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.
The story behind Chakotay's tattoo is revealed and given relevance in an episode that does for Native Americans what Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home did for humpback whales.
Jump straight to the analysis
It's a bright sunny day in the desert of some nameless sphere, as Chakotay and the away team look for much needed MacGuffins. They find instead the remains of a campsite, with some ground scribbles that Chakotay somehow finds familiar. It's a blessing to the land, he said; whoever did it is wishing the land a speedy recovery. Good guess? Naah. It just so happens he recognizes the symbol from a family outing in his teens to the Brazilian rain forest, as we see in the relevant flashback.
It seems that Chakotay wasn't always the gung-ho Everytribe Medicine Man we've come to know and love; as a troubled youth, Chakotay was firmly grounded in the 24th century, content in modern luxuries and disinclined to enjoy a quest for their distant cousins, the Rubber Tree People. His father, Kolopak, has brought him along in an attempt to stoke the fires of tribal fealty, but it's clear from the get-go that he has sired a stubborn lad indeed.
Young Chakotay found the symbol in the forest, and asked what it is. His father explains that it's a blessing to the land, a "chamoozie" or healing symbol, probably left by their cousins, the Rubber Tree People. (Gratuitous "High Hopes" puns graciously ignored.)
Young Chakotay is unimpressed with his rainforest bumpkin kin; the outdoorsy lifestyle doesn't appeal to him, and the bugs are finding him tasty.
Flash to the present. Chakotay's father is not around, but the memory still lingers--assisted, perhaps, by last week's "Peristence of Vision." We never saw into Chakotay's mind then; perhaps this is his turn. And from the differing attitude, we can safely assume something has changed between then and now to give him more fervor for his heritage. The symbol is now something he wants to explore; the "Sky Spirits" his father had mentioned could well be from these parts.
On Voyager, it's time for another of Ensign Wildman's prenatal checkups. Holodoc gives her an efficient but compassionless examination, as Kes looks on with marked disapproval. Ensign Wildman's husband is back in the Alpha Quadrant, and she's looking for some friggin' compassion--but Holodoc isn't about to provide any; he sees most of his patients as whiners. Kes, the compassionate one, tells him he'd better learn. "You have enough for both of us," he replies. Kes complains that he should get sick for once in his life, so he could know what it's like.
"I don't have a life; I have a program," he replies, but the seed is planted.
* * *
Chakotay shows the symbol from the recent away mission to Janeway, explaining the similarity to the symbol in the rain forest. We get some more background; Chakotay's childhood home was a colony near the Cardassian border, his father had been studying the Rubber Tree people for much of his life, he'd hated the trip with his dad at the time. Janeway asks for an explanation of how a similar symbol could be found so far from Earth.
Chakotay mentions the Sky Spirits theory of his people, who played a role in his tribe's Genesis analog. The Sky Spirits created the Rubber Tree people, and led them like Moses led the Hebrews, to a promised land of milk and honey, etc. The important thing, though, is that if they're here, and they had been on earth, they probably have the technology and resources needed to get the ship functioning at peak again, and maybe help get them home. Ironically, it's Janeway who suggests they follow the Sky Spirits, who have graciously left a warp trail.
Soon, they're orbiting what could be the planet of the Sky Spirits. But no life is to be found...only the possibility of cloaked stuff, and a mineral they need for their engines. They try to beam down, but find there is too much EM interference, electrical storms popping up exactly where they try to go. Repeated efforts fail, and it doesn't seem accidental. So Chakotay, Neelix, Tuvok and Torres take a shuttle down, and it promptly encounters similar nasty--and highly localized--weather, resulting in another flashback.
Back in the rain forest, inclement weather forces the urban indians into a nearby cave. Kolopak--a jovial guy who looks a little too much like Johnny Cash for me to entirely warm up to him--talks with his son. Young Chakotay is obviously not having a good time, and his father expresses his regret. We learn Chakotay was born upside down, which by tradition makes him a "contrary" (rebel without a caul?); he doesn't seem to reject the title, as it seems as good an excuse for ill behavior as any.
Flash to present. They're still descending in the shuttle, but a lightning flash gives Chakotay a vision of Nanook, a frozen guy in bearskin looking at him with eyes that suggest recognition. (when Shatner did "Terror at 20,000 feet" on the Twilight Zone, he saw gremlins on the wing. Chakotay sees ancestors. Go figure.)
