Star Trek: Voyager’s First Officer – The Chakotay Breakdown
Star Trek Prodigy asks the question, “Where is Chakotay?” Some of you may be asking, “Who is Chakotay?” Well…
Star Trek: Voyager is a seminal series for the franchise. But, because of its setting, we don’t always feel its impact on the remainder of the Star Trek canon. While most shows take place in the Alpha Quadrant, Voyager exists almost entirely in the mysterious Delta Quadrant. And as such, many of the allies and foes the crew meets along the way are forgotten. At least for a time.
Fast forward to 2022, and that time is very much over. With a plethora of new ‘Star Trek’ shows, a return to the Delta Quadrant was inevitable. And we have that return in the form of the all-ages CGI series Star Trek: Prodigy. Set after the events of Star Trek: Voyager (and, indeed, Star Trek: Nemesis) Prodigy sees the return of the Delta Quadrant and a few familiar faces from its past as well.
One of those faces is former Voyager first officer Chakotay. He should be the current captain of the Protostar. Instead, he is missing. And, while Vice Admiral Janeway hunts for her former first officer, now is the perfect time to ruminate on who Chakotay is. What’s his whole deal? Who might he be when we encounter him again?
Chakotay is human but he hails from a planet near the Cardassian border (more on that later). The Native American tribe Chakotay is part of left Earth to form a colony that eschews modern technology. But modern comforts still exist where Chakotay is born. And while his father Kolopak tries to keep Chakotay living a simple life, Chakotay does not feel much attachment to his own tribe as a young man.
Eventually, Chakotay leaves his tribe entirely to join Starfleet. In fact, he receives sponsorship from Captain Sulu! And Chakotay is good at being a cadet. He’s an excellent pilot and he’s strong. He graduates and comes out of the gate a little too confident. Chakotay is an overzealous overachiever. And he winds up accidentally sexually propositioning alien leaders or beaming down to planets naked. He’s learning! He’s messing up! But he’s having fun.
Unfortunately, while Chakotay is away, Kolopak dies at the hands of the Cardassians. And this totally changes Chakotay because he and Kolopak were not on good terms after Chakotay joined Starfleet. Unable to reconcile with his father, Chakotay instead resigns from his Starfleet commission, takes on all his father’s faith and beliefs, and joins the Maquis, a group of freedom fighters, to defeat the Cardassians.
Chakotay the Maquis
So, the Cardassians are not very nice to non-Cardassians and also they want to conquer everyone. The Federation makes a treaty with the Cardassians to end a war and the terms of that treaty involve redrawing the proverbial map and giving some worlds to the Cardassian Empire. You’ll never guess what side of the fence Chakotay’s home world lands on.
Chakotay is a better Maquis than he is a Starfleet officer and he becomes a leader of his own cell pretty quickly. He gets his own ship the Val Jean and everything. And with the help of his crewmembers who include Seska, B’Elanna Torres, and Tuvok. Together they run many missions against the Cardassians, including one where they disable the computer core on a Cardassian frigate orbiting Bajor.
But the Val Jean isn’t always lucky. And after a fight with a Cardassian warship captained by Gul Evek, Chakotay and his crew hightail it to the Badlands. And there, along with a Federation starship called Voyager, they get whisked away to the distant Delta Quadrant by a mysterious entity called the Caretaker.
Chakotay the First Officer
Chakotay gets a lot of bad news in the Delta Quadrant. The Val Jean is irreparable. A lot of his crew is dead. Tuvok is a secret Starfleet agent. And the Voyager’s captain Janeway decides to destroy the Caretaker’s Array a.k.a. their only ticket back to the Alpha Quadrant. Also: eventually Chakotay’s going to learn that his sometimes-girlfriend Seska is a Cardassian agent in Bajoran-face – and she is all-caps CRAZY!
But here’s the (kind of) good news: half of Captain Janeway’s crew is dead, too! There is good news, promise. So she and Chakotay make a bargain to combine forces, make all the Maquis honorary Starfleet officers, bring them on board Voyager, and have Chakotay take over as the ship’s first officer. Sweet deal!
Chakotay, as a former Starfleet officer, rides his own Maquis hard to get them to follow Starfleet regulations. And while he and Janeway do not always (or even often) agree at first, Chakotay keeps the possibility of mutiny at bay as Voyager’s combined crew slowly learns to trust one another.
There are three main relationships that help define Chakotay’s time in the Delta Quadrant.
For a guy who runs a terrorist cell for several years, Chakotay sure is trusting. Tuvok slips into the Maquis even though he’s a Starfleet spy pretty easily. But the fact that Chakotay dates Seska, a secret Cardassian operative? That stings.
