In 1999, WWF Smackdown premiered on UPN, instantly becoming the network’s highest-rated program. Thus, it seemed only natural to cross-promote it with Star Trek: Voyager, another series on the network, to increase the latter’s viewership.
Now, I haven’t seen a lot of Star Trek. I’ve only watched a season and a half, and that was of The Next Generation on Netflix. Still, I always had the impression that the series was held sacred not only by its viewers, but by its producers. Maybe it was because TNG was syndicated and not affiliated with any network, or maybe it was because franchise creator Gene Roddenberry was still alive, but I don’t recall seeing Bill Cosby and Felicia Rashad guest-starring as a successful middle-class Betazoid couple with four or five kids and a passion for jazz music…
…nor did the Enterprise ever rendezvous with a diplomatic crew of Alien Life Forms from planet Melmac.
But Voyager? It wasn’t above writing an entire episode around a guest-star playing a thinly-disguised version of a character from another series. And that’s how The Rock ended up on the show.
No, not “Dwayne Johnson.” I mean, “The Rock,” who, as “The Rock,” may as well have been billed as playing himself.
On this artistically-bereft episode, entitled, “Tsunkatse,” Captain Kathryn Janeway is out of the picture, so the focus is put on Jeri Ryan’s character, Seven of Nine, another female character whose prominence on the show owes itself to, well, something different from Kate Mulgrew’s.
See, “Klingon” isn’t just a warrior race, it’s also what Seven’s impractically tight uniform does to her breasts.
When the episode begins, we learn that two of the officers have been taking advantage of their time off by watching Tsunkatse, a complicated sport where two guys beat each other up. Seven of Nine, perhaps standing in for the Parents’ Television Council, butts in and calls the matches “crude and pointless.” Shockingly, no raspy-voiced, pompadoured billionaire Klingon tells her that if she doesn’t like it, change the channel.
Seven of Nine and a black Vulcan decide to investigate a collapsed micro-nebula during shore leave, but a pervy middle-aged guy tries to convince her to have sex with him in public.
Whoops, that was real life.
No, instead he invites her to join him on a tour of “Norcadia’s cultural hotspots,” an invitation she rejects, collapsing his own micro-nebula, if you will.
Seven and Black Vulcan (whom Wikipedia tells me is named, “Tuvok”) get abducted on their voyage, and the next sight we see is her getting her rack scanned while an alien comments in astonishment on her “Borg-enhanced physiology.” You know, from her Borg enhancement surgery.
It turns out, her abductor is a sleazy Tsunkatse promoter who thinks audiences will love to see her, ahem, enhanced physiology in action. And you thought I was just joking before about an alien stand-in for Vince McMahon.
B’Elanna and Chakotay discuss their bets on the upcoming Tsunkatse card…
…while The Doctor is disappointed that one of his patients would be interested in the brutal sport. But, replies Neelix, it’s a “wonderful demonstration of athletic prowess.” Also, if he doesn’t like it, he can change the channel.
Despite The Doctor’s moralizing, Neelix and Chakotay are next seen taking in a match between two female fighters. “Bra and panties! Bra and panties!” shouts one spectator in a crown. At least, if I had written the script.
The audience consists entirely of beings who, despite being completely different species from completely different planets, all have two arms and legs. The spectators make such noise that I wish Bobby Heenan were on this episode. Listen to these humanoids!
The next combatant to enter is none other than The Rock. Supposedly, he’s a Pendari, a race of warriors known for their “superior strength.” Hmm… sounds familiar.
Do the rest of the Pendari all have impossibly hard heads, fight barefoot, and use running butt attacks on their opponents? Oh well, at least they don’t have The Rock do The People’s Eyebrow.
Oh, dear lord. Why would an alien even have eyebrows, anyway? Oh yeah, and his name in the script is “The Pendari Champion.”
