Delta Redux: A Voyager Rewatch: Initiations

By Last Updated: February 4, 2016Views: 2578

In Initiations we get the first Chakotay-centric episode in a rather long time. And it is about as uninteresting as you’d imagine. Chakotay as a character has been criticized for not showing depth and not changing over the course of the show and those criticisms do have some validity. Chakotay is portrayed as the deeply spiritual, always reliable second in command ready to do whatever is needed in service to his captain and his ship. Sometimes he is angry, sometimes he is sad, sometimes he is tender; but never deviates from the stalwart right hand man.

In fairness I thought that over the first season his character was used effectively and had a significant part to play when allowed to remain in a supporting role and allowed to be exactly what he has been criticized for – a reliable backup. But when thrust into the lead and forced to be the focus of a story his flaws begin to show and what does not work for the character begin to appear. Sometimes this can be hidden if the episode is particularly well written or engaging. Initiations, sadly, is neither of those things.

It is not a bad episode by any stretch but neither is it particularly good. And what is worse it does nothing to add to the Star Trek mythos or even present us with a compelling concept. It is a simple by-the-numbers story: catch and escape with two characters who at first do not like one another but must learn to get along to survive; in the end they come to respect each other and will remember [insert sacrifice and/or lesson learned here] for the rest of their days. It is a resounding meh.

“My people taught me, a man does not own land. He doesn’t own anything but the courage and loyalty in his heart. That’s where my power comes from.” – Commander Chakotay

As an aside – this is a problem I have with reviewing long running shows like this. When an episode is very good or great there is plenty to talk about and plenty to write about. When an episode is bad or terrible there is plenty to talk about and plenty to write about. When an episode is mediocre but had an interesting idea it was attempting to convey it is fun to discuss because, if nothing else, it was trying something.

But when there is an episode like Initiations the best you can say about it is, ‘that was alright,’ then find yourself struggling to churn out a couple hundred words on the subject. Sadly the default thing to do in this situation is to go negative – something I am loath to do as I prefer a redemptive reading but dammit Initiations you leave me no choice. So what doesn’t work here? Well the plot for one thing, but let’s start with Chakotay.

We begin the episode with Chakotay leaving Voyager to perform a ritual to talk to his dead father in which he needs to be alone (this ritual seems to work just fine on the ship at the end of the episode and does not need to be light years away on a shuttle, but no matter he needed to be separated from the crew because plot). As I talked about way back in Caretaker Chakotay’s religion has always seemed to me problematic. Its not that I have an issue with a character being religious or spiritual, far from it; I think this can add depth to a character and inform his/her actions in unique and interesting ways. No, the problem I have with it is that it is portrayed as generic “Native American.”

I am not an expert in this and forgive me if I am way off base here, but what Chakotay practices appears to me to be what white people think Native American spirituality is rather than what Native American spirituality actually is. There is much hand waving over ‘medicine wheels’ and ‘spirit animals’ and not much thought put into authentic practices. If you look at something like Game of Thrones, a much more modern show I know, but the fake religions portrayed in that show are far more realistic than the way Voyager portrays a real religion. Unfortunately this adds to the perception that Chakotay is just a hack character.

And everything in this episode expands from that idea, he seems undefined and contradictory. He resists the Kazon because of his beliefs and even says at one point that no man owns land, true to his Native Americanness. But he wasn’t he also a Maquis that’s sole purpose was to defend land they deemed to be theirs? And he is portrayed simultaneously an action hero, a teacher and a saint – with no real emphasis put on any of those things and no continuity to them. He simply is the thing he needs to be when the plot dictates it.

The one thing the show did get right was the way Chakotay interacts with Kar. He treats him as a spoiled child and with fatherly discipline rather than as an actual threat. This does a lot to shorthand the connection the two eventually share. It should be noted that the actor playing Kar is Aaron Eisenberg who most Trek fans know as Rom on DS9. And while I like Eisenberg, he essentially plays the same role with different alien makeup. Not a lot of nuance to his acting in this one, he is Rom if Rom were a Kazon.

Oh yes, the Kazon. I’m sure the producers of Voyager wanted the Kazon to be the next Klingons but they just are not that kind of a threat. Kudos to the writers for introducing the idea of “sects” in an attempt to de-homogenize them but they just end up seeming to be rival gangs rather than different aspects of a culture. The Kazon are the Sharks and Jets of the Delta Quadrant.

Again, I don’t mean to sound too down on this episode because I don’t think in the long run it is bad per se; it just isn’t very good either. It is just fluff and filler. Unfortunate it came as the second episode of the season. Luckily next week we have an episode that focuses on the Doctor.

Next Time On Star Trek Voyager

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