Jump to Voyager. Kes finds Holodoc sniffling into holographic Kleenex; he has taken her up on her "challenge" and has given himself a case of 29 Hour (gratuitous alien "culture" reference) Flu. Kes commends him on his effort to learn sympathy, but Holodoc will have none of it. It's a lesson for the crew, he says. They're whiny when they're sick; I'll show them how to do it, he says.
Harry Kim appears. "I don't feel well," he announces. "Neither do I, and you don't hear me complaining," Holodoc sniffs as he sniffles.
Back to the A Plot. This "uninhabited" alien world bears a striking resemblance to that jungle back on Earth, right down to the flowers. Tuvok notes the flower, and we learn that he raised prize Vulcan orchids. Neelix gushes; he and Mr. Vulcan have something in common! Of course, Vulcans likely don't make salads out of their prized orchids, but it's a start. Chakotay makes Tuvok and Neelix "veggie buddies" for the away mission and sends them looking for foodstuffs, much to Tuvok's obvious consternation and Neelix's delight.
Torres also finds mass quantities of the engine mineral they need. A hawk screeches overhead (them hawks fly farther than I thought), just before it swoops down and nearly claws Neelix's eye out (apparently hawks don't approve of orchid salads either). They order an emergency beamout, and for once the transporter works just fine, beaming up the taloned Talaxian with nary an electrical whimper.
Chakotay is deep in thought. He'd seen a hawk on that childhood excursion as well. Flashback to another hawk back on earth, as Chakotay tells his father he's leaving to join Starfleet. Captain Sulu will sponsor his entry. (Likely not THE Captain Sulu; if he's still around, he should either be an Admiral, or retired. Preferably both. Maybe it's a grandson.) For the first time, we see Kolopak looking less than jovial; he's angry, and warns his son that if he leaves, he'll never completely belong to either world. A kid who probably already doesn't feel like he belongs with the tribe probably doesn't consider this a persuasive argument. Before the argument can continue, some of Kolopak's party returns with news that they've found some sort of open-air dwellings.
Back to Now. Chakotay is also almost attacked by the hawk, and once again sees Nanook. As they look for what Neelix had found before he was attacked, they find...some sort of open-air dwellings.
Neelix, in sick bay being attended to by a now clearly sick Holodoc, who requires no compassion or acknowledgement of his ailment. His precisely-timed flu is 2/3 over, and he's determined to hold up better than any of his patients. (Speaking for myself, I wouldn't want to be attended to by a doctor in that condition. Doesn't instill a lot of confidence, knowhatimean?)
Torres reports to Janeway that they've found the stuff they need, but now they need permission from the locals to begin mining. But no natives are to be seen. And Chakotay finds it hard to belive that a warp-capable species would live like this. (I wondered the same thing myself.) Chakotay gets a funny look on his face, then orders the away team to lay down its weapons. Tuvok protests--starfleet protocol and all that. But you don't argue with a guy in mid-flashback.
Young Chakotay remembers when his father ordered something similar. Like Iraqi soldiers during Operation Desert Storm, Kolopak held up his hands, surrendering to--whoever was closest. He told his people to make no threatening gestures, even though there was nobody to be seen. But the man had spent his life studying the Rubber Tree culture, and he believed they were nearby, watching.
Sure enough, they were. And at the gesture of nonaggression, a native (looking a lot like Daniel-Day Lewis) appears before them. Soon, a whole lotta natives enter from all around them. And they all have tattoos.
When in doubt, snuff it out. One of Kolopak's party reaches for a weapon, and barely avoids getting skewered. Kolopak isn't about to let his search end tragically; he draws in the sand, replicating the healing symbol from the tree, looking at Hawkeye with an earnest desire to be understood, and trusted. Soon, they're chatting like reunited cousins, in the ancient shared tongue of their ancestors, and the search party becomes a welcome home party.
* * *
Jump to present. The now-disarmed away team is soon bombarded by bad weather (where did they film this, Utah?). They try to reach the shuttle, but the storm grows worse, and soon Chakotay is trapped under a tree, too far from Tuvok and Torres for them to know. They request an emergency beamout, but Chakotay's commbadge has fallen off, and he's well and truly stuck on a very unfriendly planet. Before he loses consciousness, Chakotay notices a flashback-familiar native fleeing through the Delta Quadrant jungle.
