[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Unimatrix Zero"
- Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's season
finale, "Unimatrix Zero."
Nutshell: A reasonably engaging hour of sci-fi, as long as you accept that
setup often substitutes for story.
Plot description: Seven of Nine is contacted by Borg drones who have the
ability to exist in a virtual realm that gives them freedom as individuals.
Star Trek: Voyager -- "Unimatrix Zero"
Airdate: 5/24/2000 (USA)
Teleplay by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
Story by Mike Sussman
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: ***
"We'll see you soon, Harry." -- Borg Queen, ominous unresolved mystery
A show of hands: Who thinks season-ending cliffhangers are gratuitous?
Oddly, the first season-ending TV cliffhanger I clearly remember is TNG's
famous "The Best of Both Worlds." I was 14 years old and at a point where I
was paying closer attention to TV as an avenue for storytelling. I was less
cynical concerning plot devices (I wasn't a critic and didn't think in those
terms then) and probably more open to possibilities. I had no idea how "Best
of Both Worlds" would be resolved; it was one long summer. Would Picard die?
Would Earth be attacked by the Borg? I really wondered. Maybe I was simply
more naive and impressionable then. Maybe it's just that the cliffhanger was
simply a lot better. Hard to say. Of course, it was probably also helpful
that there wasn't the Web as we now know it to bombard us with spoilers. Or
trailers that gave away half the surprises.
Ever since that TV season in 1990, I've been abundantly aware of cliffhanger
after cliffhanger after cliffhanger. On all shows. Even lame sitcoms, for
crying out loud, where suspense and caring about the characters is contrary
to the point. It was probably that way long before 1990, but from my point
of view, it started with "Best of Both Worlds," which will never, ever be
topped (DS9's "Call to Arms" and Homicide's "Work Related" come closest, but
no cigar). One just can't go back.
But anyway. "Unimatrix Zero." Like "Equinox" last year, it's pretty hard to
critique half a story. Like most cliffhangers, it's all setup and no payoff.
And unlike "Scorpion" from three years back, the presence of the Borg is not
even close to a novelty value. Since "Scorpion," thanks to the presence of
Seven of Nine, we've probably had close to a dozen stories about the Borg,
and more if you count the indirect examples. The Borg have been part of Trek
milieu for 11 years now. How long can the cow be milked before it dies?
Well, in the case of the Borg, I'll accept them as storytelling devices so
long as what they represent continues to evolve and remain interesting, even
if by definition we can never go back. The Borg were once awesome villains,
whereas now they're cool but not nearly as compelling. They've changed. A
lot. They used to be one mind. Now they seem less like one huge mind and
more like an entity controlled by an individual villain leader.
It's just as well that the Borg have changed. Like I said, one can't go
back, and that also goes for the writers. They must go forward, and forward
is in changing the Borg into something other than what they were. Is it as
interesting? Maybe not, but it's either that or abandon the Borg completely
(which might not be such a bad idea).
The new spin here is a high-concept masterstroke: "Seven is contacted in
Borg cyberspace by drones who have created a virtual reality where they can
exist as individuals." It's like "The Matrix," except kind of in reverse,
and with an outdoor natural setting rather than a mysteriously generic city
with Chicago street names.
The drones who can exist in this version of the Matrix, which is known here
officially as Unimatrix Zero, are very rare (one in every million).
Something about their brains allows their imaginations to drift away from
the collective whenever they regenerate. Through the Borg hive link, these
drones have found a common place where they exist and interact while they
sleep--a virtual sanctuary. This virtual world exists completely apart from
the real world. When they're awake, they're ordinary drones with no
knowledge or memory of their virtual sanctuary. The central problem is that
the rest of the Borg consciousness has recently become aware of this
"defective" subset in the collective, and the Borg Queen (Susanna Thompson
reprising the role) is determined to snuff it out. It's indeed a very clever
This of course all involves Seven in a very central way. It turns out that
before her liberation from the collective, she was one of the 0.0001% of
drones (gee, how convenient!) who exhibited this condition and existed in
VR. She lived this virtual life for 18 years, and even had a VR lover for
six years, Axum (Mark Deakins), who is the one who now contacts her asking
Quick statistics lesson. The "one in a million" notion is a bit of a stretch
given who all we see in UM-Zero. The chances of Seven and another human (the
one here who was assimilated at Wolf 359, which itself is still a mystery
that hasn't been explicitly solved) both having the UM-Zero defect would
mean the odds would require about 2 million humans having first been
assimilated, wouldn't it? The Klingon character's presence would mean,
statistically, about 1 million Klingons would've needed to be assimilated.
This all seems somewhat of a probability stretch. Maybe races that we as
viewers know about have a higher likelihood of carrying the defect. Yeah,
that's the ticket. But never mind--it's only a story. Nitpick I won't
(though I guess I already did).
