The following is a SPOILER Review. If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot given away, stop reading now.
This is a long, detailed retelling of the actual episode, with running commentary. I reserve the right to be wrong. The following is my opinion at the moment I wrote it.
Sing along, kids: "There's a Yellow Borg from Texas..."
Jump straight to the Analysis
Jump straight to the Analysis
Chakotay's log, 50614.2. Me and Ensign Morn (oops, Kaplan) are returning to Voyager after scouting the Necrit Expanse (which you may recall from "Fair Trade").
Unfortunately for the young and shaky-voiced Ensign Kaplan--an olive-skinned brunette of indeterminate ancestry--they appear to be lost, and she endures some uncomfortable stares from Chakotay--until he orders her to map an asteroid belt that they'd passed two hours ago. She may be lost, but she has been paying attention; a duly chastened First Officer leaves her alone for a while. (You know, a map would come in real handy about now...)
A Federation beacon lights up the shuttle's sensors; they figure it's Voyager--a fair guess in the Delta Quadrant--and alter course. What they find instead is a distress call from an unfriendly-looking planet. 80,000 humanoids, some technology, but no Voyager. Chakotay has Kaplan launch a message buoy, then they beam down to the surface.
"This place looks like a war zone," Kaplan notes. It's night; the ground is gravelly devastation, with burning trash cans for the only light, casting eerie shadows on the ruins of what might once have been a town square. The two officers are on their guard.
It increases when robed and hooded figures approach them, not speaking, looking none too friendly.
* * *
Chakotay introduces himself. The aliens say nothing. Their hoods come down.
Their weapons come up.
A brief firefight ensues. Orange streaks of Federation phaser fire and green bolts of alien energy weapons light the air. Kaplan gets off a few shots before a mucus-green death blast sends her agent's speed-dial into action. Chakotay manages to avoid most of what's aimed at him until a hooded assailant goes hand-to-hand.
Naturally, Chakotay wins, but he had to drop his weapon to fight. Before he can retrieve it, a tall ugly dude carrying a Big Ugly Gun Janeway would trade half the Stellar Cartography crew for appears from the shadows, takes aim, and lets fly. Chakotay is bathed in slime-green light, and he falls to the earth, unconscious.
Before the mute aliens can reach their fallen prey, a Gene Simmons-sized tongue of plasma from a futuristic flamethrower stops them cold. They flee, and peace through superior firepower is achieved with no further casualties.
The new group of aliens gathers Chakotay.
Chakotay awakens with an Excedrin headache on a bed in a darkened room. From the shadows (there are a lot of those here) appears a human woman in simple grey clothing, with long, silky hair with just enough red in it to give this episode an automatic 4 stars. "I'm Riley Frazier," she says, introducing herself. She cautions him to stay in bed; he's got a nasty head wound. He, of course, doesn't listen, and sits up in bed.
She notes his rank (even with the Maquis markings), asks for his name, but he doesn't give it--he asks about Kaplan. She didn't make it, Riley says. Chakotay says he needs to get back to his shuttle; he rises, rushes toward the light of a hallway--and staggers.
Riley tells him the shuttle is gone (there goes another one...), that the marauders have already stripped that puppy down for parts and scrap metal. Resources are tight here; you make do with what you can. Riley wants to help him, she says.
Chakotay asks how she got here; she says she could ask the same question. Chakotay tells her to go first. 7-8 years before, she says, she was in the Bolian sector when her ship was attacked, she was put in stasis, and the next thing she knew she was here, along with Cardassians, Klingons, Romulans, and a few dozen other species, known and unknown. Since many of these species were hostile to each other, the planet's been more like a United Nations than a United Federation, with frequent skirmishes, raids, and bloodshed on all sides.
Well, almost all sides. Riley says her group is an amalgam of different species, a few hundred folks, who are willing to work together, keep the peace, and build a better life for themselves. It's a cooperative, she says, and it's a good start. (Sounds kinda commie to me....)
Chakotay wants to contact his ship. Riley says their communications array is down. Chakotay says he can help get it working again. But not in his current condition. Riley leads him back to the bed and gives him an order to stay there and rest. He's got serious neural trauma, she says.
Captain's Log, Stardate 50622.4. While Chakotay looks for a shortcut through the Necrit Expanse, we continue our month-long journey through this sparsely populated region.
