Toxic Masculinity is still a thing in the 24th century.
On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek Voyager, Unforgettable (Season 4, Episode 22). He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Janeway.
Link to video referenced on toxic masculinity: https://youtu.be/koPmuEyP3a0
Welcome, everyone! Thanks for joining me today. This time we get another Voyager episode! I realize we’re just 16 episodes into this podcast and this is only the 4th episode of Voyager we’ve watched, but Janeway is really my frontrunner for best captain - not favorite, necessarily, but best. Now, I’m disqualifying Georgiou from consideration since she lasted just 2 episodes, and she was great in those! But Janeway has nailed it each time so far. Let’s see if that continues as we watch season 4, episode 22 of Voyager, Unforgettable.
We start off with Voyager looking for more deuterium - is this going to be our theme for awhile?? Paris and Chakotay are poking a little fun at Harry Kim. Earlier in the season, he started developing a, well, a crush on 7 of 9. So Tom Paris takes an opportunity to throw some jabs at him (linking sensors).
Ok, let’s get into this. Chakotay is there, playing a long a little, and Janeway’s on the bridge. This really brought up, for me, the struggle between playing around and toxicity in the work place. I feel like this could veer a little into the world of hazing, but, frankly, there will be other episodes that will be better to look at that.
Here, we have some good-natured teasing going on. Is this ok in the workplace? Like, that’s it - that’s the whole question. Now, this is more complicated because the Voyager crew lives where they work, but, the question still applies. Is this ok?
If I put my HR hat on, which I really don’t like doing - but it’s one of the costs of doing business, I suppose. But, with my HR hat, this presents, at minimum as inappropriate workplace behavior and, at most, sexual harassment.
But I don’t want to just boil this down to an HR issue. I want to look at what is happening here, really happening here. Paris waits for Chakotay to step away before dropping the line. But, I want to believe his intention is positive. His intention is to share a moment and have some fun with his buddy, Kim. But the execution is just not ok. Now, we can maybe excuse this as being of the time, but this was 1998 - weren’t we a little more sophisticated at that point? Maybe? Or…maybe not.
How could this have gone down differently? I really see two approaches to that. First, how could people have responded to that, or, second, how could Paris have approached it differently.
When someone is put in an uncomfortable situation, they can respond, but they don’t need to; it is not a victim’s job to defend themselves. Now, if Kim felt he could respond, he could have said something like, “Come on, Tom, that wasn’t cool. I really like Seven and I don’t appreciate it when you make me feel like that’s silly.”
But don’t assume that’s something that needs to happen. Again, it’s not incumbent on the victim to address to perp. Yeah, I said perp.
What should have happened, was for Chakotay, or Janeway, or Tuvok or any other officers on the bridge to have stepped in and done something. They could have simply redirected Paris away from Kim and spoken with him later - this creates a safe place for Harry right away. They could have interrupted and used humor to ultimately redirect Tom and, again, create a safe place for Harry. “Yeah, Tom, aligning sensors is a lot work, ha ha.” And then moved him back towards his station.
Or, they could have just stepped in - “Mr. Paris, that was not appropriate.” Period. Put a stop to the situation and address his behavior, later, in private. That step should happen regardless of the immediate response.
Or, the whole thing could have been avoided. Tom could have just left it alone, like that would have been totally ok. Or he could have said something more supportive, like, “Hey, the XO just ordered you to spend more time with Seven. Isn’t that what you said you wanted to do anyway?” Really, though, best to just leave it alone and not say anything.
With all of that acknowledged, there is a lesson here that isn’t related to HR. As a leader, it’s ok to support a work environment that is fun. One where people can form personal connections, make appropriate jokes, and enjoy themselves. When it’s time to get to business, you all get to business, just like the bridge crew does here.
Janeway and Chakotay have created a work environment where these things happen. People are having fun and forging personal connections, but they are focusing on the work when the time comes to do that.
The fun is interrupted, though, by two, cloaked ships engaged in a battle with Voyager caught in the middle. One ship blows up and the second hails Voyager, specifically asking for Chakotay.
Nothing about this rings a bell for him, he doesn’t know how this person could know he was. Their ship is failing under the damage from the battle so Kim attempts to beam the person over, but he can’t get a lock on her. Chakotay and an away team head over to rescue her.
Even when they arrive, their tricorders and sensors are having a hard time registering this person, even though they can see her. Chakotay rescues her from under a bulkhead and they beam directly to sickbay.
