The Character Arcs in Star Trek Voyager

Why is there all this focus on Star Trek on my website? The answer is simple – it’s my absolute favorite franchise. Every time it’s on, it’s like I’ve come home to a friend, or rediscovered a favorite comfort food from ages past. Not only that, but if you can look past the sometimes-hokey story lines and bad episodes (there isn’t a single franchise that can claim immunity from a badly written episode), you’ll grow to love the characters themselves.

Star Trek Voyager‘s original run began in January 1995 with “Caretaker,” and wrapped in 2001 with “Endgame.” Throughout its seven seasons the writers introduced and said goodbye to many secondary characters, and some primary ones too.

In writing, a character’s arc, or their development, is an important piece to the story’s overall puzzle. When written well, a character can incite excitement or take a viewer or reader into the depths of despair. The downside to any Star Trek series is there will always be a character(s) who’ll get more screen time than others.

As with any story, each character has a purpose. Some are clearly main characters, others decidedly supporting, and still others make but a brief appearance. As I learn more about these character arcs, I started comparing them to the crew of the USS Voyager. We’ll observe them by rank, and figure out which arc they fall under. But first, let’s take a quick look at the types of character arcs.

These examples all come from KM Weiland’s “Helping Writers Become Authors,” because her resources are awesome.

Please be sure to stop by her blog, because she goes more in depth with each of these. This is just quick reference for this post. Also, each arc is linked to Weiland’s website so you can dive even more deeply.

Positive Change Arc
To paraphrase: Also known as one of the heroic arcs, characters with this arc uses a known or newly learned truth to try implementing positive change.

The Disillusionment Arc
Characters with the disillusionment arc will either join with the positive resolutions of the story or return to their original world, even while knowing the new “truths.” This is a.k.a a “negative change arc.”

The Corruption Arc
Characters with the corruption arc rarely want to positively change. Instead, they use their original lies to continue on in the “new world”

The Flat Arc
[Also a heroic arc] “These characters experience little to no change over the course of the story. […] Sometimes these characters are catalysts for change in the story world around them.”

The Fall Arc
Another negative change arc. The simplest definition of a Fall Arc is the character must face the consequences + aftermath of their choices. No matter what they try to positively change, if they try, it’s met with resistance and futility.

Now let’s see which senior officer exemplifies which arc.
Do any turn to Corruption?

Note: Spoilers and episode recommendations to follow

Captain Kathryn Janeway
Kate Mulgrew
Arc: The Flat Arc

Hear me out here. As the first female captain portrayed by the Star Trek franchise (we can only assume that other female captains preceded her within this universe), Captain Janeway had a lot to live up to. Let’s face it. She followed the likes of James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard. A scientist a heart, Janeway often took it upon herself to study the mysteries of the Delta Quadrant along with her underlings. Episodes like “Year of Hell,” “Scorpion” and “Macrocosm” successfully exhibit her tactical resilience. However, she does have a stubborn streak. One where both Commander Chakotay and Lieutenant Tuvok oft have to act as checks and balances, and remind her she isn’t alone in her command-making decisions. Throughout all seven seasons, Captain Janeway remains one of the most constant characters of them all, and clearly the most developed even before the show begins. For this reason, I’ve labeled her as a Flat Arc character. While she wrestles with her truths throughout the entire series, she rarely falters. What influenced my choice –> How to Write a Flat Character by KM Weiland.

Commander Chakotay
Robert Beltran
Arc: The Positive Change Arc

Commander Chakotay, ex-terrorist under the Maquis (if you followed the Deep Space Nine series you’ll know more on what this means), and once a cadet at Starfleet Academy, Commander Chakotay is a perfect example example of the positive change arc. We see a LOT of change within Chakotay’s character (and many fans today wished he’d “hooked up” with Janeway, especially after “Resolutions“). Even after Chakotay’s own fall from Starfleet, and even after his commanding position as a Maquis, I think Chakotay became a father figure to the ship’s crew. Both Starfleet and Maquis alike. While his arc eventually flattened out in later seasons, he was uniquely (purposefully) placed to step in as commander in “Caretaker, Parts 1&2.” From his initial introduction to “Endgame,” you know you’d want Commander Chakotay defending your honor. (ie “Basics 1&2“).

