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.
Seska returns. Anyone who enjoys seeing Chakotay suffer will love this one.
Jump straight to the Analysis
Torres and Chakotay on a turbolift, not dressed for duty. "This better be important," Chakotay growls, lightheartedly. "I had you right where I wanted you." Torres protests that she was beating him, 19-7. Chakotay explains how he planned to win--"win the next two points, make you tense up"--earning a playful scowl and denial from Torres. "I do not tense up." "Easy, B'Elanna. It's just a game."
They arrive on the bridge, where Janeway and Tuvok are discussing what interrupted the game: a beacon...with a Federation signal. The type of which was to be implemented a month after Voyager left Deep Space Nine. Cautious optimism reigns on the bridge, and they set a course to investigate.
The beacon is found inside a cloud. (Uh oh.) When they make an effort to retrieve it, they are attacked by Kazon. It is different from earlier Kazon attacks--it has elements of stealth, cunning, and precision that they have never shown before. The warp engines are shot offline; a hole is blasted into the shields, just big enough for a Kazon mini-ship to plow through and pierce the hull. Security is dispatched, and a couple of Kazon are disabled, but two escape long enough to grab a transporter module and beam back to the mothership. Chakotay manages to lock a tractor beam on it, and they are hailed.
By First Mahj Culluh of the Kazon Nistram sect. And his new advisor, Seska. (For those who missed the first season, see the review of "State of Flux." Briefly, Seska was a Maquis brought on board Voyager in the pilot, a feisty Bajoran and Chakotay's one-time lover who turned out to be a Cardassian spy feeding info to the Kazon. She escaped, and this is her return.) "How lovely to see you again," she cooes. "You've always been so predictable." The tractor beam suddenly becomes useless, and the Kazon ship warps away, with important Federation technology in its possession.
Surveying the damage in the cargo bay, Neelix is stunned. The Kazon, he insists, have never done anything like this before. Tuvok suggests that "until now, they haven't had an advisor with Cardassian, Maquis and Federation tactical experience. Good point. Of all the obstacles Voyager faces, Seska has always seemed to me to be the most potentially dangerous. Janeway orders the crew to extract the "dagger from our gut" as quickly as possible; with the Kazon shiplet lodged in the hull, they can't establish a warp field to pursue.
Neelix asks if pursuit is wise. "Is there realy any harm in letting them keep one little piece of technology?" he asks. At first, Janeway tries the traditional Prime Directive bluster, but then switches to a smart tactic -- she asks Neelix what he thinks the consequences of transporter technology in Kazon hands might be. He thinks it through, and realizes that the impact could change the balance of power among the various Kazon sects, and affect the entire quadrant's stability. The doubter becomes the true believer.
Chakotay wonders if a direct approach is advisable; he has pretty convincing evidence that one mere part isn't all that Seska's after. She wants them to follow her, probably into an ambush. Janeway asks if he thinks they should just let them have the piece; Chakotay assures her that he agrees with everything she said about the need to recover their technology. He merely suggests that the only way to beat Seska is to out-Seska Seska, to use more Maquis-like methods to recover the transporter piece without further jeopardizing the ship.
Tuvok suggests, rather inappropriately considering the forum, that Chakotay could use his "intimate knowledge of Seska to manipulate her, much as she has been manipulating us." The look Chakotay gives him could melt duranium.
Cut to the Kazon ship. Seska and Culluh are briefing a couple other Kazon, evidently not of their sect, on their recent acquisition, and their plans to get more. They are offering this other sect, the Relorah, an opportunity to help them conquer Voyager when it arrives, so that its technological marvels will be theirs for the splitting. The Relorah and the Nistram are blood enemies, however, and have been for generations; the Relorah hold the Nistram, and Culluh in particular, in low regard at best. Culluh knows this, but is trying to end the blood feud and usher in a new Kazon age of dominance and cooperation.
Back to Voyager. Chakotay and Torres discuss ways to retrieve the transporter module. They may have a way to do so, using one of Seska's own tricks from the Maquis days, but it will require a very close approach to disable. How to get that close is something Chakotay suggests they worry about later. Torres notes that he is taking this situation very personally; "Why shouldn't I?" he retorts. He had put his trust in her, recruited her into the Maquis, even "got intimate" with her. "So, you have lousy taste in women," Torres suggests...a half joke, with an unspoken plea: "You could do better, say, with me...." We caught a glimpse of her unspoken passion for Chakotay in "Persistence of Vision."
