The scope and promise of this character from the outset was enormous. There seemed to be so many layers to unravel, not only was he the leader of the integrated Maquis (essentially a terrorist group living amongst Star Fleet), he was Also ex- Star Fleet himself as well as being from native American descent, I was interested to see how his culture and beliefs could be integrated into the world of Star Trek. On top of all this, there was the betrayal of Tuvok to contend with. Needless to say, I was excited to see the arc of Chakotay evolve. What we ended up with was not exactly what I had hoped for…
Right from the outset, the pilot episode of all things, his weakness and transformation into Janeway yes man began. Right from when the decision to strand them in the Delta Quadrant was taken, the only descenting voice of Belana Torres was immediately shut down not by Tuvok, but by her friend and Commander, Chakotay. No thought was given by him to the fight he was leaving behind, he was more interested in following what seemed to be a reckless Captain into what was a clear breach of the Prime Directive, and in turn influencing the balance of power in that sector. If he’d have resisted, even just a little I wouldn’t have been so quick to question his convictions. Seriously, in the early episodes even Neelix seemed to have more grit.
One thing I cannot fault though was the handling of his heritage. Being an Englishman I know much less than i should about native American culture, however what came across on screen seemed thoughtful, warm and well written. It was refreshing to see present day human cultural conventions represented on Star Trek, not only this but there had been progression giving these conventions a 24th century twist. The use of technology to aid things such as “Vision Quests” I found refreshing. Even the episode tattoo whilst not the strongest installment did explore his connection to his culture and people. Perhaps if I knew more about this culture I would feel differently, but as I don’t I chose to enjoy it.
Chakotay seemed to be symptomatic of the most major missed opportunity of Voyager, perhaps even the whole of Star Trek. The mixture of Maquis and Star Fleet should have been a master stroke, the stuff that writers dream about. The story telling potential was astronomical, coupled with the isolation of being alone and lost at the far end of the galaxy, this should have led to more significant conflict and struggle. This was only ever really touched on in “Worst Case Scenario” where a holodeck simulation illustrated as fiction a little more of what I would have liked to have seen. What we end up with is a character that simply sums up the ethos of a television series. Voyager whilst being brilliant simply for being Star Trek, seemed to shy away from its true potential. It stayed safe and true to a formula that had proved so successful in the past. As a result the show didn’t show ambition or the drive to be different or push in new directions. When direction did come, it was soon defused and normal service was soon resumed.
There were brief moments where Chakotay would rightly go against his captain. “Scorpian” was the prime example where he questioned but still didn’t challenge the ridiculous decisions being taken by Janeway. However these examples are few and far between, he spent the majority of the first few seasons behaving like a love sick teenager around Janeway. Episodes like “Nemesis” where he was taken away from Janeway and the ship seemed to bring much more out of the character. The only real relationship that could have thickened the character a little was that with Seska. I feel the writers shied away from him fathering a child in fear of damaging the infamous reset button, whereas I feel it would have been just the grounding that the character needed. Especially the child being half Cardasian, it would have forced him to face any prejudices dating back to his days with the Maquis.
Despite my criticisms I actually really like Robert Beltran, I found his portrayal of Chakotay warm, he seems like the kind of boss you’d like at the place you work. He was outstanding in the more relaxed scenes, he naturally engendered trust and seemed to be a great leader on brief occasions he was allowed. I often wonder how the series would have been had there been a power struggle in the early episodes which would have resulted in him being Captain. Had he been given the sole leadership role I believe he would have blossomed and become a much more rounded and complete character. It would have given Voyager the “anti-Roddenberry” edge it lacked that Deep Space Nine had in abundance. I at times compare him to Tasha Year from season one of the Next Generation. It wasn’t necessarily the fault of the actor or the character…just the at times poor way in which they were written. Beltran himself saw these shortcomings and seemed to not appreciate the direction in which his character was being pushed. Perhaps in another reality he’d have taken this as far as Denise Crosby did and walked away, I for one am glad that he didn’t.
As for his relationship with seven of nine…in my personal head canon, It never happened!