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.