‘Year of Hell’ – How to Deal With 2017 Using ‘Star Trek: Voyager’

During season 4 of Star Trek: Voyager there is an episode called ‘Year of Hell’. It’s pretty self-explanatory; everything that can go wrong for the crew aboard the SS Voyager, does go wrong. Unimaginably so. To give a little backstory to those who have never seen Star Trek: Voyager  before: a Starfleet crew and a Maquis crew (traditional enemies) are stranded in the uncharted Delta quadrant, many lightyears from home. The two crews band together in an attempt to cross the galaxy, a journey that will take over 70 years. It’s desperate, it’s tough and (unsurprisingly) it’s pretty eventful. The crew is headed up by Captain Janeway (queen of my life) who won the hearts and minds of so many Trek fans as the first female Captain. She’s badass, she’s strong but she’s also weighed down with the massive task of bringing her people home.

‘Year of Hell’ and ‘Year of Hell Part 2’ are possibly the most desperate episodes of the series. The crew, including Janeway, lose hope of ever returning home. Things just keep going from bad to worse, to ‘let’s just give up now’. Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s been a bit like this through 2016, and it’s probably going to carry on next year. Okay, we aren’t lost in a galaxy far from home and we aren’t being continually attacked by unknown alien species. However, we have had to suffer through the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in the West, and the conflicts in Syria and the Middle East are just getting worse. It’s been a really tough year. What makes it worse is that all of the repercussions of Trump, Brexit etc are going to come to fruition in 2017 – meaning that we aren’t even nearly out the other side. The proverbial shit has only just hit the fan, as they say.

 For some reason, for me anyway, watching the Voyager crew struggle through their own shit, feeling helpless but overcoming the odds every single time has been…well…pretty comforting at times.

I began my re-watch of Voyager before the major shitstorms of 2016 began. Like the other Star Trek series, Voyager portrays a world where Earth is a peaceful planet. People of all races, ethnicities, countries and genders work harmoniously together. Starfleet is a organisation of space exploration, and the prime directive is not to interfere with alien species that they encounter. A far cry from Britain’s colonialist past, or the Western involvement in any country that has oil. Star Trek, as a franchise, depicts a hopeful future for humanity, and Voyager is no different. Janeway and the crew could blast their way through the galaxy, destroying anyone who stands between them and home, but they don’t. They explore, they learn and they face moral dilemmas at every turn.

Considering that Star Trek represents a unified world, free from racism, sexism, misogyny and hatred, it couldn’t be more relevant that I began re-watching it this year. The UK’s departure from the EU (which I have to keep telling myself has not happened yet), represents the complete opposite of what Star Trek hoped to achieve. Though the Federation itself has some questionable initiatives, it succeeds in uniting the entire of Earth and various alien species along with it. Brexit Britain is basically the complete opposite, and America’s President-elect has made it clear that he has no intention of uniting with other nations – unless it’s in the mutually assured process of destruction. Yippee.

Shortly before ‘Year of Hell’ and ‘Year of Hell Part 2’, Seven of Nine joins the Voyager crew. She is a former Borg, assimilated into the Borg Collective at a very young age, and whilst some of the crew have their doubts – Janeway decides that Seven should be allowed to stay with the crew and be treated as part of it. The Borg are a universally hated species, owing mostly to their tradition of assimilating or destroying every species they come into contact with.

The hatred of the Borg species is actually really interesting, because pretty much all Borg were formerly another species that has been assimilated into the Borg Collective. There are humans, Vulcans, Klingons… you name it, the Borg have probably assimilated some of them. Throughout the Delta Quadrant, whomever Voyager came into contact with – the response regarding the Borg was always the same. We hate them.

Though in many, many ways very different, there is a similar and awful feeling all over the UK since June 23rd. Of course, I am not for one second suggesting that immigrants and refugees are comparable to the Borg (UKIP are much more comparable due to their lack of empathy and general bloodlust), but the intense and widespread xenophobia that the vote revealed in society has been shocking. Instead of seeing people as individuals, the Leave campaign wanted us to see immigrants as ‘groups’ (or a collective, perhaps). They aren’t individual people who have been forced into a tragic situation, Farage and co want us to see refugees as part of a hive-mind – brainwashed and radicalised yet wholly responsible for their own situation. Seeing refugees as an ‘evil’ and dangerous collective completely dehumanises them, hence why Match of the Day received complaints when Gary Lineker dared to suggest that perhaps those fleeing war were human, and you know, might require our help?

Much the same way as Donald Trump, refusing to acknowledge refugees as individual people who need our help makes it so much easier to ignore them.

In ‘Year of Hell’, Seven of Nine proved to be one of the most valuable crew members. She continues to be an integral part of the crew right up until the series finishes. Of course we shouldn’t rank people solely based on their economic or social helpfulness, but it still proves that we should never, ever discount people based solely on their race. Or gender, or sexuality, or religion for that matter. Instead of opening our borders and enriching our society with different cultures, traditions, languages, creativity, thought and ideas, we have chosen to close them off. Instead of a future of togetherness, collaboration and unity, we are faced with a sense of impending doom. Janeway would be furious.

All we can hope is that our year of hell is not followed by ‘Year of Hell Part 2’, as it is in Voyager. If it is, I guess we will all have to try to be more like our beloved Captain Janeway…We’ll hold our heads high, be counted and stand up for what is right.

 

Rogue One: If this is the face of feminism, we have a long way to go

Whilst sitting at home last week, surreptitiously scrolling tumblr with a cup of tea in hand, I stumbled across a set of title-cards for the new Star Wars film, Rogue One. They had been inspired by a YouTube comments section on one of the many trailers of the film, and they really tickled me. One of them proclaimed the film to be ‘feminist propaganda’, another that it was ‘liberal PC nonsense in space’. Another one read, ‘women should be in the kitchen, not in the galaxy’. I hoped that someone, somewhere would have the patience to explain to the author of the last review that kitchens are indeed within the galaxy, so the point is null and void.

It was actually these brief, yet pointed reviews that made me quite excited to see Rogue One. I am not, and have never really been, a fan of the Star Wars franchise. I sat through Episode 4, positively enjoyed Episode 5, can’t remember a single thing about Episode 5 and slept solidly through all of the prequels. However, I have seen Everything Wrong With for the prequels, so I feel like I’ve caught up with them okay. Despite not being a Star Wars fan (trekkie through and through), I absolutely loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens. There was a fantastic combination of action and humour, of old and new, of fan-service and a completely new look at the franchise. I laughed, I cried and I felt that this was my Star Wars. It spoke to me, it was made for me unlike the previous films. Rey was confident, clever and complicated. Finn was lost in the world, but his strength and loyalty made him a wonderful character.

The Force Awakens seemed to open itself up for a whole new generation of Star Wars fans. Instead of saying, ‘you can’t watch this unless you are a true fan’, it welcomed old and new fans with open arms. Yes, the narrative is almost a repeat of Episode 4. No, it’s not the most unique film that’s ever been made. Despite it’s flaws, The Force Awakens is self assured, cool and a whole lot of fun. It is completely accessible to never-before Star Wars fans, and I genuinely think that is why it satisfied so many viewers.

So then we come onto Rogue One. It was always going to have completely different tone, style and feel to The Force Awakens, but it’s sadly very difficult not to compare them – purely because they are the two latest installments of the franchise. They are, obviously very different films. The Force Awakens is (mostly) lighthearted. Physically, the colour scheme is bright with vibrant colours, beautiful set builds and an array of visually exciting scenes. The film depicts a new era, and though the main characters are fighting against forces of evil – there is a lot of optimism.

Rogue One plummets us into a war before we have even left the title credits. A young girl watches her mother die in front of her, her father drafted into enemy hands. The whole film follows this set-up – it’s dark, dank and depressing. The lighting is low, the characters dress in dark colours and there is a sense of desperation throughout. Rogue One depicts a war, rather than using the pre-film crawl to do so – as the other films in the franchise do. It’s darker than any other Star Wars film. It’s also kind of bland.

