Star Trek: Voyager: Initiations   Rewatch 
March 2, 2017 3:15 AM - Season 2, Episode 2 - Subscribe

And as I switched off the comm it occurred to me, he'd grown up just like me / My boy was just like me…

Thank you, Memory Alpha, may I have another? *thwack* THANK YOU, MEMORY ALPHA, MAY I HAVE ANOTHER?! *thwack*

- Dissatisfied with the first draft of this episode's teleplay, Michael Piller offered to subsequently help Ken Biller with the writing of the episode. He called Biller on his own car phone and commented at length that, despite having been intended as an allegory to in-fighting Los Angeles street gangs, the Kazon were "coming across as kind of warmed-over Klingons." Piller ended the call by telling Biller, "I want you to stop, don't write anything today, leave the office and go find some gang members or find a policeman who can take you to see some gang members. I'll talk to you about it tomorrow and see what you find out from the street." Although Biller subsequently did not strictly adhere to this advice – thereafter having no direct contact with gang members – he did discover the book Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member, written in prison by Sanyika "Monster" Shakur. This publication gave Biller useful insights into gang culture and peer pressure, inspiring the writing of this episode's second draft.

- The episode was partly written as an attempt to remedy the fact that Voyager's producers felt Chakotay had been underused in the first season.

- This episode's story itself was a problematic one for director Winrich Kolbe. He explained, "Storywise it was not the most interesting show I've ever done. It was a push. My problem with the Chakotay character was that I wanted to forget the Indian aspect and make him the Maquis that he was supposed to be. I knew Chakotay would have to eventually cooperate on the ship, but I hoped he would do it unwillingly most of the time. I talked to the writers about it, why we weren't playing that conflict. They went with the Indian thing, which was kind of intriguing, but in my opinion, never paid off because it was done too subtly."

- Aron Eisenberg (Kar) is much better known for his role as the Ferengi Nog on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He was cast in this episode after a difficult casting process. Eisenberg himself commented, "I think some people out there have the misconception that they just gave me the part, which is not true; I actually had to audition for it. They couldn't find a kid to come up to the level that Kar needed to come up to, and they couldn't find an adult that looked young enough to play the kid. Finally they said, 'What about Aron, let's get him to audition,' and I was obviously what they were looking for, because I got the part."

- Although he alone put a lot of effort into his performance in this episode, Aron Eisenberg was also coached – to a debatable extent – by fellow DS9 actor Max Grodénchik. "I worked very hard on that episode," Eisenberg later remembered. "Max was there to help me as my acting coach ("He did totally the opposite of everything I said and it turned out brilliantly!" jokes Grodénchik)." Eisenberg also said of his DS9 co-star, "He helped me work on that script a lot, but he said, 'You did nothing that I told you to do.' Max said that everything he said for me to do, I threw out the door, and I did something else. I disagree."

- Aron Eisenberg's experience of acting in "Initiations" was generally very pleasant and, ultimately, he was thankful for the role of Kar. He explained, "I was so lucky to have that part. It was so much fun. I had such a blast working on that show [....] It was finally something really meaty that I had, and something that I didn't ever think I'd get to play, because of being short or looking younger. I never thought I'd be able to play a character where he's really trying to kill someone." Another of this episode's highlights for Aron Eisenberg was working with Robert Beltran. "Me and Robert [Beltran] were just goofing around the whole time. It's funny, you know, you've got such an intense role, and yet we're laughing and having a good time." For his part, Beltran said of their relationship, "Aron and I had a lot of fun. He's a very funny guy. It was like working with Don Rickles, because he's very quick-witted and not afraid to cut you down."

- Ultimately, the recognizability of Aron Eisenberg proved to be too obvious to many fans. The actor himself offered, "On the Internet people say, 'I could tell it was his voice.' I say, 'Come on people, it's the same person.'" Jeri Taylor explained, "More people were aware of [Eisenberg's DS9 role] than I would have thought. He didn't look anything the same, but he has a very distinctive voice. It broke the suspension of disbelief and made people say not, 'Oh, there's a young man in pain,' but, 'Oh, it's Nog from Deep Space Nine.' As soon as the mind is doing that, it's not involved in the story [....] We got the good actor, but we got a recognizable one." Michael Piller commented, "We made a very big mistake in casting Aron Eisenberg because his voice is so recognizable that it took anybody watching both shows out of the episode. His performance was wonderful, but I think it was just a casting mistake."


"What's so different about us? Aside from the fact that I keep saving your life and you keep threatening to kill me."

- Chakotay, to Kar


"My people taught me a man does not own land."

