“Infinite Regress”

I didn’t expect the follow-up to “Timeless” to live up to that episode’s excellence, because you rarely get two masterpiece episodes in a row. “Infinite Regress” wasn’t bad, though… just a little overwrought. I sure can’t blame Seven of Nine actress Jeri Ryan for wanting to stretch her range beyond “dour condescending automaton,” and to her credit she chews scenery with a lot more alpomb than Brett Spiner ever did in his goofball Data-goes-wild episodes.

The premise: A fragment of a shattered Borg cube — the computer at the core of the cube — syncs up with Seven over wi-fi (more or less) and attempts to repatriate her into the Collective. This causes the personalities of countless beings who had also been absorbed into the Collective through the years to bleed through into her mind. It’s a “Sybil”/multiple-personality episode, underscored by the horror of the fact that these had been actual people, lost forever to the Borg. And while possession isn’t really anything new or different for Trek, those episodes usually play out a lot worse than this. So kudos to “Infinite Regress” for being far better than, say, “Turnabout Intruder.”

Still, it’s not like there was really much question of whether things or not would revert to the status quo by the episode’s end; Voyager isn’t a high-stakes show that kills its lead characters off without warning. The one regular to have been lost to date, Kes, vanished after a bit of build-up (and after having been relegated to guest star status for a few episodes). So rather than playing out as a tense struggle for Seven’s continued existence, “Infinite Regress” instead feels like a procedural of how they’re gonna get outta this pickle.

Things are somewhat complicated by the arrival of the aliens responsible for the pickle in the first place: A race of people in Tron Guy outfits made out of trash bags. Several members of this race performed an act of self-sacrifice, allowing themselves to be assimilated in order to infect a Borg cube with a destructive, madness-causing techno-organic virus that they hoped to spread into the Collective as a whole. These guys don’t particularly care about Seven’s well-being and, quite understandably, are mostly concerned that Voyager not screw up their self-sacrificing plan by wandering away with the infected core before the Borg can reclaim it.

Honestly, though, their presence feels like a bridge too far, further defusing the episode’s tension by asking us to care about too many things at once. The basic premise — Seven is going nuts and demonstrating the personalities of a bunch of different beings of numerous races — is already dramatic enough. And the story involves Janeway beaming the central processor of a Borg cube into the cargo bay of Voyager, an act fraught with peril and dramatic possibilities all on its own. That alone would have been enough to drive the episode, but instead we also get Voyager sitting around passively while a hostile alien wears down its shields and blows out its power grid (but evidently not so terminally that the ship can’t immediately jump to Warp 9 once the situation is resolved).

I dunno. We don’t need one-sided space combat every episode. It loses its gravity when it’s the same “Shields at 60%! 35%! One more hit and we’re done for!” every single time. Make conflict count, show runners from 20 years ago, sheesh.

Still, I’ll forgive this episode for its shortcomings simply for letting Jeri Ryan emote (including giving B’elanna a Klingon-style Blood Hickey out of nowhere) more than she has in the past year of episodes. And I kinda like the way Seven has conscripted Naomi Wildman to be her understudy; I didn’t realize after “Once Upon a Time” that the ship’s sole child was going to become a regular, but I’m OK with that. She seems like a good kid, and as always, I always like when a seemingly insignificant plot thread (Naomi’s anxiety around Seven, a real-life boogieman on the ship, in “Once Upon a Time”) turns out to be the setup for developments a few episodes later.