Torres tries to reassure him that the failure to catch Seska's treachery was not only his--Torres had considered Seska her best friend. She attempts another bit of well-meaning advice couched in a joke: "Don't tense up." Chakotay looks at her. "So now I'm getting advice on controlling my emotions from you." They share a tense smile.
Back to the Kazon. The first Mahj of the Relorah is clearly not impressed with Culluh's offer. He suggests they give him the technology and "let us do what we do best--we'll take Voyager without you, but we won't forget your...assistance." Culluh takes offense, as expected, and guns are drawn. Seska steps in, urging cooler heads to prevail, to let them return to their ship while Culluh considers their offer. "Listen to your woman, Culluh!" the leader of the Relorah sneers. Up go the guns again, until Seska gives Culluh the look that says, "why don't we...BEAM them...back?" Culluh finally gets her drift, and he smiles and agrees.
Voyager, having followed Seska's trail of breadcrumbs, arrives at the place where the Kazon had stopped, and find some floating debris...two very cold, dead Kazon. After a brief examination, Holodoc determines that these two were beamed out into space, and that they were alive when they were beamed. They consider that the Kazon are testing the stolen transporter, and the first experiment must have failed. Neelix disagrees; he notes the distinctive clothing of the Relorah's First Mahj, and their enmity with the Nistram. He suggests they may have been beamed intentionally to their deaths.
Janeway calls a meeting. Everyone shows up but Chakotay. Janeway checks the computer, which says that Chakotay has left the ship, in a shuttle. As security chief, Tuvok gets the third degree from Janeway, who orders him to conduct a thorough review of security procedures to ensure that such a thing won't happen again. (Apparently, they weren't good enough to prevent Tom Paris from bogarting a shuttle a few weeks later, in "Threshold".) They don't even know WHY Chakotay left until they talk with Torres, who notes that the equipment they planned to use to disable the transporter piece is missing. So at least Chakotay is going Maquis in a good cause, though Janeway seems no happier about it.
Alone to themselves, Seska and Culluh discuss their options. They have a transporter, they want more, but the Relorah aren't going to help. Culluh's depressed; "his" plans aren't working out. (Seska is obviously the brains of this outfit, and she's smart enough not to force him to acknowledge that. The Kazon are proving to be very non-nineties in their approach to wimmen.) Seska tries to reassure him that they are still in a position of strength, and leads him through the thought processes to get him feeling good about himself again. She makes the mistake of telling him she usurped his authority to perform a task before she'd cleared it with him, and for a moment her position looks tenuous--she is better suited to lead, but she's stuck on a ship of misogynists that would not follow her orders directly even if she killed the entire chain of command. So she lets him bluster, lets him steal her ideas while she plays the yes-chick, looking for all the quadrant like the devoted mate comfortable with her subservient position. In the end, Culluh's manhood is restored, and he's agreed to go along with everything Seska has manipulated him into.
If Culluh weren't such a brute, I'd feel sorry for him; every unkindness he shows Seska now will come back to haunt him, and he has no idea that he's digging his own grave. I must also point out that Seska has lousy taste in men. I think she should do a crossover and go on a blind date with Garak on DS9. They're both suitably slimy and underhanded and likeable in a never-turn-your-back kinda way.
Janeway sips at something--probably coffee--when Torres asks to speak with her. "Chakotay isn't my favorite subject at the moment," Janeway reminds her. It's an interesting moment, almost a mirror-image of a scene in "Parallax" when Chakotay urges Janeway to take a chance on Torres when Janeway is inclined to toss her in the brig for smacking around Lt. Carey. Here, it's a conciliatory Torres arguing passionately for the suddenly wayward Chakotay. They both have a point: Janeway is perfectly within her rights to consider her first officer's "mission" a direct slap in the face and a first-class breach of trust, and Torres agrees. However, Torres argues passionately for Chakotay, saying things he would never say for himself. He was in love with Seska; he took her betrayal very hard. He's a private man; he's been publicly humilitated several times by Seska. He feels responsible for the dangers the ship faces, and is trying to solve it in a way he thinks may be the least dangerous to everyone.
Janeway's steely expression softens just a tad. "He's lucky to have a friend like you," the captain says. She agrees that any disposition regarding the renegade first officer can wait until after they've successfully and safely brought him back on board. Torres breathes a sigh of relief...and something else.
Chakotay, meanwhile, is moving in for the kill, using tricks a Maquis lived by. He sneaks in under the Kazon's nose, close enough to kiss the enemy hull, almost as silent as space itself. He searches furiously for the transporter part.