Tom Paris is at the helm, arms folded, looking like he's suffering from a severe Pon Farr deficiency. Behind him, Janeway slouches in the captain's chair, legs crossed and angled to starboard, possibly dozing. Paris comments that this should be called "the Negative Expanse,"for all the excitement it's offered so far, which is to say none. Janeway yawns and suggests that if Paris is bored he can do something with a little more flavor to it--like scrub toilets, peel leola roots, or direct the dang episode himself. Paris suddenly finds the navigational challenge of the Expanse to be more fascinating than he'd previously indicated. (Though he does take her up on the Director suggestion, and wears a funny beret the rest of the hour.)
"I believe I may have found something else to pique Mr. Paris' interest," Tuvok says. He's detected a ship on long-range sensors. He puts it on visual, and everyone suddenly yearns for the boredom they endured just seconds before.
A large cube hangs in center-screen. "The Borg," Paris whispers. "Red alert," Janeway orders.
* * *
Within 3.14159 seconds, Janeway barks a series of commands to the bridge crew--weapons, propulsion, security, Ops. Action Kate is locked and loaded; all Safeties are off.
But Tuvok says the Borg cube is unexpectedly inert. Paris suggests it might be a trap; Tuvok notes that's not the Borg style. Kim performs a full scan, but life signs, power signatures--all nada. Apparently the Necrit Expanse lulled them to sleep, too.
Tuvok, ever the security type, suggests that even a dead Borg cube is a danger; the Borg are notoriously fastidious about cleaning up after themselves, assimilating everything that moves, incorporating raw materials like Bill Clinton inhales Big Macs. (Like I'm one to talk. As my brother always says, "people who live in fat houses shouldn't throw cheeseburgers.")
And as usual, Tuvok's voice of caution gives Captain Janeway an idea. "Road Trip!" she yells, as the bridge crew look at her like she's been using a few too many of her Replicator credits for double espresso again. Torres does a double-take; Tuvok rolls his Vulcan eyes and silently mutters, "here we go again..." Janeway says it's a rare opportunity for a non-Enterprise crew to snoop around a Borg ship, look for weaknesses, trap doors, big red buttons, Snooze Alarms (which worked so well in TNG's "Best of Both Worlds") etc. Harry Kim announces that they're receiving a hail from a contingent of angels who fear to tread there. Janeway sends Torres and Tuvok to rush in. Her eyes gleam with a trillion possibilities as she orders Paris to move to transporter range.
Chakotay is walking around now, sampling the Cooperative's garden produce. Chakotay takes a taste and expresses approval. Riley apologizes that there's no meat; Chakotay says he's a vegetarian. Riley says she's a natural-born carnivore, and really misses "Momma's famous Texas barbecue." (I'm growing to love this woman more by the minute.)
She asks Chakotay how long their trip will take; he says 67 years (which is slightly ahead of schedule, believe it or not) provided they don't find a wormhole or other shortcut. She asks him if they've considered finding a nice M-class planet and setting down some roots. Chakotay, not mentioning his homesteader's dreams from "Resolutions," says that would deny them the opportunity to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life, etc. (It may be what got him into Starfleet in the first place, before his father's death lured him to the Maquis.) "We've built up quite a home for ourselves aboard Voyager," he concludes, and suggests that Captain Janeway (so formal?) might consider bringing aboard anyone who would like to join them on the trip back.
Riley seems oddly unenthusiastic about this, and Chakotay is surprised. You were kidnaped, dragged 70k light years....What about the distress call, he asks. She says he misunderstood. They want help with some of their equipment, not a ride home. For better or worse, she says, this is their home now, and they don't want to leave. "These people are like my ancestors--Texas homesteaders," she says passionately. Chakotay's headache is returning, so they walk back to the bed, where he lowers himself carefully.
All they want is some material assistance: some repairs, some medical supplies, maybe some weapons (yeah, like Janeway's gonna give up her Texas-sized Spank Ray...) But despite the dangers, the raiders, the antagonistic groups--the Cooperative is trying to build a better world. Based on truth, justice, and the Federation Way. "Tolerance, shared responsibility, mutual respect...we're not about to give up just because it's difficult."
Chakotay offers to help. "NO" she says, her voice different from before, but then it softens back to what he's used to. "You rest." She leaves him to his rest, strides to the hallway, touches a wall panel, and disappears behind a heavy metal door as Chakotay looks after her.
