Monday, October 17, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Tsunkatse"

I recall when “Tsunkatse” was first being hyped, the promos mirrored the ones used by UPN to promote its highly rated WWE Smackdown. (This was prior to the lawsuit mandated change to WWE.) I groaned heavily all those years ago. Wrasslin’, as it is referred to down here, is right up there with NASCAR in terms of redneck appreciation, with the unfortunate addition of tooth and nail defense that it is not fake. At least, they hold onto the notion WCW wresting is not fake. Vince McMahon let the the not so well kept secret out of the bag nearly twenty years ago in order to expand into New Jersey. Obviously, my first impression was a dumbing down of VOY, however difficult that may be, in order to bring in non-fans as a ratings stunt.

I am surprised to find it does not work out quite that way. The episode does not require much thought. In fact, I recommend not thinking about it for the sake of enjoying it. The funny part is the WWF homage is not the least intelligent part of the episode. It is the typical VOY elements that harm it--lack of original plot, unnecessary space battle, typical last minute beam out rescue, continuity errors, and preachy moralizing over violence. The latter, I will confesss, amuses me. Why invite WWF fans to try out VOY by giving the Rock a one act part in the episode, then scolding them for enjoying violence as entertainment, especially when they are ones giving UPN its only ratings success? I suspect the WWF connection was mandated by UPN, so the VOY writers showing their irritation as best they could.

Much of the Voyager crew is on shore leave. A group of theme opt to attend a sporting event of which they have heard rumors. It is the Tsunkatse. I would describe the fighting style as mized martial arts with professional wrestling thrown in for good measure. Two opponents are supposed to battle one another essentially freestyle while striking some taargets which light up. Striking the targets seems far less important that beating the living snot out of one another The crew in attendance are enjoying themselves. Keep that in mind for later.

Tuvok and Seven skip out of the carnage to investigate a spatial anomaly for their shore leave experience. The two are captured. Tuvok is injured in an explosion. Their captors refuse medical treatment for him unless seven fights in the Tsunkatse. She agrees. We learn the matches are broadcast as holograms from a secure location rather than in person. We also learn The Rock is over hyped. He gets only about two minutes of screen time as he pounds Seven into Borg bits. Any WWF fans originally tuning in with the hopes of a big part for him were bound to feel cheated and mislead. I am not a fan of The Rock, but I sympathize. Promos are deceptive.

Seven attracts the attention of Penk, the McMahon character. He is played with smarmy glee by DS9’s Jeffrey Combs. Penk is not as subtle as Weyoun, but he is every bit as insidious. He believes seven could be a big draw, either because of her fighting skills or how her behind looks in tight leather. You make the call. He pairs her up with his reigning champion, a Hirogen played by Star Trek veteran J. G. Hertzler. The two develop a Mickey Goldmill/Rocky Balboa relationship as he trains her, so it is no surprise when the time comes for the climactic death match, they are assigned to fight each other. Voyager rescues both with a last minute beam out so neither has to die. You saw that coming, right?

The predictable bonding and eventual pitting against one another of Seven of the Hirogen is too predictable to be anything special. Nothing else in the episode is, either. It is all mindless violence which--surprise, surprise--the crew moralizes against even though they were enjoying the matches until Seven showed up in one. Suddenly, it becomes evil to fight for someone else’s entertainment even before they realize they are battles to the death in Tsunkatse. How did they not know that beforehand, anyway? If Tsunkatse had been hyped for them to the point they wanted to blow shore leave time on it, how come the biggest part of the show was never revealed? Oh, that is right. The episode needed a dramatic, last minute twist. I got it.

For another implausible element, how are the Hirogen out this far? They should be at least 30,000 light years behind, yet not only is there a Hirogen fighter, but Voyager finds a nearby Hirogen scout ship to take him home. Seriously, VOY writers. Continuity. Look into it.

Do I smell what The Rock is cooking? No, but I smell a pile of manure, which is what “Tsunkatse” is. The only novelty of the episode is the Seven v. The Rock battle, which lasts all of two minutes. The rest is paint by numbers VOY moralizing, Janeway prompted explosions, and an at the buzzer rescue that deflates any drama the story managed to drum up. I was not expecting much considering the promo, and not muxh is what I got. I cannot be too disappointed, but I am still unamused regardless.

Is there any scripted show that can feature Paul Williams as a planetary leader, a Mai Lai Massacre allegory, and a WWF homage in consecutive episodes other than VOY? I have to be impressed by the audacity of it. Consider me duly impressed.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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