Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"The Fight"


Air date: 3/24/1999
Teleplay by Joe Menosky
Story by Michael Taylor
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"It's hard to follow them. They go to strange places." — Chakotay's grandfather, perfectly describing this story

Nutshell: Weird and atmospheric, but what does it all mean?

The lights are on, but who's at home? I'm trying to figure out if this episode is really worth any more than the value of its strangeness. When it comes to execution, this is an episode that pushes the envelope. Just where does that envelope get pushed? I dunno—out there, somewhere. Very, very far out.

Voyager, alas, seems to be in a bit of a rut. I hope it gets out soon, because season five has been pretty solid until recently. "The Fight" is not an awful show, and it certainly won't be remembered as an episode that didn't try. But the episode, for all its enthusiasm for being different, left me very unsatisfied. It's a mess. The producers and director put so much energy into a show that's so unfocused. Clearly, if they'd put that kind of energy into a show that made sense, they'd have something here. But one thing is certain: I'm not on the same page as writers Menosky and Taylor, and I don't think it's for lack of trying.

Despite the routine tech stuff, I can actually swallow the basics of the plot. Chakotay is having a very weird day, but, then again, so is the entire Voyager crew. This is the sort of day that would warrant Janeway saying, once again, "Weird is part of the job."

Voyager ends up stuck (in an idea a bit too similar to the "subspace sandbar" in "Bride of Chaotica!"), this time in something known as "chaotic space," where the rules of physics simply do not apply. If the crew can't figure out how to escape very soon, Voyager will be destroyed (cue music of doom). About this time, Chakotay starts hallucinating. It turns out that a hereditary mental defect he has is being stimulated by aliens who live in chaotic space. They're inducing the hallucinations in an effort to communicate with him. Subsequently, Chakotay goes on a vision quest to figure out what these hallucinations mean.

It's this vision quest that gives me the most trouble in "The Fight." The episode is consumed with stylistics and atmosphere—which in itself is fine. But I was amazed at how ineffective this vision quest was in terms of revealing something intriguing about the situation or Chakotay's character. I'm sure there are people out there who will try to analyze every last detail in search of some sort of symbolism. Me—I don't buy a lot of it. The writers' intent here is simply not interesting enough to warrant so much supposed "symbolism." This is an episode in need of a psychologist. I'm not a psychologist; I'm a reviewer.

Of course, that's not to say I won't try. In the final analysis, what "The Fight" really comes down to is Chakotay's reluctant need to keep "fighting"—overcoming his fear in order to communicate with this alien presence. And no one said that everything has to be laid out for the viewer in concrete, absolute terms. The boxing metaphor is reasonable enough; the idea of Chakotay taking blows as the aliens talk to him has a pretty clear psychological intent.

But what about the rest of this mess? Chakotay's vision quest not only has boxing, but also Boothby. Why did this episode need Boothby? Apparently to give Ray Walston another Voyager appearance. And also to expand the character into something he's not—namely Burgess Meredith. (I liked it better when Boothby was framed in his groundskeeper role and a mentor to mainly Picard; now the door is open to stick him in any episode or holodeck setting that has to do with the old academy days, where apparently everyone in Starfleet knew him. Bah.)

Then there's Chakotay's grandfather (Ned Romero), the "crazy old man" whom the episode views as some sort of symbol of tradition that Chakotay struggles with.

And there's all the murky dialog with other characters in Chakotay's vision, where style, not substance, is the point.

Each of these elements in itself is okay, but the episode throws them all together in an over-baked stew that makes surprisingly little sense. It's excessive, and the story suffers as a result. I got the feeling that the creators were trying too hard to accomplish a goal that wasn't even remotely certain.

When Sisko has visions on DS9, I get the feeling it means something, because such visions usually grow out of some significant story point or character history; it's a part of the character. That's perhaps the big problem with Chakotay having visions here: They don't reveal much about the character that we can really understand. Okay, so he knew Boothby back at the academy, and he was a boxer in his free time, and he has different opinions than his grandfather. None of this comes to fruition by the end of the episode, so I'm forced to ask: So what? Like with all too many Voyager concepts, these elements serve the needs of the tech plot first, and the character a distant second.

