After a group of Kazon led by Seska steal technology from Voyager, Chakotay takes a shuttle to retrieve it.
Plot Summary: Initially hopeful upon picking up a beacon sending a Federation hail, the crew is horrified to find that it’s a trap set by the Kazon-Nistrim, who successfully punch through Voyager’s shields and beam a team aboard to steal a transporter module. Using a tractor beam to slow the Kazon escape, Janeway informs First Maje Culluh that the transporter may prove more a hazard than an asset to his ship, but Culluh reveals that Seska, who has restored her Cardassian appearance, is assisting him with the technology. Seska taunts Chakotay and warns that his actions are predictable to her, demonstrating that she was ready for Voyager’s tractor beam by helping Culluh’s ship break free to go to warp. The Kazon leave a trail, which Chakotay and Tuvok agree is likely a trap rather than an oversight on Seska’s part, but Janeway insists that they must retrieve the transporter technology before it disrupts the balance of power in the quadrant. Blaming himself for Seska’s perfidy since he once trusted her, Chakotay takes a shuttle and goes to destroy the transporter module, using a plan concocted by Torres to destroy the technology. He leaves a message for Voyager warning Janeway not to put the ship or personnel at risk trying to rescue him, but Torres advises that the crew, particularly ex-Maquis, will develop a serious morale problem if Janeway leaves Chakotay behind. Though furious that her first officer ignored the chain of command, Janeway agrees to a risky rescue plan that involves beaming Chakotay aboard while traveling at warp speed. Meanwhile, Culluh plots to unite the Kazon sects as the dominant power in the region and tortures Chakotay when Chakotay refuses to give Voyager’s command codes to Seska. Despite major damage to the ship, Voyager manages to retrieve Chakotay and escape, after which Janeway puts Chakotay on report, which means little so far away from Starfleet, though Chakotay expresses regret that he let her down. Tuvok summons them to the bridge to hear a message left behind by Seska, who informs Chakotay that while he was unconscious, she extracted his DNA to impregnate herself with his child.
Analysis: Over the years since it aired, I’ve met fans who thought “Maneuvers” was the best episode of Voyager‘s second season and fans who thought it was a sign that the show would never achieve the greatness of its predecessors. Personally, I’ve always deeply disliked it, but I admit that my own personal wishes for the series may bias my reactions. This isn’t the Chakotay I’ve always wanted him to be; worse, these aren’t the Janeway and Tuvok I’ve always wanted them to be, and don’t get me started on Torres, who seems to be dangerously close to becoming the swooning girl from “Persistence of Vision” who ignored her position on the crew to let a phantom Chakotay take her to bed. But not everyone watches the show with feminist or shipper goggles on, and a lot of viewers are content to see the senior crewmembers act like a bunch of screw-ups instead of stuffy Starfleet officers if it makes for better drama. “Maneuvers” gives us some space battles, some one-on-one fighting action, and the return of the aliens whom most people assumed would be recurring villains after “Caretaker” yet who’ve shown up only rarely and represented little threat. Seska’s a much more interesting bad guy – not only is she Cardassian and a onetime Maquis and Starfleet insider who knows how to push everyone’s buttons, but she serves as an interesting foil for Janeway. The captain keeps saying that getting her crew home is a top priority, yet she has dozens of ethical and personal issues interfering with that goal. Seska has few scruples – she doesn’t want to kill Chakotay, whom she once loved, or Torres, who was once a comrade, but that’s based on personal attachment, not principle – and it’s clear that she’s willing to do almost anything to solidify a base of power, whether it means allying herself with aliens who offer much less of a chance of getting back to Cardassia than Voyager or sleeping with an alien leader who’s obviously not her intellectual equal so that she can manipulate his plans. Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted that Janeway wouldn’t sleep with Culluh, or Gath, or Q merely out of expediency when we’ve seen that she believes lovemaking should indicate devotion, but it’s interesting to see a female character who has no more qualms about using sex as a weapon than Captain Kirk did.
