Thursday, 20 February 2014

Review: Voyager 2.9: Tattoo

Chahmoozee. Image from Wikia
Star Trek Voyager - Season Two, Episode Nine - Tattoo
Written 5/7/13

It's another Chakotay episode, and one that aims to break boundaries and dive to the depths of his home culture in the misguided and ultimately profundly racist way that only a writing team composed entirely of white people can ever really do. As well as spending the episode being incredibly offensive towards a culture that the US has trampled over and abused so many times they might as well just put themselves on trial, there was also a couple of interesting subplots that save the episode from being a complete putdown of Native American peoples.
     While searching on an alien moon, Chakotay finds the chamoozee, a native American symbol, and spends the rest of the episode sporadically flashing back to when his father took him through the Central American rainforest in search of their tribe's ancient ancestors, with young Chakotay employing fair skepticism that here is presented as being something to be ashamed of. They track the minearl deposits they need to a weird planet which seems to exactly resemble the central American rainforest. Chakotay finds it inhabited by a race of aliens who explain that they know him and his people because they came to Earth generations ago and gave the Native Americans their entire culture as a gift.
     Why is this offensive, you ask? The writers of Voyager claim that in the Trek Universe, everything that makes up Native American culture was given to them by a different sentient culture. That nothing in their self-identity is original, that they are simply copy-catting an alien culture. That's horrendous. That's like saying that the Japanese gained their culture from a race of anime-loving aliens who taught them swordplay, honour and work efficiency. Trek has always been about respecting different cultures, be they alien or at home. It seems so god-damn predictably bad that they'd manage to get this so wrong.
"So, about that culture of yours..." Image from Wikia
     In a less offensive B-plot, The Doctor gave himself holographic flu so that he could experience empathy with the crew. While it was fun to see The Doctor making this concession in order to improve himself, it felt like a step backwards from some of the later stories of the first season where he was beginning to really learn how to feel compassion for others. The Doctor of Heroes and Demons and of Projections wasn't this blitheringly incompetant with other people's feelings, and surely as a Doctor he should be able to understand the concept of pain and suffering even if he doesn't have very good bedside.
     Tattoo them is an episode that begins the second season's selection of episodes that take the show to new lows. It had two things it wanted to do and in both of them it failed, neithe rmaking me feel closer to Chakotay or to The Doctor. I don't see why Chakotay was so in awe of his father when his father was basically a bigoted jerk that couldn't accept that his son, who had grown up in a secular 24th Century environment, didn't believe in his ancient myths. I also don't see what the writer's aimed to accomplish by telling ever Native American viewer watching that their culture doesn't even belong to them.


NEXT WEEK: The end of the series, had the ratings failed. We meet the second Caretaker in Cold Fire.

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