You Talking Trek to Me? (Best of Voyager) – “Dragon’s Teeth”

“Dragon’s Teeth”
Star Trek: Voyager – Season 6, Episode 7

The installments of Star Trek can be defined by their villains as much as their heroes, and each one has a diverse array of antagonists that spoke to the qualities and themes of that particular series or film. Voyager seemed to have a special affinity for villains, and the show featured a vast plethora of antagonistic alien races – both new and old – to provide conflicts week after week. As has often been the criticism of the show, many of these races were especially one-dimensional in their culture’s focus – even more so than the typical Trek “mono-races.” Deep Space Nine succeeded in villainy with the Cardassians, a complex and compelling culture that remained an ever-interesting opposing force to the heroes throughout the entirety of the series. “Dragon’s Teeth” is a singular success for its intriguing introduction of the Vaadwaur, a multi-faceted race full of villainous potential.

Emphasis on “potential” – because, spoiler alert: we will never hear from these people again. I debated with myself on whether to even include this episode in the “Best of Voyager” series due to its plot points being completely abandoned (despite teasing otherwise at the end of the episode). A chronic issue with Voyager is its penchant for introducing potentially interesting storylines only to either rush through them in unsatisfying ways or to drop them altogether. “Dragon’s Teeth” accomplishes a great set-up for a new villain-of-the-week that is never followed up, which makes it a frustrating episode in the larger context of the show. But taken as a singular story, it’s a smartly-accomplished adventure with intrigue and excitement.

🎵 It’s raining death/ hallelujah it’s raining death / hey HEY! 🎵

It starts with a bang, as an alien city is bombarded from orbit by unseen enemies. Voyager was the most ambitious in its use of CGI, and this episode contains a couple dazzling VFX setpieces. A couple aliens below the city scramble into stasis pods set to wake them in five years, hopefully when the war is over. This plot point is reminiscent of Season 2’s horror-iffic “The Thaw”; things don’t quite work out the way they intended here, either.

Voyager is poking along when it falls into a strange portal that carries them forward 200 light years in a matter of minutes. An initially helpful alien ship (the Turei) helps them out of it, but then turns dickish when they demand to board Voyager and erase all records of the portal. Turns out the portal is one in a series of subspace corridors that allow quick shortcuts throughout space, and the Turei do not like to share them. Janeway refuses to be boarded, and space fisticuffs ensue. Voyager escapes and makes a landing on a nearby planet that has enough radiation in its atmosphere to provide good hiding. The Turei ships don’t follow them down, but hang out in orbit, waiting.

Arr kind don’t don’t take kindly to yer kind. Stop the steal! Of our subspace corridors, that is.”
“All right, remember where we parked. It’s in the burned out part of the city that still smells of charred corpses. And cinnamon, oddly.”

All that radiation is a result of large scale aerial bombardment from 900-ish years ago, which caused a planet-wide nuclear winter. Voyager sets down in the ruins of a large city. It’s a well-done and unusual sight for Star Trek, with the ship resting on the ground in the middle of burned-out, skeletal skyscrapers.

The crew detects life signs underground, and an away team discovers the stasis pods. Seven takes it upon herself to activate a pod, and the Vaadwaur man from the teaser (Gedrin) awakens (his wife did not make it). This is their homeworld and his race was the one who actually constructed the subspace corridors and used them to explore far and wide – he recognizes Seven as a Borg and remembers encountering her people almost a millennium ago (interestingly, Seven admits the Borg’s records from that period were fragmentary). Thousands of stasis pods and Vaadwaur vessels are still intact in the underground chambers.

“Whoa! You people are hideous! Not cobra-ly handsome like me.”

I mentioned the Cardassians from DS9 in the intro, and it was intentional – the Vaadwaur do resemble the Cardassians, and not just physically. They both have a great deal of pride and confidence that veers into arrogance. And more than a twinge of cruelty. While surveying the ruins of his society, Gedrin is ashamed of what’s become of his people and even expresses revulsion over his wife’s lack of courage during the attack (whose pod failed and is now dead, mind you). Janeway is quietly taken aback by his heartlessness. He doesn’t seem particularly evil and is an otherwise pleasant man (much as Dr. Crell Moset was), but there’s a certain brutal edge to him and his people. As an avatar of his race, Gedrin presents a multifaceted portrait – not completely benign or totally sinister, and hard to quickly sum up in a single word like other mono-cultures.

“I prepared a variety of Delta Quadrant specialties. Something in here is bound to give you heartburn or explosive diarrhea.”

