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Tattoo (episode)

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VOY, Episode 2x09
Production number: 125
First aired: 6 November 1995
24th of 168 produced in VOY
24th of 168 released in VOY
  {{{nNthReleasedInSeries_Remastered}}}th of 0 released in VOY Remastered  
385th of 728 released in all
Teleplay By
Michael Piller

Story By
Larry Brody

Directed By
Alexander Singer
Unknown (2372/2344)
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Chakotay investigates mysterious symbols and visions that are remarkably similar to one of his childhood experiences.


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Chakotay, Neelix and Tuvok examine an ancient symbol

Commander Chakotay and an away team are investigating some polyferranide deposits on an uninhabited moon when Tuvok discovers an unusual symbol in the remains of a long-dead campfire. This symbol sparks a flashback in Chakotay, returning him to a memory of a childhood camping trip with his father, Kolopak. The young Chakotay sees the same symbol carved into a fallen tree trunk. His father calls the symbol a CHAH-mooz-ee and tries to explain to him that their ancestors left it as a blessing to the land. As they discuss their ancestral traditions, Chakotay displays unconcern and dislike for his father's insistence on following traditions. His father attempts to teach Chakotay about the Sky Spirits and their role in Indian history, but Chakotay remains skeptical. As the scene reverts to the present, Chakotay tells the others that the symbol is "a blessing to the land, for damaging it with the campfire." Tuvok is skeptical, and Chakotay plays down his knowledge of the rituals.

Act One

Back on USS Voyager, Ensign Wildman is in sickbay, complaining of a "shooting" pain in her lower back. The Doctor informs her that the baby is fine, it is just pressing against a nerve in her back. Kes wants to relieve Wildman of duty for a couple of days, but The Doctor refuses, telling her that she'd just have to "learn to live with" the discomforts surrounding pregnancy, and schedules her for a follow-up appointment. After she leaves, Kes lectures The Doctor about showing compassion for his patients, and he replies by stating that Voyager is crewed by adults, and that he would not "coddle them." As Kes leaves, The Doctor refutes her arguments (to himself) by proclaiming that he doesn't have a life, only a program.

In the meantime, Chakotay and Captain Janeway are discussing Chakotay's flashback on the surface of the moon. He reveals that he'd hated the expedition, expressing his dislike for being away from home and friends on the Cardassian border for an expedition in the jungle, seeking the ancient Rubber Tree People. Chakotay shows the captain a picture of the pattern he found; set against the ceremonial stone from his medicine bundle, the designs are nearly identical. Chakotay can offer only one explanation, citing an ancient myth that claims that a group of "Sky Spirits" created the Rubber Tree People and led them to a "sacred land" where they could live eternal lives. Janeway points out that he doesn't seem to believe the myth, and Chakotay counters by bringing up the story of Adam and Eve, comparing that belief to his. The captain reveals that B'Elanna Torres has detected a warp trail leading away from the moon, and asks Chakotay if he thinks they should follow it. He claims to not want to put his interests ahead of the ship's, while Janeway counters by claiming that the race that left the trail might have the polyferranide the crew needs. Chakotay agrees with her logic.

Act Two

The crew tracks the warp signature to an M-Class planet, but sensors can't find any life signs on the surface. They do, however, discover some unusually elevated EM readings, which are too high to be natural. Chakotay believes it is some sort of cloaking device, and Janeway orders Ensign Kim to transmit a continuous identification message. Lieutenant Torres then calls to inform the captain that they've discovered large deposits of polyferranide some ten kilometers underground. The captain orders an away mission to survey the deposit, and Chakotay, Torres, Tuvok, and Neelix all transport to the surface.

In the transporter room, however, problems arise. Torres and the transporter chief have tried seven sets of beam-down coordinates, but each time they lock on, a mysterious thunderstorm develops which blocks transport. Tuvok speculates that the transporter beam is causing electrostatic discharges in the atmosphere, and the team decides to proceed in a shuttle.

As the shuttle enters the planet's atmosphere, another mysterious storm develops, sparking another of Chakotay's excursions into memories of similar times long ago. Young Chakotay and his father have another disagreement about the nature and intentions of the Sky Spirits, and Chakotay still seems skeptical of their existence.

