Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Star Trek: Voyager and Captain Janeway

On facebook, friend me at http://facebook.com/jacqueline.lichtenberg/

I am in a Group titled Bring Back Kathryn Janeway, and some other Star Trek groups.

The Janeway group has a twitter account and on facebook has over 500 members.

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=366418642046

I happened to think of the Janeway Group recently because a fellow found me on facebook who had interviewed me years ago about Spock's popularity.

http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=100000108289003

His article is now posted here:

http://mystartrekscrapbook.blogspot.com/2010/04/1976-article-spock-part-2-analysis.html

Click on the image and you can get it up to readable size print.

So as happens constantly, Star Trek is back in front of my nose, and I found myself thinking about Janeway.

If you poll an audience at a con panel about Star Trek: Voyager you get about half hating it and about half liking it or feeling it's "ok" but not the best of the bunch.

If you poll on Janeway as a character, the men reject her and the women like (if not adore) her.

What's going on there?

Star Trek: Voyager had an innate fatal flaw built into the very premise.

The flaw is the same flaw you often find in "SFR" (Science Fiction Romance) or PNR or Fantasy-Romance.

There is a GIANT PREMISE which is absolutely fascinating, energizing, and makes you anticipate watching.

The story starts, and something diverts attention from the premise onto a looming, maybe life-threatening problem, and then onto another problem, and another problem takes priority, and another problem explodes to top priority.

Meanwhile, everyone is waiting and waiting for the PAYOFF - the original primise to be advanced, woven in, and eventually evolve into a conflict that can be resolved.

It's a pattern you see in Time Travel Romance, for example. The author worldbuilds us a nifty time-travel device, accident, premise. One lover-to-be falls or leaps through into another time or universe ---- and never looks back.

We don't find out how the time-travel device works, why it works, how to make it work on purpose and take us where we want to be, or anything interesting. I mean lovers can meet and bond anywhere, anywhen, but there's only ONE Time-Travel-Device that defies physics as I know it. If the device is introduced first, I need to know all about the device, not about the lovers.

If the lovers are introduced first, and the device is a support to that.

For example: one lover is stuck in our time and invents the device on purpose to get to the other lover stuck in some other time - maybe with a plan of fleeing to a 3rd Time - then the way the device works doesn't matter to the story.

But if a device exists, (first before we meet any people), and a person falls through it by accident, then if that person is worth my attention, that person will not rest a moment or think of anything else or feel anything else until they've figured out how the device works and how to command it to take them "home" -- no matter the lure of the current time.

Likewise, with Voyager and Janeway. Here is this SPACE SHIP (wow, a Starfleet ship that isn't THE Enterprise! Bring it on!), and here is this Captain -- (wow, a woman Starship Captain - bring it on!)

Then all of a sudden, they are swept to the back side of nowhere.

They turn around and start trying to figure out how to get home.  And they don't. 

Then this happens, that happens, nothing happens, around and around, and they're on a 70 year trek to home with incidents (incidents mind you, not plot developments) along the way.

They forget about striving to get home through most of the episodes -- where they may be fighting for their lives or for Starfleet principles -- but essentially it's episodic so the Situation is returned to the status quo at the end of each episode. Net-net -- nothing happened.

Well, "nothing happened" is still interesting but only if SOMEONE CARES that nothing happened. Someone has to be frustrated, striving against the barriers preventing something from happening, trying schemes and plots and theories - maybe failing but continually trying. Never for an instant forgetting the goal. 

But that isn't how it goes through most of Star Trek: Voyager.

You have the same plot problem that creates boredom in STAR GATE: UNIVERSE.

In Universe the Ancient relic of a ship is stuck out there and they can't even control it -- OK, they can communicate with home, but still they go from harrowing situation to disaster to this and that and the other thing - and NOTHING HAPPENS with the original premise which was interesting.

