Standing Up For Sisko And Janeway

Standing Up For Sisko And Janeway

Ben Sisko DS9Over on my Tor.com Star Trek post I noticed something that I often see but don’t always comment on: the dismissal of Captains Janeway and Sisko (and their shows) as being bad, or mediocre, or not as good as Kirk/TOS, Picard/TNG or even Archer/ENT (wtf?).

I’m used to Janeway hate. Voyager started shaky, founds its footing, then fell on its face when a blond in a skin-tight jumpsuit wandered by. There were many individual moments of great television, but nothing that truly cohered. Plus, Janeway is a woman, and the sexism-laced commentary about her being too manly or too feminine or too whatever have flowed since the show began.

What I don’t understand is the lack of love for Sisko, who was by far the best Star Trek captain since Kirk. Deep Space Nine was the most ambitious and complex of all the shows, and explored issues that were sometimes touched on in the original series but rarely approached in The Next Generation. I realize that Star Trek began as Wagon Train in space, but is there no room in the franchise for a show that required a bit of deep thought?

What I’ve always wanted to do, and am now taking the chance to do, is to ask: what exactly do you dislike about Janeway and/or Sisko? And let’s not pussyfoot around here: I want concrete examples, not vague “she was too feminine!” bullcrap. I want to know in what way did Janeway’s femininity made her worse or negatively different than Kirk or Picard or Archer, if that’s your stance. Whatever your issue, bring it on.

Comments

  1. says

    I got nothing, ‘coz I adored them both — although Janeway more than Sisko, ‘coz I didn’t watch DS9 as much as Voyager. I didn’t like the fact that it was stationary — it seemed to take the TREK from Star Trek.

  2. says

    Oh. Um. I never watched enough Voyager to make a decision about Janeway. I hated the show. *shrug*

    Rawr, though. Sisko is my King. I think DS9 took two seasons to get itself sorted, but I always loved the way Sisko dealt with issues.

  3. Brewster North says

    Agreed with you – TOS/TNG/ENT were more “trad” Trek, but for their occasional flaws, VOY and DS9 were the better shows at times. (It’s tricky for me, though, because last time I saw either show it was subject to all the vagaries of BBC2 scheduling.)

    I’ve nothing against either Janeway or Sisko – they were the more interesting captains of the entire franchise. The only thing I can hold against Janeway is what you’ve already noted: that she was rather poorly written-for once Seven came on the screen.

  4. says

    I’m opposite Amal, I never watched Voyager but adore DS9 completely. And I was never even INTO Star Trek until my last boyfriend kept watching DS9 with me around and I realized how awesome Sisko was.

  5. Josh Jasper says

    I’m not a huge Janeway fan, but who dismissed Sisko? Dude punched Q in the *face*.

  6. JoSelle says

    I wasn’t going to comment since I didn’t know if it would be OK to express Sisko-love. But since others are doing so …

    Sisko’s my favorite captain, and DS9 was my favorite Trek.

    I don’t have issues with Janeway really, but I didn’t think her show was particularly that good.

  7. says

    I never watched Voyager regularly, so maybe I’m missing something, but what I saw of Janeway didn’t impress me. This might have something to do with the fact that in one of the few episodes I did see, she was dating a holodeck character, or it could simply be that I’m projecting the series’s dullness on her.

    Sisko, on the other hand, is awesomeness personified, and it is mind-boggling that there are people who don’t think so. It’s always been a neck and neck race between Sisko and Picard for me, and Sisko wins out because he got a lot more character development and many more aspects to his character – not only a captain but a war leader, a religious figure, and father, and a husband.

    (There are Archer fans? Seriously?)

  8. says

    I liked them both, too. But I think that the Sisko hate is likely misplaced DS9 hate, and that often stems from the sort of B5 fan who refuses to acknowledge that two shows could have had the same general premise and both be good (if DS9 was actually a great show, then surely B5 couldn’t be the greatest show of all time).

    Personally, I consider DS9 the only ST series that works as a cohesive unit, and which engages in superb long-form storytelling. Sisko is a huge part of that success.

    I agree pretty much completely with your assessment of Voyager. I do think that, after about a year or so of Hot Borg Action, they managed to find some solid footing again, but it was never a show I felt bad about missing.

    And wait — are there actually any folks who think Archer was better than either of them?

