From Capt. Janeway to Seven of Nine, Star Trek: Voyager is all about Boss Women

With the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the brand new Star Trek: Discovery, it’s a great time to catch up with past Treks, too. I especially love the franchise’s first major female captain – Kathryn Janeway. Indeed, Star Trek: Voyager is all about boss women in what is essentially the Wild West of outer space.

During Voyager’s seven seasons, Capt. Janeway, played by Kate Mulgrew (Orange is the New Black), slayed science and the Borg. Multiple times. She was an intellectual leader, putting her faith in science over feels. Still, she wasn’t afraid to break the Prime Directive Capt. Kirk-style because it was better to get out of danger and sort out the morality later.

Janeway as a character was contentious amongst Trek fans, with a very vocal (and mostly male) group consistently calling for her head. Perhaps for this reason, Capt. Janeway died (but not really) so often, possibly more than any other Star Trek character. This might be because Janeway was a departure from fan-favorite Capt. Picard (Patrick Stewart), who was equal measure philosopher and diplomat. Another reason was most certainly sexism, as some fans just weren’t ready for a female boss. Sound familiar?

Whatever the reason, many Trek fans and non-fans have missed out on one of TV’s best boss ladies.

Whether it was warrior Seska breastfeeding on the bridge (Basics Part 1, S2:26), B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) working out her cultural assimilation issues as a half-Klingon living in a human world (and smashing the patriarchy every chance she could), or Seven of Nine wrestling with issues including trauma, PTSD, and abortion — there’s no shortage of bosses on Voyager. 

Speaking of smashing the patriarchy, the series also took many opportunities to subvert gender stereotypes in really casual ways. When little Naomi Wildman’s mother dies, Neelix, a male Telaxian steps up to raise her with nary a mention of a woman doing it. When Torres gets married, she does it without a traditional wedding (human or Klingon) and suggests her husband take her last name, because “it is the 24th century.” When Seven of Nine explores dating, she brings flowers to give to Commander Chakotay. 

The men on Voyager also model a kind of patriarchy smashing of their own. The men  on Voyager respect Janeway’s leadership skills, her science skills, and her bravery. They constantly have to check their privilege and get in line under female leaders all over the ship, including Chief Engineer Torres and Seven of Nine, both of whom slay STEM and kick ass daily. It’s never a question if women can be the boss. 

The women on Voyager are not there to be purely sex objects. Sure, Seven is beautiful and her character launched a million fan-boners. But make no mistake, her body is her own. The women on Voyager are fully in charge of their sexuality. When Torres gets infected with the pon farr, it becomes an episode rooted in consent. Even as she tries to seduce Tom Paris, who openly has feelings for her, he says no because “you’re my friend and I have to look out for you when your judgement’s been impaired.” 

Voyager also included one of the franchise’s most diverse casts (until Discovery). Three of the five lead bridge actors are people of color (Robert Beltran, Tim Russ, and Garett Wang) as well as the franchise’s first Latina and Latino lead actors (Dawson and Beltran). And I’m glad to see Discovery take that baton and move the line much farther down that field.

These things matter. Representation matters. Even within the Trek universe, there is still a lot of sexism and racism. Just google Discovery memes or Voyager memes and you’ll find plenty of misogyny and racist bullshit. (I won’t reprint that vile here). 

When I went to share a gif online for the 30th anniversary of TNG, the only gif I could find with female characters was Deanna Troi and Beverly Crusher exercising in spandex leotards. Seriously. 

It can’t be said enough that one of the reasons Voyager gets mocked is misogyny. One of the reasons that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine — led by the franchise’s first major black captain (Benjamin Sisko) — is routinely dismissed is no doubt due in part to racism. 

I have high hopes for Discovery and I want it to succeed for the same reason I wanted a good Wonder Woman movie — female and POC fans deserve to see themselves front and center in a franchise created with the explicit intent to confront racism and make a more egalitarian world. Star Trek is rooted in social justice and challenging stereotypes. It’s time for fans to catch up to the stories Trek is telling and has been telling for decades. 

If you’re not a Trek fan, the show is perfect as a stand-alone series. The starship Voyager is marooned across the galaxy and therefore you don’t need to know much of the old Trek stories because there are all new aliens and conflicts in this series. 

If you are a Trek fan, you’ll enjoy seeing familiar aliens – Klingons, Vulcans, Borg – in a scenario that puts all the conventional wisdom on its ear. How do you hold on to resentments and stereotypes when you’re stuck on a ship with the same people for 75 years? Voyager is worth the trip just for the insights and storylines about the Borg alone.

So what are you waiting for? There’s never been a better time to jump into Voyager and spend some time with a crew that is about strong, independent women. Why not supplement your Discovery viewings with another great (and often overlooked) Trek series?

Here’s your essential episode guide to Star Trek: Voyager.

