The following is a SPOILER Review for "Initiations." If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot given away, stop reading now.
The SASR [Short Attention Span Review] is the creation of Jim Wright, who watches the episode no more than twice before preparing the review. This gives me the opportunity to review and recap with a combination of memory and creativity (when memory fails). The result is an experience that is similar to, but not exactly the same as, the actual episode. Consider it a revival of the ancient oral traditions passed on through the generations. I make no claims as to accuracy, but I hope I got enough of it right to keep your attention.
While Chakotay commemorates the anniversary of his father's death, a young Kazon-Ogla attempts to earn his name. In the process, we learn more about the culture of Voyager's chief adversary in the Delta quadrant, and about Chakotay's background. We also see the similarities, the motivations, and the reasons why Voyager and the Kazon will likely never get along.
Jump straight to the Analysis
We find Chakotay alone in a shuttlecraft, on the anniversary of his father's death, engaging in ancestor veneration and prayer. His shuttle is spotted by the local Kazon sect known as Ogla. The leader sends Kahr despite the objections of his subordinate, because Kahr has been itching to prove himself and earn his name.
Kahr wastes no time; he hops in a Kazon ship and starts hammering away at the shuttlecraft, rousing Chakotay from his ceremony and forcing him into action. When words fail, Chakotay targets Kahr's engines and toasts it, then beams Kahr over before the ship blows.
Unfortunately, Kahr is not too happy about this. Kill or die are the only options he seems interested in. Chakotay doesn't feel like giving Kahr either, for a variety of reasons. One, Chakotay sees himself chiefly as a man of peace, who would rather make friends than enemies. Two, Chakotay is a man of honor, whose Starfleet training prohibits him from killing a captive no matter how much he begs.
Finally, Kahr looks no older than thirteen. And he sounds a lot like Nog, that cute little Ferengi nephew of Quark on Deep Space Nine who just might enter Starfleet Academy this season.
Chakotay offers to drop Kahr off with the nearest Kazon ship. Unfortunately, the Kazon tend to overreact, so the whole shuttle gets sucked up by the Kazon-Ogla mothership before Kahr can kill or be killed.
Here things get complicated, and because my memory ain't what it used to be I won't even try to recreate them exactly. Basically, Chakotay and Kahr are both treated like prisoners by the other Kazon, held in a chamber where Kahr shows Chakotay the souveniers of battle and describes the names certain shipmates earned by winning...or dying. Heroic deeds, glorious failures are treated the same, and the accomplishment earns you your Ogla Name, without which you're scum. By being defeated but not killed, Kahr explains bitterly, he has been disgraced forever without hope of redemption.
Soon the leader arrives. Chakotay tries to reason with him, but Federation reason and Kazon reason don't mix. Chakotay doesn't want the Kazon as an enemy; the Kazon feel enmity simply because the Federation vessel and crew represent everything they resent: uniforms, advanced technology they will not share, and a smug superiority they don't even realize they exude. The Kazon, we learn, used to share a planet with a uniform-wearing people, who treated the Kazon like dirt until they revolted, a mere 26 years before, and shook off their oppressors and took to the vastness of space. But they don't get along with each other all that well, and maps--and affiliations--change on a daily basis. At one point in the episode, we learn there are 18 separate Kazon sects in the Delta quadrant, each only vaguely connected with the others, and then not always amicably.
The leader treats Kahr with what we would describe as compassion, but which to Kazon (and Klingons) is apparently the deepest disgrace. A kiss on the cheek and an invitation to sit by his side at dinner, and Kahr is ready to die from the shame of his failure. A failure that only the Federation could have ensured, thanks to their combination of transporter technology and a vastly different warrior ethic. For Chakotay, the prime goal is to preserve life; for the Kazon, honor and name are greater than life. This is the stuff of which timeless tragedies are made.
Chakotay is later introduced to several other Kazon youth. He tries to make nice, but when the leader arrives and asks "who will kill this man?" each grabs for the weapon. The leader proclaims, "there are no second chances in battle" which explains the permanence of Kahr's shame. The leader hands the weapon to Chakotay, telling him it is his duty to kill Kahr, and finish the job he failed to do before. Chakotay does the old "oops, dropped the weapon" trick to surprise the leader and hold the other Kazon at bay, and asks Kahr if he wants to join him in escaping. After a few minutes' thought, Kahr kicks some butt, grabs a weapon, and follows Chakotay to the shuttle. (Whether anyone else noticed that the leader of this Kazon sect was disgraced by getting outfoxed by an acknowledged enemy and allowing him to escape, I'm not quite sure. It may not have been much of a battle, but he did come out on the short end of it. And in Battle, there are no second chances....)
Back in the shuttle, Chakotay and Kahr argue a bit about battle and honor and stuff; culture clash is evident. Meanwhile the Kazon-Ogla are hot in pursuit, and soon one of Voyager's precious shuttles is raining debris all over the Delta quadrant. Fortunately, they're near enough to an M-class moon to beam down before the shuttle vaporizes.
Unfortunately, the moon is the Kazon equivalent of SEAL Training grounds, where young Kazon learn to stay alive because those who don't are shredded by live ammunition.
Meanwhile, Voyager is done doing whatever it was doing and tries to contact Chakotay. When that doesn't work, they go looking, and find one debris cloud after another. The first was not Chakotay's shuttle; the second was. They somehow manage to find the moon and proceed with rescue attempts.
