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Worst of Voyager: Chakotay and Harry Kim

September 17, 2012

  

Despite the title, Chakotay and Harry Kim aren’t terrible characters. They just got screwed by bad writing and worse ideas, that’s all. Let’s find some proof.

First of all: Chakotay

On the surface, he’s a decent guy. He’s slightly less determined to get back to the Alpha Quadrant than Janeway, and this is the source of some of their very rare disagreements. But really, he should be so much more than this. This is a guy who was a Marquis captain, yet the way he’s portrayed on Voyager, you’d think he’d been Janeway’s first officer/lapdog for years.


One of the most promising aspects of Voyager as a show was the merging of the Starfleet and Marquis crews. One set of characters follows the Prime Directive, the other set doesn’t give a shit. This should have led to about a hundred different directions for the show to go in. Okay, maybe three or four. But it quickly became all about Voyager as one big, happy family, and Chakotay was the first to be turned.

Maybe that’s too harsh. Star Trek has always been about the more positive side of humanity, so the ‘happy family’ direction isn’t all that surprising. And it does lead to some episodes where you can’t help but get goosebumps even if you do know you’re being manipulated by some fairly obvious screenwriting tricks. E.g. The episode where Neelix thinks he’s outgrown his usefulness or the one where they rescue Seven from the Borg.


Okay, but Chakotay is still a wasted opportunity. If you’re gonna have a first officer who used to be Marquis then you should show that side of him more often, and not just in episodes where he’s been brainwashed. You could at least have him arguing with Janeway more often as she often makes rash/stupid decisions.


In fact, the best moments of Chakotay came when he acted against her, most notably the Borg episodes, or the episode where she was knocked unconscious and he disobeyed her direct orders. I can’t remember which episode that was, but I’m sure it happened.
Now I think about it, Chakotay did argue with Janeway quite a lot in the last four seasons.

Maybe he’s not that bad after all…


No, wait, the vision quests.


Why the hell did they make Chakotay so Native American? Every time he had a ‘Chakotay-centric’ episode, those bloody panpipes started playing. Did Harry Kim have ancient Chinese melodies following him around the ship? No, it would’ve been ridiculous. So why do it for Chakotay?


The reason seems to be simple. The writers wrote the character as a Twentieth Century person, not a Twenty-fourth Century one. This meant that, instead of giving Chakotay real, continuous development, it lumbered him with a ‘spiritual’ episode every season. And when they ran out of ‘spiritual’ shit to write around, they used some of the ‘concept’ shows on him. Remember the alien that everyone forgets when she’s gone? Chakotay falls in love with her in half an episode. The brainwashing episode where Chakotay becomes a soldier? Never mentioned again. It’s not dissimilar to LaForge on ‘TNG’ and his Romulan brainwashing episode, but at least he got things to do with Data in engineering. Chakotay gets nothing except spiritualism and high concepts because he has no interesting ‘character conflict’, and no other character gets this level of treatment on the show.


 Let’s look at the other characters to confirm what I’m saying is not just random bullshit.


Tom Paris – apart from a sudden fascination with Nineteenth Century shipping that never gets mentioned again in other episodes, his standalone episodes are focused on his ‘boredom of routine’ and ‘need for excitement’. He’s not really given enough in the show to develop three dimensions, but at least these themes are consistent throughout the series.


Harry Kim – is only an ensign after seven years and is the most eager crew member to get back home. This is the focus of most of his ‘Harry-centric’ episodes, not the fact that he’s Chinese.


B’elanna Torres – half-Klingon, half-human episodes, but also one about depression and a couple dealing with responsibility. You could argue the focus on her Klingon heritage is similar to the focus on Chakotay’s Native American heritage, but that would be a false comparison. The Klingons are relevant to the Star Trek Universe and are active in the modern [Twenty-fourth Century] era, whereas Native American culture is not mentioned anywhere else in Trek, apart from that fuck awful episode from the original series where Kirk hits his head and wakes up a Native American alien.


Tuvok – Even the Vulcan gets episodes that focus on his security duties. Also, he has ‘conflict’ with other characters, like Neelix, which gives him extra things to do.


Okay, that’s a third point. Chakotay has no interesting or well-developed relationships with other members of the crew. He doesn’t get sub-plots like Tom and Harry or Neelix and Tuvok. If he’s not the star of the episode then all he’s doing is sitting in the chair next to Janeway reading his kindle. It’s nowhere near enough for a first officer and it’s hard to understand why the writers let him flounder like this.


Seven of Nine?


