Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Nothing Special As The Kazon Return For "Initiations" On Star Trek: Voyager!

The Good: The presence of Aron Eisenberg, Basic idea
The Bad: Feels long, Ridiculously simple plot, Stale characters
The Basics: When a Kazon boy abducts Chakotay and can't get it up to kill him and become a man, the viewer waits and wonders why they ought to care.

One of the nice things about the Star Trek franchise is that it has a tendency to do out of its way on occasion to genuinely create a culture for its alien races. Sure, the Romulans and Klingons switched cultural attributes after the original Star Trek (in Star Trek, it was the Romulans who had a sense of honor and the Klingons who were conniving backstabbers who manipulated circumstances from the shadows) and the show is ridiculously centered on humans (who cares about black or women captains, I would have liked to have seen a non-human commanding officer before the franchise imploded!), but occasionally, it creates a well-rounded sense of an alien culture. In a single episode on Star Trek: The Next Generation, the writers created a distinct race that spoke in metaphor in "Darmok" (reviewed here!). As Star Trek: Deep Space Nine evolved, it became a cultural exploration of the Bajorans, the Ferengi, the Cardassians, the Dominion and the Trill. And there is enough Klingon culture detailed in the Star Trek franchise to infect the real world with such aspects as the Klingon language and such. Sadly, not all of these cultural experiments are well-conceived and well-executed, as illustrated by the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Initiations."

Commander Chakotay, off on a spiritual quest in a shuttlecraft, is attacked by a small Kazon ship. Easily destroying the Kazon shuttle, Chakotay rescues his attacker, who happens to be a young Kazon. The two are chased to a nearby planet where Chakotay finds himself participating in the youth's right of adulthood. It seems that the Kazon children must kill someone in order to earn their name and Chakotay must be killed by the boy in order to allow the child to become a man in Kazon society. As the U.S.S. Voyager tracks Chakotay down, Chakotay and the boy flee across the planet as the boy alternatively tries to kill and is saved by the first officer.

"Initiations" is one of those "good ideas gone bad" episodes. We understand the whole cultural identification episode and they have the chance to genuinely grow an alien culture and make the viewer think about transitions. Unfortunately, "Initiations" revolves around the Kazon, easily the lamest Star Trek villains since Sylvia and Korob from "Catspaw"(reviewed here!) in the original Star Trek. They are essentially Klingons of the Delta Quadrant, distinguished from other Star Trek aliens by their big, rock-like hair. Sigh.

Moreover, tests of adulthood by this point in the Star Trek franchise have become something of an old hat. Ironically, the year before on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, actor Aron Eisenberg presented the Ferengi right of adulthood in the episode "Heart Of Stone" (reviewed here!) as Nog. In "Initiations," Eisenberg portrays the Kazon youth who must kill Chakotay for his name. This is a marginally interesting concept, though somewhat derivative of the cultural ideas expressed by the aliens-of-the-week in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Suddenly Human" (reviewed here!).

The real problem here is that the Kazon are not interesting villains. Who cares how they develop into adulthood when Voyager ought to be hightailing it out of their space anyway? Star Trek: Voyager was plagued from its first episode by the idea that it had landed in the nomadic Kazon's space and the show was unwilling to commit to a serialized format.

What I mean by that is this: in the other three known parts of the galaxy: Alpha, Beta and Gamma Quadrants, there are dominant races whose territory is their own. Period. This means that if one is exploring the Klingon Empire, one finds Klingons, if one is in Federation space, the worlds are all Federation, if one is in the Gamma Quadrant, it's a big void dominated by the Dominion. The Delta Quadrant, in order to allow for various aliens-of-the-week to have episodes and to keep the show from actually building on itself or establishing a real sense of a serialized storyline, is an amalgamation of open, free space with occasional pockets of an alien race's turf. What makes this ridiculous is the idea that everywhere else in the galaxy has power bases, but the Delta Quadrant. That or the viewer is expected to believe that the Starship Voyager has been thrust into an area of space that is along the border of Kazon space where Kazon space is on its right, Vidiian space is above it and everything to the left is free, individual alien planets . . .

My point here is that Star Trek: Voyager, unlike the rest of the franchise does not have a strong idea of where it is and what happens in its corner of the galaxy. Like much of the rest of the series, it borrows its exploratory nature from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but this creates a seriously deficient sense of time and place. So, when watching "Initiations," the episode has more of a "who cares" feel to it. The viewer doesn't care about the Kazon and watching their rituals merely bores us. Despite the implied threat in the resolution of the episode, the viewer knows that Voyager should not run into any of these characters again as it warps off toward home.

Sadly, Chakotay is also a terrible choice for this episode because he's already descending into a take-it or leave-it character. Chakotay is a one-trick pony, a character with an interesting conception, but a poor execution. When Star Trek: The Next Generation began, Geordi LaForge was a joke from Gene Roddenberry; he thought it would be funny if the ship was driven by a blind guy, so he had Geordi the Blind Navigator. Ha ha. Big joke, what do you do with him next week? Chakotay is pretty much the same way. The producers of Star Trek: Voyager wanted to create a Native American Indian character. That's cool, how does this affect who he is, what he does on the ship? What do you do with him next week?

The producer's answer, clear in "Initiations" is "I don't know." The whole idea that Chakotay is off on a spiritual journey at the beginning of the episode is the only believable explanation the viewer would have for him getting entangled with the Kazon kid. Moreover, he's the only character available for such a lone mission to develop a story like this. That does not mean they actually use or expand his character here. In fact, Chakotay merely becomes an accessory to the Kazon kid's story and it's not interesting, it's not engaging and it certainly is not something the viewer has any strong reason to come back to this episode.

Robert Beltran does his best to get through his day's work and he presents Chakotay as best he can considering the part is written with him essentially as the sidekick to the alien of the week. Aron Eisenberg, who I enjoyed very much as Nog on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, is stuck in a role here that is all lines. What I mean by that is that the Kazon boy is a proud, obvious child-trying-to-be man role and most all of the lines he is given are telegraphed, obvious and cliche. Eisenberg gets through them, but finds little else to add to the performance. Similarly, Patrick Kilpatrick, who plays heavies in such films as Minority Report pops up in this episode as the heavy Maje who is waiting for the kid to kill Chakotay and he lends little but his deep voice and brow to the role.

All in all, "Initiation" falls flat on the entertainment front, even for fans of Star Trek and science fiction, making it somewhat baffling that those who are not fans of the series might find something in the episode to enjoy. Save your money on this one.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Second Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the sophomore season here!

For other works with Patrick Kilpatrick, be sure to check out my takes on:
Minority Report
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - “The Siege Of AR-558”


For other Star Trek reviews, be sure to visit my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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