Being the captain of a starship is something not to be taken lightly. While being in command of over four hundred people (or even more if you command a Galaxy class starship) your decisions affect the lives of everyone aboard. These decisions not only affect the crew but can influence Federation policy for years to come; one mistake could cause war, loss of life or even worse. Very few are chosen to command, you must be the best of the best, able to lead, able to make independent decisions without command there to support you.
What happens when a starship captain’s judgement is impaired, when decisions are made that make no sense to anyone but the one issuing the commands? When those very decisions threaten to take away everything away you have worked your entire life to achieve? What happens when a starship captain becomes obsessed?
For James T. Kirk his obsession began when he was just a young lieutenant aboard his first posting the USS Farragut. While in command at phaser control he hesitated in firing at a space entity that drains your blood and as a result half the crew are killed including Captain Garrovick; a man Kirk respected and admired. Kirk never forgot that day; he never forgot what his inaction’s cost and eleven years later when he was in command of the Enterprise these feelings exploded within him when once again he encounters the entity.
While exploring on a planet Kirk believes that he has found the creature from eleven years ago. While initially investigating he loses three members of his crew to the creature. The Enterprise is actually meant to be rendezvousing with the starship Yorktown to deliver much urgent medical supplies but instead of leaving orbit Kirk decides to ignore his orders and find out more about the creature. While on the planet for a second time Kirk with Garrovick’s son who is an Ensign aboard the ship (quite convenient but that’s a discussion for another day) search for the creature but this time the Ensign hesitates and two more crewmen are killed. Ensign Garrovick is relieved of his duties and Kirk becomes even more obsessed with the creature and trying to find a way to destroy it.
Kirk cannot believe that Garrovick froze on the planet. He is actually transferring the anger he felt as a young lieutenant aboard the Farragut to Ensign Garrovick. He thinks the Ensign might have saved the two crew members lives if he acted faster unlike himself all those years ago. Where has Kirk’s leadership skills gone?
The crew are concerned. Kirk is making irrational decisions, he is recklessly ignoring orders that could cost lives, and he is not listening to those he trusts the most when it comes to asking for advice, five crewmen have died and at one point he evens accuses his bridge crew of conspiring against him.
It actually takes an intervention from McCoy and Spock to get Kirk to explain his reasoning behind his odd behaviour, to try and understand why he thinks this is the same creature from eleven years ago. Kirk sees the creature as a threat to all inhabitable planets; it must be destroyed at all costs. While McCoy and Spock are satisfied for now they are stilled concerned.
Finally the creature shows the crew it is intelligent, it does know what it is doing so this allows Kirk to feel justified in his actions but not before he almost destroys the ship by exceeding warp eight in an attempt to catch up to the creature. Suffice to say that with his crew now on board with his mission Kirk is able to destroy the creature before it can reproduce and become a larger threat. Kirk is even able to understand that his actions eleven years ago would have made no difference if he had not hesitated and thus his guilt goes away and he feels he can also support the young Ensign.
We saw a whole new Kirk in this episode. We saw a man who was blinded by his own obsession with the creature that he was willing to lose his command, the respect of his senior officers, cause the deaths of his crew and almost destroyed the Enterprise. Kirk has been haunted by this for over eleven years and sees this creature hunt as his chance to redeem himself even if it means losing everything and crushing a young Ensign at the same time.
However, James T. Kirk was not the only starship captain to become obsessed…..
It seems that the starship Voyager was not the first Federation starship to be captured by the Caretaker and thrown into the Delta Quadrant. In Equinox we found out that the USS Equinox was also heading back to the Alpha Quadrant but unlike Voyager had encountered its own “year of hell” as she was battered by one alien race after another. The ship was on the verge of collapse, half the crew were dead, those left were starving, in need of medical attention, on the edge of nervous breakdowns but worse was still to come.
Ransom and the Equinox however, had a very dark secret. By chance they had come across a race of nucleogenic lifeforms and were harvesting the bio-energy that they emitted but in the process were killing them. This in turn led to the Equinox being hunted down by the aliens until they are near destruction when Voyager arrives.
