As Trekkies, most of us would probably agree that there are two aspects of our favorite franchise that set it apart in the world of science fiction. The first is Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic vision of the future. And the second is the relationships between the characters — which includes mentorships. Representing the relationship between a mentor and a mentee is something Trek does well time and again. And in the most compelling of those relationships, the mentees go on to inspire others in the same ways in which they were inspired by their mentors. They ultimately become mentors in their own right. Let’s take a look at a few of those relationships.
Seven and Janeway
The relationship between Seven and Janeway is probably the most obvious mentorship in Trek. What’s really fascinating about it is how Seven goes on to teach the same lessons about individuality that she learns from Janeway to Icheb and the other children.
Janeway is eager to help Seven grow into a fully individuated person from the moment she’s liberated from the Borg. And indeed, over time, Seven begins to turn to Janeway first when she’s in need of counsel. We see this in “Omega Directive,” for example. After witnessing the perfection of the Omega Particle, Seven begins to have some spiritual insights.
“When Omega stabilized, I felt a curious sensation. As I was watching it, it seemed to be watching me. The Borg have assimilated many species with mythologies to explain such moments of clarity. I’ve always dismissed them as trivial,” Seven says to Janeway. And Janeway responds, “If I didn’t know you better, I’d say you just had your first spiritual experience.”
Similarly, Seven confides in Janeway in the episode “The Raven,” after being drawn to the ship she lived on as a child, and on which she and her parents were assimilated. Feeling pensive and reflective, she tells Janeway she has been thinking about what could have happened had they not encountered the Borg. Janeway encourages her to learn more about her parents because “it might encourage your imagination.”
In both these episodes, and elsewhere, it’s clear that Janeway is the one Seven turns to when she has questions about her individuality or her sense of self. And Janeway consistently encourages her to step out of her comfort zone, learn more about herself, and develop her own identity.
Seven also encourages Icheb and the other liberated Borg children to develop as individuals, as well. This is possibly best demonstrated in the episode “Child’s Play.” Voyager locates Icheb’s parents and returns him to them. Seven, following her intuition, figures out that Icheb is being used to infect the Borg with a virus and his parents are planning to allow him to be re-assimilated. After the crew saves Icheb, there’s a scene where he and Seven are talking. He’s wondering if it was maybe his destiny to be assimilated again. Seven replies, “You’re an individual, and you have the right to determine your own destiny.” She’s teaching him to value his individuality, just as Janeway taught her.
Data and Geordi
We see a similar evolution in the relationship between Geordi and Data. Throughout Next Generation, Geordi is the one Data turns to most to learn about humanity. Geordi is both Data’s best friend and his mentor. And Geordi never condescends to Data. Rather, he treats him like an intelligent individual who’s perfectly capable of internalizing the lessons he offers. Their relationship is truly one of the most touching in Star Trek.
Time and again, we see Geordi explaining human experiences to Data. He tries to teach him about humor, for example. And in Star Trek: Generations, when Data has activated his emotion chip and feels fear for the first time, he’s feeling distraught. But Geordi assures him that what he’s going through is a very human experience.
We see Data apply the same lessons when trying to teach his daughter, Lal, about humanity in “The Offspring.” He supports her as she chooses a gender and species for herself, and he works to help her learn social norms.
What’s interesting here is that Lal develops emotions, therefore surpassing her father’s experience of humanity at this point in a sense. However, she the emotional overwhelm leads to a cascade failure in her positronic brain, and she essentially dies.
Nonetheless, we see Data throughout the episode behaving very much like a human father, and drawing on the lessons he has learned from Geordi. Data assumes a somewhat similar role with B-4 in Star Trek: Nemesis, though that android is not as advanced.
Georgiou and Michael
Though we don’t get to see a lot of Prime Georgiou, from what we do see of her relationship with Michael, it’s clear that she has been an important mentor for her. Indeed, she’s even more than that for Michael — she’s almost like a mother figure to her. Michael, having been torn away from two mothers, Gabrielle Burnham and Amanda Grayson, turns to Georgiou to fill that hole.
When we first meet Michael, she still demonstrates some Vulcan-like affectations, having spent much of her youth and adolescence living with Spock’s family as his adopted daughter. Like Spock himself, she doesn’t really fit in with other humans or with Vulcans. Georgiou helps her feel more comfortable with her own identity.
And Michael does the same for Emperor Georgiou. Because she has spent her life in the Terran Empire, Mirror Georgiou has also had to shove down some of her natural tendencies — those of compassion and love. But Michael, serving both as a surrogate daughter and a mentor at the same time, helps her discover her own buried humanity.
This becomes abundantly clear in Discovery’s “Terra Firma” two-parter. Emperor Georgiou goes through the Guardian of Forever and re-lives a portion of her life in the Mirror Universe, trying to implement the lessons of compassion that she has learned from Michael. Pointing out her altered behavior, Mirror Michael asks her, “What happened to you?” And she replies, “I have changed. I have seen another way to live. Another way to rule.”
With all three of these mentorships, and others as well, we get to see the mentees not only benefitting from the lessons they’re taught, but coming full circle. They’re given opportunities to impart the wisdom they’ve gained to others, and it’s really lovely to watch.