Star Trek Voyager: Favorite Son

"Just enjoy yourself while you're here."

Oh dear, how do I describe this one? Um. So, have you ever seen Red Dwarf? You remember the episode with the space sirens, where they tried to lure the crew to their asteroids, and their first attempt was only at the level of sophistication required to lure the Cat? Where they pretended they didn't have enough men and they needed males to "spread their seed"? Well, in this episode, we meet a bunch of aliens who actually seriously mean that.

To be fair, the Aliens of the Week's method is more carefully thought through than just sending a message asking for men. Instead, they convince passing alien men that they're actually members of their own species, who were scattered around the galaxy when their fathers left to implant them in alien women. Why? No one thinks to ask! How did one make it all the way to Alpha Quadrant? He just left a really long time ago! Why does the Taresian DNA only come out when they get close to the planet? It takes half the episode for anyone to wonder!

With four over-lapping Star Trek series airing between 1987 and 2005, there were often overlaps in their stories and subject matter. Less common, though, were stories lifted from Original Series or Animated Series episodes from the 1960s and 1970s, for the very good reason that a lot of them were outdated by the time we got to the 1990s.

'Favorite Son' is bizarre because it feels like it's fallen straight out of the 1960s. Beautiful women in revealing outfits spend the entire episode throwing themselves at Harry Kim on a planet that's apparently 90% female, and that turns out to be the Planet of the Praying Mantises. The Animated Series' 1973 episode 'The Lorelei Signal' has some similar themes, and Next Gen's 'Angel One' was similarly ridiculous, but really, this feels like the sort of adventure Kirk and Spock might have had on an off-day.

It honestly feels sort of reductive and pointless tearing this episode apart. I mean – a planet of sexually predatory women convince Harry he's one of them, throw themselves at him, and plan to mate with and kill him. Does that sound like classic science fiction drama? Or does it sound like this might be another episode we should probably all pretend never happened?

I will say this for it, though. I once showed a friend this episode when we were teenagers and needed something to watch (it was showing live on TV – I hadn't seen this episode before and didn't know what was coming!). She'd never seen Voyager before. After watching it, she sought out more of the show, became a huge fan, and came to the 2001 convention with me. She agrees that this particular episode is ridiculous – but it seems there was something about Voyager that appealed anyway, at least enough that she wanted to watch another episode!

I don't know what it was that shone through this bizarre mis-step of an episode, but I think maybe it was the warmth and sheer likability of the characters. Janeway was a big draw for us – the 1990s gave us Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but female heroes were still a big deal, and Janeway is much less sexualised than either of those two. Seeing a woman in a formal, workplace-style situation, leading the show while wearing the same costume as the men, was a big deal to us.

And the other characters are likeable too – Harry and Tom's friendship is funny and engaging, and the Doctor is always very watchable. And while the plot is awful, the script and dialogue is lighthearted and fun. Even the terrible plot is entertaining at least! So, it is possible to enjoy this episode. Get some drinks in, have some friends over (when you can – in the meantime maybe do a Netflix watch party) and laugh at it!

Harry actually ends the episode telling Neelix the story of Odysseus and the Sirens. Red Dwarf's 'Psirens' aired in 1993. This episode aired in 1997. This could be pure coincidence. Or, it was late in the long-26-episode season, everyone was running out of ideas, and someone – perhaps subconsciously – remembered a joke from a British sitcom and thought it would make a good episode. It did not.

Bits and pieces

 - This is Harry's second encounter with a Weird Space Disease, following his illness in the pilot - here, the infusion of Taresian DNA comes via infection.

 - It's not clear at what point exactly Harry gives up on getting back to his girlfriend Libby, but he seems to have moved on by now, as her name is never mentioned all the time he contemplates marrying three other women.

 - In real life, mantises and and black widow spiders don't necessarily kill the males every time they mate – hence the species don't die out all together, without an influx of gullible alien males.

Quotes

Janeway: We'll have to consider every possible explanation.
Kim: Oh believe me, I have been. Space-time anomalies, alien telepathy, alternate realities. The list gets weirder as it goes on.

Kim (having hit a Taresian woman over the head with a vase): Sorry about that!

Paris: Like me? You might wanna reconsider that Harry, there could be prison time involved.

This is Voyager's fourth-worst episode of all time (behind 'Threshold' and two season six episodes we haven't got to yet). It is kind of funny, though. Half an Alien Praying Mantis Woman for amusingly-terrible entertainment value.

Juliette Harrisson is a storyteller, freelance writer, Classicist and Trekkie. She runs the podcast Creepy Classics, re-telling and discussing ancient, medieval and early modern ghost stories. She tweets @ClassicalJG

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