The Good shepherd and the Great Link
One of the characters, in Star trek Voyager S6 E20, declares that “Religious Metaphors are irrelevant” but our culture is infused with such metaphors and the Star Trek Universe is no exemption. The episode in which, religious metaphors are deemed irrelevant, for instance, is one that is tilted “The good Shepherd” which comes straight from the Bible. Captain Janeway, goes on to relate the story of “the Good shepherd” which feels appropriate for this Christmas season so in case you have never heard it:
Captain Kathryn Janeway: Ever hear the Tale of the Good Shepherd? If even one sheep strayed into the wilderness, the shepherd left the safety of the flock and went after it.
Seven of Nine: So, you’re intending to rescue them?
Captain Kathryn Janeway: In a manner of speaking. Maybe all it will take will be some personal attention from their captain, maybe something more, but I won’t abandon a member of this crew… no matter what their problems might be.
The sentiments of the good shepherd can be heard, in other faiths and communities, but there are also more specific metaphors. The Great link in Star Trek Deep Space Nine is one such, especially when they use the lines “The drop becomes the ocean.” As stated in the Knowing Heart “It has become an accepted spiritual idea that each part of the universe in some way reflects the whole … This notion has always existed within Sufism and is expressed, for instance, in the idea that the human being is not merely a drop that can merge with the ocean, but a drop that contains the ocean.” (Helminski, Shambala 2000).
The Good Shepard, Star trek Voyager, contains within it other interesting metaphors and analogies. It has, for instance, a distinctly familial feel: it could be because the captain is a female or that the ship is lost and alone tens of thousands of light years from Earth, in a quadrant of space that is unfamiliar. In a previous episode the captain’s identity merges with that of the mother of a crew member. In this she becomes a good shepherd but this time the crew member does not respond well to the captain addressing them informally: My mother didn’t even call me that.”
The premise of the Good Shepherd is that Seven of Nine, a character who is sometimes, sarcastically, referred to as the “Borg Queen” because of her lack of adherence to the ship’s protocols and hierarchy, decides that the ship is not working to maximum efficiency. She calls a meeting of the senior staff including the captain, where she reports, amongst other failings, that three of Voyager’s crewmembers are not performing to acceptable levels. Captain Janeway decides to take the three crewmembers under her wing, and against the advice of Seven of Nine, takes them on an astronomical study. The three crewmembers are science officer William Telfer, a hypochondriac; Tal Celes, whose work seems to require constant double-checking; and Mortimer Harren, who is interested only in cosmological theories and shuts himself away on Deck 15. Tal embodies the outsider: “I don’t deserve to be on your ship, captain,” she says. “And I’m not really a part of Voyager. I just live there.” She also believes she only made it through the academy because of “sympathy votes” due to her homeland’s unfortunate situation.
It seems strange that, after 6 years in the Delta Quadrant and having fought many battles “the Vidiians, Species 8472, the Borg” etc that the ship should have misfits and crew that are not able to work at peak efficiency but the episode does provide an interesting take on the hierarchy of voyager and perhaps a note to search for anyone who may be excluded from the opportunity to fully connect to the whole.
There is an interesting sequence which connects the whole, when data PADDs are carried around the ship. “The opening teaser sequence of “Good Shepherd” begins with a CG shot that starts from outside the ship and tracks in on Captain Janeway in her office/ready room. The sequence ends with a parallel shot that tracks out from a window way down on deck 15, where a lone crewman looks over an order on a PADD that has just been handed to him. The order has travelled from the top of the chain of command to the bottom, while we’ve watched it travel …” around the ship (Jamahl Epsicokhan). There is also a Cameo, in this episode, which adds to the family/good shepherding vibe. Tom Morello a famous guitarist (Rage Against the Machine etc) plays Crewman Mitchell
Crewman Mitchell: [snaps to attention] Captain on the deck!
Captain Kathryn Janeway: At ease. Junction room 16?
Crewman Mitchell: Over there, Captain.
Captain Kathryn Janeway: Of course. Crewman Mitchell, how have you been?
Crewman Mitchell: Uh, never better, ma’am. Yourself?
Captain Kathryn Janeway: Not bad. Not bad at all. [proceeds into the indicated direction]
Crewman Mitchell: Uh, to the left, ma’am.
Captain Kathryn Janeway: Thank you.
