Guest Review by Heather Jarman
Story By: Andre Bormanis
Teleplay by Robert Doherty and Carleton Eastlake
Directed by David Livingston
DISCLAIMER: Star Trek: Voyager belongs to Paramount pictures and no infringement on their intellectual property is intended by the content herein. The commentary, however, completely belongs firstname.lastname@example.org.
SYNOPSIS: Seven walks to the edge of the existential void and doesn't like what she sees…
Within moments of Voyager's opening, nagging plot baggage is ejected--or should I say transported--when Mezoti and the twin Borg boys Rebi and Azan, find a new home. Janeway, Seven and Icheb bid the wee bairns a somewhat sentimental good-bye. Miss Efficiency decides to deactivate the three extra alcoves before the transporter pad is even cold. Icheb finds this behavior cold. But wait! A tear in Seven's eye betrays her true feelings. Or so Icheb thinks even after Seven informs him it's an optical implant malfunction.
Unfortunately, the Doctor agrees with Seven. When asked about other symptoms, she confesses to having headaches but didn't feel the need to report them since they haven't prevented her from doing her job. Doc wants to tattle to Mamma Janeway, but Seven invokes doctor-patient confidentiality.
Icheb's working on an unapproved project in astrometrics--a project he quickly hides when Seven appears. She asks about whether he's completed his work--he has. But he confesses to wanting more challenges: he wants to work on the Bridge. He plans to take the Starfleet Academy entrance exam and forward the results in the next data stream transmission to earth.
WHOOP-WHOOP-WHOOP! WESLEY CRUSHER ALERT! WESLEY CRUSHER ALERT!
Ehem. I was having flashbacks. To continue.
Seven agrees to speak to the captain about writing a letter of recommendation while attempting to finish her task. She hides her trembling hands from Icheb as they clumsily tap in commands. Abruptly, she elects to retreat to her alcove for regeneration.
Poor Seven's having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. Even her alcove rejects her. A diagnostic coldly informs her that alcove is fine--but her cortical node is malfunctioning.
Not being able to regenerate, Seven pulls an all-nighter in the mess hall with all the finesse of a college kid cramming for an exam. Her table is littered with tall, dirty glasses. When Neelix comes in to start the breakfast shift at 0500, he expresses surprise at her presence but invites her to try a Talaxian omelet in lieu of the smoothies she's been imbibing. Seven tells him she can't regenerate. Neelix advises her to consult B'Elanna for help with her alcove. Seven decides to do just that but collapses before she leaves the mess hall. Neelix rushes to her side in time to witness an ugly Borg implant erupting on her cheek.
Seven regains consciousness and finds herself, naturally, in sickbay. Janeway hovers nearby, clearly worried. The Doctor breaks the bad news: she's rejecting her Borg implants. The deterioration of her cortical node means that her implants are shutting down--she'll lose her vital functions. Seven starts making excuses--"My cortical implant will repair itself in time!" "I'm afraid not," the Doctor corrects her.
Janeway wants Seven to brainstorm for a solution. The only one that might work is to find a new cortical node. A woman with a mission, Janeway beelines for the bridge.
She asks Harry to locate a Borg debris field they passed 6 days ago. She informs the bridge crew she'll be taking the 'Flyer' to salvage a cortical implant from one of the dead drones. Tom, who recently lost his favorite toy, isn't willing to let Janeway head off with the new 'Flyer.' He reminds her of the last time she took off to face the Borg when the 'Flyer' was blown to bits. He expects to be taken along as a pilot. She acquiesces. Following Starfleet Protocol, Tuvok joins the team.
On her way to the shuttlebay, Janeway has the unhappy job of updating Icheb about Seven's condition. He wants to help, but Janeway insists that this isn't a job for a youngster. Even one aspiring to be Wesley Crusher.
Icheb checks on his mentor in sickbay. Seven dismisses the young man and orders him back to work. Icheb pushes, but Seven wants to pull a Greta Garbo. The Doctor pulls the well-intentioned Icheb into his office and updates him the psychology of illness. Apparently being angry is part of the deal. "She doesn't want you to see her at less than her best, " the Doc says. Give her some time, the Doc advises.
The 'Delta Flyer' reaches the debris field. Tom remains on board playing with his joystick style controls while Tuvok and Janeway beam into a section supposedly filled with drone corpses. Janeway locates a prospective donor and with the deftness of a transplant surgeon, uses a laser scalpel to open his forehead and plop out the cylindrical cortical node.
