Star Trek: Voyager: The Fight   Rewatch 
January 22, 2018 7:26 AM - Season 5, Episode 19 - Subscribe

It's the eye of Chakotay/ It's the thrill of the fight/ Rising up to the chaos of our rival/ And the neuroatypical/ Maquis Mauler guy/ Will get us through this mess with the eye... of Chakotay!

Memory Alpha's gonna fly now:

- This episode evolved from the first Star Trek story that Michael Taylor contributed after joining Star Trek: Voyager's writing staff. Scriptwriter Joe Menosky recalled, "There was a guy living in the 21st century, and feeling himself becoming unhinged, because there are aliens trying to make contact. We were telling the story with Chakotay suffering a mental breakdown as a result of a first contact happening in our Voyager time. That was the story that Michael Taylor wrote." The outline of the plot was overly thorough, however. "It was an extremely well-written document," Menosky remarked. "I don't know if he actually put footnotes in it, but he might have, it was so detailed, and so intellectual. [Executive Producer] Rick Berman read the story, and he could not believe it. He just went off on, 'These goddamn people like Mike Taylor, you need a subscription to the 'Journal of the American Medical Association' to understand his goddamn story.' Rick just threw it out."

- According to the unauthorized reference book Delta Quadrant (pp. 299-300), Robert Beltran requested several weeks' notice to prepare for this episode, so that he had time to work himself into good shape for the installment. Due to a fire earlier in the fifth season, however, Beltran was not allotted the three weeks' advance warning, only being notified the usual ten days before the outing entered production. The actor himself recalled, "It was an episode I really liked, but I didn't feel the bare-chested thing would be a smart thing to do because I was in good shape, but not boxing shape. Those guys are in incredible shape. I was working with former World Champ Carlos Palomino who I had seen box and was a great fan of, a Mexican fighter. His body and mine were a little different," Beltran laughed.

- This is the second of two Star Trek: Voyager episodes that feature the character of Boothby, the other being the earlier fifth season outing "In the Flesh". In their unauthorized reference book Beyond the Final Frontier (p. 328), Mark Jones and Lance Parkin wonder whether this episode originated as a sequel to "In The Flesh", with chaotic space having once been fluidic space.

"It's not so bad... when you get used to it, they're not so bad. They're just a lot of talk. Sometimes I wish they were more quiet. I'm too tired [to come home]... this is a nice place to call home."

- Chakotay's grandfather

"Why are they after me?"
"Because you have the gene!"
"The crazy gene?!"
"Yes, the 'crazy gene'."
- Chakotay and The Doctor, talking about the chaotic space aliens

Poster's Log:

Well. This episode is really kind of all over the place, and it may be a strong contender for the YMMV championship belt. I will say that it's got a lot more interesting aspects than I remember from the first watch, which I filed away under "yet another failure to communicate is resolved, this time by the power of boxing." Which is accurate, but doesn't really get at all the weird little corners of the episode. The old a-koo-chee-moya comes back (complete with snippets from the musical theme from "Tattoo"), which isn't that great, but I liked the bits with Chakotay's grandfather. (The actor, Ned Romero, a Chitimacha who'd spent much of his early career doing opera, not only played a Native American in TNG's "Journey's End"--the episode that sets up Chakotay's reason for joining the Maquis--but also a Klingon in TOS' "A Private Little War." I'd give the guest actor prize for this episode to him; Ray Walston is fine, as usual, but he's really just riffing off of Burgess Meredith's Mickey from the Rocky movies.)

The really interesting thing that the episode tosses out is that the hereditary neurological condition that Chakotay is afraid of is really a form of neurodivergence that aids in their getting through chaotic space; the notion that different situations and problems might require naturally and artificially neurodivergent people has a long history in science fiction: Lewis Padgett's "Mimsy Were the Borogoves", Cordwainer Smith's "Scanners Live in Vain", Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human, and so on. I think that Trek's main contribution to this notion up to now was DS9's Jack Pack, which was kind of a mixed bag; they potentially had a log to contribute to society, but were also seen as scary and kind of ridiculous, in turn. I think that this episode shows some progress.

