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Credit: Paramount Television

The greatest Star Trek captains of all time

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Jan 19, 2019, 1:00 PM EST

January is a time of fresh starts and new beginnings. The way we kick off a new year informs the months that follow, and that's why we're living our best Capricorn-season lives and declaring it the Month of the GOAT, celebrating the Greatests of All Time in genre. From the best Star Trek captains to our favorite strong female characters, we're honoring the greats all month long.

One of those mostly hotly debated fan topics of all time is which of Star Trek's many distinguished leaders can ultimately be crowned (pipped?) the best. So we at FANGRRLS stuck two of our Trekkiest of Trekkies, Riley Silverman and S.E. Fleenor, in a room together and told them we wouldn't replicate them any more food until they could come to an agreement.

Riley: Let's start. You made us a list: Janeway, Kirk, Picard, Georgiou, Sisko, Pike, Archer, Lorca, and Spock.

SE: Bottom of the barrel: Lorca, Pike, Archer. Archer has a dog he's really into, so I almost don't want him to be on that list, but otherwise, nope. He's not for me.

Riley: I'm going for Spock as my first to cut. I love Spock but I just don't think we typically really think of him as a captain, I think if we're gonna use him then we have to start tossing in like Chekov and Riker and anyone we ever saw serving as captain after their main series ended.

SE: I'm game. F*ck Spock.

Riley: I can also agree we lose Lorca since he was lying liar who lied.

SE: This is where I would insert a GIF of Jean Ralphio singing "The worst."

Riley: I'm going to agree with you on Pike and Archer as well. I think we could debate their merits but I just don't see either beating the holy four.

SE: Skip right ahead, friend. Who are the holy four?

Riley: I think it's the four who actually served significantly on a series, not introduced to be killed off, not part of a big secret reveal from the Mirror Universe. Namely Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway.

SE: I'm obsessed with Georgiou and she's getting a series, but, I think you're right.

Riley: Well, is she getting a series or is her Mirror Universe alter ego getting a series? We don't know if we're getting a Captain or an Emperor Georgiou series.

SE: Alright, fine. So, if I were ranking the holy four, mine would go: Janeway, Picard, Sisko, Kirk.

Riley: I feel like objectively Kirk could be debated but, I'm with you, he's at the end of my list there too so: you're dead, Jim.

SE: I agree that objectively Kirk is on the Holy Four list. But, like, if Kirk is captain, I'm not getting on the Enterprise.

Riley: I go the exact opposite way: Sisko, Picard, Janeway. It gets tougher here because I genuinely like all three, but having rewatched all three shows in the last several years I just feel so strongly about Sisko.

SE: Tell me why he's your #1.


Credit: Paramount Television

Riley: For one thing, out of the three, he's the only one as a series star who we actually see get promoted to Captain during the show. He starts off his run at Deep Space Nine as a Commander, and then he earns his pip.

SE: I love getting to see a character develop. Point for Sisko!

Riley: So to me it feels like there's this sense of really getting why he's got his spot, whereas the other two start as captains and are just like "Hey look at these awesome peeps." Second, Sisko is a single dad. And there's real conflict and drama there with him as a father, so he feels more human to me than the others do. I get a sense of him as a well-rounded person. We meet his dad, we see him fall in love, we see him make great facial hair choices.

SE: Yes. That goatee (beard?) is very becoming. Facial hair point goes to Sisko, for sure. (Sorry, Janeway.)

Riley: And his son, Jake, grows up to be a journalist who remains behind enemy lines during the war to clandestinely report on the goings-on in Dominion-occupied space. So like, great parenting Ben. Plus, let's just put this out there: Sisko's wife was killed by Picard. Sure, it was Picard as Locutus of Borg, but still, Picard arrives to give Sisko this assignment as the new Commander of this reclaimed Cardassian mining outpost station, and he's not super into it, but he still does it, even though the order is being given by the guy who is indirectly responsible for killing his wife.

I feel like if we're talking about faith in the Federation, Sisko wins the Journey award here because he totally does not stop believing.

SE: Damn. That was quite compelling.

Riley: Let's also talk about the fact that Sisko sort of indirectly founded the Federation because he went back in time and accidentally replaced Gabriel Bell.

SE: Anything can happen in Star Trek!

