The following is a SPOILER Review. If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot given away, stop reading now.
This is not just a review; it's a retelling of the episode from start to finish, limited only by my ability to remember the details. I do this for my friends in uniform and those living overseas or who otherwise do not have access to the episodes as they are aired.
I watch the episode only once--maybe twice--before I compose a review, and I rarely don't take notes. I rely on my memory, hence the term SASR (short attention span review).
WARNING: I am also a charter member of the Wordy Muthah Hall of Fame. I'm enrolled in a Brevity twelve-step program, but these things take time.
Janeway is pressured to form an alliance for the safety of the ship and crew. But with whom?
Jump straight to the Analysis
The show starts with two (at least) Kazon ships blowing the heck out of Voyager. The view from space looks pretty grim. The view from inside Voyager looks worse. Panels explode in people's faces. Kim, Tuvok, Paris and Torres take turns shouting their miserable stats to Janeway, who struggles to keep up with all the bad news as much as she battles to stay on her feet.
Finally Voyager manages a kill shot on one of the Kazon ships, and the other warps away. Good timing, and good luck, for Voyager; they're as good as dead in space. No warp, no impulse, no weapons, hull breaches, core leaks, droves of injured crewmen, and the news from sickbay that one of the injured is not going to make it. After a very discouraging status report from everyone, Janeway heads down to sickbay.
Despite an emergency beamin from engineering to sickbay and the valiant efforts of Kes and Holodoc, Kurt Bendera's injuries were too severe and he dies on the table as Torres looks on. They were close friends. He saved her life once.
Things have calmed somewhat when Chakotay briefs Janeway in her ready room. Janeway offers her condolances to him; he was also close friends with Bendera. He'll be conducting the memorial service. Chakotay lingers, and finally broaches a difficult subject: what kind of ship Voyager should be. He has been a faithful Starfleet first officer since the crews were merged, as per her wishes. But he feels she should reconsider their approach to the ship and the quadrant. The Kazon have been pounding them mercilessly the past few weeks. They've lost three crewmen, and another dozen have had serious injuries. They'll be lucky to get warp drive up and running again. Chakotay suggests that Janeway consider that their position is a lot like that of the Maquis in the Alpha Quadrant; understaffed, few if any allies, unpopular with just about everybody, forced to create their own opportunities. In the Alpha quadrant, he argues, Starfleet and Federation protocols are fine, but here they may not have that luxury.
Janeway takes all this in with relative silence, but the look on her face betrays her horror at the suggestion.
At the service, the crew gathers as Chakotay relates the tale of how he met Kurt Bendera, in a bar brawl with some aliens who "didn't like my sense of humor." He'd jumped in and fought back-to-back with Chakotay until the aliens got the joke. "I like to fight," Chakotay recalled Bendera saying at the time. They'd been together ever since, as Maquis and later here, fighting the good fight. Many here owed their lives to him, he said.
After the service two Maquis engineers, Hogan and Jonas, approach Janeway. Hogan asks if he can speak freely, she nods. He asks what she's planning to do now; their backs are against the wall, and they don't much like it. Janeway lets him talk as dozens of their shipmates look on; Hogan, emboldened by her silence, plows on. "Why don't we just give them what they want? What's a little replicator or transporter technology compared to our lives?" More than a few listening crewmen seem to agree.
When Hogan is all talked out, Janeway delivers her response. "I'll destroy this ship before I let any of its technology fall into Kazon hands." She marches out of the room, and stage whispers to Chakotay, "how's that for the Maquis way, Commander?" She seems mad enough to blow the ship up just to prove how determined she is.
Chakotay catches up with her and tries to say...something, anything, to get her to listen to what everyone on board is either saying or thinking. She asks if he agrees with Hogan about giving away technology; "of course not," he insists. "But you have to realize that the Starfleet protocols you've locked onto are ideals many of the Maquis resent the hell out of. Your principles aren't necessarily theirs. Can we find something in between we can all find satisfactory?
