Mar 23, 2008
Star Trek: Voyager “The Fight” (part 2 of 5)
The scene shifts to a holodeck recreation of a dingy boxing gym. The gym is clearly modeled after a gym from 20th century Earth, of course. All I can say is that I am truly humbled, knowing that I live in the era that everyone will want to go back to in a few hundred years. I mean, sheesh!
Chakotay makes it clear in some dialogue later on that boxing as a sport has survived into his era. He even talks about a famous bout—”The Knockout in the Neutral Zone”—that he attended. A twenty-three round fight, no less. So, if boxing has survived into the 24th Century, why do their boxing gyms look like they’re right out of Rocky?
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The camera pans around the drab gym, eventually settling on the ring itself. Chakotay is in the ring, sparring with an alien who’s humanoid (of course) and has typical Trek universe facial bumps, plus a few stringy blonde dreadlocks dangling from his head.
They dance around for a while, neither connecting with the other, until the bell rings. Majel Barrett chimes in as the computer’s voice, letting us know that round three has ended. I wonder if Majel had a “so-many-words-per-episode” contract or something? Why should the end-of-round announcer be the ship’s computer? Couldn’t Chakotay put another character into his boxing simulation? Why am I asking so many questions? And who are the Overlords of the UFO?
Before continuing with the recap, I’d like to stake claim to a new term in the Bad Movie Lexicon: Goose’s Law, which states that actors with more, shall we say, normal physiques than the standard Hollywood himbo are allowed to leave their shirts on during sporting activities that are usually played shirtless. This law is named for the famous volleyball scene in Top Gun, where Maverick, Iceman, and Slider get all shirtless and oily—down, boy!—but Goose is (mercifully) allowed to keep his shirt on.
Likewise, in this scene, Chakotay has a T-shirt on, because Robert Beltran didn’t have the physique of a boxer. I’m not casting stones here, by the way. But this is Chakotay’s holodeck simulation, right? So who’s he being modest for, anyway?
The alien also has a wife-beater on, probably so that the makeup department didn’t have to start adding and/or removing nipples from Carlos Palomino, the actor playing the role. Carlos, by the way, is actually a boxer of some note: one time welterweight champion of the world, and member of the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
So, end round three, and Chakotay goes over to his corner to confer with his trainer. His trainer is a holographic recreation of Boothby, a recurring character played by Ray Walston. Boothby is the groundskeeper at Starfleet Academy, which we learned in prior episodes, like the season five episode “In The Flesh”, as well as the TNG episode “The First Duty”. Readers of a certain age might also recognize Walston as Uncle Martin from My Favorite Martian. Apropos of the gym’s decor, Ray is doing a bit of channeling himself in this episode, calling on the spirit of Burgess Meredith from the aforementioned Rocky.
Boothby chews Chakotay out for not letting his opponent hit him. Chakotay has the same reaction I did: “Have I got this sport all wrong?” Boothby holds firm, saying that Chakotay shouldn’t be dancing away from the alien. He should let the guy tire himself out by landing punches. This is an interesting tactic, to say the least. Wasn’t this the exact same strategy Homer Simpson used when he became a professional boxer?
I recall from TNG that Boothby was mowing the grass at the Academy even when Picard was there. Although he didn’t think much of Boothby at first, Picard grew to admire the guy. And when Wesley Crusher was preparing to head off to the Academy, Picard told him to seek out Boothby for counsel. Using true Holmes-like deduction, we must conclude from the current scene that Jean-Luc Picard A) has a hidden sadistic streak, and B) shares most everyone’s dislike of Wesley Crusher. “Wesley, you should listen to Boothby. Ask him to teach you about boxing…”
Round four starts—thanks, Majel! Chakotay and the alien tap gloves at the center of the ring. Then Chakotay puts Boothby’s strategy into action. The alien immediately lands two jabs right on Chakotay’s nose. But I’ve got to admit, moronic trainer notwithstanding, Beltran doesn’t embarrass himself in the boxing scenes here. He moves and punches well enough to make you believe he really did train at the Academy.
But before things get too ugly, something very weird happens to the air around the holographic alien. Some sort of strange effect radiates outward from him. I don’t know what the filter would be in Photoshop, but to me it looks like the air is transforming into crumpled tinfoil, or glass shards.
This weirds Chakotay out. Everything goes tilty and handheld to represent Chakotay’s confused state of mind. He stares at the effect while Boothby, now in slow motion for some reason, yells at him to get his hands up. Hey, why change tactics now? Chakotay follows his advice, and this has exactly the result you would imagine.
