Mark Watches ‘Voyager’: S07E22 – Natural Law

In the twenty-second episode of the seventh season of Voyager, well… they tried? If you’re intrigued, then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

Trigger Warning: For talk of racism (specifically against indigenous cultures), colonization. 

Like… I can see what the show was trying to do here? There’s a noble purpose to the story in “Natural Law,” since the writers want to claim that the disruption of indigenous communities is a bad thing. I get that, but it’s such a simplistic idea, and indigenous people around the world are so much more complicated than that?

Look, I’m gonna complain a lot, but I also don’t want anyone to think that I’m Native myself or that I should be a source of information here. I want to stay in my lane as much as possible while talking about this, but there are too many missteps to ignore. As a whole, “Natural Law” feels incredibly paternalistic, as if indigenous people need to be literally shielded by other (and more “advanced” cultures) in order to survive. At no point does anyone talk about how fucking weird it is that these people are trapped within that shielding! Do they ever discover the boundaries of the shield? Are they ever curious about what exists outside their lands? See, this makes this group seem simple in an insidious way, as if they’re just too ignorant to ever truly learn more about the world around them. Worse, there appears to be no growth or evolution in the Ventu at all, despite that they’ve been unbothered for hundreds of years

Oh, the writers certainly portray the Ventu as a peaceful, resourceful people, but I don’t think that’s enough. First of all, I can’t get over the ridiculous decision to paint their skin red. Like… reverse those two words. You have a slur. DID NO ONE THINK ABOUT HOW UNCOMFORTABLE THAT IS? Oh god, what if that was intentional? That would mean that this show painted mostly (perhaps entirely) white actors with literal red paint in order to create an indigenous culture. Of course, that’s not enough, because there’s that goddamn pan flute again. Did you think they’d be able to resist it when creating a soundtrack for a race that doesn’t even know what panflutes are? That appears not to have any music at all? Oh, they couldn’t help it! Because mystical panflutes = Native people!

Speaking of that… did the writers remember that they had an actual Native person as a character? Like, someone who’s been around for six and a half years? Because for an episode about the right for indigenous cultures to be able to exist, it felt egregious that Chakotay didn’t talk about it at all. He had no stories? No insight? No possible look at this issue at all? Yes, I suppose I need to accept that the issues that had surround indigenous rights on Earth had been “solved” in the past, but surely, there’s still some sort of tradition to pass along stories? The bigger problem, I suppose, is that in the entire history of this show, the writers couldn’t actually define what tribal nation Chakotay belonged to, and thus, his identity doesn’t feel real. It feels like a skin for a character in a game, not something that’s fully fleshed out and complex.

So, there are some longstanding issues at work, and then there’s the clumsy handling of a real issue that indigenous folks everywhere still face. Their land, their culture, their well-being is still under threat of extermination and assimilation! What does this episode propose as the solution? Walling them off from the rest of society. Which, for the record, doesn’t address the colonial tendencies of the dominant groups at all, and that isn’t focused on at all. Hell, the script for “Natural Law” doesn’t even introduce this conflict until there are just ten minutes left in the episode, so there wasn’t ever a chance to develop this notion in any satisfying way. But let me propose one more idea here: were the Ventu worth saving because of what they offered other people? What if they weren’t as passive? What if they hadn’t been as friendly? Would they still deserve their right to self-identity and to have autonomy? The Ventu felt designed, as if they needed to be just the right amount of peaceful and adorable so that we’d feel bad about their predicament.

We shouldn’t need to like a people in order to be good to them. That feels like a cop out, honestly. Again, I can see the intent of this episode, but the execution is, frankly, a mess.

The video for “Natural Law” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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