February 21 2024

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Retro Review: Scorpion, Part II

7 min read
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When Janeway is injured while working with the Borg, Chakotay breaks the alliance.

Plot Summary: A Borg cube flees an attack by Species 8472 with Voyager in tow. Aboard the cube, the Borg try to create a neural link with Janeway to facilitate collaboration, but Janeway insists that this violates the terms of their alliance and demands that the Borg communicate through a spokesperson. The Borg appoint Seven of Nine to represent them. When Species 8472 attacks again, Seven of Nine beams Janeway, Tuvok, herself and several other drones to Voyager just before the cube sacrifices itself to protect Voyager and its nanoprobe technology. Janeway must relinquish command for medical treatment, ordering Chakotay as she goes under to honor the agreement she has forged with the Borg. Seven of Nine demands that Chakotay reverse course to take the drones to another cube, but he refuses, promising that he will give the nanoprobe technology to the Borg once Voyager has passed through their territory. The drones discover that over four million Borg have been massacred and take control of Voyager’s deflector array to enter the fluidic space of Species 8472. Chakotay warns the drones to stop their actions or he’ll be forced to decompress the cargo bay where they are working, but the Borg continue their efforts to send Voyager into the alien space. When Chakotay follows through on his threat, all the drones are swept out into space except Seven of Nine, who is working in a Jeffries tube. Voyager is pulled into fluidic space where Species 8472 converges on the ship’s position. Because Seven of Nine knows so much about the alien realm, Chakotay realizes that the Borg have been there before and guesses that they started the war. When Janeway recovers, she is furious that Chakotay has ended the alliance but agrees that they must now work as a team to return Voyager to normal space. The nanoprobe torpedoes enable Voyager to escape Species 8472, but as soon as Seven of Nine has used the deflector to bring the ship back to Borg territory, she threatens the crew once more with assimilation. Janeway hails Chakotay, who uses a Borg transceiver to link to Seven of Nine, accessing her human memories from before she became a drone. While Seven of Nine is distracted, Torres overloads her power circuits, severing her from the Collective. Janeway decides to keep her on board to see whether her humanity can be restored.

Analysis: As an action episode, “Scorpion, Part II” succeeds admirably, avoiding the letdown that frequently plagues the second installment of a two-parter. There are niggling ongoing issues like Voyager’s infinite supply of shuttles, torpedoes, and crew morale even after a big conflict, and there are references to previous Star Trek installments like Locutus and the Borg Queen that don’t perfectly align, but the nail-biting pace, the sharp dialogue, and the tension among the characters make such problems easy to overlook. I’d become so accustomed to the hyper-feminized Seven of Nine from late in the series – who longed for a traditional love life and more than once had to be rescued like a damsel in distress – that I’d forgotten her powerful introduction, as a character who paradoxically represents a vast collective yet comes across as a determined, striking individual with a surprising range of emotions. Given that all advance publicity about the character’s arrival had focused on her appearance and the beauty-queen background of the actress playing her, it’s delightful to see right from the start that Jeri Ryan can portray both the scope and subtlety of feeling of a drone with human antecedents, and that she can stand in opposition to familiar characters without becoming antagonistic. We’ve seen plenty of new aliens come and go, but an addition to the crew causes a different shift, and in these early moments – before we know how thoroughly the series will refocus around her journey, how much that will change what’s familiar, for better or worse – it adds a jolt of excitement even to events that have become mundane, like post-battle repairs and technobabble alterations to the ship. Going through a singularity into something called fluidic space isn’t drastically more exciting than going through any other singularity, like the one Paris entered a few weeks back that led to a layer between space and subspace – we all know the ship will be back in normal space soon enough – so I regret the speed with which the conflict between the Borg and Species 8472 becomes irrelevant to Voyager’s mission, since it’s unusual to see an alien that can survive in the vacuum of space without equipment, let alone one that can challenge the Borg.

The fearsome aliens of First Contact go through a lot of changes very quickly, not all for good. The Alpha Quadrant has its Klingons and Cardassians, the Gamma Quadrant has the Dominion, but Voyager is designed to remain in motion pressing toward home, so although it seems a waste to have brought Voyager all the way to the Delta Quadrant only to keep its most famous residents on the sidelines for most of the show’s run, it’s probably just as well that the show doesn’t belabor the events of “The Best of Both Worlds” or the second Next Generation film. The writers obviously have spent more time thinking about how interaction with the Borg would affect the characters than what new science fiction stories could be told, which is great for fans who are more invested in human-interest type stories but is also why Voyager gets accused of stealing too many plots from previous shows. How many different singularities and forehead shapes can hold viewer interest? “Scorpion” literally offers smoke and mirrors as distraction during Seven of Nine’s hyper-dramatic entrance that seems more suited for a Borg Queen (or Queen Arachnia) than an ordinary drone, but given that she’ll never be treated as an ordinary member of the crew, I suppose it’s fitting. She promptly upstages the captain, who spends a crucial portion of the storyline unconscious, allowing Chakotay to put his mutiny in motion – he may believe he has his reasons, but he deliberately countermands her orders and it’s hard to argue when she accuses him of looking for a reason to break the alliance. Surely there were other tactics he could have tried before sending live Borg out like trash into the vacuum. Chakotay may be right that the Borg can’t be trusted, but Janeway’s still right that working with the Borg offers a much better chance of getting through their space than antagonizing them. If the Borg can travel through time to get to old Earth, they’ll be able to track Voyager wherever the ship goes. So if Chakotay wants to argue with Janeway, it should be about her ridiculous decision to stay on the Borg ship and work from there, which could take weeks or months, and how will anyone know she hasn’t been compromised?

Janeway keeps saying they’re all in this together, yet all indications are that she prefers to work alone or at the very least with holograms rather than with crewmembers who might hurt her feelings like Chakotay did when he told her he disagreed with her decision to forge an alliance with the Borg. She shows a strange lack of passion over his subsequent betrayal, as if she expected it from the moment he started the debate, which doesn’t make a lot of sense unless she’s still angry at him for his actions on behalf of the mini-collective from “Unity.” Chakotay is after all a man who chose to trust the Kazon in “Initiations” and the primitive humanoids in “Basics” yet his fear of the Borg is palpable. Why would Janeway in turn trust the Borg more than she trusts both her first officer and the Vulcan she once called her conscience, and why doesn’t she spend more time consulting with her chief engineer and her pilot about concerns their specialties might emphasize, considering that she’ll factor in the woo-woo intuitions of Kes? No one has let Janeway down consistently enough to warrant how isolated she’s becoming, which perhaps explains why it’s so important to her to save Seven of Nine – a lost soul assimilated as a child whom Janeway apparently sees as a chance to shape into an individual. The problem is that Seven of Nine is already extremely articulate, so though she may be parroting Borg ideas, she sounds confident and in control – like an individual already, and unlike when Picard became Locutus, whom we knew didn’t mean what he was saying, we have no prior experience of a Seven of Nine who thinks differently. Because Seven automatically takes on the role of student, Janeway must become the teacher, the voice of tradition, the representative of Starfleet orthodoxy…the person who’d be the evil admiral on any show with a captain capable of bucking Federation bureaucracy and Starfleet rigidity, as Kirk, Picard, and Sisko did so often. This is the first Star Trek show to put a character other than a captain at the thematic center of its biggest story arc, and I remain frustrated about what that does to the woman whose rightful place it should remain, with parallels that can be drawn between how Janeway wants her crew to follow and how the Borg want to assimilate.

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