The Borg ship is dark and dusty, lit only by the wrist-lights of the away team. "This place is dark as a tomb," Torres notes. Tuvok chides her that apprehension can only be counterproductive. "I'm not being apprehensive, Tuvok; I'm just nervous as Hell," she retorts.
Their Tricorders lead them to an access node. They start clearing debris to establish a hookup. Tuvok pushes some cabling away...and finds him staring at the vacuum-preserved corpse of a Borg.
"Hot damn," Tuvok whispers, as Torres' tricorder confirms the obvious about the Borg's condition.
In the conference room, Tuvok and Torres report to Janeway and the rest of the senior staff. They brought back one of the Borg corpses; there are 1100 others onboard the cube. Tuvok says all activity ceased on the ship about 5 years earlier. Janeway, the only one in the room not seated, paces to work off her adrenaline-and-latte-induced agitation as she asks why the Borg would just leave their ship and all its technology adrift in space for anyone to find. Tuvok suggests that the abrupt nature of the shutdown may have cut it off from the Collective. Which still begs the question, why. Torres suggests it could have been a natural disaster...or something that could make even the mighty Borg assimilate a heaping helping of Humble Pie. The prospect of running into such a species is both terrifying...and, this reviewer opines, inevitable.
Captain Janeway in leadership mode is a figure of poise, strength, and quiet resolve. Having taken in Torres' statement about the Borg's possible demise, she calmly passes orders. Proceed with the autopsy. Continue scanning for other Borg vessels--or something more powerful, she adds with the barest hint of gallows sarcasm in her voice, but not in her eyes. And let's rendezvous with Chakotay a little ahead of schedule so we can tell him about some old friends we've just run across.
Chakotay sleeps...or does he? His eyes open a crack, waiting for the sentry on the upper floor to move out of eyeshot. When he's clear, he rushes to the hallway wall panel and starts jimmying the electronic lock. His first effort to open the door fails; he then tries the old-fashioned approach and knocks. That doesn't work, so he goes back to lock-picking...and succeeds. The massive door swings open and he passes through.
He finds himself among kinetic locals, who move with minimal conversation, carrying a variety of tools and materials. All are dressed in rough fabrics like Riley. They are a smorgasbord of species--some familiar, most not. Quite a few are missing limbs. Chakotay takes this all in, as he proceeds gingerly but unfettered through the bustle of activity.
The inside becomes outside. Shadows flee as he finds himself staring over the ridge of a massive canyon. It is on this outdoor ledge that most of the workers congregate, going about their tasks. Chakotay continues to look. He finds an alcove, where light disappears back into shadow. He follows this and peers into the greyness.
He finds a group of bald folks with some metal implants in various parts of their bodies. Some have familiar metallic arms or facial attachments. They are huddled around someone who is seated, back to Chakotay; a large half-moon cybernetic disk embedded deep into the back of the smooth skull. The standing aliens notice Chakotay and their faces register shock.
The seated person turns to face Chakotay. Her eyes register embarrassed horror.
Her face says it all. It's Riley, all right. And you know what? Even bald, she's pretty darn cute.
* * *
"What are you? Are you Borg?" "We were Borg."
"So you weren't just kidnaped--you were assimilated by the Collective." It's almost an accusation.
Riley nods. "At Wolf 359. I was a science officer aboard the Roosevelt. But five years ago our cube was damaged by an electro-kinetic storm. The next thing we knew, our link to the Collective was severed. We were free! We could think for ourselves again, remember our names, where we'd come from!"
A tall male ex-Borg steps forward. "It was like waking up from a long nightmare. We took what we thought we could use and transported ourselves here."
Riley continues. "Everything was new again--the sounds of our own voices, forgotten memories, the taste of fruit!"
The man picks it up. "Our original skin pigmentation began to come back; many of us were able to remove our Borg appendages."
Riley: "I was even lucky enough to get a prosthetic arm. Orem created it using Borg replication equipment. In spite of how little we had it was a joyous, hopeful time."
"And Then?" Chakotay asks.
And then...the old cultural memories returned as well. Under the Collective they were united in mind and purpose; separate, they were dozens of different species, many of which had been instinctive enemies. The euphoria turned to suspicion, then to war.
"But we're not all like that," Riley swears. "Everything I said about the Cooperative, building a new society--I meant it."
