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[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Collective"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains plentiful spoilers for Voyager s Collective. If you haven t seen the episode yet, you may want to resist this review ...
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 25, 2000
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      Warning: This review contains plentiful spoilers for Voyager's "Collective."
      If you haven't seen the episode yet, you may want to resist this review ...
      unless, of course, resistance is futile.


      Nutshell: There's groundwork here for some potentially intriguing future
      material, but the episode itself is lackluster.

      Plot description: A group of adolescent Borg holds an away team hostage and
      demands Janeway turn over her ship's navigational deflector so they can
      contact the Borg and rejoin the collective.

      -----
      Star Trek: Voyager -- "Collective"

      Airdate: 2/16/2000 (USA)
      Teleplay by Michael Taylor
      Story by Andrew Shepard Price & Mark Gaberman
      Directed by Allison Liddi

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **1/2

      "Negotiation is irrelevant. You will be assimilated."
      "Not today and not by you."
      -- The Borg and Janeway
      -----

      In "Collective," we're introduced to a small group of young Borg. They're
      the sole survivors of a Borg cube that suffered a catastrophe, and now the
      five of them are running this massive cube-shaped spaceship. Frankly,
      they're not up to the job. When it comes to being Borg, these kids need
      practice.

      Enter the Delta Flyer, which is manned by the team of Chakotay, Paris, Kim,
      and Neelix (after "Memorial" and now this installment, one wonders if this
      is the new official crew of the Delta Flyer). We join them as--apparently
      trying to be more like the TNG crew--they are engaged in a game of poker,
      which is interrupted by the sudden appearance of said Borg cube, much to the
      dismay of Ensign Paris, who had a full house. (The shot that reveals the
      cube is nicely played for its mild shock value but logically dubious; one
      wonders why the ability of the Borg to sneak up within visual range of a
      ship isn't something we've seen before. What we have here is a scene for
      spurring an argument about cinematic ends vs. means, but never mind.)

      The Delta Flyer is captured in a tractor beam and the crew members are
      thrown into a cell for use as ... hostages? Since when do the Borg take
      hostages? We'll see in a moment, but first some chit-chat.

      It's an episode like "Collective" that has me hoping, hoping, hoping that
      the producers of Voyager are looking well beyond the end of the hour at
      hand. If you take the hour for what we've got, let's just say it's not the
      most compelling hour of all time.

      For starters, I have to ask: Have the Borg as story devices been exhausted?
      I remember the awe of first seeing them in TNG's "Q-Who" all those years
      ago, and the terror of seeing them again in "The Best of Both Worlds." Over
      the past few years of Voyager, that awe has been replaced with a sense of
      nearly clockwork annual routine. The Borg were still interesting, but our
      fear that they might assimilate us was hardly a factor anymore. Instead the
      question was how the Borg would figure into a story about the nature of
      human individuality, particularly once Seven of Nine came on board. In
      spirit, she was our weekly Borg representative.

      "Dark Frontier" last year was essentially the final word in Borg as
      action/adventure devices--one of the best-produced (but not best-told) Trek
      episodes of all time. Given that they were no longer the awesome terror of
      the galaxy they once seemed to be, "Dark Frontier" was acceptable use of the
      Borg, but by pulling out all the stops it also served as an implied
      resignation that perhaps the Borg were ready for retirement. An idea can
      only go so far before it becomes tired.

      "Collective" appears to be an attempt to tell a "different" kind of Borg
      tale: Since we can no longer plausibly battle the Borg, we'll instead
      negotiate with adolescent drones--whose behavior resembles your average
      adolescent human more than your average Borg. When Voyager comes looking for
      their missing team, they find the Borg cube, but because there are only five
      drones--severed from the hive mind--who haven't a clue how to run a Borg
      ship, Voyager is able to swiftly stalemate the confrontation.

      We learn that the five children--or "neo-natal drones," as the story
      sometimes calls them--had emerged prematurely from their "maturation
      chambers" after the shipwide catastrophe, a cybernetic-targeting pathogen
      that infected the ship and killed all the drones. The maturation chambers
      protected the children from being infected.

      Now the juvenile drones demand that Voyager surrender its navigational
      deflector. They hope to modify it so they can contact the Borg and be
      reintegrated into the collective. If Janeway turns over the deflector, the
      Borg will release their hostages.

      One oddity with "Collective" is its somewhat inaccurate title. These five
      Borg do not seem to comprise a collective. At first they do, but then they
      don't. They seem more like individuals who answer to a willingly established
      hierarchy. They don't act much like Borg. The leader of the five, the
      "First" (Ryan Spahn), represents the story's primary source of conflict:
      He's a drone who follows the Borg protocols and intends to rejoin the
      collective. It would seem the other four drones are less mature, and thus
      don't hold strong Borg-like opinions; they follow the First simply because
      he's the First.

      But it seems these "drones" are capable of free, independent thought, and
      that provides a source of confusion at times, because it's hard to determine
      how exactly the story envisions these Borg. They're "different," which is
      supposed to be part of the point, I think. But they also talk among
      themselves like any individuals might. There's often no sense that they're
      connected, and something about it just doesn't sit right. In order to
      continue using the Borg, it seems the writers have to make them
      progressively less like Borg, and more human.