In sickbay the mystery continues. The Doctor scans her but the data disappears immediately. He’s able to visually diagnose her and says she’ll be ok.
Janeway begins to question her once she gains consciousness, but she immediately requests asylum. Janeway doesn’t immediately agree, but she does commit to hearing more and investigating her claims.
This leaves Chakotay alone with her, and she seems very comforted by this. She has a warmth and relaxation level that hints at familiarity. Chakotay, though, is very much in Starfleet Officer mode. He’s friendly but suspicious. He tries to learn more from her - she says they have met before. She’s a Ramuran; her name is Kellin. Ramurans apparently emit a pheromone that causes other species to forget about them after a short time; they also block many technologies. They’re a very insular species that don’t allow people to leave their society.
She says that, about a month ago, she spent a few weeks on Voyager; Chakotay helped her and then she left. Chakotay isn’t really buying it. What she’s saying doesn’t explain why she returned to Voyager, apparently putting herself in danger. And then she drops the bomb. She says that when she was here, she fell in love with Chakotay.
He meets with the senior staff and updates them on what he’s learned. The Ramuran’s don’t allow people to leave their society. She was a tracer, a bounty-hunter that sought out people that try to run away. When she was here, she was looking for a runaway (that’s what she says) and, apparently, the crew helped her. She also said a computer virus was introduced to remove all record of her and the runaway. Chakotay is highly suspicious and orders them to check the logs for tampering and to check Kellin’s ship and audit her navigation records. Janeway is also skeptical.
She dismisses everyone except Chakotay and asks why he is so suspicious. She agrees they should do their due diligence as granting asylum is no small decision.
There was a real art to what she did here. She knows Chakotay very well. She is observing that he’s a lot more suspicious than he normally his. Like a good captain, she wants to know why, but, knowing that Kellin hailed him by name at the outset of this, and wanting to allow Chakotay to share as much as possible, she clears the room so he can speak candidly and in private.
Then, she opens the dialog by agreeing with him - this sets him at ease; she’s not after him or upset or anything like that. Then she shares her observation and asks what’s up. They end with an action item and agreement on how to proceed.
Nothing earth shattering was shared here, but what if there was something? What if, when they were alone in sickbay she threatened to blow up Voyager if certain conditions weren’t met. I don’t know, something kind of extreme like that. Or what if she was blackmailing Chakotay or something like that. She created a space where he could share anything, in confidence. And she did so with grace and without calling any additional attention to Chakotay.
Kellin is with Tuvok and Seven; they confirm her ship traveled with Voyager for 2 weeks. They dig deeper and she obliges with their requests. Chakotay comes in and invites her to eat. Seven observes that Chakotay’s face flushed when he spoke with Kellin. Seven has been Borg since she was 6 years old; she has a lot to learn about adult human interactions. This leads to some fun moments throughout the series.
Kellin and Chakotay get some food from Neelix. She seems to know a lot more about Chakotay than someone would in just 2 weeks (you don’t like carrots). Despite that, Chakotay learns more about their past. They show this through some flashbacks. Now I don’t know much about Ramurans, but their hair must grow at an alarming rate. In these flashbacks, from a month ago, her hair is easily like 3 inches shorter.
As she tells the story, she keeps focusing on the relationship between them and Chakotay just wants the facts (you keep talking about emotions). He gets a little harsh and says their past relationship, real or not, didn’t exist as far as he’s concerned.
The meetup is interrupted as the tracers have found Kellin and are firing on Voyager. They’re cloaked and have highly focused weapons that bypass their shields. Kellin modifies their sensors so they can detect the Ramuran vessels. Janeway quietly puts Chakotay on the spot. She says that if they fire on them, they’re granting asylum. She lets Chakotay make the call. He says to grant asylum so she fires on the ships, targeting their weapons systems. It’s a success and the ships retreat.
Another great, and subtle, moment from Janeway. She’s good one way or another. Grant asylum and fire, or don’t and hand her over. She assigned Chakotay to investigate Kellin’s claims and trusts that he’s done so. She allows him to make the call and immediately takes action based on his assessment.
Kellin thanks them, but lets them know the conflict is not over. The tracers will not give up. Janeway sticks to her word. Kellin and Chakotay go to permanently modify the sensors so they’ll be able to detect their ships when they come back for her.
Chakotay stops by Neelix’s to get some tea or something to help him sleep. Neelix settles into the Guinan role here. He says it’s clear Kellin has feelings for him - does he have feelings for her? He asks if it’s Kellin he doesn’t trust, or himself; his feelings.