In Star Gate: Universe - the premise was there's this Earth outpost that gets attacked and the humans there evacuate onto this relic ship via stargate. Then -- so what? They're stuck as passengers just facing harrowing situations to survive -- not to MAKE PROGRESS mind you, but just to survive.

It's not a story. It's not a plot.

Now they've brought in some vicious aliens who want the relic starship, and they're playing cat and mouse with aliens on their tale, unable to control the ship. Nothing happens.

So you see the recipe for how to kill a series the higher ups in the network hate.

Take a premise guaranteed to sucker in the very audience you want to destroy, ignore that premise because of one emergency after another, and the audience will just wander off to watch White Collar.

If you present a premise first - then work that premise TO THE BEATS - don't bore the audience.

Now, back to Janeway herself.

Frankly, I think what "they" did to this character was the same kind of thing that was done to the show by tossing the premise aside.  They had a dynamite premise -- Kathryn Janeway, woman Starship Captain, Kirk watch out!  And they flipped it off and tossed it aside. 

JANEWAY as a character is exciting because of the potential she has for changing the Trek Universe, the politics and sociology of Star Fleet and interplanetary relationships.

The show's guardian angels recognized that potential, and cobbled onto the mess an ending that might have worked. They brought her back to Starfleet using new technology, time-travel, alternate-universe gimmicks, and she brought back data that changed things.

OK, that's good. So what's wrong with Star Trek: Voyager?

That ending was not INHERENT IN THE OPENING 5 EPISODES.

We were not sitting there anticipating that ending, knowing things the characters did not know, watching them figure it out, seeing their bravery, boldness, audaciousness, and heroism win the day. We didn't see them grow beyond all those heroic traits to bonding with each other despite the barriers to that.  We didn't see Love Conquering All.  We had no idea of what the "All" was that needed "Conquering." 

We couldn't see the overall shape of the VOYAGER story-line from the beginning because the writers didn't know it. The ending was not implicit in the beginning. That doesn't make for a surprise ending or a twist. It makes for a dull show with a deus ex machina ending.

The main character of this story is Janeway.

And that character only contributed to the "confusion" that drove half the audience away.

Yet look at all the Janeway-Chakotay fanfic -- (and other slashes and mashes!).

There's Trek magic in those characters, no doubt about it.

So why does half the audience shrug Janeway off as a non-entity? They don't "hate" her - that would be exciting! They don't even despise her. They think she's a bad Captain and a total wash out as a person.

Why do they think that?

Maybe a better way to phrase it is, "Why don't I think that?"

The answer is Kate Mulgrew.

Mulgrew was handed the short and very dirty end of the stick here.

Janeway was written to be one person in the first episode, another totally different person in #2, and opposite in #3, and skewed in #4, and different again in #5 and so on.

She was never the same person in two successive scripts.

Then as a weekly series must, the producers used different directors on different episodes.

So Janeway was directed to "be" different people - trying to "correct" the writing by directing and acting.

Little by little, Mulgrew created a character --

And that's why I love VOYAGER!

Mulgrew showed us what a real actor can do with an impossible situation.

Keep in mind STAR TREK: VOYAGER is "supposed to be science fiction" -- but as with all the other Treks, the fanfic shows us that it's not. It's really ROMANCE seen from another point of view.

Actually, that's the real difference between or among genres. Any story can be made into any genre by just changing the point of view character and sometimes the "narrative voice" (first person to third person narrative).

Mulgrew took the confused, conflicting, mutually exclusive Janeways she was handed and created a unified, whole, complete HUMAN BEING from the mishmosh.

She created a CHARACTER with depth, facets, inconsistencies that flesh out and illuminate the inner subconscious depths of character the way the very best classics show us character.

The one crippling lack in the material handed to Mulgrew was the lack of RELATIONSHIP. Kirk on-screen displayed relationships, but Janeway wasn't allowed to.

But the fans fixed that. The Fanfic shows us Janeway deep into complex relationships worthy of the complexity of character, the realistic complexity Mulgrew created from the contradictions.

