WARNING: The article below contains spoilers for "Initiations", the latest episode of "Star Trek: Voyager". So proceed with caution.
In brief: A definite upturn. Not great by any means, but good -- "pleasant" might be the best word.
Brief summary: Chakotay, traveling alone in a shuttle, becomes entangled in a young Kazon's attempt to earn his name -- by killing Chakotay or being killed in the attempt.
I'm not certain why I liked "Initiations" as much as I did. It was a story we've seen the like of many times before, featuring a race that still hasn't managed to come across as particularly menacing, or even particularly interesting. Nevertheless ... something about it worked well enough for me to be satisfied.
One of the best things "Initiations" had to its credit was Robert Beltran. I've already said before that I was disappointed about how little Chakotay got to do in the first season, and this firmed up that feeling, as Chakotay got a little bit of his fire from "Caretaker" back out of wherever it had been left. Beltran's muttered "welcome aboard" complete with unspoken "you little $&*(" was a welcome sight; people are still allowed to have tempers on this ship!
As far as the "Pakra", the ritual Chakotay went through to mark his father's death ... well, I really can't say too much about it. It felt vaguely legitimate for what we know of his culture, and Beltran invested the proceedings with a fair bit of emotion, but even so part of me wishes that just once there'd be something firmly connected to some actual tribe we know exists now. Chakotay can't remain Hollywood Tribe forever; he needs a real culture, I think.
One thing that surprised me was that the Chakotay/Kar scenes managed to work a reasonable fraction of the time. I didn't really expect that, for two reasons: one, I've yet to find the Kazon interesting; and two, Aron "Nog" Eisenberg was playing Kar, and even without being as annoyingly written as Nog often is, there's a whiny quality to Eisenberg's voice that drives me up the wall.
Despite that, though, many of the scenes worked, and the credit goes to both the writing of Chakotay and Beltran's performance again. In some instances it was primarily a character choice -- Chakotay's lack of fear around the kid, for example, felt right to me, and spoke quite a bit about the maturity of the man. In others, it was Beltran rising above his dialogue, such as his final speech to Kar about what respect and power really are: the dialogue was iffy, but you went with it anyway. In some cases it was the combination: Beltran's "it looks like you just saved my life; twice more and we'll be even" works on both levels. In any case, much of it actually did work.
The plot was something of a mixed bag; while not even remotely resembling the Swiss-cheese storyline of "The 37's", it had a few "wait a sec; huh?" moments in it that broke the mood. The first was part of the setup: why, in territory so unknown that it could possibly be threatening, did Janeway allow Chakotay to go so far away that he couldn't be reached easily if attacked? Chakotay said the Pakra was solitary, not totally isolated. Another odd moment came when Voyager found the debris from Chakotay's shuttle. Since that attack occurred *at the planet*, shouldn't they have found the Kazon ship then and there? Even if we make the benefit-of-the-doubt assumption that substantial time passed between the previous scene (the shuttle spiraling in) and the find, an assumption that was not particularly hinted at, I find it odd that the Kazon would just leave their training moon when there was a chance Chakotay and Kar were still alive.
Other questions that sprang to mind were:
-- Why was the first ion trail Voyager found not Chakotay's shuttle? Unless he just hung around and idled for a while after destroying Kar's ship, it certainly should be.
-- Why is the doctor the one analyzing the debris of the shuttle? Even if there are any sort of human remains on it, it's still primarily a wrecked shuttle. Engineering personnel are not incompetent at *finding* remains; it would just be analyzing them further that's out of their expertise. This smacked a lot of giving Robert Picardo a token scene, which feels forced.
None of those plot questions really ruined the show for me, though they did make me sit up and wonder what was happening. The biggest weakness the show had, frankly, was the Kazon.
The Kazon, to me, just aren't working, at least yet. Although the fact that they're locked into sects certainly could be taken in interesting ways, so far one Kazon is very much like the next. If there's a difference in philosophy between the Ogla and the Nistrom (the latter of whom we saw in "State of Flux", I certainly haven't seen it. What's worse, not only are we not seeing any difference within the culture, the culture itself seems very much like warmed-over Klingon. Much of the "Kar must earn his name by killing an enemy or dying in battle" material could have been lifted wholesale from any number of Klingon-culture shows seen in TNG over the years. As a result, for the sections on the Kazon ship to be worth watching, they'd have to have been exceedingly well performed by everyone involved -- and well, they weren't.
The other significant part of the show that needs mentioning was a very pleasant surprise, and that's how well Neelix was used. Although his initial scene lamenting his underuse to Janeway was rather iffy (particularly since I tend to see him as *overused* for the series), his standoff with the Kazon was extremely good, potentially the best scene of the show. I said back when "Caretaker" aired that Neelix's cleverness was the best thing the character had going for it, and this brought that point back into focus. (Of course, it could be argued that all he had to do was look clever next to Paris, which is not necessarily a difficult task. :-) )
I think that about covers everything major. So, some shorter points:
-- I liked most of the chase scene in the first act. Chakotay's loop was nice, aside from the one ultra-goofy shot of him upside-down. Yes, I *knew* he was going into a loop; you don't need to insist on a preferred direction in space...
-- The "soil scan" argument for not landing is silly. If you're in a face-off with an enemy ship over its own training base, the last thing you want to do is land and pin yourself down. When there are real tactical reasons, I neither need nor wish to hear fake technobabble ones. (The show, on the other hand, was pleasantly free of such babble aside from the "radiothermic interference".)
-- Razik: "[Kar] will finally be called Ogla!" Us: "Oh, that poor kid..."
-- Great effects of the gas giant that the training moon orbits.
-- The "oh, I'll just die, they can revive me" attitude we saw here was *terrible*, particularly coming from Chakotay. I thought it was a little extreme when it was coming from Kim, who's not the most spiritual of people; coming from Chakotay, who has a strong reverence for life, seeing death treated as a temporary Marvel Comics-style setback seems utterly wrong.
-- The escape from the Kazon vessel was not particularly impressive, unless the idea was to prove the Kazon are even dumber than we originally thought...
-- Chakotay's ending prayer was reasonable ... but I was assuming his bag was lost on the shuttle when it exploded. So how'd he get it back? (Or are these replacements?)
That should pretty much do it. "Initiations" wasn't fantastic, but as the first show actually written and filmed for season two it shows some promise. We'll see.
So, to wrap up:
- Writing: The plot sort of limped along, but Chakotay and Neelix were put to very good use on the whole here.
- Directing: Some nice action sequences, and the "Kar muses over Chakotay sleeping" scene also worked well.
- Acting: Major praise to Beltran; the Kazon were a loss; everyone else was neutral.
OVERALL: Let's say a 7. Not bad at all.
NEXT WEEK: Well, UPN's getting out of the habit of showing previews; something about the doctor, I believe.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org "Well, it looks like you just saved my life. Twice more and we'll be even." -- Chakotay Copyright 1995, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.