Tattoo is an episode that perhaps I shouldn’t have liked as much as I did, but I actually loved it, I found it extremely moving. Yet, on paper it’s a mediocre episode, I’m the first to admit it! On the other hand, the theme touched me deeply and when it ended I rewatched it immediately because I liked it so much. Then, what is Tattoo about?
Chakotay is leading an away team on a planet looking for resources when they come across a symbol that the commander recognizes as one used by his Native American tribe on Earth. This seems like a chance to meet someone capable of making it to the Alpha quadrant, so the USS Voyager follows a trail left by a warp-capable ship that leads to an Earth-like planet. Unfortunately, when Chakotay, Neelix, Tuvok and Torres descend on the planet, they encounter only traces of a civilization, but no one alive. When an emergency teleport leaves Chakotay alone on the plane, he’s finally able to make first contact with the resident aliens.
What did I like about this episode? Everything is narrated with a continuous alternation of flashbacks back to the adolescent Chakotay during a trip to Earth with his father in search of their cultural roots (far from the colony near the Cardassian border where they lived). This is done very well with a series of well thought out match cuts (that is, scenes connected by details common to the two temporal planes: the eagle in the sky, the weapons placed on the ground, the symbol engraved in the wood…). Also, adolescent Chakotay who thinks that his ancestors’ beliefs are nonsense and that his father is just a boring and superstitious old man and today’s highly spiritual Chakotay is a well written and well acted contrast of characters. Both Robert Beltran and Henry Darrow (who plays the father) did an exceptional job and the ex-maquis personal story is incredibly strong. That’s why I liked the episode so much, the story came straight to my heart.
On the other hand, objectively the episode itself offers nothing interesting to think about. We are on the other side of the Universe and the writers can’t think of anything other than a story with Native Americans (already appeared in both The Original Series and The Next Generation – for the farewell of Wesley Crusher). The coincidences leading Voyager to find these aliens are infinite: on a random planet, the exploration team led by Chakotay comes across the symbol that only he can recognize (almost in the entire Universe). And here come some aliens who visited Chakotay’s ancestors on Earth centuries ago!
To think, as the show writers do, that Native Americans were just a great tribe speaking a single language and respecting nature above all else is a pretty big simplification of history (can you tell that I just read Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens?). Then why did that eagle attack Neelix for no reason whatsoever (in any case, enough of him being part of away teams: a few weeks ago he lost both lungs, in Phage, this time he almost lost an eye!)? And finally, the only time the universal translator should work, since the Native American languages should be included in its database, it fails! Everyone can speak without problems with Neelix (a Talaxian), with the Ocampa (Caretaker), with the Kazons (State of Flux, Initiations), with the Vidiians (Phage, Faces), with the Baneans (Ex Post Facto)… but not with someone who’s been to Earth? Ok…
However, as I said, I defend this episode simply because its human side, the personal story of Chakotay, convinced me 100%. And it’s for episodes like this that I’ve been watching Star Trek for the last twenty years and more of my life! Ciao!
PS: The B-story with Kes teaching the Doctor a lesson in empathy by programming a flu is just phenomenal. Jennifer Lien and Robert Picardo continue to be two of the best aspects of Star Trek: Voyager!
PPS: The Delta Flyers podcast shoutout: Robert Duncan McNeill’s father died this year and for this reason he found Tattoo particularly moving, or so he declared during the podcast episode. Then he added a funny anecdote: he revealed that Beltran’s butt seen in the Voyager episode is made with a digital special effect (showing a male butt on US TV was taboo at the time)! And finally, the funniest thing so far in The Delta Flyers is certainly Garrett Wang’s call to Robert Picardo who was on his bicycle, fell down during the call, and got hurt… right on the butt!
Episodio precedente: Persistence of Vision
Episodio successivo: Cold Fire