So yes, the episode is well-filmed and well-designed, and it’s nice to have some action with recurring villains. If only the former wasn’t such typical space-chase-and-shooting alongside some old-fashioned punching and kicking in the privates, and if only the latter didn’t come across as watered-down Klingon wannabes, with a similar macho warrior code yet less firepower to show it off. Chakotay sinks to their level in a way we’ve never seen from any other Starfleet officer and in a way I’d never imagined this “peaceful man from a peaceful people” would behave – a man who disappears entirely when his own masculine ego is wounded. He goes off on what Janeway accurately describes as a cowboy mission, brags to Culluh that he saw Seska naked first, taunts the Maje that Seska told Chakotay he was the most exciting lover she’d ever had, and forces Janeway to put the ship at far greater risk rescuing him than she would have had they gone ahead with the original plan to retrieve the transporter technology. Why doesn’t he take advantage of anything he learned from Kar and Haliz during his time among the Kazon-Ogla? Why does he think taking swipes at Culluh’s pride will be more effective than playing the “she’s using you too” sympathy card? Chakotay is so obsessed with his masculine dignity that he makes a series of stupid decisions which not only put the ship at risk but ultimately backfire in an extremely intimate way, since Seska concludes that the best way to keep Chakotay and thus Voyager tied to her is to rape him, taking his DNA to impregnate herself with his child. The fact that we now know she won’t succeed and is probably already carrying Culluh’s baby doesn’t make this any less vile and horrible, ruining Seska as a villain everyone loves to hate and simply turning her into a despicable person. It never makes sense that she’d think carrying Chakotay’s baby would be a greater asset than liability. We see Culluh get defensive when his macho superiority is threatened, since he makes Seska address him submissively and insults her gender – so I’m not sure why she wouldn’t expect him to kill her outright upon finding out she’s pregnant with another man’s child.
It’s bad enough that Chakotay runs around acting like his personal wounds are all that matter while Torres snivels about how Janeway has to save him. I’m not disagreeing that there are excellent reasons to retrieve the first officer, whose presence may still be crucial to maintain the loyalty of his ex-Maquis crew, but giving us a teary non-Klingon appeal by an emotional friend instead of a forceful argument by a senior officer undercuts Torres as a character. Worse, it’s the emotionalism to which Janeway responds, not reasoned suggestions about crew cohesion. Three kick-ass women dominate this episode, yet inexplicably they’re all obsessed with Chakotay, who has never demonstrated enough smarts or creativity to justify it. Plus there are so many other ways in which Janeway doesn’t look smart. You mean to tell me she didn’t order the command codes changed after Seska left the ship, to protect against an attack like the very one Seska launches? She fails to order the transporters locked down when the ship is under attack? If she can have Torres track the one human on Culluh’s ship to retrieve him, she can’t also have Torres find the one Cardassian, capture her, and put an end to Seska’s ability to use her knowledge of Starfleet against them? Janeway doesn’t even insist on disciplinary action to punish an officer who went flying off for what by his own admission is a personal vendetta. She doesn’t look like a strong leader. To top it off, it’s really never clear why her refusal to share technology is vital under Starfleet regulations. The Kazon are a spacefaring culture with warp drive, so this isn’t a case of interfering with a primitive civilization; they may not have exactly the same technology as Starfleet does, but we’ve seen Starfleet officers exchange information and technology with other species many times. The Kazon don’t go after phasers or photons with the intention of subduing rivals; they try to steal first a replicator, then a transporter, and though Seska demonstrates that the latter can be used as a weapon, that isn’t the primary function of either. Dealing with the Kazon doesn’t seem much more heinous than dealing with the Klingons or Ferengi, who oppress women and minorities within their borders. It’s a shame that “thinking like a Maquis” is becoming synonymous with “thinking like a selfish jerk” on this series, because Janeway needs to explore some unorthodox ideas.