Janeway stops the turbolift, her eyes glowing like a blast furnace. "You have a suggestion? Make it." You could perform cosmetic surgery with the sharpness of her words. "Make an alliance," Chakotay says. Her look suggests she'd rather get a Vidiian facial. Hogan had argued passionately but clumsily; Chakotay's passion for his position was underscored by unflinching logic and iron-knuckle brutality. "Are you really making your decisions with the best interests of the crew at heart?" he asks finally, reminding her of her promise to get them home and the jeopardy her blinders-on devotion to Starfleet and Federation protocols may be placing them in unnecessarily. He didn't pull his punches; he said things I'm sure quite a few of us in the audience have been thinking. And he did more than puke on her management style; he offered a potentially workable solution that didn't utterly break the rules.
Tuvok's door chime rings, and in walks the Captain. He notes the rarity of her visits to his quarters, and the usual reason for them--when she had a thorny dilemma on her mind. Janeway spills it. Tuvok is the closest she has to a confidant, and they've been together for years. She describes Chakotay's suggestion, and lets her naked distaste for it show.
To her amazement, Tuvok agrees with Chakotay. As logical as Chakotay's arguments were, they were also argued passionately. Tuvok offers the dispassionate logic of taking some sort of middle ground between blowing up the ship and having a technological yard sale. He repeats the perilous nature of their position in the quadrant. He mentions the events of Star Trek VI from the Vulcan perspective; Spock initiated talks with the Klingons, a race at the time deemed as loathsome as the Kazon appear to be to Janeway. At the time, a younger Tuvok argued against Spock's position. Time, he reminded her, proved Spock's efforts to be the wiser course; they've had nearly uninterrupted peace with the Klingons since (they left before the Klingons used Changeling Fever as an excuse to break the treaty. No war as yet, but decidedly unfriendly relations. Even so, 80 years of peace is better than the US can claim with many nations on this planet.)
Janeway cools down a bit, though she's still very hesitant about the idea. The groundwork laid, though, Tuvok continues to chip away. He reminds her that the situation would be temporary; they're on their way home, and all they're looking to do is get some cover until they're out of Kazon-occupied territory. He also suggests that an alliance could have a stabilizing influence on the sector; the Klingons, after getting a taste of stability, developed an appreciation for the peace dividend. As a final object lesson, Tuvok shows her a prize orchid (he mentioned this hobby in some episode or another) he has grown, a hybrid graft of Earth and Vulcan plants. At first, the plant had been weakened, and he didn't know if it'd work. But the result was remarkably resiliant.
Janeway orders a staff meeting and announces her intentions to form an alliance with a Kazon faction. Kim protests, but Janeway shoots him down with both barrels; "you want to argue, talk to me later. Here we're only talking about how to proceed." Neelix, no fan of the Kazon, suggests that a nearby planet is a base for the Pomar sect, and he has some contacts there.
Kim mockingly suggests they get in touch with Seska. Chakotay, naturally, opposes the idea, but Torres and Paris both declare it worth pursuing, and Janeway agrees. Chakotay repeats his aversion to the idea, and Janeway allows herself a small cruelty: "You can't have it half way, Commander. If you play with the pigs you can't complain about getting dirty." She's still clearly angry over the whole situation and with him in particular for forcing her hand.
Chakotay bristles, then says he'll contact Seska. Janeway lets him off the hook, says he's had enough trouble with her already, and that she'll contact Seska personally. As the meeting breaks up, Janeway looks ready to pilot the porcelain Voyager, if you know what I mean.
She doesn't waste time. Soon Culluh (first Mazh of the Kazon Nistrum sect) and Seska (Barbarian Queen of expatriate Cardassia) are onscreen, looking at Janeway like she's off her rocker. Culluh is surprisingly diplomatic; Seska has apparently been coaching the nekulturny little brute. They agree to meet.
Meanwhile, we get an extreme close-up look at that proud 30-year Trek tradition, Breasts in Space. The camera pulls back to show an alien exotic dancer in a seedy bar, which Neelix enters, looking for someone. He finds his contact, a Kazon frowning over some sort of pin game. Neelix asks what the deal is; the guy says that the dancer promised to spend the night with him if he managed to turn the collection of pins from one geometric configuration to another in so many moves. (Ah, so she has a mind, too. I'm sure Gloria Steinam won't mind the scene after all.) Neelix says he's good at puzzles, and he may be able to improve the man's evening plans considerably in exchange for some time.
Neelix begins by mentioning his improving fortunes since they last met; he's the "morale officer" on a mighty starship, yada yada. The guy knows this; it's likely the only reason they let him into the place, particularly after "the last time we met." (Ah, hints to a darker and less reputable past. You gotta love character development.) Neelix fumbles for a second or two before recovering. He mentions why he's here--to establish a dialog and possible alliance with the Pomar sect. The guy looks at him like he's lost it.
Two Kazon appear and drag Neelix away. His "friend" claims not to know him, and Neelix offers the parting shot about the lonely night the guy will be spending.
On board Voyager, Culluh smiles greasily. "The Nistrum will be a potent ally," he gloats. Janeway isn't impressed; she reads the list of demands, reasonable but hardly an invitation to swap class rings. They'd let the quadrant know they're allies, Voyager would provide medical and other humanitarian supplies as needed. Tuvok adds that no technology swaps or weapons access are included in the deal.
Things seem to be going well, and Culluh appears to accept the terms, as Seska looks on in approval. Then his Kazon testosterone-analog kicks in, and he suggests an amendment to the terms: a crew exchange. Kazon-Nistrum crew on Voyager, Starfleet crew on his ship. Janeway bristles; Seska's expression shows her surprise and distaste as well. Seska urges him to reconsider. Janeway declares it's out of the question. Culluh's demeanor returns to norma; he growls that he will not allow terms to be dictated to him by a (gnash teeth, howl at the moon) ... woman. Seska knows the game's over, and Janeway declares as much. She tells Culluh exactly what she thinks of the thought of allying with him, and that her earlier suspicions have just been confirmed. She exits as Culluh pleads with the Starfleet men to reason with her, getting absolutely no male-bonding support for his efforts. He looks ashen; he finally realizes how badly he blew it.
You have to wonder how this guy came to power...and stayed there.
Neelix is dragged through caverns by the two Kazon. His efforts to bribe, cajole, plead, flatter, etc., have no effect. He is dumped unceremoniously into a cavern, where he hears a crying child. He looks around and sees a camp of refugees. Led by an alien J. Peterman.
The leader introduces himself as Mabus, of the Trabe. (As introduced in "Initiations," the Trabe were the species that had ruled the Kazon and treated them like second-class citizens until the revolt a few decades before.) The Trabe, unlike the coyote-ugly Kazon, look good even in rags; they've been on the run since the revolt, and this little band was caught off guard and imprisoned waiting for a pickup. Cordial even in their distress, the Trabe take in Neelix as a compatriot and offer him a chance to escape with them. Thoroughly charmed, Neelix agrees.
Voyager waits for Neelix's return. He is late. They worry. In Engineering, Hogan asks Torres about the rumors concerning the Kazon; is it true Janeway actually is trying to make an alliance? Torres tells him the rumors are a little behind; the talks fell through very quickly. Hogan's pissed; his distaste for Janeway is clear. He's probably still smarting from the rebuke after the memorial service. He asks Torres to consider talking directly with Seska; they were friends, once. (They all were in Engineering, it seems. At least among the Maquis.) He badmouths Janeway and seems on the verge of suggesting a mutiny. Torres reprimands the heck out of Hogan at this point. She's on Janeway's side on this, and Torres won't put up with any insubordination. B'Elanna no longer trusts Seska; she's not the friend they remember, but a Cardassian she-devil (you gotta love redheads). Hogan, humbled twice in less than an hour, finally shuts up. But Michael Jonas, who has said nothing, has been listening. And deciding. (As far as I know, his name hasn't been mentioned up to this point. But since I'm reviewing these out of order, and the Jonas thread has been played out already, I promise it's him.)
When the signal arrives, the Trabe and Neelix escape. The guards are killed in the process. Not too many tears will be shed for them.
