While there can never be another Arnold Schwarzenegger, the closest pop culture has come to catching this curious, muscular lightning in a bottle twice has been with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Johnson has no less than five major motion pictures debuting in the coming months, ranging from major franchise films like Fast and Furious 6, tentpole family fare like G.I. Joe: Retaliation and the muscle-head comedy, Pain & Gain. You and I both know, however, that his first real acting gig, other than on the WWE mats, was out in the Delta Quadrant, in the Voyager episode “Tsunkatse.”
First aired 13 years ago this week, “Tsunkatse” is a quite-entertaining Seven of Nine-based episode that served as a nice backdoor to get new people into the show. Casting The Rock as a Pendari fighter was a nice bit of UPN synergy at the time, as the WWF (as it was still called) was on Voyager's network. The episode got terrific ratings and was a win-win for everyone. Johnson was able to prove he could read lines, ensuring a guest spot on Saturday Night Live, followed by the flashback prologue as the Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns. Yes, beating the crap out of Seven of Nine led directly to a massive career as both a silver screen badass (see energetic actioners like Faster and Walking Tall) and wholesome family fare (Tooth Fairy and Race to Witch Mountain.)
“Tsunkatse” also works as a great advertising for Voyager, showing off its chief attributes. Namely, a band of space adventurers all working together as a team and, let's be honest, this is television, Jeri Ryan in some outfits that'll blow the intermix chamber of your matter/antimatter reactor. Were a wrestling fan to tune in, he'd come for the blows in the arena, bug out over Seven of Nine, but (quite possibly) stay for the characters.
A newcomer would immediately see what was so appealing about Seven of Nine. Beautiful, certainly. Built like a tank and ready to go mano a mano with both The Rock and a Hirogen. But beyond that there are hints at the “little girl lost” that is Annika Hansen, the assimilated human-turned-drone that is still unsure of her place in Federation society. While it is a journey only she can make, it takes a village (as we were wont to say back in the 90s) and her comrades Tuvok, the Doctor, Tom Paris, Chakotay and most importantly Captain Janeway were there to help her along the way.
“Tsunkatse,” oddly, is almost devoid of Janeway; the whole episode is one of shore leave gone wrong, and she's off in Delta Flyer most of the time. As such, we get to see how the rest of the crew steps up to aid colleague in need.
The premise of “Tsunkatse” is a bit of a riff on TOS' “Arena” and “Gamesters of Triskelion,” but with a little extra satire. Jeffrey Combs (in his only Voyager appearance!) is a spaceborne gladiatorial impresario who kidnaps fighters, holding them captive to fight one another for holo-ratings. Tuvok and Seven of Nine are pinched (they are en route to check out a micro nebula, because shore leave just means more science!) and Seven agrees to fight if it means medical attention for the wounded Vulcan. She first enters the ring opposite The Rock in a “blue match,” but looses because she restrains her killer instinct. Nevertheless she's a big ratings hit (duh!) so she's brought back for a “red match” - a fight til the death – and it is here that she must unleash the tamped-down hunter instinct she's been trying to subdue since her acceptance on Voyager.
Looking at the show now, some of the edges have frayed. The opening 360-degree shot of the set is supposed to impress, but it looks plastic, cheap and not exactly jam packed with fans. But it works where it counts. The fighting, whether with The Rock or opposite the Hirogen (played by J.G. Hertzler, better known to us as Martok) is well choreographed and punishing. And the training scenes between Hertzler and Jeri Ryan really sparkle, too.
There's no denying that some real martial arts training went into these sequences, and Ryan (in a new, silvery outfit that shows off her biceps) milks it for all it's worth.
Before the rest of the crew discover what's up, you'll also get to see our characters just, you know, hanging out. For folks who love callbacks to earlier Trek lore, there's lots of talk about Parrises Squares and Nausicaans, as well as some chatter about the pre-Maquis friendship between Chakotay and B'Elanna Torres. It has a natural charm and, I think, was a wise way to try and get new fans to jump aboard the ship while there was still a good season-and-a-half left in the series.
Oh, and Dwayne Johnson totally does “The People's Eyebrow” in close-up, before finishing Seven of Nine with “The Rock Bottom.”
Were you watching 13 years ago when The Rock fought Seven of Nine? Are you still a Dwayne Johnson fan today? Let us know your recollection in the comments below.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, ScreenCrush and Badass Digest. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels.