“Caretaker” Parts I and II – VOY 1X1

I started this project with the original series because everything that came after was influenced by it. It was also the series most clearly experiencing tension between wanting to portray a progressive, egalitarian, humanist future while still being marketable to a 1960s audience.

I will be going back to more examples from TOS and the other series, but I wanted to leap ahead for a minute to Star Trek: Voyager, the series you’d assume would be the most feminist, given that it has the first woman Captain.

“Caretaker”, the premiere of Star Trek: Voyager is all kinds of awesome, as I realized when it first aired when I was nine.

Right from the very first scene, a tone is set that this will be a more diverse show than its predecessors. The first characters we’re introduced to are Tuvok, Chakotay and Torres – all characters of colour, including an obviously tough woman. Their Maquis ship is being pursued by the Cardassians and they’re not sure they’re going to make it, when suddenly they’re swept into a spatial anomaly.

Janeway and Paris in Caretaker

After the opening credits we meet Captain Kathryn Janeway as she negotiates getting Paris out of prison so he can help them track down his former Maquis colleagues. Our first impression of her is that she’s savvy and no-nonsense.

Paris, on the other hand, is kind of a cocky jerk, or at least that’s a front he’s gotten used to putting on.

He almost torpedoes the progressive tone the show has set so far when, eight minutes in, we see him sexually harassing his shuttle pilot, a Betazoid, as they head to Deep Space Nine:

“Until today I always considered your people warm and sensual.”

“I can be warm and sensual.”

“Just not with me.”

“Do you always fly at women at warp speed, Mr. Paris?”

“Only when they’re in visual range.”

Liz Lemon rolls her eyes and says "Oh Brother"

Anyway, on Voyager a bit later, Janeway is chatting with her fiancé, Mark, via 24th century Skype. Paris and Kim come in to meet her. By the time this exchange is over, 15 minutes in, we’ve seen that Janeway is also warm, caring, loyal and funny (when she tells Kim, “Ensign, at ease before you sprain something.”).

When Voyager gets tossed into the Delta Quadrant via the same anomaly that got the Maquis, Janeway takes charge and no one challenges her. Of course this makes total sense but it’s also a big freaking deal, given the challenges women in today’s society still face when breaking out of traditionally feminine roles and taking charge, whether that be in politics, the military, science careers, or the corporate world.

Anyway, on Voyager a bit later, Janeway is chatting with her fiancé, Mark, via 24th century Skype. Paris and Kim come in to meet her. By the time this exchange is over, 15 minutes in, we’ve seen that Janeway is also warm, caring, loyal and funny (when she tells Kim, “Ensign, at ease before you sprain something.”).

When Voyager gets tossed into the Delta Quadrant via the same anomaly that got the Maquis, Janeway takes charge and no one challenges her. Of course this makes total sense but it’s also a big freaking deal, given the challenges women in today’s society still face when breaking out of traditionally feminine roles and taking charge, whether that be in politics, the military, science careers, or the corporate world.

Janeway talks to the Caretaker

Skipping ahead, after the crews of both ships have some kind of insidious tests run on them by the creature on the Array, Janeway makes a deal with Chakotay to work together to find Kim and Torres, who have been abducted.

Janeway gets all up in Chakotay’s face when he starts getting mad at Paris for betraying them. And we add two more Janeway characteristics to our list: she’s loyal and she assertively sets and enforces boundaries of conduct on her ship.

Soon we meet Neelix, who it’s clear is going to be providing some comic relief going forward. He leads Voyager to the Ocampa homeworld where they want to rescue Kim and Torres but he wants to rescue Kes.

Kes with a bruised face before her rescue in Caretaker

Kes is really interesting in this episode. When we first meet her she’s been taken captive by the Kazon and she has a black eye and a bloody lip. She is initially quiet and shy and insecure. When they get her back to the ship she explains she left the underground city where her people live.

“I’m too curious. I’m told it’s my worst failing,” she says.

But it wouldn’t be accurate to say she’s weak. Soon she stands up to Neelix by insisting the two of them stay to help the Voyager crew. Then she stands up to an Ocampa elder, arguing passionately and intelligently that her people need to break free from their dependence on “The Caretaker” – the alien who runs the Array. And of course, she helps everyone escape up the treacherous tunnels to the surface.

Yet again, just as I’m loving the episode to death, Paris comes in and takes it in the wrong direction. As he’s rescuing Chakotay, who’s stuck in a tunnel with a broken leg, he decides racist jokes are a good way to go:

“If I save your butt, your life belongs to me. Isn’t that some kind of Indian custom?” Paris asks. Chakotay grimaces.

“Wrong tribe.”

Paris doesn’t take the hint and continues the asshattery:

“Isn’t there some Indian trick where you can turn us into a bird and fly us out of here?”

“You’re too heavy.”

It’s just kind of depressing that the writers would think offensive stereotypes about Indigenous peoples would persist into the 24th century and be appropriate material for jokes. Stay tuned on this because I know we’ll see more of those stereotypes cropping up in future Chakotay-focused episodes.

So the Voyager premiere isn’t perfect, but from a feminist perspective it’s a massive improvement over previous series and much more closely approximates a vision of the future where someone’s role in society is not limited by gender or race.

Bechdel-Wallace Test: Fail. Janeway does speak briefly, one-on-one with one of the Caretaker’s holographic manifestations, to try to find out information about the Array. However, the hologram is unnamed and is a facet of a male being. 

Janeway also ends the episode with an awesome, inspiring speech and there are women present but it’s not addressed directly to them so I don’t think it meets the test.


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