[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Child's Play"
- Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's "Child's
Play." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.
Nutshell: A very nicely acted hour, though I'm not so sure aspects of the
twist ending are completely fair to the viewer.
Plot description: Seven's feelings and maternal instincts are awakened
when the crew locates the parents of one of the Borg children to whom
Seven has grown attached.
Star Trek: Voyager -- "Child's Play"
Airdate: 3/8/2000 (USA)
Teleplay by Raf Green
Story by Paul Brown
Directed by Mike Vejar
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: ***
"When the project began, they wanted to clone Naomi. But I suggested they
start with something smaller." -- Seven on potato cloning, a Borg-kid
"Child's Play" is a well-acted study of characters who find themselves in
emotionally difficult situations and have to make tough choices. For a
long time, the story seems like one of the most fairly and even-handedly
developed sci-fi child-custody issues that could possibly have been
conceived given the setup material. But there's a twist ending that
exists to give the episode some action zip and additional plotting
intrigue. The twist ultimately works in story terms, but it somewhat
undermines some of the earlier drama. After watching characters who ring
so true given their apparent motivations, it's a bit frustrating to see
that half their heartfelt dialog turns out to be laced with lies and
The episode centers on (who else?) Seven of Nine, who has been successful
in helping the Borg children adjust to life on Voyager. But her
attachment could be nearing the end for the oldest of the children,
Icheb; the crew has located the boy's parents, and they have set course
to return him to his homeworld, Brunali.
Brunali is located right next to the exit of a Borg transwarp conduit.
"Not exactly prime real estate," Paris notes in his typical metaphorical
one-liner fashion. The Brunali comprise a primarily agrarian culture that
has suffered numerous attacks by its Borg neighbors. The Borg usually
leave the Brunali alone--unless they detect technology that's of enough
interest to them. The Brunali therefore do everything they can to
maintain a low profile and keep any advanced technology under wraps. Why
don't they relocate?, Seven asks. Because home is home, and the Brunali
won't be bullied by the Borg.
Icheb's parents, Yifay (Tracey Ellis) and Leucon (Mark A. Sheppard) are
portrayed as understanding people. There's no forced conflict here. Yes,
they certainly want their son back, but they're not made to be
unreasonable forces against Seven, which is a good thing. They're
characters who are not scripted unfairly, and the guest performances are
"Child's Play" is the sort of basic story that for a long time doesn't
have much plotting but instead simply and slowly analyzes a situation
with its characters. Scenes exist to reveal attitudes and gradual
understanding through sensible dialog that fits the situation. The story
takes a simple problem and cranks it through various details that grow
naturally from what's going on, as Icheb starts out wanting nothing to do
with his parents, then gradually becomes open to the idea of returning
home to live with them.
There's really no reason to describe these scenes in great detail. My
analysis of most of the episode simply comes down to, "Yeah, that's a
sensibly written scene." I'll also point out that the performances are
right on target. I'm trying to remember the last time I criticized a Jeri
Ryan performance, and I'm not sure if I even have. I won't be here,
either; Ryan is once again the key to making us believe in the problem at
hand. Seven has a lot of emotions at stake here, and we can see that she
truly wants what's best for Icheb, while we also see that it pains her to
send him back with parents that even to Icheb are strangers. Manu
Intiraymi works well as Icheb in these scenes, taking the less-is-more
approach of Borgish rendition. (There are, of course, also the typically
solid Janeway/Seven discussions.)
I also liked the way this episode tied Seven's dilemma into her past
involving her own parents. Part of Seven's skepticism concerning Icheb's
parents boils down to the fact that she understands his needs as a
liberated Borg better than his parents possibly can, and that his options
on Voyager will better allow him to exploit his talents and interests in
space travel. But there's also her worry of parental irresponsibility.
Seven fears Icheb will be reassimilated if the Borg come visiting the
Brunali world again, and the Brunali's determination for staying on the
planet seems at odds with Icheb's well-being. Seven notes a connection
here with her own parents' recklessness in chasing after Borg cubes. The
situation hits her close to home. It's a character-history point that
makes a great deal of sense.
As I already mentioned, "Child's Play" features a plot twist that the
writers cleverly launch upon us near the end of the fourth act. It
involves Icheb's parents turning out to have hidden motives, on the
account that Icheb was really a bio-engineered weapon who was genetically
altered at birth to develop a pathogen that would infect the Borg. His
assimilation was intentional, and Icheb's parents plan to "deploy" him
again, launching him toward the transwarp conduit in a ship designed to
attract Borg attention.
Once Seven and the captain figure out what's really going on, we get an
action premise where Voyager must rescue Icheb before the Borg capture
him. Structurally, this is kind of weird, because we have a slow-moving
hour for most of the way, and then suddenly we get what I'm opting to
call the weekly Voyager Action Insert--the mandatory isolated action
sequence that exists in the final act of so many episodes simply because
the creators believe viewers will not tolerate an action-free show. (And
preferably, something in the Action Insert needs to get blown up.) Hey, I
have nothing against explosions, and I even think the blown-up Borg
sphere here manages to work on its given terms (and is executed with some
vigor). But I also feel a bit iffy about the fact that such sincere
material (Icheb's parents coaxing him to return home) is instantly turned
on its head into something so sinister. Within barely two minutes of
screen time, we go from a story about one child to a story about
defending a planet from Borg by using one child as a time bomb. That's
not a huge problem given the way it all plays out, but it doesn't exactly
seem like the story we started with.
The episode depicts the parents as people who are acting in the interests
of a greater good--the protection of their planet from the Borg--but one
wonders exactly how this plan is supposed to work given the way
"Collective" resulted in the destruction of only one ship, left
abandoned. Speaking of, the way this episode ties in with "Collective" is
interesting, and shows that the writers might actually have been thinking
a few shows ahead (!) when they wrote it.
But what really carries the show are the Seven/Icheb scenes and the
emotional undercurrents. The final scene does a good job of reflecting on
the actions of Icheb's parents. Seven calls those actions "barbaric," but
Icheb's response isn't to wonder whether he can forgive his parents, but
whether they can forgive him for failing to become the weapon he was
intended to be.
The questions here, I think, look at this boy's odd place in life. Was
Icheb's purpose preordained, and was being rescued by Voyager providing
him a second chance to live a real life? If his original purpose in life
was to destroy Borg, was he led astray by a combination of fate and
Voyager's actions? Or was he freed from an enslaved existence supplied to
him by his parents? Does defending a planet make it right to preprogram a
life as a pathogen-carrying future Borg drone? The humane answer would be
an obvious "no," but where does morality end and desperation to address a
greater good take over?
Obviously, parents aren't always right and children aren't in the
position to make the best decisions for themselves. Fortunately, Icheb
now has Seven looking out for him, and her perspectives have a great deal
of human reason. But Icheb's parents didn't have a son; they had living,
breathing time bomb that they raised as a son. That's pretty meaty stuff.
Funny, how it all comes to light in the last 10 minutes, while the first
50 exist in a world so much simpler.
Next week: Some members of the lower ranks go on an adventure with the
Copyright (c) 2000 by Jamahl Epsicokhan, all rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...