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[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Unimatrix Zero, Part II"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager s season premiere, Unimatrix Zero, Part II. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 9, 2000
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's season
      premiere, "Unimatrix Zero, Part II." If you haven't seen the episode yet,
      beware.


      In brief: Played out about how I expected. Surprises are scarce,
      contrivances are plentiful, but it's a pretty enjoyable hour.

      Plot description: Partially transformed into Borg drones, Janeway, Tuvok,
      and Torres run a covert operation on board a Borg ship to infect the
      collective with a virus that will free subdued individuals from the hive's
      control.

      -----
      Star Trek: Voyager -- "Unimatrix Zero, Part II"

      Airdate: 10/4/2000 (USA)
      Teleplay by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
      Story by Mike Sussman and Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
      Directed by Mike Vejar

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

      "You'll have to destroy the entire collective to find them all." -- Janeway
      -----

      The funny thing about the implausible but well-crafted "Unimatrix Zero, Part
      II" is that it more or less plays out the only way it possibly could've.
      Everything here borders on the inevitable.

      Obviously, Our Heroes would not still be Borg drones by the end of the
      episode (beware the Reset Button). Obviously, the crew's plan to subvert the
      hive mind and help the individualized Borg in Unimatrix Zero would be
      successful. Obviously, there would be some snags in the plan along the way.
      Obviously, Seven's romantic theme would play into the human storyline.
      Obviously, the setup in part one called for an eventual Borg insurgence
      within the collective, which would happen here. Obviously, a big
      season-opening budget would provide us with all the production design,
      makeup, and visual effects to give it a slick, high-tech look -- yet another
      episode that proves this is one of, if not the, best-looking sci-fi shows on
      television.

      What we have here is a story that contains few surprises but works so
      efficiently that it hardly matters. This is not an inspired episode of
      Voyager, or even a believable one, but it is an entertaining and interesting
      one, and it hints that there may be a Bigger Picture [TM] concerning the
      Borg that might be revisited down the line.

      What I expected of "UMZ II" was pretty much what I got -- a
      solid-on-its-own-terms cliffhanger resolution that left me puzzled with
      questions about the Borg (and especially, of course, the Borg Queen), but
      provided enough change in the Borg's situation to justify the effort and
      revisions used to get there.

      Oh, the contrivances and silliness are here. I for one would still like to
      know how any Starfleet officer wakes up in the morning and decides they're
      going to march into a Borg cube and get assimilated (here, saw my hand off
      while I sit and watch calmly). Convenient how Janeway, Tuvok, and Torres all
      manage to get Assimilation Lite, which means no amputations or ocular
      implants. Even more convenient that they're able to remain individualized --
      separate from the hive mind, thanks to a magical device called a "neural
      suppressor." (Why wasn't such a device invented long before this? It
      probably could've been the undoing of the Borg centuries ago.) This allows
      them to walk about the Borg ship without easily being detected or detained,
      so they can set the Master Plan in motion.

      Said plan suggests that the Borg need to renew their McAfee VirusScan
      license, not to mention establish a firewall between possible individualized
      Voyager crew drones and crucial network areas of the ship. Janeway et al are
      able to (easily) make their way to the ship's "central plexus," where Torres
      uploads the virus into the system, where it promptly spreads through the
      Borg collective. This virus has been designed to allow the drones who exist
      as individuals in the virtual reality realm Unimatrix Zero to retain their
      individuality when they awaken from their regeneration state, severing them
      from the collective. It also allows them to remember what ship they exist on
      in real life when they enter UMZ, supplying the Borg resistance movement
      some tactical means to subvert the hive. This is a neat concept, even though
      it makes Borg security look like Swiss cheese. (With all those drones
      walking around doing who-knows-what, you'd think some armed guards
      protecting crucial network areas of the collective would be prudent.)

      Meanwhile there's a problem with Tuvok; his neural suppressor is not getting
      the job done, and his connection with the hive begins to turn him into a
      drone. This also allows the Borg Queen to figure out Janeway & Co.'s
      whereabouts in the collective and realize what they're doing. You'd think
      that the last person to have problems resisting the collective would be the
      mentally disciplined Tuvok, but there you are.