Tom's static-laden voice informs Tuvok and Janeway that they have company on the way. Within moments, a grizzled salvage team appears to claim the Borg technology. Naturally, Janeway tries to reason with him. When that doesn't work, she threatens to use her laser scalpel to perform some surgery sans anesthesia. The nasty aliens decide to make it WWF night and throws Janeway, almost effortlessly to the ground. Tuvok takes a hit. Before the lives of our intrepid officers are forfeited, Tom transports them back to the 'Flyer.'
A chase through the debris field ensues. He apologizes for the delay, but the nasty aliens had knocked out the 'Flyer''s transporters. Janeway attends to her wounded friend, but Tom orders her to take tactical. Janeway quickly takes the station, allowing only a touch of sarcasm to enter her voice when she says, "Aye, sir!"
Back on Voyager, Seven spends her sicktime reorganizing the Doctor's filing systems. "You should be in bed," he complains. Before an argument can start, Neelix arrives with a Kaddis Kot board and Tarkanian wildflowers. Seven doesn't want to break with the task at hand. She'll "Admire them later." Seven attempts to dismiss Neelix's attempts at boosting morale, but the Doc tries some reverse psychology. Appealing to Seven's vanity, he tells Neelix that in her weakened condition, it wouldn't be fair to play Kaddis Kot. Seven allows herself to be taken in by the transparent ploy and informs Neelix she'll take the green pieces.
Janeway pages the Doctor to let him know they have the new cortical node. Janeway, Doc and Tom begin the operation, performing a procedure similar to the one we saw Janeway execute on the dead drone. It's an anxious moment for all of them. Her neural relays begin destabilizing, the warning alerts sounds--Seven goes into anaphylactic shock. Doc pulls out every emergency gadget within his grasp. All for naught--they've lost her. Until the Doctor says, "Computer, end simulation."
Whew. It's not good news though. This is the 12th time this simulation has failed. Apparently the cortical node has been out of use for too long. Janeway decides to hunt down a live drone to get a cortical node. She reminds the Doctor that they've infiltrated Borg vessels before and that she can do it again to save Seven. The Doc is unwilling to forfeit one life for another; Janeway won't let Seven die. The Doctor, with even more vehemence proclaims, "Neither am I!" Time to face the possibility that Seven might be dying. Now to break the bad news to Seven--who just won her 16th game off Neelix. Deciding that there's no point hanging around dying in sickbay, Seven asks to be returned to duty. The Doctor won't allow it, but suggests that Seven have her work transferred to sickbay.
Later, Icheb shows up in sickbay in search of Seven--who is nowhere to be seen. He activates the EMH who appears, having been stopped mid-sentence, and he's clearly p.o.'ed. Seven has vanished. She's even left her comm badge in sickbay so the computer can't track her. What a pain in the butt!
The fugitive has found a hiding place in main engineering. B'Elanna strolls in and warns Seven, "He's looking for you…and he's about to call a ship's wide alert." B'Elanna won't turn her in, though. She understands what it's like to be forced to hang out in sickbay. "Thank you," Seven says. Wow. A first, I think, with B'Elanna.
More weighty things sit on Seven's mind. She asks B'Elanna whether she, B'Elanna, believes she'll go to Stov-o-kor when she dies. B'Elanna dodges the question with an admonition to stop dwelling on dying. Seven, the pragmatic one, knows that dying is a possibility that she needs to face. Persisting, Seven asks the question, "Stov-o-kor, Lieutenant? Do you believe you'll go there?"
Pensive, B'Elanna takes a seat and pauses before she answers. Not necessarily a question she's entirely comfortable with even though she's taken a visit to Grethor in the last year or so. Her afterlife, she begins, depends on how honorable her death is.
"But you do believe there's something after death?" Seven asks.
"I hope so," B'Elanna answers. "What about you?"
Seven recalls how a drones memories live forever in the Collective, but her life's work--the work that matters to her--has happened since she's become an individual. That, in her mind, will be lost.
B'Elanna looks down, contemplating how she should respond for a moment. It's no secret she and Seven have been at odds during most of Seven's time on Voyager. But even this feisty Klingon has compassion for a nemesis in need. "I think you're a little more memorable than you're giving yourself credit for. You don't need the Collective to validate your existence. You've made an impact on every member of this crew. That's your legacy."
The moment is broken when a familiar voice sounds below.
"There you are! I should have known she'd be the one to harbor a fugitive," the Doctor says.
"We difficult patients need to stick together," B'Elanna replies.
The Doctor worries about Seven and wants her to return to sickbay. Naturally she doesn't want to go. The Doctor gives in and allows Seven to stay and help B'Elanna if she agrees to wear a cortical monitor. As B'Elanna exits, Seven once again says, "Thank you."