While Voyager waits, an armada of Kazon ships approach, armed for bear. Things look very, very bad. (commercial break) The Kazon hail them, only it's not the Kazon; it's Neelix and Mabus and the Trabe. As Neelix explains, just about everything the Kazon are now using, originally belonged to the Trabe. Neelix wants to bring his new friends over for dinner; J. Peterman has a tale to tell and something to sell.
Over dinner, Mabus infodumps to Janeway and the crew the life of the Trabe before and after the Kazon revolt. He was only eight years old when the revolt occurred; he went from pampered kid to orphaned refugee overnight. His people had been prosperous, art-loving folks before then; since then, they've been roaming the sector looking simply for a place to resettle, eager to get on with their lives. Those who had persecuted, oppressed and apartheided the Kazon are long dead; he feels that, however righteous the Kazon cause originally, it has been accomplished, and it's time to forgive and forget. His words, his tone of regret and compassion, clearly moves Janeway and the senior staff.
It's night, and a lone Jonas reaches out and touches the Nistrum ship. He wants to speak to Seska, he tells a Kazon lackey. She knows me, he insists, we're old friends. The Kazon looks at him in suspicion. He tells Jonas he wants to run a personnel check, and tells Jonas to call back tomorrow.
After dinner and the departure of Mabus, Neelix gushes about his newfound soul brothers. Janeway expresses some reservations; she is disturbed by the treatment of the Kazon by the Trabe before the revolt. (thinly-veiled references to European colonization of Africa, perhaps?) But she, too, is impressed by the smooth-talking and seemingly sincere Mabus. Chakotay, all too aware that Janeway would rather blow up the ship than ally with any of the Kazon, suggests that perhaps the armada of Trabe would make a better strategic partner. Tuvok warns that allying with the blood enemy of all the Kazon could get them some SERIOUS opposition. Janeway considers this all, but ultimately decides that you trust until proven otherwise, and that the Trabe seem to have learned their lesson. Besides, they're already targeted for wrath by the Kazon; it's not like things can get any worse between them. The Trabe deal seems the best available.
Janeway approaches Mabus and asks if he'd consider an alliance between them. Mabus likes it, but he has a better idea--call all the Kazon, meet together, and bury the hatchet now and forever. Janeway asks what he means. "Peace," he says, using a word that sounds delicious, tempting, and frightening; talk about interfering in the politics of the sector. But peace between the sects and the Trabe and the good ship Voyager seems a worthy goal, and it'd save them all sorts of hassle if it could work. Worth a try, at the very least.
Seska gets the invitation with slack-jawed wonder. "They've allied themselves with the Trabe?" Culluh is sickened; Seska is just pissed. Culluh asks how such a thing could have happened, and Seska unleashes a barrage of abuse at him for his lousy negotiating. "I couldn't allow myself to be dictated to by that...woman!" he blurts, but this time Seska's not gonna shrink into the submissive "Yes, Mazh" role she played during the negotiations; "I'm getting tired of that lame excuse, and one day it's going to get you into deep trouble," she says, a near-naked threat. Culluh looks ready to slap her, but Seska plays the manipulation further. "You won't hurt me; I'm carrying your child." (ah ha. Not a bad move on her part.)
She gives him little but contempt here, payback for months of domestic abuse and rank incompetency as a commander; if this weren't such a patriarchal group, Seska would have assassinated his sorry butt long ago. Heck, she'd probably have forged an alliance between the sects by now. She's been trying, but working with puny minds takes time.
Finally Culluh, a beaten man, sits and rubs his temples, accepting his fate. Thus humbled, Seska proceeds to tell him how they can turn this to their advantage. Go to the conference. Listen to what's said. Agree to nothing, but learn the strengths and weaknesses of all concerned. Later, use that valuable info to unite the smaller sects, get medieval on some Trabe hiney, and overthrow Janeway's reign as Voyager's skipper. Put in terms even he can understand, Culluh cheers up somewhat.