  9. Nick Mamatas says

    I like Sisko, though Avery Brooks’s acting was always a bit one-note. DS9 was just a lame show; it turned Star Trek into Star Wars with the Defiant and the intrigue between species was never very interesting. (Never liked B5 either, which was just DS9 with even worse acting.)

    Voyager was an EXCELLENT show as long as you kept one thing in mind: every single character was absolutely insane.

  10. Nick Mamatas says

    I remember when they first revealed that ship. I didn’t see the episode immediately, but I heard about it from six or seven different people. Stuff like, “You know how Star Trek phasers just fire one or two at a time, like a couple of cannons. Well, the Defiant goes pshewpshewpshewpshew like in Star Wars!”

    This was considered a great improvement. I thought the whole thing was just ridiculous pandering.

  11. Josh Jasper says

    Whereas I thought it was cool that there was actually a damn warship instead of all of these heavily armed “exploratory” vessels. It looked mean, not like some intergalactic cruise ship.

  12. says

    Deep Space Nine came out during the years when I didn’t have a television, so I never started watching it. I discovered Voyager a couple years later and for all its silliness, I loved it, because it explored something that really interested me. Voyager asked: What happens when a bunch of people are stuck out in the middle of nowhere, with none of their accustomed environment to enforce the rules of society? To what extent do they choose to maintain their social order insofar as it’s useful, and to what extent will they make up their own rules?

    There’s an innate hierarchy and military discipline to life on a starship, and in Voyager we saw them consciously question that for the first time, and make semi-individual choices to adhere to it because it allowed them to function and not fall apart. I thought that was fascinating. I also liked that while doing so, they had a kind of communal informality among the crew, a sense of togetherness and humanity in the face of a frightening unknown universe.

    So yeah, Voyager is probably my favorite ST, even though it got very bad toward the end. Nick may have been joking about the “absolutely insane” but I think that’s actually part of the appeal for me: it was such a collection of individuals who were staring into the face of the abyss all the time and just choosing, over and over, to believe in a completely constructed social reality that kept them from throwing themselves out the airlocks.

    Janeway is my favorite captain.

  13. Nick Mamatas says

    I was half-joking. The show does make more sense if you decide that everyone’s crazy, and it IS part of the subtext.

    My only regret is that when Voyager returned to Earth they didn’t launch an attack immediately. “Aim phasers for the polar ice caps!” I shouted at my TV, while my friend Chris cried because they had finally made it home…

  14. says

    I’ve got nothing against Sisko. Well, okay, if I dig a little, I don’t like that whole Emissary thing, but that’s not his fault. I have a particular fondness for that ep where he was a science fiction writer.

    Janeway on the other hand, I have a peeve with. Right off the bat, she orders them not to call her ‘sir’ but to call her ‘ma’am’. One of the things I absolutely loved about Star Trek and Starfleet was that everyone was ‘sir’. It felt not only like feminist backtracking, but a major canon retcon to me.

    I mean, what’re you supposed to call the members of species who are not male or female? Better that everyone be ‘sir’ all the way around.

    And since she said that probably in the very first episode, it took awhile to warm up to her.

    Too masculine? No. Too feminine? No. Too feminist? Yes. Or maybe not feminist enough!

  15. says

    I’m a total Janeway & Sisko fangirl, so I will be reading the comments with interest. :)

    If I had to pick between the two, I’d say Janeway edges it. Partly, I’m unashamed to admit, because she’s a woman. But mostly because at the time DS9 was around, I was majorly into Babylon 5. As a ‘TV show set on a far-future space station’ B5 had DS9 beat hands down.

    But this is a great thread!

    Cheers,
    Kaz

  16. says

    Ha! Years of blurring reality and holodeck fantasies have left them utterly unfit to reenter society. Having been “rescued” they will now spend the rest of their days mumbling about aliens and playing World of Warcraft.

  17. Charlotte says

    actually, she told Harry not to call her sir and ma’am only in a pinch. She preferred to be called Captain. Also, it was not a canon retcon because she said “I know according to Starfleet protocols you’re supposed to address everyone, including female superiors, as sir. But I don’t like it.”

    Also: why is it better to call everyone by a masculine honorific? Why not call everyone ma’am? Using a default male honorific is icky, because it just bolsters the idea that men are the default.

  18. Torie says

    Sisko: I’ve currently watching DS9 and I’m only on Season 2 but so far I hate it. It’s the most sexist show I’ve ever seen (when it’s not being cliched and tedious). I don’t mind Sisko, but he seems very one-note as the angry asshole. Again, this is only two seasons, so I suspect he’ll develop.

