Nutshell: Some significant plot holes toward the end, but Seska's return makes for an engaging action episode.
The Kazon Nistrim sect, with the guidance of the traitorous Seska (Martha Hackett) who has allied herself with them, attacks the Voyager and sends a small boarding party to invade the starship. The boarding party is able to thwart security and steal a transporter unit before making a narrow escape with the Federation technology. Janeway and Chakotay decide they must pursue the Kazon and retrieve the unit. The consequences of Federation technology falling into Kazon hands could severely affect the quadrant's balance of power.
At long last, here's a good episode. It's not perfect, but it's by far the best thing Voyager has done since "Projections." "Maneuvers" has some very engaging action/adventure qualities, and the venomous confrontations between Chakotay and Seska are priceless. Both Robert Beltran and Martha Hackett turn in strong performances.
The story launches itself terrifically with a punchy, action-packed first act in which the Kazon perform their raid and split. Right before the Kazon make their escape with the transporter unit, Seska hails the Voyager and taunts Chakotay in front of the entire bridge crew. Here, Hackett unveils a manipulative, devious character who could easily become Trek's next menacing villain. Her underhanded defection in "State of Flux" was just the beginning—and so is her theft of the transporter unit here. Seska, after a flawless raid of the Voyager, leaves behind a trail of residual engine radiation which the Voyager can follow. It seems like a rather unlikely error considering her adept maneuvering. Actually Seska errs on purpose—she has a trap in store for the Voyager.
Chakotay predicts a trap, however, and begins preparing for the worst. Perhaps, Tuvok suggests, they could use their personal knowledge of Seska to manipulate her the same way she duped the Voyager crew. But Chakotay's plan ultimately involves settling a personal score, so he ignores the chain of command and takes it upon himself to chase Seska down. When no one is looking, he takes a shuttlecraft and slips away to carry out the mission himself.
This does not sit well with Janeway, who is put in a rather difficult position when faced with the fact that her first officer has ignored her authority. In a rather sensible scene, Torres defends Chakotay by explaining to the captain that Chakotay only did this because he thought it was the right thing to do. He sees Seska as his responsibility, and by chasing her himself he doesn't involve the rest of the ship. While this may be true, Janeway points out that it isn't his decision to make. This scene, as well as the closing in which Janeway puts Chakotay on report for his improper actions, is particularly well written.
With some clever maneuvering of his own, Chakotay sneaks up on the Nistrim's ship, beams aboard, and destroys the transporter unit with his hand phaser. However, this leaves him with nowhere to run and he is immediately captured. Soon, the leader of the Nistrim, a Kazon named Culluh (Anthony DeLongis) who has formed a rather intimate alliance (if you catch my drift) with Seska, begins trying to beat Voyager's command codes out of Chakotay. This way, with the help of some other sects, he can capture the Voyager and take all its technology for a future power play in the Kazon civilization.
Naturally, hero Chakotay refuses to fold under the pain. Although Culluh proves typically bone-headed and easy to provoke at times, this torture scene proves amusing at times due to Chakotay's leering answers to Culluh's questions, which simultaneously insult and praise Seska's adeptness at betrayal. Much credit goes to Beltran's commendable performance.
The final act features the Voyager crew in their attempt to rescue Chakotay using some maneuvering of their own. The action is paced well by director David Livingston, but there are some lapses in credibility here that undermine this seemingly clever rescue attempt. The whole idea centers around Torres trying to beam Chakotay out of the Kazon ship despite a containment field Seska has surrounding him. Torres is unsuccessful, so Janeway comes up with the bright idea of beaming the Kazon sect leaders off their ship and holding them until they agree to release Chakotay. Well, fine, except that there's a big battle with phasers going on here, and—unless Culluh is a complete idiot—everyone has their shields up. Everybody knows that transporters are useless when shields are up.
More puzzling (and troubling) is why in the world Tuvok's terms for releasing the Kazon sect leaders doesn't include Culluh turning Seska over to Voyager to answer for treason. I find it extremely difficult to believe that Janeway would just forget about Seska's defection and allow her to continue assisting the Kazon with Federation information. I suppose this allows Seska to show up again in future episodes, which is just fine with me. But the story doesn't even mention her again until the next scene, which is presumably hours later. (Maybe Janeway simply had a memory lapse while caught up in trying to retrieve her first officer. Doh.) The creators really should have found a better way around this.
It's a shame Kenneth Biller's script couldn't come up with a more plausible ending, because aside from this mild botching, the episode's tactical moments are well done. I guess it's not that crucial the maneuvering isn't all perfectly executed, because the action sequences here are fresh—the most involving action in the season so far.
But what makes this episode so entertaining is the adversarial interaction between Chakotay and Seska. Seska escapes with the Kazon but leaves a recorded message behind for Chakotay. Just for spite, she took some of his DNA and impregnated herself with it. "You're going to be a father," she says smugly. This is one daring, unexpected punch in the stomach. I like it. Chakotay ends up humiliated once again by Seska—right in front of the entire bridge crew. Their next encounter should be rather interesting.
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