In the tenth episode of the first season of Voyager, HOW IS THIS SHOW SO RELENTLESSLY MESSED IN THE FIRST SEASON. HOW. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Oh my god, this show is going to wear my soul out. After “Eye of the Needle” and “Emanations,” I honestly thought that Voyager might give me a break. And honestly, in the early parts of “Prime Factors,” I suspected that something so full of joy and pleasure had a dark side to it. Technically, there isn’t much of one here, and yet? AND YET??? The writers for this show still find a way to crush the soul of everyone on this ship. REPEATEDLY. IN TOTALITY.
I knew, y’all. I knew that this had to be too good to be true. But in reflecting on the experience of this episode, the “conflict” only comes from the fact that the Voyager crew is so far from home. There’s indeed some cultural friction here, and I adore the way it’s explored. It’s not that the Sikarian culture is a terrible thing. In fact, for the most part, it’s pretty fantastic! But their values are so wholly different from most humans. They don’t crave permanence in the same way, nor are their interpersonal relationships pursued as many of ours are. Well, to a point. I don’t know that I craved permanence in relationships in my early 20s; I actually loved the freedom I had in choosing who to spend time with. But I understood what Janeway was referring to, and I understood why she felt so threatened and offended by Gath’s behavior. On top of that, Gath couldn’t truly sympathize with the Voyager crew because he was home. Why would anyone want to leave the Sikarian homeworld when it was so pleasant? He can’t understand the angst that these people are experiencing because he’s always moved from one pleasurable thing to another.
Really, though, this is a subplot that plays a minor part in what unfolds in “Prime Factors.” Which is pretty stupendous because it’s so entertaining all on its own. This episode presents the entire crew with an ethical dilemma that’s both tempting and frustrating. After learning that Sikarians possess a device that allows for the transportation of matter up to 40,000 lightyears, they all become consumed with the hope that their journey home could be cut by more than half. Now, we’ve seen this before, but honestly, I think it’s so much more intense here because Harry traveled via the Trajector and demonstrated how 100% possible this was. It’s not a theory; it’s a reality for these people.
So when Gath justifiably refuses to allow for Sikarian technology to leave their hands, it is also understandable that the Voyager crew is horribly frustrated by the decision. Something that’s so simple to them is much more complicated for the Sikarians because their entire culture is centered around pleasure. How could they ever live with the thought that their creations were used for anything other than pleasure?
It’s the desperation that these people feel that leads many of them to make some complicated, upsetting decisions. I think the most fascinating of them all comes from Tuvok. A great deal of development for his character and his relation to Janeway happened off-screen, but based on their frequent interactions, we see how often Janeway consults Tuvok. It’s a constant thing, and Janeway has spoken highly of her security officer many times. Thus, I knew when he volunteered himself to make that unethical swap that THIS WAS A HUGE FUCKING DEAL. I was less surprised by Seska, Carey, and B’Elanna carrying out a covert plan to use the Trajector, though I still understood how dangerous and risky it was.
I’m only ten episodes into this show, y’all, and I appreciate that I’ve already got a grasp of sorts on who these people are. I understood why Seska was so critical of B’Elenna’s reluctance to disobey Janeway! B’Elenna had never really been one to respect Starfleet in the first place, and Seska was shocked by her friend’s behavior. But I also knew why these people would take such a huge risk anyway.
I DID NOT KNOW THAT I WOULD SOON EXPERIENCE DISAPPOINTED JANEWAY AND THAT IT WOULD BE ONE OF THE MOST UPSETTING THINGS I HAVE EVER SEEN. Holy shit, was she scolding me? I felt consumed by guilt at the end of this episode as if I had been behind the Trajector incident. That is how intensely emotive Kate Mulgrew is, y’all. I HURT. ALL OVER. I really feel that it was a bold choice to stick such an uncomfortable episode this early into the season. It establishes the initial period of desperation, but it also allows Janeway to demonstrate her need for loyalty and friendship. And that’s something I feel like we’ve never quite capture with the other Trek shows. There are plenty of friendships across canon, but given the situation these people are in, friendship and companionship is more important. Frankly, it’s one of the main things they’ll need to survive. If that’s the case, then Janeway cannot have her crew acting behind her back as if they can’t trust her.
Whew, the end of this episode stung. GOOD GOD.
The video for “Prime Factors” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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