Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Initiations”

“Initiations”
Written by Kenneth Biller
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Season 2, Episode 2
Production episode 121
Original air date: September 4, 1995
Stardate: 49005.3

Captain’s log. Chakotay is in a shuttle, isolated from Voyager, performing a ritual to honor his dead father, Kolopak. It’s interrupted by phaser fire: a small one-person Kazon-Ogla ship. The one person on board is a teenager, Kar, who has been given the assignment to kill Chakotay by First Maje Razik in order to earn his name and become a full Ogla.

Chakotay tries not to fire back, but eventually Kar gives him no choice, and he does some nifty flying before taking out the Kazon ship’s engines. When Kar stops responding to hails after that, Chakotay beams him to the shuttle, where it turns out he’s unconscious. The Kazon ship blows up a minute later.

Unfortunately, the shuttle is also damaged, with long-range sensors and communications out.

Voyager is checking out a planet for reasons the script never bothers to explain. When Chakotay fails to make his rendezvous or answer hails, Janeway summons all away teams back and sets course for Chakotay’s last known position.

Chakotay tries to give Kar back to the Kazon, and they take the shuttle into a tractor beam for good measure. They’re imprisoned in a room full of trophies of past kills by the Ogla, and Kar is beside himself, as he’s failed.

Razik arrives, and says he forgives Kar—which makes him feel even worse—and explains to Chakotay that he invaded their space. Chakotay had no idea he had invaded, as they have no maps that demarcate Kazon territory. Razik explains that their territory is ever-changing and isn’t recorded on maps. He also explains the Kazon distrust of uniforms, which explains their unfortunate choices in wardrobe…

Voyager finds the debris of Kar’s ship and an ion trail, which they follow.

Razik shows Chakotay to some Ogla kids, who all gleefully say they’d love to kill Chakotay. For his part, Chakotay says he holds them no ill will, which just confuses them. Razik then gives Chakotay a weapon and says if he kills Kar, he can go free. Chakotay drops the weapon and then is able to take Razik hostage, thus proving that Razik never read the Evil Overlord Rules. To everyone’s surprise, Kar goes with him, showing him how to escape.

The shuttle immediately comes under fire after Chakotay and Kar escape, and Kar leads them to Tarok, a moon on which the Ogla do training exercises. Chakotay manages to beam them to the surface just before the shuttle explodes.

Kar helps them avoid the various traps and things and they hide out in a cave. While Chakotay (seemingly) sleeps, Kar considers taking his tricorder, set up as both a beacon for Voyager and a sentry system, and killing him, but decides against it. The next morning, Chakotay reveals he was awake the whole time, as Kar keeps talking about killing him despite Chakotay constantly saving his life.

Voyager arrives at Tarok. Janeway, Tuvok, and a security detail beam down. The Ogla are not thrilled with Voyager‘s presence, with Razik insisting he killed Chakotay, but the crew not buying it. Razik then decides to beam down and pretend to cooperate with the away team, eventually leading them into a trap.

Razik finds the cave and then Kar holds a weapon on Chakotay, saying this was all a way for him to finally kill Chakotay. But Kar also remembers what Razik taught him: that there are no second chances in battle.

So instead, he kills Razik, and then offers his life to the new first maje, Haliz. Haliz calls him Jal Karden of the Ogla, so he now has an Ogla name. Karden lets Chakotay go—at this point the away team has gotten out of the trap, so to do otherwise would mean a firefight between the Kazon and Starfleet, which would probably end badly for the Kazon—and assures him that, if they meet again, Karden won’t hesitate to kill him.

Back on Voyager, Chakotay finishes the ritual for his father that was interrupted and also asks his father’s spirit to watch over Karden.

There’s coffee in that nebula! Razik plays on Janeway’s desire for cooperation by pretending to cooperate, which Janeway goes along with and gets herself trapped in a force field for her troubles.

Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Half and half. When a sample of the debris of Chakotay’s shuttle is beamed aboard, Torres instantly recognizes the remnants of Chakotay’s medicine bundle, therefore confirming that the debris is, in fact, the shuttle in question.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The debris from Chakotay’s shuttle is sent to sickbay so the EMH can examine it for biological residue. There is none, which relieves everyone, and the EMH then crankily asks if all the junk can be removed from his lab.

Everyone comes to Neelix’s. Neelix complains to Janeway that he’s not doing enough, but as usual, it’s just a front for him to whine about something, in this case that he wasn’t included in a holodeck training exercise. He also is on the bridge when Voyager confronts the Kazon and gives good advice and makes smart deductions based on their behavior, including that the Ogla don’t want anyone else to know about their sooper-seekrit training moon.

Do it.

“What’s so different about us? Aside from the fact that I keep saving your life and you keep threatening to kill me…”

–Chakotay summing up the episode’s theme.

