Voyager, Season 2
Airdate: November 6, 1995
24 of 168 produced
24 of 168 aired
While searching for resources, Chakotay comes across a familiar artifact that recalls the ancient past of his people.
Also, the Doctor models his new line of holographic washcloths.
Matthew: This episode didn't exactly have a scintillating teaser - Chakotay has a flashback. I would say this is indicative of a pacing issue generally. Although the structure of this episode is rather novel, as flashback shows are uncommon in Trek, it feels a bit draggy in spots. I think this is in part because of the lack of conflict here. Perhaps Chakotay should have been thrown into survival situations when all of these typhoons were hitting. Things were just rather sedate overall.
Kevin: I completely agree that the episode has a pacing problem. Neither the story in the flashback nor the current storyline really has any bite in terms of tempo or stakes. I've said this before, but the way out for an episode that wants to avoid an alien/villain of the week is to show me something new about the character, and I don't think that really happens here. He has what seems like a pretty standard rift between a father and a teenage son (have fun in about twelve or thirteen years, Matt), and beyond that, I suppose we get a bit of back story for why Chakotay so actively maintains his Native American practices, but like you said, there's just not a ton of stakes.
Matthew: The B story, in which the Doctor learns empathy for his patients, was a fun bit of Piller Filler. It's really prototypical - it expands the character just a bit, provides comic relief for the A plot, and doesn't take up too much time. The punchline with Kes is very cute and fun, too.
Kevin: It is a bit unrelated to the A plot, but it's a sin I've certainly forgiven DS9 when the B-plot was fun, and this undoubtedly was. Moreover, we get a nice bit of growth for two characters, in the Doctor's compassion and Kes' guile.
Matthew: I enjoyed the flashbacks quite a bit and thought they were a nice look at Federation vs. Native American ideologies. Young Chakotay's emotional journey is involving. If anything, it's conspicuous how interesting the flashbacks are vs. the present day stuff - much more so. There is a universal theme, a child chafing against their parent's expectations, and the scenes are written in a good punchy way. I wish the episode could have developed a stronger sci-fi thread in that story as opposed to the present one, which is both uninteresting and beset by some thematic problems. a piece of fan service is "Captain Sulu" sponsoring Chakotay - Dimora perhaps? I found it an interesting bit of character that Chakotay was not a spiritual man, but took on his father's religious beliefs and tattoo after his death fighting the Cardassians.
Kevin: The dialogue specifically references a "he" in the Sulu conversation, so I always took it as a reference to the elder Sulu, though at this point a nod to Dimora would have made more sense and been better fan service. I will ultimately come to not really enjoy the nature of Chakotay's cultral awareness on the show. Over time, it always seemed to be shaped by the needs of the script rather than internal character development. Also, much like his paean about using tricorders in the crypt in "Emanations," the substance of the beliefs is always a tad inconsistent. Like Chakotay's father suggesting that coming on foot is more respectful than beaming in. Wouldn't beaming be far less intrusive or damaging to an ecosystem? Why are sharpened sticks okay, but not phasers? It's an artificial line in what constitutes acceptable versus too modern technology. It always reads as honoring cultural differences requires making sure the culture stays static. I would be less annoyed if Trek hadn't done conversations like this with much more energy in nuance in episodes like "Who Watches the Watchers?" There's actually a good, even Prime Directive, level of debate to be had in Chakotay's decision to leave the tribe for Starfleet. Without people sticking around to actively carry out the traditions, the tribe will fade away over time, but does that create an obligation for Chakotay to stay? It's a story that's been told in a dozen American-child-of-immigrant movies, but that doesn't make it any less interesting.
Matthew: On the plus side, the "ancient alien" idea contains a direct refutation of Adam and Eve in dialogue, but then, the Rubber Tree People creation myth ends of being true. So the message is muddled. I can't help but think that the Ancient Alien hypotheses seem antithetical to Roddenberry's ethos in the series. It seems to me that it minimizes Native American culture, which is exactly what Roddenberry was opposed to, minimizing human achievements. How could the nomadic hunters have become nomads without already possessing a "spirit of curiosity and adventure?" How could a nomadic group of hunters have "no culture" besides fire and stone tools, but have a "respect for the land and living things?" Maybe if the connection between the two cultures' "respecting the land" were more teased out, it would have worked better. But it isn't. It just ends up playing like a silly (and ultimately inconsequential) retcon of human history, not to mention Trek history. 12 generations ago the aliens returned and found no one left - 240 years? So no native Americans were left by 2140?
Kevin: I always like when Star Trek can engage Roddenberry's view without being preachy or heavy handed, and the simple acknowledgment that life began in a way different than Genesis describes is neat and quick, and doesn't bog the episode down in a discussion of comparative religion. Given that we have seen other races interacting with ancient Earth, like the Preservers, there seems to be a way to better pitch the explanation of the similar cultural artifacts without diminishing human accomplishments.
Matthew: I believed Robert Beltran's emotional journey, coming to terms and realizations with his past and his father. The script, unfortunately, didn't give him tons to do otherwise, besides emote at the camera, which he did ably. We got some really good and funny sick acting by Robert Picardo. His scenes were definitely the highlight of the show insofar as enjoyment goes.
Kevin: I agree that he did a solid job here. I will say I don't think he has quite the talent of other Trek actors to act in a room by himself, and maybe had they introduced the Sky Spirit character or even seeing his father as an adult could have gone some way to giving him more to do. And I totally agree on Picardo. He's a riot.
Matthew: Douglas Spain as Young Chakotay was quite good. He perfectly fit that "not-quite-adult, not-quite-teenager middle ground. He also had nice chemistry with Henry Darrow as Kolopak - it was a well rounded performance by both actors that gave the impression that a lot of water had passed under the bridge between the two.
Kevin: Even if they had made their scenes the focus, and expanded the rift between the two, that might have made the episode more interesting. Like I said above, in terms of maintaining an ancient, pre-Industrial civilization in the fact of a society with replicators, there comes an almost Prime Directive element to discuss, and finding a way to tell it through these two actors could have been a lot of fun.
Matthew: I just... don't know how I feel about Richard Fancy as the head alien guy. I thought he turned in a nice performance as Satelk in "The First Duty," but here something about his tone felt off. It may well be the script, though - these are apparently the "launch into exposition immediately" aliens, after all.
Matthew: The present planet was rather uninteresting, as were the native settlements. I was never drawn in by the set dressing, and it never felt like a real place. The jungle flashback scenes, however, looked pretty good, and I definitely bought the environmental effects of steam and rain, too. The vortex that caught a landing Voyager (a trope that is seeing too much use of late) was pretty mediocre.
Kevin: The tree falling on Chakotay stood out in a bad way. The tree and the fall looked really fake. The flashback jungle looked like a real place. The contemporary one looked like the set of "Shades of Gray."
Matthew: The helicopter flyover montage with the alien dude touching the pre-historical native was just weird. It didn't look very well put together, and the flyover just went for minute after minute, showing us glacier. The early human costume and makeup was really good, though. The makeup was pretty bad on head alien guy - the greasepaint doesn't reach his hairline, and so it just looks like he has a gray face and a pink scalp.
Matthew: This is a tough call. I like the emotional journey we're shown for the Chakotay character, and the B story was a fun little comedic romp that also developed character. But the tonal inappropriateness of assigning human achievements to the influence of ancient aliens is just too much for me to give this a 3. It's slightly below average, and is this a 2 for me.
Kevin: There's just not enough there there for me. I agree with the 2 for a total of 4. As much as I may come to rag on Beltran's checking out later in the series, he certainly hasn't done so here. With a better, tighter script, this could have really gone somewhere.