In general, for an episode with a lot of familiar tropes, I enjoyed it more than I thought. Beltran, in particular, got to stretch out his acting chops quite a lot.

Poster's Log, supplemental: The hallucinatory Doctor's description of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, combined with Boothby's exhortation to Chakotay to take the punches, is a reminder that Federation medicine can cure a lot of conditions that would be fatal or incurable in our time, which we already kind of knew from "The Killing Game" (not to mention Star Trek IV). That, in turn, leads me to wonder if it's customary for Federation/Starfleet people to indulge in dangerous sports because they know that it's more easily fixable.
posted by Halloween Jack (12 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Jack, I gotta say, I love your intros, but, man, this one? This one hurt. It hurt bad.

Which isn't to say it isn't fitting...
posted by gusottertrout at 8:45 AM on January 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Pass; go to the next one.

Yeah, I didn't enjoy this one at all. Just... so many problems, argh.
posted by Servo5678 at 10:30 AM on January 22, 2018


Guhhhhh. Boxing episodes.
Just...... boxing episodes.

Has there EVER been a good boxing episode?

Also, this is the sad end of Boothby, isn't it?
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:56 AM on January 22, 2018


Has there EVER been a good boxing episode?

Well... (I will say that this will never not be funny, but it's not a full episode.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:12 PM on January 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


Also, yeah, this is Walston's last appearance. He'd apparently had lupus for years; the My Favorite Martian movie remake came out just before this episode aired. He died a couple of years later.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:16 PM on January 22, 2018


Particle of the Week: Chakotay's gene definitely wins it.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: Sadly, bare-knuckles combat in Star Trek Online does not include any boxing moves. Chakotay's advice to skip sparring with Vulcans is on-point in there, though: in addition to the signature nerve pinch, they get bonus melee damage due to their superior physical strength.

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 1.
* Crew: 134.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 10. Being a hallucination, Boothby doesn't count.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful, 1 game of chicken, 1 ramming speed.

Notes:
* We're past my zone of reliable recall about Voyager.

When I saw this in the queue, I thought to myself, 'The Fight? Wasn't this the one where Seven sword fights a Hirogen or something?' Took me a minute to remember that was actually Tsunkatse. I barely remembered seeing this one, and am uncertain I ever actually sat through the whole thing versus watching promos.

* First up, the bad stuff.

As ever, the depiction of Native Americans is some pretty racist stuff. I've now had a long time to mull this over since Caretaker, (the first racist crack I remember happening on the show was from Tom Paris to Chakotay - the bit about 'can't you turn into an eagle and fly us away?' as they were escaping the Ocampan city), and something that I find telling about it is that *only* the Native Americans get depicted this way. There's never talk about Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism or whatever - religion is only for the Magical Other. I think that speaks to writers knowing what they were doing, at least on some level.

However, I'm going to leave it at that both because I've been on about this since the show started, and the truth is that the vision quest isn't actually a central element of this plot. It's more that they were perfectly willing to drop any element of the show that wasn't working, (see: all things Maquis), and kept coming back to this.

* This episode is about fear of mental illness as much as anything.

The really interesting thing that the episode tosses out is that the hereditary neurological condition that Chakotay is afraid of is really a form of neurodivergence that aids in their getting through chaotic space; the notion that different situations and problems might require naturally and artificially neurodivergent people has a long history in science fiction

This is a good point. (On that score: Isaac Asimov's Sucker Bait stands as one of the most influential books in my life. I spent most of my time in high school and college approaching education the way Mark Annuncio did things, and I still think it works.)

I wasn't thinking about the Jack Pack, but that's also a good point. At the time, I was mostly thinking about Voyager's prior outings with mental illness - offhand, we've had at least Extreme Risk, Darkling and Latent Image. They've been hit and miss: I feel like Extreme Risk pushed some really dangerous and horrible ideas, while Latent Image handled the topic with respect. (Darkling was just unintentionally hilarious. Twitchy headless Socrates was great. Much as I love DS9, I feel like their efforts with the Jack Pack were more in Darkling's neighborhood.)