Almost. Culluh notes an EM reading, and Seska seems to know exactly what it is. She calls for something or other, which is not given until Culluh approves it, though he doesn't know why she wants it. A few pulses are thrown out into space near the anomoly, and a shuttlecraft-shaped silhouette is revealed. "Gotcha!" Seska cries, and orders a broad-band hail. Culluh is still clueless, and asks to whom they should address it. Seska, losing patience, sneers, "just do it!" She calls out to Chakotay in the darkness. "I know you're out there; you're as good as mine." They lock on tractor beams and pull the ship inside.
When they search the shuttle, they don't find him. Where is he? Right outside the room where Seska stands, outside the room with the transporter. Chakotay shouts a brief welcome, blows the hell out of the stolen technology, sends a message to his shuttle to send a message to Voyager, and points his phaser at Seska.
Hi, honey, I'm home.
For some very stupid reason--love, chivalry, whatever--Chakotay doesn't vaporize Seska on the spot. Instead, he hands her his phaser, fully expecting to be killed. If it was a suicide mission anyway, I'd have taken out as many of the enemy as I possibly could, particularly the ones that posed the biggest threat to Voyager. As maneuvers go, this was a very bad one on Chakotay's part. Besides, a good murder-suicide is a traditionally fitting ending to a tragic love story. Ah well, maybe next time.
On Voyager, another Federation beacon reaches them. This one is most definitely theirs. It's a message from Chakotay, announcing the successful destruction of the transporter module. he urges them not to come for him, as he is most likely dead.
No such luck. Two burly Kazon guards bounce him off a few bulkheads before leaving him for Seska to deal with. "So you're giving the orders now?" he asks. "Let's just say I'm in a position of some influence." The sparring begins. Seska tries to schmooze Chakotay with wine, with words, with wooing. Chakotay throws it all back at her; he refuses to be suckered again, and says as much. She tries vulnerable; he takes the heart on her proffered sleeve and drop kicks it across the room. She suggests that his bringing them an entire shuttle to destroy a single piece of equipment was stupid; Chakotay counters that he wiped the computer core when he sent the beacon, so everything on board the shuttle is now useless to them. (I have a VERY hard time believing this to be true. It's not like the piece the Kazon stole came with its own software. At least some of the hardware should still be salvageable.)
Attack, Counter, Thrust, parry. Compared to Culluh, it's almost fun to watch these two seasoned pros dance on the head of a grenade pin. You get the feeling Seska still has feelings for Chakotay, and Chakotay--for all his wounded pride--isn't utterly over her either. They're at that awkward post-breakup stage where hurting each other is almost as fulfilling as caring for each other used to be. Only they've sucked the major military powers into their little breakup. Sure, she says she wants his command codes. What she really wants is his acceptance. He wants his pride and privacy. Neither are likely to get what they want.
On Voyager, Janeway has a decision to make. Tuvok argues that they should follow Chakotay's "last request" and not go after him. Torres urges that they at least try to get him back. Janeway is still peeved at Chakotay's insubordination, as her iron-jawed, blank-as-death expression conveys. She says her gut agrees with Torres, but her better judgment sides with Tuvok. (You couldn't ask for a better metaphor.) Torres gives it one last shot. "What does your better judgment think of the implications the loss of the first officer will have on the crew, the morale of this ship?" she asks.
Janeway stares hard at Torres, almost nose to nose. Then she gives the order to follow after Chakotay. Torres' look says it all. (I have to point out the almost illogical fervor with which Tuvok has maneuvered against Chakotay in this episode. We know they don't like each other much, but Tuvok seems almost glad Chakotay is gone, and is in no hurry to retrieve him. And he certainly could be accused of goading Chakotay into this action earlier in the show, referring so publicly to his "intimate knowledge" of Seska. It's rather unseemly for a Vulcan to act this way, methinks.)
