Friday, July 1, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Tattoo"

“Tattoo” is a highly divisive episode among fans. Your feelings about it probably hinge on your view of the role of political correctness in history and anthropology. I am about as politically incorrect as one can get and still function in polite society--easy to do, considering polite society is as much a myth as any white washed view of history--so you have a pretty good idea of what side I go down on here before I say a word about the episode.

An away team discovers an ancient symbol during a planetary survey for supplies. Chakotay recognizes the symbol from a trip he took with his father to Central America as a teenager in order to find his roots. During that trip, he and his father encountered a tribe separated from the modern world which lived the same way as his ancestors. Voyager investigates further to find a race a aliens who contacted Chakotay’s people in ancient times to bless them for their connection with nature. The experience is one of self-discovery for Chakotay.

But not much for us. We learn young Chakotay did not care much about the history or spirituality of his people, much to his father’s chagrin. The two were on poor terms. Things only get worse when, in the middle of the expedition, Chakotay announces he is joining Starfleet. He quit after his father died fighting the Cardassians and joined the Maquis. He never felt his father was pleased with him until now. While that is more character development than we usually get from Star Trek, it lacks a lot of heart as far as I am concerned.

The problem is--and judging by the manner in which Robert Beltran can barely get through his lines, he knows it, too--is the story hinges on a white progressive’s view point of Native American culture. The aliens, who are all white, are referred to as ’sky spirits” by Chakotay’s ancestors. They were blessed by the sky spirits because of their respect for all life. Presumably, that means the Native Americans were vegetarians who were never warlike and shed a single tear after no one picked up their litter after Woodstock. They were the noble savages killed off by conquest and disease from the white devil.

The aliens display the typical yankee go home attitude as the ship is put in danger during the fourth act to present the only bit of drama in the episode. Unless you count a bird nearly plucking out Neelix’s eye on the away mission. I think that is funny more than anything else. The ship is saved once Chakotay convinces the aliens humans have learned to respect the earth just like his ancestors allegedly did. So we will all become much more morally pure when we embrace the mythical behavior progressives tell us the noble savages engaged in centuries ago. Or something like that.

‘Tattoo” was written by Michael Piller, and I expect far better from the man who made TNG fly after Maurice Hurley had spent two years making it Tos Ii without the charm. What we get is a preachy misrepresentation of ancient culture in order to guilt modern society for…I do not know. Racism, environmental damage, eating meat, or fighting wars. Honestly, I have no idea. Maybe all of that, since Chakotay’s ancestors are the epitome of perfection with regards to all of them. Well, maybe not the war part. Both Chakotay and his father fought the Cardassians. The aliens do not seem bothered by the revelation. Maybe not racism, either, since these are white aliens patting the ancient tribe on the heads for being such good little politically correct stereotypes.

So, no, I am not thrilled with “Tattoo.” But if it alleviates your white guilt for taking native American land or whatever related evil is keeping you up at night, Then have at it. I can see why it would be right up your ally. The message ’Tattoo” is trying to impart is so overwhelming, there was no room for any drama, so had to throw in the ship in peril bit for a few minutes to justify calling this an episode rather than a cultural sensitivity lecture. The only saving grace is the comic relief gag of the doctor programming a bout of the flu for himself as a demonstration of how to deal with illness on the job. He fails at it, of course.

There is one interesting note for readers of the Eye. Chakotay’s father is played by Henry Darrow. Darrow was not only the first actual Hispanic to play Zorro, but he guest starred in The Wild Wild West episode "The Night of the Tottering Torture” While they are many connections between the series I have reviewed thus far, Darrow is the only one to connect The Wild Wild West with VOY.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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