It has a very “Upstairs Downstairs” kind of feel, a BBC series set in the years around the Second World War: “The freshly polished silver sparkles in the light of the chandelier; the fragrance of fresh flowers fills the air; as the hustle and bustle of service sweeps through the rooms, the staff (downstairs) prepare for the long-anticipated return of the Master and Lady of the house” (upstairs of 165 Eaton Place).
The Voyager episode started with Captain Janeway being interrupted by the second in command, who informs her that Seven wants to present her ship-wide efficiency report to the senior staff. After Seven’s briefing the captain notices that none of the three have ever been on an away mission”. “Three people have slipped through the cracks on my ship. That makes it my problem”. She doesn’t want to “just deactivate them”, like Borg drones, so she decides to take them on an away mission. Alone in space, in a smaller ship where “what we do … matters.”
The episode ends with Janeway waking up in sickbay with the three crewmembers safely tucked in beds beside her. Chakotay, the second in command asks her What happened?
Captain Kathryn Janeway: Huh… The good shepherd went after some lost sheep… and ran into a wolf.
Chakotay: Did she find them? [Janeway looks at her three crewmen peacefully sleeping in sickbay]
Captain Kathryn Janeway: I think she did. (Said with a smug smile?)
She does manage to bring them back within the fold, under her wing so it is a shame that none of these crew members feature in any other episode of Star trek Voyager. They had some interesting developing characters which created great dialogue: It would have been good to see them again. It seems, like most of Voyager’s crew, they return to the background and, perhaps, get stuck in a routine that is not fulfilling or appreciated. Skeptical in March 2016 commented:
“- I wonder what Sheldon from Big Bang Theory thinks about this episode? Namely because Crewman Harren is that exact same personality. Extremely intelligent, extremely selfish, extremely arrogant. …”(interesting fact by Gary Gordon, 2019, This episode was written 7 years before Big Bang.)
“-Wait, so Janeway is now comparing herself to the Good Shepherd? She is literally comparing herself to God now? Whoa, her random mental problems took a weird turn there.”
The Great Link
The Great Link (or The Link) was the intermingling of many Changelings in their natural liquid form and the foundation of their society, providing meaning for their existence. Most Changelings existed as an amalgamated mass known as the Great Link and being in the Link was described as “paradise”. The link provides many metaphors for spiritual connections and love so it is a pity that they are, ultimately, at the centre of the Dominion which is at war with the federation! A brief description of the Link and changelings illustrates some of these metaphors:
Changelings could take virtually any corporeal form and had the ability to sense, in most cases, the presence of other Changelings. They hated to be separated from their people, and would seek out the company of other Changelings, even if they had personal conflicts, rather than remain alone. Linking with one another was seen as the ultimate form of intimacy. While in the Link, it seems a Changeling had little sense of time or its individual self, and saw itself as a part in a larger whole and was drawn to the Link.
Star Trek Deep Space 9, starts with Odo and the audience not knowing if or where others of his kind, exist. He sees himself as a man alone but as Chief of security believes “Laws change depending on who’s making them. Cardassians one day, Federation the next — but justice is justice.”
It turns out that Odo was one of the “Hundred Changelings”, that the Founders sent out into the galaxy, “centuries ago”, to gather information and explore. He was found adrift in his natural gelatinous state and his name is derived from the Cardassian word for “nothing”, Odo’ital, which was the loose translation of the “unknown sample” label in Bajoran on his laboratory flask. Early in his life, when he heard others address him as “Odo”, he heard it as “nothing”. Later in life, Odo recalled that when he was first discovered, “I didn’t know what I was. I had no memory of where I was from. I didn’t even know I had the ability to mimic other forms.”
In “The knowing Heart” there are many aphorisms that connect to this theme:
Time and space do not exist for the heart.
The self must get accustomed to the experience of surrender in order to purely be itself.
Separation is the fundamental sin, which has countless expressions.
We are responsible for our intentions, not for our outcomes.
All of humanity is a single body
When ego disappears, our burden is lighter.
The divine path rejects no religion.
All loves are the reflection of One Love and ultimately lead to that Love.
Thank you for reading my musing. Wishing you and yours all the complements of the season and a peaceful and prosperous 2022 when it comes. May we all be loved and cared for, at peace with our ourselves, those around us and the Universe.