The tall male, Orem, says he's a Romulan--his forehead bulges and skin pigmentation are visible enough to accept but not obvious without hearing it first--taught to hate humans and the Federation but now an eager part of the Cooperative and Riley's friend. Riley says he's the medic, the one who examined Chakotay when he was shot.
Chakotay asks why they didn't tell him before. "We know how people feel about the Borg; and with cause--we did terrible things." Chakotay seems to understand--you'd been assimilated, he said, not in control of your actions. "Then you'll still help us?" Riley asks, hopeful.
Speaking of not in control, Chakotay slumps, the damage from the neural trauma still taking its toll. Orem grabs him. "First, I think he needs our help," he says with gentle concern.
While Voyager follows the message buoy, the Borg undergoes an autopsy. "I must say, there's nothing like the vacuum of space for preserving a handsome corpse," Holodoc says with typical curious, yet tactless enthusiasm. Kes just smiles knowingly; Torres whips her head around at him and frowns. Holodoc doesn't notice; he's too busy enjoying the new challenge. He whips his medical tricorder over the vacuum-preserved Borg, making vocal notes along the way--evidence of the vacuum and absolute cold of space, as well as signs that it was electrocuted, Kes notes. Doc congratulates her on the diagnosis. Torres says that would support their theory on what happened to the ship--a massive electro mechanical discharge.
Doc finds an "Axonal amplifier" and asks for a cortical probe. He plunges it into the Borg's skull.
And they said dead Borg tell no tales....the thing bolts upright, eyes wide open and moving around, Borg parts whirring and clicking and acting very much alive. Blinkers blink, mechanical arm moves about as if taking note of its environs. Torres yells for Doc to shut it down, and after a few panicked seconds Doc manages to do so. Soon the Borg is again deactivated, eyes closed, slumped once again in (one would hope) permanent death. "What the Hell happened?!" Torres demands. Kes asks if it's still alive.
Doc puts on a brave face, refusing to admit that this is anything other than a knee-jerk response, that he may have just inadvertently triggered a backup neuro electric power cell, but that there's no need for concern. Torres' tricorder says otherwise. "It's been reset to its original programming. If this one can do it...if the Borg on that ship can be similarly reanimated, we're in deep trouble." They share an apprehensive look.
Orem examines the now-bedridden Chakotay. His condition is worsening rapidly. Riley has her hair again; she looks at him with deep concern. Orem leaves Chakotay and offers his opinion; they have only one hope of healing him. Riley asks if it would be safe. Chakotay, raising himself on his elbows with difficulty, croaks out his own question: "Would what be safe?"
Orem and Riley share a look, then he explains the procedure. "As you know, the Collective consciousness is extremely powerful. We can share information instantaneously, think with one mind...but the link also has tremendous regenerative powers. Shared neuro electric energy can be poured into a damaged unit and provide speed-healing." Riley adds, "think of it as a subspace transfusion." Orem says it was often effective in "healing" both organic and inorganic body parts. (How the heck do you heal inorganic matter?)
Chakotay asks what this has to do with him, his panic rising, not at all liking the direction this conversation is heading. Riley explains that each of them still has a Borg neuro processor implant--the removal of which would have killed them. These implants allow them to link their minds together. "I thought you said the link was severed," Chakotay says. They say it was, but that it's still possible to re-form it--not all at once, but a few at a time, for limited periods. "We could generate a neuro electric field that could heal your injuries," Orem says.
Chakotay recoils. "You want to link my mind to some sort of Borg Collective!" he wails, recoiling, crawling backwards into the wall, genuine terror on his face. Riley says that's not their intent. Orem says it would only be Riley, himself, and a few others willing to help him who would be part of the link. Chakotay swallows his disgust. "I'm not letting you implant anything in my brain." It is clear he would rather die first, even though his death is inevitable if he refuses. Orem tells him all it would take is a clip-on neural transceiver that would be removed as soon as the healing link was complete. "I assure you, other than repairing the tissue there will be no lasting effects."
Chakotay shakes his head. "Thanks...but I don't think so."
Riley leans forward on the bed, her face a mask of philanthropy. "You've seen us; we're individuals...We're not about to turn you into some sort of automaton." Chakotay says he'd rather take his chances on waiting for Voyager. Orem tells him that the ship is not likely to reach him in time; he'll be dead in a matter of hours unless something is done. Chakotay says nothing, taking this in.