Chakotay and Kahr still aren't getting along well. Kahr has contempt for his Federation companion; he can't figure out how he could lose to such a weenie. They manage to save each others' lives a few times, they talk about the importance of Kazon names and Federation uniforms and what each represents, but the gulf of understanding seems too vast. Chakotay does change his opinion towards the young Kazon; at first doing little more than treating Kahr as a child, he gradually comes to accept him as a proud warrior, and his demeanor and vocabulary toward Kahr changes. He also begins to understand the magnitude of what he has taken from the young man, and desires to set things right with him.
For his part, Kahr is also changing his feelings towards his enemy. Given the chance to kill Chakotay in his sleep, he ultimately cannot.
Janeway leads an away team down to the surface of the moon, leaving Tom Paris and Neelix in charge of the ship. (Paris?! Neelix?!?!?) Soon the Kazon mothership arrives, and Paris and Neelix combine to stare them down. It's one of the few times I have liked Neelix in this series; he finally gets a chance to show his usefulness as a "native guide" with a useful insider's view of the galactipolitics of the Delta quadrant. I was proud of him when he stared down the Kazon, and I hope we get to see more of that side of him. For his part, Paris showed a glimmer of leadership ability, though I thought he displayed more, and better, in "Faces."
On the planet, Janeway and the away team encounter four Kazon, who offer to help find Chakotay and Kahr. Chakotay has set up a homing beacon, so he knows they're coming, and when Voyager manages to break through the moon's interference, Chakotay offers Kahr a chance to redeem himself: "Kill me," he tells Kahr. "My people have the technology to revive me even after two minutes of brain death." Kahr seems a bit taken aback by this.
When finally the Kazon and Janeway's party arrive at the cave, Kahr has a weapon trained on Chakotay. The mothership's leader is there, as his his second in command and a couple of nameless extras. Kahr then announces that to gain his name he must kill his enemy. Then he turns around and blows away the ship's leader, he of the loose lips and vacant dinner seat.
"No second chances in battle," Kahr mutters. I honestly didn't see this coming, but I applauded it when it happened. The kid's pretty bright, even though he talks in short, choppy sentences. (All I can think is, Captain Kirk did some SERIOUS traveling in his time, and there are wildly gesticulating, stutter-gun talking aliens across the universe with a striking resemblance to the former Enterprise captain.)
Kahr then turns to the second-in-command and proclaims his Kazon-Ogla name, and announces with boldness that that guy is now in command, and that he, Kahr, will follow him anywhere, and to the death if necessary. The man is bewildered at first, then sees the wisdom of the decision (the kid's still armed) and proclaims Kahr a named and official Kazon-Ogla warrior. He had killed his real enemy (who really did deserve to die based on Kazon practices) and staked his claim.
Newly named and freshly redeemed, Kahr turns to Chakotay and the Federationers and states, "you are not welcome here, you're still the enemy, and if our paths cross again, I will do my best to kill you." Chakotay says, "I understand," and they beam out. Perhaps Chakotay did understand; rather than accept his advice, Kahr carved his own destiny, made his own choices, and earned his name every step of the way rather than accept a cheat or a way out. Kahr claimed the right to choose his enemies, and acted with honor.
I imagine if we see him again, Kahr will be running that dang ship.
The episode ends where it started: Chakotay praying to his ancestors in
private, adding a request that Kahr be watched over as well.
I had to watch this a couple of times before really appreciating it. This was a content-rich episode, more full of the stuff I like--sociological insight--than technobabble. My first impression of the Kazon from "Caretaker" was not positive; I think I referred to them as "a pissed-off reggae band." I've never much liked cookie-cutter bad guys, and the first few Kazon episodes they seemed there mainly so the producers could say they had an enemy to watch out for.
This episode changed that for me. We learned a great deal about the Kazon, and this particular branch of the Kazon. We learned a bit of their background, and the reason for their resentment of the Federation ship: it represents something they cannot have, and reminded them of the other race that denied them things they wanted. Uniforms, advanced technology, and an unwillingness to share it. We got to see rites of passage, and means of promotion, and motivations for actions. We see why the Kazon aren't more unifed, and more prevalent in the quadrant. And we see that the Kazon are suffering severe growing pains, trying to adjust to their very new role as a spacefaring power.
The focus was, appropriately, on Chakotay and Kahr, played (I'm pretty sure) by the same actor who portrays Nog on Deep Space Nine. I always kind of liked Nog, though I felt sorry for him; the Ferengi are treated as a very superficial stereotype, the intergalactic equivalent of Republicans in the eyes of the writers. Thanks to Trek's tendency to interbreed, actors show up in new roles all the time. Sarek was also a Romulan; Dr. Pulaski played two other people on the original series; Nurse Chapel was also Lwaxana Troi, Number One in "The Cage," and the voice of all the current incarnations' ship computers. Why not let other series characters do the old costume swap? In this case, it worked well.
In brief roles, Paris and Neelix got to expand their identities. Neelix definitely made the most of his, showing an eagerness--and later an aptitude--for courage and sly strategy that served the ship well. As he and Janeway discussed his status on the ship at the episode's beginning, it's evident that as a cook he's a great morale officer, but he's growing in utility to the ship all the same. It's a welcome change. I know he was brought in initially for comic relief, but he needs to be much more than that if he is to contribute to the show, and I hope the writers keep that in mind and do more scenes like the one in which Neelix confronts the Kazon, and emerges victor.
I liked the discussion of cultures, particularly Chakotay's. I think he's the stealth weapon of the show, one who should be used a lot more. There is a depth to the character that should be mined often. His beliefs are a great part of his character, and should continue to be explored.
On a 0-10 scale, I'd give this an 8.75. Strong character development, strong cultural insight, good interaction between Chakotay and Kahr, and an ending I didn't expect. Despite some irritation with the actor's delivery, I thought he pulled it off splendidly.