Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Tsunkatse"

**1/2

Air date: 2/9/2000
Teleplay by Robert Doherty
Story by Gannon Kenney
Directed by Mike Vejar

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"If three billion people paid to see you hurt, imagine how many will pay to see you die." — Penk (delivered by the reliably amusing Jeffrey Combs villain persona)

Nutshell: Surprisingly tolerable. Nothing particularly interesting, but not a bad bubble-gum show. Just don't be prepared to think.

When you have an episode that comes billed by its trailers as "America's Smackdown Hero takes on Voyager's Battlestar Babe," let's just say that one doesn't exactly go in with the highest of expectations. I'll be honest: I was expecting this episode to be a cynical ratings-stunt disaster. (And besides, with this episode having aired the same week as Homicide: The Movie, how can I honestly say I cared about what Voyager was up to?)

All things considered, "Tsunkatse" is surprisingly okay. I'm hardly thrilled with it, but as an hour of lightweight entertainment, it fares reasonably and is not quite as dumb as the trailers make it look. It's average fare—a workable mix of lowbrow action-violence exploitation and middlebrow (if way-too-familiar) themes on violence.

Really, how many times has Trek done the Violence Is Bad episode? Plus, it seems to me this episode has an unconscious built-in conflict of interests. It presents to us as viewers the idea of arena fighting as a "fun" demonstration of athleticism before then presenting the same thing as "brutal" and "wrong" in story terms.

The plot. (What plot?) Let's see. Seven and Tuvok are captured while on a shore-leave shuttle expedition (yes, only these two would investigate a spatial anomaly while on shore leave). Tuvok is injured in an explosion and requires medical treatment. The captors, however, will only grant treatment if Seven agrees to participate in a brutal arena fighting sport called Tsunkatse. Prior to the kidnappings, we've already been introduced to Tsunkatse, which resembles a cross between kickboxing and pro wresting, and is seen being enjoyed by spectators including Chakotay and other members of the Voyager crew. The rules allege some sort of strategy involving hitting the electronic targets affixed to one's opponent, but the strategy mostly seems to be to beat the hell out of the other guy before he beats the hell out of you. The targets seem only vaguely relevant.

Tsunkatse as an organization is obviously supposed to parallel professional sports, and pro wrestling organizations like the WWF in particular. There are dialog nods to the marketing aspects—it's a huge revenue builder for several nearby planets—and the depiction of the event includes a lot of showboating, rock-concert-like stage lighting, and screaming spectators. Like the WWF, it's designed to play for an audience. The fights are broadcast from a holo-projection arena on board a ship that has no local crowd. For some reason I like the idea of a Trek-technology take on pay-per-view, but it seems sort of odd that since the actual fighters are in an empty arena they don't get that immediate audience feedback.

In any case, even if it weren't for UPN's cross-promotion with its popular WWF Smackdown! it would still be very obvious that one source behind the writers' depiction of Tsunkatse was wresting.

And, yes, the cast even includes real-life WWF star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who plays Seven's first opponent. But when considering the X-treme Promotion used to hype The Rock's appearance in this episode, it's perhaps interesting to note that he only has about two minutes of screen time. I never thought such a question would arise in this review, but will WWF fans feel short-changed? (Maybe less is more; I did, after all, get a chuckle out of The Rock playing to the audience with his WWF eyebrow-raise.)

The episode's real guest stars are none other than reliable DS9 alumni Jeffrey Combs and J.G. Hertzler. Combs plays Penk, the guy who runs this arena starship and arranges the fights. He "recruits" (read: captures) promising candidates to fight in his games so he can make big money off the broadcasts. And you thought UPN went to extremes to sell their material. (I found it amusingly fittingly cynical that the nearby planets tolerated and disavowed any knowledge of these kidnappings for the simple reason that they don't want to rock the boat. After all, a large percentage of their revenue depends on Tsunkatse profits.)

