Learning from “The Thaw”

If you’re reading this blog, then chances are you’re well aware of the philosophical gems tossed about in Star Trek. Tonight, I found myself rewatching the ST:Voyager episode “The Thaw” (s3e23) which is overall a pretty creepy episode, what with the circus of fear and such, but packed into the last few minutes of the episode, of course we have some well-played general badassery on Capt. Janeway’s part, but we also find some very real truths about humanity, specifically about fear.

Fear: “You’re here… you’re actually here. I don’t believe it.”
Janeway: “The arrangement was that the others would be released.”
Fear: “You show remarkable trust, Captain. How could you be so sure I would keep my word?”
Janeway: “I’ve known fear. It’s a very healthy thing most of the time. You warn us of danger, remind us of our limits, protect us from carelessness. I’ve learned to trust fear.”
Fear: “Finally, someone who appreciates me! Am I blushing?”
Janeway: “Let them go.”
Fear: “Yes, yes of course!” [turning toward hostages] “You may depart! Farewell, my friends. Do come back and visit, I’ll always be here.”

Janeway makes some very good points about fear in this little exchange. It’s true that fear can be a healthy thing, as long as it doesn’t become too powerful and overwhelming, as it did for the hostages. It makes us think twice before we take that jump, to consider whether or not we can realistically make it.
…but the truths continue after the hostages depart.

Janeway: “Would you be honest with me?”
Fear: “Fear is the most honest of all emotions, Captain.”
Janeway: “You really want this to end as much as I do, don’t you?”
Fear: “Now, now, don’t even think about leaving, I’m not going to let you go. Not after all this. Mirror?” [a mirror appears] “Don’t we make a beautiful couple, Captain?”
Janeway: “I’m not Captain Janeway.”
Fear: “Coulda fooled me.”
Janeway: “I’m afraid I did.”

Fear can indeed be frightfully honest, and it can hang on us and drag us down. I know a lot of us find the solution in either tricking our fear by going around the problem, or simply detaching ourselves from that fear long enough to find our solution. I suppose this sequence of dialog is simply a more literal interpretation of those methods. Once Janeway reveals that she is in fact a program designed to respond as the real captain would, she strikes at the heart of Fear, with some real words to remember.

Janeway: “You know as well as I do that fear only exists for one purpose: to be conquered.”
Fear: “She tricked me.”
Janeway: “Did she? Or was it part of you actually hoping to be defeated? Isn’t that why you allowed Captain Janeway to come here? Because you sensed she had the power to subdue you?”
Fear: “No. She lied. It was very un-Starfleet of her.”
Janeway: “Starfleet captains don’t easily succumb to fear.”
Fear: “What will become of us? … Of me?”
Janeway: “Like all fear, you eventually… vanish.”
Fear: “I’m afraid.”
Janeway: “I know.”

Did she just pull a Han Solo on Fear? At any rate, this is the portion of the conversation where she finishes out her prior statements. Yes, she has learned to trust fear because it is completely honest and reminds her of her limits, but it seems that fear only tells her when she needs to bring her A Game. After all, what good is something that reminds you of your limits, if not to help you push yourself to new heights? The Federation is a fantastic wonderland, but it’s still true that only the best among us are suited to lead, a fact that Janeway reminds us quite readily here. Whereas so many episodes end with a witty quip on the bridge, this one simply fades to black as Janeway and Fear drive home the point that eventually every fear will come to an end, somehow.

As I was writing this post, I was reminded that Halloween is fast approaching. I realize this post is a bit on the early side for that, but maybe this will help you get through all the horror movie marathons over the next month. Thanks for reading!

RDML Cam Wilkinson
Commanding Officer
Fleet 31

5 thoughts on “Learning from “The Thaw””

  1. Wow you just made me have to rematch this !!!!!And I agree fear is healthy if used for its rightful purpose after all it is an emotion that God gave us:)

  2. You just made me feel the need to go back and watch this episode, seeing as it is one of my favorites, it won’t be much of a problem. But you gave some very good insight, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it :3

  3. My favorite philosophical message in a Star Trek episode is in Tapestry, from ST:TNG. Q has let Picard go back to his cadet days and fix his “mistake” of getting into a bar fight which led to him getting an artificial heart. After choosing to avoid the barfight, his life is drastically different, and boring, because he never had a brush with death so he never lived in the moment. He never got promoted to Captain. So, he asks Q for the chance to go back and get into the bar fight like he did the first time. At the very end, when he’s returned to the Enterprise, he tells Riker: “…if it was Q, I owe him a debt of gratitude…there are many parts of my youth that I’m not proud of. There were loose threads, untidy parts of me that I would like to remove. But when I pulled on one of those threads it unraveled the tapestry of my life.” I think this gives the lesson of not necessarily regretting your mistakes in the past, because what you learned from them has made you who you are. Another of my favorite Star Trek philosophy moments is from the episode “Encounter At Farpoint,” after Q tells them they are on trial. Riker asks Picard something like “Now that he is watching every move we make, what should we do?” Picard says, “What we always do. If we’re going to be damned, let’s be damned for what we really are.” The lesson there is not to change your behavior simply because someone else is judging you. Often, when someone is judging you, you can try and try to meet their standards and change yourself for them, but even if you succeed, in the end, they probably won’t like you anyway because the judgementalism is their problem, not yours. It probably has less to do with you than it has to do with their own internal processes. So, if someone is judging you for being yourself, and you feel you are not in error, don’t change what you’re doing just to meet someone else’s arbitrary standards, just be yourself. Their going to judge you no matter what, so you might as well be yourself and let them judge you “for what you really are” instead of something you are pretending to be. Star Trek is very philosophical, indeed!

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