Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Review: Voyager 3.7: Sacred Ground

I hate them, I hate them, I hate them!
Star Trek Voyager - Season Three, Episode Seven - Sacred Ground
Written 22/08/15

This episode of Star Trek was written by a woman named Geo Cameron, a Scottish shaman and priestess. That goes some way to explain why this episode, centred around a discussion of faith and science, goes entirely against the philosophy of Star Trek and spends the vast majority of its runtime attacking it with laughable strawmen. Unlike partner series DS9, which addressed faith and belief while still providing a very open option for a secular interpretation, this episode likes to talk deeply about things of which it has very little understanding. Secularist ramblings follow.
     When visiting the Nechani people, Kes is knocked unconscious by a force field within an ancient ruin. With the condition purportedly terminal, Janeway decides to do everything she can to identify the scientific cause. Seeking answers, she agrees to undergo a ritual in which she would ask the Ancestral Spirits for answers. In the ritual, she faces several challenges, all while being taunted by several figures who confront her on her devotion to science and evidence. At one point she is injected with a hallucinogenic substance and begins seeing visions. After her treatment failed to save Kes, she goes back, and is taunted further by visions of three old people as they mock the idea of evidence and science. They try to make the case that Janeway blindly believes in science, and so might as well take Kes back into the field. She does so, and Kes recovers. The Doctor has a decent explanation for why that happened, but Janeway is still shaken.
     The spirits who so abrasively mock Janeway treat her adherence to the scientific method as a heinous fault of character, and try to claim that she has "faith" in it "working" no matter what. This especially cuts cold because of Janeway's background - she is the only one of the five main Star Trek Captains to have risen to her position through Starfleet's Science division. Science is not in any sense of the word a faith - it is a philosophy which informs the way you examine and process the world around you. Faith values blind belief, and the strength that can come from it, while Science attests that nothing can be truly known unless it satisfies thorough and valid experimentation. That in particular is what makes the author's jabs at Science for being about certainties baffling - the scientific consensus is flexible and ever-changing, and said change is encouraged. 150 years ago, the atoms which composed us were seen as indivisible little balls - now we know them as fuzzy areas of mostly empty space, with a concentrated positive nucleus surrounded by "clouds of probability", areas where an electron might be.
Benevolent spirits worthy of being followed and believed in
would not randomly attack a young woman and then torture and
emotionally abuse the woman trying to save her.
     This progress is what informs Star Trek's core philosophy, even ignoring some of Gene Roddenberry's weirder addenda. In the future presented by Star Trek, technology has allowed mankind to flourish. Breaking the speed of light unites the nations of the world under a single government. Humanity becomes so abundant with riches that currency itself is abolished, and people go to work each morning because they want to, so they can improve themselves, help others, and explore the Galaxy. It's a Utopian vision, and even when you layer it with the real-world contexts presented by DS9, it is still a story of scientific endeavour and progress making people's lives better. The author avatars in this story make light of attempting to kill a young woman, and torture Janeway essentially for wanting to save her, and yet we are supposed to think that Janeway actually comes around to their way of thinking? If anything, this is the reaction of a victim of abuse. Funny, how often that comparison comes up in spiritual interactions.
     I can understand why the writers wanted to do this script - whenever Voyager isn't rolling out old plots, it's trying things that are genuinely new and interesting. But this episode and its discussion of faith is frankly insulting, and nowhere near as good as Emanations from the first season. Huh, never thought I'd be referring back to that episode. Luckily for me, Voyager's third season take a great turn next week, and this story will never be mentioned again.


NEXT WEEK: Voyager goes Time-Travel mad in the wonderful two-parter Future's End. What Eugenics Wars?

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