I have been watching Voyager a lot. I mean every day, a lot. Voyager is one of those Star Trek series I watched when I was in high school off and on but it still wasn’t my Star Trek like The Next Generation. Yes, Picard, you are my captain!
My Dad loved Star Trek. We could have discussions about the episodes, talk about our favorite characters, and debate who’s the best captain. While Dad was in the hospital, we talked a lot about Doctor Who and Star Trek. I remember having a debate about TNG versus Voyager with him. It was plainly obvious Captain Kathryn Janeway was thought as a superior captain to my beloved Captain Jean-Luc Picard by him. The problem was I couldn’t give an honest assessment about Janeway because Voyager was not a series I voraciously watched like TNG.
Now here I am somewhere in the middle of season 6. I find myself constantly thinking about Janeway, especially since the end of season 5 with a two-parter leading into season 6 called the Equinox.
In Equinox, Voyager finds another Starfleet crew being attacked by aliens in the Delta Quadrant. The Voyager crew is excited to find others like them trying to get home. It’s been years since they’ve encountered any other humans, so it makes sense Janeway feels some sympathy and responsibility to the handful of people on the Equinox. Voyager shields the Equinox and looks further into why the aliens are attacking.
As Voyager further investigates, it is discovered the crew of Equinox is harvesting the attacking aliens to obtain bio-energy to get home sooner. Janeway rightfully has the crew of the Equinox thrown in the brig for breaking Starfleet’s Prime Directive. Ransom and his crew were being attacked and killed by these aliens because the aliens were being murdered to power their ship! It stands against Starfleet principles, those of which Janeway has upheld her crew to abide by in order to survive together and make it back home to the Alpha Quadrant.
The Equinox crew escapes with the help of their EMH who’s ethical subroutines are turned off by Ransom. Janeway decides she must bring The Equinox crew back at all costs and puts the crew of Voyager in danger while in pursuit of Equinox, even at the protest of Chakotay and Tuvok. But let’s not forget to mention, Seven has also been captured by Equinox and the EMH from Voyager is being forced to operate on her. The procedure would leave Seven severely disabled or dead.
Janeway has some fairly understandable reasons to go after Equinox and bring them to justice. Oh boy, is she angry! The Equinox has caused the aliens to attack Voyager, kidnapped and tortured Seven, captured and manipulated the Voyager’s EMH, and killed off a species to make it home just a fraction sooner.
I would say there is enough reason for Janeway to jump in and take some risks in order to bring justice to everyone hurt by Ransom and his crew. Voyager does capture a member of Equinox’s crew and place him where the attacking aliens are about to breach the area to coerce information out of him. Chakotay protests Janeway to stop and Janeway says he will break before the aliens breach the area. Chakotay saves the Equinox crew member. Janeway strips Chakotay’s rank for disobeying.
This is where it is hard for me to believe what is going on. Janeway earlier in the episode believes Starfleet’s Prime Directive has kept her crew together and safe as they’ve made their way home through the Delta Quadrant in face of adversity. She makes it clear to Ransom in the episode even. Now she’s breaking Starfleet principles by holding an Equinox crew member’s life over his head for answers? I couldn’t find an explanation in the episode why this really adds up. It may have been to display the theme of how one can easily become the monster they are chasing. Perhaps Janeway is more similar to Ransom than we are led to believe.
This may very well be the result of bad writing There are several inconsistencies with Janeway as a character from past episodes and in Equinox. Voyager after the first two seasons has a lot of poorly written episodes which either fail to support building the world or the character. There seem to be many episodes where there are no true consequences for some actions since it is all forgotten by the next episode. I chalk this up to poor writing, but for the purposes of analyzing Janeway as a character let’s pretend the writers wrote Equinox with a specific intention.
Towards the end of the second part of the episode, Ransom has a change of heart and helps Voyager capture his own crew. At the end, Janeway and Chakotay pick up a Starfleet plaque they’ve always seen placed on the wall of the ship and Chakotay states they should put it back up where it belongs. Janeway speaks with Chakotay and admits he may have had a reason to stage his own mutiny.
If you are a fan at all of Star Trek, you cannot go without hearing about how many feel Janeway is a terrible captain. She tends to act on instinct and is usually very protective of her crew, not unlike a mother bear. Janeway claims to hold to strict Starfleet principles but many times breaks the very principles she claims to uphold. This does not create an endearing captain. These traits are off-putting to the audience. Generally, a conflict between the character and what the audience wants from their captain does not create a well-loved captain.
The audience wants their captains to be principled and their decisions to be as rational as possible. Also, the audience wants the character’s actions and reactions to make sense for the character from past episodes. Janeway’s character arc does not make sense in Equinox. The audience wants a perfectly endearing captain, but not all the captains in Star Trek always make the best choices and I would say Janeway might have more than her fair share of mistakes. Is it really a fair expectation for this character, though? I’m not completely sure.
Many times I questioned Janeway’s decisions as I’ve watched Voyager recently and find myself not smitten by her due to her choices. Also, I find myself frustrated when there is no explanation for an unexpected turn in Janeway’s character arc. She is not like my favorite, Captain Picard, but even Picard had misjudgments (think First Contact) and I feel I can relate to him and his struggles.
Janeway reminds me of Captain James T. Kirk. She reacts a lot by her gut. She even says this throughout the series. Yes, she’s a scientist and I think she does hold values of a scientist but she will not ignore her instincts. In many ways, this is very much like Kirk.
Perhaps since the crew of Equinox is Starfleet and they are the only humans represented in the Delta Quadrant, Janeway feels some responsibility for them. The Equinox is representing Starfleet and other species might believe humans are all murderous and not to be trusted. It sets up a terrible precedent for the future of Starfleet if Voyager was to allow one of their own to go unpunished for the death of another species. Janeway seems to always value her empathy and tolerance for other species so it makes sense why she might have gone as far as she did. Besides, the crew of Equinox also held two of Voyager’s crew captive.
Although, Janeway is not my favorite captain I’m still a fan of this character. I respect her despite my gut disagreements with the character’s decisions and dislike for the character arc. She is not a perfect captain, but she is a strong heroine. She isn’t a perfect strong heroine. She is layered, complex, and sometimes she makes poor decisions.
Janeway is lost in the Delta Quadrant for 7 years, holds her crew together (yes with the help of other members of Voyager as I would expect from a close-knit family), and still carries on with the whole business of being the captain. It’s a tall challenge and Captain Janeway takes it on boldly and without backing down.
Captain means you take responsibility for not only your actions, but of your own crew, and even other Starfleet members. The job is not for the faint of heart. I admire Janeway for leading as a captain despite her vulnerabilities and flaws. She never lets it hold her down.
Here’s to you, Captain Janeway! Go on with your bad self!