout, and it's not surprising given his First Contact script that he liked having another Borg to write for.

UPN wanted Seven onscreen as much as possible, and the entire writing staff seemed delighted to have a new character to write for--a non-Starfleet character, someone they could use to poke holes in the storylines of their predecessors and make some changes in the Trek ethos. Whether you love or hate what Seven has brought to the series, it is ludicrous to suggest that any of it is Ryan's fault. She plays the character with strength, wit, and a presence notably lacking in the performances of those actors on Voyager who have been most vocal in their desire to get off the series. She does her homework.

It's just as ludicrous to suggest that Seven's been pushed so hard because Braga fell for Ryan the moment he saw her and forgot about all the other characters. Do the writers neglect Chakotay? Certainly. They did the same when Piller and Taylor were in charge. Has Neelix gotten a decent storyline in the past six years? Not really, but I think he's actually been stronger in the background recently than he was during the first few seasons.

I'm completely and totally in favor of fans complaining to Paramount if they resent Seven of Nine, if they find her character intrusive and diminishing of the captain, if they don't like having Borg storylines shoved down their throats, if they resent the catsuit and the overall treatment of female sexuality on the show. But bashing Jeri Ryan serves no positive purpose and distorts the real problem, which is that Braga seems even more burned out now than he did three seasons ago.

Ryan did a fine job on Dark Skies and was terrific in Men Cry Bullets. She's been involved in supporting gay and lesbian media, for which I applaud her. Like Bob Picardo, she's willing to sneer at the catsuit she wears, yet at the same time she respects the show enough to remain engaged with the work. Like Kate Mulgrew, she's a single mother balancing a lot of fan expectations and demands, and also like Kate Mulgrew, she has a right to demand some privacy.

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