Some development threatens to hose the peace conference; Neelix reports that someone's been trying to stir things up. They've caught one saboteur, or something, but this puts them further on their guard. Nobody's talking, so they don't know who it may be who's trying to do some damage. Janeway, naturally, suspects a Kazon, probably Culluh. The conference will go forward, though they'll beef up security and emergency beamout measures.
Just before the conference, Neelix and his Pomar friend (looking like he never finished that puzzle) go over the room, discussing the preparations. Under his breath, Neelix asks for some hint of what may be brewing, but his friend is tight-lipped, and scared. He offers nothing. In come the Voyager folks and Mabus, who greet the various Kazon First Mazh's of sects we've met or merely heard about. All but Culluh show at least a measure of dignity to go with the hostility.
Mabus greets everyone cordially, but doesn't seem to be making any friends. When they sit down and begin the conference, Culluh does most of the talking. When he attempts to schmooze, everyone looks at him in contempt. (Seska could have picked someone a lot better, ya know?) He tries to get information with all the dexterity of a two-time thief in Tehran; nobody falls for Stubby's transparent ploys.
When Culluh realizes he's looking stupid, he tries his traditional Macho Bluster. Janeway already thinks he's scum. Mabus takes it, but seems a tad discomfited. Culluh calls the Trabe the greatest monster in the sector's history. the other First Mazh's agree to this--they have clearly not forgiven nor forgotten the treatment of their people at the hands of the Trabe, and are very hesitant to trust now.
Mabus suddenly asks for a recess and urges Janeway to come with him to discuss something. She's too busy staring unkindly at Culluh. He repeats the request, more urgently, when the table starts vibrating. Everyone wonders what's going on; Janeway looks out the window and sees a small Kazon (Trabe?) ship lining up and ready to fire. She warns everyone to stop, drop and roll to safety, then orders the emergency beamout just before the fireworks begin.
Voyager fires on the ship until it veers off. When the dust settles, the Kazon note the beamed-out Federation and Trabe, and mutter unkind things. Relations between Us and Them has clearly gone even further south.
Meanwhile, on the transporter pad, Mabus is upset that she warned the Kazon before beaming out and saving their sorry hides. "We could have established peace just then!" he protests. He figures that by taking out the leadership, it would take the other Kazon a while to regroup.
Janeway and her people are livid. We don't work that way. Murder isn't in our playbook. She vents her fury at Mabus for his treachery, for abusing their good faith and good name in a wicked cause. He calls her naive; she calls him a cab. She tells him he's lucky he's getting beamed into something with an atmosphere. (well, not really.)
So now they've got TWO sets of heavily armed and unhappy people within weapons range. Fortunately, the ship has healed itself nicely and they take off at a goodly warp speed.
In a meeting with the staff, we get the report from the various departments. Fuel and food supplies are good, engines are purring like a kitten, weapons are back on line. It must be that Delta Quadrant climate that promotes a speedy recovery. Them gel packs is fantastic.
Janeway takes this opportunity to remind them that this is an ugly-tempered
quadrant, and their friends are few. About the only ally they can count on are
good old-fashioned Federation principles, and the recent events have confirmed
that in her mind. No more of this "let's try the Maquis way" bullstuff; it's
Janeway's ship, they're gonna play by Janeway's rulebook. "The best allies we
have are our core principles," she says to end the episode.
Gee, I kinda took a while to tell this story, didn't I? Sorry. There was a lot in it.
It's nice to see that Seska hasn't lost her capacity for cruelty. I dislike Culluh; he's a moron. Had Seska not come aboard, he'd likely be dead by now. His days are numbered, and it's Seska doing the counting. If they chose their leadership by merit, she'd already be wearing the pants and the heavy-metal hair. Culluh's a neanderthal with the brains of a battering ram. (No offense to the actor intended; the writers clearly intend him to be little more than Seska's puppet.) Seska knows when to look cowed, and when to give him a swift kick in the nether regions; since "Maneuvers" she has gained enough breathing room to call him an idiot when he deserves it, without fear of retribution. The baby seems to help; she's told him AND Chakotay it's theirs, so it's just part of her arsenal at the moment.) Malevolently maternal; somehow I see a bodycount coming when it's time to deliver.