Lieutenant Tuvok
Tim Russ
Arc: The Flat Arc

Commander Tuvok, the steadfast Vulcan of Voyager’s bridge staff, as well as proficient tactical officer, rarely had episodes dedicated just to his character development. Out of VOY’s entire run, only “The Raven,” “Author, Author,” “Gravity,” “Repression” and “Innocence” showcase Tuvok’s loyalty and tenacity as he works to solve problems or even a murder. His keen investigation skills are sharpened by his interactions with the rest of Voyager’s crew, whether he’s willing to admit that or not. Tuvok’s arc was hard to place, but his is the same as Janeways: The Flat Arc. Before you “poo poo” my conclusion, think of this way. Before VOY aired, you can tell Tuvok’s character already had purpose. He’s placed as Janeway’s confidant and valued friend. And, as the oldest member (being a Vulcan), he’s already had a long-standing Starfleet career (“Flashback“). As such, it only makes sense Tuvok would have a somewhat flat arc.

Lieutenant Tom Paris
Robert Duncan McNeil
Arc(s): Positive Change with a lot of Fall

In the series’ opening, we already know Tom Paris, son of a Starfleet Admiral, fell from grace due to bad decision making and then lying about his mistakes. In Starfleet, rank and relations won’t protect anyone from their own undoing. But Janeway gave him an opportunity to redeem himself (“Caretaker”) and his flyboy nature couldn’t keep him from negotiating a deal. We see his arc grow until season five’s episode “Thirty Days.” Up until that time, he’d worked to earn the field commission he’d been given in an emergency situation. From there he had to work again to regain his crew’s – no – his family’s confidence in him. Notable Tom Paris episodes include “Alice,” “Vis a Vis,” “Lineage,” and “Investigations.”

Lieutenant B’Ellana Torres
Roxann Dawson
Arc: The Positive Growth Arc

B’Ellana Torres was especially hard to nail down, but she’s definitely got a positive growth arc. When we first meet her in “Caretaker,” her Klingon half rules over her human one, and she often gave into it during Voyager’s early seasons. One of her major turning points took place in season four’s episode, “Day of Honor,” when she finally (spoiler) admits her true feelings to Tom Paris. Her development does taper off a bit as with any show, but we get to the core of who she is by season four’s end. Notable episodes: “Extreme Risk,” “Lineage,” “Faces” and “Dreadnought.”

Ensign Harry Kim
Garrett Wang
Arc: The Positive Growth Arc

Garrett Wang himself has portrayed Harry as “Voyager’s whipping boy.” With everything the writers threw at him – multiple near death experiences, actual death experiences, individual time travel – Harry could’ve easily gone by way of the Corruption Arc. However, Wang’s character managed to keep his optimism, curious mind and scientific know-how. Ensign Harry Kim, I think, drew a lot of his strength from others around him, most profoundly Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Tom Paris (even though Paris disappoints him from time to time). Even though Kim was, in my opinion, under-developed, he still had some positive growth, if not a little flatter than most. Notable Harry Kim episodes include “Caretaker,” “Favorite Son,” “Demon,” “The Disease,” “Course: Oblivion,” and “Ashes to Ashes.”

The Doctor
Robert Picardo
Arc: The Positive Change Arc

My original feelings about The Doctor aside (I found him quite annoying, along with the rest of the crew), The Doctor does possess a positive change arc. This emergency medical hologram (or EMH), probably had the most lines on the show. One such example of his arc is that it took him years – literally years – to choose a name for himself. From his first scenes to very last. There’s also the added logistical nightmare behind his technological “genes,” somewhat solved with the addition of his mobile emitter in “Future’s End.” After season three he calms down, but has a tendency to throw himself into each new hobby he picks up (opera, a holo-family, social lessons with Seven of Nine, just to name a few). Notable episodes include “Darkling,” “Revulsion,” “Flesh and Blood,” and “Projections.”

I’m a doctor, not a battery.

