WARNING: The article below has spoilers for VOY's "Tattoo". Honor the traditions of spoiler protection while reading this.
In brief: Robert Beltran gets to do some solid work for a change, but the show itself is only so-so.
Teleplay by: Michael Piller Story by: Larry Brody Directed by: Alexander Singer Brief summary: An away mission reminds Chakotay of his father and his father's teachings, which Chakotay never embraced ... until now.
"Tattoo" was something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it's one of the very few episodes that's done something significant with Chakotay's character, and from a character standpoint it mostly did a reasonable job. On the other hand, it was also saddled with a horrible "B" plot, and with a pounding in-your-face moralizing ending that rivals some of Trek's preachiest ever.
One of the best things about the show, almost unquestionably, was Robert Beltran's performance. Beltran, for one of the few times since "Caretaker" ("State of Flux" last season being another example), got to display some of the inner fire that makes Chakotay such a potentially interesting character: his "debate" with Tuvok about going unarmed was a splendid example of such, as was his very quiet "put those _away_" (meaning weapons) to Tuvok et al. at the very end of the episode. Those two scenes make an interesting pair of bookends, in fact: early on, Chakotay's suggesting it because he thinks it's the best way to contact the moon's inhabitants -- he's forceful, but no more. By the end, however, once Chakotay's eyes have been opened, so to speak, there's a strong tinge of disgust in his voice when he gives those orders; he can't even believe Tuvok, B'Elanna and Kes would even *think* of such a thing. Much of the credit for that change of emphasis should go to Beltran, I think, and it's nice to see an episode which actually lets him display a little subtlety. (His movement from total skepticism to belief in the old stories was more predictable, but also well done; his line "I can give you [Janeway] an official Rubber-Tree-People theory if you like" simply dripped contempt.)
Alexander Singer's direction was the other main highlight of the show. In particular, what jumped out at me were the various transitions between the present-day moments of the show and Chakotay's flashbacks. Many of those, such as the hawk and the laying down of weapons, were *excellent*, rivaling similar transitions in TNG's "All Good Things", I think -- and that's no small praise. Simply from the standpoint of keeping the flow of the episode intact, Singer did a solid job almost everywhere, and that's worthy of note.
That said, however, I have some significant concerns about the rest of the episode. On a picky level, Chakotay's home keeps jumping around between the border colony mentioned here and Earth ("The 37's" implied that, at least). On a more significant level, though, the application of his father's teachings seems to be coming a little bit late. I understand the wall that came up between father and son, and I understand why the events of this episode would remind Chakotay of his past. I have difficulty, however, with the implication that it takes something *this* amazingly close to Chakotay's past experience to make him take a fresh look. Most conscious adults are able to apply past situations without having them apply to the present point-by- point-by-point ad nauseam; the fact that Chakotay apparently never did so before now strikes me as unreasonable.
As is all too typical in episodes which refer to Chakotay's ancestry, I'm also annoyed at the lack of an actual tribe being named. The more "my tribe this" and "my tribe that" gets mentioned without putting any distinct specifics on, the stronger the feeling becomes that no one wants to take the time to research those specifics and remain true to them. That's annoying, and it strikes me as the cultural equivalent of what Trek's done with biology lately: name the buzzwords without examining the meaning. It rubs me more wrong when it's done with the science, simply because I'm closer to the topic, but that doesn't mean I like it in this context either.
Other than that, my main comment on the episode is simply that it wasn't all that interesting. Almost from the start, it was plain as day that Chakotay was going to come to terms with his father (or at least the memories of his father), and it was also plain that the ship wasn't going to be destroyed in the Magic Cyclone [tm]. Given the latter, all of the hand-wringing over what to do when Voyager was trapped became dull as dirt (with the exception of one line: Paris's statement about everyone becoming "stains on the back wall" if they tried to go to warp without inertial damping working was good); and given the former, the investigation down on the planet and the flashbacks leaned very heavily on the execution.
Unfortunately, apart from some nice directing of and to the flashbacks, most of the execution of the actual *plot* lacked a certain fire. I think the writers were aware of that, and tried to cut to flashbacks fairly often in order to cut down on the tedium, but it only worked up to a fault. Too much of the main plot consisted of "people walk around and things happen to them" -- and that's extremely difficult to pull off properly.
As for the ending ... yuck. Chakotay learning a personal lesson about his own traditions works quite well, particularly given Beltran's talent; but the alien's history lesson was another "let's make everyone who isn't a Native American feel guilty" lecture similar to those in TNG's "Journey's End". Without trying to offend anyone, I think that's hogwash: life is too full of shades of grey to make *any* group more squeaky clean than another one. Certainly, the exploration of the American continent had its share of atrocities committed by those explorers; but I don't think one can unequivocally make either side "the bad guys" without oversimplifying to the point of uselessness. That's something of a digression, though; whether you agree with the message or not, I think the scene itself pats itself on the back so damned much that it's annoying regardless of the situation.
That leaves the "B" plot, that of the doctor giving himself the flu to try to learn compassion. The only shining moment in that story was Kes actually lowering the boom on the doctor about her having lengthened the time of his illness without telling him; Kes isn't above being vicious when she needs to be, and Jennifer Lien is quite good at getting that across. Beyond that, though, this was padding.
Other short notes:
-- "I don't have a life; I have a program." Nope, I'm not gonna say it -- too easy a shot.
-- Those effects when Chakotay ran into the cave were *horrid*. The cyclone was good, but I've come to expect better for things like that cave.
-- Familiar faces abounded, all from Vulcans high up in Starfleet. :-) Henry Darrow, who played Chakotay's father (and who was quite good, incidentally), played the Vulcan admiral, Savar, in TNG's "Conspiracy" way back in the first season, and Richard Fancy (the alien) played the Vulcan captain Satelk who investigated Wesley in "The First Duty". Funny what those Vulcans get up to when you're not looking...
-- Interesting exchange between Chakotay and Janeway: "how much faith do you put in Adam and Eve?" Given the later evidence that there was some *truth* to Chakotay's beliefs, I wonder if we're meant to conclude something similar here. (I doubt it.) And on a strictly picky line, I didn't like the claim that "science has proven" evolution -- it's as close to proven as science can get, really, but science can't *prove* anything outright; something's only as good as the data backing it, and new tests can always call it into question. (On a layman's level, one might as well say that, though; I just get picky.)
-- When Chakotay, in flashback, told his father about going to Starfleet Academy, he mentioned that Captain *Sulu* was the one who sponsored his application. If he meant the original Hikaru Sulu, I'm not sure the timing works. Assuming Chakotay's in his mid-40's (which strikes me as too old, but I'm being generous), this flashback was 30 years ago, which still puts it almost 60 years past "Star Trek VI". That's making Sulu somewhat old to be patrolling the Cardassian frontier. Now, if it's a descendant (a son or grandson, since Chakotay specified "he"), we're fine.
-- Given the cyclone that formed as Voyager tried to land, I hope I wasn't the only one amending Paris's claim of gale-force winds to Dorothy Gale-force winds. ;-)
That should about cover it. "Tattoo" was a mix; some good, some bad, but mostly blah. So, wrapping up:
Writing: Good character work for Chakotay, but a fairly dull plot and a preachy ending. Directing: Nice transitions and reasonable work on the rest. Acting: Darrow was good, Beltran was *great*. The rest were plot devices. :-) OVERALL: Let's make it a 6. Watchable, but not a repeat customer.
NEXT WEEK: "Kes Me Deadly"? (Ow. Let me apologize for that one *now*...)
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org "Yes, father; I hear him. I *finally* hear him." 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.