Chakotay is still alive, but being beaten mercilessly (and not very well) by Culluh, as Seska and a bunch of other Kazon look on. Culluh wants command codes--with a ship's command codes, you can remotely disable a ship's defenses without firing a shot. (At least a Federation ship. I can't imagine that the Kazon have the same engineering concept. Minor quibble, though; I won't rant about it.) But each attempt to get information gets something else from Chakotay--a bloody-mouthed mockery of Culluh, under the spell of a woman that used to manipulate him so he knows what he's talking about. A fist to the gut, a backhanded slap across the cheek--each violence by Culluh elicits another verbal dagger to the testosterone center of the Mahj's manhood. Chakotay paints a picture of Seska that only a jilted lover could create--the kinda woman that will make you think you're the one in charge, right up to the moment she slits your throat. Seska blanches a few times at the unflattering, but surprisingly accurate, appraisal. Culluh, on the other hand, is in deep denial. When fisticuffs fail, he drugs Chakotay, who manages to give him some first-hand information: "when she's through with you, she's going to kill you." He laughs derisively, and only Seska's intervention prevents further attacks from Culluh. He tells her she has an hour to produce the command codes, and he leaves with the other Kazon men, who have heard every word. It's not a stellar moment for the Mahj's rise to glory. On a Klingon ship, he'd have been gutted and tossed out an airlock before he left the room.
Just Chakotay and Seska again. She compliments him on his maneuvers, then sticks a wicked looking needle into his neck, giving him instant and exquisite agony even in his drugged state. "You know I'm not a killer," she says, almost kindly. "If I were, you'd have been dead a long time ago."
Voyager locates the Kazon ship on long range scan. But it's not alone; there are perhaps a half dozen ships. Neelix is surprised; the Kazon simply do not ally themselves with each other, he says. This is an unfortunate development indeed. They discuss ways of beaming him out of there; Torres suggests they fly through at warp speed and grab him without slowing down. Kim and Tuvok both argue against the idea--it's against Starfleet protocols, and it's just plain impossible anyway. Torres responds simply, "I've done it before." That's good enough for Janeway, who seems particularly pliant to the Maquis Way today, though she's none too happy about it.
Aboard Culluh's ship, the other Kazon faction leaders assemble: the Hobai. The Mostral. The Ogla. They consider the offer, but they are wary. They want proof that the raid on Voyager can be accomplished with minimal risk, and demand proof that Culluh has the command codes. He responds by bringing in an unconscious Chakotay. For the moment, it's convincing enough.
As Voyager streaks toward the Kazon ships, Tuvok restates his opinion that they should just leave Chakotay where he is; there's no proof he's still alive, etc. He might as well be wearing an "I hate the first officer" button. There's some severely bad blood between those two, but I've never seen it impact Tuvok's job performance to this extent before. Perhaps he's bristling, Vulcan-style, from the security breach and Janeway's reaction and the extra paperwork. But it's unseemly in any case.
At any rate, Torres finds him, though the Kazon are making it impossible to lock in on him. Janeway orders them to drop out of warp and do it the hard way.
As Torres matches wits with Seska, Voyager trades phaser blasts with Culluh's ship. The other sects tell him to do it the easy way, to use the command codes, but by now it's clear that he doesn't have them. He opens fire, and practically begs them to do the same. At first, they refuse, but eventually they give in and order their ships to join the fray.
Pounded on all sides, Chakotay firmly locked inside a "no transport" zone and too unconscious to help himself, Janeway considers other options. She orders a transport of a different kind.
the other Kazon finally decide that Culluh's been lying to them, and they decide that he's not worth working with. They pull guns on him and announce that they're taking his ship and will take Voyager without him. In a fit of very good timing, all the Kazon near Chakotay are beamed to Voyager, where their guns have been disabled and Starfleet security has phasers trained on them. Tuvok dictates their terms of surrender: "We want Chakotay and our shuttle back; in return, we'll send you back to your ships unharmed." The other Kazon look at Culluh and tell him that he's just lost any hope of allying with them. He'll be lucky to keep his own command. Again, why they didn't nab Seska while they had the chance is beyond me, tactically. Dramatically, it is best for her to survive to torment them another day.
The battle over, the danger past, the ship patched up good as new despite the absence of material, manpower, or a nearby starbase; the miracle of the modern commercial break. Chakotay has healed, and is ready for his briefing with Janeway. Her first question: "What were you thinking?" says it all. The answer, of course, is that he wasn't--he was reacting. He was feeling. He was doing what had to be done, in the only way he knew how. Throughout the episode, it was clear that unconventional--Maquis, if you will--methods were the only successful approach when Seska was the adversary. Janeway is an able commander, but in this episode the Maquis shone, at least brighter than the likes of Tuvok. Janeway asked questions in the context of the chain of command; Chakotay responded in the context of a guy who had to do what he had to do.
Janeway tells him he's made her job very, very difficult--the Maquis crewmembers still look up to him, perhaps more than to her. He's set a very bad example. "What you did was commendable; how you did it was not," Janeway concludes. "I'm putting you on report, if that means anything out here."
"It means something to me," says Chakotay. "It means I let you down."