Yeah, in the last season they finally gave him someone to fuck. But there was nothing really between the two characters before that plot point appeared out of nowhere. Did it really take the writers seven seasons to realise Chakotay needed to have relationships with other characters? I suppose he knew B’elanna from the Marquis ship, and Tuvok, but how often did they get anything to do together? Almost never. For the second main character of the show, it’s not enough. Robert Beltran got screwed by the writers and it’s no wonder he has no real love for the show.


So what about Harry Kim?


Well, Ensign Kim isn’t really in the same boat as Chakotay as he was given things to do. His Chinese side was left alone, thank God, and you could clearly see that he changed from Season One to Season Seven. Look at his acting in the first sixteen episodes, it’s awful, stiff…stiff and awful; you may as well as be watching the warp core. But by the third season he’s a lot better. In a way, it suits the character and Garret Wang may even have been directed to act stiff and awful in the first season; the reasoning, ‘Garret, you’re an Ensign, you should be nervous/stiff/awful.’


But then, what exactly is wrong with Harry Kim as a character?


Well, nothing really. He gets a lot of abuse on fan sites, but is he really that bad? Not when he’s with Tom Paris. The episodes where they do something dumb together, like Captain Proton, show they are quite relaxed together and have a genuine friendship. And it’s quite refreshing to see an Asian character being treated like a sexual being instead of a cartoon like Jackie Chan. The writers realise Chinese people have sex too, and give Harry the most love interests out of all the characters on the show. Okay, some of them want to suck out his brains [man, they’re gonna be disappointed], but generally, he does quite well with women.


Maybe I should take Harry’s name of this post and leave it as Chakotay…


But…


Then again, he’s such a fucking boy scout sometimes, it’s annoying. And he does get a bit too much to do in the show, at the expense of other, more interesting characters. Tom Paris has much more scope for interesting stories, but doesn’t get them. He gets fobbed off with the ‘marriage to B’elanna’ storyline, which completely destroys the rogue aspect of his character.


And Harry does get a few ‘high concept’ episodes, like Chakotay, which could’ve been focused on any character without any detrimental effect or change in plot. This shows a slight lack of ideas from the writers about what to do with the character, mostly because there’s not much room for conflict in him.


Harry actually works better when he’s in the subplot with Tom or Seven or Nine. Just as when he’s acting as Captain in the Season Seven ‘Harry’ episode, Garret Wang seems more comfortable in the wings. Maybe he was directed that way too. ‘You’re not a Captain, Garret, so we’ll treat you the same way, okay?’ But this level of analysis is probably a piece of bullshit too far. The fact is, Harry just isn’t a very interesting character.


Now that I think of it, I could throw Neelix and Tom Paris in there too…the only reason I don’t is because Neelix has his conflict with Tuvok, and Tom has a core conflict which is just neglected most of the time. In short, they have just enough going for them not to be complete write-offs.


How to fix the defective characters?


Easy.
Chakotay shouldn’t have been dealt that Native American spiritual shit, and Harry Kim should’ve had a bit more edge to him. Or he should’ve developed some edge in the seven years fucking around in the Delta Quadrant as the Prime Directive wasn’t as relevant and restricting as it usually was. Make both those changes and you would’ve had a stronger show. Maybe. Probably. I think.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. Monique permalink
    September 13, 2014 2:52 am

    I loved Voyager and ALL the characters (except seven of nine) I wish Voyager was still on.

  2. November 8, 2014 11:36 pm

    ‘If he’s not the star of the episode then all he’s doing is sitting in the chair next to Janeway reading his kindle’ – genius lol

  3. Uyzin permalink
    January 27, 2015 3:02 am

    I think the problems with Harry’s character are very simple:
    He was not given any explorable background and unique personality/purpose.

    If you look at every other senior officers on the ship, almost every one of them have some sort of story other than being part of the happy family, which consequently serves to shape how he or she behaves. Like Tom was kicked out of Starfleet and has an admiral father, these experiences dictated his “rogue” aspect; Tuvok with his Vulcan logic, Neelix with his Talaxian-whatever-cultural-elements he brags about every other week, Doctor with his struggle for identity as a hologram, B’elanna with her half-Klingon and ex-Marquis background, Seven’s anti-social borg efficiency…… But Harry just doesn’t have any. He’s just a humble ensign without clear purpose. That his parents are from California is almost the only thing we know about him. His Chinese side is left untouched (personally I praise the gods for that — I’m from China) , as is his eagerness to get home, which I found only vaguely hinted and largely unexplored.
    Maybe such arrangements was intentional after all. Perhaps the directors of Voyager just wanted to put a normal ensign there since they have like a dozen “problematic” characters already. But I still see much wasted potential in him, maybe except the hanging-with-impossible-woman thing. That part is somewhat interesting at least. Remember one early episode where Voyager was duplicated into two ships and one crew eventually sacrificed to save the other? The Harry from ship #1 died and the Janeway from ship #2 decided to send her Harry to the other ship which escaped. I found this story to be such a perfect opportunity to expand his character, like the morality of that decision and the nature of his identity. But nope, a lazy throwaway line “weird is part of the job” eliminated all that potential at the end of that episode. The “reset-button” is really one hell of a big enemy to character development.

