Chakotay is stuck playing babysitter to a sulky Kazon teenager who keeps trying to kill him.
It’s a Chakotay episode.
This is in itself reason for a deflated ‘oh,’ and I say this as a dedicated fan of the show. There’s nothing really wrong with Chakotay, or Robert Beltran’s portrayal of him (so far), and he works perfectly well in episodes with other characters. But for some reason, episodes devoted entirely to Chakotay tend to fall a little flat. For a revolutionary/terrorist/freedom fighter, there’s something about him that’s awfully… bland.
This is also a Kazon episode. The Kazon, the Klingon knock-offs with bad hair that we met in the pilot episode, are the bane of Voyager’s first two seasons. Never mind the fact that they have trouble synthesising water, but can travel fast enough to inhabit an area of space it takes Voyager two years to cross while travelling as quickly as possible. They are phenomenally dull.
I’m not quite sure why I dislike them so much, given that I’m fascinated by ancient Sparta, a society similarly devoted to turning out young soldiers at all costs. I suppose it’s because when I study Sparta, I look at all sorts of facets of their culture – how they used helots (a particular brand of slavery) to work so they could devote themselves to fighting, the way their marriages worked, the traits they valued and considered masculine and useful and the traits they valued less. When actors play Spartans on film, they usually give varied, relatively nuanced performances – even Gerard Butler is shown being tender and affectionate with his wife in 300, as well as shouting and throwing people down wells.
The Kazon, on the other hand, are completely one-note. We never really learn anything about how their society functions beyond the fact that they live in constantly warring tribes and are pretty sexist. (This episode provides a little background, but nothing much). Perhaps that by itself is not enough to dislike them – after all, I’ve always been quite fond of Star Trek’s one-note Planet of Hats populations (Space Nazis! Space Gangsters! Space Romans!). But the Kazon’s one note does not make compelling viewing. They’re needlessly aggressive and they seem to be angry all the time. Every actor playing a Kazon seems to have been told to growl and shout and nothing else – the occasional whisper is a rage-filled hiss. Aron Eisenberg (Kar), who played Nog on Deep Space Nine, acts his socks off here, but all he’s allowed to play is moody teenager, with extra rage. It’s like reading all the duller chapters of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – the ones where Harry keeps SHOUTING IN ALL CAPS – without the good bits.
And then this irritating Kazon teenager is paired with Chakotay, a character whose reaction to almost anything tends to be mild bemusement and a bit of a sulk. Chakotay saves Kar’s life, Kar sulks, Chakotay sulks, lather, rinse, repeat. Perhaps if this episode had focused on Tuvok it might have worked better – at least Tuvok’s dry wit might have livened things up by bringing the funny.
That’s not to say this is all bad. The scene where Chakotay offers Kar the chance to come with him (instead of facing execution) and Kar comes because he still hopes to earn his name before he dies is quite effective and even a little powerful. The scene in which Kar holds a phaser over an apparently sleeping Chakotay but can’t bring himself to kill him is similarly tense and gripping. And Chakotay does have that responsible-father-figure tone down pat – it’s a shame he was never given actual offspring in the show, as that might have been in interesting route for his character.
Bits n pieces
- Shuttlecraft count: Many years ago, a website called The Coffee Nebula produced a count of the number of shuttlecraft Voyager – a ship with constant supply problems and limited staff and resources – managed to lose and/or destroy. The website fell into disuse after the end of Season 5, so I’m going to re-start the count and see exactly how many shuttlecraft they end up losing and magically replacing (they started out with two shuttlecraft, plus Neelix’s ship). So, at this point, shuttlecraft lost: 1.
- It looks to me as if some of this was filmed at the Vasquez Rocks, the well known location used in many episodes of Star Trek (including the original series’ ‘Arena,’ which was referenced in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey) and in the most recent episode of The Big Bang Theory, ‘The Bakersfield Expedition.’
- Janeway, being the proactive Captain that she is, runs off to rescue her First Officer, taking her Security Chief with her. This leaves Voyager, and a delicate negotiation with an enemy captain, in the hands of Paris (only months out of prison with a track record of irresponsible behaviour and lying about it) and Neelix (alien trader and con-man they’ve known for less than a year). That’s… an interesting choice. Though actually it works rather well.
- Janeway flirting watch: Her undying but undeclared love for Chakotay (and insistence on flirting with Paris) would seem the best explanation for the above decision.
- Regular cast death watch: Chakotay plans to pull the same trick Harry Kim did in ‘Emanations,’ getting Kar to kill him by stopping his heart and then having the Doctor revive him back on Voyager. Luckily, Kar has more sense than that and kills his captain instead.
Chakotay: It may mean something to you to die a violent death, but I'd like to get out of this without killing or being killed.
Kar: You'd rather die in your sleep, a wrinkled old man?
Chakotay: Sounds about right.
Doctor: Would you mind having some of this junk taken to the cargo bay? It’s cluttering up my lab. This episode doesn’t just destroy a shuttlecraft – it really hammers the point home.
Chakotay: What's so different about us, aside from the fact that I keep saving your life and you keep threatening to kill me?
Kar/Karden: He is not my enemy – you are!
Chakotay: Acouchi-moya. I pray on this day of memories, to speak to my father - the one whom the wind called Kolopak. Father, if you can hear me among these unnamed stars, I ask you to continue to watch over me as you've always done. I ask you also to watch over a boy called Karden, who has a difficult path to travel. Acouchi-moya.
Trying hard, but dull. Two out of four shouty Kazon teenagers.
Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.
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