Act Three


The Doctor sneezes after having infected himself with a holo virus

The Doctor has "infected" himself with the 29-hour Levodian flu to prove a point to Kes, who is worried he is unable to feel compassion for the patients he treats. Meanwhile on the planet, the away team searches a jungle. Chakotay spots a rare flower which appears identical to one he saw during the camping trip with his father. While Torres discovers a possible lead on the mineral, Chakotay is distracted by a hawk. He remembers telling his father his plans to leave the tribe to join Starfleet. His father has mixed emotions: he recognizes his son's desire to explore the universe, but is worried that if young Chakotay leaves the tribe now he will forever be caught between worlds. Amidst their conflict, they discover a primitive structure.

Back in the present, Neelix has apparently been attacked by the same hawk Chakotay saw. While trying to fight the hawk off, Chakotay sees a brief flash of a face. As Neelix beams out, Tuvok discovers an alien structure which resembles the primitive structure from Chakotay's past. The Doctor treats Neelix, pointing out that he is twenty hours into his sickness and still does not require compassion.

After examining the structure and surrounding area, the Away team reports that while there was a civilization nearby but it left quickly, just before their arrival on the surface. Chakotay believes that with no evidence to the contrary that the beings are hiding nearby and orders the team to lay down their weapons, as his father had on the journey in his past. On that trip, after laying down their weapons to show that they posed no threat, the primitive Rubber Tree People from which Chakotay's tribe descends appeared from the brush to make friendly contact.

A severe storm strikes up very quickly, causing the away team to try to get back to their shuttle. Chakotay sees an alien figure running through the brush and is separated when a tree is blown over, pinning him to the ground and knocking off his combadge. Tuvok calls for an emergency beam out, but Chakotay is left behind.

Act Four

Paris scans the ground and finds no trace of the shuttle. Janeway prepares to return to the surface to find the commander but is interrupted by the EMH – his 29-hour flu has lasted thirty hours, causing him to panic. Kes admits she added a few hours to the illness The Doctor programmed, to teach him a lesson.

Chakotay awakens and returns to the structure. He attempts once again to address the aliens, telling them they have nothing to fear from him. He remembers his earlier experience: the Rubber Tree People stripped their clothes off and drew the tattoo symbol on his father's forehead. Chakotay strips down and dons a robe he finds in the structure.

When it becomes clear that weather prevents any attempt to beam down to the surface, Tuvok postulates that someone is controlling the climate to prevent visitors. Left with no other choice, Janeway decides to prepare Voyager to land on the surface to search for the missing commander. The weather's severity increases, putting the ship in danger.

Chakotay, Sky Spirit

"My people called you the Sky Spirits."

Chakotay takes shelter from the intense weather in a cave where he once more tries to communicate with the aliens. This time he is apparently successful: several armed humanoid aliens appear, each with a tattoo similar to his own. The alien is shocked to learn that he is Human, which he calls "The Inheritors." 45,000 years previously the group of beings visited Earth and ran across a group of primitive nomadic Humans. Impressed by their respect for the land, the beings gifted the people with a genetic bond. They are the Sky Spirits Chakotay's people have worshiped for countless generations.

The Sky Spirit goes on to explain that when they received Voyager's message of peace, they were worried – they were afraid that Voyager, like Human conquerors generations ago, were dishonest and intended to wipe them out. After Chakotay explains that they mean no harm, the weather suddenly dissipates, freeing Voyager.

Chakotay is located by an away team and says goodbye to the Sky Spirit people. As a hawk flies overhead, he hears his father's voice, "Do you hear him, Chakotay?" "Yes father," Chakotay says aloud, "I finally hear him."

Memorable Quotes

"I don't have a life, I have a program."

- The Doctor

"Doc? I don't feel so good."
"Neither do I and you don't hear me complaining."

- Kim and The Doctor

"Choose the word that would best describe your pain; burning, throbbing, piercing, pinching, biting, stinging, shooting..."

- The Doctor, to Samantha Wildman

"The logical course isn't always the right course."

- Chakotay, to Tuvok

"Sorry, Sky Spirits. I will never make friends with bugs."
"Maybe that's why they keep biting you."

- Young Chakotay and Kolopak

"Holographic tissue paper for the holographic runny nose. - Don't give it to the patients."

- The Doctor, on his symptoms for the Levodian flu he programmed into himself

"You're lucky the bird didn't tear your eye from its socket - we have no spare Talaxian eyeballs."

- The Doctor to Neelix

"She's far more devious than I ever suspected."