A message arrives for Chakotay. he takes it on the bridge, for all to see; he has had his fill of quality time alone with Seska for one episode. She congratulates him on his victory, then tells him that while he was unconscious she took a sample of his DNA and impregnated herself with it. "Congradulations! You're going to be a father!" she says with malicious glee, as the bridge crew considers the news in abject horror.
A fitting end to a painful and embarrassing Chakotay episode.
The title says it all--this episode was full of maneuvers, of all kinds, from just about everyone. Jockeying for positions of power, influence, what have you. Straightforward but complex, it was nice to see the Kazon even momentarily competent, thanks to Seska.
We got a crash course in the Kazon sociopolitical quagmire. We saw the Kazon attitudes toward women, and their unease at dealing with a woman who can think circles around them. We saw the deadly consequences of allowing Federation technology to fall into irresponsible hands. We saw the twisted relationships of Seska, the servile mate to brutes, the sophisticated lover to gentlemen, the most dangerous enemy the crew may ever face. We saw the distasteful machinations of Tuvok against a man he's locked horns with repeatedly since the premiere, the passionate defense of the same man by someone he'd stuck his neck out for earlier, showing that kindness can be rewarded. We saw the dilemma faced by Janeway, who lives by the book and who dies a little inside whenever she is forced to deviate from it. Most of all, we see more bad things happen to Chakotay than happened to Bruce Willis in DIE HARD.
I enjoyed the back-and-forth, the constant need to reevaluate, to dodge and regroup, to improvise, on all sides. Group against group, individual against individual, philosophy against philosophy. A Six Flags roller coaster doesn't have this many twists, turns, and steep drops.
I'm glad they didn't lose another shuttle, but Chakotay's saying "without the software, the hardware is useless" seems a hollow statement considering that the transporter piece didn't exactly come with a manual. Tactically, Chakotay should have killed Seska when he had the chance, and if it was a suicide run maybe blown up the shuttle in such a way as to take out the Kazon ship. (Bloodthirsty mother, ain't I?) He's just a little too noble and not nearly Maquis enough here; he pulls his punches.
I assume the DNA Seska grabbed came through the nasty needle she shoved in Chakotay's neck. If you're looking for DNA with an eye towards procreation, I can think of a more suitable source. But I guess broadcast television isn't ready for that yet. (Thank goodness.) I've decided that Seska's mood swings and very dangerous personality can be chalked up to the color of her hair. In her original Cardassian form, she's a redhead right down to the attitude. (I speak as someone who really likes redheads.)
I've yelled enough at Tuvok. The feud between him and Chakotay took a very ugly turn here. He's lucky he's a Vulcan; people may not assume him capable of a motive for doing Chakotay harm. But the words he uses are sufficient; if Tuvok had his way, Chakotay would be dead. Call it logic, call it "better judgment." It was just plain cold-blooded, and arguably emotional. And not very honorable, if you ask me. I have had my reservations about Tuvok's common sense in other episodes--he has the Security Chief mentality that is a tad paranoid, tunnel-visioned and slightly sadistic (see "Learning Curve"). He may be Janeway's confidant, but he's not the brightest Vulcan we've run across over the years. At times, he seems dense enough to absorb neutrinos.
He didn't start off that way. He took an awful lot of ribbing in the first season, and I complained of severe anti-Vulcan prejudice. If the show is determined to show that not all Vulcans are created equal, and that Tuvok is not exactly leading the bell curve, they're doing a good job of it. With a few exceptions, Tuvok's character has been drawn most unsympathetically.
This episode belongs to Chakotay, Seska, Torres, and Janeway, with some Tuvok. Seska is the wild card; she pleads with Chakotay to understand she's not a monster, but her actions suggest she's at least capable of becoming one. Chakotay proves himself vulnerable, but not without his resources; his defiant stand against Culluh was impressive, but too many of his actions here showed the chinks in his armor. Torres was passionate but controlled throughout, and her evolution from hard-boiled renegade to loyal officer has been impressive.
And Janeway, you have to feel for her--she IS Starfleet, she IS the Federation. She's the last line of defense against total anarchy. If the ship is to remain a Federation starship, it will be through order, Her order. When that order is threatened, it's a personal injury.
Oh, and I loved the heck out of that Kazon bullet thing. The raid on Voyager was very, very cool.
On a scale of 0-10, I'd give this one an 8.50. Some flaws, but the character development and the masterful plot had me riveted. It lived up to its name.
Next week: "Resistance", with special guest star Joel Grey.