Pondering the advice in his quarters, Chakotay answers the door and invites Kellin in. She lays it out. She came back for Chakotay, she wants a relationship with him. If he doesn’t want one, she’ll turn herself in to the tracers. She doesn’t want to put the ship at risk unnecessarily. He asks her to stay.
Chakotay is meeting with Tuvok; who is trying out his comedy chops! (She could help Neelix) He suggests Kellin join his security detail due to her experience. He agrees and will assign her to work with Kim and Seven working on a defense against the Ramuran’s weapons.
The trio come up with a strategy and approach to mount a defense, scattering their proton beams. Kellin heads out to review their findings. Seven observes that her face flushed when Kim mentioned Chakotay. This leads to one of the best exchanges in all of Star Trek as Harry Kim attempts to explain to Seven of Nine why getting to know someone before the act of procreation is a good idea. So good!!
Kellin is paranoid and comes to Chakotay. As she’s explaining, a tracer reveals himself and blasts her with a neurolytic emitter that will cause her to lose all of her recent memories. The tracer is non-combative and they take him to the brig. Kellin goes to sickbay and asks Chakotay to do for her what she did for him; remind her of their relationship if she forgets him.
In the brig, Chakotay crosses a line. He takes down the force field and almost assaults the tracer. He wants to reverse the memory loss. The tracer calmly explains that he doesn’t know if it can be and that he’s operating within the laws of his society. He basically says that once the memory loss is complete, she will willingly return home.
He goes to her quarters. She is polite and cordial, but has no idea who he is. He explains that they’re in love and that she should stay. She stays remarkably cool through this, but chooses to return with the tracer. Chakotay leaves her quarters, clearly hurt and heartbroken.
After they leave, Chakotay is in the mess. He has a pen and paper and is writing what all happened; he doesn’t want to forget. He’s struggling, but he’s working his way through the loss. This leads to Neelix giving a pretty trite “love is a mystery” monologue. Ok, maybe that wasn’t fair of me; I’m sure someone found his little speech touching. I’m just not that someone.
Episode ends with Chakotay, alone, finishing his journal.
So, this episode answers the question: what would it look like if two 12-year old boys wrote an episode of Star Trek with a romantic relationship. I mean, God bless Virginia Madsen; it had to be painful to work through some of that dialog. That being said, she was awesome. She owned it! I don’t know if she’s a fan or not, but I have to believe she was excited to be on Star Trek and wanted to make the most out of it. That’s what you can expect from Princess Irulan!
But some of the lines through this - and- - and this one! Yeah, a lot of this was just uncomfortable to watch.
The acting was great! Madsen, Beltran - they did the absolute best anyone could with what they were given. Back in my pro wrestling days we called this making chicken salad out of chicken shit.
They tease at an interesting society and culture. The tracer in the brig has such conviction in his beliefs - it would have been cool to dive into this. Instead, though, we got what we got.
Seven of Nine is incredible. Such a cool concept for a character and played perfectly by Jeri Ryan! Her back and forth with Harry Kim is great! I actually rewatched just that little scene 3 times in a row!
Voyager is infamous for mishandling the Chakotay character. I really enjoyed him in this episode, though - mostly because Robert Beltran is great and he really took advantage of a character-based episode focused on him.
All in all, I’d say this episode is very poorly named. Change it to Forgettable, and that sums up how I feel about it.
I want to address a controversial topic that’s related to the HR issue we brought up at the top of the episode: toxic masculinity.
Shepherd Bliss, a professor at John F Kennedy University back in the late 80’s identified 5 behaviors that define toxic masculinity:
Extreme self reliance or the need to do everything on your own.
Shame and avoidance of emotional expression
Extreme aspiration for physical, sexual, and intellectual dominance
Devaluation of women’s opinions, bodies and sense of self
Condemning anything feminine within another man.
I’m a Gen X’er; born in the mid 70’s. I grew up in the time of “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” But I was also young when society started to shift away from this mentality. Now I say started to shift - here was are decades later and this is still the reality for a lot of people.
I’m not going to do a whole episode on this topic. Frankly, I don’t have the qualifications to do so. But I do want to touch on two of the five in Shepherd Bliss’s list.
In this episode, we saw the 4th behavior, devaluing a woman’s body, when Tom Paris was poking fun at Harry Kim. If Tom respected Seven and respected the dignity of her body and her sense of self, he would not have made the comment he did. It’s that simple.