      Naturally, the story involves heavy focus on Seven of Nine (be sure to join
      the online petition for renaming this series "Star Trek: Seven of
      Nine"--visit http://www.st-hypertext.com/misc/renamevoy.html) who beams over
      to the Borg ship to confirm the well-being of the prisoners and negotiate
      with the drones. The core of the story emerges when Seven discovers that the
      Borg collective will *not* be dispatching a ship to retrieve this cube,
      which has been deemed a total loss. To the Borg, five neo-natal drones are
      not worth salvaging (which strikes me as perhaps the most believable Borg
      sentiment in the episode).

      The central dilemma is (of course) a human one: Janeway proposes that the
      drones be "saved" if at all possible. Sure, there's some plotting along the
      way, including (a) Doc reluctantly re-synthesizing the pathogen that killed
      the Borg ship, for possible use as a weapon against the drones should
      negotiations fail; and (b) Harry Kim regaining consciousness aboard the
      docked Delta Flyer unbeknownst to the Borg, and his eventual venture through
      the cube in an attempt to blow up a shield generator so Voyager can beam out
      the prisoners. But if you want to know what the episode is *about*, it's the
      dynamic between Seven and the drones as she tries to negotiate with a leader
      who has one, and only one, goal--to rejoin the collective. Along the way,
      she comes close to connecting with one of the other drones, the Second (Manu
      Intiraymi), who seems to have traces of his pre-assimilated individual self
      somewhere beneath the surface.

      Alas, these dynamics aren't on par with the potential. I expected more. The
      episode is too content to resign itself to standard negotiation-standoff
      "tension" dialog and predictable chatter. Although representing an
      inflexible attitude that seems to fit the Borg, the First is not a very
      interesting character. And with all due respect to the actors portraying the
      Borg, they just don't measure up. Here, one can very easily see Ryan's
      mastery of her character and the perfect vocal control; she is able to
      convey the masked emotion and Borg-like monotone without seeming forced, and
      there are subtle nuances that blend right into her performance. The same
      cannot be said for the other Borg players. They always seem to be "acting,"
      and not convincingly (especially Spahn as the First).

      What plays better are some sincere scenes between Janeway and Seven. The
      idea of utilizing Seven's insights to bring these Borg to some sort of new
      understanding of their situation is something that makes sense--after all,
      Seven experienced the process of being de-Borgified first-hand. The show's
      best-written scene reveals that the mental structure that the collective
      gave Seven when it assimilated her is an ordered structure that has also
      been a source of strength in regaining her individuality. It's a sense of
      order the Borg children, who were not fully developed before emerging from
      their maturation chambers, do not have. Seven worries that the transition
      for them will be even more difficult than hers. Between Seven, this
      installment, and "Survival Instinct," there ought to be some sort of therapy
      program for ex-Borg.

      The final act of "Collective" is a muddle that doesn't work. It's as if the
      writers couldn't figure out an adequate way to resolve the story. The ending
      here is one of those tech wrap-ups where we have Janeway and Torres aboard
      Voyager throwing around meaningless technobabble dialog in a desperate
      last-minute search for a way to rescue the hostages before Voyager is
      severely damaged. Meanwhile, the final conflict on the Borg ship is poorly
      staged. Moments of tension feel misplayed by the actors and director, and
      the fact that the First is killed as a result of his inability to go against
      his Borg directives is a story point that doesn't come across as
      particularly important, though I get the feeling it was meant to be. Oh, and
      we've got Harry Kim lying critically ill, injected with nanoprobes, for no
      particularly necessary reason (beyond keeping him a peripheral aspect of the
      plot, which itself seems unnecessary).

      And after the crisis ends, my lingering question was: What happened to the
      Borg cube? It apparently didn't self-destruct, so did Janeway just leave all
      that technology floating in space? In "Dark Frontier" the crew shaved 15
      years off the trip by using Borg technology. Shouldn't this cube be a major
      cache of tech foodstuffs? But never mind.

      That brings us to the story's coda, which simultaneously gives me great hope
      and worry. Four of the five drones (as well as a Borg infant that is beamed
      aboard the ship) are rescued and turned back into individuals. This screams
      for future storylines. We have four youths whose source for identification
      will be Seven of Nine. The pupil will now become the teacher. This could
      make for challenging material, a source of growth in the series. Then again,
      it could also make for redundancy if not handled carefully. After all, we've
      been down this road with Seven for almost three seasons now.

      Though it's too early to say, the final scene already has me voicing one
      gripe: According to what the story told us earlier, these children are
      supposed to be disturbed--more so than Seven (who in "The Gift" was violent
      and unstable after being severed from the Borg). But they don't seem
      disturbed at all to me. They seem to be handling it way too okay.

      But bringing aboard more Borg--and younger people--reveals a potential for
      the sort of community-building that this series should've focused on from
      day one. The key word is *potential*. Will it be used? (Of course, the
      worst-case scenario would be never hearing about these Borg again. That
      would be unforgivable, and probably unlikely, but not unthinkable given
      Voyager's track record. We haven't, for example, heard one single peep about
      those Equinox crew members that joined Voyager at the beginning of the
      season.)

      Bottom line for "Collective": The general theme here that examines drones
      hanging with uncertain self-identities was done in fifth season's "Drone"
      (and to a lesser extent in this season's "Survival Instinct")--and I assure
      you it was done with much greater insight. "Collective" is reasonable, but
      it probably works best as stage setting. Now let's just hope the players
      actually decide to show up.

      --
      Next week: Return to Fair Haven. Just what we all wanted.

      -----
      Copyright (c) 2000 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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