      Subsequently, Janeway is held captive and the Borg Queen attempts to
      negotiate a surrender of the individualized Borg drones in UMZ. In a potent
      scene, the Queen destroys two entire Borg vessels with tens of thousands of
      drones because a handful of Borg on board had been severed from the
      collective, outside its control. This plays Janeway's conscience and respect
      for life against her own need to see the Borg's undoing: It hurts to watch
      Borg cubes incinerated by the collective will because of her own actions,
      but she'll be damned if she's going to give in to the Queen's attempt to put
      down the insurgence ("You'll have to destroy the entire collective to find
      them all").

      There are some other nice character touches in the episode, including some
      mildly ironic debating between Chakotay and Paris concerning command
      decisions, where Chakotay plays the Janeway role and Paris plays the
      Chakotay role.

      Seven's romance with Axum (Mark Deakins) is more or less by the numbers, but
      the fact that it's Seven we're dealing with makes it a situation that seems
      halfway new. There's also a wonderfully acted and directed scene between Doc
      and Seven where they discuss this possible romance. As always, Doc/Seven is
      a character pairing that never seems to fail on this series. The subtle
      nuances in Robert Picardo's performance reveal Doc's true feelings for Seven
      without needing a single line of dialog to remind us.

      As for the Borg Queen ... there's a fine line between a mystery and a
      muddle, and everything about the Queen resides on the "muddle" side of that
      line. What is the Queen's purpose? She is the collective personified as far
      as I can tell, used solely as a narrative tool so the audience knows what's
      going on and why. There are scenes where the Queen talks to herself to
      explain to us that links have been severed. Unlikely, but probably necessary
      for a television story. And there's also a scene where the Queen tells a
      child that she also was assimilated as a child. 'Scuse me? I always figured
      the Queen -- who has been "killed" twice -- was a symbolic drone simply
      assembled on demand. After "UMZ II" there's nothing for me to do but admit
      logical defeat; there is no logic to apply here. (I highly doubt that even
      Braga & Menosky understand, or care about, the Borg rules that they've
      written by.)

      A lot of people are unhappy that the Borg have been reduced to a presence
      that is no longer remotely intimidating or threatening. I will not be
      arguing that position, because the Borg have not been intimidating for
      years. There's no going back to what the Borg were in their TNG heyday, so
      I'm all about moving forward. The direction that "UMZ II" takes seems to me
      like a reasonable direction. It's certainly a better direction than the one
      proposed (and ultimately rejected) by TNG's "Descent."

      The conclusion provides what I mean: the simple but intriguing concept of a
      Borg civil war. Yes, I wondered how General Korok (Jerome Butler), the
      Kingon drone from UMZ, could take command of an entire Borg ship with
      thousands of drones against him. And in thinking about it, I'm even a little
      hazy about the notion of the Queen delivering the second virus in UMZ. (If
      these drones can be traced through the Borg network to UMZ, surely they can
      be traced back to their real-life locations? I suppose the UMZ drones have a
      better-trained network administrator.) But the sight of one Borg ship firing
      on another is so bizarre, twisted, and interesting that I didn't care about
      the logical questions. I for one hope the Borg *are* changed forever. Heck,
      I wouldn't mind seeing this arc played all the way through until the Borg
      collective has fallen. That seems to be the direction we're headed in, and
      we certainly could use a storyline with a direction on this series.

      "UMZ II" is such an *efficient* hour of production, in fact, that in
      retrospect it almost feels mechanical and preordained. It's an exercise in
      technical mastery more than it is creative storytelling. It lacks passion.
      It's a Borg drone.

      And yet with sly conviction, it peddles BS like only the best door-to-door
      salesmen. Even though you know it's BS, you still want to buy it. Logic
      suggests that this story is so full of holes it's an incomprehensible mess.
      But somehow, it's not. It's remarkably confident on its terms, and it swept
      me along for the ride. Resistance was, as they say (but not anymore),
      futile.

      --
      Next week: Seven comes face to face with her mortality.

      -----
      Copyright 2000 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

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      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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