The Cloud (S1:5): Best entry point to the series and characters, with a recap of how they get stranded in the Delta Quadrant, a 75-year journey to Earth in the Alpha Quadrant. (Completists should watch the Pilot first, but it’s largely skippable.) Every major character gets some backstory in The Cloud. Meanwhile, Janeway worries about how to build a community made up of two warring crews and how to survive without any Starfleet backup.
“There’s coffee in that nebula.” – Janeway, because bitch better get her coffee
The 37s (S2:1): This episode has a throwback TNG feel with distinct Prime Directive overtones, but you won’t hear Janeway worrying about that. When the crew stumbles across Amelia Aerhart and other humans from 1937 frozen in cryostasis on a planet (after landing Voyager on the surface – whaaat?!), it opens a moral dilemma for Janeway as she ponders whether her mission to get home is a white whale. Janeway doesn’t waste a single syllable, let alone a tear, when she’s touched by how much her crew loves her.
Ma’am, I think I should tell you, I’ve never landed a starship before.” -Tom Paris
There’s always a first time.” – Janeway

Alliances (S2:14): After constant Kazon attacks and crew members killed, Janeway reluctantly agrees to look into forming an alliance with certain Kazon sects in order to clear their space. This episode is full Janeway Boss-mode with plenty of deadpan zingers.

“I see now that my instincts were dead on.
” –Janeway

Death Wish (S2:18): This episode has not just one Q, but TWO Qs! It’s the first of many Q visits throughout the series and it presents the biggest moral conundrum short of humanity being on trial in TNG. (Extra Spoiler: Not only does Will Riker make an appearance, but they GO TO THE CONTINUUM!)
Did anyone ever tell you you’re angry when you’re beautiful?” -Q flirting with Janeway

Deadlock (S2:21): Full-strength Janeway as a total boss when a spacial rift creates two Voyagers. One is on the verge of destruction while the other is unharmed and the zombie-like Vidiians (always on the hunt to steal body parts) are ready to seize their ship. Janeway’s background in science and her willingness to sacrifice herself are key to saving the day.

“I just saw myself run across the bridge — and I looked like hell.
” – Janeway

Blood Fever (S3:16): As the title implies, we’re in for some Vulcan pon farr action! Vulcan Vorik declares his desire to mate with his boss, Chief Engineer Torres, who rejects him, but gets infected with blood fever anyway. When she gets trapped underground on a planet with Tom Paris, it’s up to the playboy to save B’Elanna by any means necessary. (Extra points for a solid scene about consent as part of the storyline.) Make sure to watch the final two minutes for the first hint of the Borg, because the Delta Quadrant is their home space after all.
For such an intellectually enlightened race, Vulcans have a remarkably Victorian attitude about sex.” – The Doctor

Scorpion: Parts 1 & 2 (S3: 26/S4:1): The Borg! The Borg offer to let Voyager travel through their space unharmed in exchange for help in their war against a species so powerful it is killing the Borg by the millions – Species 8472! Enter: Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan).
You are individuals. You are small and you think in small terms.” – Seven of Nine

Year from Hell – Parts 1 & 2 (S4:8-9): Voyager gets thrashed to smithereens. Meanwhile, aliens on a time ship keep changing history, erasing billions of lives for their own selfish gain. This two-parter is one of the most bleak stories in the entire series, but if you like seeing Janeway fight to the death this two-parter is a must. Janeway and the crew are tested to the very limit practically every minute of this action-packed set of episodes.
As long as Voyager’s in one piece, we stay.” – Janeway

The Killing Game: Parts 1 & 2 (S4:18-19): The Hirogen, a ruthless alien race whose culture centers around hunting prey (and everyone is prey) have seized Voyager, turning it into one big holodeck where they hunt the crew in the most violent programs (Nazi-occupied France, a Klingon war, etc.). Needless to say, the safeties are off. Watching Janeway basically single-handedly take back the ship (while wounded!) is some badass glory. (I also dig seeing Roxann Dawson, who plays B’Elanna Torres, sporting her real-life pregnant belly as part of her holodeck character.) In a season that has been particularly knuckle-bruising on the Voyager crew and ship, this two-parter shows how retreat might be the better part of valor, but you still come away bloody.
It would be cunning for you to agree.” – Janeway negotiating a cease-fire with a Hirogen who could easily break her in half

Equinox: Part 1 & 2 (S5:25/S6:1): Good news: Voyager meets another Starfleet ship stuck in the Delta Quadrant! Bad news: They’re not only assholes, they’re also willing to kill to get home faster. Janeway is in peak Ahab fashion — even throwing Chakotay into the brig because he questions her.
I’m going to hunt him down, no matter how long it takes. No matter the cost. If you want to call that a vendetta, go right ahead.” – Janeway, pissed and all out of fucks

Barge of the Dead (S6:3): The deep-dive Klingon episode. Torres finds herself on the Barge of the Dead — the River Styx of Klingon lore. When she meets her mother on the same boat destined for Grethor (aka Klingon hell), Torres has to channel her Klingon side to fight for her mother’s soul, and maybe her own.
I inherited the forehead and the bad attitude. That’s it.” – B’Elanna

Unimatrix Zero Parts 1 & 2 (S6:26/S7:1): Janeway goes on a suicide mission to rescue Seven of Nine, after Seven rejoins the collective. This is the heart of the Borg and Janeway has to face off with the Borg Queen to save the day. (Other stand-out Seven episodes include The Raven, The Omega Directive, Drone, Repentance, Human Error, and Imperfection.)

Prophecy (S7:14): A pregnant B’Elanna Torres finds herself on a ship full of Klingons who believe her fetus is their messiah. There’s even a fight to the death.
“The only Klingon I’m scared of is my wife after she’s worked a double-shift.” –Tom Paris

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