Jean MacDonald

Star Trek: Voyager – A Viewer's Guide

I have published a viewing guide to Star Trek: Voyager. It’s a big project that I’ve worked on as a hobby for over a year in an effort to provide a constructive response to those who have watched a few random episodes and declared Voyager is not good.

I have 95 episodes to recommend, about 60% of the total. Episodes are rated:

Y = Yes! A must-watch; these episodes are great, or at least important to the story and characters.

S = Skip. Unless you’re interested in a particular character or story.

N = Nope. Even I don’t rewatch these episodes. Some of them are truly dreadful.

I included the IMDb ratings, in case you’re curious about what the collective thinks. I generally agree with those ratings, but there are a few exceptions because I have my own biases. I try to note that where it’s relevant. (Spoiler alert: I have a crush on Tom Paris. Gingers are my weakness…)

I wouldn’t have put this amount of effort and heart into a TV show viewing guide without deeply personal motivations.

My Voyager Voyage

As a little kid in the 1960s, I watched Star Trek. I loved everything about it, but I especially loved Mr. Spock. He was handsome like my father, pointy ears and all. Some of the episodes really scared me, like The Doomsday Machine, which featured an enormous cylinder of unknown origin that just went around the galaxy destroying planets. Seven-year-old me worried such a thing could actually exist.

By the time The Next Generation aired, I was in the “No TV” phase of my life. I attended graduate school for four years; most of the time I was in the library. Even after I left school and went to work in New York, I was living with a man who was a terrible cultural snob and disdained TV watching as an activity. (He was from Buffalo, so we did get a TV in time to watch the Bills lose in the Super Bowl. Four years in a row…)

So I missed the second wave of Star Trek television including TNG, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. I might have seen snippets if I was at someone else’s house, but I didn’t see any complete episodes on a weekly basis.

In Spring 2011, I had a terrible cold, a TV of my own, and a Netflix subscription. I treated myself to the first binge watch of my life. I must have been pretty sick, because my recollection is that I watched all seven seasons of Voyager in a couple weeks. It was fun. It was a great show, but I didn’t think much about it.

A couple years later, I returned to Voyager for a rewatch. It was Summer 2013, and I was running the inaugural session of App Camp For Girls in Portland. I was up until midnight every night, prepping the next day’s materials so we could teach middle school girls how to make iPhone apps. As a way to wind down before sleep, watching Voyager seemed like a good mindless choice to me.

Instead, I found myself watching Janeway and making mental notes. She became my idol in leadership. Nerves of steel, yet kind and compassionate. Fair. And badass when she needed to be. At camp, I had a new mantra: What Would Janeway Do?

In 2014, discussing some of the criticism of Voyager with my friend and fellow Voyager fan Brianna Wu, I tweeted, “I think the series is held to a higher (aka double) standard.”

I hadn’t really noticed it before, but once I started to pay attention, it was so obvious. The mostly-male fans of Star Trek never gave this show a chance. Without watching it from beginning to end, they’d claim Voyager wasn’t as good as their favorite series.

The truth is, when you watch a whole series, you develop a completely different relationship to the characters and stories. If you dip into the series randomly, you don’t have a stake in it.

Gratuitous and uninformed sniping at Voyager continued to make me mad. I finally decided to channel that energy into a a viewing guide that would allow potential fans to avoid the truly bad episodes, skip the ones that aren’t relevant to the ongoing story, and be sure to watch the best episodes, as well as the episodes that are important for understanding the series.

I’m not arguing that every Star Trek fan is obligated to watch every episode of every series. But you cannot claim a series is not good if you haven’t really watched it. I know from my own experience. I didn’t really like Deep Space Nine. The characters mostly get on my nerves. The religious underpinning of the plot is baffling. It’s a war story, the opposite impulse from “seek out new forms of life and new civilizations.” But I had only watched a handful of episodes from the first two seasons. When I learned that the host of Random Trek, Scott McNulty, considers DS9 his favorite, I decided to give it a real chance. I watched the whole thing. I still don’t like it as much as I do Voyager. But I appreciate what is great about Deep Space Nine now.

Voyager is good, in the estimation of legions of fans. It is the most watched Star Trek series on Netflix. It has some of my favorite characters, it travels far, and and it encounters so many different alien species.

But most importantly, it has three major characters who are women: strong characters who are not relegated to second-class status, who are not pigeonholed as healers, counselors or switchboard operators. And one of them is captain. Seven-year-old me could never have imagined that.