Coherence is a lost virtue. One needs to look no further than the opening minutes for a prime example: Why does the story begin as a flashback? There's no dramatic basis for it, no reason not to simply start the story in a normal, chronological manner. Unless the writers were trying to confuse us with weirdness (which given the rest of this episode is a distinct possibility), I'm not understanding at all the reason behind the flashback structure (or lack thereof).

What remains is execution. Winrich Kolbe is one of my favorite Trek directors, and he demonstrates here that he has a knack for the utterly weird. Unfortunately, he demonstrates this to a fault, pushing way too hard at times. In "Infinite Regress" earlier this season, David Livingston went pretty far into chaos in that show's final act, but he used technique in a way that still told the story. In "The Fight," Kolbe simply doesn't have enough story behind him, and it seems to me that he overcompensated as a result. Some of this is neither understandable nor relevant. Doc's role in Chakotay's vision is particularly hammy and strange without having much of a point.

The other problem is that the "chaos" feels a bit too staged. I was convinced in "Infinite Regress" that Seven was overburdened by voices, but here I was convinced I was watching actors trying to project urgency. Beltran and Picardo have several scenes together where they're yelling in terse phrases that are supposed to be frighteningly important and urgent, but it comes off too much as "acting." I appreciate seeing Beltran in a little bit less of a wooden role, but he never really convinced me that he was Chakotay on the verge of going nuts.

I'll give "The Fight" points for atmosphere and ambition, but I have serious problems with the story's lack of sensibility and tendency to resort to wretched excess. It's an episode like this that reveals Voyager's biggest weaknesses—a series that tends to get caught up in mechanical sci-fi concepts that lack the human interest they need to be compelling.

All in all, this is mediocre Voyager. I was somewhat entertained by the visual ambition of "The Fight," but the underlying story simply did not engage me. At the end, we've faced and escaped another anomaly and logged another day at the office. Chakotay goes back into the holodeck to fight a few rounds. Nothing really wrong with that, but nothing interesting about it either.

Next week: SERENITY NOW!!! (Jason Alexander is an alien that appears to be a lot more serene than George Costanza on his best days.)

Previous episode: Course: Oblivion
Next episode: Think Tank

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25 comments on this review

mlk - Sat, Jan 19, 2008 - 9:21pm (USA Central)
It's an old cliched thing to say but what were they smoking?!?
trlkly - Wed, Jan 7, 2009 - 4:49am (USA Central)
How the heck did yo not get that Chakotay was afraid of going crazy like his grandfather? That that was the whole problem? They spelled it out in the dialog, for goodness sake.

I am thinking that you spent too long trying to figuring out the weirdness of this episode, instead of making sense of what was literally there.
John Pate - Mon, Jan 19, 2009 - 4:33pm (USA Central)
I liked this episode a lot. Good use of character, good SF premise about the difficulties of communication with a truly alien life-form. Losing your grip on reality is really terrifying, for sure. I think it was carried off pretty well considering what they were trying to visualize.
Andersonh1 - Fri, Jan 23, 2009 - 10:40pm (USA Central)
I agree. I enjoyed the episode for its focus on Chakotay, and the aliens who were just to different to communicate in the normal fashion. Nice concept, interesting execution.
EP - Tue, Mar 3, 2009 - 2:25am (USA Central)
At least the writers gave us a Chakotay story.

Although, the inclusion of Boothby seemed like such a waste. Given all the mentoring he did, when did this guy actually tend to the gardens?
kerry - Tue, May 12, 2009 - 11:33pm (USA Central)
I liked this episode a lot. It really gave a good sense of disorientation. SO many aliens in voyager are just like humans from down the block that this was really different. Its a reminder that there are life forms so strange out there that we can't even communicate with them in a normal way.

This episode broke new ground for voyager.
Markus - Wed, Aug 12, 2009 - 12:49am (USA Central)
At first time watching it ten years ago I couldn't make much out of it. But I enjoyed it this time and the atmosphere is quite nice. I always love it when they stay on board. They should have made more use of this ship as a stage.
Michael - Fri, Jul 2, 2010 - 12:56pm (USA Central)
Acoushla Moya: "Computer, did you say something?"
Computer: "Negative."