Part of "Tsunkatse" is fight action, giving us scenes like the one where Seven goes into the ring and gets her Borg butt kicked by The Rock. Not exactly material worth thinking about, but at least it's presented with some semblance of skill. The arena fight story isn't exactly my favorite Trek premise. I was none too fond of TOS's lackluster "Arena" and I hated the boring and cliche-ridden "Gamesters of Triskelion." I expected "Tsunkatse" would fall in a similar vein (it's original title, in fact, was "Arena" before someone realized the title had been used previously in Trek). But somehow the episode executes better and is more entertaining. It's not much more smart, but can you really expect smarts from something like this?

There are stunt scenes and punches and spin-kicks and body slams. Should Star Trek be the WWF? I vote no, but I also vote that Trek can borrow whatever it wants within reason if it can utilize said borrowed material effectively. "Tsunkatse" does not cross the line into the untenable; it borrows some of the sports-entertainment fun factor without selling out completely—just mostly.

It also features some very effective guest performances that elevate material that could've fallen flat in lesser hands. DS9 turned me into a Jeffrey Combs fan, and here Combs is amusing as Penk, who is a shallow villain, yes (see quote at top of review), but is very funny in his succinctness and smiles a friendly smile as he announces that, yes, Seven, you're going into a death match.

The other important character here is the Hirogen warrior played by Hertzler, who is Penk's number one fighter, a ring survivor for 19 years. Hertzler is a commanding presence as he teaches Seven in the ways of the Tsunkatse—never mind that the story of the fighter trainer/trainee is about the oldest thing about fight movies. And when Seven gets into the ring, the fact that it's her own trainer that she ends up facing in this death match is pretty much an anticipated aspect of the formula.

But the episode manages to survive on good pacing and good guest roles, and Jeri Ryan does well in a physical role, getting to play the badass (dare we go so far as saying the "battlestar babe"? Where did they come up with "battlestar" anyway?) while conveying enough hesitation regarding her character's dilemma to give this episode a legitimate (if tired) storyline. The question: Can she go through with actually killing her opponent, especially when it turns out to be her own trainer?

So will anyone actually die in the ring? Or will Voyager beam out both exploited contestants at the Last Possible Moment and make Seven's Big Decision unnecessary? Can we vote more than once?

The Voyager/Delta Flyer/alien ship battle scenes leading up to the beam-out strike me as unnecessary, but hey, it's sweeps month. Gotta blow stuff up.

We also get our dose of Trekkian Morality Dialog, which, frankly, feels very weary. Isn't it about time we have an episode about violence where the dialog is somewhat new? (Hint: This isn't it.) At the very least, "Tsunkatse" isn't preachy and ties relevantly into Seven's character and her quest for humanity, and uses Tuvok reasonably as a supporting character. But don't expect great insights; Seven's quest isn't looking like the newest thing in the world these days either.

In many ways, "Tsunkatse" is challenge-free trash, but at least it's entertainingly assembled trash.

Of course, I do have to ask: What are the Hirogen doing out here? I can maybe accept that a lone warrior who has been a prisoner to this game for 19 years might be this far from his homeland by now. But if we're something like 30,000 light-years from where Voyager ran into the Hirogen during season four, how can there be a convenient nearby Hirogen scout ship way out here to give our new friend a ride home? (I give up—Voyager's location in the Delta Quadrant is completely arbitrary. Why even bother shaving thousands of light-years off the trip, anyway? Grrr...)

One thing I found a little shortsighted on the part of the Voyager crew was the notion that they weren't aware of the extent of the Tsunkatse ring violence. How could they have heard about this huge sport and be cheering it on, yet didn't know about the existence of the popular "red match," a battle to the death? What kind of blinders are they wearing? But then again, this is the Voyager crew, who respect other cultures. Apparently they respect the right for two ring opponents to beat the hell out of each other. It's all about being a good sport, I guess.

Next week: Kiddie Borg. Don't piss 'em off.

Previous episode: Memorial
Next episode: Collective

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22 comments on this review

Jakob M. Mokoru - Mon, Feb 4, 2008 - 2:29pm (USA Central)
Come on! You give THIS episode a two and a half-star-rating and recent quite decent outing "Virtuoso" only two stars?!