He continues to slip, but the Cooperative has been making preparations in case he changes his mind. Soon he can barely whisper and raise one arm to clasp Riley's in an affectionate deathbed gesture. She tells him he must decide now whether to live or die. He asks if there's any sign of Voyager; she says (truthfully) no. She apologizes for lying to him earlier, but given his reaction when he found out, perhaps he can understand why they were hesitant to reveal the truth. She says it's not too late for the Link.
"We only want to help you...Orem will take every precaution." Her voice is a plea. "It's that or the Happy Hunting grounds, eh?" Chakotay says with typical twisted humor--he's always at his funniest when his life is on the line, I've noticed. He nods his head, and Orem moves swiftly. He turns on a device, then shows a small combadge-sized item to Chakotay. "This is the neural transceiver," Orem says. He places it at the base of Chakotay's skull.
He hears Riley's voice in his mind. "Don't be afraid. We're here to help you." As she speaks, her voice is joined by Orem's, then by the others in the room. The voices blend slowly into a single voice. The Borg voice. The harsh, mechanical basso-profundo of the voice contrasts sharply with the smiling, affectionate faces looking at him. He sees them all; he sees through their eyes. He sees himself.
The words are a mantra. "Don't be afraid, Chakotay. We're here to help you. Open your mind to our thoughts and concentrate on getting well. Hear our voices. Open your mind to our thoughts. Our collective strength can heal you. You're safe with us. Feel the connection. We're with you. See who we are. Know us. You're not alone. Our strength is your strength. We can overcome your pain. We welcome you into our thoughts. There is nothing to fear. We won't let you die. We're all one circle; no beginning, no end..."
He sees their memories. He shares his memories with them. All is one. A Borg cube whooshing through space. Glorious Klingon battles. Romulan attacks. The mass destruction at Wolf 359. Bluebonnets in a field. The battle between Voyager and the huge Kazon-Ogla ships from "Caretaker." The Klingon homeworld. A meditating Chakotay. A pretty blonde girl rushing to a smiling, loving older man. "Grampa!" Destruction. Sunrises. Death. Life. Assimilation. Joy.
Chakotay awakens to find Riley watching over him. "How do you feel?" she asks. He reaches for his skull. "Don't worry," she says, "it's gone." She says Orem says he'll pull through now; the treatment worked.
"It was incredible," Chakotay says. "I know," she says softly. He's filled with wonder; "I heard your thoughts as if they were my own; I saw myself through your eyes." "Then you must have caught me staring," she says coyly. He mentions the images; "what were they?" All of us, she says. We're part of your memories now; we shared a very rare experience. He knows things about all of them now, including her--her grandfather, bluebonnets. His voice is awestruck.
Riley touches her arm. Chakotay reacts. "I felt that," he whispers. "It's a residual effect from the link," she tells him. (I thought Orem said there would be no residual effects?) If Chakotay thinks to ask about that, he's too preoccupied with the sensation. He asks how long it will last; she says an hour or so. She thinks words to him, and he hears them. "You know how I feel about you, and what I want to feel with you." They touch each other, and what they touch, they feel as both toucher and touchee. The sensation is indescribably intimate, unutterably pleasurable.
Borg Nookie, Texas Style...And you thought pon farr was intense.
* * *
Voyager approaches the planet where Chakotay launched the buoy. Tuvok reports that three days previously Chakotay and Ensign Kaplan landed the shuttle in response to a distress signal. There's no sign of the shuttle now, though. Janeway's face registers irritation (it's not like there's a limitless supply of Shuttle Helper in the Delta Quadrant, and her crew goes through shuttles like Orville Redenbacher goes through popcorn.) Janeway asks about combadges. Kim says there's one combadge signal, very weak, in a heavily-populated area on the planet, but that the planet's electrodynamic interference is going to take a while to punch through. Janeway tries to hail both, but neither gets through.
Meanwhile, Chakotay is busily working on the short-range transmitters with Riley Frazier. He repairs stuff in no time flat, giving Bob Vila of Borg (star of This Old Collective) a run for his money. She says she didn't know he was so handy with tools; he smiles and says she apparently doesn't know everything about him after all.
Orem approaches. He thanks Chakotay profusely on behalf of the Cooperative. Chakotay says it's he who owes them his life. "But you've added so much to the cooperative," Orem says. "a renewed sense of hope, an infusion of energy--you have no idea how invigorating it was to have a new mind in the Link, even if it was only for a short time. There have been so few of us for so long..." (If I was a sub-reference kinda guy, I might say "Danger Will Robinson!" about now.) Orem says thanks again and leaves Chakotay and Riley to their work.