Captain Kathryn Janeway while acknowledging the suffering the crew of the Equinox had endured was glad to have found another starship in the Delta Quadrant. They would be able to muster their resources, repair the Equinox and together find a way home. In Captain Ransom someone she had admired for his scientific accomplishments she now had another starship captain to confide in, someone who understood the demands that being stranded 70,000 lights years from home has upon a commanding officer. Now together they are coming up with defences against the aliens.
Janeway decides that they will have to abandon the Equinox but Ransom and crew don’t like that idea. By using the energy from the aliens they could be home within a few short months and they don’t wish to stay in the Delta Quadrant. Before they can plan their escape Janeway discovers their secret and she is mad! In a tense scene she asks Ransom why and he felt that they were not compelled to follow the prime directive since this was their chance to get home.
With the help of the Equinox’s EMH Ransom and crew escape Voyager, steal the newly created defences’ against the aliens and kidnap Seven of Nine. Worst of all they leave Voyager to the mercy of the aliens.
Ransom has crossed the line and Janeway will stop at nothing to stop him and see he and his crew punished for their actions. So begins a quest to capture the Equinox that pushes Janeway to her limit and her crew’s trust in her to breaking point.
Over the course of events we see Janeway focus on nothing but capturing the Equinox. Instead of putting as much distance between Voyager and the aliens Janeway instead goes after Equinox. This is where we start to see a darker side to Janeway. First up she manages to capture two of the crew from the Equinox and decides to question one in the cargo bay. While trying to get answers Janeway lowers the shields around the bay to allow the aliens to emerge. She threatens the crewmen (Noah Lessing) with certain death unless he talks. It seems that no answers are forthcoming but before we can find out if he will buckle Chakotay cracks. Chakotay drags Lessing out of the room and can’t understand what Janeway was doing. Janeway simply walks away from him with a look of disgust that he didn’t trust her.
While Voyager is chasing the Equinox her desire to capture Ransom causes her to push the ship beyond her capabilities, the ship is damaged quite a few times within the story and at one point when it looks like they have captured the ship she orders Tuvok to continue firing torpedoes against his objections.
While McCoy and Spock were about to intervene with Kirk by asking him what his objective were, how he was risking the ship etc Janeway will not even entertain any type of discussion with her first officer. Chakotay tries to reason with her friend but her frustration at his inability to understand the imperative to capture Ransom makes her relieve him of duty. Chakotay even comments that he doesn’t even know who she is anymore. To his surprise she says the same.
Finally Janeway is able to make contact with the aliens who have been pursuing the Equinox and now Voyager. Janeway makes a deal that you wouldn’t expect from a Starfleet captain. If the aliens stop there attacks on Voyager she will give them the Equinox, Tuvok is shocked and again Janeway snaps and says that she will relive him if he does not follow her orders. Considering how long they have been friends for this takes Tuvok by surprise.
With Ransom’s help (when of course he sees the errors of his ways) Janeway is able to stop the rest of the Equinox crew. Ransom dies as the aliens take their revenge and the remaining crew are stripped of rank and forced to join Voyager’s crew. Chakotay is back on active duty with the two of them reconciling over the ships dedication plaque which for all Voyager has been through only falls when they fighting amongst themselves.
To say that Janeway took the actions of Ransom and his crew personally is an understatement. His flagrant disregard of the prime directive was something that Janeway could not allow to go unpunished. Ransom had betrayed his oath as a starship captain; innocent life forms have been killed in his quest to get home (we won’t even discuss how many time Janeway has violated the prime directive).
Ransom and the Equinox became an obsession for Janeway. She was willing to risk the lives of her crew, her ship, engage in torture, almost faced a mutiny from Chakotay, and was even willing to sacrifice Ransom and crew to the aliens if it meant stopping them. Janeway seemed more driven than Kirk; she would not listen to reason to those she was closest to.
A starship captain is expected to lead from example, upholding the principles of the Federation and protecting those under his or her command. However, sometimes, just sometimes we a different side when they just can’t let go of a situation or event. Obsession is a strong emotion; it can change your whole personality / character and make you do things that once you would never have considered doing. If it can happen to James T. Kirk and Kathryn Janeway then it can happen to anyone.
Perhaps Starship Captains are human after all…