In the seventeenth episode of the seventh season of Voyager, those not brainwashed race to save the members of their crew who are. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of consent and nonconsensual drugging.
So, the “Workforce” two-parter is still fucked up, but it’s not quite as bad as I worried it was gonna be. The second half of this storyline addresses practically everything I needed to know, drawing lines of complicity and accountability very clearly through the script so that I know where the blame lies:
Dr. Kaden and those in the Quarren government who knew what he was doing.
Indeed, this addresses one of the most complexing elements of the first half: why hadn’t the Quarren authorities attracted people to work for their society by advertising their excellent working conditions? The truth is that they did, but weren’t aware of the horrific lengths Dr. Kaden and his associates had gone to profit off the labor shortage. AND OF COURSE DR. KADEN TRIED TO JUSTIFY WHAT HE WAS DOING.
What I didn’t expect from this episode, however, was the subtle way in which Kaden’s own plan began to backfire. Dr. Kaden kept meticulous records of his own brutality, and short of outright admitting that he’d reprogramed thousands of people’s minds, his filing system was one of the most damning bits of evidence. He numbered these workers in sequential order! He didn’t bother to hide that there were intakes of the same species, either, but I write that off as arrogance and certainty more than anything else. He treated any “exceptions” to his monstrous acts by making up a fictional condition called Dysphoria Syndrome, so he never assumed he’d ever get caught. (You know, upon writing this, I’m now curious if anyone who actually has dysphoria feels weird about the name of this condition within the episode.)
But there are just so many threads that come unraveled here. Tuvok’s last-second mind-meld puts doubt into Seven of Nine, and it was such an incredibly effective choice. Who else would be able to assimilate (HA) lots of data and be able to recognize patterns? It’s specifically because of Seven’s natural talents – which Dr. Kaden had left intact – that she begins to assemble a damning case against him. Then, we’ve got Yerid and Dr. Ravoc, who represent natural Quarren citizens, meaning those who were not brought to the planet against their will or did not immigrate of their own accord. Both of them begin to develop suspicions when the facts don’t add up. In Dr. Ravoc’s case, it’s his proximity to Dr. Kaden that rouses his criticism. But Yerid begins to believe Seven when he can’t ignore the inconsistencies that she’s found.
I was also glad that the episode confirmed that Jeffen himself had genuinely moved to Quarren and had no idea about this monstrous program. As far as I can tell, few people did, and that was by design. (I respect that Dr. Ravoc refused to comply, by the way.) Yet there’s still a tragedy here! Jeffen fell for Janeway, and their relationship was real. Despite that, it’s still torn apart because of the circumstances, and I couldn’t help but feel sad about that. The script dances around the fact that Chakotay still has feelings for Janeway, but it never really delves into that awkwardness. He has to watch Janeway fall in love with someone, enough that she’s willing to move in with the guy, and they’re co-workers, which must have felt like salt in the wound. So, lots of furtive, frustrated glances in this episode, but the episode never gives them a textual focus, you know? I would have loved to see more of that.
Regardless, I’m surprised that while the word “consent” wasn’t used in the episode itself, there are clear lines drawn about what was and was not appropriate, and that’s all I ask of a script that deals in such a terribly fucked up landscape. What Dr. Kaden did was wrong, and thankfully, the other victims were liberated and repatriated by the Quarren government. The show treated B’Elanna’s rehabilitation with care and sensitivity, particularly that one scene where Neelix knew that he needed to leave B’Elanna by herself to do some of the work of healing on her own. And man, B’Elanna and Tom get such a sweet and tender scene at the end of all of this, and I appreciate that as well. Same goes for Jeffen and Janeway. All of these characters went through something traumatic and intense, so that tenderness matters. Even if we don’t see all of the aftercare and therapy that they have to go through, what we do see is more than I expected.
The video for “Workforce, Part II” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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