However, Janeway was still a character in a TV show -- an anthology TV show not a really good ARC TV show like Babylon 5.

TV show characters are not allowed to be "classic" - rich, deep, multi-faceted.

Worse, Janeway was still a character in a science fiction TV show, and we all know science fiction is only for teenage boys who are squeamish around girls and basically nerds who will never be able to hold a relationship, right?

So despite the incredible job Mulgrew did, the accomplishment is unsung.

Now, just imagine if STAR TREK: VOYAGER were an actual SFR complete with rich, deep, conflict-ridden RELATIONSHIPS!

Imagine if the writers had actually had a plot for the series, as Babylon 5 had.

In that case, you might be able to see Janeway.

As it is, this gem of a character is encrusted and hidden beneath the rubble of failures of other creative people. All of those who worked on this show are, individually, not only talented but highly skilled and know better than to do this. But for some reason, upper management or whatever, they were not allowed to do what they know how to do -- or not inspired or properly rewarded.

So I say Bring Back Janeway - in another universe than the one we met her in, and let's see what happens with good writing, great directing, and an actual plot, some really Up In Space Romance (as opposed to Down To Earth Romance) and plentiful story-arcs like Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://www.simegen.com/jl/

13 comments:

  1. Great post. I'm one of the people who liked Janeway and definitely thought she got shortchanged. I liked the Paris/Torres relationship that developed but a Janeway relationship would have had more umph since she was the captain stuck out in space. Alone. It could have been awesome.

    I've just started to write SF, and I'm finding the romance part very handy in complicating matters for the heroine, in addition to softening out the sharper edges of the action scenes.

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  2. I believe I've heard you apply the phrase "hung hero" to the kind of situation set up in VOYAGER: If the problem inherent in the original premise is ever solved, the series has to end. So all sorts of things unrelated to the original premise have to happen in order to keep the series going.

    FOREVER KNIGHT had the same trouble. Nick wants to be mortal again. If he becomes mortal, the series ends, so what's supposed to be his central goal can never be achieved. (For one thing, the main interest of FK was that it was a *vampire* series; if Nick ceased to be a vampire, he would lose most of his appeal.) I liked almost everything about FK except the premise. Aside from the "hung hero" problem, I didn't *want* the vampire "cured" anyway.

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  3. Coming from a multi-generational Trekkie family, we recognized the 'Too Many Cooks Spoiled the Soup' going on with Voyager early in the series. Seriously, why couldn't Janeway keep the puppy?

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  4. Margaret:

    Oh, yes, HUNG HERO was echoing in my mind all through writing that post, but it wasn't supposed to be a post about craftsmanship.

    But that's the technical name for what went wrong with VOYAGER.

    FOREVER KNIGHT though isn't a hung hero because he keeps making progress, keeps trying go-for-broke experiments, (even succeeds for a day), never loses sight of his goal.

    His goal is not to become human again, but to ATONE FOR HIS SINS, and that he does with every innocent victim he protects, every criminal he stops.

    So he's not hung, nor diverted -- not even by his relationship issues -- SHE is part of his atonement, perhaps evidence that he's actually near his goal of paying for all his sins.

    He also deals with the whole cross-burns-him issue, with going into churches, with actually being almost dead. He RISKS HIS UNLIFE for the sake of others.

    So the plots are almost all on-target with the premise, and progress toward the Hero's Goal is made with each episode.

    Kimberan is correct, the problem with most TV shows is cooks and broth.

    With the original Trek, the higher-ups didn't care so GR had free reign until they noticed, then they cracked the whip.

    They keep trying to repeat the popularity of Trek without ever asking WHY IT WAS POPULAR, or at least without nailing an operational answer to that.

    They all have theories, and they all miss the mark because they don't study the fans.

    But I have an even bigger theory about Trek's popularity I need to write about at length. These tiny blog posts just won't hold it all.

