“Good Shepherd” – VOY 6X20

Lucia Lorenzi is back to analyze another Janeway-centric episode with me! You can read Lucia’s writing at Rabble.ca and her own blog, and follow her on Twitter @empathywarrior. Her comments are in bold.

So several years into Voyager’s time in the Delta Quadrant, the crew finally gets performance reviews. Lord knows what Chakotay was doing if not paying attention to crew performance – maybe he thought sending a few people through Tuvok’s boot camp in “Learning Curve” was enough. But luckily for him, efficiency expert Seven of Nine is on the case and has identified three crewmembers who just aren’t measuring up.

Seven outlines the profiles of the underperforming crew

Chakotay suggests relieving them of duty but Janeway has other plans.

Janeway holds a padd and looks dismayed

“Three people have slipped through the cracks on my ship. That makes it my problem.”

So who are these crewmembers? 

Mortimer sits in the dark working

Mortimer Harren is basically Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory – a guy who would rather be alone and when he is with people, wants to spend his time making it very clear that he considers himself intellectually superior. Tal Celes, a Bajoran woman, is up in the middle of the night in shared crew quarters, quietly hailing her friend from under her blanket and begging him to help her with a sensor analysis she hasn’t completed.

Tal Celes under her blanket

I’m confused why they’re so infantilized. This is supposed to be Voyager’s version of “Lower Decks,” not “Little Rascals.”

Tal Celes and Billy Telfer

The third is Billy Telfer, considered “inefficient” because of his hypochondria, which is played for laughs, in a way that’s not dissimilar to the treatment of Barclay’s mental health issues in TNG:

Seven: He visits the Sickbay almost once a week complaining of illness. Invariably you examine him and find nothing wrong. 
Doctor: Mr. Telfer is a hypochondriac. I’d treat him for it, but he’s afraid of medication. 
Janeway: Have you tried counselling?
Doctor: He’s afraid of that, too.

This ship could really use a counsellor. Wait, the Doctor is doing both jobs? Are they sure that’s not part of the problem?

Janeway hands Celes a PADD

Janeway comes to the mess hall to find Telfer helping Celes with her job and in a totally adorable moment of Janeway science geekiness, teaches Celes a mnemonic:

“It’s Zero G Is Fun. Zeta particle derivation, Gamma wave frequency, Ion distribution, Flow rate of positrons. Z.G.I.F. Zero G Is Fun. That’s how you remember the sequence.”

Turns out Janeway’s plan is to take the three crewmembers on an away mission to explore a nearby “class T cluster.”  

Janeway: Ever hear the tale of the Good Shepherd? If even one sheep strayed into the wilderness, the shepherd left the safety of the flock and went after it. 
Seven: So you’re intending to rescue them? 
Janeway: In a manner of speaking. Maybe all it will take will be some personal attention from their Captain. Maybe something more. But I won’t abandon a member of this crew, no matter what their problems might be.

Janeway and Seven discuss what Janeway is trying to do

The “good shepherd” story is about Jesus (“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays his life down for the sheep.” [John 10.11]), so this is kinda like Janeway saying, “Yup, I’m basically Jesus.”

Whether or not that’s an issue for you, it’s a reminder that despite Trek’s ostensible secular humanism, it is still deeply steeped in Christian culture, as this entire episode is turned into a Christian allegory.

Harren smugly mansplains

Let the away mission begin! It starts off inauspiciously, as Janeway tries to make conversation by asking Herran about his planet of birth, only to end up getting brutally mansplained to:

Harren: Do you really believe that childhood environment is more important than genetically driven behaviour patterns? 
Janeway: Just making conversation. 
Harren: Conversation filled with unspoken assumptions, which I don’t agree with. I’m a product of my nucleic acids. Where and how I was raised are beside the point. So if you’re trying to understand me better, questions about my home planet are irrelevant. 
Janeway: All right then. How’s your thirteenth chromosome? Missing a couple of base pairs in gene one seventy eight?

I could not find a screencap of Janeway’s eye-roll, but trust me, it’s awesome.

This guy is the equivalent of an egg on Twitter. You don’t know who he is or anything about him.

It’s lunchtime when shit starts to go sideways. Literally.

The shuttle lists sideways - a big chunk is missing from the side.

A piece of the aft section falls off the ship. In the aftermath, Celes and Janeway try to examine the wreckage. And Celes tries to use the opportunity to open up about her (in)abilities.

Celes at work

Janeway is reaching to make Celes feel good about her abilities, and while it’s cool to see Celes being open about how she’s feeling, it’s frustrating that the only woman out of the three crewmembers is basically totally incompetent at her job:

Celes: This has nothing to do with attitude, Captain. You and I are wired differently. To you, this is nothing but data. To me, it, it’s a monster with, with fangs and claws. In my nightmares, I am chased by algorithms. My brain just wasn’t built to understand this. 
Janeway: We can find you another post on Voyager. 
Celes: There isn’t another post on Voyager, not for me. Unless you need a waitress in the mess hall. 