Riley: But if I had to make one last compelling argument on behalf of my Captain, it's that when the Cardassians join the Dominion and recapture Deep Space Nine and send them packing, Sisko leaves his baseball behind on his desk as a sign to Gul Dukat that he'll be back. And that to me is just the single most baller move of any Starfleet Captain ever.

SE: I got chills from that.

Riley: So did Gul Dukat. Okay, give me your Janeway lowdown.


Credit: Paramount Television

SE: Captain Janeway is my #1 because, despite the fact that it's 300 years in the future, she still has to deal with sexism. When her crew first arrives, they're all "OMFG I don't know how to act around a laaaadaaaay captain," and they call her sir and then ma'am and she just says, "Call me Captain."

Riley: Okay, yeah, I definitely remember that episode and how it felt like the actual concerns that were happening in the writers' room being played out on screen.

SE: Plus, when her crew undermines her (wily Tom Paris!), she doesn't go easy on them. She might understand why they made a choice, but if they go against orders, it's no more Captain Nice-Lady.

Riley: I do like that she lays down the law to Chakotay like "This is going to stay a Federation starship and any Maquis who are serving on this ship are now Starfleet officers."

SE: Thank you for the segue to one of my favorite ships EVER: Chakotway. The chemistry, the flirtation, the friendship. I love that Janeway and Chakotay start as these enemies, then rivals, then collaborators, then friends, then lovers, then friends again. For me, that does some of the personalizing work you speak about Sisko's son doing for him. We see Janeway be passionate and compassionate, brave and vulnerable. But, for me, the defining relationship of Janeway is her mentorship/parenting (essentially) of Seven of Nine.

Riley: Speaking of favorite ships ...

SE: What would we call them? Seven of Janeway?

Riley: [pauses] It's J7. Which, look. It's quick, it's efficient, it gets down to business, which is what BOTH of these characters would be like together if ... alright, I'm just gonna cut that off and say if non-canon fanfic ships counted here I might be swayed more for Janeway.

SE: I really, really wanted that relationship to slide into the realm of bow-chicka-wow-wow, but, you know, we let too many straights make TV.

Riley: Well to get us back on track for the subject at hand: Do you have any more points about Janeway?

SE: For me, Janeway manages to be a badass in charge while also being aware that people make decisions that defy her orders for rational reasons without letting that mean that they get off scot-free. She's empathetic, but she still knows the buck stops with her. She’s a captain I’d want to serve under.

Riley: What I'll give Janeway the most props for is still trying to maintain the ideals of the Federation in a scenario where it feels like the easier and more productive move is to drop them. To that end I'll say this: Sisko is a bit more bendable as we get deeper into the Dominion War, but I do think he ultimately stands for the Federation as a whole.

SE: One final thing for Janeway, I think that what I also love about her is that she makes the decision to strand them in space. She does it to protect the Ocampa and she accepts the consequences of her actions. She doesn't just give up and settle where they are, though. She travels through time and space to bring her family back to their home. That determination, that unfailing sense of doing what's right—that's why she's my captain. I also love Sisko. Not only are all the points you made completely spot on, but he has such a good sense of humor at times.

Riley: The sexism angle is really valuable, but so is Sisko's race and what it does for commentary on bigotry as well. The episode where Sisko is presented an alternate reality as a science fiction writer in the 1950s really stands out for me in that regard. Where he sees just how significant it is that he's the captain of a space station. And regarding Janeway's canonical relationship with Seven of Nine, I'd point out Sisko's with Major Kira. Here's a woman who has to see him as her commanding officer but also views him as a revered religious figure within her faith. And the relationship that they develop with that dichotomy is really astounding to watch.

SE: And I love that he's fundamentally a curious person.

Riley: Yeah, his curiosity is amazing. I think it's a huge part of why DS9 still feels like a show about exploration even though it's set on a mostly fixed location in space instead of a ship.

SE: That was my main hesitation in watching DS9 (and probably why it was the last one I watched). I thought it was going to feel stale and stuck in one place, but they do a great job using the wormhole to open things up. [rimshot sound effect]

Riley: Well we seem to be at a stalemate here.

SE: So …

Riley: So ...

[both pause]

SE: ... Earl Grey, hot?  

Riley: We’re going with Picard aren’t we?

SE and Riley: Jinx!

Starfleet Captain GOAT: Jean Luc Picard


Credit: Paramount Television

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