Star Trek: Voyager – 2×09 – “Tattoo”

Star Trek: Voyager
Originally Broadcast November 6th, 1996
Reviewed by Christina Luckings

The Story

Stardate: Unknown

Voyager is in need of polyferranide to keep the warp nacelles going, but the deposits on the moon Torres, Tuvok, Neelix and Chakotay are surveying are contaminated. They are giving up the search when Tuvok and Neelix discover evidence of other recent visitors. A campfire has been marked with an elaborate symbol. The sight of it brings back memories to Chakotay of a trip his father took him on to the Central American rain forest. The symbol had been carved on the trunk of a felled tree and he was told that it was a healing symbol, a blessing to the land, called a chamoozee.

In sickbay, Ensign Wildman is telling the EMH and Kes about the shooting pains down her back and legs. The EMH diagnoses sciatica and tells her to raise her legs when she is seated. She will have to team to live with the discomforts of pregnancy. Whilst he is less than sympathetic, Kes has more compassion and tells her to call at anytime if it gets worse. After Wildman has left, Kes scolds the EMH for his attitude. He has never been sick, vulnerable and afraid. She wishes he could experience how his patients feel when they come to him not knowing what is among with them.

Elsewhere, Chakotay is telling Captain Janeway about his childhood trip to Earth. It had not been fun for him, dragged away from their colony home near the Cardassian border to the rain-soaked, insect infested jungles of their distant ancestors. It was his father Kolopak’s personal quest to find the closest living relatives to those ancient Rubber Tree people, and it had been young Chakotay who had been the first to notice the chamoozee. Now here was the same blessing 70000 light years away. He ought to explain it as the action of the Sky Spirits, but he believes in them as much as Janeway believes in Adam and Eve. However, B’Elanna has detected a warp trail leading from the moon, and they are going to follow in the hope that these people can help them locate the polyferranide they need for the warp coils.

The warp trail ends at a planet with no apparent signs of life, but high energy readings that could be a form of cloak. The sensors show good deposits of the mineral below the surface. Captain Janeway tells her first officer to try and make contact, and get permission to begin mining, but not to force the issue if they really would rather be left alone. Chakotay chooses Torres, Neelix and Tuvok for his away team, but every time they select a site to transport down to, a storm forms which steps them from beaming. Tuvok theorises that the transporter beam is interfering with the atmosphere to cause the problem. They take a shuttle instead. The flight down is bumpy, thanks to the thunderstorm that forms around them, and at one point Chakotay thinks he sees the image of a face in the clouds, but he lands the shuttle safely.

Kes activates the EMH to discover he has restored his programmed opening line of ‘Please state the nature of the medical emergency’, because having to keep thinking up alternatives was too awkward. Then, to her surprise, he sneezes. He tells her that he has programmed himself with a 29 hour flu as a learning experience. Not for himself, however, but for the crew, as an example of how illness need not affect one’s work. Ensign Kim is the first unlucky patient to encounter this even less sympathetic than usual doctor.

On the planet, the survey team cannot locate the energy source, and Torres has discovered a potential source of contamination if they get permission to mine for the mineral. Chakotay has spotted a variety of orchid which he first encountered on that jungle trip with his father, which leads Neelix and Tuvok to discover a mutual interest in breeding plants. Neelix however thinks orchids taste lovely in a salad. Then a bird flies overhead, looking very like a hawk.

It was when his Father pointed out a hawk to the young Chakotay that he finally broke the news to him that he was leaving the tribe. Captain Sulu had agreed to sponsor the 15 year olds application to Starfleet. The reason this was never discussed with Kolopak was that Chakotay had lied to the Captain and said that he already had parental permission. His father warns him that if he leaves, he will never truly belong to either world. The unhappy boy asks for his father’s blessing.

Whilst surveying the local botany, Neelix is attacked by the hawk. When Torres and Chakotay get to him it attacks again, and as he drives it off Chakotay sees the face in the clouds again. He orders an emergency beam-out, which is successful despite all the problems that they had trying to beam down. The EMH treats Neelix while spluttering and sneezing, and commenting that they have no spare Talaxian eyeballs in storage. He is twenty hours into his flu, and believes that he is demonstrating fortitude in the face of illness. On the bridge, Captain Janeway is in communication with Chakotay to tell him about the solution to the mineral contamination that Ensign Kim has worked out.

The away team have found a recently deserted village but there is no sign of the inhabitants whose permission they need to start mining. Kim comments that with warp technology they wouldn’t be afraid of visitors like them. Chakotay reposts that with warp technology you wouldn’t expect them to be living in a village like this. Although it is constructed of advanced materials it is simple, almost basic, seemingly low-tech. Then he asks the Captain if they have picked up any unusual readings that might account for a face he has been seeing. It is like a memory, but it is no one he knows. Tuvok is not picking up any telepathic activity and the sensors are not showing anything either. Chakotay orders Tuvok and Torres to lay down their weapons in plain sight, to show the natives that they mean them no harm. Tuvok objects that such a course of action is against protocol, but Chakotay remembers that this is how his father persuaded the shy jungle tribe to come out of hiding and greet them. By calling to them in the old language and making the sign of the chamoosee on the ground, Kolopak had gained their trust and in return they had given him the tribal tattoo as a mark of their distant kinship. But the young Chakotay has refused to join in the celebrations then.

