Thursday, December 27, 2012

Star Trek: Voyager Gives WWE It’s Due (I’m Not Sure Why) With “Tsunkatse”

The Good: Direction, Moments of performance
The Bad: Bland plot, Terrible neglect of characters, Boring for non-WWE fans
The Basics: Star Trek: Voyager dresses up “Tsunkatse” as part of a WWE cross-promotion that holds up exceptionally poorly now.

Sometimes, I wish I did not know anything about a show when I sat down to watch or rewatch it. I have a feeling, though, that even if I knew nothing about “Tsunkatse” before watching it, I still would have loathed it. After all, I try very hard to rate and review based on objective standards, not by how something makes me feel necessarily. “Tsunkatse” is an objectively underwhelming episode that is both unimpressive television and dismal science fiction.

The fundamental problem with “Tsunkatse” is that it is a gimmick episode that is used to fit into a corporate strategy as opposed to an organic episode that naturally flows from the Star Trek: Voyager episodes that preceded it. In fact, “Tsunkatse” all-but acknowledges its own inadequacies in a scene where the Doctor points out to Neelix that his behavior is very un-Neelix. As it is, the thing I knew about “Tsunkatse” prior to watching the episode is actually surprisingly obvious within the episode: “Tsunkatse” was part of a UPN tribute to WWE event. UPN, the network founded on the strength of Star Trek: Voyager had spent years absolutely floundering (from its original slate, Star Trek: Voyager was the only series it launched that lasted the first half-season and it took several seasons before the network landed anything that endured more than a full season. Then, they added WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) to their regular primetime line-up and they finally had a ratings hit. Oddly, instead of using their hit to promote their other programming, they used all of their other programming, like Star Trek: Voyager for a crossover event that promoted their wrestling entertainment. “Tsunkatse” is the event’s Star Trek: Voyager entry and it features what amounts to a cameo by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. It’s actually weird, considering his fairly successful film career, to go back now and see him in “Tsunkatse” and credited there only as The Rock.

Voyager is visiting a Pendari outpost where B’Elanna, Chakotay, and several other key members of the crew find themselves enjoying a bloodsport fought between different alien races. With Janeway off the ship for her own shore leave, the Doctor is dismayed when Seven Of Nine utilizes her shore leave with Tuvok, going off on an exploratory mission. On the return trip, Tuvok and Seven Of Nine’s shuttle is hijacked by aliens: Pendari led by Penk. With Tuvok near death, Penk is fascinated by Seven Of Nine and eager to have a former Borg drone fight in his gladiatorial contest.

Seven Of Nine initially refuses to fight for Penk, but she barters her participation against Tuvok getting the medical treatment he desperately needs. While she gets her butt kicked by the champion, Chakotay and Voyager crew realize that she and Tuvok have been captured. They appeal to Penk and quickly learn that the fights are actually being staged elsewhere and holographically broadcast. As Seven Of Nine trains with an aged Hirogen for a life or death fight, Voyager’s crew works to find the actual arena Seven Of Nine will be fighting in and save her.

“Tsunkatse” is one of those episodes that has a ridiculously simple purpose or gimmick and the producers will be damned if anything like continuity or character is going to get in the way of it. A large part of “Tsunkatse” is simply to establish the fight and Seven Of Nine’s confidence while confronting the Champion, only to get her butt kicked. The other half of the fighting sequences – which dominate the actual focus of the episode – is thoroughly underwhelming (I suppose “The Rock” does add something for those interested in such things) and is a set-up for the reveal of Seven Of Nine’s opponent, which is utterly unimpressive. So, it’s two fights bookended by a minor conversation about the fights and the nature of sport and the hunt for the location the fights are taking place in. This is not at all a compelling episode.

It is, however, a fairly problematic one when one scratches the surface deeper than the gut-level enjoyment factor. Unlike in “The Fight” (reviewed here!) where most of the crew was indifferent to such things as boxing, in “Tsunkatse,” suddenly everyone is an enthusiast of violent sports! So, Neelix, who has always seemed far more gentle and interested in more educated pursuits, suddenly becomes a stereotypical “guy” to root for the Tsunkatse fights. Similarly, Tom Paris – who is the closest character to being a Trekker, whatwith his geekish love of serialized science fiction and kitsch, suddenly devolves into loving what everyone else does. So much for him actually doing his own thing and acting to temper B’Elanna’s violent nature!

But, because the episode focuses so much on Seven Of Nine (Tuvok is along as a cheap excuse for one pointless dialogue exchange and as a “price” that Seven Of Nine pays without any real emotional effect), it is germane to look at her. Seven Of Nine could have been a compelling choice for the subject of the episode had it gone for a strong emotional journey. Instead, the viewer is given a very quick emotional jerk that is surprisingly lacking in substance. “Tsunkatse” might have been vastly more interesting as a two-parter, one with the banal fights, one with the wrestling with the consequences. What if, instead of Jeri Ryan being forced to blandly shrug into a deathmatch against an opponent that renders no emotional catharsis for the viewer, Seven Of Nine suddenly became obsessed with the deathmatches and succeeded with them in an extraordinary fashion, killing alien after alien until she ended up in a match with Tuvok? Then, as a follow-up, rescued by Voyager, Seven Of Nine and Tuvok actually dealt with the ramifications of Seven complying instead of resisting the Pendari and Seven Of Nine having a difficult time re-acclimating to “civilized” life? Bang; that pitch is much more thought out for the character journey than “Tsunkatse” actually was. Seven Of Nine is not given that much of an emotional journey or even that much consideration in “Tsunkatse.”

To be fair to Jeri Ryan, she holds her own in the fight sequences. While her deliveries might rise to blithe at best with the character’s supposed emotional journey throughout the episode, she does a decent job with her physical performance throughout. Sadly, it is not enough to make “Tsunkatse” worth watching.

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

For other works with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Other Guys
The Tooth Fairy
Planet 51
Get Smart
Southland Tales
The Mummy Returns


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

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