Tuvok and Torres make it back to the ship; they surmise that the planet is more than happy to let them leave, but will be damned before it lets anyone arrive uninvited. Further attempts to beam down fail, and the storms are nasty enough that another shuttle launch is deemed unwise. Janeway tells Paris to prepare to land Voyager on the planet's surface.
Holodoc calls, his voice urgent. The 29-hour flu is an hour past its expiry date, and he's frantic. He demands immediate attention. Harry Kim is dispatched to sickbay, where a death-warmed-over Holodoc is prattling on like all the whiny, cranky crewmen he's reviled over the months. Kes is called away from sickbay; Holodoc begs her to stay (SOMEONE needs to provide him with the compassion he so desperately needs....) but she interrupts the melodrama by telling Kim that she reprogrammed the flu to go an extra couple of hours. "It's not a fair test if you know when it's going to end, now, is it?" she says wickedly as she leaves. Holodoc settles into the diagnostic bed and groans to a smirking Kim, "she's far more devious than I ever expected."
Alone on the planet, Chakotay regains consciousness and returns to the open-air huts. Figuring he may as well follow the flashback all the way, he strips down and finds a bit of native clothing to wear. He says to nobody in particular, "You have nothing to fear from me." But what worked for his dad is not happening this time.
Flashback. After the reunion, the natives had undressed Kolopak's party and gave them the official clan tattoos. "Now he is one of us," they declare. Only young Chakotay refused the offer, from a trio of native babes. This begs the question, "so when did Chakotay get HIS tattoo?"
Back to present. The hawk squawks again and flies in a certain direction, and the freshly-clad Chakotay follows. He soon finds a trail.
The weather on the planet is proving truly uncooperative to Janeway's rescue efforts, and she's getting irked. If Chakotay (and maybe the shuttle) were on board, she'd have been happy to take the hint, but she's not the type to abandon a crewman. Damn the transporters, full ship ahead. The green light to go to Blue Alert is given, and the ship straps in to land.
When you're dealing with people who can control the weather, this is a really, REALLY dumb thing to do. Whatever happened to patience? What about sending hails on all channels saying, "hey, we know you don't want us here, but if you'd let us retrieve our guy we promise to leave"? But no, they keep pushing, entirely forgetting Newton's First Law. If you give a gentle slap and get a gentle slap; if you then punch and promptly get punched; you DO NOT whip out the Uzi.
Sure enough, as soon as the ship begins its descent, the planet breaks out the heavy guns. Typhoons, cyclones, whatever it takes to get the ship to change its mind is thrown at them, and still they descend until soon they're on the verge of destruction. But not entirely helpless; they make efforts to fight the effects of the weather, and aren't destroyed immediately.
The storms have their effects planetside as well, and Chakotay soon finds the weather really nasty. He comes to a cave entrance, but it is "guarded" by a whole lotta really ugly lightning strikes right around the cave entrance. Miraculously, Chakotay manages to enter the cave without getting zapped. I guess he was appropriately dressed, and the electromagnetic bouncer didn't spot his Fake ID.
Inside the cave, Chakotay calls out for recognition. Finally, he gets something--a spotlight, and a voice from his past, in a language he never learned. He sees another light elsewhere in the cave, and sees people approaching him, speaking in that tongue. Chakotay is screwed, but he doesn't give up. He remembers that word his father used: Chamoozie, "Healing symbol." The aliens are taken aback, and ask him some more questions in that language. Still, nothing. Chakotay repeats the only word he remembers. (I guess without his commbadge, he has no Universal Translator to rely on.) Fortunately, the aliens have a device of their own, and soon they can communicate.
These are obviously aliens, but they have the same tattoos as Chakotay. He notices theirs before they notice his. They ask about it. "I wear it to honor my father; he wore it to honor his ancestors." (Interesting; does this mean that Chakotay doesn't honor his ancestors, other than his father?) The aliens are skeptical. "Are there others on your world with this mark?" they ask. Not many, says Chakotay, but a few. The alien is surprised; he says they had been told that there weren't any left with the mark, that they had been "annihilated by those who had no respect for life or land." (White people, raise your hands and hide your heads in shame.)
