Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Tsunkatse”

Written by Gannon Kenny and Robert J. Doherty
Directed by Mike Vejar
Season 6, Episode 15
Production episode 232
Original air date: February 9, 2000
Stardate: 53447.2

Captain’s log. Voyager is taking shore leave in the Norcadian system. There are many sights and activities and such, but one of the most popular is Tsunkatse, fights in an arena between two aliens. We see Chakotay and Torres in the audience for a fight between a Hirogen and another alien.

Janeway buggers off on the Delta Flyer with a small crew to the nearby Pendari system to enjoy her own shore leave. Chakotay sees her off, and then chats with Torres about the Tsunkatse fights. When he mentions that he has duties that interfere with attending the next match, Torres points out that he’s in charge and should delegate.

Seven and Tuvok are taking a shuttle to examine a micro-nebula. Chakotay thinks it’s an odd way to spend shore leave, but gives them leave to do so. The EMH thinks that Seven’s choices in shore leave, and in shore leave companion, leave a lot to be desired.

While en route to the micro-nebula, Seven and Tuvok are attacked by a ship that kills power to the shuttle. They then beam an explosive over, badly injuring Tuvok.

They were kidnapped by Penk, who runs Tsunkatse. Seven is mostly unhurt, but Tuvok is in bad shape. Penk makes it clear that they are to fight in the ring. When Seven refuses, Penk says that he’ll just have to put Tuvok in a red match (which is to the death). Despite Tuvok’s order not to give in, Seven agrees to fight (in a blue match with a Pendaran), as long as Tuvok is given medical treatment.

Star Trek: Voyager "Tsunkatse"

Screenshot: CBS

After bullshitting about the Tsunkatse matches, which modulates into a discussion of Chakotay’s boxing career, Kim’s parrises squares career, and a mess of trash talking, Chakotay reveals to Torres that she has bridge duty at the same time as the Tsunkatse match: he’s delegating.

Chakotay, Paris, Neelix, and Kim attend a match, and are rather shocked to see Seven as one of the combatants. She is defeated by the Pendaran, though she puts up a good fight. Chakotay calls Voyager to have Seven beamed out, but sensors indicate that the arena is empty. Eventually they determine that the combatants aren’t present there, but rather the arena is showing a holographic transmission of the fight. Seven and the Pendaran are actually fighting in an empty arena, their fight broadcast all over the system.

The crowd loves the fight, at least in part because people like seeing a Borg defeated, and Penk wants to put her in a red match. The Hirogen heals her with a dermal regenerator, having already used it on Tuvok. He also says that he is familiar with the opponent she will be facing in her red match, and he will train her to give her the best chance of victory. We learn that the Hirogen has been in the arena for nineteen years. He was on his son’s first hunt when he was captured. He has no idea what happened to his son, where he is now, or even if he’s still alive.

Chakotay reports to Janeway, who cuts her shore leave short and sets course back to the Norcadian system.

Neelix reports that the Norcadian government is putting up a good front about trying to retrieve Seven and Tuvok, but Tsunkatse is one of the biggest moneymakers in the system, and they are loath to tamper with it.

They continue to search for the actual location of the fights, eventually determining that it’s not on Norcadia Prime at all. The transmissions aren’t coming from the planet, but rather from various different extraplanetary sources. The arena is on a spaceship, and it’s very well shielded and very well armed.

Seven’s training goes well. Tuvok was able to acquire a copy of The Book of Tsunkatse from one of the other fighters, and Seven has studied it. But the Hirogen insists that there is far more to Tsunkatse than can be described in a book. He continues to train her hard. He also urges her never to sympathize with her opponent. She thanks him for his training, and he says to thank him by winning.

Tuvok has been attempting to find a way to break out or get a message out, both with no success. Seven is not eager to fight, but she must do what she can to survive until they are rescued.

Seven goes to the arena, where she discovers that the Hirogen is her opponent.

