Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Tattoo”

“Tattoo”
Written by Larry Brody and Michael Piller
Directed by Alexander Singer
Season 2, Episode 9
Production episode 125
Original air date: November 6, 1995
Stardate: unknown

Captain’s log. Chakotay, Torres, Tuvok, and Neelix are on an away team trying to find polyferranide, which they need for a repair of the warp nacelles. Unfortunately, what they find is not right for what they need.

Neelix and Tuvok find a symbol on the ground, and Chakotay recognizes it. When he was a boy, his father, Kolopak, took him to Earth from the colony on the Cardassian border where he grew up, specifically to Central America, to find the Rubber Tree People. They are an Indigenous tribe who still, in the twenty-fourth century, live in relative isolation, being one with the land, and shunning technology. They also left this symbol in the ground, which they believed came from the Sky Spirits, and Chakotay is very surprised to see it on a planet 70,000 light-years from Earth.

There’s a warp trail from a ship that left orbit relatively recently, and Janeway decides to follow it—partly to satisfy Chakotay’s curiosity as to whether or not they left the mark, but mainly because they might have a source of the polyferranides they need.

Wildman is in sickbay for a prenatal checkup, and she complains of back pain. The EMH tells her to put her feet up when she sits, and rejects Kes’s notion that she should have some time off. After Wildman leaves, Kes critiques the EMH’s bedside manner, saying he doesn’t understand how sick people feel because he’s never felt pain or discomfort. (Why the EMH never mentions the pain he felt during his hallucinatory experience in “Projections” is left as an exercise for the viewer.)

Voyager arrives at the end of the warp trail, but there’s no sign of the ship or of much of anything else, though they do detect the polyferranides. An attempt to beam down an away team proves problematic, as every time the transporter locks on, there’s a massive electrical storm that interferes with transport. When they lock on to an other site, the storm appears there, leaving the previous spot.

So Chakotay takes a shuttle down. The landing site is a jungle very much like the Central American region where Kolopak took him as a teenager, down to the same flora. He flashes back to that time, remembering that he didn’t really want to be there, did not embrace his heritage the way Kolopak did, and hated the bugs and the lack of technology. He also informs his father that he’s been sponsored to Starfleet Academy. Kolopak is disappointed but accepts this.

In the present, Neelix is attacked by a bird that looks exactly like an Earth hawk. Chakotay saw similar hawks in Central America as a teenager. Neelix is beamed back to the ship to be treated. Weirdly, the transporter works fine now.

The EMH has decided to give himself a holographic version of the Levodian flu, as a way of helping him empathize with his patients more. It doesn’t quite work as planned, though. At first, he is just as curt with his patients as ever, and then once the illness has gone on for a while, he’s absolutely miserable, sniffling and snerfling and coughing and sneezing while treating Neelix.

The weather on the planet keeps getting worse and worse, to the point where the away team runs to the shuttle to escape—but then a tree falls on Chakotay. The weather gets so bad that Tuvok calls for an emergency beamout—but the falling tree knocked Chakotay’s combadge off, so only Tuvok and Torres beam back.

Voyager’s sensors can no longer pick up Chakotay or the shuttle. Janeway wishes to lead another away team down, but the transporters are once again not working, and the atmospheric conditions are too brutal for another shuttle. Tuvok is now convinced that there’s an intelligence trying to keep them off the planet—they can beam off the world but not onto it, and the weather has been very specifically designed to keep them out.

The EMH, meanwhile, is beside himself, as he programmed himself for a 29-hour flu and it’s been thirty hours. Kes, however, reveals that she extended the flu by an hour and three-quarters, as she felt it wouldn’t be a fair test of his compassion if he knew the expiry date, as it were.

Kes and the EMH in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Janeway orders Voyager to land, but they are buffeted by gale force winds that threaten to get through their shields.

On the planet, Chakotay recalls meeting the Rubber Tree People, who spoke of the Sky Spirits. Stripping out of his uniform to show that he is no threat, the Sky Spirits then provide a piece of clothing to cover himself, because apparently the Sky Spirits run Broadcast Standards & Practices. The leader of the Sky Spirits says that they came to Earth 45,000 years ago and found the ancestors of the Rubber Tree People, granting them the ability to commune with the earth and care for the world. They had later heard that their people were hunted to extinction. They had assumed that Voyager’s messages of peace were the usual bullshit from the same humans who wiped out the Indigenous peoples. Chakotay assures him that they’re better now. He also says that he rejected his people’s ways when he was a teenager, but after his father died, he got the same over-the-eye tattoo of the Sky Spirits that Kolopak had and fought for his people’s freedom as he did.

The Sky Spirits get rid of the shitty weather and the cloak that is hiding Chakotay and the shuttle from Voyager’s sensors. Tuvok, Torres, and Kes beam down to rescue him, but he tells them he’s fine. They beam back to Voyager, with the Sky Spirits allowing them to take some polyferranides back with them, and also seemingly forgetting that they left a shuttle on the surface…

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Apparently, warp nacelles need polyferranides to function properly.

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway is cranky about the fact that the Sky Spirits are trying to keep them off the planet when Chakotay is still down there.

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok raised orchids on Vulcan, prompting an unexpected bonding moment with Neelix. Typically, Neelix ruins it by going on about how delicious orchids are.

