07:12:53 on February 15 2001
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By: Steve Krutzler
Dept: Reviews - Voyager
Reviews Ex Deus
Written for TrekWeb by 'O. Deus'
Summary: One of this season's and Voyager's best. Trapped and desperate Voyager has to choose between the ideals of the Federation and the predatory nature of the prisoners of the Void.
Along with the decline in quality and storytelling, one of the notable declines of the Berman created Star Trek spinoffs has been a decline in moral logic, in the ability to understand the ethics of a situation and make moral choices while showing both sides of the argument. Voyager itself has far too often relied on shrill rhetoric completely disconnected from reality and Janeway's set jaw to insist that X is the right choice without ever actually having a clear understanding of the issues. The result is a kind of tone deaf morality in which the heroes are right because they have a neat slogan and because they say they're right. The problems themselves have no complexity or texture and there's rarely any real doubt as to what the right choice is.
So The Void is even more suprising, not just because it accomplishes in one episode what Voyager never quite managed to pull off in its first two seasons, namely to show a Starship and crew in dangerous, unknown and hostile territory with their backs up against the wall and with the situation verging on real desperation. Not just because it's one of the clear and outstanding winners of a mediocre season and not even because it manages to show and state in 40 minutes the key factors in building a Federation type alliance that Andromeda hasn't managed to nail ever, despite this exact thing being the show's premise. The Void is genuinely surprising because Voyager actually manages to pull off an episode without any soap opera histrionics and mimninal personal storylines and instead just delivers a solid story that stands on its own. Even the generic Janeway\Chakotay arguments are cut short and the usual storyline clutter that appears in nearly every Voyager episode is also gone. Thus pared to the bone, Voyager manages to produce an inteligent, compelling episode set around space travel in the style of the Roddenberry Star Trek.
Voyager has done no shortage of anomaly episodes which is why we would expect that when Voyager is sucked into an anomaly that there would be some crew friction and then Seven and Co. would come up with some new technological trick and they would be out of there just in time for the credits. Instead, Void focuses not on the technological tricks but on survival because the ultimate solution to the Void doesn't lie in technology but in cooperation and returning to the ideals of the Federation. For far too many episodes of the Berman Treks, our heroes encounter some aliens who don't like our heroes and they clash. It can go on for years as on DS9 or for 40 minutes an episode as on Voyager but it's ultimately just a throw away plot with one flavor of blackhats or another who have to be taught a lesson. Very rarely do we get an examination of the underlying conflict and application of Star Trek's ideals to it (as in TOS's Arena) in a situation that can't just be resolved by a technolobabble gimmick. Instead, a moral choice has to be made, between the harder principled path or the predatory ends-justifies the-means solution.
And what is unique enough about Void is that this is one of the rare times in Star Trek where the principled choice actually makes more sense than the unprincipled one. All too often Berman era Star Trek presents the moral decision as a burden, a hairshirt that has to be worn to prove the sainthood of our heroes. This is an attitude that comes from the complete incomprehension of Star Trek's actual ideals. Kirk and Picard certainly weren't saints, they were flawed men struggling for a better cause. This better cause wasn't some Quixotic quest for the holy grail but the implementation and defense of a system that fostered mutual cooperation for common goals. A system that was both practical and capable. In the Void Janeway's alliance is a much more practical and sane choice than the pirate choice namely because if Voyager turns predator that would just mean being trapped in the void and fighting a losing battle for survival. It might lenghten their survival rate by a week or a month or maybe even a year but the final result would still be inevitable. Every predator is eventually eaten by something else. The alliance solution on the other hand was a gamble and a definite risk in the beginning but in the long run it was the only realistic option for survival since it would boost Voyager's resources with far less attrition and provide a realistic hope of escape.
There are times when the Federation seems naive, foolishly optimistic and just a weak system waiting to be taken advantage of and there are certainly times when Starfleet Captains have come off that way; but The Void reminds us what makes the Federation strong in the first place. The Klingons may make better warriors, the Cardassians may have better order and the Romulans better covert operations, the Borg may have larger numbers and more advanced technology but the Federation's strength comes as a pooling of resources to create a greater union. From a predatory standpoint the Federation may seem weak and inefficent and its diplomatic and peaceful agenda proof of its weakness, but these things are the focal points of its strength and Void does an excellent job of demonstrating just how that works in a way that not even TOS or TNG have quite managed. The idea that Federation and Starfleet ideals are outmoded and need to be dropped to survive in a "harsher reality" has become common currency among a certain faction of fandom and it was the premise of DS9's final seasons, The Void shows that it is in those harsher realities that the Federation needs its ideals the most.
While Janeway studying the Federation charter for loopholes as opposed to Starfleet regulations seems odd (would a Navy Captain study the Constitution in a crisis), it is a demonstration that the solution to the crisis came not from the regulations but from the very idealistic principles on which the Federation stands. Where Chakotay usually serves as the voice of reason trying to argue Janeway out of a short term blunder brought on by her melagomania and lack of basic common sense, in this case Janeway is arguing for long term survival and Chakotay arguing for short term survival. Tuvok's position here seems a bit odd since despite his fascist leanings, you'd still expect a Vulcan and a security officer so attached to the letter of the regulations to stay on the side of principle. The addition of the Void creatures is a bit of a weak plot point and detracts from other possible stronger storylines. At least Void doesn't make them the solution to Voyager's problems, while they do repay the crew's kindness and come in handy in the resolution; they're not that crucial to it either. More time spent on the various races and personalities would have been preferrable but fortunately, this time out, Seven's "growth as a human being" material is so thin it was either mostly left on the cutting room floor or never really written in the first place. All in all, Void would have worked better as a two parter like Year of Hell giving time for the situation to really sink in and allowing more time to be spent on the different races and their integration into Voyager's alliance. As it is, a lot of the material ends up being glossed over too quickly and we never really feel that Voyager's situation is as desperate as it was in Year of Hell.
Mike Vejar's direction is stunning as usual, though the special effects are noticeably weak. The anomaly effect looks like it could have come from TNG, the alien ships are not very memorable, and indistinct-- all blending together. The final escape is also not very impressive. Janeway's declaration about bigotry also rings false. After all, she was building an alliance with, as she put it, murderers and thieves. Does dislike of a parastic native species covered in filth who are unable to communicate really convey how evil someone is? Too much of this episode is also borrowed from Night including the strange species which live in a dark starless space and the moral choice. Finally, while Neelix's speech sounds very noble, he really has little in the way of resources and he essentially became Voyager's all purpose errand boy, native guide and comic relief; not the best example of Voyager's alliance. But then there's no such thing as a flawless episode anyway.
Next week: Voyager's crew get assimilated... but not by the Borg [for once].