At first, Seven believes that he “trained” her in order to learn her weaknesses, but the truth is more tragic than that: after nineteen years, the Hirogen is tired of fighting and wishes to die in the arena, and he wants Seven to be the instrument of his death. If she refuses, then he’ll just kill her.

Star Trek: Voyager "Tsunkatse"

Screenshot: CBS

As the fight continues, Voyager does battle with Penk’s ship. They are able to disable shield generators on the lower levels enough to beam Tuvok out. Tuvok informs them that the arena is on the uppermost deck, which is protected by multiphasic shielding they can’t penetrate. As Voyager’s systems all start to fail, Chakotay goes for plan B: if they can’t damage the ship, they’ll jam the transmission. Unfortunately, Penk’s weapons fire has knocked out Voyager’s weapons. But then the Delta Flyer arrives and fires on the signal generators, killing half the transmissions. Penk orders power rerouted to the signal generators, which weakens the shields enough to allow Kim to beam the people in the arena out—he can’t distinguish life signs, so he beams both Seven and the Hirogen.

Voyager books out of the Norcadian system and heads back toward the Alpha Quadrant. They have contacted a Hirogen ship that will pick Seven’s opponent up. He says he’s going to search for his son.

Seven reports to astrometrics and Tuvok arrives soon thereafter to assist her. He thanks her for taking his place in the arena. He asks how she is doing, and she admits that she feels like she lost the humanity she has spent the last three years trying to regain. Tuvok points out that the remorse and guilt she feels about her actions in the arena just prove that her humanity is doing just fine, thanks.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The Tsunkatse fighters are equipped with sensors on their chest and back—if they’re struck there, the pain is greatly intensified. It’s an interesting expansion on point-system fighting in martial arts, or fencing, where a direct strike at a particular place gets you a point.

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway has about eight million instructions for Chakotay before she goes off on shore leave, the last of which is, “And most important, be sure to tell your Captain when she’s being overprotective.”

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok and Seven have an amusing exchange where there’s been silence for a long time and Seven points this out, saying that the EMH has given her clues on how to end an awkward silence. Tuvok retorts that he doesn’t find the silence remotely awkward, and they go back to not talking—at least until Penk’s ship comes by to kidnap them…

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH finds Tsunkatse to be barbaric, and doesn’t see the appeal of it. He tries to convince Neelix to join him at an entomology museum on the surface instead of watching the fights, but Neelix opts for aliens hitting each other instead of alien bugs.

Star Trek: Voyager "Tsunkatse"

Screenshot: CBS

Half and half. Torres gets a rare chance to sit in the center seat, not that she particularly wants to, as she’d rather be watching Tsunkatse than be the watch officer.

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Neelix went to a beach and fell asleep, and got sunburn on half his face (Norcadia Prime has two suns). His homemade leola root doesn’t do the trick, and he eventually goes to the EMH for treatment. 

Forever an ensign. Kim thinks that his skill at parrisses squares makes him a match for Chakotay in the boxing ring. We never do find out if he’s right.

Resistance is futile. Seven tries to learn Tsunkatse by reading a book and assimilating the knowledge, but the Hirogen wastes little time in showing her the limitations of that approach. She also tries trash-talking the Pendaran by saying, “Resistance is futile,” but the Pendaran retorts, “So are your words.”

Do it.

“The idea of killing someone for the entertainment of others is detestable.”

“Is the idea of losing your life for the entertainment of others more palatable?”

–Seven complaining and Tuvok bringing the bitter logic.

Welcome aboard. Two former DS9 recurring regulars, J.G. Hertzler (Martok, as well as the one-off roles of the Saratoga captain, Laas, and Roy Rittenhouse) and Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun and Brunt, as well as the one-off roles of Tiron and Detective Mulkahey) play, respectively, the Hirogen and Penk. Both will return on Enterprise, Hertzler as two different Klingons in “Judgment” and “Borderland,” Combs in the recurring role of Shran, as well as a Ferengi in “Acquisition,” while Hertzler will also voice a Drookmani captain in “Terminal Provocations” on Lower Decks.