It's about time they consider options other than "let's get outta here as quick as we can and hope nobody notices." Frankly, I think Chakotay was right to shake Janeway out of her give-me-starfleet-or-give-me-death stupor. Don't get me wrong; I like Janeway. I think she's shown why she's captain on more than one occasion. But gimme a break--even Picard showed the occasional flexibility with Starfleet protocols, and their situation more closely resembles that of their 23rd century forebears. Same Prime Directive, largely similar Starfleet protocols, but captains had far more flair for ingenuity. (I'm an Original Series zealot; sue me.) if I were consulting Janeway, I'd strap her to her console in her ready room and force-feed her the exploits of James T. Kirk and company. She doesn't have to BE him, but she could certainly stand to learn a thing or two about survival and flexibility.
In my mind, it is dangerous and unwise for her to completely discount the advice and sentiments of her Maquis crewmen and first officer. Chakotay has lived in both worlds; he left Starfleet, likely as a command officer, to join the Maquis. He knows the protocols, and he knows which ones really matter. He also knows how to survive against insurmountable odds and make do with what you've got, as well as leading by example as much as by rank. By not giving more weight to Chakotay's advice just because it's not in the Starfleet playbook, Janeway shows a blind spot that may prove her undoing. Seska's no dummy; she has a score to settle with her former Captain, and won't hesitate to exploit any weakness.
Okay, enough about that. I just hope that Janeway loosens up a little bit and eventually learns to accept the best solution, even if it may be a Maquis solution.
Other complaints. The bar scene wasn't that bad, though I did think the HooterCam shot of the dancer that opened the scene was gratuitous. Neelix did have some good lines, at least.
When it came to the alliance talks with the Kazon, I can see why they chose the Nistrum to talk with first--recurring characters and subplots. But strategically, it was a bad move. I'd have picked another sect, one they hadn't tangled with yet. There was already some personal bad blood between the Nistrum and Voyager that pretty much doomed it from the beginning.
The Trabe were the Gaston of this Beauty and the Beast tale--the handsome villains, as bad as the Kazon said they were and twice as bad for making you want to trust them. It gives the Kazon--some of them, anyway--a measure of sympathy.
Tuvok reveals he opposed Spock during the Klingon Peace Talks. This means he's likely well over a hundred years old. And it doesn't surprise me that he was against Spock.
I liked seeing the fire in Chakotay's belly. As said in the description, I think it's about time he opened Janeway's eyes to other possibilities, little that she wanted to hear it. Ironically, he and Torres seem to be going in opposite directions--Torres, originally ill-fitting to the ship's protocols, is now likely Janeway's greatest defender among the Maquis, while Chakotay has provided her in recent episodes with reasons to think he's going Maquis on him again. (I think he's simply synthesizing the two philosophies as best he can, preferring the Starfleet method generally but willing to improvise when needed. If he didn't have the taint of Maquis history, I think she'd listen to him more, and be a better captain for it.)
I'd like to see the Trabe again. We know they're out there now. I want to see how they react to each other.
This episode begins the saga of Michael Jonas, spy wannabe. I figured Hogan, the outspoken one, might have gone in that direction, but it's always the quiet, passive-aggressive types that seem to turncoat on us. from here to "Investigations," we'll see Michael Jonas, passing information to the Kazon and begging to talk with his good buddy Seska, and being treated like dirt by his ungrateful contacts. He's a weasel.
The ship, beaten to near-irreparability at the beginning of the show, is surprisingly intact by episode's end. If they can fix this kind of damage in such short order, why don't they have the replicators working again? They're working enough !#%%~ miracles that we ought to expect a few more.
On a scale of 0-10, I'd give this one a 7.00. A lot of gripes, but most of it ongoing and at least everyone's playing true to character. Standout performances by Beltran (Chakotay) and Mulgrew (Janeway). It was a messy show, but there were enough good scenes to be a little forgiving.
Next week: Tom Paris's ego writes checks his body can't cash.