Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Initiations"

Are you intrigued by the Kazon, folks? Neither am I. They have been labeled the premiere villains of the Delta Quadrant, but have so far done nothing but marvel at water filters and get jerked around by a Cardassian double agent. Well, one gave Kes a black eye. I guess that is something. The Kazon are going to be more prominent in the second season as the allegory between them and Los Angeles street gangs becomes more apparent. As said allegory becomes more apparent, the kazon are going to lose what little appeal they had as villains to the point they will virtually disappear from the series after the third season premiere. But we have to suffer through them quite a bit until then.

The episode begins with Chakotay alone in a shuttlecraft engaged in a ceremony to commemorate the death of his father. The ceremony involves a number of old looking sacred objects which he could only have replicated because he was beamed over from his Maquis ship with nothing but the clothes he was wearing. Picking nits, I know. But still. His ceremony is interrupted by an attack from a young Kazon pilot named Kar. Kar is played by DS9’s Aron Eisenberg, better known as Nog.

It is a short battle in which Chakotay damages Kar’s ship to the point it will explode, but beams Kar to his shuttlecraft before that happens. The two are then captured by a large Kazon vessel. It is bad news for both of them. Kar’s attack was an initiation to earn his name as a warrior--or colors, in the street gang vernacular. It was kill or be killed, and since he failed to kill Chakotay or die trying, he has to be killed by his fellow Kazon. They are going to kill Chakotay just for the heck of it.

Chakotay manages to escape by faking out the Kazon, as they have obviously never watched any Saturday matinee westerns. Yes, I do appreciate the juxtaposition of a Native American using cowboy ingenuity. He offers to take kar along in order to keep him alive. Kar agrees, but he continues to be a royal pain over his intentions to kill Chakotay anyway when and if they can fully escape. Chakotay ought to scalp the little prick. Literally no one would blame him.

Voyager has its first of many, many, many shuttlecraft destroyed, but Chakotay and Kar beam down safely to a nearby moon. While the action has been all about them thus far, their story shifts gears to an often tense cultural exchange wherein Chakotay attempts to find common ground with Kar. Bits do ring hollow. Chakotay tells Kar of the pride he takes in what his Federation uniform stands for. We know that is a crock. He is Maquuis because the federation abandoned his people to the Cardassians. That uniform does not mean diddly to him on any level of idealism. I do not believe the writers meant for the audience to think he is jerking kar around in order to stay alive until he can be rescued, but that is exactly what he is doing. The writers just plain forgot why Chakotay is maquis.

While the two converse, the action shifts to Voyager and the Kazons when they team up to search for their respective missing associates. Neelix negotiates the alliance, thereby giving him something important to do finally. Tom is left in command of the ship while Janeway leads an away team to the moon, thereby giving him the only major screen time he has had since his murder conviction was overturns nine episode ago. There is an inexplicable double cross by the Kazon before Kar decides to kill the leadr of their away team as a power play. It works. He earns his name, and we wonder what the heck it all means. But not for long, because it is difficult to care.

The leader he kills, razik, is played by the so nice, we almost named him twice Patrick Kilpatrick. A few years after "Initiations,” Eisenberg and Kilpatrick will team up again in DS9’s “The Siege of AR5558,” one of my favorite episodes of the series. Their relationship in “Initiations,’ that of a young wannabe both intrigued and frightened by a warrior battle scarred to the point of insanity, is repeated in the DS9 episode. I have no proof their interactions here had anything to do with Kilpatrick’s subsequent casting in DS9, but it seems likely.

As you can tell by my snaky comments, the episode is underwhelming. I have never been interested in the anthropology of street gang culture, turf battles, respective colors, and the like. It does not translate very well into a space faring villain, either. The kazon are not an empire. They are thugs who “rule” over territory that legitimate authorities control. Their status does not make them interesting. They are just brutal criminals. Very disappointing. More where that came from, too.

Mediocre, but watchable is my final verdict. There is a lot of Nog in Kar, so I give some props for that. Chakotay is finally given something to do other than stand around like a cardboard cut out of himself or get fooled by yet another double agent. I did not buy into his lovey dovey speech about the sheer wonderfulness of the Federation, but I do not buy into any of the kazon junk, either, so it balances out in the end. Typical VOY.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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