    • July 7, 2015 1:42 am

      sorry it took so long to reply to your comment, man, i don’t use this site much anymore. But your comment deserves a reply as i found it thoughtful and completely accurate. Harry had no interesting background. The other characters had that, even though they were all pretty much wasted, especially Tom Paris’ rogue character. That lasted long. But I’m also grateful they didn’t try to do a Chakotay with his Chinese aspect, mostly because it wouldn’t make sense in the 24th Century. Actually, that’s a big problem with Trek, Earth is basically just the US. They mention other cities, but the HQ is in San Francisco and everyone speaks with an American accent most of the time. It’s a shame they didn’t set anything Earth-related in other countries, like China or Nigeria or Chile or the Isle of Man. I really wanted to see how the language part of things worked. Though being Trek, they would’ve stuck with universal translator logic, where everything’s translated into American English, except when the Klingons can suddenly speak Klingon for no reason.

      The only redeeming factor with Harry was the fact they gave him love interests. Most of the time, Asian characters were treated as almost sexless in Hollywood, e.g. Jackie Chan, Jet Li, it’s nice they finally realised that Chinese people have sex too.

  4. DeathRay permalink
    February 28, 2015 1:42 am

    All the characters in Voyager were boring 20th century desk jockeys. No flair. Just forceful or submissive. And the race quota thing just killed the show even more (a black Vulcan? Piss off!).

    • July 7, 2015 1:31 am

      What’s wrong with a black Vulcan? I’m actually surprised more Vulcans weren’t black/darker skinned as the planet was like a desert. Or was that just one small part of the planet? I don’t really know. 7 0f 9 really did save that show, she was the only one who had a slightly alien character.

  5. Sir T Buxomly permalink
    June 30, 2015 11:03 pm

    Kim – Cello/loser
    but Janeway worst of all….she’s a twat.

    • July 7, 2015 1:27 am

      Yeah, Janeway was a stubborn twat most of the time, but the more i think about it, the more I like her for it. Like Avon or Blake in Blake’s 7, they do things in character sometimes that make you despise them, but then five minutes later you like them again. Though Janeway was at peak annoying whenever she yapped on about being human and what it means to truly be human. Picard did that too, sometimes. Sisko, far as I remember, never did, which is another reason why he’s the best.

  6. Dr Who is a wanker permalink
    August 2, 2015 2:40 am

    My favourite episode is when Janeway tries to deal out orders to an Alien that has seized Voyager, she was greeted with a backhand to the face, I laughed so hard at that scene!

    But Star Trek Voyager, much like TNG, Enterprise & DS9 is all utter garbage.
    Every episode they break their Prime Directive and they ignore Starfleet protocol every time it serves their purpose.
    And of course, who could forget, the answer in every episode is a variant of:
    re-routing the plasma flow, inverting the warp coils or something to do with manipulating Sub Space

  7. September 26, 2016 2:27 pm

    I actually like the Spirit Animal Guide episodes. It’s pretty fun stuff. However, I do agree Chakotay lacks as much depth as a first officer deserves. Harry Kim is just bad… it’s just like… “Oh wow! surprise a young promising Ensign thrown under the bus who manages to adjust quickly under pressure and become someone the Captain promptly begins to trust due to his prowess on the bridge and engineering,” How original…

  8. October 22, 2016 10:56 am

    Quasimodo, we are far from the bones of our ancestors…

  9. rose permalink
    May 6, 2017 1:49 pm

    Chakotay is from the planet of Native American stereotypes that Wesley visits in the last season of TNG. Star Trek from the 90’s had some pretty weird ethnic politics going on.
    (Everyone but Geordi gets ethnic backstory. Fear of a black planet I guess.)

    Pan-Indianism is a thing, but seriously, the hell tribe is Chakotay supposed to be from? He’s got dream catchers, kokopellis, a medicine wheel, a spirit animal, etc. I think the writers did their research in a gift shop in New Mexico. They might as well have gone full on and had him wearing a feather headdress and sleeping in a tipi.

    • May 12, 2017 4:00 pm

      Ha! Geordi didn’t even get a family member until season 7, and she was already dead far as i remember. Chakotay was just a terrible character conceptually. 24th Century guy with 20th century issues. Though he had some okay moments when butting heads with Janeway. Btw, your gift shop line was funny, do you write anywhere online, about trek or anything else?

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