- The Doctor, to Harry Kim about Kes

"The Sky Spirits must have taken a wrong turn somewhere."

- Chakotay, while hiking with his father in South America

"Warning, approach vector is too steep. Discontinue landing sequence."
"Can somebody turn that off, please?!"

- The Computer and Tom Paris

"Can we go to low warp?"
"The ship might make it without inertial dampeners but we'll all be stains on the back wall."

- Kim and Paris

"We need that extra power, B'Elanna."
"Ten minutes. I just need ten minutes."

- Janeway and B'Elanna

"Put those away!"

- Chakotay, to the Voyager away team armed with phasers on the Sky Spirit's planet

"A lot of things have changed since the last time you stopped by."

- Chakotay, to the Sky Spirit

Background Information

Story and Script

  • This episode had the working title "First World". [1] The story was originally planned for inclusion during Star Trek: Voyager's first season. (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages) Co-writer Larry Brody commented, "I came up with the idea and wrote the preliminary treatment for the episode, but because of time problems, I was never able to write the teleplay [....] 'Tattoo' was sold after about half a dozen meetings with the Voyager staff." [2] The evolution of the plot was initially problematic. Executive Producer Michael Piller offered, "It was [...] a story that had been pitched and we bought but which didn't turn out right. Nobody could figure out how to make it work." (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages) Consequently, the story was virtually abandoned. (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages; Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 88)
  • The episode was resurrected by Michael Piller. As such, the outing was the first of four from Star Trek: Voyager's second season that he was involved in writing (apart from an uncredited rewrite on the earlier Season 2 installment "Parturition"). (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 88) In its final form, the story developed from a series of meetings designed to get the series back on track during its second season. "This is the first story," declared Michael Piller, "that came out of the emergency development meetings that we had." (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages)
  • Michael Piller was intensely interested in further developing the narrative. "I'd always been attracted to the idea of the pitch," he said, "which was that Indians have these myths about sky spirits, and a natural extension of that myth was that these could have been travelers from space." (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages) Piller also reminisced, "I had always had a fondness for [it] [....] The idea always appealed to me that it was part of the Native American lore that sky spirits came down and affected them or blessed them in some fashion." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 88) The opportunity to explore the character of Chakotay was another factor that appealed to Piller. He remarked, "For Chakotay to find evidence of these sky spirits seemed to be the beginning of a terrific personal journey." Piller elaborated, "Here's a man who has lost his faith, and he gets it back through this journey. That's a very interesting thing to write [....] I looked at this as an opportunity to really delve into his character." (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages)
  • The notion of including flashbacks to Chakotay's youth came naturally to the writer. "I had the idea of doing flashbacks at this development meeting and I said, 'Let me take a crack at it. I think I can do something about his relationship with his tribe and his father and cut back and forth and maybe go back to the original sky spirits.'" (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages)
  • The episode's B-story, concerning The Doctor dealing with Levodian flu, was originally suggested by actor Robert Picardo. "That was the first story idea that I suggested that has actually been used by the writers," Picardo reflected. "I pitched that idea first to Jeri Taylor and then to Michael Piller. Not having any interest in writing myself, I was doing it just because I thought it might be a fun thing to act. In my version, Captain Janeway, in an effort to teach me a lesson, changed my program. But being a much smarter man than I, Michael Piller had the notion to make it my own challenge to myself, and that I altered my program to prove that illness would not in any way affect my job performance." Moments later, a laughing Picardo remembered, "I said to Michael Piller that, of course, the holographic doctor, once he has this [flu], he became an absolutely terrible patient. I suggested simply a common cold, but I think in the world of Star Trek the common cold has long been cured. Michael took that kernel of an idea, and created a great 'B' story, and was very appreciative of my suggestion." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, pp. 96-97)
  • Another addition that Robert Picardo made to the story was the content of the first scene of the episode's first act. "I [...] suggested that the first scene be with Ensign Wildman," Picardo explained. "I thought it would be very funny for the audience if I was showing absolutely no sympathy for a very pregnant woman. I wanted to pick a situation where the audience was most likely to find my lack of sympathy objectionable." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 96)
  • The act of writing this episode was somewhat of a personal revolution for Michael Piller. He recalled, "This was a beginning for me of rediscovering what was so neat about writing Star Trek. Suddenly I was writing a story about a man who is, during the course of investigating a mystery, reconciling his conflicts with his father, learning to embrace his cultural heritage, learning about Indian lore and even anthropology. So many different elements were working together in the script, it was very, very satisfying." (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages)
  • The writing of this episode was influenced by the fact that Michael Piller, having recently analyzed the pacing of other contemporary television programs, had come to firmly believe that Star Trek: Voyager's pacing should be considerably faster and tighter than it had been. He related, "'Tattoo' was written in sort of a rage, because this was right in the middle of my battle about pace. I set out to prove that there was a way to tell stories without writing long scenes and I turned in a script that had 190 or 200 scenes. Look at all the levels you're dealing with–flashbacks, a mystery, a culture and an issue of history–there are so many things going on." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 83)
  • The final draft of this episode's script was submitted on 11 August 1995. [3]