    My issue with Janeway was that I don’t consider a gruff demeanor to be character development. She never felt passionate about anything, and rarely had moments of vulnerability. Picard had that unbridled passion that often led him to tripping up and making mistakes. I like that in my leaders, and she failed that test for me. On the other hand, I haven’t seen Voyager since first run, so maybe I’m mis-remembering. I will think on this as I watch DS9 and eventually Voyager again.

  19. says

    It’s been a while since I watched either DS9 or Voyager, so I’m trying to dredge up my memories.

    I can’t think of a single thing wrong with Sisko. The Emissary stuff was sometimes annoying, but that doesn’t really reflect poorly on the character.

    My problems with Janeway are rooted in what I see as the Voyager approach to writing: “It’s too hard to have our show and characters grow and develop, so let’s write each episode as though every other one never happened. This way, if the script suddenly calls for it, we can have Janeway be insane/Torres be super-angry/Kim grow a spine/Paris be a bad boy, then forget about it next week.”

  20. says

    Is there any doubt that DS9 was the best Star Trek show, much better than the boring, conflict-less TNG and even more advanced and mature than TOS? And that Sisko was the best captain?

    People who don’t like DS9, don’t appreciate good acting and writing.

    Voyager was a rather tacky show, but the character of Janeway was solid. However, like TNG, the show was boring. No conflict between characters, no interesting story arcs, one episode was just like another. If you judge the shows as works of drama, not just as Star Treks, it’s easy to see why shows with happy, well-adjusted characters that just sit around and occasionally play poker with each other are terrible.

  21. says

    I think it’s hard to separate an assessment of Janeway’s captaincy from the fact that Voyager missed an opportunity to return to the Alpha Quadrant in about half of the episodes, which is constantly at least a secondary mission objective. When Picard found himself tossed himself tossed about through time and space, he’d manage to get back to a starbase in two hours tops. This is a facile level for a debate, though; I’d rather talk about whether it is a coincidence that They decided to make “Gilligan’s Island in Space” and introduce a female captain at the same time.

    If you’re looking for a fight, fine. The Bun of Doom was the most absurd space-do since Jenna Stannis. If Janeway had had a crew cut or been bald like every other Starfleet captain, they would have made it back in the first season. Discuss.

    (I disagree with Adam Lipkin about Jeri Ryan, though. To me, part of the awesomesauce of TNG was that the majority of the cast was capable of being Shakespearean when the script demanded it, and I think Voyager’s cast was soap opera quality until Ryan came along. That respect doesn’t stop me from calling her character “38 of D”, though.)

    YHBT about Sisko, seriously. Dude is God, even when you factor in what I said about about the later series introducing storylines that took entire seasons to clean up which puts a corresponding strain on the omnipotent sheen of the captain.

  22. Alethea Kontis says

    I loved Sisko.

    My problem with Janeway was that she kept reminding me of Katherine Hepburn, but she wasn’t. I got past it enough to watch the show for a while, but not enough to fall in love with it, or her.

  23. says

    Just realized I never addressed the question Tempest asked about character, because I do like Janeway (and don’t know Sisko). Most of the critiques I’ve seen of her just veer off into sexist insults. A more valid complaint would be that she doesn’t behave like a regular starship captain; she is informal, cosy. She doesn’t have so much of that steely-eyed forceful glint of Mission. But I see that as part of what makes Voyager neat: their mission is pretty well screwed, they’re all alone, and they have to make everything up as they go. So half of her job at this point is just to maintain some sense of hope, humanity, and community on the ship. She was constantly having to dredge up that hope in herself in order to convey it to the others, which is an aspect of leadership that’s more interesting to me than most of what I’ve seen on ST.

    Those characteristics can be dissed as gendered, and it’s no coincidence that a woman was cast to play nice mommy to the crew, but I see her as a good captain who rose to the occasion and adjusted to a different set of needs.

  24. Jackie M. says

    I actually liked Sisko, and I didn’t so much have a problem with Janeway as with the overall boringness of the rest of the show. I understand the “they’re boring argument though”–they were all just too upstandingly perfect. Picard had it too, actually, but it was mitigated a little by his fear of children and his best friend’s widow… and then the Borg came along, and that was pretty awesome. I don’t remember Sisko having too many endearing traits like that? Anyway, then college hit, and I stopped paying attention. I seem to remember the writers trying to make Sisko more “flawed” later on–and I remember thinking that I liked the older, upstandingly boring version of him rather better.