The main issue with Rogue One is that there is no narrative arch to speak of. We are introduced to the world, the main character (Jyn Erso, Felicity Jones), and then introduced to her mission. Go with the alliance, find the pilot who has her father’s message, decipher it and along the way, help bring down the Empire. She’s a reluctant hero (who isn’t, am I right?), but the story then plays out pretty much exactly how it is supposed to. There’s no third act plot twist, nothing appears to advance the plot and apart from Jyn’s very sudden change of heart about ‘hope’, everything goes along as expected. They all die, the end. The deaths themselves are inconsequential too, because we have barely got to know any of the characters before they get fatally killed in battle. It’s hard to care about someone when they’ve had less than 10 lines or any character development, and especially when people are dying on-screen left, right and centre.

I could go on, but what I actually want to talk about is the supposed ‘feminism’ of Rogue One. Let’s be clear, Rogue One is not a feminist film and Jyn Erso is not a feminist character.

Let’s begin with Jyn. Despite appearing to be in control of her own narrative, everything that Jyn does in Rogue One is governed by men around her. Nothing is of her own doing. She is only picked up by the alliance due to her relationship with two men; her father (Galen Erso, Mads Mikkelson) and her surrogate father, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whittaker). Other than taking ‘daddy issues’ to a whole new level (a horrible trope in itself), it also means that Jyn has no actual reason for entering into this story. She is merely being used to get to the men in her life. Her father is a scientist, Saw Gererra is an accomplished (and psychotic) rebel, but Jyn herself is only useful to get to them. Sure, there is a scene where Cassian watches Jyn fight off several stormtroopers at once – realising suddenly that she doesn’t need his help. Not only is this a complete carbon copy of a certain scene in The Force Awakens, it isn’t followed up with any character development or context. The most development Jyn has is the very sudden change of heart about defeating the Empire. 

Rogue One makes the most use of the absent father trope, and the idea of a motherless daughter. Fridging Jyn’s mother to enable her to ‘believe in the force’ (via a necklace) is at best lazy writing but at worst it’s a sexist trope which is far too regularly deployed – even just within the Star Wars universe itself. Remember Padme? Yeah…me too.

The real disappointment with Rogue One, however, is the distinct lack of female characters other than Jyn. We can count them on one hand; Jyn, her mother, Mon Mothma and the other female council member. We see two other female pilots towards the end of the film. Six if you count the CGI Princess Leia before the credits roll. To be fair, six female characters is more than you get in most action/sci-fi flicks these days, but what truly stumped me was just how male the Alliance was. All of those who volunteer to help Jyn retrieve the plans, are male. There is not one single woman among them. Just having a female lead character is simply not enough – diversity does not begin and end in one white woman. Despite this obvious lack of female characters, and complete disregard for intersectional feminism – a great many publications are calling Rogue One and Jyn feminist heroes (here, here or here). 

 

Perhaps the MRA reviews were right, and a woman’s place simply is not in the galaxy as there seemed to be a completely disproportionate amount of men to women in every single scene. Disproportiate is perhaps the wrong word… invisible seems to be more relevant for Rogue One. It’s interesting that the screenwriters and producers, who are fond of claiming just how diverse they want to make the Star Wars franchise, think that having a female lead is enough. I suppose there is a small consolation in that the Empire is still a old, white man’s game, and who better than old white men to represent the equivalent of space nazis, eh?

Black Mirror: Season 3 Review

Watching the new series of Black Mirror in one weekend is one really effective way of leaving your psyche in tatters by Sunday evening. However, it is also something really worth doing, even though series three was a bit hit and miss. As a huge fan of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror since the days of pig-fucking bonanzas (and who knew how that would turn out eh!), I had been waiting patiently for series three to drop on Netflix, and then promptly devoured it over last weekend.

Continue reading “Black Mirror: Season 3 Review”

Time of the Month: B’ELANNA TORRES (ST: VOYAGER)

Let’s talk about Star Trek: Voyager. I wrote some of my dissertation on Voyager, and I still maintain that it is one of the most progressive series of all time, and certainly one of the most progressive Star Trek series.