“Gravity”

Neelix
Ethan Phillips
Arc(s): Disillusionment to Growth to Flat

As you can see, Neelix is a complex fellow, and that complexion is perfectly portrayed by Ethan Phillips. Phillips had previously played several characters in the franchise, including a Ferengi on Next Generation and a different Ferengi on Enterprise. Neelix begins his Voyager journey in disillusionment. While his girlfriend, Kes, settled into life on Voyager quite easily, Neelix was tempted to run on several occasions (as in “The Cloud“). At some point in season two, he and Kes are no longer a couple, and he begins to finally grow as an individual, spreading his own wings and expressing a willingness to try new things (“Fair Trade“). By Season Five, with his character established, his arc flattens. Notable episodes include “Jetrel,” “Once Upon A Time,” “Rise,” and “Investigations.”

Kes
Jennifer Lien
Arc(s): Positive Change –> The Corruption Arc

Wait? Seriously? The original ying to Neelix’s yang? Unfortunately, Kes is one of those characters viewers either loved, or loved to hate. Kes, a Delta Quadrant native, willingly joined Voyager‘s crew because of her intense desire to explore the galaxy and leave her Ocampan homeworld behind. Due to her species’ strong telepathic and mental capabilities, Kes eventually had to leave the ship in season four’s “The Gift.” This is where her corruption arc comes into play. Spoiler ahead! Kes returns briefly in season six’s “Fury,” as an incredibly angry individual, believing the crew abandoned her. Something corrupted her in the new years since “The Gift.” But does she stay corrupted? You’ll just have to watch to find out! Notable Kes episodes include “Caretaker,” “Before and After,” “Cold Fire,” and “Persistence of Vision.”

Seven of Nine
Jeri Ryan
Arc: The Positive Growth Arc

Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine joined the cast at the end of season two, effectively replacing Kes. The Voyager writing room ramped up her arc, using Janeway as her guide as they did with Kes. (Do you see now why Janeway needed to be the most established character in the beginning?) However, Seven grew so much that she was able to call out Janeway as they disagreed on procedure and life in general. Her story continues with Star Trek’s newest addition to its lineup, Star Trek Picard. Notable Seven of Nine episodes include “Imperfection,” “Scorpion,” “The Raven,” “Someone To Watch Over Me,” and “Bliss.”


If you’re a Star Trek fan, did I get this wrong? Or did I correctly analyze these ten characters from a writer’s viewpoint? Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments below.

Conclusion: the more you learn the art of writing, the more you’ll analyze your favorite forms of entertainment.

For I dipt into the future, far as the human eye could see; Saw the Vision of the World, and all the wonder that it would be…

Alfred Tennyson, from the bridge plaque on the USS Voyager

Writing Prompt:
Pick one of your favorite television and try figuring out their character arcs. Perhaps you’ll discover why you love them or love to hate them.


Five Disease Filled Star Trek Voyager Episodes You Should Watch This Weekend

The COVID19 pandemic is no laughing matter. If you’re reading this blog post, I don’t want you to think that I’m ignoring its widespread and global impact. The purpose of this post is to provide a short break from the monotony of #StayHome mandates, and bring a little Trek joy into your life. One of Star Trek’s overall messages is that of hope. Hope for a better future. There is still hope, and I’ll hold onto that with every ounce of my being.

Since the genre’s conception, Star Trek has offered up a myriad of themes throughout its fifty year history. With over 770 episodes within thirty-five series across the board, I won’t bore you with a Borg style analysis of them all. I’ll just focus on one of my favorite incarnations, Star Trek Voyager.

Voyager, which originally aired from January 1995 (I was ten) to May 2001, is the third series of the franchise established by Gene Roddenberry. As a fan for all my thirty-five years (just realized that number correlates with how many series there are), I can attest that it took Voyager a bit longer than most to stand on its own two feet. Unfortunately, many fellow Trek fans call it “a soap opera in space.” But I think they underestimate its potential. However, to this day I still cringe at one of its opening scenes between Captain Janeway and fallen-from-grace problem child, Tom Paris.

What were we talking about?
Oh yes.
Themes.

Now I’m not sure if this is a theme or a constantly rehashed plot device, but Voyager’s writers certainly loved throwing whatever disease they could at the crew. Let’s take a look at just five of them, and I’ll recommend episodes you can watch this weekend (all available on Netflix or CBS All Access – neither are sponsoring this post).