- Chakotay


"You would rather die in your sleep, a wrinkled old man?"
"Sounds about right."

- Kar and Chakotay


Poster's Log: I have to disagree with Taylor and Piller about the casting of Eisenberg. Given the predictable and formulaic story, his performance is about the only interesting thing in this episode (though it is nice to get a Chakotay-heavy one). It's not like they brought in Patrick Stewart—or, as Enterprise did, Rene Auberjonois. In fact, I remember enjoying the episode less back when I wasn't as familiar with DS9, and had less of a sense of Nog's character. (I suppose that supports Taylor and Piller's point about the immersion being broken.) But the rest of it was just kind of meh. I suppose this episode did achieve a certain clarification of the Kazon's brutal nature.

Poster's Log, Supplemental: Eisenberg reprises the role of Nog in Star Trek Online, in what appears to be a series of missions I haven't gotten to yet.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (13 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I also somehow missed the fact that it was Nog, even though I watched an episode of Deep Space Nine with him on Tuesday!

I did like Kar. I also didn't have a problem with the general idea of this episode.

I want a Chakotay episode, but I wish this wasn't a Chakotay episode.

This episode's story itself was a problematic one for director Winrich Kolbe. He explained, "Storywise it was not the most interesting show I've ever done. It was a push. My problem with the Chakotay character was that I wanted to forget the Indian aspect and make him the Maquis that he was supposed to be. I knew Chakotay would have to eventually cooperate on the ship, but I hoped he would do it unwillingly most of the time. I talked to the writers about it, why we weren't playing that conflict. They went with the Indian thing, which was kind of intriguing, but in my opinion, never paid off because it was done too subtly."

I disagree with the subtly 'Indian' thing, but I definitely agree that this episode does not make much sense with Chakotay thinking of himself as Maquis, not Starfleet. He's talking about how everyone who wears this uniform goes through a bunch of training to deserve it, but we're on a ship where half of the crew did no such thing. And okay, maybe Chakotay started thinking of himself as Starfleet again, but when did that change? Is he thinking of going back to the Maquis if he gets back to the Alpha Quadrant?

I swear, I'm trying to step back from rewriting every episode of Voyager in my brain, but imagine this episode with Tuvok or Harry Kim in Chakotay's place. Both of them would make the contrast between the Kazon and the Federation even clearer - Tuvok would be absolutely horrible and try to logic Kar into listening to him, while Kim is probably the most idealistic and least martial member of the fleet. Or, hell, have Chakotay reasoning himself into being Starfleet by arguing with Kar.

The only reason why this should be a Chakotay episode is that the writers equated 'weird coming of age ritual' with 'Native American', and that's problematic even before you get to the bullshit Native American advisor.

I mean, most cultures have coming of age rituals. I'm a white person from an ethnicity who has both coming of age rituals and a ritual for observing the first anniversary of a death. There's nothing really specifically 'Native American' about that (because of course not, we're talking about two continents' worth of cultures, at least fucking pick a region, Voyager).
posted by dinty_moore at 6:33 AM on March 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


I agree that Eisenberg was fine, and that, even if he reminds people too much of Nog, that's OK, because remember that, when we first see Nog, he's committing a crime--in the very first episode of DS9, he's helping some random alien break into the assay office on the station, and Sisko uses him as leverage over Quark to keep his uncle and his business on the station. I could very easily see an alternate history for Nog in which he gets in with the Orion Syndicate, makes his bones with them, and goes in a completely different direction than eager-beaver-ensign-who-loses-his-leg.

The problems that I have with the episode are 1), as dinty_moore notes, maybe the head of the Maquis faction on the ship isn't the guy to talk about how he's proud of his Starfleet uniform, unless you do some real character development with him and he comes around to realizing that maybe he really was Starfleet all along, or something. (Harry would have been a good alternate choice. He still seems to get stuck with being portrayed as the baby on the crew, and this might have been a sort of initiation of his own. You could have even gone with a coda in which Tom tries to tease him about it, and Harry just goes, Tom, drop the bullshit. Tom might even follow up with an apology that, in a sense, he failed his own test of adulthood.) The other issue is 2) that, although I respect that Ken Biller did some research on gangs while writing the episode, I would have appreciated their extending the metaphor a bit more and gone with a more nuanced portrayal of the kind of life that Kar might have had if he hadn't joined the sect, instead of just saying that he would have had his fingers cut off by the other sects. Say that there's a nearby colony where some Kazon who didn't want to be in a sect have settled... but they have legal restrictions on how they can wear their hair (the Kazon equivalent of gang colors, which have been banned in some places), being able to gather in groups, and getting interrogated by the local po-po even if they toe the line. Then you could have a scene in which Kar asks Chakotay or Harry (both of them portrayed by men of color) if they'd like to live that sort of life.

