Star Trek: Voyager: Tsunkatse   Rewatch 
April 9, 2018 9:11 AM - Season 6, Episode 15 - Subscribe

"When America's smackdown hero takes on Voyager's battlestar babe, worlds will collide!" Are you not entertained?

Can you smell what Memory Alpha is cooking? (No, not that--that's Neelix's leola root salve):

- Jeffrey Combs (Penk) and J.G. Hertzler (Hirogen hunter) both previously played recurring characters on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Combs played Weyoun and Brunt and Hertzler played General/Chancellor Martok. Interestingly, this marks the first time that the two actors have acted in a scene together. It is also the only appearance in Star Trek: Voyager for either actor.

- As with "Blink of an Eye", this episode's title had to be changed shortly before shooting when it was realized that it matched a TOS episode's: "Arena".

- The Pendari Champion was played by professional wrestler The Rock, a tie-in between UPN shows Voyager and WWF SmackDown! (now known as WWE SmackDown Live). During the fight between Seven and the champion, The Rock used "The Rock Bottom", his pro wrestling finishing move. The Pendari Champion also did "The People's Eyebrow," a typical Rock gesture. The Rock was the first WWE superstar to appear on Star Trek. The other two were Tommy "Tiny" Lister, Jr. and The Big Show, who both guest-starred on Star Trek: Enterprise.

"I haven't overpacked. I simply wish to be prepared for any contingency."
"And... what contingency is this for?"
"That's an isomodulator – enhanced to correct hull ablation in the event we encounter a meteroid stream."
"Well, couldn't you just replicate an isomodulator?"
"I prefer this one."
"Oh, I get it! You like to have your own things with you – B'Elanna's the same way. You know, she'd never admit it, but she still takes a stuffed animal with her whenever she's gonna be away for more than a day: 'Toby the targ.'"
"...can "Toby the targ" correct hull ablation? Your comparison is flawed."

- Seven of Nine and Tom Paris

"An away mission during shore leave?"
"Commander Tuvok and I don't require recreational activities."
"The Borg wouldn't know fun if they assimilated an amusement park."

- Neelix, Seven of Nine, and B'Elanna Torres

"I have spent the last three years struggling to regain my Humanity. I'm afraid I may have lost it again in that arena."
"You are experiencing difficult emotions."
"Guilt, shame, remorse."
"Then you haven't lost your Humanity. You have reaffirmed it. "

- Seven of Nine and Tuvok

Poster's Log:

This is very much already-gone-before territory for Trek; aside from the aforementioned "Arena", there's "The Gamesters of Triskelion", which has multiple Enterprise crew members selected for the fights, and "Bread and Circuses", which uses the handwavey concept of "parallel evolution" to justify a planet that's the Roman Empire at a 20th century level of technology broadcasting gladiatorial matches on television. That episode also had the feature of self-criticism, as they're concerned with keeping their ratings up; "Tsunkatse" goes a bit deeper into this self-awareness, as there's some discussion of how unlikely the government is to actually do anything about the enslavement and murder of the fighters, because so much of its revenue depends on the games. UPN had pretty much only two shows that were almost guaranteed decent ratings: VOY and WWF SmackDown!. The latter didn't exactly feature "red matches", but professional wrestling has its own body count. Even though this episode features a sport that is more of a cross between MMA and tag, the comparison with pro wrestling is kind of inevitable given the guest appearance of Mr. The Rock and his signature moves.

But despite its traveling well-trod ground, and some hypocrisy on the network's part, it's still a very solid and well-done episode. Jeffrey Combs and J.G. Hertzler are basically riffing off of their better-known DS9 recurring roles: Penk is every bit as oily and ruthless as Weyoun, and the Hirogen's weary, wounded dignity is a direct echo of Martok, especially as the first time we see the latter character, he's in a ring match with a Jem'Hadar. But they're perfect for the story. The Hirogen's desire to die doesn't make it easier for Seven; her interior battle is with the knowledge that she could put him away without much of a problem at all, but not wanting to lose the ground that she's gained. There's some good bits with the rest of the crew realizing that they were into the games until seeing Seven made them realize that probably a lot of the fighters, if not all of them, weren't there voluntarily, and Neelix's rolling his eyes at the government's bullshit excuses. And the fight scenes are well done; it's difficult to see when it's a stunt performer instead of the actors. And, of course, the once and future Dwayne Johnson is just fine, even if he did treat Seven like a jabroni.