There is no response to the gesture of peace except for another storm so they run back towards the shuttle. Chakotay glimpses someone in the trees and calls after him, only to be struck by a falling branch and knocked unconscious. The storm worsens and Tuvok calls for an emergency beam out. Only he, Torres and Chakotay’s communicator arrive back on Voyager. They report to Captain Janeway on the bridge.

Tom Paris reports that surface conditions are back to normal with no sign of any storm, or the shuttle for that matter. The Captain decides to lead the rescue away team herself and contacts sickbay to tell Kes to report to the transporter room with a medkit. Instead she gets a distraught EMS demanding that a computer expert is sent to sort out why his twenty nine flu is still raging after thirty hours. Reluctantly she sends Kim down to deck five where he learns that Kes herself altered the parameters of his pretend illness, because knowing when it was going to end did not make it a fair comparison with a real illness.

Chakotay is awake and gets himself out from under the fallen branch. His tricorder tells him that the shuttle is gone so he assumes Tuvok and Torres got away safely. So he makes his way back to the village to try and contact the locals. Once there he puts down his equipment and completely strips, repeatedly assuring them that they have nothing to fear from him, before putting on a one-piece garment that he finds lying there. But no one appears in response in response to these gestures of solidarity and peaceful intentions, unlike on the trip to Earth. Then another violent storm starts up. Dodging the lightning he finds shelter in a nearby cave.

Once again the away team are unable to beam down to the surface as storms form at each chosen location. Tuvok realises that they must be being formed by the inhabitants as a way of trying to protect their privacy. Unfortunately Captain Janeway needs to get her first officer back and cannot respect their wishes. She orders Lt. Paris to land Voyager. As they descend, the cyclone forms around them, the one that has driven Chakotay to seek shelter in the cave. It is so turbulent that the atmospheric engines cannot cope, and they have less than 10 minutes before they hit the ground very hard. Torres needs 20 minutes to get then more power and the inertial dampers go offline so they cannot use the warp engines without becoming smears on the bulkheads.

A group of humanoids enter the cave, dressed in the same sort of one-piece that Chakotay has borrowed. They speak to him in a language that sounds familiar, but that he does not understand. It is the Rubber Tree peoples language and he replies with the only word he remembers from that jungle trip – chamoozee. The lead alien presses a translator device into his palm and asks him about his tattoo. Why does he have it? Are there still people on Earth with this mark? Chakotay tells him that he wears it to honour his father and that he wore it to honour his ancestors. There are some people on Earth with it, but not many. The leader turns to his companions and tells them that Chakotay claims to be a descendant of the Inheritors. This is a term that Chakotay does not understand but that the alien says should be part of his genetic memory. He touches his throat and the story is told.

These aliens first visited Earth over 45,000 yean ago, and were impressed by one nomadic tribe’s respect for life and the land. They gave them a genetic inheritance which led to them to migrate, over 1000 generations, to a new continent. There they flourished until a new people arrived with diseases and weapons which ravaged their population. Twelve generations ago there was no sign of survivors. They had assumed Voyager had come to do to them what those invaders had done to the Inheritors. Chakotay assures them that humanity has tried to change its ways since the ‘Sky Spirits’ last stopped by.

Voyager is still falling in the cyclone, and with less than a minute to impact Torres manages to get some extra power to the engines. But it is not enough. However, with just 10 seconds to go the storm dissipates and the starship climbs back to the safety of orbit. Sensors show that the cloaking device has been turned off to reveal the local population and the missing shuttlecraft.

The away team of Kes, Tuvok and Torres arrive as Chakotay is thanking the aliens for letting them have a supply of the mineral even though they have refused permission for mining. They ask after his father, and he explains that he died defending the colony planet which his tribe had moved to a few centuries ago. That was when Chakotay got his tattoo, in his memory, and continued the fight as he tried to make belated amends for their differences. The hawk wheels ahead, calling, and he hears Kolopak’s voice asking if he can hear what the bird says to him. Yes, he tells his father, he finally does.


Star Trek has frequently followed Erich von Daniken’s idea that ‘God is an Astronaut’ when dealing with human spiritual beliefs, and Michael Piller is no exception, more’s the pity. Still, at least it does provide a framework on which to hang this expedition into Chakotay’s back-story. The boy in the flashback sequences is sullen, contrary and willing to lie to a Star Fleet Captain in order to get away from what he sees as a backward life style. A typical teenager in other words. We can assume that Kolopak did not stand in his way as he did make a career in Star Fleet even though it was probably the main source of contention between parent and child.

This episode tries to place Chakotay’s heritage in Central America, among the Olmec and similar peoples rather than the North American Plains tribes. Presumably this is to try and deflect criticism from genuine Native Americans, and to blur the origins of that tattoo design, which I understand is actually based on Maori one. It also links Robert Beltran’s family tree to that of the character. It is a good development story for the ex-Maquis first officer explaining why he left Star Fleet to join the fight against the Cardassians and when he got the tattoo, and is one that can be watched time and again (not just for the sight of the body-double’s naked back either!) However, the EMH continues his descent into the role of comic buffoon, which while occasionally amusing, can at times become somewhat annoying. Whilst one appreciates the need to try and include all the principal characters in most stories, the impression is given that the writers are more inclined to find sub-plots for the holographic doctor rather than, say, Neelix or Kes.

Grade: 7/10

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