[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Human Error"
- Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's "Human
Error." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.
In brief: Great fascination that gives way to great frustration.
Plot description: Seven of Nine runs a series of holodeck simulations to
explore her untapped emotions.
Star Trek: Voyager -- "Human Error"
Airdate: 3/7/2001 (USA)
Teleplay by Brannon Braga & Andre Bormanis
Story by Andre Bormanis & Kenneth Biller
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: **
"Don't kill the messenger." -- Icheb
When it comes right down to it, "Human Error" is a gutless story trying
with all its might to hide in the camouflage of tragic circumstances. No
such luck. After the recent stretch of mostly solid shows, this episode
serves almost as a depressing reality check: Voyager is a series
determined to go so far and absolutely no farther. The writers refuse to
take the risks that are standing right there in front of them and are the
ones that would be most satisfying to the audience. And why? Because we
just *can't* have change?
Basically, this episode is the ultimate Reset Button Plot [TM]. Oh, the
writers try to peddle to us the notion that this is groundbreaking
character analysis, but who are they kidding? We travel what seems to be
the fascinating journey of a character (Seven of Nine, naturally) only to
have it all yanked away in the last five minutes. What's the point of
As opposed to the past two weeks of the mega-plotted "Workforce," "Human
Error" comes to us as an easygoing change of pace. The plot has no
unnecessary complexities; it's simply Seven's humanity re-examined, which
has been a reliable if occasionally tiring character theme.
This time the story takes us into Seven's newfound holodeck fantasy life.
Sure, we've done the holodeck fantasy story before, even recently, whether
it was with the Doctor ("Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy"), Janeway ("Fair
Haven"), or Barclay ("Pathfinder"), but it also makes plenty of sense
here, and with Seven we have the feeling that there's even more at stake.
We've seen for four seasons how hard she has tried to grow, and she's
trying here, too.
What, in retrospect, can be seen as a preview of the frustration we get at
the end is how the story violates our trust with a needless deception
right at the beginning: At a baby shower for B'Elanna and Tom, Seven gives
the toast -- and a good one at that -- and we hear her discussion with
Janeway about the recent removal of her remaining Borg implants -- and
Seven's request for a Starfleet uniform (which practically had me
cheering). My interest was captured: Could it be we're going to take some
noteworthy steps with Seven in the series' few remaining episodes? Nope --
it's all a holodeck simulation, edited into the show to look real for the
purpose of, I guess, frustrating us.
No biggie -- I'm quite willing to overlook a cliched little deception like
that, especially since the simulation premise itself is intriguing. For
Seven, fantasies on the holodeck are not to feed her emotions but rather
lab experiments to see if she is *capable* of deeper emotions.
There are scenes of her playing the piano. Changing her appearance. Moving
into her own quarters. And eventually, she ends up on a date with a
holographic Chakotay, which I'm sure for some viewers may seem like an odd
character choice but is perfectly reasonable for the simulation and the
story at hand. We end up with several romantic encounters that are
tastefully handled, and some even better scenes where holo-Chakotay tries
to help Seven unleash emotions she consistently tries to suppress.
In particular, the story's use of a metronome is very apt. When playing
the piano, Seven uses the metronome to keep her ordered rhythm. But
there's no true emotion behind her skilled technical approach. Chakotay
recommends she not use the metronome, but Seven finds playing without it
troubling and disordered. Seven is essentially a control freak driven mad
by any chaos, no matter how small. This is the same reason she has trouble
dealing with emotions.
This is good material, even though I kept cursing the fact the writers
didn't have the courage or cleverness to find a way to use a real
character for these encounters instead of a holographic one (is he
programmed to behave and interact just like the real Chakotay? Gee, how
convenient). Even the by-the-numbers subplot involving Voyager obliviously
wandering into a weapons test range (duh!) manages to work okay, since it
shows how Seven's personal life conflicts with her duties and causes her
even more disorder.
Seven's interaction with the real people outside her holodeck experiments
makes sense too, whether it's Doc, Torres, Icheb, or Janeway. Doc's
support of Seven's emotional quest is sincere and well realized.
Unfortunately, all this talk of Seven's emotions is servicing a
last-minute plot development that lets the writers off the hook for
anything and everything resembling consequences or change. Doc discovers
that a function of Seven's cortical node *prohibits* her from having
strong emotions without shutting down, so furthering the development of
her emotions could be harmful. Just what we needed -- a human story with
an arbitrary technical twist.
This isn't characters solving a problem; this is the script artificially
creating its own circumstances. I don't even buy this plot element as a
Borg "fail-safe" to prevent drones from having emotions. We've never heard
of it before -- it seems to go against many previous assumptions about
assimilation, and it conveniently draws the line of what's deemed "too
emotional" solely for the purpose of ending this story and not accounting
for any of Seven's emotions that came before.
Nonetheless, Doc proposes complicated surgery that could eventually solve
the problem. Seven decides against it, for the arbitrary reason that the
writers want her to continue being a control freak who puts duty over
emotions rather than taking the risk of developing her humanity. This
decision is also enacted artificially by the script and not Seven's
character, who just as easily could've had the courage to take Doc's
proposed step into humanity. It's a writer's toss of a coin.
So, I'm thinking, what did we just watch and why? Essentially it's all
another self-contained character situation that we're supposed to ponder
thoughtfully. The tragedy of the story is supposed to be that Seven
*can't* take that step toward humanity. But why is this a tragedy we as an
audience need to see? Especially when the tragedy as written is more
contrived and unbelievable than taking the story to a more daring and
satisfying conclusion? We've been down this "deferred development" road
with Seven so many, many times. Why pretend to shake things up if you
don't mean it -- if you reverse it in the end? It baffles and frustrates
me. A lot.
If ever there were a time to change the Seven Humanity Quest formula, with
only a handful of episodes left until the series is done and gone, *now is
the time*. But no, sorry.
And too bad. The actors and production staff give this story their all.
It's almost flawlessly performed, with Jeri Ryan using her expertise for
conveying subtle, buried emotion underneath the calm Seven surface. The
music is well placed. Seven gets to let her hair down and have a good
reason. Chakotay is likable.
Indeed, there are parts of "Human Error" that are so fascinating that it's
all the more depressing that the ending is an act of terrorist sabotage.
There should be a litmus test for situations like this: If you have
several ways you can take a situation, and you pick the one that cheats
the characters, the audience, and common sense, you need to pick again.
They failed to pick again, and here lies the season's biggest
Next new episode: The return of Q, who brings along Q Jr. (sounds like a
Copyright 2001 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@... - j.epsico@...