    Tiny. Blog. Posts.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com

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  5. Thank you so much for this blog post. I am Sharon Smith from the Face Book Group, but I am also Elorie Alton, and I write Voyager Fan Fiction and Janeway /Chakotay romance fan fiction in particular. I got into to this because Pocket Books decided that it would be a good idea to use the death of Kathryn Janeway as a plot device and Margaret Clark (who then was the editor in charge of Trek Books) used the excuse that, “All of Janeway’s stories have been told.”

    This IMHO was unacceptable, so my friend Barbara and I started the Facebook group. I appreciate this so much.

    Sharon AKA Elorie

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  6. Yes! Janeway. Mulgrew. I thought I was the only one who got this.

    I also loved what Jeri Ryan did with the character Seven of Nine.

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  7. I'd be interested to learn how you view TOS, TNG and DS9 - did any of those series - oh, and don't forget Earth Final Conflict and Andromeda too, sorry - did any of those series ever fulfill their starting premise?

    Did they have one in the first five episodes?

    I can name some for specific characters, such as Data wanting to be human, but was there a point of origin and a point of ending that were connected with a dotted line for any or all of them?

    P.S. I love the line about everything is romance just wearing a different skin. It brings us all back to biology in a very nice way!

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  8. Tracey

    Yes, for us SFR/PNR readers/writers, the RELATIONSHIPS are what the story is about and should be what the plot is about.

    http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2009/08/plot-vs-story.html

    That's my post on the difference between plot and story and (taken together with my other writing craft posts here) how that can be leveraged by a clever writer to combine antithetical genres such as SF or Fantasy and Romance.

    The SF/Romance really started with Star Trek fanfic. Here is what I believe is the first INSPIRATIONAL SF/Romance posted for free reading:

    http://www.simegen.com/fandom/startrek/showcase/

    There's no limit to the breadth and depth of influence Star Trek has been on our entire culture.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com

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  9. Elorie:

    There are so many MANY nasty things said about facebook (for good reason), but I've been fortunate enough to find groups like the Bring Back Janeway group that are actually about something and doing something valuable.

    There are many JANEWAY stories yet to be told.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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  10. Linda:

    Well, you can see from Elorie's post that there are a lot of us out there and in here too!

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  11. Bratty:

    You bring up a topic (premises followed and fulfilled) that needs a whole series of these posts to discuss. It's huge.

    My yardstick is of course The Novel, and related literary forms, not other Gene Roddenberry vehicles (though he knew the classic forms and practiced them assiduously, the Powers he worked for tended to ruin his handiwork because he was a pioneer and they didn't understand what he was doing so he succeeded only when he could trick them into looking the other way).

    I also use classic "storytelling" (performance) as a yardstick. And kiddie fare such as cautionary tales.

    See the budding discussion on Amazon about STAR TREK being (sadly) obsolete. Apparently few agree, and now there's a discussion of Voyager, too. I'm not sure if this link will work for you - it goes into STAR TREK COMMUNITIES.

    http://www.amazon.com/tag/star%20trek/forum/ref=cm_cd_et_np?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx3I8R8TXM50OOM&cdPage=5&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=Tx666F72139RZV&displayType=tagsDetail#CustomerDiscussionsNew

    MORE BELOW:
    ---

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  12. more:

    As one person trained in Theater has been saying on that thread, FICTION has forms that resonate with the deepest parts of the human psyche.

    Blake Snyder, in his SAVE THE CAT! series that I keep pointing you all to has nailed that form issue perfectly for THE FEATURE FILM genre and what he's discovered applies elsewhere as well.

    Here's one of my posts listing my previous posts related to the philosophical depths of this issue:

    http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/04/pausing-for-you-to-catch-up-with-me.html

    As you read those posts, do a contrast/compare between the modern incarnation of the scripted-drama (that is now replacing the reality show) such as WHITE COLLAR and BURN NOTICE.

    I discussed WHITE COLLAR here:

    http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/05/tv-show-white-collar-fanfic-and-show.html

    Notice the way BURN NOTICE finished off this season.