Mostly, I think The Fight skews toward the good side of things: Chakotay's fear of ending up like his grandfather is something I can relate to, and thankfully, his grandfather skipping meds is depicted as bad thing instead of a good one. It's easy for a story like this to veer into 'insanity gives you special insight,' but The Fight makes it pretty clear this is terrifying and unhealthy, and only useful due to external interference. (Also, we have another instance of Trek actually having psych meds, and I approve of that.)

The one thing that's really jarring is seeing the Doctor yell at Chakotay to trust the strangers, open his mind, etc., but because of the dreamlike nature of the imagery, I'm unclear if that actually happened or if it was supposed to be a hallucination. If it *was* the Doctor, that's pretty inconsistent with his approach to medical ethics in the past (and extremely bad behavior for a doctor). But like I said, unclear if it even happened that way, and they show Chakotay consenting to the procedure at some point, so... not as down on this as I might have been.

* This story reminded me of Threshold thematically.

So the obvious episode to compare this to is Night Terrors, with Chakotay standing in for Troi, but that was only the second place my head went. I was mostly thinking about Paris' brush with sanity-rending transwarp.

We've seen many times now that Voyager scripts often started as horror stories and the writers talked themselves out of it. Like, 'oh Seven doesn't really need to decapitate/assimilate/etc. a bunch of aliens' or 'maybe the silver blood doesn't need to be like John Carpenter's The Thing after all *sigh*.'

Threshold is a spot where they - intentionally or not - stumbled upon a Lovecraftian cosmic horror story and mostly stuck with it. The Fight is similar: for once, contact with alien minds is, itself, so strange and unpleasant that doing it risks human sanity. The alien boxer being a starry field in a robe is just the icing on the cake there. Like... chaotic space and chaotic aliens are so weird that maybe we'll *never* be able to talk to them safely, and that's cool. Adding in the detail that 'oh even the Borg don't handle this well' was a good thing, I think.

Unfortunately, this is hampered by being so choppy. Voyager's been known to experiment with different storytelling styles, and I don't think they hit it here because it's too hard to follow what's going on with the details so out of order. (I normally love in media res, but I think it hampered rather than helped this story.)

* The boxing is compatible with prior continuity.

Poster's Log, supplemental: The hallucinatory Doctor's description of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, combined with Boothby's exhortation to Chakotay to take the punches, is a reminder that Federation medicine can cure a lot of conditions that would be fatal or incurable in our time, which we already kind of knew from "The Killing Game" (not to mention Star Trek IV). That, in turn, leads me to wonder if it's customary for Federation/Starfleet people to indulge in dangerous sports because they know that it's more easily fixable.

Definitely. We see Starfleet officers do crazy dangerous sports routinely, ranging from the hilarious to the tragic. Not to mention Sisko's long standing interest in boxing, as you noted.

So... I bought this, and I was more favorably disposed toward it after hearing that Beltran wanted to box. I did think it was funny they didn't give him time to get into shape though. Voyager writers: dicks even when cooperating. ;)

Overall, I'm with you, Jack:

In general, for an episode with a lot of familiar tropes, I enjoyed it more than I thought. Beltran, in particular, got to stretch out his acting chops quite a lot.

I would personally rate this episode as an ambitious failure, which I prefer to them always playing it safe. Beltran got to do a lot, and it was a good gaze into what Voyager would've looked like if they had done all the horror scripts they kept kicking around. I was *interested* in what was going on, and that's cool.
posted by mordax at 1:02 PM on January 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


I looked back on how I rated this episode on first viewing and was a bit surprised to see I gave it a middling grade since, in memory, it's an episode I keep thinking I really disliked, or at least should. After watching it again, I found I still can't bring myself to dislike it even as I still want to in some fashion.

