TsunkatseBy Edward James Hines
Posted at February 9, 2000 - 6:00 AM GMT
While on shore leave, Tuvok and Seven of Nine are kidnapped by Penk (Jeffrey Combs), an alien promoter who recruits Seven as a "tsunkatse" fighting contender. In-between matches, a Hirogen hunter (J.G. Hertzler) befriends and coaches Seven on how to defeat her opponent in a "Red Match" to the death. It turns out that the Hirogen, who has been a conscripted fighter for 19 years, is himself the opponent, and he hopes Seven will kill him and end his captivity.
The outcry over this episode was entirely undeserved, especially since TOS and DS9 have each done their own versions of forced-combat episodes (Kirk in "The Gamesters of Triskelion" and "Bread and Circuses"; Worf in "By Inferno's Light"). The impetus behind the idea for "Tsunkatse" is simply network identity, for which UPN has been searching since its inception. It seems to have found one this year in wrestling, monster trucks and daredevil stunts, so it should come as no surprise that UPN would want to showcase its newest craze aboard its oldest, proudest accomplishment - Voyager. Cross-promotion within a network is fairly commonplace, and when it comes right down to it, the Rock's appearance as the Pendari Champion was brief and harmless. In fact, he comports himself quite well, and what few lines he has, he delivers convincingly. In all, he was quite entertaining.
The story itself is expectably simple, and for those paying attention, it comes as no surprise when the Hirogen is Seven's intended opponent. What's curious is Seven's fear that the tsunkatse has robbed her of the humanity she spent three years trying to regain. While she has previously admitted feelings of guilt and remorse over her participation in the Borg's assimilation of millions, she has never really expressed an open desire to reclaim her humanity. Most of the time she is stoic, centered, private, and her observation of human behavior often manifests itself as disdain and disinterest. Seven's revelation in "Tsunkatse," therefore, is as big a leap forward in her development as her stricken reaction was in "Drone," when grief over the death of One suddenly overcame and erupted from her.
It comes as somewhat odd, however, that Tuvok should be the one to point out that Seven has reaffirmed her humanity, especially since their time together on Voyager seems to be few and far between. Obviously, such an observation would have been more understandable coming from Janeway, but her absence precluded this.
The chemistry in the mess hall between Torres, Paris, Kim and Chakotay "the tattooed terror" is vibrant in its conviviality. While some of the dialogue seems hokey, the repartee is relaxed and not as forced as it sometimes seems when Janeway is around. Chakotay, however, has an ease about him during this rare, off-duty hangout that makes him just "one of the guys." Dialogue references include his penchant for boxing and also his interest in anthropology, which has been mentioned a number of times this season.
One of the happiest yet most nostalgic things about "Tsunkatse" is the guest star credits, which features such familiar names as Jeffrey Combs and J.G. Hertzler. Just watching the words appear onscreen is both an instant comfort and a stab of regret that the wistful days of DS9 are gone forever.
As the Hirogen, Hertzler marks his forehead each time before going into combat, just as the Alpha Hirogen used paint to mark his helmet in "Hunters." At the end, however, it seems strange that Voyager is able to locate a Hirogen hunting party this far away from their territory, which Voyager left behind almost two years and several slipstream/transwarp jumps ago.
The distraught crewman to whom Janeway offered comfort in "Memorial" shows up again on the Delta Flyer. Also, noticeable in the Norcadia Prime spectator arena is a Voth, one of the dinosaur aliens from "Distant Origin."
Edward James Hines writes weekly reviews of Voyager episodes.