"I was so resistant to the link," Chakotay says. "Now I'm almost sorry it's over." She says she knows, and she does.
"Last night, when we were still connected," he says (after my excesses of "Blood Fever" I'll refrain from commenting on the possible double-entend--oops), "I realize there's more you want from us than supplies...it's a pretty radical concept." She agrees that it is, but she's hopeful that it could work.
Orem arrives with news that a ship is in orbit; it could be Voyager. Riley asks him to bring it up with his Captain; he suggests she come along and explain it herself.
[Listen up, Link Boy--bringing yummy Texas Borgettes to meet your girlfriend and superior officer is not a good idea. I'm surprised I have to explain this stuff.]
Riley explains her plan to Janeway, as Chakotay and an armed Security Guy listen in-- "we want to reactivate the Borg cube long enough to reestablish the neural link among all the former Borg on the planet."
"You can't be serious," Janeway says, her face impassive, her voice sharp enough to slice electrons, her eyes glowing like Superman's in mid-laser vision. (And it seemed like such a good idea on the planet....)
"I know it sounds extreme, Captain, but I think you should hear her out," Chakotay says. Janeway throws him a quick look with her eyes and smiles enigmatically for twelve nanoseconds. "All right," she says softly, indicating now was the time to convince her.
Riley stands and begins pacing in oddly Janeway-like fashion. "When we were linked there were no social problems--no crime, poverty, hunger, ethnic conflicts, health problems, social security crises, interminable Hee Haw reruns or Charles Grodin Live--we were of one mind, one great harmonious family."
"With all due respect, Dr. Frazier--you were one harmonious family bent on the violent assimilation of innocent cultures." While she says "innocent cultures" she casts a sideways glance at Chakotay.
"We're not Borg anymore...we've learned from our past. All we want to do is take the one good thing that existed in the midst of all that horror. Our unique ability to cooperate and problem-solve and use it to create a safe and productive community."
Tell me how, exactly, Janeway says. Her voice is soft, but neutral.
Riley explains that the neuro transponder they have now--the one they used to heal Chakotay, she says, and she and Chakotay share a secret smile--is very limited in range, and the effect is only temporary. What they need to link everyone is a much larger neuro electric field generator. Janeway says they have nothing like that. But the Borg cube does, Riley says.
Chakotay picks up the argument. "What they want to do is turn on the cube and redirect its neuro electric generator toward the planet."
Janeway's eyes bug out. She leans forward. Her impossibly white eyes bore into Chakotay. "They want us to reactivate--(insert Shatnerian pause here)--a Borg ship." She looks like she expects her own mind-meld with Chakotay to fill in the unspoken part: we do everything we can to deactivate those damn things....
"Not the whole ship...just the generator," Riley assures her. "And only for a few minutes."
Janeway's willingness to listen seems to have ended. "There's no telling what would happen even if we turned that ship back on, even for an instant. For all we know we could be attracting other Borg ships to its location." Riley assures her that they've taken every precaution.
Janeway says, head shaking, that she admires Riley's tenacity and respects her courage. She smiles, not unkindly, gives an unsmiling look in Chakotay's direction, then announces her decision. "I'll give you medical supplies and assistance upgrading your security. I'll even take some of you with us if you want to come." Chakotay and Riley share a look of disappointment. "But as to what you're proposing, I have to say I'm extremely skeptical. In fairness, however, I will give it some further thought." Riley thanks her, gives Chakotay a long and enigmatic look, then leaves the conference room, followed closely by the Security Guy. Soon Janeway and Chakotay are alone.
Janeway sits. "What do you think?" she asks.
Chakotay is still staring towards the door. "If you're asking me whether she's sincere, I'd have to say yes."
Janeway rises, and begins a close-orbit circling of Chakotay. "You got to know them very well," she notes, a hint of jealousy in her voice. "That's an understatement; I heard their thoughts; felt their feelings; saw through their eyes."
His eyes lock with Kathryn's, until she averts her gaze. She circles from his right shoulder to his left, never distancing herself from him by more than a few centimeters. She peers up at him, an almost vulnerable gesture. "And in all that time, you sensed no hidden agenda, no malicious intent?" No, he says.