Well, I daresay wrestling has never been anything I would care for.

You were right tough in some aspects: Combs and especially Hertzler save this episode from being the ultimate desaster.
And, you predicted: "Oh well--it will undoubtedly be the season's highest-rated show." I guess you were right!
Kev - Tue, Sep 8, 2009 - 8:13am (USA Central)
Regarding the Hirogen being out this far:

I believe it was implicit that the Hirogen were the creators of the huge communications network stretching through the Delta and Beta quadrants (Message in a Bottle) and that it was constructed by the Hirogen in order to keep in contact across tens of thousands of lightyears as their culture spread itself evermore thinly in pursuit of the hunt.

Therefore the idea is that the Hirogen are all over the place, over the last few thousand years they seem to have spread across a third of the galaxy hunting new prey, so the idea that Voyager finds a Scout ship isn't too implausible.

This does raise an interesting point though, the consequences to the hirogen of no longer being able to stay in contact with the rest of their species since Voyager crippled the network. Bah, consequences schmonsequences.
Eric - Wed, Nov 18, 2009 - 10:31am (USA Central)
You surprise me. You`re always overly critical of episodes, so I expected a scathing review of this one. I would have given this one star.
Michael - Fri, Jul 9, 2010 - 8:51am (USA Central)
Torres: "The Borg wouldn't know fun if they assimilated an amusement park" :)))))

That deadpan "cluelessness" and "awkwardness" of Seven is precisely what makes her so interesting and, ironically, unique. I find their efforts to mold her into a Neelix simply infuriating.

The Doc: "Vulcans aren't exactly known for their...winning...personalities."

Er, compared to what: Humans? Every individual from every race in the Universe who's not exactly like Janeway or Paris is somehow deficient? How myopic and bigoted! And that such a statement should come from a computer program that supposedly possesses knowledge about millions of species makes it doubly stupid.

Next, Harry "Can't-Get-A-Lock" Kim supposedly did amateur boxing while in college. Yeah right, yank the other one. He'd be knocked out cold by the sneeze of a koala. Oh, and AGAIN he couldn't get a lock! LOL!!!!

It's a pretty good episode. Considering how it began after Seven and Tuvok's abduction, it could have been MUCH worse... - when Seven said "I will not kill anyone in that ring" or something along those lines. No, god forbid; you should put your arm around your opponent and encourage him to talk about his misplaced aggression *rolls eyes*

This preachy sanctimonious side of Voyager is very irritating. Now not only is force not to be used to accomplish desirable goals even against unpalatable and bellicose opponents, but it is to be avoided even in self-defense!?!

The last five minutes were a total waste of time. Take the shitty soul-searching and psychological analyses to freaking Oprah!

I'd give this show three stars.
Paul - Thu, Feb 10, 2011 - 7:42am (USA Central)

"Next, Harry "Can't-Get-A-Lock" Kim supposedly did amateur boxing while in college. Yeah right, yank the other one. He'd be knocked out cold by the sneeze of a koala. Oh, and AGAIN he couldn't get a lock! LOL!!!!"

Huh? Harry was a Parisi sqaures champion, not a boxer. The dialogue mentioned Chakotay playing a couple of Parisi squares players in his earlier career. At no point did Harry or anyone say that Harry had ever been a boxer.

And, iirc, this was the episode where Tuvok was transported with virtually no problems and a "we got him" the very second the Tsunkatse people decided to shift power away from their shield to the broadcasting once Janeway knocked out a couple of satellite dishes.

Who wasn't paying attention then?
Jay - Mon, Mar 7, 2011 - 12:56pm (USA Central)
Yeah, Kim being a former boxer was hilarious, but hey, he was also the champion armwrestler of Fair Haven, so in for a doubloon, in for a pound schilling.
Cloudane - Sun, Mar 27, 2011 - 4:37pm (USA Central)
Crap. It just didn't seem to have any point at all, it was just 'there' and then it ended.