We are all aware of how ground breaking and ceiling shattering the original Star Trek is. I could go into great detail about just how ahead of it’s time the original series was by American, Japanese and Russian crew members all sharing equal responsibilities at the helm of the ship, in a series that aired in the 1960s. Or introducing one of the first black women to have an onscreen role as a qualified scientist and communications expert, not as a maid or servant. Or how forward looking Gene Roddenberry was to try and envision a world of global peace despite creating the series during the Cold War – an era of fear and global distrust. Yeah, we could go into that, but that’s not why we are here today.

We are here to celebrate one of the greatest characters on Star Trek: Voyager – B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson). Originally a part of Chakotay’s crew, B’Elanna and the rest of the Maquis reluctantly join Janeway’s crew on Voyager in the first episode, as they are stranded in the Delta quadrant. Lightyears from home (no exaggeration, they are roughly 75 years from Earth), the two crews are forced together – despite the fact that Voyager’s original mission was to apprehend the Maquis and bring them home. The two opposing sides have to join together in order to navigate their way back, through a quadrant so far uncharted by Starfleet.

So it’s a rocky start. B’Elanna is the Maquis ship engineer and would quite like it to stay that way. She’s slightly hot headed, has a quick temper but she is incredibly good at her job. Typically, in sci-fi or otherwise, engineer’s have always been a male fronted profession. So it’s a very welcome surprise when Janeway selects B’Elanna to be the ship’s Chief Engineer, placing the (male) Starfleet engineer as her second in command. This is a bold move. Women are rarely given “important” jobs or roles in science fiction, at least not until fairly recently. It’s regularly argued that Voyager actually paved the way for women to be involved in sci-fi in a much more prominent way, and the case of both Captain Janeway and B’Elanna, that is certainly true.

B’Elanna securing the role of Chief of Engineering sees her overcome the odds because of two things. Firstly, that she is female and secondly, that she is part Klingon. The Klingons, traditionally enemies of StarFleet, have reconciled with the human race by the time Voyager is set and so it is not ‘out and out’ racism directed at B’Elanna. She is, however, subjected to stereotypes that other crew members point out about the Klingon race. There is still stigma attached to being Klingon, and B’Elanna probably feels this prejudice worse because she is also a woman. Klingon’s exhibit traditionally masculine characteristics – you know, aggressive, intelligent, enjoy a good fight, that sort of thing. Though Voyager tries its damn hardest to come across as ‘post-gender’ (Captain Janeway’s refusal to be called “Sir” or “mam”, simply “Captain”), the show is still making a very critical point by giving the Chief of Engineering role to B’Elanna over her competitor: a white man. B’Elanna’s background means that she is at a unique intersection. She is a biracial feminine character and talented scientist, leader and engineer, who is logical, rational and highly intelligent.   However, her Klingon side is far more irrational, aggressive and ‘masculine. B’Elanna, quite literally, has two separate sides inhabiting her body – as explored in the season 1 episode ‘Faces’ (which we’ll discuss in a minute).

From the start, we understand that B’Elanna is probably going to go through some identity struggles throughout the show – possibly amplified by the fact that she is a woman too. Typically, characters who are part-human and part-*insert alien species here* tend to have narratives where they explore what that really means to them, and how they navigate it. Spock, Worf and Seven of Nine, Data and the Doctor (the latter two being human programmed holograms/androids)  all have in depth episodes exploring their identities.

B’Elanna is no different. In ‘Faces’, B’Elanna is physically separated into her two identities. An alien race, the Vidians, believe that they can cure a disease which ails their race by using Klingon DNA. They successfully kidnap and separate B’Elanna into two bodies – one of which is entirely human, the other of which is Klingon. Klingon B’Elanna has strength and courage, but is unruly and uncontrollable. Human B’Elanna is unconfident and scared, but is rational and patient. Though the two halves only meet towards the end, Human B’Elanna is convicted in her utter hatred for Klingon B’Elanna. She tells Tom Paris how she has spent her life trying to suppress her Klingon side, and we can see the whole episode as a physical manifestation of B’Elanna’s deep rooted identity issues. ‘Faces’ is probably the best episode in season 1 – and Dawson is fantastic as both the human and Klingon B’Elanna.