Chakotay goes to the mat hard, also in loving slow motion. When he wakes up, he’s in Sickbay with a nasty cut on his forehead. The Doctor is there, pulling the old “how many fingers” routine. By the way, this scene of the Doctor and Chakotay in Sickbay is still in the flashback, as opposed to the other scene of the Doctor and Chakotay in Sickbay that led off the episode. Confused yet? I hope not, because it’s about to get way worse.
So, twenty-some years after the holodeck was first introduced, I guess I finally understand the in-universe explanation for it: it’s pretty much like a DVD player in your minivan, right? A way of keeping the folks on the ship from going stir crazy, and also a terrific way to do realistic training. The holodeck is certainly a scriptwriter’s friend: What a great (not to mention easy) way to show your beloved characters in different environments that they’d have no chance of encountering in outer space, right?
What I don’t get, however, is why you’d want an entertainment system that can beat the bat snot out of your crew. Especially in a boxing simulation that not only features a trainer who tells you to lead with your chin, but also an opponent more than willing to put your ass on the canvas. It doesn’t seem like a good recipe for the long-term mental acuity of your bridge officers.
Unless, of course, Chatokay’s injuries are the result of a holodeck malfunction. Which, as we all know, never, ever, ever happens in the Trek universe.
But I guess not, because nobody ever acts as if anything is unusual about the holodeck boxer knocking Chakotay out. The Doctor will disapprove of boxing, as doctors tend to do, but it’s not because he thinks the holodeck is malfunctioning.
While closing Chakotay’s cut with his blinky-light-wand-thingie, the Doctor sarcastically dubs him “The Maquis Mauler”, a reference to his former membership in a group of Federation rebels. And this name just may be used again later in the episode.
Chakotay tells the Doctor about the tinfoil distortion he saw in the ring before he got KO’d. The Doctor does a quick scan and finds that a number of the ganglia in Chakotay’s visual cortex are “hyperactive”. The Doctor deadpans, “Your opponent wasn’t firing on you with an energy weapon, was he?” For some reason, this prompts Chakotay to shake his fist in the Doctor’s face. Okay, sort of a hostile work environment they have here on Voyager.
Before we can learn more about Chakotay’s ADHD tissue masses, the ship lurches, and Janeway summons Chakotay to the bridge.
It’s time to finally reveal the emergency-o-the-week! Amidst more lurches, we find out that Voyager has encountered some sort of phenomenon that keeps moving to block their path. Nobody knows what it is; it doesn’t match anything in their databases. It is big, however: two light years across. Voyager is, according to Ensign Kim, 11,000 kilometers from the phenomenon. And the big problem here is that the entire phenomenon is visible on Voyager’s bridge viewscreen. From 11,000 km away. And it’s supposed to be two light years across.
Two light years is roughly 19 trillion km.
I’ll only briefly mention the idiocy of watching something that big as it moves in real time. Assuming Voyager was aligned with the center of the phenomenon, the visible light from each end would take a year to even get to Voyager. Even dumber, what kind of mega-fish-eye optics do they have on that viewscreen? The geometry they describe here is like putting your nose on the ground, and still being able to see the whole landscape from horizon to horizon.
Tuvok opines that they’re too close to the phenomenon, and Paris begins to back them away from it. Any guesses as to how successful this tactic will be?
If you said, “not at all”, give yourself a gold star! The phenomenon moves toward Voyager and engulfs the ship. This scene is shown from outside of the ship, and those that noted the whole “two light years across” thing a minute ago might also notice that the entire phenomenon, as shown, is not that much bigger than Voyager itself. I had no idea Voyager was so flipping huge! (Although, I did have some inkling from the opening credits that it’s roughly the size of a planet.)
Dang it, writers! This whole mess could have been avoided if you had taken four words—”two light years across”—out of the script! It really wouldn’t have changed anything else about the story.
Everybody on the bridge freaks out a bit. The sensors on the ship are confused—just like me! Seven of Nine calls up from Astrometrics. Before you know it, Janeway, Chakotay, and Tuvok have joined Seven there for a heaping helping of exposition.
Seven, resplendent in her blue catsuit, explains that the Borg have known about phenomena like this for years. They’re areas of “chaotic space”, places where the laws of physics are in a constant state of flux. Areas of chaotic space come and go at random, she explains, which is why Voyager didn’t detect this one until too late. Or maybe Paris and Kim were slacking off on the holodeck again, when they were supposed to be doing sensor sweeps. Who knows?
