Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Review: Voyager 3.20: Favorite Son

This was supposed to be a genuine smile. I haven't even had
to pause this at an awkward moment, he holds that for about
two full seconds. Harry Kim, everyone.
Star Trek Voyager - Season Three, Episode Twenty - Favorite Son
Written 4/10/15

There's an unfair stereotype made of Captain Kirk and the original incarnation of Star Trek - namely that he went around seducing hot space babes like some He-Man sex god. That was actually very rarely the case on TOS, but that hasn't stopped this plot from resurfacing in the spin-offs. From the more general idea of the Planet Risa in TNG and DS9 to the incredibly misogynistic Angel One, there is no episode of Star Trek that most closely follows this idea than this episode. Who is the sex god in question this week? Harry "I'm in love with a Hologram" Kim. The resulting episode is one which, in the right hands, could have played off of Harry's deep seated neurological fears of immasculation and rejection, but instead plays out like a battle between Gandhi and the staff of an Amsterdam brothel.
     Voyager talks to an alien spacecraft, and Harry feels the urge to fire upon the ship despite no provocation. He wakes up the next morning covered in spots, his blood chemistry physically changed, and having had strange dreams. The aliens chase after them again, but they are saved by a member of a species called the Taresians, who immediately identify Harry as a member of their race. Upon beaming down, Harry is swarmed by female Taresians, who claim that their species are implanted in other species and left to return to Taresia in adulthood, incoporating the host species' DNA into the genome. The species is 90% female, and so males are in high demand for lots and lots of sex. Voyager loses contact with Kim, and The Doctor reveals that he was human, before his DNA was altered on purpose. Harry fights back, and Voyager rescues him.
     I make a lot of light out of Harry Kim being a bit... uncool. This is not new. I have a specific "Kim Death Count" tag, I make jokes with him having silly middle names. Really it's a bit of a cop-out. Harry is an easy target for me - easier than Neelix, because when the writers feel like it, you can at least take Neelix seriously as a survivor of warfare and hard times. Harry is a pampered, naive Starfleet officer who repeatedly shows how very squeamish he is around women, and how adoring he is of his friend Tom. If you're going to work that into a character, then just do it! There's a lot of room for that to work - write Harry as a young man, struggling with his sexuality, either due to a crippling social anxiety around girls or due to feelings for his friend Tom that he can't really accept. It's sad that this never gets addressed, because despite how awkward it may get, it's still ten times better than this repeated crap that Harry Kim becomes as chaste as can be if the choice is between sex and Starfleet. It's like Non Sequitur all over again.
You're expecting me to believe that everyone was so horny
right here that nobody questioned this statistic? Psh.
      And this plays into how Voyager treats sexuality in general. I spoke back in Blood Fever how Star Trek was forced into a certain level of immaturity due to never being able to really address sexual themes. The story being adapted here - implied by a quote at the end to follow the archetype of the sirens in Jason and the Argonaughts - is one which fundamentally demonises female sexuality as something to be used for lies and deceit, to drive men away from their true purpose. For Harry, even if these girls weren't trying to harvest his body for DNA, they're luring him away from his ship and his duty. It wouldn't have been so hard to adjust this episode to make it just that little bit better - make the consequence of staying on the planet not death, just the inability to ever leave. That way there's a genuine choice between leaving on Voyager and staying to "help" a race genuinely in need, and you avoid the predictable and ridiculous "sexy ladies lure you to death" thing.
      When it comes down to the wire, the basic problem with Favorite Son is that it's ridiculous. There's so much there that could have been used to make Harry Kim into a fleshed-out, three-dimensional character with realistic aims and problems. It's particularly ironic that the episode which tries to convince us Harry isn't human does such a good job of ignoring any humanity the character actually has, making his entire inner monologue about how confused he is and how much he's looking forward to touching someone, as long as he can go back to Voyager afterwards. It's weird, it's backwards and it's far below what the viewers, the show and Garrett Wang deserved.


NEXT WEEK: Time travel mayhem and wonder in Before and After.

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