At the end of the episode, when B’Elanna is back to normal, she concludes to herself that, ‘I just have to accept the fact.. That I’ll spend the rest of my life fighting her’ (‘her’ being Klingon-B’Elanna). Throughout ‘Faces’, B’Elanna expresses a clear preference for her human side, but there is the small revelation that without her Klingon identity she would never have been able to escape the Vidians, or save her friends. We can see her ‘biraciality’ is overwhelmingly a good thing, but she has yet to learn that.

Though Faces’ is probably the closest we get to dissecting B’Elanna’s identity, there are several other moments where we get glimpses into how complex she really is, and her relationships with other crew members – notably Captain Janeway.

In ‘Dreadnought’, a deadly machine that B’Elanna programmed herself before Voyager’s arrival in the quadrant, is set to destroy Voyager and millions of people on nearby planets.  B’Elanna’s actions in programming the Dreadnought show how far she has come since her days on the Maquis crew ship, before joining Voyager. Despite her not being at fault, B’Elanna takes it upon herself to board the Dreadnought and attempt to stop the machine before it kills everyone. Her desire to save the Federation crew overrides the pride she has in re-programming the machine in the first place (a feat admired by most of the crew). As B’Elanna attempts to change the Dreadnought’s trajectory, her own pre-programmed security voice speaks to her – she essentially ends up arguing with her past self  via the Dreadnought. The whole situation is allegorical of B’Elanna’s changes in identity; Klingon to human, Maquis to Federation.

Interestingly, as in ‘Dreadnought’, B’Elanna and Janeway often disagree on the best way to tackle a problem. Whilst Starfleet regulation is pretty clear that Starfleet is not a democracy and the Captain dictates the orders, Janeway appropriately twists this rule when necessary. It’s important to note that Janeway respects and supports B’Elanna in her decisions (we can especially see this in ‘Dreadnought’), and to recognise that Janeway is a white woman who commands the respect of the crew, whereas B’Elanna is a mixed race woman (Roxann Dawson is also Latino) who has a troubled past. It’s an important symbol of the ‘equality’ that Voyager tries to portray.

In a lot of sci-fi/action films or television series, the ‘tough girl’ trope is regularly employed. B’Elanna seems to fit this trope – she is undeniably tough, she is a leader and she has a lot of traits that we understand as typically masculine. The ‘tough girl’ (also known as the ‘strong female character’) denies herself any kind of femininity, and constantly seeks to prove to the audience that women are just as capable as men, essentially becoming ‘pseudo-men’. B’Elanna definitely starts out as a ‘tough girl’,  but seems to move away from the stereotype later in the series. She starts to understand herself and allow herself to feel emotions – as is evident with her relationship with Tom Paris. She is proof of the multi-dimensionality that female characters can have – she can be a terrific leader, engineer, lover, friend and eventually mother too. B’Elanna isn’t defined by any one of these roles, she encompasses all of them.

Basically, B’Elanna Torres is probably the most underrated character in Voyager (and quite possibly the entire Star Trek universe). Thoughts?

#YouCanSeeThemBoth: ‘Sisters’ and ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

This week, I went to the cinema twice. Considering I’ve only been to the cinema four times in the past year (two of those visits were this week), that’s a pretty incredible achievement for me. Continue reading “#YouCanSeeThemBoth: ‘Sisters’ and ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’”

X-Files Revival: An Open Letter to Chris Carter

I probably haven’t mentioned this before, but I am a huge fan of ‘The X Files’. Huge. I’ve watched the series through about five times and considering I only started watching it properly in 2013, I feel like that is quite an accomplishment. Continue reading “X-Files Revival: An Open Letter to Chris Carter”

Daddy Issues: As Told By ‘Interstellar’ & ‘Contact’

You might have noticed that 90s blockbuster Contact (Robert Zemeckis) and recent sci-fi brainteaser ‘Interstellar’ (Christopher Nolan) have quite a bit in common. Continue reading “Daddy Issues: As Told By ‘Interstellar’ & ‘Contact’”