Meeting Neelizx, Gedrin recognizes him as a Talaxian, and identifies him in his race’s old tongue. “The old tongue was new in my time,” Gedrin remarks. Janeway’s shocked at the range of the Vaadwaur’s corridors (as Talax is tens of thousands of light years away). The language detail seems like a minor one, but it turns out to be one of the smartest aspects of the story and a pivotal plot point. Neelix recognizes “Vaadwaur” as an archaic word from his language meaning “foolish.” Hmm…

The Turei ships start blindly firing down on the surface, but Gedrin clues Voyager in to a still-functional satellite that allows them to triangulate their torpedoes and drive the Turei off (Gedrin wonders why they don’t finish them off, which is a telling detail). Janeway is eager to make repairs and get off the planet before the Turei return with more ships, but that would mean leaving the hundreds of surviving Vaadwaur stuck in stasis. Gedrin proposes waking his people and activating their ships, and in exchange he’ll tell them about secret corridors that can take them 1,000 light years closer to home. As the crew surveys the underground chambers that house their ships and pods, Chakotay muses about a Greek myth (because of course he does) – a killed dragon whose teeth get buried, only for warriors to spring up from the ground to continue fighting. This will most certainly end well.

This week on Antique Warpshow. We’ve got some cherry Vaadwaur fighters, a supposed true piece of the Kahless shroud, and a limited edition Quark singing mug!

The surviving Vaadwaur represent a single battalion (and their families) that hid in order to outlast their enemies who had banded together to defeat them. It’s an important detail; these aren’t civilians and scientists; these are military people from a warrior culture – one of them casually tosses off that their children are taught to fall asleep each night imagining a different way to die (OK, what). There’s a palpable sense of frustration on their part of having been defeated and losing everything, only to awaken several centuries later in a time they don’t understand with antiquated technology and zero resources or allies. Thematically, it’s a good hook and despite how severe and weird a people they are, it does engender some sympathy and pathos (similar to the Vidiians, although not as cartoonishly ghoulish).

Neelix consults his personal Talaxian linguistic database and investigates the etymology of “Vaadwaur.” It’s total nerd stuff and it’s great – I always like seeing Trek heroes doing research and combing through databases to figure stuff out. The word “Vaadwaur” first appeared in ancient folklore tales, and they all seem to involve stories of people being tricked or betrayed (and worse) by strangers/demons/monsters. Hmm…

“Computer cross reference ‘Vaadwaur’ with the Urban Dictionary database. And then yeet all results to my quarters.”
“Wait, this star system has been taken over by Trump supporters, too? Damn, this century sucks.”

Seven helps Gedrin locate a planet that the Vaadwaur can settle on, and he’s incredulous at how much has changed while he was in stasis and how long their odds of flourishing again are. Seven dismisses his pessimism as irrelevant in that blunt Borg way of hers. He wonders why she’s being so helpful, and she reveals that her guilt over having taken part in the assimilation of many cultures while a Borg is a driving force. For once she can help in rebuilding a civilization instead, which is gratifying. It’s a good piece of characterization.

Tuvok and Janeway come up with a battleplan for Voyager and the Vaadwaur ships to get past the Turei. The Vaadwaur commander Gaul demands for his ships to be outfitted with Voyager’s weapons, but of course Janeway refuses. Later on, he privately decides to attack Voyager during their escape and take over the ship. Gedrin is opposed to this but gets overruled. Real cool, guys. Real cool.

“Hey, you know what would be totally funny? Betrayal. When Voyager attacks, we’ll bombard them with prank phone calls. They’ll never see it coming!”

Neelix cross-references his research with Seven’s data and brings it to Captain Janeway, who calls in Gedrin for an explanation. Despite him having characterized his people as merchants and explorers, she proposes they were actually conquerors who used the subspace corridors to forcefully expand their territory – so much so that they became the bogeymen of Delta Quadrant lore. It’s smart writing, and although hearsay and children’s fairy tales aren’t hard evidence, they’re still important details that can’t be ignored. Star Trek has always valued knowledge, no matter what type and source it is. There’s a democratization of information it represents that’s cool – it’s not just about science and math, but philosophy, culture, art, and more. All aspects of the human (and non-human) experience are important.

Gedrin acknowledges both sides of his peoples’ history, but still doesn’t reveal the betrayal they have in store – which is not a great look for him. To her credit, Janeway still wants to help, but is adamant about protecting Voyager. She orders Gaul to only arm a minimal amount of his ships to lessen the threat. Instead, he refuses and starts launching his fighters towards Voyager.

Voyager lifts off but is besieged on all sides by Vaadwaur fighters. It’s an awesome battle sequence as Voyager flies through the ruined city while blasting the smaller ships. Again, we’ve never seen anything quite like this in Trek before, and there’s a lot of dramatic, tense excitement as the ship tries to escape upwards from these bastards.

“Hey. is your warp core running?”
“Well, you better go catch it!”
“Ha ha! Ow, you dick! It was just a joke!”