  25. Jackie M. says

    I wish to fix the terrible grammar in the above reply. Is there a way to fix terrible grammar after the fact on this blog? *sigh*

  26. says

    I loved DS9 – I always enjoyed the interesting parallels I read in it to the Holocaust. It had such interesting themes about post war situations.

    But Sisko has this annoying pause after every single word he says. If you focus on it, it is really annoying :)

  27. says

    I absolutely loathed Voyager. I tried to get into it, but the whole “Can’t get back to the Alpha quadrant despite all these chances” combined with Kes, Neelix, and 7 of 9…it was like bad Star Trek fanfic to me. OTOH I loved most of DS9 (up until they killed Jadzia) and Sisko has always been one of my favorite captains.

  28. Nick Mamatas says

    Many latter day Trek fans seem to be utterly obsessed with the military nature of Starfleet and Mission and all that, despite the fact that in TOS people seemed pretty able to do whatever the hell they wanted and whenever a Commodore showed up he’d take over the Enterprise and try to kill everyone because he was crazy.

    I blame the movies coming out during the Reagan era for the military tingles in the special places of so many latter-day fans.

  29. Josh Jasper says

    The batshit commander who takes over and nearly gets everyone killed is a Trek staple. Happened in DS9 too. Also, they had a cool set of evil conspiracy sorts *inside* Starfleet.

    I’m sure some other Tom Clancey novel influenced plots show up that I’m forgetting.

  30. dianne says

    I love DS9 and especially Sisko until they went to war – it seemed to me like the show lost it’s footing in attemnpt to get more viewers. I adored Sisko as the reluctant messiah-figure. The concept of a spiritual journey as an on-going part of the plot, and as a STAR TREK journey intrigued me. Plus, he was yummy. I also loved the gender bending of Jedzia (sp?) Dax.

    Janeway’s voice annoyed me from the get-go. Once I got used to it, I never could get into the show. Great premise, but cheeeeeeeesily played out. I didn’t care for her, but mostly because I didn’t care for ANY of the characters or the show at all. And unlike, say, TNG, it never got any better either.

  31. Pamela Dean says

    It’s been a long time since I watched Voyager, so I’m afraid I’m going to give you a very strong emotional reaction that’s left a permanent scar, but no real details to back it up, because I repressed them in disgust.

    My problem with Janeway was that Roddenberry and all his followers have stupid ideas about women. I got very tired of this while watching (and rewatching and rewatching) TOS, and I got furious while watching TNG. They seemed scared of their female characters. They always had to pointlessly emphasize how feminine they were. They developed a character and then backed off, as if she was too scary. They were always lumbering women with stereotypically feminine things, improbable pregnancies, weird insecurities not consonant with their personalities, I guess so nobody would call them masculine, or something. And then they’d make the characters foolishly forceful to compensate, or so they could have a plot. (Tasha Yar, of course, is a horrible example of this.) I felt that it really hurt the characterization, that none of the women were very convincing as people because there was this weird tug-of-war going on in the background. I’m sorry I can’t recall the Voyager episode or anything about it now, but I once yelled at the screen, “Leave the woman alone and let her do her JOB, you idiots!” And I was talking to the writers.

    I quit watching TNG after the episode with the androgynous aliens, where all the women instruct the alien character in the most stupid, trivial, stereotyped aspects of femininity imaginable. It’s the twenty-whateverth century and they’re still dishing out this repulsive nonsense? Stupid cowardly writers.

    So I don’t have a problem with Janeway the character as such, because I don’t feel I ever got that far. I just saw the incredibly shallow and stupid thinking — well, maybe not thinking, maybe just reflexive knee-jerking — that went into preserving the writers’ idiot notions about women.

    P.

  32. says

    I love Sisko. Part of that is just that I really love Avery Brooks, but part of that was just how different he was from the other captains. And speaking of captains – I’m so glad they made him one instead of Commander where he started. That never made much sense to me.

    I wanted to like Janeway more. I think she had potential, but I don’t think she ever lived up to that potential. Voyager itself turned me off enough that I don’t really have the examples to back up my feeling, but it wasn’t a matter of being too tough or not tough enough, it was more, I think, as someone mentioned upthread, that there wasn’t more to her when I wanted there to be.