Sometime later, Seven heads down to Astrometrics where Icheb works. She's accumulated a list of crewman to help him with his entrance exam. She's not on the list--a point Icheb makes loudly. Seven chastises him for being too dependent on her and admonishes him to learn to look to others for help. Icheb refuses to accept Seven's assertion that she's dying and accuses her of giving up. In a huff, he storms out of Astrometrics.
Icheb puts his anger to good use by using it to find a solution to Seven's problem. He approaches the Doctor with a risky proposal: use his cortical node to save Seven. The Doctor vehemently disapproves, but Icheb has an argument for everything. Because he came out of his maturation chamber early, he might not depend as heavily on his cortical node. His implants could adapt more readily to the loss of the node than Seven's could. Anticipating the possibility that his implants might not adapt, he's prepared some genetic resequencing technique that would allow the Doctor to help his body compensate for any implants that couldn't adapt. Icheb refuses to accept the Doctor's protests--he insists that the Doctor examine his research.
Back in Astrometrics, Seven takes a visual stroll across North America with Janeway for a companion. When Janeway tells Seven she'll take her for a visit to Indiana, Seven informs the captain that the odds are high that she won't be able to join Janeway on that visit. "Accept reality," she says simply.
Janeway chooses the cock-eyed optimist approach: "If I'd accepted reality six years ago, I'd have settled on the first M class planet we came across. Instead, I'm 30,000 light years closer to Indiana."
Seven responds by reciting a list of deceased crewmembers--the cost of her choice to press for home.
Janeway doesn't like this methodology and demands to know the point of this exercise. Seven explains that while Janeway has lost crewmembers before, Janeway didn't have the personal investment in those crewmembers that she has in Seven. Since Seven's separation from the Collective, Seven has been Janeway's Delta Quadrant project. Since Seven hasn't attained the level of "individuality" that Janeway hoped she would, Seven feels Janeway must be disappointed that Seven will die without having fulfilled her potential. Janeway quickly corrects this and with great emotion tells Seven how proud she is of her. That indeed, Seven has "exceeded her expectations."
The Doctor interrupts their tete-a-tete with an update about Icheb's plan. Naturally, Seven turns down Icheb's offer. Icheb encourages Janeway to order Seven to accept his offer. Janeway demurs.
Seven moves into sickbay. The Doctor offers to bring Seven items from cargo bay two to make her more comfortable. The two friends share a gentle moment of jokes and reassurance. A summons from Icheb disrupts the moment when the youngster "orders" the Doctor to the Cargo Bay. The Doctor quips how Icheb hasn't yet learned that "Persistence is futile." Seven almost cracks a smile at the Doctor's joke.
On his way to see Icheb, the Doctor encounters Janeway. She too, has received a summons. "Icheb hasn't yet grasped the chain of command," she says, half-annoyed, half-admiring.
"Remind you of anyone else we know?" the Doctor replies, clearly recalling the less than obedient Seven of Nine.
The twosome enters cargo bay two and finds Icheb standing in his regeneration chamber. He tells them he's programmed his chamber to disengage his neural relays. He needed to prove to the Doctor and Janeway that his plan could work. With his cortical node offline, Icheb's life hangs in the balance.
Another stubborn patient joins Seven in sickbay. Icheb argues with the Doctor and Seven, adamantly refusing treatment. Tit for tat, Seven refuses to take the node.
"Someone needs to take the damn thing!" the Doctor yells.
Icheb gives Seven a mother of a lecture. He pummels her with his observation that it is she, not he, who needs to learn to depend on others, that she's consciously isolated herself from the crew in direct opposition to what Voyager stands for. He reminds her what Voyager's greater purpose is: to be a crew that reaches out to help one another and to those in need. Stung by his comments, Seven nonetheless recognizes he's correct.
The two prepare for surgery.
No simulation this go-round, the Doctor and Paris proceed with the delicate procedure. Solemnly, Tom hands the Doctor his instruments. Indeed, so solemn is the mood that the fact that he sports a simple gold band on his left hand is almost overlooked.
Hordes of shrieking PT-4-Ever groupies erupt in IRC chatrooms all over the globe. Really, the producers can't think that eagle-eyed Trekkers ever miss continuity boo-boos like this.
But I digress. More on the ring in the commentary section. Talking about it now would ruin the mood.
Moment by moment, the Doctor works through the operation; Icheb's forehead is opened, his node removed. In the other biobed, Seven's defective node is removed, oh so carefully, and Icheb's node is tentatively placed inside Seven's forehead. A long pause as Janeway, the Doctor and Tom wait…and at last. A sigh of relief. Icheb's plan worked. Now to attend to Icheb. His survival isn't certain.