    Now, the premise of BURN NOTICE is this guy gets wronged by a secret network of powerful people, lands on his butt head spinning, picks up and goes back after those people.

    He hasn't destroyed them yet, but we've seen him destroy ever larger targets and form alliances along the way -- we're getting to know him and his style as well as take the measure of what he's up against. He never, EVER, forgets or gets diverted from his goal - get those who burned him and get his job back.

    Now, slice and dice BURN NOTICE and contrast-compare it to VOYAGER.

    It's THE SAME STORY!!! Get tossed out into the back of nowhere with nobody and nothing to depend on, with supply lines cut, with command-and-control cut, turn around and GET HOME.

    VOYAGER did it wrong.

    BURN NOTICE is doing it right.

    What's the difference? How did that happen?

    Well, who cares about that stupid science fiction kiddie crap? That audience will never notice and doesn't care. But THIS audience of hard-working adults cares, so we have to spend the money on the scripts and crew to make it right.

    How could that attitude have been applied to a STAR TREK franchise relaunch? Did it? Is that the source of the problem? The attitude of the powerful?

    Now contrast-compare BURN NOTICE with classic literature. Then contrast-compare VOYAGER with classic literature. All the elements are there in VOYAGER -- why doesn't VOYAGER "work?"

    How did that happen? Why did it happen?

    Don't grab your first answer and stop thinking. Do the same exercise for the other Roddenberry products. Look at other shows bought at the same time he was marketing his. Look at the ratings he was competing against and what rudimentary demographics they had to assess the market for commercials on a given show. Profile it. What did commercial buyers think of Roddenberry's market?

    Next look at Roddenberry's birth date. Look at the world his career matured within. He learned early and permanently that the only way to extract value from a TV show was with the ANTHOLOGY FORMAT for the episodic weekly show. (look him up on imdb.com )

    Story-arc such as WHITE COLLAR and BURN NOTICE are using, and the short-season "quarter" instead of "semester" format, had not been invented. Also consider shows like THE GLADES and ROYAL PAINS.

    Follow Theodore Sturgeon's maxim discussed here:

    http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2009/08/theodore-sturgeon-ask-next-question.html

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com

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  13. I read it twice. The article simply displayed what is my opinion about Voyager and Janeway (only I couldn't have said this in such fitting terms).
    The analysis of the show itself as well as the character Janeway is intriguing - and reading thoroughly there are pretty good advice for every writer (or who wants to become a better writer, respectively) to find.

    It's an honor for our Facebook group itself as well as for us "bring back KJ fighters" to be acknowledged on this blog.

    That gives us hope, to find more and more people who will join us. The increasing number of members of our group during the last few days proves this.

    Thank you so much, Jacqueline, for this great post.
    I linked it to my/our Facebook sites and to my website as well as retweeted it on Twitter.
    Every Voyager and Janeway fan should read this.

    I would like to add that there are not only so many wasted chances concerning Janeway, but also the "taming" of the Maquis and the becoming human of Seven could have brought much more originality and continuity to the series.

    A point I'm not sure about is, if only the screenwriters are to blame that there was no (intimate) relationship for Janeway. Kate Mulgrew herself pointed out in interviews, that she didn't want this either. According to her at least in later seasons she had had some influence on the storyline.

    The treatment of Janeway by Paramount and Pocket Books made me want to fix the outcome of Endgame (cliché-like she was betrayed by Chakotay with a younger woman, completely OOC for Chakotay and Seven too) and Before Dishonor so badly.

    Even when my writing of fanfics is really awful (I'm not talented and not a native speaker either) it gave me satisfaction to set things straight.

    Where words ended I simply drew "JC" being together how it belongs in my mind.

    Barbara aka Kathryn J.

    My friend Sharon and I founded the Bring Back Kathryn Janeway Facebook group and re-launched the Bring Back Janeway Campaign (http://www.newearth-jcparadise.de/bring_back_janeway.php. Everybody is welcome there.

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