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[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Survival Instinct"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Foreword: I mentioned this on the Web site, but not in my mailed-out Equinox II review: I m currently seeing Voyager later than it airs in most areas in the
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 13, 1999
      Foreword: I mentioned this on the Web site, but not in my mailed-out
      "Equinox II" review: I'm currently seeing Voyager later than it airs in
      most areas in the United States because of the simple fact that there is
      presently no UPN affiliate in my viewing area. (There supposedly will be
      one soon, but I'm not certain how soon.) In the meantime, I'm viewing the
      episodes on tape, usually by Saturday. This should not typically result in
      the long delay that occurred for this review of "Survival Instinct."

      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's "Survival
      Instinct." If you haven't seen the show yet, beware.

      Nutshell: A nicely characterized example of people making tough decisions
      induced by bizarre sci-fi circumstances.

      Plot description: The arrival of three mysterious "individuals" among an
      influx of visitors to Voyager has mysterious consequences for Seven, who
      must relive a Borg experience from eight years earlier.

      Star Trek: Voyager -- "Survival Instinct"

      Airdate: 9/29/1999 (USA)
      Written by Ronald D. Moore
      Directed by Terry Windell

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: ***

      "How can any of us take a name for ourselves? We're not individuals. We're
      not Borg. We're nothing." -- the triad

      "Survival Instinct" is a relatively quiet character show whose themes are
      sensible, well-written, often intriguing, and, shall we say, quite firmly
      established in previous Voyager lore. This latest entry into Seven's
      backstory has some new and interesting nuances. It doesn't bring huge new
      insights along with it, but it does provide for a good hour-long story with
      some tough, emotional choices.

      The script, as those who keep up with behind-the-scenes news might know, is
      the first and only Voyager script written by DS9 alum Ron Moore, whose
      departure this summer from the Voyager staff during the production stages
      of these first few episodes came under ominous and undeniably unfortunate
      circumstances. Too bad--this script highlights Moore's ability to find the
      characters' voices. I would've looked forward to more Voyager stories from

      Anyway, no lamenting allowed; the task at hand is scrutiny of the latest
      offering that dissects the Borg collective. Contrary to those UPN trailers,
      which we can count on to be trite, over-sensationalized, and in this case
      just flat-out inaccurate, "Survival Instinct" is not about the Borg being
      back or Seven rejoining the collective. The story utilizes the Borg as
      concepts, certainly, but it is not a rehash of "Dark Frontier." The only
      Borg we see in this episode are confined to flashbacks sequences.

      The story begins with at least one fresh breath of air: the notion that
      Voyager has run into what looks like--gasp!--a melding of civil societies.
      The ship has docked at a massive space station populated
      by--gasp!--friendly non-xenophobes who are actually interested in a civil
      exchange of culture and ideas. I was surprised at how fresh this seemed.
      The episode is cast with dozens of extras that fill the ship's corridors.
      Janeway's ready room is crammed with gifts and junk she has received from
      these visitors. The whole notion feels upbeat. It's a great idea simply on
      the psychological level: For once the Delta Quadrant doesn't feel so barren
      and lonely. This is an idea that deserves to be the spotlight of an entire
      show, or several. Although ... I must say I was somewhat disappointed in
      Tuvok's cranky lack of patience through this cultural exchange. All he can
      worry about is potential security problems and, apparently, the disturbance
      of his schedules. (C'mon, where's that Vulcan IDIC philosophy?)

      Among the visitors to Voyager are three people (Vaughn Armstrong, Berlita
      Damas, Tim Kelleher) who, we learn, have something to hide. They want
      something from Seven of Nine. The story reveals that they maintain a
      constant telepathic link with one another, which they use to help
      circumvent security and hack into Seven's brain while she's regenerating.

      Upon failing and being caught by security, they are forced to come clean
      about their objective: They are former Borg drones who have been recently
      freed from the collective. Unfortunately, they remain connected to each
      other in a way that prevents them from becoming individuals. They're a
      triad joined together at the parietal lobe. They constantly hear one
      other's thoughts, dream one other's dreams, and finish one other's
      sentences when speaking. How they can even function without a larger
      collective to assert control over them constitutes some sort of miracle.
      They're not sure how or why this triadic link was created in the first
      place, but they're sure Seven is the key to the mystery.

      Of course, the nitpicker might wonder exactly how powerful this ability is,
      and ask why these three don't go in separate directions and see if their
      (supposedly biological) connection maintains its link. I'd be impressed by
      any organic brain with an amplifier that can transmit across light-years of
      space. Maybe the telepathy "permeates subspace"--cf. the Borg vinculum that
      was giving Seven multiple personalities last year in "Infinite
      Regress"--and distance is irrelevant. Hey, whatever. I'll play along if the
      implications are as interesting to ponder as they prove to be here.