Seven awakens in her regeneration chamber. Six days later. Her first job? Check in on her "organ donor." Icheb too, has been sleeping. He's roused long enough for Seven to inform him she's prepared to help him prep for the Starfleet exam. "You can expect a rigorous and grueling schedule."
Icheb notices a tear welling in Seven's eyes. "Seven, your ocular implant is malfunctioning again."
The Doctor quickly scans Seven and informs him, "Actually, her implant is working perfectly."
What struck me most as I watched "Imperfection" was the character work. I mean, did anyone really think for more than say, half a second, that Seven of Nine would bite the big one in only the second episode of the year?
But the possibility that Icheb might die did loom large. The question remained until the end whether he would not only survive, but also survive with his mental faculties in tact. Removing spare parts from one's cerebral cortex has always been synonymous with lobotomy in my mind. I squirmed until the last shot when we saw Icheb alive and not in a vegetative state.
Since the threat to Seven didn't have teeth, what made this story interesting was how it was told. And IMHO, it was told beautifully, aided in no small way by outstanding performances. What made these performances work so well is how naturally they flowed out of the episode's premise.
Seven has the Borg equivalent of a terminal illness. I'm assuming that Seven's nanoprobes create some sort of immunity to other garden variety humanoid ailments. We've never seen Seven afflicted with headaches, insomnia, a cold, indigestion, the flu or PMS. It appears from the surface that only a life threatening illness could bring down a former Borg (as in what she faced in "Infinite Regress"). She progresses through the various stages of illness--denial, anger, isolation, and acceptance--and those around her accompany her on that journey.
Janeway is not unlike the parent who goes to any lengths to find a cure for what ails a child. Her devotion to her protégé takes her outside the realm of even her best Starfleet behavior when she threatens to capture and remove a cortical node from a live drone. Her single-minded dedication to a single crewmember harkens back to last year's "Good Shepherd" when the captain went out into the wilderness after the "lost ones." Janeway's actions stemmed from familiar, believable motivations. In the past, the writers conveniently manipulated Janeway's character to accommodate their plot goals. Not this time. From her gutsy impulse to fly into the Borg debris field to her refusal to order Seven to accept Icheb's offer, the writers made certain Janeway's choices had integrity.
The Doctor who has made no secret about his romantic feelings for Seven attends to her not only as a physician, but as her friend, protecting her privacy, hovering devotedly, making jokes when the outlook is the most grim. There's a poignant moment in sickbay when the Doctor offers to bring her food from the mess hall and Seven dryly asks if he's offering her a last meal. Appalled, the Doctor quickly denies that motive. Seven quickly confesses she's making a joke to lighten the mood, a technique she's learned through the Doctor's social lessons. Nothing like gallows humor. The quick interchange exudes tangible warmth; a genuine intimacy exists between them. We sense from watching the pair how easy it is for Seven to choose him to accompany her from her birth as an individual through her death: he can provide both the emotional support and the medical skill to facilitate that passage. Seven subtly acknowledges that fact by joking with him. How marvelous that she feels comfortable enough in his presence to be so plain!
The contrast between her relationship with the Doctor in this episode and her romance with Axum in "Unimatrix Zero" I & II should be evidence enough as to why the latter wasn't entirely convincing. Without the advantage of watching a Seven/Axum relationship evolve, it's simply not as real as the Doctor-Seven friendship. Maybe it's more like the Humphrey Bogart/Ingrid Bergman "Casablanca" relationship: "We'll always have Unimatrix Zero…." Whereas Real Life dictates Seven follow a different path.
Icheb is the child willing to give his life for his parent--the relative offering to risk his own life through an "organ" donation of sorts. His willingness to suffer for Seven demonstrates that in a way, Icheb, in a short time, has learned more about human interdependence than Seven has. He also behaves in character: he's young, reckless and clear about his goals. He knows what he wants and he pursues it. This too recalls Icheb's actions in "Child's Play." His devotion to Seven has roots in past episodes so we aren't jarred by his shocking choice in the final two acts.
Seven is the glue that holds all the pieces to together since the episode's actions grow out of the dire predicament she finds herself in. Jeri Ryan creates a graceful, subtle performance--one far more compelling than past Seven-in-jeopardy episodes like "Infinite Regress" or even last year's "Survival Instinct" or "Tsunkatse." She's measured and controlled enough to maintain the familiar Borg façade; she's quiet and emotional in small doses lending credibility to the seriousness of what she faces. No hysterics, no shrill melodrama, no martyr complex. In fact, Ryan's (and the writer's) take on Seven reminded me a great deal of my own grandmother's quiet pride as grandma dealt with her terminal health condition. What makes this episode different from "Unimatrix Zero" II (a solid episode in my estimation) is that Seven's reactions to each situation in "Imperfection" had roots in the character's history. We know Seven the workaholic, the disobedient daughter, the diligent mentor, the reluctant student of humanity. All of these familiar faces appear in "Imperfection." And yet the scenario allows us to see these faces in a new light.