The only thing that saved it was indeed Combs and Hertzler, and that was mostly for novelty value for me.

Incidentally was that Marc Alaimo getting beat up in the teaser? If it wasn't him, I bet they wanted him to complete the list of arguably DS9's biggest guest stars, and perhaps went for a lookalike / actalike for some reason.

Could've done without the Neelix sunburn stuff.

Harry was 50/50 so you're both right there. He amazingly managed to grab Tuvok right away (gosh!!) but he did get to say the infamous "I can't get a lock" when trying to get Seven.

I didn't think it was all that preachy. The Doctor was, but you'd expect that. Meanwhile half the cast were cheering on this game (until some of their own were involved, hypocritically) so I thought as Trek moralisation usually goes this one was almost balanced.

2 stars max for me though. It wasn't terrible, just not interesting at all.
Iceblink - Mon, Aug 29, 2011 - 4:29am (USA Central)
Meh. Cynical, ratings-driven dreck. The very name "Tsunkatse" is an anagram of "Stunt Sake", which gives a clear indication of exactly what this episode was blatantly intended as. Frankly I find WWF and related shows imbecilic and creating a Star Trek crossover was totally misguided. Maybe it could have been worse, but as it stands only thing this ep really has going for it are classy performances by two of DS9's most loved guest stars, Jeffrey Combs and in particular JG Hertzler. I noticed that Seven's cell actually reused part of the set from DS9 (the airlocks, painted white here) which kinda made me sad...
Eric - Mon, Feb 20, 2012 - 7:36pm (USA Central)
Forget "Threshhold", this is the worst ST Voyager episode!
Rosario - Thu, Apr 12, 2012 - 5:39pm (USA Central)
There was more action in this episode then there has been in the WWF(E) in all the... 14? years since it came out.
Destructor - Mon, Jul 2, 2012 - 1:11am (USA Central)
I thought this was a lot of fun- meaningless, empty fun, but a good time nontheless. I'd give it 2.5 also, I guess, but I liked it.

Eric: You take that back.
Latex Zebra - Fri, Dec 28, 2012 - 10:29am (USA Central)
I can't remember it being mentioned so I am working on the assumption that despite all his home work on Tsunkatse, Chakotay had no idea that there was such a thing as 'Red Matches' and 'Blue Macthes'

Surely Federation citizens aren't going to spectate a 'sport' that has fights to the death.

Megan - Fri, Feb 1, 2013 - 9:08am (USA Central)
I'm really not understanding all the negativity. They weren't hypocritical by not enjoying the matches once seven was involved. They stopped enjoying it when they realized that the contestants were not volunteers but prisoners forced to fight. I really enjoyed this episode and I think you all should lighten up. Also about the doctor saying that about tuvoks personality he's a hologram of a human. So he thinks like a human.
2 of DD - Mon, Feb 4, 2013 - 3:34pm (USA Central)
Harry can get a lock on deez nutz.
Hamster - Sat, May 25, 2013 - 7:55pm (USA Central)
Hey so never been on this site but I was watching this episode and noticed the music during the fight was the same as Battlestar Galactica. Also the shaky/zoomy camera shots. Is that where the battlestar babe comes from?
ProgHead777 - Tue, Jun 25, 2013 - 6:17am (USA Central)
@Hamster

This episode aired almost 3 years before the Battlestar Galactica mini-series was even a gleam in Ron Moore's eye and nearly 4 years before it made it to TV screens. If you heard BSG music in "Tsunkatse" (hint: you didn't) then it was BSG that took it from Voyager.
ProgHead777 - Tue, Jun 25, 2013 - 6:35am (USA Central)
This was one of the few episodes I skipped during Voyager's first run and the only one I did so willingly. The reasons for this are pretty much summed up by the first paragraph of this review. Normally I don't think I would have been as put off by an arena fighting premise per se but the stunt-casting of The Rock left me utterly certain that this was going to be a total cheese-fest. A Star Trek episode aimed at the WWF demographic? NOt for me, thanks. I'll pass.