There's a fight in VR that seems to take a few lessons from "The Matrix,"
although I'm still waiting for the day when Janeway learns Kung Fu. Unlike
"The Matrix," if you die in UM-Zero, it would seem you do not die in real
life--you simply are forced out of VR until you re-enter your next
regeneration stage--which could be an interesting advantage for our VR good
With the Borg Queen tracking down the secret of UM-Zero--and coming closer
every day--the crew's dilemma in the story is what to do about Axum's call
for help. Seven convinces Janeway to help save UM-Zero from destruction from
the Borg. Discussed is the issue that in doing so, our heroes could find
themselves in the middle of a "Borg civil war" (an interesting image, that)
though Janeway settles for the term "resistance movement." This leads to a
Daring Plan involving a techno-virus that will allow the UM-Zero drones to
retain their memories once they wake up from VR. In order for this to work,
however, the virus must be administered to a central distributor on a Borg
ship. The crew tracks down a Borg ship and prepares to initiate the plan. I
must say that any Borg ship that could be vulnerable to this plan probably
needs better network security or upgraded anti-virus software. (Repeat after
me: It's only TV. It's only TV...)
Meanwhile, there's the Borg Queen seeking out the defective drones. What's
the Queen's purpose? I didn't exactly get it in "First Contact." I certainly
didn't get it in "Dark Frontier." And here it appears that, really, there's
nothing to get. The Queen is simply the Borg personified for the audience's
benefit, and on that level, it probably works. Thompson's take on the Queen
is one of a calm exterior with an evil villain inside. She sees and hears
all through her video screen, and smiles evil smiles when things go her way,
and looks menacing when they don't. To Thompson's credit, she does all this
with Borg-like restraint, without going over the top. And although the very
notion of the Queen as a villain strips away some of what made the Borg
unique, it's still kind of fun (though the unspoken notion of Janeway and
the Queen being arch-enemies is maybe pushing it).
The crew's Daring Plan involves Janeway, Tuvok, and Torres beaming onto the
Borg ship to administer the virus. Because this is a cliffhanger, things
don't go as planned. Actually, yes they do. The three of them are
assimilated, but the story's twist reveals that their assimilation was part
of the Daring Plan. I would guess that they're carrying the virus, and have
still more tricks up their sleeves.
About that. I'd have my doubts about any plan that includes willfully being
assimilated by the Borg. This goes beyond bravery and into the territory of
implausible. I just have a hard time believing anyone would do it. If I
locked you in a room and said, "Okay. Here's a hacksaw. I want you to saw
through your forearm until it becomes detached, and don't worry about the
blood, pain, or permanent disfigurement," would you do it? I doubt it. And I
tend to doubt Janeway & Co. would so easily accept the horrors of
assimilation in the interests of some master plan.
On its bottom line, "Unimatrix Zero" is another Voyager action show.
(Seven's personal dilemma and any potential psychological VR implications
are put on hold.) As such, it shows the Voyager virtue of visual panache.
This is almost as good-looking as "Dark Frontier," which was one of the best
examples of production design and special effects I've ever seen on the
There are a couple standout brain-dissection scenes where we get to see
disembodied Borg heads. Very cool. And beautiful sets. And a nifty new Borg
vessel that looks very "armored." Yes, as production goes, this is top-notch
stuff which on its own is almost worth the hour's view.
But I also recommend the story, despite the holes and the fact that Janeway
and her crew must be about one inch shy of insane. The concept is neat, and
the story moves confidently through its motions as a techno-thriller.
There's also some reasonable character work here, like the Janeway/Chakotay
scenes, which choose not to go the "Scorpion"/"Equinox" route of conflict,
but instead have Chakotay supporting the captain--they agree this time. It's
one of few times all season we've seen Chakotay exhibit any sort of opinion.
Also noteworthy is the potential here for Seven, whose existence in UM-Zero
takes an interesting spin; she's more human-like when her VR memories begin
to resurface, and she even goes by her human name, Annika. Ryan brings
additional humanity to her character with a toning down of the Borg
qualities and inserting some subtle emotion in her speech and facial
expressions--that is, until after the entire gravity of the situation
reveals itself, at which point Seven asserts her true personality over her
virtual one ("My name is Seven of Nine," she tells a mildly lovesick Axum).
There's also the re-promotion of Paris to lieutenant at the beginning of the
show, which is handled by Janeway leaving a box containing a collar pip on
his chair. This prompts Harry to comment, not without reason, "I didn't see
a little box on my chair." This guy has been an ensign forever. What gives?
Maybe Janeway is still punishing him for inappropriate pursuit of, um,
another type of box back in "The Disease." (Did I just violate my PG review
rule? Many apologies.)
I must admit that spoilers undercut the shock value, as it were, of the
ending. Not simply Internet spoilers, but also the ones revealed in the
trailers--Janeway getting injected with nanoprobes, the Delta Flyer being
destroyed. Indeed, marketing of entertainment these days gives away anything
if it's something that might make you want to watch.
"Unimatrix Zero" is still well worth an hour. It has potential. It's an
incomplete story, and as always I don't expect any big impact on our crew to
come out of it (including for the three who are now Borg drones). But as an
entertainment and a season-ender, it gets the job done.
Upcoming: Rerun season. Stay tuned for the usual season recap and commentary
article, which I'll have ready sometime this summer.
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@...