      Subsequently, Seven and Doc use weird Borgish nanoprobes, scans, etc., to
      join the triad into Seven's brain in an attempt to piece together Seven's
      memory lapses, wherein lie the clues to the triad's current problem.

      As "Survival Instinct" unfolds, these scenes are intercut with a flashback
      narrative that documents an event from eight years earlier, when Seven and
      these other three Borg drones--who were all members of the same Borg
      unimatrix which had been aboard a scout ship that crashed--found themselves
      disconnected from the collective. Perhaps the episode's most poignant
      moments are the flashback scenes where we see these frightened drones'
      individual memories beginning to resurface. They're confused, yet slowly
      becoming aware of who they once were; the actors play them like robots
      waking up from a dream, with broken speech patterns and subtly percolating
      emotions emerging.

      And they do *not* want to return to the collective. They realize they've
      been mutilated and abducted from their own identities, and now they plan to
      resist. The interesting exception is Seven. Having been assimilated as a
      child, individuality was a concept she never completely understood, and
      taking control of her actions is the titular "survival instinct," which
      tells her that death is likely, and returning to that which she has known
      longer than anything--the collective--is her best option. She plays the
      actions of a "good little Borg"--not out of duty or philosophy, but out of
      fear of the unknown.

      Seven uses her nanoprobes to force the three other drones into a
      single-network triad collective that obeys Borg protocol. The result left
      them joined together permanently, even after being reassimilated by and
      later freed from the Borg. (All this stuff about nanoprobes and mental
      transceivers can be jargon-packed, but I suppose it's believable enough;
      it's sci-fi with plenty of "sci" and plenty of "fi.")

      Back in the present, there's a malfunction in the mind-linking process that
      disables the triad and leaves them in a less-than-ideal situation: The
      triadic link has been destroyed, and they can't survive longer than a few
      weeks without it. Their only hope for survival in returning to the
      collective, where, if assimilated, they could live out "normal lives" as

      This brings about the episode's big central decision. Should Seven let
      these three live for a month as truly free individuals, or a "normal"
      life-span as drones? With the triad unconscious and the procedure
      irreversible once performed, the choice must be made for them.

      The choice seems clear--Seven sent them back to the collective against
      their will once, and she wouldn't think of doing it again. There's a
      standout Trekkian dialog scene between Doc and Seven that scrutinizes
      Seven's motives. Doc asks if perhaps she's motivated by guilt to free them,
      even if it means their certain deaths. Seven responds with a speech about
      individuality, highlighting her unique perspective on the matter--as well
      as Doc's own unique perspective as a preprogrammed artificial
      lifeform--that says much about them both becoming "more than drones." This
      is good use of characters; only the combination of Seven and Doc would
      allow a scene like this to shine, because of their unique friendship and
      because of what they are.

      (If I may digress, I must add that given Seven's attitude toward the
      collective in this episode, it seems particularly stupidly ironic that the
      UPN trailers would lift from an old episode a line where Seven says, "I
      will return to the collective.")

      The scene after Seven makes this decision also has some resonance, showing
      that these three are grateful they have been released--but also showing
      that this quasi-redemption for Seven does not automatically bring about
      forgiveness from all.

      In more trivial away-from-the-main-story matters, I see that even Moore
      can't make Harry into anything more than Our Lovable Goof, Harry. While in
      general I got a mild amount of amusement out of the scene where Tom and
      Harry are called into Janeway's ready room to answer for disturbing the
      peace on the space station (they were partially responsible for starting a
      melee), any scene that ends with Harry saying "We kicked their
      asses"--except of course substituting "rackets" for "asses" based on dialog
      setup tricks that I won't even bother to explain--is a scene that ranks
      extremely high on the Harry chump-o-meter. (I'll tell you what--I'd sure
      like to kick Harry's ... "racket.") I don't mean to Harbor Harry Hatred
      [TM], but will I ever be able to take this guy seriously again?

      Anyway. "Survival Instinct" is a definite winner. I think I'll put this in
      the upper ranks of three stars. Since Seven has come onto this series we've
      seen a lot of stories with similar themes concerning individuality ("The
      Raven," "One," "Drone," "Infinite Regress," "Dark Frontier," possibly
      others). This is one of the better-done examples (although not quite on the
      level of "Drone"), but it doesn't venture all that far off the previously
      explored path.

      Next week: B'Elanna goes through hell and back.

      Copyright (c) 1999 by Jamahl Epsicokhan, all rights reserved. Unauthorized
      reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.st-hypertext.com/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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