A good, interesting, different episode, at least as far as the concept. The execution was execrable.

More annoying, improbable, lazy 20th-century recreations.

More of Acoushla Moya's buffalo spirits mystic bull (fast forward!), after quite a few episodes' merciful respite from it. Are people really gonna be that dumb four centuries hence as to still cling on to ancient deities and religious hokery-pokery? I despair.

Interesting, however, how all this New Age-y meditative crap is featured prominently among quite a few species but you (thankfully!) see no Muslim with their ass in the air, or a Xian doing the "Jesus loves you" schtick, or a Jew wearing a kipah... - even a Buddhist banging on some gongs.
Elliott - Sat, Aug 28, 2010 - 1:23am (USA Central)
Except for the better acting (haha) this episode was straight DS9--so I'm shocked you didn't love it.
Procyon - Wed, Sep 8, 2010 - 6:27pm (USA Central)
I can't understand what anyone could possibly see in this episode. Isn't it possible to convey difference in a slightly less stochastic manner?

Contact with the wormhole aliens in DS9 was done so much better than this.
navamske - Wed, Oct 13, 2010 - 7:17pm (USA Central)
It would be a lot easier to take the concept of "chaotic space" seriously if they hadn't done that stupid "Bride of Chaotica!" thing, and only a few episodes back. Couldn't they have called it something else, like maybe "Weird-ass Space"?

It was nice to have a Chuckles-centric story, but his interest in boxing seems somewhat at variance with his purported "peaceful" personality.

I didn't care much for the story, but I was impressed with the direction, particularly in the scenes in which they used snippets of characters' previously spoken dialogue to construct what the Weird-ass Space aliens were trying to communicate.

The least believable aspect of the episode was the idea that anyone could be in a boxing ring with Neelix and not use the opportunity to show him the consequences of being the most annoying character in any incarnation of Star Trek.
Tijn - Fri, Dec 10, 2010 - 11:36pm (USA Central)
About the boxing scene:

I thought Terellians had four arms?

It says so at Memory Alpha so it must be true...
Cloudane - Fri, Dec 17, 2010 - 6:23pm (USA Central)
Ow! He hit me! (closing scene)

Voyager Enters the Twilight Zone
Voyager Attempts to do The Prophets (badly)
Take your pick.

I don't know. I don't get it. Weird episode. EPIC technobabble to get them out of it.
Chaotic space? The laws of physics in a state of flux? (LOL!!) This isn't Sci-Fi; it's Fantasy. Poor quality Fantasy.

If you didn't get it already I didn't like it much. The episode wasn't terrible per se, it was just too weird to take seriously. Like the episode before it, it tried to do something different (people have differing opinions on "Oblivion".. I sort of liked it) but this time it just had this feeling of being a fish wayyyy out of water.

As an aside, I share the concern about Boothby.* He's a groundskeeper not a boxing coach and I don't see where he fit in this episode. This guy is special and when he's not used for special moments it ruins his special-ness. I hope as I watch the series that he doesn't end up Voyager's version of Vic Fontaine (who I got sick to the back teeth of the sight of)

At least it gave Chakotay something to do for the first time in 2 years.

* I know I'm talking a lot like it's still running. Bad habit from watching it as if it is, right down to watching it in parallel with DS9 S7. I can wish things still can't I? :)
Elliott - Sat, Apr 16, 2011 - 4:21am (USA Central)
Let's see, again we take established character traits and let them blossom amidst a well painted background of technically unimportant plotting, making the character work all the more focused. This is Chakotay's turn and it's pretty good. Not great (not Counterpoint or Gravity) but not as mediocre as The Disease. This season is like listening to the slow movement of a symphony; each instrument states its version of the theme in its particular way while the orchestra swells behind.

As for the talking heads bit that reminds one of the Prophets--this is actually a lot more interesting--each of the lines is an actual piece of dialogue from the episode, a memory of Chakotay's worked into a stream of consciousness. Very cool.