  33. says

    I’m not really an ST fan. I never liked Kirk, who was a smug git; I loved Picard but hated Riker and watched very little TNG; I liked Sisko and Kira and Dax and Odo and most of the DS9 crowd and that’s probably my favourite series; I disliked Voyager, with only the Doctor being its saving grace; and I was deeply uncomfortable with Enterprise, mostly because of the main storylines (the Time War was just tedious, and the 9/11 parallelism just embarrassing).

    In specific, I found Janeway just to be unconvincing as a starship captain (just as Will Riker was unconvincing as a no. 1), and frankly just not likeable (in huge contrast to Picard and Sisko, wo were both credible and likeable). For me, SF shows work if the cast are people you want to hang around with. For this reason I loved Firefly – they actually appeared to like each other (for the most part, there being obvious exceptions) and to have FUN – and hated the recent BG series, in which everyone appeared to be universally unlikeable.

  34. JoAnn says

    I didn’t watch enough of DS9 to have an opinion one way or the other.

    For Janeway, my issue was that there was an episode where she grips Tuvok by the shoulders – and I had always understood that it was rude to initiate contact with Vulcans. Add 6 of 9 in there, and… yeah.

  35. Jen says

    I liked Sisko alot. COuld never get past the actor who played Janeway, therefore I have no comment on Janeway as a character at all.

  36. Scott Lynch says

    Well, time to get my nerd on…

    I’ve got nothing bad to say about Sisko; I love Sisko and generally adore DS:9. It gave us occasional pieces of nonsense like “Take Me Out to the Holosuite,” but it also gave us things like “Far Beyond the Stars,” one of the greatest bits of Trek ever made.

    I always liked the essential character of Janeway; the way Kate Mulgrew played her with a sort of easy confidence and occasional sharp irritability. It struck me as a really solid portrayal of a middle-aged woman who’d spent many years climbing a command hierarchy– there was no overcompensation in either direction, toward the cigar-chomping overmasculine or the chintzy overfeminine. She seemed like a real person with believable moods.

    However, it’s difficult for me (and for many others, I suspect) to separate that from my opinion that *Voyager* was a catastrophically mismanaged and badly-written series, under the care of an immature creative team that seemed to give less of a shit with every passing year. My native good will for Janeway wasn’t enough to sustain me through episode after episode where the script called for her to make decisions that were glaringly insane, childish, or both.

  37. says

    yeah, i loved janeway from the gitgo because of that. it was “ma’am” in a pinch, because if you’re going to use a gendered address, you might as well use the right one. but she preferred the title, which was ungendered.

    it’s interesting that you remembered it wrong! but maybe you didn’t watch that episode five times like … some people …

  38. Phoebe says

    DS9 was my favorite Trek, and Sisko was my favorite captain.

    Janeway was fine, but I didn’t like Voyager all that much, so I haven’t watched much of it.

    I think one of the things that happened is that right around the time DS9 started was when there was finally enough sf on TV that you had choices. When TNG started it was the only game in town, so everyone watched it, which gave Picard a chance to grow on the people who didn’t immediately like him. If you were meh about DS9 or Sisko, you’d just watch some other sf show.

  39. says

    JANEWAY
    “I don’t have issues with Janeway really, but I didn’t think her show was particularly that good.”
    “what I saw of Janeway didn’t impress me.”
    “insane”
    “Too feminist? Yes. Or maybe not feminist enough!”
    “I don’t consider a gruff demeanor to be character development. She never felt passionate about anything, and rarely had moments of vulnerability.”
    “insane”
    “The Bun of Doom was the most absurd space-do since Jenna Stannis.”
    “she kept reminding me of Katherine Hepburn, but she wasn’t.”
    “Janeway’s voice annoyed me from the get-go.”
    “there wasn’t more to her when I wanted there to be”
    “unconvincing as a starship captain, and frankly just not likeable”
    “decisions that were glaringly insane, childish, or both.”

    SISKO
    “I like Sisko, though Avery Brooks’s acting was always a bit one-note”
    “I don’t like that whole Emissary thing, but that’s not his fault.”
    “I don’t mind Sisko, but he seems very one-note as the angry asshole.”
    “The Emissary stuff was sometimes annoying, but that doesn’t really reflect poorly on the character.”
    “But Sisko has this annoying pause after every single word he says. If you focus on it, it is really annoying.”

    Wow. When did we time-warp back to the 2008 Democratic primary?

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