What bothers me about it is that the episode brushes right up against a number of ideas or tropes that really annoy me, but at the same time it miraculously manages to avoid completely falling in to the worst elements of those ideas and maintains enough ambiguity surrounding them to make the concepts actually kind of work on a basic level. Much of that comes from the cast, most obviously Beltran, giving their all in the performances, but also from the writing and direction refusing to commit to a clear point of view regarding the situation, instead suggesting some ideas without be definitive about their absolute meaning.

Just as the most direct example, the suggestion that mental illness provides special insight which makes not taking one's meds a good choice was hinted at with Chakotay's grandfather, but the manner in which his choice is enacted and Chakotay's response keeps that from being too simplistic an answer leaving the pain and confusion involved intact, without making it seem like that's even a good trade off for whatever possible gain comes from "understanding" chaotic space better. It neither condemns nor celebrates the choice, it more uses chaotic space as a reference point for the condition.

The same goes for the doctor's responses to Chakotay, where we can't clearly define much of what his character is saying as being either what Chakotay is imagining or the doctor's actual point of view. That keeps his comments fluid and, again, doesn't push them too far into woo or as too harsh. The disjointed perspective the viewer has on events keeps the ideas from being a "moral lesson" and simply tries to define the condition, to some varying degrees of success.

While the performances here are uniformly good, Mulgrew, Russ, Phillips and MacNeill have some fine moments, Beltran's is the one that sets the tone for the entire thing and keeps it from being too simplistic. It isn't a immaculate performance, one can see Beltran pushing the emotions at times, but it is strong enough and pained enough to provide reasonable connection to his plight without slipping into parody or being simplistic even with the seemingly silly boxing angle driving the story. The simplicity of the boxing kind of works to give a base to Beltran's actions, keeping them understandable enough to the viewer to avoid complete confusion, while also providing a easy to understand frame for the more chaotic elements to be seen working against. We all know how a boxing match is supposed to work given how simple the concept is, so that allows the show to use those expectations as a measure for what doesn't happen, or how the fight itself is at odds with expectation.

As nice as it was to give Walston some work here, I almost wish they had let Phillips take that role in the episode to give him more opportunity since the little we do have of him is good and seems to have been duplicating some of what Walston might have been asked to do, with Neelix also being "trainerlike" in his few moments. I have to wonder if those bits were added for Neelix because Walston couldn't do them himself, but even if not keeping this more just a crew issue rather than adding Boothby seems like it might have been the better choice, but it ultimately isn't a big deal.

This still isn't an episode I can really love, but all the objections I could have to it aren't able to find strong purchase which makes it hard to deny as being something of a success in some weird sense. Ambitious failure might indeed be the right way to label it since it lacks some deeper sensibility that could better drive its feelings home, but I'll call it a qualified success for even risking the attempt and for doing so in a way that avoided the worst pitfalls on a subject all too prone to finding them in most media.

Memory Alpha says the sick bay frame was added at the last minute when they fell short of time, so I have to wonder how that changed the episode, as well as being really curious about the first "detailed" script they threw out since what is left suggests that might have been really good. I also have to wonder about Kolbe's direction here, where he has a lot of fun defining that interior space Chakotay is operating in, but the episode doesn't quite manage to provide enough connection between the elements to fully work, which might have gone better with a stronger hand directing that could pull some threads together more effectively, but I don't want to blame Kolbe either since that could have been a script issue that was unavoidable.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:44 AM on January 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


Oh, and I wanted to mention how good Picardo is in this episode too. He finds the right balance of selling his usual doctorly attitude while amping it up just enough in other moments to maintain that sense of ambiguity about what is and isn't "real" to make things work without going overboard, something Picardo does with pleasure when given opportunity and reason for doing so. For all his excess in those kinds of moments, he does show good restraint when not at the center of the story, something which is worth quite a bit in putting the ideas over and in giving the other actors their chances to stand out.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:06 AM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


The simplicity of the boxing kind of works to give a base to Beltran's actions, keeping them understandable enough to the viewer to avoid complete confusion, while also providing a easy to understand frame for the more chaotic elements to be seen working against. We all know how a boxing match is supposed to work given how simple the concept is, so that allows the show to use those expectations as a measure for what doesn't happen, or how the fight itself is at odds with expectation.