Chakotay is obviously at least somewhat connected with these people, but he isn't much of a specimen. He has no memory of the aliens, something they said should be genetic. They touch his chest and he sees...Nanook. The alien says that 40,000 years ago they visited earth and found a tribe of people who seemed enlightened in their approach to the land, and they gave them a nudge in the right direction. Chakotay sees another alien touching Nanook's chest, as the history of civilization is given a modern spin that the Limbaughs of the world likely bristle at. Apparently Chakotay's ancestors had no spoken language, no culture to speak of, but they had fire and rocks and the wisdom to only use them on people what deserved it. These ancestors discovered America, settled in, lived a peaceful existence until White Devil showed up and screwed things up. The last time the aliens visited, they couldn't find any of that noble (and unspecified) tribe. It's the Columbus story told by Tecumsah.
Chakotay tells them, "We called you the Sky Spirits." He asks them why they hid. Earth folks don't have a great reputation, he was told, particularly in this quadrant. They feared annihilation, just as their adopted Earth kids had been dealt with by those with no respect for the land. Voyager had a reputation for starting fights, stealing planetary resources and the like, so they were understandably hesitant to make themselves known.
"We're not THAT bad," says Chakotay earnestly, "or we're at least trying to be better since the last time you stopped by." Nothing like a cliche to sway opinion. (As a cliche junkie of a level unseen since the Billy Ocean Top-40 days, I oughtta know.)
Just as Voyager is about to take a nose dive into the planet, the sky clears. They also find Chakotay's life signs, the shuttle, and a whole bunch of Sky People cities.
The aliens--actually distant cousins--apologize that they couldn't offer more of the needed engine mineral, but Chakotay says they were generous to offer what they did. Chakotay now seems at greater peace with himself, and with his father and tribe. The tattoo, originally applied as an homage to his father, may now apply to his greater heritage as well.
Chakotay says he wishes his father were around to see this; his father and he didn't depart on the best terms, and Kolopak since died fighting the Cardassians. Chakotay, then in Starfleet, picked up where his father left off--joining the Maquis and fighting for their adopted land. Chakotay mentioned that he'd sought his father in his "vision quests" (see " Initiations") but had never heard his father's voice--until now.
The alien draws the chamoozie on the ground, and places his hand on it. Chakotay's hand joins it.
Presumably, the ship hasn't had contact with Chakotay since they fought the storm. Tuvok, Torres, and Kes beam to the planet, and approach the spot where Chakotay and the alien (unnamed, oddly, either as a people or as individuals) share their bonding moment. Tuvok and Torres are armed. Chakotay looks back and barks at them to put their weapons away. (Here's an irony: all this talk about the Evil White Man, and here the threatening away team consists of only one-half of a human, who may have some measure of Indian blood in her as well. Who'd have thought that a Vulcan would be part of the Conquering Hordes?) To their view, a gone-native Chakotay had to be at least somewhat unsettling.
Chakotay says his final goodbyes to his newfound friend and kinsman, and joins the away team. He hears a hawk screeching overhead, then hears the voice of his father. "Do you hear what he says to you?" he hears.
"Yes, Father, I hear him. I finally hear him."
Hmmm. I'm not sure how to handle this. So I'll probably go with irreverent. My apologies in advance.
First, I am obviously not of Native American descent. I won't presume to speak for them. We had a Navajo girl stay with us during the school year when I was a teenager, but that's the extent of my experience.
However....I've got a few questions. First, there's a Microsoft CD-ROM called "500 nations." Which suggests that not all Indians are created equal, and they don't consider themselves so. There are very specific tribes, and many of them don't like each other. And like the tribes we have today (we call them "sports fans") they may have begun with common heritage at one point, but that divisions inevitably occur. I don't see any great reunification of Native Americans into a single monolithic tribe, now or anytime in the future.
That said, what tribe is Chakotay from? O'Brien's Irish. Scotty's Scottish, and so is Bev Crusher. Chekov's Russian. Picard is French (with a british accent). Then we've got the Americans: Sisko's from the Louisiana Bayou, Kirk is from Iowa, McCoy's an Atlanta Suthuhn Gentlemuhn. Generally speaking, our Human crews in Trek are not shy about wearing their heritages on their sleeves. But we rarely are told the province or city of record of the Klingon, or the Betazoid, or the Bajoran. It doesn't really matter, because we made all those planets and cultures up. At least we gave the Klingons a language that can actually be learned, despite the universality of the Universal Translators in the 24th century.