  • This is the second in a triumvirate of Chakotay-centric, second season episodes that Chakotay actor Robert Beltran thought were all "really fine scripts" (the other episodes being "Initiations" and "Maneuvers"). (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 99) Beltran felt that this episode's themes were vast but relatable. The actor explained, "That was like a huge epic story condensed into one hour. For me, it was a very personal episode because I related to it on a couple of different levels. For example, in the episode, Chakotay says, 'I don't understand the ancient language of my people,' and my Spanish is passable but I'm always revealing that I'm not yet able to participate fully in conversation with my own people. So a lot of elements of that story resonated very strongly with me." (Star Trek Monthly issue 20) Beltran thought more highly of this episode upon watching or re-watching it than he had when working on it. At about the end of the second season, he said, "I just saw 'Tattoo' again recently. I found it to be much better than I remembered. It's very rich and complex, and I just liked the many layers of the story [....] It was a good strong episode." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 99) Near the end of production of the series in 2001, Beltran commented that he felt this episode was "pretty inspiring, I think because it dealt with issues of ecology and acceptance of one's heritage." [4]
  • The shot of a nude Chakotay used a body double, instead of Robert Beltran. (Delta Quadrant, p. 79)
  • Robert Beltran enjoyed the opportunity this episode gave him to play opposite Henry Darrow (Kolopak), enthusing, "It was great to have Henry Darrow play my father [....] I'm pleased I got to work with him." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine, issue #7)
  • Robert Picardo ultimately held this episode in high esteem. He commented, "I was quite proud of that episode [...] and I thought the finished product was pretty funny." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, pp. 96 & 97)

Production and Effects

  • This was the first of ten Star Trek: Voyager episodes to be directed by Alexander Singer.
  • Voyager's production personnel were initially anxious about creating such an ambitious episode as this. Michael Piller remembered, "The call from the production people was 'We can't do this.' I said 'Yes you can. Let's find a way.'" (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 83)
  • Scenes concerning The Doctor's encounter with Levodian flu were filmed in a single day. Robert Picardo recalled of the episode, "[It] really only required one day's work of me [....] That was a fun day's work. We shot the scenes out of sequence, so I kind of had to track the progression of my illness carefully. I had great fun doing that." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, pp. 96 & 97)
  • Alan Sims was responsible for hiring the trained hawk for this episode that swooped down and attacked Neelix. The fact that the bird was filmed on location became problematic during production, however, as the hawk did not do what was required of it. "Instead," recalled Alan Sims, "the hawk spotted a crow and went off after it in the opposite direction. It took hours to find him. The delay was a nightmare." (Star Trek 30 Years, p. 46)
  • Michael Piller found the location work involved in the making of this episode to be "quite disappointing". (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages)
  • On the other hand, of all the sets designed by production designer Richard James during the first two seasons of Star Trek: Voyager, Tuvok actor Tim Russ' favorite set was the jungle environment from this episode. "The combination high-tech, yet ancient structures, combined with the tropical forest was amazing," Russ enthused. "It was humid, it smelled like dirt. There's never any need to imagine that you are on an alien planet, because the realism is so breathtaking." (Star Trek: Communicator, issue #111, p. 53)
  • The scene in which the young Chakotay, Kolopak and their companions disarm utilized stock weapon props. (Delta Quadrant, p. 79)
  • The footage of Voyager descending towards the Sky Spirit's planet was evidently reused from "The 37's".
  • This is the second Star Trek episode, after TNG: "A Matter Of Honor", to feature on-screen subtitles.