Additionally, Dwayne Johnson makes a cameo, using his nom du wrestling, “The Rock.” This is actually Johnson’s first dramatic acting role, done to cross-promote UPN’s acquisition of WWF Smackdown. He has, obviously, since gone on to a very successful acting career.

Star Trek: Voyager "Tsunkatse"

Screenshot: CBS

Trivial matters: Johnson does two of his signature wrestling moves in his appearance here: “the People’s Eyebrow,” raising one eyebrow, a move he pretty much stole from Spock on the original series, and his finishing move, “the Rock Bottom.”

The episode was originally titled “Arena,” but it was changed when someone remembered that there was an original series episode with the same title.

The original story was supposed to have Tuvok as the person in the arena, but it was changed to Seven, with Tuvok in a supporting role.

Despite their both being regular guest stars on DS9 for a big chunk of its run, this episode is actually the first time that J.G. Hertzler and Jeffrey Combs have any scenes together in a Trek production.

Two more professional wrestlers will appear on Enterprise, probably also due in part to UPN getting into bed with what was then called the WWF: Tiny Lister Jr. in “Broken Bow” and Paul “The Big Show” Wight in “Borderland.”

Chakotay’s interest and background in boxing was established in “The Fight.” The EMH’s utter disdain for same was also established in that episode.

Star Trek: Voyager "Tsunkatse"

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “Tsunkat! Tsunkat!” On the one hand, this is a story we’ve seen eighty bajillion times before, including twice before on Trek, in “The Gamesters of Triskelion” on the original series and in “In Purgatory’s Shadow“/”By Inferno’s Light” on DS9.

On the other hand, it’s very much a fun version of the story, due mainly to two superlative guest turns by two of Trek’s most reliable guest actors, J.G. Hertzler and Jeffrey Combs.

Hertzler’s weary, gravelly voice perfectly suits the Hirogen hunter who is tired of fighting for someone else’s purpose and has given up hope of being free. But he wants to go out on his own terms. Again, total cliché and we’ve seen it before, but Hertzler so totally sells it, down to his running his finger across his forehead as if he were applying Hirogen war paint.

And if you want someone who oozes unctuous sleaze, you can’t do better than Combs.

I wish they’d done a bit more with Chakotay’s boxing background here beyond the mess-hall conversation—and that conversation itself was both fun and frustrating. On the one hand, it was nice to see the characters having a relaxed conversation about normal stuff—on the other hand, they barely even sounded like themselves, because we so rarely see them having relaxed conversations about normal stuff that it just felt weird and awkward. (Also Torres’s line “The Borg wouldn’t know fun if they assimilated an amusement park” may be the single stupidest line put in the character’s mouth in her seven years on television.)

Jeri Ryan and Tim Russ are both superb, as always. Russ in particular does excellent work with Tuvok as good sounding board: from his semi-amused pointing out that the silence wasn’t awkward to his more direct pointing out that dying for entertainment isn’t really a viable alternative to killing for entertainment to his final reminder that remorse and guilt are very human. And Ryan plays Seven’s struggles with her usual restrained emotion.

Plus, hey, it’s The Rock’s first dramatic acting job! For that alone, this has value…

Warp factor rating: 8

Keith R.A. DeCandido has, with his wife Wrenn Simms, formed the very-small-press publisher Whysper Wude. Their first project is the anthology The Four ???? of the Apocalypse, which features alternate takes on the apocalyptic equestrians of yore. Among the authors are David Gerrold, Jonathan Maberry, Peter David, Jody Lynn Nye, David Mack, Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, Michael Jan Friedman, Adam-Troy Castro, Laura Anne Gilman, Gail Z. Martin, and tons more. Read all about the four cats of the apocalypse! The four lawyers! The four opera singers! The four rock stars! The four cheerleaders! And more! The anthology is being crowdfunded on Kickstarter, and has tons of nifty bonuses and extras—check it out!


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