2.5 stars
Elliott - Fri, May 6, 2011 - 3:39am (USA Central)
Jammer, in regards to your comparison with Sisko, I found the exact opposite to be true :

DS9 hid behind false character moments (like Sisko's relation to the people in his past/future) as a means to disguise the visions' true purpose, that being to drive a plot which profiteered on backstory and propound a subversive philosophy.
Justin - Sun, May 6, 2012 - 9:07am (USA Central)
Another missed opportunity for Voyager. The idea of alien contact driving someone to the brink of madness is a terrific concept. The missed opportunity was in failing to provide relevant social commentary on people with mental disorders and how society perceives them.
Rob - Thu, May 24, 2012 - 1:24pm (USA Central)
I quit watching VOY somewhere in season 4 and have been getting caught up on everything I missed. So far, I have been really impressed with the high quality of season 5, but "The Fight" left me pretty cold. I didn't think this was a *horrible* episode by any means, and I agree that visually it's an intersting show, but something's missing here. I'm always glad to see Chakotay in a more prominent role, but this felt like a wasted opportunity somehow. Loved how the aliens were portrayed as totally bizarre and out of the human experience, but this one just left more wanting more somehow. More character insight into Chakotay, more on the aliens. Like I was saying, not a dreadful episode, just not nearly as good as it could have been. So far, this is my least favorite episode of the season.
Nic - Wed, Sep 19, 2012 - 1:15pm (USA Central)
Watching the episodes in production order makes the similarity to "Bride of Chaotica!" (filmed immediately before this one) even more distracting. Two episodes where the focus should have been on the characters and the visuals but instead spent too much time technobabbling to get us there. I think the actors and director did their best with the material, but when Joe Menosky himself says he gets confused watching the episode, you may as well give up trying to understand it. Still, I surprisingly don't hate it as much now as I did on first viewing.
milica - Sat, Oct 27, 2012 - 4:00pm (USA Central)
This was a great episode, great characterisation, splendid description of the fear of going crazy. I enjoyed this, it was deep.
Jo Jo Meastro - Wed, Jun 19, 2013 - 7:11am (USA Central)
For a episode that was designed for offering something different, it was suprisingly extremely dull and un-effective. Chakotays' character seems as much of a dead end as Harrys and I can't help but feel sorry for both actors, if I was them I'd demand the writers either kill my character off or at least give fairer treatment!

Chakotays' random sudden intrest in boxing felt lame and a lazy device soley to benefit the bad plot. It's episodes like this that really kill any enthusiasm I have for Voyager, thanks for that writing staff! The only marginally cool moment in the whole show was the way the aliens finally communicated but by that point I was nearly put to asleep!

A half star for the worst episode since Demon...
azcats - Wed, Aug 7, 2013 - 11:25am (USA Central)
I agree with JoJo. this was totally boring. I cant stand "vision" episodes of Star Trek. most of them bore me. I watch ST for time paradox, mysteries, wormholes and other cool phenomena. but they could have done a lot more with the chaotic space.

when the doctor and janeway dont understand the technobabble, then how are we supposed to understand it?

i couldnt wait until this episode was over. one of the few in the entire series. Demon was much better.

1/2 star
Tom - Sat, Aug 31, 2013 - 4:56pm (USA Central)
This is definitely at least a 3 star episode Jammer. Did you watch the same show?
Corvidean - Tue, Jan 14, 2014 - 10:23pm (USA Central)
I spent the entire episode wondering why they'd given Chakotay the same transvestite haircut as Low Rimmer...

Not a big fan of the episode, partly due to the feeling that it was a Darmok knock-off, and partly since the whole mysticism thing got really old seasons earlier.
Ric - Wed, Apr 23, 2014 - 1:48am (USA Central)
Yeah, this one was sort of character dev.... Zzzzz.... just a shame that it had such magic-babble visions tha... Zzzzz.... chaotic space, chaotic episode, loosing my min... Zzzzzzz
Moegreen - Fri, Nov 28, 2014 - 11:25am (USA Central)

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