Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Nemesis”

“Nemesis”
Written by Kenneth Biller
Directed by Alexander Singer
Season 4, Episode 4
Production episode 171
Original air date: September 24, 1997
Stardate: 51082.4

Captain’s log. Chakotay is running through the jungle, and is captured by the Vori. We learn in short order that his shuttlecraft was shot down, and he did an emergency beam-out. Unfortunately, he landed in the middle of a war.

The Vori soldiers—they’re called defenders—explain that they’re at war with the Kradin. It was likely the Kradin that shot down his shuttle, as the nemesis, as they’re called, wants air superiority. The Fourth Contingent—the group of defenders who found him—don’t have any communications capability, as the Kradin suppress that. This is also why Chakotay’s combadge isn’t functioning. Chakotay wants to try to see if he can salvage anything from his shuttle, but the Vori convince him to wait until daybreak.

Over the course of the night, Chakotay hears all kinds of boasts about how many Kradin the various Vori defenders intend to kill. When one of the younger recruits, Rafin, doesn’t answer with sufficient specificity, he’s given a stern talking-to.

The next morning, Chakotay heads off. He says he can go it alone, but one of the defenders goes with him, as Chakotay doesn’t know the terrain and isn’t armed. Sure enough, they’re ambushed by the Kradin, and Chakotay’s escort is killed. However, the Vori ambush right back and drive them off. Before the ambush, Chakotay found tiny pieces of his shuttle, making him realize that he isn’t salvaging anything from it.

Chakotay observes the funeral, which includes turning the body over to face the ground. One of the reasons why the Vori hate the Kradin is that they leave the dead bodies face up, which the Vori consider sacreligious.

They give Chakotay the dead man’s clothes and weapon. At this point, he needs to accompany them to the Seventh Contingent, who have communications gear that can penetrate the Kradin jamming. He stands out like a sore thumb in his uniform, and he needs to know how to fire their weapon to defend himself.

Rafin shows Chakotay how to shoot their weapons, and Chakotay says that he takes no joy in killing. He also says that he has gone into battle, and has always been scared beforehand, just as Rafin is. Rafin is actually grateful for the pep talk.

They head out, and discover a defender from the Seventh dead, his body secured in a face-up position. Attempts to contact the rest of the Seventh fail. One defender goes off to check out the base. He returns soon thereafter with news that the Seventh has been massacred.

They’re ambushed by the Kradin. Rafin is killed, and Chakotay turns him facedown before he joins in the fighting. Most of the rest of the Fourth are killed, and Chakotay is wounded, but the Kradin are at least driven off. Chakotay stumbles into a nearby village, where he’s greeted as a hero just by virtue of the uniform he’s wearing.

Then he collapses.

Star Trek: Voyager "Nemesis"

Screenshot: CBS

Voyager is in orbit of the planet, having tracked the crashed shuttlecraft. Unfortunately, there’s a ton of radiation on the surface—it’s that same radiation that caused Chakotay to go into low orbit of the planet in the first place—and they can’t detect Chakotay’s life signs, nor can they transport down. Neelix has been in touch with Ambassador Treen on the surface, who is concerned about Chakotay’s well being, as the enemy they fight is brutal and vicious.

On the surface, Chakotay awakens and is cared for by the villagers. There’s a supply station a long walk away, and Chakotay plans to head there at daybreak to try to contact Voyager. A young girl named Karya talks to Chakotay and tells him about her brother, who joined the defenders—he’s with the Seventh. Chakotay doesn’t have the heart to tell her that the Seventh was massacred, but does agree to take a letter with him to the supply station that might be passed on to the Seventh by one of the defenders there.

Voyager locates the shuttle wreckage in enemy territory, but there’s no biosigns on the wreckage, so Chakotay may still be alive. Ambassador Treen is willing to loan a small commando team to locate Chakotay, and Tuvok will accompany them.

The next morning, Chakotay sets off to the supply station. But he sees Kradin airships land in the village. He runs back, but is captured and brutally interrogated. When he realizes that Karya’s grandfather is to be put to death, because he’s too old to be good slave labor, he tries to stop it. So does Karya, and she too is condemned to death. Chakotay is placed out in the woods, his body facing upward, left to die.

However, another of the Fourth survived, and he frees Chakotay. He’s with another contingent now, and they’re planning an assault. Chakotay declines the offer to be escorted to the supply station to contact Voyager—he wants to fight the Kradin.

Tuvok meets with Ambassador Treen—who is Kradin. And he uses the exact same vicious terminology to describe the Vori that the Vori used when discussing the Kradin with Chakotay.

In the midst of the battle against the Kradin, in which Chakotay is mowing down opponents right and left, one Kradin walks up to him and calls him “Commander Chakotay”—and also identifies himself as Tuvok. It really is Tuvok, but Chakotay sees and hears only a Kradin.

Star Trek: Voyager "Nemesis"

Screenshot: CBS

Slowly, however, Tuvok is able to get through to Chakotay, explaining that he was captured and brainwashed by the Vori to become one of their soldiers. Eventually, the voice changes to that of Tuvok, and so too does the face. Tuvok then leads Chakotay around the corner to the same village he went to before—with Karya and her grandfather, both alive and well, and greeting him the exact same way they did before.

Chakotay is brought back to Voyager, where he’s examined by the EMH. He was drugged and conditioned, and everything up until that last battle where Tuvok found him was a simulation designed to make him a good Vori defender.

