Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Voyager, Season 6: Tsunkatse

http://www.treknobabble.net/p/rating-system.htmlVoyager, Season 6
"Tsunkatse"
Airdate: February 9, 2000
130 of 168 produced
133 of 168 aired

Introduction

The crew of Voyager enjoys watching a violent sport while on shore leave - until one of their own is forced to participate.

 Given the whole eyebrow thing, shouldn't he have played a Vulcan?

 


Writing

Kevin: I really dislike this episode on a number of vectors. First was the shameless cross-promotion with WWE (WWF at the time, I suppose) Smackdown. There was an obnoxious amount of commercials leading up to this episode hyping The Rock's guest appearance. UPN had two successful shows, Smackdown and Voyager, and whoo boy would they not let you forget it. A question Matt has asked repeatedly over the years is whether an episode justifies its own existence, and here I don't think it does. For all the hype, The Rock was on screen for two minutes, and the episode that was clearly reverse engineered to explain that presence was in no way interesting enough to justify the trip.

Matthew: Although I have historically not been a huge fan of this episode, and although this might leave me open to accusations of lowering my standards, given recent "Star Trek," at this point I kind of like it. First of all, I think enough time has passed since the days of UPN to just evaluate this story on its merits. As it stands, it's a relatively simple tale: people like a violent sport. They don't interrogate those preferences until one of their own people participates in it against their will.The person who is forced to compete has a history of diminished bodily autonomy and violence that makes said participation painful in very specific ways. Now, I do not think the episode fully explored any of these points. But it has characters whose motivations made sense and a plot that I was able to follow that didn't contain any egregious holes. Given the landscape of "Trek" today, I think these features need to be acknowledged.

Kevin: In terms of tone, just too much that doesn't feel credible has to happen to support this episode. First, Chakotay aside, I find it hard to believe the whole crew would go nuts for blood sport so quickly, and if they all did become fans to the point that they are watching eight matches a day or whatever they were discussing in the mess hall, none of that fandom yielded the nugget that this was actually gladiatorial combat. They try to use Chakotay's love of boxing and the Doctor's understandable shock to paint the discussion, but it's all much too thin. The Doctor's position feels like what most of the crew would actually think about this. Also, the reveal of Seven comes so early that there is no real heft to any apparent guilt they feel to liking the sport in the first place.

Matthew: I am definitely in agreement here. How could no one have heard of red matches? With that said, I like the Doctor's position on the sport, and it does go at least some way towards being an interesting discussion of violent sports. Voyager may have just been a bit ahead of its time here. Watching this episode now, in the context of NFL football's CTE crisis, and society's increased consciousness of monetized violence as a means of escaping poverty, it feels very relevant. But it's an argument or two away from being really illuminating on the issues.

Kevin: All those issues aside, the remainder of the Seven arc is just boring. There are any number of episodes that put Seven's ethics against her safety and they explore the issue much better. Was there ever any doubt about the last minute beam out? The other problem for me is even if the episode is supposed to be criticizing the institution of these blood sports, I still ended up having to watch a lot of it. You can definitely artfully use that discomfort for narrative effect, but that's not what happened here. It was just tedious. Also, the choice of the vaguely Japanese sounding name plus what I can only describe as knock-off tai chi in the training sequences (and some design choices for Penk discussed below) give the whole operation a feeling of cheap Orientalism that should have pinged someone's radar in 2000 let alone 2019.

Matthew: The Orientalism angle did not occur to me. I did find it odd that there was a book of all of these poses and such. What planet was this book from? Was it Penk's planet and was he monetizing it or perverting it? Now, my next bit of praise is in part for Ryan's performance, but I thought there was a strong theme here of Seven of Nine coming to terms with her past as a Borg Drone - her loss of autonomy, and her use of violence. It was a few lines of dialogue away from being really deep, but the story afforded Ryan a chance to show emotional depth, so I don't feel too badly about it.

Kevin: And just for the record, I loved WWF Smackdown as a kid, and watched it concurrent with this show. Professional wrestling is soap opera for boys and in the right mindset, is a total hoot. This isn't to rag unnecessarily on professional wrestling, just to point out that I don't like cheap, forced promotions that radically alter the tone of the thing I love. I would have been likewise annoyed if a new wrestling character started discussing Kantian morality in lieu of clotheslining someone.

Matthew: It's a big universe. I don't find it radically tone altering to imagine that Voyager would come into contact with a popular bloodsport. And, despite initial missteps that are insufficiently explained, they do eventually come down on the correct side of the issue.

Acting

Kevin: It's not surprising to state that Ryan, Hertzler and Combs can act. They collectively manage to almost wring drama from this non-existent script. It's to their credit that their scenes individually are at worst inoffensive, and at times close to affecting. The problem is they are all laying archetypes so thin as to be transparent.

Matthew: I think Jeri Ryan literally and figuratively kicked ass in this episode. I really felt her character's conflict, and she elevated what was a somewhat thin script. Her final scene with Tim Russ was quite touching, in fact. Hertzler proves he can act through any makeup appliance, and Jeffrey Combs is typically Jeffrey Combs.

Kevin: And time has taught us that The Rock can actually act. He has a leading man charm, and can work the 'gentle giant' vibe to great comedic effect. The sad irony is that he, like the other casts, is also underutilized here. In a way, if they had written an actual episode that was something like a proto-verison of GLOW, about the pitfalls of fame in a wrestling-like profession, they really could have had something with this cast. They all tried, but with no there there, there's only so much they can give.

Matthew: I agree that The Rock should have had more screen time. He can deliver a line. IT might have been nice to have him deliver a line describing his character's motivation. Why wasn't he in the barracks with the rest of them? Was he fighting for his freedom? Money?

Production Values

Kevin: Maybe it's I'm not predisposed to like the fighting sequences, but the arena looked pretty cheap. The make-up choice to give Penk a literal fu manchu mustache and the vaguely Japanese script in the banners only make it seem the choices were intentional and not accidental. It's not Voyager's Code of Honor, but it's not a shining moment either. Even setting that aside, the sets to the costumes and those ridiculous hand paddles made everything look like a low budget video game.

Matthew: I had questions of how they synchronized the lighting from the remote location to the "live" arenas. But yes, it all had a certain fighting video game feel. Which isn't all that bad, really. The CGI ships were well done in exterior FX shots.

Conclusion

Kevin: This is a solid 2. The story is thin and doesn't really justify its own existence. It is saved from a one on the strength of Ryan and Hertzler's performances, but this was still an empty episode that exists solely as a crass exercise in cross-promotion.

Matthew: I think this one just squeaks into a 3. It was a fresh story after what some might label a series of rehashes. I understood the story, and I thought it made a sufficiently interesting emotional impact on the protagonist. The acting was good. So here's my hot take on Star Trek "then and now." When I watch Discovery, I do not care a bit about any of the characters or what happens to them. This is for two main reasons - first and foremost, they are not consistent characters. Their motivations seem to ping pong violently from thing to thing, sometimes with a shock twist character change completely undermining everything that has preceded it. By contrast, Seven of Nine's emotional story made total sense. Secondly, the overall plot in a show like Discovery is so hyper-accelerated, Byzantine and confusing (and not in a way which eventually rewards careful viewing) that I lose track of who is doing what and why. Here, that was never an issue. So is it a great episode? Nah. But I think it's efficiently mediocre. So that brings our total to a 5.

3 comments:

  1. Matthew, you mystify me. You give this steaming dog turd of an episode a 3, and you also give One Small Step a 3. I cannot reconcile this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like Up The Long Ladder and The Royale, too, :)

      The real answer is that I've been permanently damaged by Discovery.

      Delete
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