Friday, April 9, 2021

Janeway: Trek's Best Captain?

(Guest Post by Ken)

Among Trekkies, one of the most commonly debated questions is the classic Captain preference question: Kirk or Picard? While there is an ever-growing pantheon of additional captains in the Star Trek Universe, certainly not all deserve to be default options to the question and certainly Kirk and Picard, as the most famous of the club, have earned their place there. But I would contend that one additional captain at least deserves a place in the running alongside these two: Voyager’s stalwart Captain Kathryn Janeway. Hear me out on this.

Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway

Janeway, expertly portrayed by Kate Mulgrew, is a great example of everything Starfleet looks for in a Captain. Above all, her defining trait is her commitment to her standards. While confronting captains with difficult moral dilemmas has always been the most consistent premise of Star Trek from the beginning, no show has challenged the integrity of its captain as much as Voyager did (okay, you can maybe argue that Discovery Season One challenges Captain Lorca more, but in that case he roundly failed the test!). Indeed, the entire premise of the show hinged on Janeway’s commitment to principle in the first episode when she makes a choice to protect an alien race, but in doing so strands her crew on the far side of the galaxy, along with a crew of Federation ex-patriot outlaws, who she mercifully decides to integrate into her crew as they face a daunting 70,000-light year journey back to Earth.

Along the way her principles are continually challenged. She has to grapple with the consequences for her crew of her initial choice, while along the way having to continue to apply civilized principles to a far more uncivilized area of the galaxy. Numerous times she faces the prospect of shortening her trip or ensuring her crew’s safety if she’ll just compromise in the smallest way, but she ultimately sticks to what she believes is right, even in some truly muddy lose-lose situations. And she isn’t motivated by rules-obsession. She acts the way she does not because Starfleet rules tell her to, but because she believes she’s doing what it right. Indeed, on several occasions she shows no hesitation breaking a Starfleet rule if it conflicts with doing what is right (her humorously consistent disregard for time-travel rules being a frequent example). 

One attribute that really sets her apart from other captains is her level of personal care for her crew. No doubt Janeway runs a tight ship, but she also cares deeply about the personal needs of each member, regardless of how they joined the crew, whether as original crew, the integrated renegades, random alien species who join along the way, a fully deputized medical hologram, or even a severed Borg drone. While Kirk often seems aloof in regards to crew members beyond his core officers, while Janeway goes out of her way in one episode to take her lowest ranking and worst-performing officers on an away mission so she can better know and help them. Picard often showed some individual concern for his crew, but also had a tendency to publicly rebuke even teen cadets in front of their mothers (“Shut up, Wesley!”). Janeway could certainly get angry with her crew, but she tried to correct in private first when possible, as demonstrated by one of her most common catchphrases, always delivered with a seething glare: “In my ready room.” That phrase meant you were in trouble, but Janeway wasn’t going to give you your lashings in front of your peers. 

Image result for janeway angry on bridge
The Janeway death-glare

Of course, at the time Voyager began, what really set her apart was simply that she was a woman. Some people at the time actually derided Voyager as only existing for Trek to wave a diversity flag by offering a female captain. Others have maligned her as a character clearly written as male but played by a woman. I disagree on both counts. 

To the first misconception, I’d argue that Voyager exists as great storytelling with a fully diverse ensemble cast beyond just Janeway. It has a very unique story, in many ways the franchises first trek (pun intended) into a more serial story-arc. There is a single continuing plot which carries the entire seven season show, which distinctly broke from the other three series before (okay, four if you count the Animated Series, which no one does). 

To the second point, one thing I love the most about Janeway, and especially her portrayal by Mulgrew is that she can be a bold, brave, hardened captain, but also is so distinctly allowed to be written as a woman who shows some distinctly feminine strengths and traits. Previous Captains were males written too tough to have committed love stories (the exception is Benjamin Sisko, but even he is already widowed by the time DS9’s story begins). Janeway, on the other hand, is engaged as Voyager begins, and gets separated 70,000 light years from her fiancĂ©. She holds out faithful to him and doesn’t learn until the fifth season that he has moved on and married another woman. She shows great personal struggle in her desire for companionship, knowing it is inappropriate to have a romantic relationship with any of her crew members, but stranded away from any other people who could be otherwise permanent in her life. At one point she even falls in love with a hologram. These stories are shown not as weakness, but character fulness, and you never got to see the male captains this way. It was refreshing and made her so very human.

We also get to see her maternal instincts fully on display through her role as substitute mother to Kes in the first three seasons and to Trek’s most famous Borg, Seven of Nine, through the latter four seasons. We definitely got to see glimpses of paternal instinct from Picard on occasion, and Sisko was actually a dad in DS9, but Janeway brought an unprecedented feeling of nurturing to her role as Voyager’s commanding officer.

See the source image
Janeway and Seven of Nine

And let’s also not forget: Janeway figured out how to seriously kick some Borg butt unlike any other hero in Starfleet history, and also defeated Species 8472, the only aliens even the Borg were terrified of. And she did it all with just her one ship and crew and no Federation armada to back her up.

So, what do you think? Does Janeway deserve to have her name alongside Kirk and Picard in consideration for greatest Trek captain? Apparently the creative staff at Paramount believes so, as she’s about to join those two hallowed names as the third captain (after the two aforementioned greats) to get incorporated into a new Trek property apart from her original series. Janeway will be joining the upcoming animated series, Star Trek: Prodigy later this year as a principal character.

Animated Janeway from the upcoming “Star Trek: Prodigy.”

No comments:

Post a Comment