Additionally, Seven's stories are always more compelling when the situations she faces are specific to her development. When she functions as a utilitarian fill-in for any character (i.e. doing B'Elanna's engineering, Tuvok's tactical, Harry's ops), she becomes more all-around SuperWoman and consequently, less unique. What's interesting about someone who continually does everything brilliantly? Seven's weaknesses hold more potential for good storytelling.
Ryan, Picardo, Mulgrew, Manu Intiraymi (Icheb)--applause all around. Brava & bravo!
Now a few technical points.
I've read a bit of grousing--both in reviews and on BBs--about having back to back Seven-centric episodes. Casting aside the fact that the last few years have traditionally featured Seven episodes in the #2 spot ("Drone," "Survival Instinct"), many fans gripe that "yet another Seven" episode is symptomatic of the producer's ongoing extreme infatuation with the character.
I'd like to set the record straight. There is more to this story than the average fan might be aware of. For once my information addiction comes in handy!
Back in July, Ken Biller, new executive producer gave two interviews--one, I believe to 'Cinescape' and the other to StarTrek.com. In that interview, he stated that they anticipated they were shooting a couple of episodes out of order. Why? I'm extrapolating here based on information Roxann Dawson gave at a con in July, so here goes…
Early in the summer, Roxann went to China to bring her newly adopted daughter back to the US. Her trip's time line roughly equates to the second episode-filming slot. The planned second episode, "Drive," had a heavy B'Elanna plot. It might have been necessary for that episode to be bumped so Roxann could take care of family business. Or it might have been something simpler like Michael Taylor not having the script ready to go or Rick Kolbe not being available. Whatever reason is the real reason, there are host of possible logical explanations about why "Imperfection," episode 3, was shot before "Drive," episode 2. In spite of the shooting schedule, Biller stated to the press that they planned on airing "Imperfection" third.
They never intended to show back-to-back Seven episodes.
Why they decided to push "Drive" into the third spot, I don't know. Bottom line: all this grinching about Seven being too dominant doesn't hold a lot of water when you know the producers had already recognized the problem with airing consecutive "Seven" episodes and had planned on putting a space between "Unimatrix Zero" II and "Imperfection."
This little factoid also explains the continuity boo-boo with the gold ring on Tom's finger. I'm not going to do a big skit about spoilers since you have to be consciously avoiding all Voyager press to not know what's up next week. It's been on the web and in TV Guide summaries in Canada and the US. Those who haven't remained spoiler virgins had a nice chuckle when they saw the ring shot in the sickbay scene.
That's all I'll say this go round. More next week, I assure you.
A philosophical note before I wrap up…
When Icheb downloaded on Seven with his "You haven't depended on anyone" speech in sickbay, I had an epiphany about why the Borg fit into the Voyager paradigm.
Essentially, you have two matriarchal Collectives. Both have fused disparate elements into a whole; both demand obedience, loyalty and excellence. In UZII, we saw how the Borg Queen keeps her parents and siblings close; this week we see how Janeway does it.
The key difference is choice.
Janeway's Collective was initially fused together by freak circumstance. As time has passed, the cohesiveness of the group comes from a "collective" choice to uphold Starfleet ideals as well as from the interpersonal family relationships that have developed over the years. Never was that more apparent than in "Imperfection." The intuitive understanding of his captain that allowed Tom to bark orders at Janeway; the sense of honor and compassion that allowed B'Elanna to shelter a woman who regularly antagonizes her. Even Neelix's good intentions, however obvious, were appreciated for the thought behind them. These characters know and understand one another--they know each other's hearts. The genuine familial intimacy threading through "Imperfection" showed the reverse of the Borg "familial intimacy" of last week.
The Borg Queen forces interdependence. No wonder Seven shuns it so much. On some, intuitive level, Seven must feel that maintaining her individuality, in part, depends on keeping herself separate from the family web that knits Voyager together. In reaching out to the Doctor, Neelix, B'Elanna and Janeway, Seven accepts the bonds that have been waiting for her all along.
Well, maybe not with B'ElannaJ
I give "Imperfection" a solid ***1/2 out of **** stars.
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NEXT WEEK: Hot heads, hot rods & hot hearts in Voyager's version of pod racing as interstellar diplomacy goes Indy 500.