But also like you, when I finally got around to watching the ep (which was just now, haha) I was surprised that it wasn't anywhere near as offensive as I always thought it would be. Chalk it up partly to very low expectations, partly to some pretty slick looking fight choreography (certainly better than what you see in Pro-Wrestling), and an appearance from everyone's favorite Star Trek character-actor, Jeffrey Combs. All in all, your review is right on the money, in my opinion. Lower your expectations and put your brain in Energy-Saver mode and you might have a reasonably fun time.
Nancy - Mon, Aug 12, 2013 - 5:02am (USA Central)
Watching this just now for the first time, I was completely unprepared to see The Rock on my screen. I busted out laughing at the idea of him fighting a woman who probably weighs 105 pounds soaking wet. I wonder if it was in his contract that his character wouldn't lose to a girl, even one with Borg enhancements? lol!
azcats - Thu, Aug 15, 2013 - 10:36am (USA Central)
the idea is to be entertained. and i was.

as for harry kim. If they didnt ask him to get a "lock on x person." then you would all be complaining..."why didnt he just beam him out." they do this..to explain...

2.5 stars. i enjoyed hte ds9 casting.
SpiceRak2 - Fri, Sep 6, 2013 - 9:48pm (USA Central)
I'm with Megan. Why all the negativity?? These reviews are so hyper-critical.

I enjoyed this episode. I was not looking for deeper meaning but we weren't supposed to look for it in this episode. There was minor character development as Seven struggles with her humanity and I'm ok with that. Actually, I was impressed by Jeri Ryan's physicality. She looked fierce.

If I have any criticism, it's that Tuvok is consistently passed over in the ensemble episodes. In TOS, when McCoy showed a frustrating lack of tolerance for the emotionless Mr. Spock, it was witty, humorous and endearing. Tuvok is the target of many of the other character's snide comments or his character is left out of the storyline altogether. Are we supposed to think, "oh, that silly Doctor...making fun of Tuvok again!" Or "Tom Paris! He really told Tuvok how to lighten up!" There is no appreciation for the Vulcan culture from the crew at all and the writers have only promoted disdain.

And...while I am here, I will say...I must the only person to like the Harry Kim and Neelix characters. This is really a tough crowd.
Nic - Wed, Nov 13, 2013 - 8:25am (USA Central)
I completely agree with Jammer's review and rating. Given the premise, this episode was probably as good as it could be, but what keeps it from being a winner is the inherent contradiction of telling a Violence is Bad story using so much gratuitous violence. You’d think the crew would not be this thrilled to see such a barbaric "sport", even before they learned that people were competing in it against their will and actually dying. You could say they didn't know there were 'Red Matches', but that just means they didn't do their research.
I couldn’t help but laugh and Penk’s ridiculous logic with the line Jammer quoted above. Wouldn’t he make a lot more money in the long run by making her compete again and again without killing her?
Interesting trivia bit: despite both having played major recurring characters on DS9, this is the first time Jeffrey Combs and J.G. Hertzler appeared together in a scene on Star Trek.
Latex Zebra - Mon, Mar 24, 2014 - 3:57am (USA Central)
Watched this again at the weekend as I wanted a quick fix. I do appreciate the split between the crew about watching a villent sport.

I hate doing the whole mention DS9 on Voyager thing but I can't help it... Maybe if others didn't I wouldn'y be so tempted!
People winge about DS9 characters not acting like evolved humans and yet here, we have Voyager characters still enjoying people beat the snot out of each other. We have the admission that Boxing still exists. I know the Federation is supposed to have a few tough sports (Parisi Squares) but boxing... Seems a bit unrealistic when people argue that Starfleet officers shouldn't be good in a fight.
In some DS9 episodes Quark was almost the voice for humanity... An alien. In this episode it was a Hologram, The Doctor. Maybe it is time to put the wishy washy My Trek vs Your Trek behind as it just seems daft.

Anyway! A fun episode and the marks are spot on. Loved The rock giving the eybrow and hitting a Rock Bottom on Seven!

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