The other one I want to touch on wasn’t shown in this episode, but I think it’s one we all run into constantly. The extreme aspiration for dominance. We see this often in the workplace, sometimes in our families and constantly in politics! I’m going to tell a little bit of my story and my approach and what the difference looks like between someone aspiring for dominance and, well, me.
I worked with a very large company - about 10,000 employees across nearly 200 locations. One of the people I worked with is absolutely brilliant. I’d say he’s one of the smartest people I have ever known. His work experience, and his most recent role are focused on policy; he isn’t leading teams but flexes his intellectual muscles to the benefit of the organization.
But, for a short time, he did lead a team. He was given an upper management position for one of the more complicated programs. This program has a unique customer base that tends to be extremely engaged and very vocal with their opinions.
During the time he was in a leadership role, our market penetration dropped dramatically and the customers that stuck around were angry and were telling the world all about it.
What was interesting was that he thought the customers were the problem. They didn’t understand what we were doing, they couldn’t grasp our value prop, they wouldn’t take the time to comprehend our pricing structures. Our CAO, to whom he reported, saw things differently, though. In fact, he actually asked me to sit in on meetings and stakeholder/customer interactions to get my opinion to see if it validated what he was thinking.
And yes, yes it did. What I observed was a person that refused to let anyone in the room even start to be an expert; even almost demonstrate an intellectual understanding. This was a person that could make a 30 minute meeting last 2 hours and it was all them talking. It was all them showing everyone just how smart they were. I wasn’t a customer, I wasn’t even in the reporting chain with this person and I was totally turned off by him! Had I been a customer, I would have walked after one…maybe two interactions with him.
When you are a leader, it’s not your job to be the smartest person; it’s your job to bring the smartest people together and enable them to work magic.
So my approach - what makes me any different from this person. Well, while they dominate a discussion and work to show everyone how smart they are, I tend to keep my mouth shut and ask a lot of questions. Even if I know all of the answers and all of the data points behind them, I try to be the least intelligent person at the table. My job is to tee others up so they can deliver the winning response. Not only does this engender trust and loyalty on your team, but it also makes it clear that everyone is invited to the table. Everyone’s input matters.
So how does that story end? Well, no good deed ever goes unpunished, right? I was given leadership of that group for awhile, long enough to recruit someone more long-term. In the 4 months it took to do that, I restored our market penetration and improved customer engagement by doing exactly what I talked about. Kept my mouth closed except when asking questions. I let anyone else be the smartest person in the room and it benefitted everyone!
One last piece on toxic masculinity, for this episode, at least. Go onto YouTube and look up We Believe: The Best Men Can Be from Gillette. In January 2019 they put out a short video that encapsulates this beautifully. It is well worth your time. In fact, let me play the audio for you - it’s just under 2 minutes.
Ok, back to the episode.
I think Janeway spent maybe five minutes on screen on this one. And she was excellent!! So good! We talked about it during the episode, but the two pieces to pull from her are trust and respect.
We see her place unquestioning trust in Chakotay. She asks questions of him, but she never questions him or his ability to do his job. We see this when Voyager is being attacked and she asks if they’re going to be granting asylum or not. He says they are and she fires phasers. Just like that. Could you imagine that moment if she didn’t put her trust in him? If she questioned him, or felt she needed to run it by someone else? The Ramurans would have destroyed the ship! It’s unimaginable, but we’ve all worked for that person, or know someone that’s worked for that person. The one that asks you to do a job and then basically has it all done again either by themselves or someone else, you know, just to be sure. That is demoralizing and an utter waste of time.
And then respect. There are two times she confers with Chakotay and kind of puts him on the spot. The first time is during the staff meeting, the second when they’re being attacked. In both instances, she has the respect for Chakotay to meet with him as privately as possible. She isn’t forcing to air his personal laundry in front of everyone. In doing this, she can expect a more honest and complete response from him. Beyond that, she is, again, engendering loyalty and respect by demonstrating those things to him.
4 for 4, Janeway! Well done!
Ok, I got a little off the beaten path on this one. Hope there was good stuff for you in that! Who out there disagrees with me and thinks this was. Great episode? I’d love to hear from you! I’m on all the social media @jefftakin Jeff, t as in tracer, a k i n. And, if you have enjoyed the Starfleet Leadership Academy, please leave a review and tell a friend or colleague about it.
Now let’s see what we’re going to watch next time….
Heading back to the start of it all! The first season of the original series, episode 20 - The Alternative Factor. Which is…well, it’s an episode of Star Trek and it’s one that people have feeling about! Should be interesting.
Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!