Welcome aboard. The late great Aron Eisenberg wanders over from DS9 to take a break from playing Nog by playing Kar, while Trek regulars Tim deZarn and Patrick Kilpatrick play, respectively, Haliz and Razik. Kilpatrick will return in “Drive” as Assan and also on DS9’s “The Siege of AR-558” as Reese, while deZarn, having previously played Satler on TNG’s “Starship Mine,” will return in “Repentance” as Yediq and DS9’s “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night” as Halb.

Trivial matters: This was the first episode produced for the second season, and also aired second. It was designed to address how little Chakotay was used in the first season. Aron Eisenberg was cast as Kar because every teenage boy they auditioned couldn’t bring enough gravitas to the proceedings, so Rick Berman suggested the then-twenty-six-year-old Eisenberg, whose growth was stunted by a kidney transplant when he was as teenager, and so could pass as a boy while still giving the role the weight required.

We learn that Chakotay’s now-deceased father was named Kolopak. We will see Kolopak, played by Henry Darrow, twice this season, once in flashback (“Tattoo”) and once in a vision quest (“Basics, Part 1”).

The ritual Chakotay performs is not based on any known Indigenous custom or ritual, and was likely the latest bit of bullshit from fake Native consultant “Jamake Highwater,” a.k.a. Jackie Marks.

For all that it would become a cliché and running joke about the series, this is actually the first time a Voyager shuttlecraft is destroyed.

This is the first time we’ve seen the Kazon-Ogla since “Caretaker,” and apparently Jabin isn’t the first maje anymore. We’ve also seen the Kazon-Nistrim in “State of Flux,” and this episode establishes a third sect, the Kazon-Relora, which will be seen in “Maneuvers” later this season, as well as in the Star Trek Online game.

It’s established that the Kazon were enslaved by the Trabe in the past. We’ll meet the Trabe later this season in “Alliances.”

After the cancellation of Legend by UPN (a wonderful show starring Richard Dean Anderson, in a role between his better-known roles as Angus MacGyver and Jack O’Neil, and John deLancie as thinly disguised versions of Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla working in the old West), Michael Piller became more involved in the day-to-day of Voyager in its second season, and one of his first notes on this episode was to tell writer Kenneth Biller to study up on street gangs, by way of differentiating the Kazon from other antagonistic Trek cultures. Biller wound up writing an entire document about Kazon culture based on his research, which was used by the writing staff for the various Kazon tales written in season two.

Kar (Aron Eisenberg) in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “I am not your ‘son,’ Federation, I am your executioner!” This episode is a big ol’ pile of clichés, with every beat utterly and thoroughly predictable.

And I love it anyhow.

The main reason why is also the reason why this episode was particularly difficult to watch: Aron Eisenberg, who died last fall, and who was also a friend of your humble rewatcher.

And Eisenberg hits it out of the park here. He beautifully conveys the character’s adolescent turbulence, trying to balance the needs of his people with the fact that he very obviously doesn’t actually want to die, nor does he really want to kill Chakotay. But he’s trapped by the cultural mores of the Kazon. If he doesn’t kill Chakotay, his own sect will kill him. No other Kazon sect will take him in, and no one else in the Delta Quadrant will take in a Kazon.

We get a bit of Kazon history here to go with the cultural mores—which really are akin to that of street gangs, with initiation rituals and early indoctrination of youth—and their past enslavement by the Trabe has left them with a cultural distrust of uniforms and military order and such. So the option of coming on board Voyager is also rejected by Kar, because he finds the very idea of being on a Starfleet vessel repugnant.

The episode does lose a few points for some issues, starting with having apparently forgotten that Chakotay used to be Maquis. He talks about how much he values his Starfleet uniform, but he already rejected the uniform once, and only put it back on out of necessity to get home from unimaginably far away. He also says that an important lesson of his life was that people can’t own land—but the entire conflict of the Maquis was over the ownership of land! So what the hell?

Having said that, I did like that Chakotay was able to do some fancy-pants maneuvering with the shuttle that was likely from his time flying Maquis raiders around the Demilitarized Zone. Chakotay was set up in “Caretaker” as a bad-ass pilot, and we’ve really only seen him flex those muscles once before since then (in “Ex Post Facto“).

Ultimately, the episode is worth it to watch Eisenberg, who is brilliant as Kar. He’d already proved he could portray the agonies of growing up in a difficult society over many years on DS9, and here he manages it over the space of one episode. A brilliant performance, and it’s to Robert Beltran’s credit that he holds his own with him here.

Warp factor rating: 7

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be contributing to three Crazy 8 Press anthologies later this year: Bad Ass Moms, edited by Mary Fan, a collection of short stories about mothers you don’t mess with; ZLONK! ZOK! ZOWIE! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Guide to Batman ’66—Season One, edited by Jim Beard, with Rich Handley, a collection of essays about the first season of the Adam West TV series; and the third volume of the shared-world anthology series Pangaea, edited by Michael Jan Friedman, a collection of stories about an alternate Earth where there was only ever one continent.

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