Poster's Log, supplemental: I've never been a fan of professional wrestling, although I did occasionally watch GLOW back in the day purely for amusement value (and really dug the Netflix miniseries). I find a lot of aspects of it, such as kayfabe, pretty fascinating from a remove, but any chance that I'd get into the sport itself disappeared after watching Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler.
posted by Halloween Jack (3 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'd have to say this one improved on rewatch, though for it to do so, I had to get past my annoyance at the spectacle—the slick sets, the Seven-fighting fanservice, the not at ALL predictable plot twist about Hirogen Hertzler being her opponent, the presence of the Rock—and focus on the characterization, performances, and (as Jack rightly points out) technical execution. I found them strong enough to give this episode reason to exist. I was a little almost kind of moved by Tuvok's line about Seven's humanity.

And, I would be lying if I said this episode earned no brownie points from me for bringing back Combs and Hertzler. I will admit to the influence of nostalgia on this rewatch.

(I have almost no interest in, and fairly slim knowledge of, professional wrestling. I like Dwayne "Don't Call Me 'The Rock' Anymore" Johnson, though; I remember enjoying his early comic vehicle The Rundown with Sean William Scott and Christopher Walken. In fact, I like him enough that I genuinely hope he abandons his apparent intent to enter politics.)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:12 AM on April 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


Particle of the Week: No strong contenders, but honorable mention to photons for the projectors, tetryons for the jail cell and polarons for the fighting gear.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: This one's a headscratcher, actually: there are three primary melee weapons in Star Trek Online. Fed side, you have the Vulcan Lirpa from Amok Time and Klingon side you have the iconic Bat'leth. The third option for vanilla/easily available melee tools?

The Tsunkatse Falchion, even though this episode features tournaments that are clearly about unarmed mixed martial arts competition.

(Honorable mention to covariant and metaphasic shields, and neutronic weaponry.)

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: -8.
* Crew: 137.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 14
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful, 2 games of chicken, 1 ramming speed.

Notes:
* It's Those Guys!

Combs and Hertzler are two of my favorite recurring actors in the entire Trek franchise. They both always bring it, and this is no different. My only regret is that Combs has such limited screen time, but it's appropriate for the story.

* Hertzler's Hirogen is pretty short.

That kinda bothered me at the time, and remains a minor nitpick upon rewatch. Hirogen are *gigantic*, and he's not much bigger than Seven, really. It's also so weird to hear Martok's voice out of a Hirogen's mouth. Man.

* Against all odds, I like this one.

When this aired, I was ready to hate Tsunkatse. I mean, WWE crossover special event? So pandering, even if I watched that stuff. Which I also don't.

However, this has a lot going for it, IMO:

- They gave the cliche action lead to a woman without comment. It's my contention that one thing Voyager did right more than other Trek was female characterization, and Tsunkatse just putting Seven where Captain Kirk would be without anybody acting like it was a big deal is actually really heartening.

- Seven and Tuvok remain one of my favorite pairings on the show. I enjoy her friendship with him a lot more with anybody except for Naomi Wildman. They feel as natural together as Tom and Harry, if not more.

- I like the Hirogen. It's an easy twist to spot - I don't recall being surprised at the time - but his motivation makes sense, is poignant and lends a lot to the final fight.

- I also liked the realism around ratings and government inaction here.

- Chakotay and B'Ellana bonding over this was cute. His anthropologist line was great.

This isn't a fantastic story, this doesn't break new ground, but I feel like it's a very solid Voyager outing. It's another case of Voyager taking a well-trod TOS idea and just... doing it pretty well. (I maintain they would've had a better run if they'd done this more often. Which is funny, because the same mentality sank TNG S1.)
posted by mordax at 1:34 PM on April 9, 2018 [3 favorites]


I liked this episode overall — especially seeing Combs and Hertzler in it — but there did seem to be one false note partway through, when Tuvok advises Seven, about to head into the arena, to "do whatever it takes to survive" (including killing one's adversary, it is implied). This seems very un-Starfleet and particularly un-Tuvok-like to me.

But yes, good overall. And especially interesting to see it again, now that "stunt-casting a WWE star" has turned into "one of the first non-wrestling acting roles of someone who is now a major movie star."

And I particularly enjoyed this exchange as a model of a friendship between two introverts:
SEVEN: Two hours, thirty seven minutes, thirteen seconds. That's how long we've gone without verbal communication.
TUVOK: Why is that remarkable?
SEVEN: The Doctor encourages me to engage in conversation during awkward silences.
TUVOK: Did you find the silence awkward?
SEVEN: No.
TUVOK: Nor did I.
Which is very nearly how I've defined introvert friendship myself. ("How can you tell when two introverts are friends? The silences aren't awkward.") Seriously, I've taken road trips with good friends who are at least if not more introverted than I am, and we've had intervals of... maybe not 2h37m, but at least one hour, where neither of us spoke, and it didn't feel awkward at all.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:10 PM on July 23 [1 favorite]


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