On the one hand, Chakotay breaks up with Seska before he finds out she’s a spy and before they wind up in the Delta Quadrant. But on the other hand, he’s the only person who keeps defending her when she’s obviously making deals with the Kazon behind Captain Janeway’s back.
But arguably the most telling part of Chakotay’s relationship with Seska is how badly she games him after she leaves Voyager, shacks up with a Kazon Maje, and goes back to looking like a Cardassian. Not only does Seska kidnap Chakotay, not only does she steal his DNA, but she also tells Chakotay that she is pregnant with his child. And he believes it!
Long story short? Seska’s baby is not Chakotay’s, but that doesn’t stop him from chasing after her for a bit. You can charitably argue that this shows what a big heart Chakotay has. And while giving people second chances can be a noble, caring decision, Chakotay gives Seska way more chances than that. And he likely would’ve given her even more chances had Seska not died getting caught up in the blast of an overloading computer console.
In short, Chakotay’s heart is a little too big.
The entire fate of Voyager hangs on the relationship between Janeway and Chakotay. Neither the Starfleet officers nor the Maquis crew can get home without each other. How do Chakotay and Janeway convince each other of this fact? They just kind of get it. But that does not mean Chakotay always agrees with Janeway.
There are two times Janeway and Chakotay worth noting here because they illustrate why the pair need each other and how they are both flawed. In both instances, the debate is over forming alliances in the Delta Quadrant. Alliances are a big no-no for a Starfleet vessel since none of these races are part of the Federation.
Fittingly, in “Alliances” Chakotay presses Janeway to form an alliance with the Kazon after yet another Voyager crew member dies. Janeway eventually tries but can’t handle the Kazon’s sexism. And then Chakotay pushes her again to form an alliance with the Trabe, the race who enslaved the Kazon. Chakotay convinces Janeway the Trabe are reformed. Long story short: he is wrong.
In “Scorpion” Janeway decides to enter into an alliance with the Borg to defeat Species 8472. Chakotay is totally against the idea because the Borg are assimilating maniacs. And while Janeway pulls it off, Voyager would not have survived without Chakotay’s caution.
A lot of people focus on the potential for a romance between Chakotay and Janeway, but the most important part of their relationship is their willingness to challenge one another when necessary. And the fact that Chakotay never mutinies shows the restraint and patience he has as a second in command.
Seven of Nine
And now for a thorny topic. Chakotay actor Robert Beltran does not feel Chakotay gets enough meat — to this day he still complains about it! And he’s not wrong: other than the occasional conflict with Janeway, some boxing, and the fact that he’s Native American (more on that later), Chakotay is a little thin on character development.
Enter his romance with Seven of Nine. There’s not a lot to say about it sadly. The two get together in Star Trek: Voyager‘s final season. Most of the focus is on Seven trying to get in touch with her human emotions. But in the series finale “Endgame” we do find out that Chakotay basically dies of a broken heart because Seven of Nine doesn’t make it back to the Alpha Quadrant with him.
Here’s what we can say: Chakotay is a romantic – often to his detriment. Seven isn’t even the first Borg he falls in love with! Not the most wise decision, but at least Chakotay puts himself out there. Janeway can barely make it work with a holographic Irishman!
Having a Native American character on Voyager is a first for Star Trek. The catch is that Robert Beltran is Mexican American, not Native American. But, hey, no worries, because producers solve that by hiring someone to consult: Jamake Highwater. Highwater has some clout already, having written “The Primal Mind: Vision and Reality in Indian America”. So clearly Chakotay is in good hands.
Spoiler alert: Chakotay is not in good hands. Highwater is not Native American. His real name isn’t even Jamake Highwater, it’s Jackie Marks. And the way that impacts Chakotay is pretty obvious – his character lacks authenticity. Marks did bring in Sioux and Hopi aspects to the character, but there’s never a full distinction on what tribe Chakotay is part of.
It’s a shame. Being Native American is a big part of Chakotay’s character. Especially early on in Star Trek: Voyager, Chakotay’s beliefs play an instrumental role in helping some members of the crew find direction in their impossible circumstances.
Star Trek: Prodigy
The good news is that Chakotay gets a second chance. Though Star Trek: Voyager ended over two decades ago, its character lives on with Star Trek: Prodigy. And while we have not seen much of Chakotay yet in the series, we do know some of what happens to him post-Voyager.
While Janeway is done traversing the Delta Quadrant, Chakotay opts to voyage back as the captain of a new shape: The Protostar. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, somehow, the Protostar winds up buried in a prison colony – and Chakotay is nowhere to be found.
So while a ragtag bunch of aliens uses the Protostar to help others and find a home for themselves, Chakotay’s whereabouts are unknown. Thankfully his old friend Kathryn Janeway is still looking for him. We have a funny feeling he’ll be showing up sooner than later.
And then we’ll have all new things to learn about Chakotay!