True—and yet, in terms of execution, the way all the characters were interacting with Chakotay felt even more stagey than Dukat's phantom-friends in "Waltz," and that was pretty damn stagey.

Maybe I would've gone along with the concept a little more if it related to a continuing threat to the ship and crew, rather than Some One-Off Anomaly that Obviously Exists Solely Because It Was Time for $UNDERUSED_CAST_MEMBER to Get an Episode. And this isn't just rewatch-inspired hyper-meta-analysis rearing its squinting head, either—I felt the same way about this episode on first watch.

What bothers me about it is that the episode brushes right up against a number of ideas or tropes that really annoy me, but at the same time it miraculously manages to avoid completely falling in to the worst elements of those ideas and maintains enough ambiguity surrounding them to make the concepts actually kind of work on a basic level.

Alright, I'll grant you guys that one: given the ingredients, we might have expected it to fail a lot harder than it did, but it managed to avoid serious pitfalls.

Except for being a boxing episode.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:02 AM on January 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


Maybe I would've gone along with the concept a little more if it related to a continuing threat to the ship and crew, rather than Some One-Off Anomaly that Obviously Exists Solely Because It Was Time for $UNDERUSED_CAST_MEMBER to Get an Episode. And this isn't just rewatch-inspired hyper-meta-analysis rearing its squinting head, either—I felt the same way about this episode on first watch.

Heh. True enough, but ya gotta admit Beltran was due!
posted by gusottertrout at 5:19 AM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


Alright, I'll grant you guys that one: given the ingredients, we might have expected it to fail a lot harder than it did, but it managed to avoid serious pitfalls.

Except for being a boxing episode.


Hahahaha.

I actually have to give you this one, if we're talking about underlying symbolism: the entire episode is about Chakotay and the weird aliens trying to work together, so framing it as a boxing match is... thematically incoherent, I guess I'd say?

It might have worked better if they had been initially hostile or skeptical toward human life and he was trying to champion the crew in the hallucinatory space, rather than simply speaking through a painful telepathic contact.

Heh. True enough, but ya gotta admit Beltran was due!

Yeah. Chakotay is basically never given anything to do, so part of me liking this more than expected is just about 'wow, Robert Beltran finally got an episode!'
posted by mordax at 9:58 AM on January 23, 2018


I'm pretty much with mordax and Halloween Jack on this one.

Robert Beltran can act, but hasn't been given much of an opportunity to do so since Scorpion. He definitely sold his fears, concerns about seeing and hearing things that aren't there and reluctance to act as an ambassador to truly alien aliens well. I very much liked the line of reasoning that the story presented: his fear of being hurt in the boxing ring is similar to his fear of going crazy while trying to be an ambassador.

Unfortunately, the direction was choppy and the flashbacks felt distracting.

I also would have liked to see them make a direct character continuity link back to Unity. If one of Chakotay's deepest fears is the loss of sanity and control that goes with a neurological disorder, then this makes what happened to him in Unity more impactful. (He was forced to participate in a Borg collective, losing his sense of individuality and control.)

The scene with Chakotay and his grandfather, as he tries to get the older man to take his pills was a little heartbreaking, having been there myself with an aging parent:

Grandfather: "My spirit doesn't want that medicine."
Chakotay: "I don't care what your spirit wants. You're going to take it."
Grandfather: "I don't think so."

We expect our parents to act like sane, rational adults, for from the time we're born that's the role they are supposed to play in our lives. When they don't and we, their children, are forced to parent them it can be very challenging.

I liked this episode better on rewatch. Didn't much like the whole boxing idea when it first aired, but it feels more integrated into the story this time around for some reason. Also wish they'd done more with Beltran over the life of the series. He deserved better treatment.
posted by zarq at 10:16 AM on January 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


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