Treen comes to sickbay to express his gratitude for Chakotay being rescued, but Chakotay can’t help but look upon any Kradin with disgust.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The planet where the Kradin-Vori war is happening is full of omicron radiation, a made-up radiation that has been used on several Trek episodes and seems to have different effects each time. In this particular instance, it blocks sensors and transporters.

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway admits to Chakotay at the end that she has no idea one way or the other if the Kradin are as nasty as the Vori say they are. Voyager stays out of the war as much as possible, they just want to get the first officer back.

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok is able to calmly and rationally talk Chakotay down from his Vori-induced ledge.

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Apparently, Neelix is still serving as the ship’s unofficial ambassador, as Janeway half-joked in “Macrocosm,” as he was the one who made first contact with the Kradin.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH explains that Chakotay was hit with a combination of propaganda, false images, psychotropic drugs, and more.

Star Trek: Voyager "Nemesis"

Screenshot: CBS

Do it.

“From the condition of your hypothalamus, I’d say they had you so mixed up they could have convinced you your own mother was a turnip.”

–The EMH diagnosing Chakotay after he was brainwashed.

Welcome aboard. Michael Mahonen, Matt E. Levin, and Nathan Anderson play the Vori defenders that Chakotay takes up with in the simulation, though Mahonen’s character is also real. Peter Vogt plays the image of the Kradin commandant, while Booth Colman and Meghan Murphy play the images of the villagers who take in Chakotay and then are killed. Terrence Evans plays Ambassador Treen.

Anderson will return to play a MACO in two Enterprise third-season episodes. Vogt previously played a Romulan in TNG’s “Tin Man” and a Bajoran in DS9’s “A Man Alone.” Evans previously played two different Bajorans in the DS9 episodes “Progress” and “Cardassians.”

Trivial matters: This is the only episode of the show following her introduction in which Jeri Ryan does not appear as Seven of Nine. This episode was filmed third and likely originally intended to air before “Day of Honor,” which opened with Seven wanting to be let out of the cargo bay.

A Kradin will be seen fighting in the arena in “Tsunkatse.”

For the third episode in a row, Voyager loses a shuttlecraft. They’re now down seven shuttlecraft, the others being toasted in “Initiations,” “Non Sequitur,” “Parturition,” “Unity,” “The Gift,” and “Day of Honor.”

Star Trek: Voyager "Nemesis"

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “Now you fathom why we name them beasts and not men?” This is a superlative meditation on propaganda, one that does what Star Trek does best: use science fiction to comment on the human condition. Propaganda has always been a powerful tool of manipulation by people in power, particularly when its used in terms of riling up people against an enemy, whether that enemy is real or perceived. It gives people a focus for their animus that is other than the people in power themselves.

It’s also very effective, and we see it being expertly used on Chakotay here. Yes, Chakotay is an anthropologist at heart, and an explorer, but it wasn’t that long ago that he was fighting a guerrilla war against the Cardassians. The journey from a person of peace to a soldier in a war is one he’s already made, and the Vori’s expert manipulations—mostly by way of giving him people to care about and then seeing them killed in nasty ways by the Kradin—make it easy for him to go down that road again.

This may be Kenneth Biller’s best script, as he absolutely nails the brainwashing, especially since we don’t realize it’s brainwashing until the episode’s most of the way through. You get caught up in it, especially since the Vori all look human and the Kradin look like a mix of the Nausicaans (from TNG’s “Tapestry“) and the Klingon demon Fek’lhr (from TNG’s “Devil’s Due“), so it’s easy to think of the Kradin as bad guys.

As an added bonus, Biller does something that we really should see more often: just because the words are translated, it doesn’t mean that the syntax is going to be a perfect match. All the words that the Vori use make sense, but they use synonyms that are less common to the audience: to glimpse for to see, fathom for understand, trunks for trees, clash for war, the soonafter for the near future, the wayafter for the afterlife, nullify for kill, and so on. This has the extra effect of showing Chakotay’s indoctrination, as he speaks more and more like the Vori as the episode goes on.

Robert Beltran is spectacular, as you’re caught up in Chakotay’s slow descent into madness. Credit also to Alexander Singer, who is not the most lively among Trek’s directorial stable, but who does fine work here.

There are two very real flaws, though both of them combined aren’t enough to ding the rating for this episode more than a single warp factor, as it’s that good, but I think these flaws need to be mentioned.

One is the exact same problem TNG’s “The Mind’s Eye” had: this is something that should affect Chakotay long term, and it’ll never be seen or referenced ever again, just as La Forge’s brainwashing into an assassin by the Romulans has never been referenced again.

The other is that twice we see Paris stepping forward and shoving his jaw out and saying that he should’ve gone with Chakotay and that he should be on the rescue mission. There is absolutely, positively no reason for this except to reinforce the notion that the white guy needs to be the square-jawed hero who dives in where angels fear to tread. Why doesn’t Kim step forward and volunteer for the rescue mission? Why isn’t Torres—who has a longer-standing relationship with Chakotay than anyone else on board—lamenting that she didn’t go with him? No, it’s gotta be the white dude. Paris has nothing else to do in the episode otherwise, but he’s hardly alone in that—Torres and Kim are barely in it, Seven isn’t in it at all, and Neelix and the EMH really only have one scene of note each. But they just have to push Paris unconvincingly and unnecessarily forward…

Still, these are minor dings on an otherwise great episode.

Warp factor rating: 9

Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s latest novel is To Hell and Regroup, a collaboration with David Sherman. The third book in David’s “18th Race” trilogy of military science fiction novels, this concludes the alien-invasion tale begun in Issue in Doubt and continued in In All Directions. The book is on sale now in trade paperback and eBook form from eSpec Books.

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