I didn’t expect two (well, three) such disparate episodes to share a common central theme, but there it is: Both “Dark Frontier” and “The Disease” hinge heavily on the maternal relationship Captain Janeway has with certain of her crewmembers. It’s something the other Trek series have done erratically: Sisko is literally a single father; Kirk got a son and immediately lost him; Picard will never have kids, but he always had a sort of fatherly connection to Data. Janeway, though… perhaps because of the circumstances Voyager found itself thrust into, she has a fiercely protective attitude toward the younger, less experienced members of her crew. In “Dark Frontier,” we see that applied to Seven of Nine (who bookended her time as a Borg as a six-year-old human and an adult woman trying to reclaim her humanity). In “The Disease,” she focuses that parental attitude on Harry Kim.
I suppose that’s about it for common themes, then.
“Dark Frontier” brings us back to the Borg in a two-parter that, I suspect, marks the beginning of one of the things I see people complain about in regard to this series: The defanging of the Borg as the galaxy’s ultimate threat. We’ve already seen them struggle to overcome Species 8472; now we have them behaving senselessly at the behest of the Borg Queen, mysteriously resurrected after being dissolved into a puddle of bio-goo in First Contact. I’m not averse to the concept of the Borg Queen; she follows logically on the heels of Picard’s turn as Locutus. The idea that the Collective would “embody” itself in the form of a representative to speak to difficult species makes reasonable sense and is at least consistent with one of the race’s first appearances. But I can also see where the writers have to take care not to let the queen cross over the line between avatar and individual.
“Individuality” is very much the central topic of this episode in any case, as the Borg want Seven back but don’t immediately absorb her. Instead, they say they value her for her individuality. I guess the idea is that by studying her and convincing her to become repatriated of her own free will, they can better understand how to prevent other drones from leaving the Collective. I dunno. It’s not really explained, and trying to represent motives that exist beyond human comprehension is tricky; you always run the risk of under-explaining and failing to provide a compelling premise, or over-explaining and rendering the mystery mundane (see: the Reavers in the Mass Effect sequels). I don’t know that this episode really pulls it off.
But then, the real point here was that the Borg want their drone back, and Janeway doesn’t want them to take her. The final showdown between the Queen and Janeway over Seven’s loyalty is basically a huge Aliens ripoff — all that’s missing is Janeway shooting up some Borg maturation creches — but that’s OK, because ya might as well steal from the best, you know?
“Dark Frontier” does a lot to flesh out the Borg, which includes providing an explanation of what a “unimatrix” is and showing… well, if not the Borg capital, then at least a central nexus for their activities. It also gives us some weird new Borg ship forms. More interesting, though, are the flashbacks to Seven’s childhood with her parents, who were the Jane Goodall to the Collective, studying them in the while. The Hansen family has a tendency to know a little more about the Borg than they should (like, how would they know that Unimatrix 01 is the Queen’s domain?), but I did enjoy the way their survey played on the “drone”/beehive metaphor of the Borg. Especially the way they surreptitiously swiped a regenerating drone from his chamber to bag ‘im and tag ‘im.
I also appreciate the way the writers thought through a lot of the logical consequences of the situation, e.g. the Hansens’ technique for remaining “invisible” no longer worked because the Borg added the Hansens’ knowledge to the Collective. Still, the whole premise of this episode — the Borg wanted Seven back but didn’t assimilate her, and they were willing to use Voyager’s well-being as a bargaining chip — rings somewhat false, but diminishes it a bit. But, for the most part, it includes a lot of interesting moments and details, e.g. the Holodeck drills and the “transwarp coil” concept being weaponized.
“The Disease” is a litttttle too obvious in its central theme — Seven describes love as a disease, and the next moment, Harry Kim gets some sort of what appears to be a bioluminescent STD from making out with one of the Sirens from O Brother Where Art Thou — and I’m disappointed that it went the cliché route of making Harry’s romantic interest turn out to be a villain. I mean, I guess we always know something is going to happen to a crew member’s fleeting romance, but… would it be so hard to switch things up occasionally? Surprise us? At least the writers didn’t kill her off at the end — in fact, there’s no real reason Kim’s love buddy Tahl couldn’t just come along with Voyager when all was said and done.
The standout elements of this episode were the generational ship concept, and the fact that once again we skip the first contact bits and move immediately into the phase of the relationship between Voyager and the Varro people where they are wrapping up their collaboration… and also the point where Harry is breaking the rules to get some alien action. The straight-laced and unlucky ensign deserves a little happiness, though, so it’s hard not to sympathize with his breaking protocol. Not to mention feeling bad for him when Janeway throws the book at him — something even Chakotay questions. But she admits in the end it’s simply because he’s so reliable and dutiful that she expected better from him. It’s not necessarily fair, but I guess it’s the downside to being the favorite son.
There were a couple of unusually elaborate camera sequences this episode, including the breathtaking opening pan along the length of the Varro’s vessel that zooms in through a window, bringing us to Harry and Tahl getting naked for each other. Later, there’s a great continuous tracking shot that goes from the staff briefing room, across the width of the Bridge, and into Janeway’s ready room. It involves a lot of dialogue and a lot of movement, and is a much more complex scene than I think I’ve ever seen on television Trek before — it’s more of a movie shot. It’s great, though. It really gives a sense of how the ship’s Deck 1 is laid out better than any other scene I can recall. I love stuff like that and hope we see more elaborate cinematography in future episodes.