Despite being far stronger, Voyager is outnumbered by dozens of Vaadwaur ships and starts to lose engine power. Janeway contacts the Turei and informs them that they’re under attack by the Vaadwaur. She proposes that instead of trying to beat Voyager, they join forces to defeat this common enemy. Using the satellite in orbit, the Turei triangulate their weapons to target the Vaadwaur and their underground base. Making up for his betrayal, Gedrin stays behind underground in order to keep the satellite connection functional. The chamber collapses as it’s bombed and Gedrin dies. He gives a brief yell and cowers as the debris rains down; it’s not the dignified reaction he expected from his departed wife, but I guess it’s a little different when it’s your time, eh? Still, he goes out like a hero.

“Go on, Tuvok. I’ll hold them off! Don’t wait for m… Tuvok?”

Voyager is able to make it off the planet and escape. The Vaadwaur encounter the full fury of their old enemies, but at least 50 of their ships are able to make it to the corridors to parts unknown. Seven is disturbed by this revelation, as it was her who originally revived Gedrin and set this all into motion. Janeway doesn’t press Seven too hard about this, as it was a very human decision and her heart was in the right place. She muses that they probably haven’t seen the last of the Vaadwaur…

Except… we have. It floors me that the show bothers to go out of its way to tease their next encounter and then completely drops the ball on following it up. It really is a shame, because the episode does a great job of introducing this new alien race, giving them a decent amount of personality, a compelling theme, and dramatic stakes for future stories.

Voyager introduced many villainous races and had a less than stellar hit-miss ratio with them. The show felt the need to have the stupid Kazon front and center for the first two seasons, but we only get one helping of the Vaadwaur? With their subspace corridors and tenacity, they could have remained recurring antagonists for the last two seasons of the show. One of the central aspects of Voyager was that the ship was continually moving through space and encountering new races as the old ones got left behind. This lack of permanence was both an asset and a detriment to the show. Deep Space Nine showed the dramatic and enticing possibilities of hunkering down in one spot. It was a series about consequences and evolving circumstances, especially where its adversaries of the Cardassians, Klingons, and Dominion were concerned. The Vaadwaur presented an opportunity to have some of that same consequential payoff – what if they did manage to get a foothold in the Delta Quadrant and become a terrifying force once again? The race seems complex enough in their only appearance to be enticing. Other races didn’t shine in their introductions, but managed to provide some very interesting stories later on. It’s a missed opportunity, to be sure.

That context does take away from the episode a little, but it’s still a tightly-plotted, intelligent, and exciting story on its own. The Vaadwaur live up to their name of being foolish by refusing the generosity of Voyager here. Star Trek has always lauded the values of cooperation and open-hearted altruism. The Vaadwaur are the bad guys here in part because they try to take over Voyager, but their greed, aggression, and lack of regard for others is what makes them truly villainous (and they do fuck things up for themselves due to their short-sightedness). These qualities are antithetical to the philosophies of Starfleet and place the Vaadwaur on the opposing end of the moral spectrum. It’s a shame we didn’t get to know them better, like we have with many of Trek’s long-running antagonists. As Neelix demonstrates here, getting more information can lead down a rabbit hole that’s both compelling and scary.

Stray Observations:

  • The Vaadwaur are also reminiscent of the ancient Iconians from TNG (and DS9), who were also able to appear out of nowhere and gained a fearsome reputation as a result.
  • It’s a little surprising Janeway isn’t more diplomatic with the Turei when it comes to (accidentally) violating their corridors. They’re not very friendly, but having Voyager delete records of their secret corridors isn’t too far out of line. In “Counterpoint,” the Devore (who are referenced in this episode) regularly board and inspect Voyager without resistance as they move through their space. When you’re in someone else’s house, you do have to play by their rules (within reason).

    To be fair, Star Trek kind of goes back and forth on this – respecting other races’ boundaries and customs vs. not caring when the story necessitates it. Starfleet gives air to respecting the sovereignty of other people and the Prime Directive… except when they don’t. In Deep Space Nine, the Dominion explicitly claim the Gamma Quadrant as their territory, but Starfleet continues to invade it until war breaks out. Funny how that works…
  • Imagine trying to start up your car, computer, or literally anything after 900 years. The Vaadwaur make stuff to last! They should manufacture phones, amiright?! Is this thing on?
  • The tidbits of Borg history here are interesting, if contradictory with other info given. In their first appearance, Q claimed the Borg had been evolving for “thousands of centuries,” but Gedrin says that in his time, the Borg only occupied a small area of space. Seven also mentions that Borg records from then are spotty. So it implies the Borg have been around for barely 1,000 years, which almost seems like a letdown. Despite all the Borgery of Voyager, we never did get an origin story (perhaps thankfully).