Seven further explains that chaotic space plays havoc with the sensors, so the crew won’t know which way to go to get out. Borg ships have encountered these areas, but only one ever escaped. Chakotay hypothesizes that Federation ships may have run into spots of chaotic space before, but never made it out. Yep, it’s a 24th century analogue to the Bermuda Triangle. So, as you may have noticed, the odds aren’t looking in Voyager’s favor this week. It’s well-nigh hopeless for them at this point, isn’t it?
Worse yet, according to Seven, the gravitational coefficient is changing, which will create shear forces on the hull of the ship. The shields will hold for a while, but Seven doesn’t know how long they’ll last. Me, I’m guessing they won’t start to really fail until the last five minutes of the episode.
The scene shifts to Chakotay’s quarters. He’s sitting at a table, futzing around with a computer terminal. As he works, he hears the faint sound of the holodeck boxing simulation’s bell. It chimes again, and this time Majel joins in with “begin round one”. After asking the computer if it just said something—what, does it play practical jokes on crew members?—Chakotay notices a pair of boxing gloves on a chair.
Serious background music plays, letting us know that this is more than just Chakotay’s roommate leaving his crap lying around. As he approaches the gloves, the sounds in his head get louder and more distinct, until he finally hears Boothby, the bell, and Majel again. His acid trip—this being the first of many hallucinations within a flashback—is cut short by Tuvok’s voice, calling him to the bridge. As he’s leaving, Chakotay looks back to the chair, and the gloves are gone. Chakotay is a wee bit baffled, but he heads for the bridge anyway.
Once there, he finds the standard contingent of senior crewmembers: Tuvok, Paris, Kim, etc. Don’t these guys ever sleep? Everyone’s at a loss for what to do. The shear forces are increasing, but they’re having no luck finding a way out. Paris, after his usual dose of griping and complaining about his lot in life, suggests dropping a series of beacons, much like bread crumbs.
But this scene really exists to show Chakotay having another mild acid trip. When the focus is on him, the camera once again lolls sickly back and forth at an angle, and the boxing simulation is heard again; When the camera is on other characters, everything is normal. Chakotay wonders why everyone else can’t hear the voices in his head. That’s usually the way “voices in your head” work, I think. Suddenly, he sees the boxing gloves again, and this time they’re on top of Kim’s console.
Chakotay moves to Kim’s station and touches the gloves, but no one else can see them. Tuvok goes to Chakotay’s aid, but Chakotay takes a couple of swings at him. Tuvok dodges these easily, and slaps the good old Vulcan Nerve Pinch on Chakotay.
After the commercial break, the scene shifts to Sickbay, where the Doctor is… well, he’s singing opera to Chakotay. Janeway enters, and the Doctor explains that he’s checking for damage to Chakotay’s auditory nerves. I guess the tricorder he was using before was just for show, and the only way to really test someone’s hearing is by singing to them. No, this never becomes important. It’s just another “weird for the sake of weird” moment. Moving on.
The Doctor says that Chakotay’s vision checks out, so I guess all the worry about the hyperactive ganglia, etc. was for nothing. However, there is a deeper problem. Chakotay calls it his family curse, while the Doctor is a little more scientific about it: Chakotay carries the gene for a disease called “sensory tremens”. The symptoms are visual and auditory hallucinations. The gene was switched off by doctors while Chakotay was still in the womb, but it’s now been switched on again.
They speculate that the encounter with chaotic space might have something to do with the change. Seems to me that the hallucinations started before they were sucked into chaotic space, but whatever. The Doctor says Chakotay will have to be confined to Sickbay for the time being. Geez, you take one little swing at your Chief Security Officer, and suddenly you’re a menace to the ship.
Chakotay is worried that he’ll now go crazy, just like his grandfather did. The word “crazy”, by the way, is Chakotay’s, not mine. He actually calls his grandfather, quote: “Crazy old man.” Perhaps when the sensory tremens gene was turned on, his compassion gene got turned off.
He tells Janeway all about Crazy Grandpa, and this is a very spiritual conversation, which we know by the “Native American” pan flute music in the background. This music also serves to remind us that Chakotay is of vaguely Native American descent, in case we forgot, since the big tattoo on his face isn’t enough of a reminder. Chakotay explains that Crazy Grandpa’s “spirit was in pain”, but he wanted to “honor the wound”, blah blah blah, end scene.