His opponent, to the surprise of the Voyager crew members in attendance, is Seven of Nine. You know, she always reminded me of a wrestler…
Lud-Big Boobs-a! No, sorry, Freudian slip. I meant…
The Rock doesn’t take Seven of Nine seriously, saying she’s no bigger than a Tarkanian field mouse, which is the stupidest insult he’s ever uttered besides anything with the words, “roody poo.” Come to think of it, if The Rock had vowed to kick his opponent’s Tarkanian field mouse ass or called them a piece of Tarkanian field mouse crap, WWF might have had some more hit t-shirts on their hands.
Seven of Nine reluctantly fights The Rock, who wants none of her mercy and levels her with a clothesline.
One of the Starfleet members calls B’Elanna and tells her to beam Seven of Nine out of the pit, which is the nerdiest sentence I’ve ever written on this site. Well, the nerdiest that didn’t have to do with wrestling. It cracks the Top 200, easy.
It turns out, she can’t beam Seven out because she and The Rock are both holograms. The fight is being beamed from another location, making this the interplanetary equivalent of an empty arena match.
And we all know how well Rocky does in those.
This time around, The Rock wins, and with a Rock Bottom, no less.
The Voyager crew communicates with Captain Janeway, who is on vacation — the tell-tale sign than an actor can’t be bothered to spend more than a few minutes in studio for a hastily-written cross-over episode.
Back on the Tsunkatse ship, a lizard-man and fellow fighter tends to Seven, who is sporting Marianna Komlo-style bruises on her face.
Despite her loss, Seven of Nine is congratulated by the promoter for popping the ratings and being, as a hated Borg, such a great foreign heel. No, I’m not making this up, minus the wrestling jargon.
The promoter is pretty short-sighted, though, next booking Seven in another match, this one to the death, figuring that it will pop the ratings beyond the 3 billion viewers of her first match.
Risking the burial of a top new heel for the sake of a hot-shot angle? Well, this was the Attitude Era.
If Vince Russo didn’t write this episode, maybe Vince McMahon did, based on Seven’s talk of “maneuvers” in her training with the Lizard Man. Notwithstanding the instruction, the Lizard Man makes the devastating, un-be-lie-vable revelation that he too has been forced to fight against his will, a fact which hits Seven of Nine straight in the heart-area.
The crew discovers that the fights are being broadcast from a ship flying around the galactic sector (“like a traveling carnival”). At least they didn’t mention, “smoke-filled arenas.” I swear, if a galaxy-wide rival promotion starts buying up the smaller organizations and replaces Tsunkatse with its superior, upscale brand of “sports-entertainment,” I’m going to go Tarkanian ape-s***.
Seven of Nine promises Lizard Man not to show her opponent any mercy, but when it comes time for the match, it turns out that, surprise, Lizard Man himself is her opponent. Turns out, he wants to Tim-White himself, and this fight to the death is the perfect venue. The two combatants start their match in front of a live audience of zero, and I think I’ve figured out who the Tsunkatse promoter is supposed to represent.
It’s not Vince McMahon, it’s Verne Gagne!
Eventually, the Voyager crew figures out that if they can knock out the Tsunkatse ship’s transmission, no one will be able to see the match and there would be no point in the fights continuing. It’s a lesson Vince himself learned well at In Your House: Beware of Dog.
Thanks to some strategic zapping by Captain Janeway (who appears on-screen for another five seconds), the fight loses most of its viewers. But still, the fight continues, and Seven of Nine is prepared to kill her opponent for the benefit of only a handful of spectators — sort of like backyard wrestling.
Instead, both she and her opponent are beamed aboard the Voyager, ending the fight in a no-contest and sparking chants of “Fire Russo.”
At last, the Voyager crew gets their members back, and the Lizard Man can go back to his home planet.
And as for that Pendari warrior, I’m sure he left the world of Tsunkatse behind shortly thereafter for a career in movies.
Oh yeah, and what ever happened to that collapsed micro-nebula?