So...our first Native American, and we don't get to know his tribe? It seems a simple question. We get real specific with many of the earth folks, particularly the ones with an obvious cultural heritage. Chakotay's the only exception that comes to mind.
Enough of that. I read a review by a Native American concerning Chakotay, and this episode in particular. I've read other reviews, and each asks the question about Chakotay's tribe. It seems a fair question.
Another point, about Chakotay's devotion to his heritage. This one was actually kinda nice. The Chakotay we've seen so far has been devoted to his culture. Here we get to see why he's so devout--he rebelled as a kid, and he's making up for lost time. Like many recent "converts" Chakotay has been working hard to dive into his culture, and it's mainly as an attempt to come to terms with his father's death. That explains the motivations a lot, and it could just as easily be a person of any other faith. Witness the "Bajoran Reformation" going on in ST:DS9. He's no expert; he's still learning this stuff too. It means Chakotay's is a devloping character and developing spirituality.
In that regard, I liked this episode, and it makes a good followup to "Persistence of Vision." The whole "Sky Spirits in the Delta Quadrant" theory seems a tad implausible--it took their people several generations to make the trip to earth, and the question arises: why bother? Aren't there folks closer to home who could use the attention? But hey, it's another Mystery of the Universe explained By Star Trek, like the Ferengi at Roswell and the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.
The subplot with Holodoc's computer virus was very amusing, but it would have been nice to have some sort of denoument to show that Holodoc had learned something--or hadn't. His bedside manner in subsequent episodes has been better sometimes, so perhaps he did learn from the experience, but it would have been nice to see another sickbay scene where Holodoc either shows improved compassion, or Kes threatens him with another bout of flu or something worse, like nostril warts, when he gets snippy with a patient. A minor quibble, but what they showed was pretty darned entertaining, and it showed a side of Kes they need to explore further--her Dark Side. (Oh yeah..."Cold Fire." Ask and ye shall receive....)
The actions of Janeway and Company were pretty darned stupid this time around, and uncharacteristically so. The concept of landing the ship when you know that efforts to do so will be met with whatever bad weather it takes to get you to change your mind, is insanity. Since Chakotay did what he did completely ignorant of Voyager's plight, it didn't make a danged bit of difference whether Voyager tried to land or had simply waited a while, or tried to communicate. Why, for instance, didn't they broadcast the chamoozie symbol, or project it into the atmosphere or something? There were plenty of options to be attempted rather than flying in and putting them all in danger, particularly since it was a needless risk.
Tuvok seemed particularly dense this time around. I don't know what it is with security chiefs, but it may explain why a Vulcan on the Willard Scott birthday list is still only a Lieutenant.
Consider Yar and Worf from TNG, and Odo on DS9: they may be very good at what they do, but they are somewhat lacking in (1) social skills, and (2) diversified talents. Tuvok may be logical, but he's no rocket scientist compared to other Vulcans we've seen.
Geez, that sounds harsh. My apologies to the Tuvok fans out there, but the more I think about it, the more answers that provides to my past quibbles about that character.
The aliens seemed a little goofy to me. They can control the weather, which is infinitely more devastating than some starship's capabilities. And they're afraid of being destroyed? It seems they had the upper hand throughout.
The Native American history of the Earth was interesting, and I read on one list that it's pretty consistent with how 20th century Indians view the European colonization of the western hemisphere. And I'm not about to argue that it wasn't THAT bad, since the vast majority of those who were here when my ancestors arrived were wiped out from disease, war, and displacement. But as mentioned in the description, I found it ironic that most of the people doing the threatening in this episode weren't even human.
Overall: Solid character devlopment and background for Chakotay, and some good treatment of Kes and Holodoc. The obligatory progression of the Wildman Pregnancy as plot device. Janeway was good early on, but lost her judgment once Chakotay lost contact. Tuvok was almost totally one-dimensional, though we did get that bit about prized orchids.
On a scale of 0-10, I'd give this one a 6.50. If I were to give this episode a theme, it would be "communications breakdown."
Next week: Kes makes Tuvok's blood boil.