Chakotay, Neelix, and Tuvok in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH tries to be a more compassionate physician by giving himself an illness, and instead learns the truth of the adage that doctors make the worst patients, as his behavior gets even more abominable while ill.

He still says “Please state the nature of the medical emergency” when activated. He had discontinued that function, but he found that he didn’t know what to say to “break the ice,” as it were, when turned on, so he restored it.

Half and half. Torres tries to increase power to Voyager’s shields so they can get through the Sky Spirits’ awful weather, but it only increases it by eight percent, which doesn’t cut it.

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Neelix is attacked by a hawk—probably pissed that he goes around eating orchids…

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. We see Chakotay’s butt, but it’s apparently a body double rather than Robert Beltran’s backside.

Do it.

“Doc, I don’t feel so good.”

“Neither do I, and you don’t hear me complaining.”

–Kim visiting sickbay and the flu-stricken EMH making him regret it.

Welcome aboard. Nancy Hower officially makes Wildman a recurring character with her second appearance after “Elogium“; she’ll next be seen in “Dreadnought.” Richard Chaves plays the chief of the Rubber Tree People, while Douglas Spain plays the teenaged Chakotay.

We also get two guests who previously played Vulcans on TNG: Henry Darrow, last seen as Admiral Savar in “Conspiracy,” makes his first of two appearances this season as Kolopak; he’ll be back as a vision of Chakotay’s in “Basics, Part I.” And Richard Fancy, last seen as Captain Satelk in “The First Duty,” plays the leader of the Sky Spirits.

Screenshot: CBS

Trivial matters: Chakotay mentions that Captain Sulu sponsored his application to Starfleet Academy. It could have been Hikaru Sulu from the original series, though he would’ve been 107 at the time. Chakotay refers to Sulu as male, so it’s likely not Hikaru’s daughter Demora (seen in Star Trek Generations). The novel Pathways by Jeri Taylor had it be Hiromi Sulu, the son of Demora, while the story “Seduced” by Christie Golden in Tales from the Captain’s Table (which was edited by your humble rewatcher) had it be Demora, with an explanation why Chakotay let his father believe Sulu was male. Hikaru Sulu will be seen in the third-season episode “Flashback,” which will establish that Tuvok served under him on the Excelsior.

Larry Brody sold this to Voyager for its first season, but it was having development issues, which were settled when Michael Piller returned to the day-to-day of Voyager following the cancellation of Legend. It’s Piller’s first teleplay credit for the second season.

Voyager will be seen to be looking for polyferranides again in “Innocence” later this season.

Janeway orders Voyager to land, just as they did in “The 37’s,” but they never actually hit the ground.

The B-story with the EMH giving himself an illness was based on a notion Robert Picardo pitched at Jeri Taylor and Piller.

Set a course for home. “That’s why they call it a rain-forest.” In the three decades since “The Paradise Syndrome,” we’ve gone from portraying Indigenous people as ignorant savages who talk like children and who need a white dude to come and show them how to do cool things like irrigation and gourds, to here portraying Indigenous people as noble “primitives” who are at one with nature and are a pure form of humanity. Or, uh, something.

Voyager is hardly the only piece of popular culture that was guilty of this overcorrection in the 1990s. In order to apologize for centuries of oppression and war and genocide, and for many decades of portrayal in popular culture as inferior, we instead get New Age environmentalism. As a result, we get shiny happy Indigenous people who commune with nature and are pure and wonderful, which is just as patronizing an attitude as viewing them as technologically inferior savages was, albeit one that’s at least, y’know, nicer. It comes from a better place, but it’s still self-righteous, prejudicial nonsense.

Screenshot: CBS

It doesn’t help that the episode acts as if all Indigenous people are monolithic, with the Sky Spirits talking as if the people they met on Earth 45,000 years ago were the forebears of all the “Indians,” which is ridiculous and reductive. We’ve had enough problems with Chakotay being a weird hodge-podge of different fake traditions, and then this episode specifically says that his tribe is from Central America, even though everything we’ve seen prior to this feels like a mishmash of generic Plains tropes, and it’s just a mess. (This is what happens when you hire a fake Indian to be your Native consultant…) Making this all so much worse is that the Sky Spirits are very obviously white guys in latex, so it winds up coming across as yet more white-people-help-the natives nonsense, just like “The Paradise Syndrome.” Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

This also marks the second time this season that Voyager—which is lost in a region of space that is so incredibly far from home that they can’t realistically get back in their lifetime—has come across people who’ve been to Earth. “The 37’s” was bad enough in that regard, but this is just ridiculous, that this has happened twice on the straight line between Ocampa and the Federation…

The episode ranks as high as a 2 for the same reason that any episode that has any kind of focus on the EMH gets a bump in rank: Robert Picardo Is Awesome, and watching him get holographically sick is an absolute delight. Even if that part of the plot is predicated on his never feeling pain before, and he has felt pain before

Warp factor rating: 2

Keith R.A. DeCandido encourages all and sundry to support the crowdfund for the third book in the “18th Race” trilogy of military science fiction novels, To Hell and Regroup, which Keith wrote with David Sherman. It’s being jointly funded along with Christopher L. Bennett’s Arachne’s Crime, and it’s already reached the funding goal, so if you support it, you’re guaranteed to get the books! Check it out!

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