Also, good Neelix scene in which he actually fulfills the function of having not only useful information for the captain, but stands up to the local bullies.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:55 AM on March 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


I was also !!! about Neelix being given more of a role and being let on the bridge, but then he did his thing and I was stuck thinking that it made a lot more sense for him to be their cultural ambassador than it did for him to be their morale officer and cook. I guess he was already kind of their cultural ambassador since the pilot, but generally he has only had that role so Janeway can ask Neelix if he's had any experience with $ALIEN and then Neelix can say "Nope".
posted by dinty_moore at 7:07 AM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


Oh! Almost forgot: an alternative 70s folk-rock song that also applies to this episode.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:30 AM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


Particle of the Week: Conspicuously absent.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: As CheesesofBrazil notes, Aron Eisenberg reprises his role of Nog in late-season Star Trek Online. Nog is a recurring figure toward the end of the Iconian War arc. It's pretty fun stuff.
Ongoing Equipment Tally:
* Photon Torpedoes: 37
* Shuttles: Down 1, (due to Chakotay's piloting, a recurring theme IIRC)
* Crew: 151
* Bio-neural Gelpacks: 47
Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contact: 2

Notes:
* Chakotay doesn't make much sense in this episode.

You guys have already gone over this, but it really stood out to me: he's Maquis, so he deliberately took up arms against the Cardassians when his life and home were threatened, but he won't return fire against a Kazon ship. WTF?

He also gave up his Starfleet uniform because they made peace with the Cardassians and hung a bunch of people out to dry, but he's super proud of the uniform, and makes no mention of any of this. Also WTF.

I mean, I get he was trying to set a good example for a kid, but it really goes against everything we know about him, especially since he was literally punching a guy in the face for insubordination just a couple episodes back.

I'm chalking this up to those in charge once again forgetting the entire premise of their own show. I'm also disheartened to hear that a writer actually asked to tone down the racist crap, and got shot down. Figures.

* I liked Eisenberg and the rest of the Ogla.

I recognized him right away, but I'm not sure why that's a bad thing - Voyager's made use of a number of Trek alumni, and gotten some of their best guest performances out of it. Eisenberg is great here. I felt like the other performances were pretty good too, particularly on the planet's surface. It's obvious they'll betray the crew of Voyager, but it's not obvious how or when, and I thought the whole thing was handled well.

This helps, because they weren't wrong behind the scenes: the Kazon come across as Cave Klingons to me. Lower tech, fewer rituals, but the same basic notion and overly similar makeup. This didn't really differentiate them enough IMO, but it was a step in the right direction, and I enjoyed that side of the episode pretty well.

I am amused by the background info about Grodénchik, too. I used to do that with my girlfriend in college - she wouldn't know how to start a paper, so I'd write a few paragraphs. She'd go 'that's wrong!' and rewrite them, then finish. So that got a laugh.

* Neelix did okay.

I was also !!! about Neelix being given more of a role and being let on the bridge, but then he did his thing and I was stuck thinking that it made a lot more sense for him to be their cultural ambassador than it did for him to be their morale officer and cook.

Agreed, especially since Voyager wasn't packing any first contact experts. (I mean, this is super clear based on literally everything that happened in S1.) Plus, this is exactly how Neelix sold himself to Janeway when he first wanted to come aboard - he didn't offer to cook, he offered to act as a local guide. I prefer when the show remembers its own premise.

Overall, I felt like this was a muddled episode that would've actually been pretty good if they'd used a Starfleet officer, rather than a former Maquis. (Maybe Tuvok?)
posted by mordax at 1:23 PM on March 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


This is a weird episode for me since I liked it almost despite itself. In large part it's due to Beltran, who gets screwed over repeatedly by the writers, but always manages to do an impressive job anyway. He really has the best range of any of the actors, aside from Mulgrew, and is able to adapt to whatever nonsense the writers throw his way admirably. The ending of the episode is a nice one too, with a good kick to it, though, like the rest of the episode, would have been even better had they thought the whole thing through more from the start.

I never really read the Kazon as a street gang analog, which is good for the show since that idea is awful. For the analogy to make sense, this area of space should be, in theory, controlled by something like the Federation, some strong single power that the Kazon have worked around to claim territories in defiance of that order. There would be areas then that are, in practice, largely "outside the law" where the Kazon operate and the central authority mostly avoids since the beings there are beneath their concern and are better off killing each other than getting brought in to the central government. That the Kazon are a single race is a bit ugly as that makes the analogy all people of X race are gang bangers. The Kazon should have been a mix of local races, dominated perhaps by one group that faces particular scorn from the authorities. They should have been, in other words, an analog of the Maquis and the Federation, something that would have made this encounter between Chakotay and Kar more meaningful.