1. The Vidiian Phage
From their first encounter with the Delta Quadrant aliens, the Vidiians, in season one’s episode Phage to their last in Good Shepherd, Captain Janeway and the crew swing between wanting to help and wanting – no, needing – to escape a people whose pandemic reached the height of their bell curve long before Voyager entered the system. The classic struggle of keeping their humanity and values in check got the crew into trouble than they bargained for, as the Phage is one of the few, true pandemics in the Trek franchise. While the topic of pandemic is a sensitive one for today’s time, the lessons woven throughout these episodes are worth their weight in gold.

Episode Recommendations: Phage, Faces, Lifesigns, Deadlock, Coda, Resolutions

2. Janeway’s and Commander Chakotay’s Virus in “Resolutions
And here we are with Voyager’s Season Three, Episode 25 titled Resolutions. Janeway and Chakotay are bitten by some alien insect (I’ve always thought of it akin to a mosquito) on an away mission. For weeks The Doctor tried to find a cure, but eventually they had to return to the planet of origin to leave their commanding officers behind. It’s a great “what if” episode showing human resilience and determination. Plus, a little “love story” doesn’t hurt either. I highly recommend you watch this.

3. The Caretaker’s Unnamed Disease
The first time we meet Lieutenant B’Ellana Torres’ Klingon temper is on the Ocampan home world, where she and Ensign Harry Kim are sent to be cared for by Kes’ people after contracting a mysterious disease brought on by The Caretaker’s medical tests. Every crew has to start somewhere. So as corny as you may feel some parts of this first episode is, you’re going to love the friendship between Kim and Torres. They’re very much so the definition of ying and yang, and both fierce in their own ways.

The Caretaker, as he’s called by the Ocampa and Kazon, brought ships from across the galaxy in order to find a mate. When certain humanoids proved highly incompatible, they contracted the disease. To this day I find the character immensely selfish. Let’s not be like the Caretaker, okay?

4. Favorite Son‘s Transformation Virus
The first two seasons of Voyager are riddled with awkward scenarios, and Favorite Son isn’t an exception. Okay, it was only awkward to a ten year old who harbored an immense crush on Harry Kim. There. I’ve admitted it. Imagine my dismay seeing my favorite character surrounded by women one Wednesday night.

Every man’s dream, right? (I’m not a man).

This scenario isn’t unique to Voyager. The Original Series and Next Gen writers loved using this particular plot device. But was Harry’s “disease” or “transformation” real or truly manufactured? You’ll just have to watch to find out!

5. Macrocosm‘s Giant “Insects”
Decidedly one of the creepier episodes for my past self, I HATED hearing the droning noise the SFX folks gave to the macrovirus’ invading the ship. If I’d been onboard, terror would’ve rendered me incapable of doing my duty. Early Trek writers loved including that “creep factor.” That aside, it was a great Janeway development episode, and showcased her resolve to get her whole crew home that she had throughout the entire series.

Just as Janeway reached a tipping point in this episode, humanity’s reached one as well. Everyone’s been affected by COVID19 in one way or another. What really counts is how we choose to handle ourselves. However, I don’t recommend suiting up like Captain Janeway and going after macro mutations.


Honorable Mentions
1. Admiral Janeway’s Borg Virus in Endgame: Parts 1&2.
2. Ensign Lindsay Ballard’s Kobali transformation post mortem in Ashes to Ashes.
3. Lieutenant Tom Paris’ Warp Ten barrier transformation in Threshold.
4. Ensign Harry Kim’s, ahem, STD, via a crewmember of The Varro ship in The Disease.
5. The “computer virus” that kept Ensign Kim and Lt. Torres from leaving stasis pods in The Thaw.
6. Kes’ early elogium in Elogium.
7. Lieutenant Tuvok’s degenerative neurological disease in Endgame: Parts 1&2.


As you can see, my original thesis statement is correct – the Voyager writing room loved giving the crew travelling across the Delta Quadrant towards home a run for their money. Sometimes the story lines made sense. Sometimes they didn’t. But I can say for certain it made great Wednesday night viewing (then Friday nights when the show moved to UPN).

After I finished my homework, of course.

Here’s a little Voyager tour to brighten your day!