  • Michael Piller was extremely proud of this episode's teleplay. "It was an incredibly ambitious script and I was delighted with it," he enthused. "It is full of dark and brooding emotions." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 83) Additionally, Piller was grateful that the episode had been given the go-ahead. He said of the installment, "It represented a commitment by this staff to do challenging, provocative material. The show had a mystery, a personal meaning for Chakotay, and it explored the human condition through that character. Those to me are the kinds of goals we should have as a writing staff." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 88)
  • However, Michael Piller ultimately felt that this episode did not achieve the full potential of its script. "The show lost something in translation to film," he said. "I would say it's one of the most disappointing episodes for me, because I know what was on the page." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 88) He also remarked, "Maybe it was too ambitious, because something was lost on the way to film." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 83) Explaining what he believed were some of the episode's weak points, Piller stated, "There was a certain intensity, a certain dark, brooding quality that we wanted to get out of Chakotay that I think we didn't get to [...] and I felt that the show was named 'Tattoo', but you could barely see the tattoos on anybody." (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages)
  • Larry Brody admired Michael Piller's work on the installment, saying, "To his credit, [he] made 'Tattoo' into an episode I really liked." [5]
  • Executive Producer Rick Berman was also pleased with how this episode turned out, referring to the finished product as "a lovely show". (Star Trek: Communicator issue #105, p. 12)
  • This episode achieved a Nielsen rating of 5.8 million homes, and an 8% share. [6]
  • Star Trek Monthly gave this episode 3 out of 5 stars, defined as "Warp Speed". (Star Trek Monthly issue 14, p. 62)
  • Cinefantastique gave the installment 3 out of 4 stars. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 84)
  • The reference book Delta Quadrant (p. 81) scored the episode 5 out of 10.

Continuity and Trivia

  • Michael Piller believed this episode dealt more substantially with a character arc than any of the previous episodes in Star Trek: Voyager's second season. "Up until that point," he said, "the shows really weren't about anything. Here was an episode that really went back to basics. It was 'Let's try to make this show not just about a man finding Indians in space, let's make it about Chakotay. Let's talk about character' [....] In general I thought it was a show that led the way in terms of being about something." (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages)
  • This installment, at least in Robert Beltran's opinion, gave more back story to the Chakotay character than any previous episode of the series but still left some questions about him unanswered. Beltran said of the episode, "We [now] know what happened with the tattoo and why he has the tattoo, which was a question that a lot of people had. I think that a lot of questions were answered, and I think we found some more layers opened up about him." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 28, No. 4/5, p. 99) Shortly after working on the episode, Beltran also explained, "We knew Chakotay had a medicine bundle and that he liked to have quiet moments of prayer, which I've always felt were fascinating things to see on a science-fiction show. What we couldn't go ahead with until recently was explaining some of his back story. What is his specific tribe? What does the tattoo mean? Those questions have been pretty much answered in 'Tattoo.' Now we know more about his people; we've narrowed things down, though we still don't know everything, like the exact name of Chakotay's tribe. That will come." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine, issue #7) Chakotay's particular tribe is never named in the entire series of Voyager, however.
  • Although Chakotay's homeworld is left unnamed in this episode (as with the rest of the series), Star Trek Monthly issue 10 refers to the planet as Dorvan V. This planet, which appears in TNG: "Journey's End", was indeed originally intended to have been Chakotay's homeworld. (Star Trek Monthly issue 4, p. 55)
  • According to the Star Trek: Star Charts, on page 84, the Voyager visited the Sky Spirits' Homeworld on stardate 49070. This would place the episode after Cold Fire.

Video and DVD releases

Links and references


Also starring

Guest stars


Uncredited co-stars


acelyte; Adam and Eve; alloy-polymer matrix; antithoron; away team; Baldoxic vinegar; Central America; CHAH-mooz-ee; cloaking device; combadge; cyclone; cypripedium; Delta Quadrant; Earth; electrical storm; fusion reactor; hawk; horticulture; inertial dampener; Inheritor; fire; kilometer; Levodian flu; lizard; logic; magnesite; meter; monsoon; orchid; Paphiopedilum; polyferranide; red alert; Rubber Tree People; salad; sciatic nerve; Sky Spirit; Sky Spirits' homeworld; Starfleet Academy; Sulu, Captain; surveyor; Talaxian; tricorder; Vulcan orchid; warp coil; warp signature

Previous episode:
"Persistence of Vision"
Star Trek: Voyager
Season 2
Next episode:
"Cold Fire"

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