My biggest problem with the episode, and it's one that comes up fairly often since TOS and Klingons, is the declamatory style of speaking these aliens have, which distances then from the Voyager crew and makes their interests seem more foreign. Eisenberg is particularly over the top in this, though I suspect it's as much a director and show choice as it is his, so I don't blame him as he's otherwise solid. How much more effective it would have been to have him speak in a more casual, unmannered way to Chakotay, like just another young man, some slang and attitude, sure, but more personable or like someone anyone might know.

Missing the opportunity to really hone in a little more on Chakotay's Maquis vs Federation values was unfortunate. It wouldn't have taken many changes to really do so much more with that. For example, after Chakotay gives his little speech about how a Starfleet uniform is like a Kazon name, having Kar ask what he did to earn it should have been met with Chakotay admitting some of the complexity over his not really earning the one he's wearing despite having earned it in the past due to differing allegiances. He's a character who should be caught between these values, where he joined the Maquis not because he disdained Starfleet and its values in the abstract, but because he felt he had to act against a larger real injustice that Starfleet values couldn't entirely encompass. That sort of realization could have tied a more sensitive understanding of street gangs to the Federation and the Maquis in a way that admits the complexity without necessarily accepting the actions of the Kazon. That could have given Kar's choice at the end a bigger punch to Chakotay's own perspective and his relationships with Kar and the other Maquis.

So to could the dialogue have been a little more on point in that regard if it was looser and Chakotay's past actions thought about more clearly. Having him not attack the Kazon ship when he was the guy who singlehandedly destroyed another Kazon ship in the Caretaker episode clearly makes no sense from continuity or who Chakotay is and, at the least it should be noted as a conscious choice to act differently now. I don't want to go into rewriting the show again, but the mind reels at the missed chances for added impact here, and it wouldn't have even meant treating the episode as anything but a stand alone one since they could have added so much just by inference.

Still, as I said, despite all that I still did enjoy the episode. Eisenberg did a fine job, even with that unfortunate speaking style, and the other Kazon were good as well. The moments of interpersonal interaction were pretty well handled on the Kazon ship and on their moon base training grounds. Neelix had some good moments, though a couple more irksome ones as well where he overplays his utility, better to just show it and not have him get into that irritiatingly helpful mode they like to put him in since its never all that amusing and is often downright cringe worthy and makes Janeway and the others look foolish in accepting. Tone that down a bit overall, though keeping it for Tuvok is fine, that way it can seem somewhere between innocent and more purposeful trolling of the poor Vulcan. Neelix as more subtle antagonist and cultural liaison is the way to go here.

The last two episodes continue to show the nightmare that is Trek security. I mean Kirk always had to do the away crew thing, I get it, he's Kirk and no one was gonna tell that guy to just stay in his captain's chair, but Janeway leading the away crew knowing there are hostile Kazon about and taking Tuvok along with her leaving Paris in charge? How is that a reasonable idea? What is it exactly all these other crew members on Voyager do that sending a large security led force of them wouldn't be more sensible? I mean, yeah, budget, I get it, but they don't actually have to show 40 people on the planet, just say they are there and have Tuvok lead the main group that locates Chakotay and report back to Voyager. Send Paris or Harry if you need more speaking roles involved.

I guess it could be that Janeway doesn't entirely trust Tuvok's decision making in security issues, I mean he was the guy who when hearing Janeway was being held at gunpoint and noting alien presence nearby led his security force to rescue them down a path without cover in such a tight little cluster that one explosive device could have taken them all out and walked into yet another ambush. Maybe Tuvok and Harry should switch jobs. It seems like Tuvok is always giving ops and science info anyway, so maybe that's where his heart is, and Harry's always worried about everything, so give him security and his worry can be put to better use. Chief of Security can never be too cautious after all.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:36 AM on March 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


I never really read the Kazon as a street gang analog, which is good for the show since that idea is awful. For the analogy to make sense, this area of space should be, in theory, controlled by something like the Federation, some strong single power that the Kazon have worked around to claim territories in defiance of that order.

There was such a power, IIRC: the Trabe, who won't be introduced for a little while yet. But when I saw it last, I felt like that episode was some fairly effective payoff of the whole street-gang concept. I imagine my interpretation may shift one way or another this time.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:03 AM on March 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


Right, I'd almost forgotten about that episode. For me, the problem there was that the idea wasn't established earlier, so it, again, didn't resonate like it should have. But we'll see when we get there, maybe my feelings on that episode too will have changed. I've revised my thoughts on the show some already, so I won't count anything out yet and will try to keep an open mind.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:30 AM on March 3, 2017


In large part it's due to Beltran, who gets screwed over repeatedly by the writers, but always manages to do an impressive job anyway. He really has the best range of any of the actors, aside from Mulgrew, and is able to adapt to whatever nonsense the writers throw his way admirably.

This is very, very true. I continue to feel bad for Beltran, who really is good at his craft, and deserved a whole lot better than this.

I never really read the Kazon as a street gang analog, which is good for the show since that idea is awful.

I actually disagree. Well, sort of. I never read the Kazon as street gangs either, but I thought they were all factions led by competing warlords in a failed state, and the dynamics of a situation like that are pretty similar: you get lots of young men with weapons running around for really small and tenuous gains, with a lot of emphasis on pride. I feel like the writer did his homework pretty well in this case, which is a rarity for Voyager so far.
posted by mordax at 10:03 AM on March 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


You and Cheeses may be on to something I just missed the first time around because the of not seeing the initial meetings with the Kazon as fitting the gang analogy, I might have also missed how it comes together later in the Trabe episode, which I've been thinking about since Cheeses' post. I'm sort of torn at the moment between seeing that later episode as tying things together and feeling it still wasn't set up properly to bring the hoped for analogy to light well enough. If I hadn't been reading about what the writers intended, then I'm not sure I still would have connected the Kazon to gangs, which could be my own fault for not being attentive enough too. I'll try to keep an open mind about it since that Trabe episode will surely come off differently with this in mind.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:39 AM on March 3, 2017


I'm sort of torn at the moment between seeing that later episode as tying things together and feeling it still wasn't set up properly to bring the hoped for analogy to light well enough.

This is completely fair. For instance, we're a whole *season* in, and this is the first time they even mentioned the Trabe, unless I spaced on it before.
posted by mordax at 12:29 PM on March 3, 2017


This is completely fair. For instance, we're a whole *season* in, and this is the first time they even mentioned the Trabe, unless I spaced on it before.

I'm pretty sure this is the first mention; it's also the the earliest episode cited on the Trabe entry on Memory Alpha, for whatever that's worth.
posted by cjelli at 1:46 PM on March 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


Finally catching up on Voyager:

I liked Beltran's and Eisenberg's performances in this, but Chakotay's actions don't make much sense (for the reasons people have already articulated); I don't think this has been mentioned, but Chakotay proposing to have himself be killed in order for Kar to fit back in with his people is, simply, bizarre. That it comes with a 'NO TIME TO EXPLAIN' call to Tom Paris -- in which he absolutely had time to squeeze in 'I'm about to be shot, prepare a trauma team to beam me out, this is for a good reason don't beam me out until I'm shot okay bye' but didn't -- is also aggravating. Credit to the writers for not ending the episode with that actually happening, but, still: bizarre in-character for Chakotay, and bizarre for this episode's Chakotay (who wasn't written very in-character -- suddenly the guy who a few episodes ago was punching people in the face, unprovoked, as a means to deliver a message declines to use weapons while being shot at?).

Eisenberg's Kar is the only reason this story holds together at all, and while he's very well cast, I, personally, can't see past him as Nog, largely because he's playing another young character struggling over how he fits into his society.

I was happy to see them giving Neelix a bit more to do, but his moment to shine -- in the bridge discussion with the Kazon -- felt like everything that was wrong with the Kazon, generally: they keep being written not only as lower-technology but also as somewhat actively dumb. They get outfoxed by Neelix; and, when the Kazon initially hail Voyager, they do the ages-old 'oh I bet you're REALLY here for your MISSING CREWMEMBER' bit -- 'and how would you know we're missing a crewmember?' And jumping back from the end of the episode to the beginning, if killing anybody, in any way, is enough to get a name -- why send Kar out on a ship by himself? Why not have him man the gunnery station on a bigger ship?

A substantial part of this episode felt like it was arranged just to keep the plot moving -- Chakotay has to be on his own in order to get captured; Kar has to be on his own for them to have some person-to-person moments; the Kazon have to be dumb to let the Voyager crew know what's happening; Janeway has to beam down personally for...why, exactly?; and so on. The central Kar-Chakotay conflict feels natural enough, but nothing else does.

It's enjoyable enough as a character piece, mostly for Kar, but it doesn't feel like we learned much about Chakotay in it, despite him being half the story.
posted by cjelli at 10:40 AM on April 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


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