Two-Year Mission says: So ya thought ya might like to go to the show?
All the nice things I said about the person who wrote Deep Space Nine‘s extremely circumspect Netflix descriptions do not transfer over to the Voyager writer. The intriguing mystery at the center of two of these three episodes were glibly spoiled in a single sentence. Bad copywriter! No dragonfruit being presented as Neelix’s alien flora for you.
While “Drone” isn’t a flawless episode, I really enjoyed it. The story here calls back to a lot of “previously on Star Trek” type moments. A transporter accident propels the plot forward. We’re reminded that a single Borg tactical sphere is still a deadly threat to a ship like Voyager, and that Seven’s integration into the crew doesn’t mean all Borg wanna be pals. Oh, and the central premise here is an awful lot like the dreadful The Next Generation episode “The Child,” except without all the horrible, demeaning things that show constantly did to Counselor Troi.
The premise: The wizard who lives inside the transporter did it this time by somehow causing the Doctor’s holo-emitter to become infected with Seven’s Borg-making nanoprobes. That rates pretty high on the “whatever” scale, but the result is the birth of a Borg like no other: One born in a creche rather than created from an assimilated being, and infused with 29th-century technology, with the emitter serving as the core of the new Borg’s brain. (The episode seems weirdly uninterested in any sort of follow-up to the status of Mulcahey, the poor redshirt who got zapped by the emitter for his genetic material, and for the status of the emitter itself once the inevitable takes its course.)
I kind of feel like the main idea behind “Drone” was to give Janeway a bit of redemption for “Tuvix,” as she basically does everything here the opposite of her actions in that episode — or in liberating Seven from the Collective, for that matter. It has struck me as a little uncomfortable that the first female lead in Trek seems to have such disdain for others’ right to choose how to treat their bodies, but this time at least she comes down in favor of the newborn Borg’s right to exist, despite all the alarm bells his existence sounds. Instead, it’s Seven who seems averse to giving the Borg — who, due to his unique nature, names himself One — a fair chance.
This episode could have been a mere retread of “I, Borg,” but I feel like it cuts its own path. The relationship between Seven and One is quite different from the one between Hugh and Geordi, and One takes a much more active role in the episode’s outcome. Although I was hoping the show would allow him to tag along for at least an arc of a few episodes, the presence of the extremely deadly proto-nebula seemed pretty likely to factor into his quick demise (an assumption that was sealed as soon as the scene cut to a tactical sphere streaking through space against a backdrop comprised of the nebula). While One’s decision not to pursue his desire to join with the Collective for the simple experience of doing so happened a little too quickly for my liking, it was at least believable: He parsed the fear others experienced at the prospect of assimilation and realized that, oh, maybe that’s a no-going-back kind of situation.
And I guess in a way the outcome — One willingly accepting his own death to prevent the Borg from hounding Voyager in pursuit of his tech — creates a meaningful parallel to the TNG episode “The Offspring.” Where Data ultimately carried on like nothing had ever happened once his “daughter” broke down, Seven has a more human reaction. Her grief is her first real expression of an emotion besides irritation.
There’s a pretty good mystery in this episode that isn’t revealed until the final act, unless you read Netflix descriptions. Oh well.
I didn’t realize that Voyager had so much serial continuity going for it, but this episode touches on a lot of things from the past year or so of the show. Those radiation-belching freight-haulers from “Night” return here to try to steal an advanced, Borg-enhanced probe from Voyager. Paris follows up on the previous episode’s comments on the inadequacies of Class II shuttles (and his occasional fascination with tinkering in the garage) by designing his own new shuttle, the Delta Flyer. And Torres, it turns out, has been consumed by guilt in the wake of learning her Maquis allies were slaughtered once Cardassia joined the Dominion way back last season when the crew managed to scrape up some messages from the Alpha Quadrant.
That last tidbit isn’t told up front, though. Instead, we’re left to wonder why Torres appears to have developed a death wish. It makes sense, although it does feel like a bit of retcon: She’s been pretty much fine all along, but now it turns out she’s been committing acts of self-harm all along? I don’t quite buy it, but it does make for an intriguing mystery. And she ends up learning to believe in herself by saving the day when the Delta Flyer is forced to go into action before it’s entirely ready. So this isn’t exactly an essential episode, but it’s a decent character-centric story that ties Torres into the series’ larger continuity. Even if it feels like we’re being asked to just kinda go with it.
“In the Flesh”
This one wasn’t spoiled by Netflix quite as badly as “Extreme Risk,” but the fact that the notes were all like, “Hey guys, it’s Species 8472” undermined the intrigue of the cold open. Oh well.
“In the Flesh” begins with a disorienting setup: Somehow, we’re on Earth at Starfleet Headquarters — in fact, it’s the same pavilion we saw in DS9 “Homefront,” which momentarily made me wonder if I’d accidentally started streaming the wrong Star Trek series. But no; after a moment, Chakotay appears, taking spy photos of Starfleet personnel. So is this a flashback to Chakotay’s days in the Maquis? It could be, except he’s referred to as “Commander” and wears his Voyager-era uniform and rank insignia. Plus, there are other minor details that don’t seem quite right, like a uniformed Ferengi walking around that isn’t Nog, the first Ferengi ever to join Starfleet… after Voyager was flung to the Delta Quadrant.
Things get even more curious when Chakotay encounters Boothby, the gardener who Picard relied on throughout his storied career. It’s only when Tuvok meets up with Chakotay that things start to come into focus: This headquarters is a strange simulation on a space station, and it turns out to be a simulation created by Species 8472 as a means by which to infiltrate Earth and destroy the Federation from within. They’ve learned to adopt the form of humans (and other species) and intend to slip into Starfleet Headquarters. Apparently we only see San Francisco when shapeshifters intend to sneak in.
Except actually it’s not so much that Species 8472 wants to destroy the Federation so much as defend themselves from what they see as the hostile intentions of humanity. This is a pretty fantastic twist: We’ve only seen Species 8472 as a deadly, almost unstoppable force defined by sheer malice and brutality. But they’re petrified at the thought of humanity, who entered their extradimensional space wielding weapons capable of destroying them.
This is a pretty fantastic reversal, and the resolution is surprising… yet, at the same time, the resolution feels perfectly Star Trek. Janeway sits down with “Boothby” and hashes out a tentative peace. Given the previous appearances of this race, it’s an outcome I definitely didn’t expect, and it has me interested to see where the narrative thread of Species 8472 goes. Hopefully it’ll be somewhere that involves a more euphonic name than “Species 8472.”