“STAR TREK VOYAGER” RETROSPECT – (4.23) “Living Witness”
The STAR TREK franchise has aired a good number of episodes featuring the “Mirror Universe” – an existence in which the Federation is solely a Human-controlled, fascist empire. This universe was first introduced in the “STAR TREK” Season Two episode, (2.04) “Mirror, Mirror”. The “Mirror Universe” was also featured in several “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” episodes and most memorably in an “ENTERPRISE” episode called (4.18-4.19) “In a Mirror Darkly”.
There have been parallel universe episodes featured in both “STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION” and “STAR TREK VOYAGER”. But none of these episodes featured the “Mirror Universe”. But if there was an episode that could almost seem part of the “Mirror Universe”, it would have to be the Season Four “VOYAGER” episode called (4.23) “Living Witness”. Directed by cast member Tim Russ, the episode began with an “evil” Captain Kathryn Janeway negotiating a deal with Vaskan ambassador Daleth. He wants to use Voyager’s fire power in a war against the Vaskans about fighting a war with their Kyrian neighbors. In exchange, he will give Janeway directions to a wormhole that can get the U.S.S. Voyager closer to home. Janeway and Daleth come to an agreement. But the Federation crew’s violent and aggressive methods lead Daleth to harbor second thoughts about the deal, especially after a Away team led by Chakotay managed to kidnap the Kyrian leader Tedran and a few of his followers . . . and Janeway murdered them in an effort to garner information about the Kyrian resistance movement.
It turned out that the above scenario was merely a historical simulation of the incident created by a 31st century Kyrian historian named Quarren. Sometime in 2374, the U.S.S. Voyager actually had an encounter with the warring Vaskans and Kyrians, in which the real Tedran and a handful of followers managed to board the Federation starship in order to stop what they believed was a weapons deal. The encounter resulted in Voyager losing a few debris, including a backup module of the Doctor’s program. Using tools from Voyager, Quarren was able to activate the Doctor and discovered that he had been wrong about Janeway and the crew, along with their actual encounter with the 24th century Kyrians and Vaskans. The Doctor’s revelation about the truth regarding the two species’ encounter with Voyager led to another outbreak of violence that resulted in the near destruction of the Kyrian museum for which Quarren served as curator. Using one of the museum’s artifacts, a Federation medical tricorder, as a source of information; the Doctor and Quarren eventually set matters straight.
I cannot say that “Living Witness” will ever be considered one of my favorite episodes of “STAR TREK VOYAGER”. However, I must admit that I view it as one of the best episodes from Season Four. On one level, it allowed the series the opportunity to present its own version of a mirror universe – similar to those episodes featured in “STAR TREK”, “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” and “ENTERPRISE”. But on a deeper level, it questioned the validity of written history and considered the possibility that a great deal of history has been written by those with a particular point-of-view or agenda. Screenwriters Bryan Fuller, Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky’s portrayal of Quarren and the Kyrians seemed to hint this approach.
Looking at Quarren’s take on the Voyager crew as military and political monsters, I found myself wondering why the series never featured an actual “Mirror Universe” episode. Perhaps in that universe, circumstances prevented an actual Federation starship from being catapulted into the Delta Quadrant. Pity. When I first saw this episode, I was surprised to see that the mirror Voyager had a few Kazons as part of its crew. The Quarren character made an interesting comment: “Voyager had many weapons at their disposal, including species they’d assimilated along the way–Borg, Talaxian, Kazon. They were captured and made to work as part of Voyager’s fighting force.” The ironic thing about this comment is that the same could be said about the real Voyager crew. Think about it. Even before the starship got pulled into the Delta Quadrant, Kathryn Janeway collected her first wayward individual – Thomas Eugene Paris. After the starship ended up in the Delta Quadrant, she collected other individuals, who became members of her crew – Chakotay and the Maquis crew under his command, Neelix, Kes, Seven-of-Nine, Icheb and the other Borg children.
However, there is one aspect of “Living Witness” that I found slightly disturbing. After my recent viewing of the episode, I came away with the uncomfortable feeling that the screenwriters – especially Brannon Braga – harbored a low opinion of what they considered “revisionist history”. What exactly is revisionist history . . . or historical revisionism? According to Wikipedia, it “is the reinterpretation of orthodox views on evidence, motivations, and decision-making processes surrounding a historical event. Though the word revisionism is sometimes used in a negative way, constant revision of history is part of the normal scholarly process of writing history.” Namely, some of the traditional history we learned from textbooks in the past have been “revised” or reinterpreted, when new material comes to light . . . or in some cases, when certain parties want to revise a past negative view of historical personages or events. Historical revisionism can be both positive or negative. Braga, Fuller and Menowsky seemed bent upon presenting revisionist history as something completely negative.
Although the episode featured both negative actions committed by both the Vaskans and Kyrians, only the Kyrians have been portrayed as unlikable or in a negative light. Even after the Doctor made it clear that Ambassador Daleth was responsible for the death of Kyrian leader Tedran seven hundred years earlier; the Vaskans kept their cool and demanded more of the truth, while the Kyrians reacted angrily to the Doctor’s deconstruction of Quarren’s earlier summations of the incident with Voyager. I found that odd. The screenplay portrayed the Vaskans as cool-headed, logical and desirous of the truth. Their only reason for sacking Quarren’s museum was due to their angry belief that his historical theories were wrong. The Kyrians reacted with less ration – including Quarren, himself. And more importantly, the Doctor made a peculiar comment. He said the following in a caustic voice –“Revisionist history…it’s such a comfort.” What were Braga and the other writers trying to say? That revisionist history is something to ignore altogether . . . and that it is better to simply blindly accept the history presented in the old textbooks of the past? I feel that the screenwriters should have considered the possibility that revisionist history could be both good and bad – considering what history is being revised, and whether that revised history has evidence to back up the scholars’ claims. Is that so hard?
There is one thing I can say about “Living History” – it featured some first-class acting by the cast and the episode’s guest stars. Roxann Dawson was missing from the episode, due to her recovering from the birth of her daughter. But the rest of the cast were a hoot as the “evil” counterparts of the Voyager crew. I was especially impressed by Robert Beltran’s take on the evil, yet “compassionate” Chakotay; and the insidious humor expressed by Tuvok’s evil counterpart. Kate Mulgrew was frightening as the evil Kathryn Janeway. The woman could have scared the living daylights out of the Borg Queen and Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine. And Rod Arrants was very effective in presenting two completely different aspects of the Ambassador Daleth character. But the episode really belonged to Robert Picardo and guest star Henry Woronicz. Not only were both outstanding as the Doctor from the backup module and Kyrian historian Quarren, but the relationship they developed between the two characters proved to be the heart and soul of this episode.
I think “Living History” could have been a personal favorite of mine, if the screenplay did not seem hellbent upon viewing revisionist history as some kind of scholarly evil, instead of something that is a lot more complex . . . like everything else in this world. But it still proved to be a well-made episode that featured excellent direction by cast member Tim Russ, superb performances by the cast and an interesting peek into what a “Mirror Universe” Voyager could have been. And I still believe it is one of the best episodes from the series’ Season Four.