🖖

(photo: meeting my hero at a booksigning in Seattle, 2015)

Stress Fracture

In 1993, I was living in New York City and doing three very stressful things:

  • Working at a high-profile literary agency
  • Planning my wedding
  • Organizing a three-week business trip to Europe

Were it not for the wedding, I might have muddled through. The wedding itself would be quite low-key, but agreeing to commit myself to my boyfriend of seven years flipped a switch in my brain, apparently.

I could not sleep. I would stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning, and then get up at 7 for work. I felt myself starting to lose it. I argued with colleagues. I stopped arguing with my fiancé. I believed that I needed to agree with everything he said, now that I had made the commitment to him.

Good friends and family members said I was trying to do too much. But I didn’t think I could back away from any of it. I did not want to let anyone down.

It was not a sustainable load. Eventually, I ended up in the emergency room of New York’s finest psychiatric hospital. (My fiancé tricked me into going there, but that’s another story. Spoiler alert: we break up.) The staff immediately diagnosed me with bipolar disorder, something I had never heard of. I just thought I was having a “nervous breakdown,” something women on soap operas had all the time back then.

Over the next two years, I was a patient of psychiatrists who treated me with drugs and therapy. I was also a sometime resident of psychiatric hospitals, which were mostly more inclusive versions of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

But I got better, I took lithium, and life went on. Until this summer.

In 2017, I was doing three stressful things

  • Leading App Camp For Girls
  • Helping to launch a new venture called Micro.blog
  • Still grieving the loss of my friend and App Camp right hand person Michelle, who passed away from pancreatic cancer the year before

I was trying to do too much again, and over time, it had serious repercussions. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. When I did get to sleep, I would wake up tucked into a ball of anxiety like I had never felt before. But I knew, based on my experience 25 years earlier, that lack of sleep was the entrance ramp on the road to madness.

This time, instead of being hospitalized against my will, I spoke up and asked for help.

In September, I asked my sisters, who have always been there for me, to sort out my App Camp For Girls responsibilities. I asked Manton for a period of leave from Micro.blog. And I went to my psychiatrist and said, “It’s just not working anymore.”

I got new anxiety meds plus an increase in lithium, which helped me to sleep. I got the incredible gift of having no responsibilities for a couple months. I got better.

But some damage had already been done. Being so busy, I had put off making my various routine doctor appointments. In the last two years, my normal cholesterol and blood pressure numbers have shot way up, and so has my weight. When I was 33, I had similar issues after my bipolar breakdown, but it is way more difficult to bounce back at 57 after neglecting self-care.

So this extended period of time off has been dedicated to doctor appointments and self-care: traveling less, cooking more, chilling out, doing a podcast purely for fun. I started driving part-time for Lyft to earn a little extra cash and to get out of the house and engage with humans in real life. I never have taken such a complete break from everything. My family, Manton, and all my wonderful App Camp colleagues just made it happen. No one talked to me about a single stressful thing.

After a couple months, I went back to work at Micro.blog. Taking it one step at a time, I’m still on leave from App Camp, whose board has done an incredible job of managing the program, including hiring a wonderful permanent executive director.

So, I’m writing this on the last day of 2017 to let you know what happened to me, why I dropped off social media and didn’t attend the conferences I normally love. I’m also writing this to say “Be careful.” I knew stress could be harmful, but I behaved as if the rules didn’t apply to me. If you can’t sleep, if your eating habits go awry, if you find it increasingly difficult to do things you are good at, take it seriously. See a doctor. Listen to those who care about you when they say you are doing too much. Don’t go it alone.

I’m looking forward to 2018.

1997: the programmers at the company where I worked said they were so busy, they couldn’t FTP my updated web pages for two weeks. I didn’t know what FTP was, so I took a web design course. On the last day of class, I learned it takes less than a minute to FTP a couple of pages.

Tradition comes from Latin roots meaning to “give across”. An annual summer trip at the coast with my niece/nephews is a tradition I started in 2008, a chance to give family knowledge across to the next generation.

A horrific accident happened on the way to the Oregon coast. My niece/nephews and I saw the pickup behaving recklessly, and then we came upon this head-on collision. Related: Life is fragile.

Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, “We’ve always done it this way.” I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise. – Grace Murray Hopper, US Navy rear admiral and computer science pioneer