Harran yelling

Up front, Telfer and Herran are fighting. 

Telfer: And you can go back to deck fifteen. 
Harren: That’s right, where I don’t have to rely on you or your intellectually deficient friend. 
Telfer: At least I have a friend. Don’t you ever get lonely down there? 
Harren: In the company of my own thoughts? Never. 

This guy is proto-Sheldon, with a little bit of Richard Dawkins mixed in.

Then there’s a flash of light and Telfer is briefly abducted, then returned with an alien creature inside of him. 

This is just like with Barclay. Everyone’s always telling him there’s nothing to fear, but then there totally is.

As Herran grapples with the fact that his theories did not explain this weird alien body invasion, Janeway assigns Celes to stay with Telfer.

Janeway and Celes treat Telfer

She holds his hand and reassures him. Hey! I have solved two of our problems! Make her the counsellor the ship desperately needs! Yes, she’d have to do some training but she’s already showing way more potential for empathy than the Doctor usually does.

Janeway flying the ship

You guys, is there anything in the Bible about how the good shepherd dealt with sheep which were just total assholes? Because I am really getting sick of having to watch Janeway respond to Herran with rational comments, kindness and the occasional eye roll.

Janeway: Oh, I’ve seen things I’ve never imagined. Grown closer to people than I ever thought possible. I wouldn’t call myself a victim, and I wouldn’t trade the last six years for anything. 
Harren: Then you’ve been deluded by the inexhaustible human capacity to avoid the truth. 

Seriously, how is she letting him get away with this?

Telfer busts through the forcefield and Janeway has to stun him with a phaser, causing the alien to burst out of his neck. Then, although she orders him not to, Herran kills the alien.

Janeway responds angrily to Harran

Now, finally, Janeway really gets angry with Herran. I guess it speaks well of her that she could calmly deal with all the personal attacks but what she can’t stand for is the murder of potentially innocent, intelligent life.

But hey, Telfer is cured of hypochondria. He says he feels the “internal red alert” in his head is gone now. Janeway says it’s just list her childhood fear of the ocean, because no one on Trek understands that mental health issues are rarely this simple:

When I was a girl, I was afraid of the ocean. I liked to swim, but in a pool or a pond where I knew exactly what was beneath me. But in the open water, with no way to know what was down there? It scared me to death. It wasn’t until my first year at the Academy, after I went through zero G training in the Coral Sea, that I finally got over it. I think you just came up from your first deep dive. 

Telfer looks hopeful

Hypochondria is now known as health anxiety disorder because it’s a legit mental illness and the term hypochondria tends not to be taken seriously. Saying to someone with health anxiety disorder that they just have to face their fears head on once and will be cured, is sort of like saying to someone with depression “Just cheer up!” 

I’m not saying that making Telfer more of a victim of his disorder would’ve been better, but certainly it could’ve been treated more seriously – as less of a joke – and Telfer could’ve also been given more personality traits to make it clear he is not wholly defined by his disorder. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to just label him “the hypochondriac” of the three and assume his life will be great now that he’s just taken the plunge and faced his fear. Thank goodness for that body-invading alien lifeform.

CGI meteors

That CGI looks like a visualizer from Windows Media Player in the year 2000.

So the aliens are now coming after the Delta Flyer. The crisis allows them all to demonstrate courage and quick thinking, although there’s a second where it’s not clear whether Herran is going to be a coward or try to actually make himself a martyr to save the rest of them. It turns out to be the latter, which means jerkface saves the day, but yet again disobeys orders to do it. 

Chakotay updates Janeway in Sickbay

There’s a big shockwave and Janeway wakes up in sickbay, looking around to see the other three sleeping on other biobeds. 

I bet Herran is disappointed he’s not dead. He’s like, “I have to deal with these people now and they have heightened expectations.”

Janeway: Any sign of another vessel or some kind of entity? 
Chakotay: No. What happened? 
Janeway: The good shepherd went after some lost sheep, and ran into a wolf. 
Chakotay: Did she find them? 
Janeway: I think she did.

Overall, I appreciate “The Good Shepherd,” especially Janeway’s attitude towards redeeming her “lost sheep” by showing faith in them and giving them a chance to shine, even if I don’t so much appreciate the “good shepherd” allegory itself. 

However, I don’t feel like it lives up to the success of TNG’s “Lower Decks,” partly because it feels like the characters aren’t as complex, and the wrap-up just isn’t as satisfying. It’s also disappointing that though Voyager had a season to go after “Good Shepherd,” we never see what happens with these crewmembers (other than a brief mention of Celes in “Workforce”), we just have to take Janeway’s word that because she’s basically Jesus, all is now good.

Bechdel Test: Pass. Seven and Janeway talk about the story of the good shepherd; Celes and Janeway talk about Celes’ abilities and various sciencey stuff.

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