Delta Redux: A Voyager Rewatch: The 37s

By Last Updated: January 29, 2016Views: 2656

Star Trek Voyager season 2 opens with a season finale. Due to a scheduling kerfuffle several episodes had to be moved to later dates including this one, The 37s, which was originally supposed to finish out the first season. This is the reason we were treated to the disappointing drip of a finale instead.

As a season finale The 37s works remarkably well. It ties up loose ends, restates the show’s mission statement and sets the stage for a new unified direction for the show. As a season opener it still works but for different reasons.

The plot is pretty straightforward. The crew lands on a planet and discovers human beings in stasis from Earth 1937 (hence the title) that are found to be still alive and revived by Voyager where it is discovered that one of the sleeping humans is none other than Amelia Earhart, because why not? It is found that the earthlings had apparently been whisked away there centuries ago by people-stealing aliens (the History Channel was right!) and the descendants of those humans have built a peaceful society with three whole cities and everything. The crew is then given a choice: stay on Voyager and continue the mission or stay with other humans and live a relatively happy, uneventful life. The crew all choose to stay with Voyager and off they go. Hooray.

Now this all may sound a bit on the silly-side what with humans from 1937 in a distant part of the galaxy and to be fair it is played for comedy early on. But the events here all work to establish a new paradigm for the crew and a confirmation of the captain’s authority.

See by giving the crew a choice of leaving both factions – Star Fleet and Maquis – have the opportunity to get out. No more can they say, ‘Oh well I’m only here because I was forced to be here.’ No more complaining, now they have to just shut up and get on with it. Personally I find this to be a disappointing situation because, as I said back in Caretaker, I thought the conflict in the crew was a great storytelling opportunity but the show chose a different path and unity isn’t such a bad thing in the long run.

“Mr. Paris alter our course to follow that trail of rust…” – Captain Janeway

But the big element in the episode is the inclusion of Amelia Earhart. My first reaction, I must admit was, Why? But as the show progressed it became clear why and my attitude changed quite a bit.

Now first off it must be stated that this is not a historical depiction of Amelia Earhart, rather it is a Theme Park History version of her. An idealized caricature.

When I was a kid growing up in Philadelphia we would often take field trips to the historical areas of the city. Once there we would inevitably be greeted by a Ben Franklin. And I want to emphasize a Ben Franklin not simply Ben Franklin. Because the Ben we kids were met with was a Theme Park Historical representation. He would be a kindly old man of indiscriminate middle-age. He would wear white knickers pulled up to his knees and black shoes with large buckles and a tan waistcoat with lots and lots of buttons. And his hair would be white and long and bald on top and his half-moon glasses would perch daintily on the edge of his nose. When he spoke to us it was in a soothing, calm way as he imparted wisdom in pithy aphorisms.

This was not meant to be a depiction of the real Benjamin Franklin but rather an idealized version – the nation’s Grandfather – not the complex, nuanced individual that helped start a revolution and various other interesting things.

It was the same with the Tom Jefferson (always in a rushing by, quill in hand, to write a treatise on liberty) or the George Washington (squared-jawed and commanding, always ready to lead men to freedom) or the Betsy Ross (frumpy but beautiful frantically sewing stars in a field of blue), no mention would be made of the idiosyncrasies or the disputes or the flaws or the, god forbid, slaves that were owned. That would tarnish the shiny exterior of the image that was being presented. This was Theme Park History – sanitized for our protection.

These representations were not meant to be history but rather they were used as metaphors for what a perfect American should be – noble, brave, witty, honest and true – symbols of virtue, a fetishistic versions of an ideal.

Star Trek does this sort of Theme Park History all the time (and to be fair so does sci-fi in general). When the Next Generation crew meet Mark Twain it is the white-suited, walrus mustachioed, cigar chewing humorist always ready with a quip and down-home folksy advice. And when the original crew met Abraham Lincoln he was ol’ honest Abe in a stovepipe hat being decent and wise.

So in The 37s when we meet Amelia Earhart it is not surprising in the least it is the most iconic version you can imagine. She is pretty, tough, extremely talented, smart and in control. She becomes the defacto leader of the titular 37s by sheer charisma, intelligence and gumption. People instinctively follow her because she exudes command and authority.Essentially she is a prototype Captain Janeway. And that is the role her presence in meant to achieve.

See back in the mid-90s the idea of a female captain on a fictional starship was unheard of and, ridiculous as it may sound now, was met with scorn and criticism. So by questioning her authority in-story and then reestablishing it via a historical precedent was effective. Sure, the use of Earhart as a metaphorical comparison was clumsy, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t work. Janeway’s character emerges stronger because of this episode and worked to silence most of her detractors.

Now in real-life complaints about a female captain didn’t quite cease (because there will always be idiots and stupid people) but the majority of fans found themselves appeased and in-story her leadership was cemented. In that way this episode was remarkably effective.

And so, with status quo reestablished, premise restated and a captain in full, undeniable command we set off on the second season of Voyager. And it will just get better and better from here on in.

Well, fingers crossed anyway.

Next Time On Star Trek Voyager

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