Romance and Resolutions: Learning More About Kathryn Janeway

Chakotay rubs Janeway's neck in Resolutions

It’s quite possible that I’ve watched the Voyager episode “Resolutions” more times than any other single episode of Star Trek.

A lot of those times were when I was a teenager, during the show’s first airing in the UK. I recorded it onto VHS and, like most of the other episodes favoured by Janeway/Chakotay shippers, I watched it so often the tape wore out.

Nowadays, it’s an old favourite comfort-watch that I love to return to now and then. But for a while there in the middle, I didn’t watch “Resolutions” much. I still liked it, but it felt sort of embarrassing to admit it, even to myself.

Some (quite vocal) parts of fandom are pretty down on “Resolutions,” I’ve seen accusations that Janeway is out of character, that the episode makes her into a “too-feminine” damsel in distress, that it’s “just about shipping”, that the stakes are too low because we know they’ll get back to Voyager in the end. I really see red, though, when people sneeringly refer to “Resolutions” as a romance novel, as though that’s a bad thing to be.

Because “Resolutions” does borrow from the romance toolkit – just like Star Trek episodes since the 1960s have borrowed from other genres – and for my money its main strength is that it does one of the things that romance is especially good at. It uses romance tropes – like colleagues-to-friends-to-lovers, the idea of two people being stranded alone together, the archetype of the strong, supportive hero – as a springboard to tell a rich, complex story about one woman’s inner life.

Janeway in her uniform about to leave the planet

The fact is, Captain Janeway’s position doesn’t allow much room for romance – she’s the superior officer of every person in her social circle, and not only that, she’s ultimately responsible for their wellbeing and their futures. She’s incredibly single-minded in her focus on her mission – she barely has time to eat lunch, let alone have a romantic relationship. Her entire identity is bound up in her determination to get her crew home and the immense pressure it puts her under. As an audience, until “Resolutions”, we don’t really know who she is without that. Aside from arguably a few minutes at the beginning of Caretaker, we have never seen Kathryn Janeway out of Captain Mode, because she can never be out of it.

So of course “Resolutions” shows a different side to her. That’s the entire point – taking a woman who’s been under unimaginable strain and putting her in a situation where that burden is forcibly wrenched from her shoulders, and seeing how she reacts. She’s not out of character, we’re just learning more about her.

Even though Chakotay is an essential part of this story, it’s not really about him. He doesn’t really grow or change at all over the course of the episode. Whereas Kathryn Janeway moves from dogged certainty that she can fix her situation, to despair, to the beginning of acceptance. The potential romance between Janeway and Chakotay is a tool to illustrate her shifting perspective.

Chakotay’s outdoorsy competence and his willingness to take the lead on making their new home puts Janeway in the unaccustomed position of not being in charge. Chakotay’s calm embracing of their situation is a foil for her determination to find a way out of it. Even Chakotay’s home comforts are a device to illustrate the contrast between her life on Voyager and the simplicity of New Earth, something for her to rail against initially and later warm to.

One particular scene comes in for a lot of criticism – as the two of them shelter under a table from a dramatic storm, Janeway witnesses the destruction of the scientific equipment that she had hoped would someday allow them to resume their journey. It’s a violent turning point, one that forces her in the space of seconds to reevaluate everything she’s been holding onto and come to terms with what now seems like a lifelong exile. Anyone would show distress in a moment like that.

Chakotay holds Janeway as they hide under the table

So what’s the problem with this scene? According to many fans, it’s the fact that, in this emotionally charged moment, Chakotay – who is, as far as she knows, the only person she will ever see again – puts his arms around her and comforts her. This is apparently what makes her a “damsel in distress” – reaching out for human connection when she’s forced to let go of everything she knows.

It’s only really after this moment that we truly see who Kathryn Janeway could be without the responsibility of captaining Voyager – only something this drastic, this unequivocally final, can make her put down the burden of command. It’s a powerful insight into her character.

All of that said, “Resolutions” certainly contains some romance-novel indulgence – the bathtub, the massage, Chakotay doing woodwork with his sleeves rolled up. And why not? There’s nothing wrong with romance for romance’s sake. Elaborate space battles are just as indulgent in their way, and nobody ever criticises Star Trek for including them. These moments are worthwhile and enjoyable for plenty of people in the audience, and those viewers are no less important than the ones who enjoy elaborate space battles – sometimes they’re even the same people.

Ultimately, though, the heart of this story is the point it’s making about the extreme loneliness of Kathryn Janeway’s position on Voyager – seeing her face when Tuvok’s message reaches them, and watching how she snaps instantly into Captain Mode when she and Chakotay arrive back on the bridge, we end the episode with a much richer understanding of who she is.

  2 comments for “Romance and Resolutions: Learning More About Kathryn Janeway

  1. Frances Burnett
    March 5, 2019 at 8:53 am

    Chakotay – who is, as far as she knows, the only person she will ever see again – puts his arms around her and comforts her. This is apparently what makes her a “damsel in distress” – reaching out for human

    I really don’t think he’s comforting her, I believe he is trying to prevent her from hurting herself. Kathryn is so traumatised by earth finally being completely ripped away that in those moments she isn’t thinking.

  2. Robyn
    March 12, 2019 at 6:11 am

    I had never looked this episode in this way. Super interesting !! This episode is my guilty pleasure too !! precisely because it is such a different view of the characters that I love.

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