He breaks away. I really care about what happens to these people, and I'd really like to help them, he says. But if I were sitting in your chair, I'd have other considerations to weigh. His heart says Help Them. His mind says THEY'RE BORG. Never the twain shall meet. He knows that a command decision like this is not easy, and he seems glad it's not his to make. He stares out the window to the stars, and the unknown.
Janeway approaches him again. She notes that it's not fair that those 80,000 planet bound people had no choice in the decision to assimilate them in the first place, nor that they have no voice in the decision now. But it's a terrible risk--helping to create a new Collective. "Who knows what the repercussions might be?" she concludes.
"I'll let Riley know," he says, and leaves without further word. She looks after him with an inscrutable expression.
On the planet, Torres and Neelix laugh amiably with Orem and a Kazon ex-Borg (answering that question in my mind--how discriminating are the Borg? Answer: not very). Chakotay tells Riley the captain's decision was final. "I wish it weren't, but I expected as much," she says with unusual cheerfulness. He asks about the raiders; she says they'll make do as best they can. Chakotay invites her to come along; "you can even replicate some Texas barbecue," he promises. She laughs. "Don't think it's not tempting. But my place is here. I know you understand."
"I've never understood anyone better in my life," he admits.
Neelix and Torres approach. "We're all done here," Neelix says, and Riley gives him a grateful smile. Torres says they'd better get going. Riley doesn't meet her gaze for some reason. Perhaps she knows something about her relationship with Chakotay that we don't. Or perhaps it's something else. They leave Chakotay to his final goodbyes. He touches her face--he's got a hand that could palm her skull like a basketball, though I'll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions--and leaves without another word. After you've lived inside each other's mind for a few hours, you don't need to say much. Riley watches him go, again with an expression that suggests...something.
In the shuttle on the way back, Torres asks Chakotay if he's okay. He doesn't answer. She says he needs a good thrashing on the hover ball court to take his mind off things. Chakotay smiles; "you're on," he says. She says she'll reserve some Holodeck time when they get back.
Chakotay...can you hear us? It's a familiar voice--the voice of a crowd speaking in unison.
Chakotay's senses prick; he asks Torres if she heard anything, if there's any comm traffic. No, she says; are you sure you're okay? It takes a little too long for him to say "I'm fine," but his smile seems genuine enough. "Must have been my imagination." Torres returns the smile.
Chakotay--we need your help. We need your help. Chakotay's eyes close as if in trance. This time he doesn't respond at all to Torres' queries. She says she's going to schedule an appointment with the Doc, and hails Voyager.
Chakotay pulls a phaser on her. "Don't do that," he says firmly. She stands, poised to strike. "Chakotay, give me the phaser."
He lets her have it. She slumps, unconscious, from the beam. Chakotay lunges at the controls and starts reprogramming the shuttle's course and speed.
* * *
Janeway marches to the bridge. Tuvok reports that Chakotay's shuttle has changed course. She tells Kim to hail them, but nothing. Tuvok says the shuttle has moved to maximum impulse. Janeway orders Paris to intercept.
The shuttle moves to within transporter range of the Borg cube. The Cooperative is giving him instructions now, and he obeys as if part of them. We are under attack, they say. You must hurry. They tell him where to go, and he goes. They tell him what to do, and he does it. Their minds are one. Their purpose is single.
Resistance is futile.
The raiders are actively trying to crush down the door. Meanwhile, Tuvok and a security team are trying to stop Chakotay. Chakotay opens fire on his own people. He is fired upon. With his last conscious thought--provided by the Cooperative--Chakotay performs the final task--running his hands down a control panel. Which he might have done anyway as he fell to the ground.
The Borg cube lights up like...like a Borg Cube.
The 1100+ dead Borg...are no longer so dead.
The raiders on the planet's surface--an amalgam of aliens known and unknown, including one lip-protruding Pakled who looks not unlike a lobotomized Kevin Nealon (man, the Borg REALLY don't discriminate) straighten as they hear the Call of the Cooperative. Join us. Our thoughts are One. They stop trying to break the door down.
The Borg aboard the vessel advance on the Starfleeters as Chakotay and Tuvok are helped to their feet. Kim shoots at the Borg, but apparently the dead ones are even harder to stop. Kim orders an emergency beamout, and the last of the sparkling bits of Ensign fade before a whirling Borg lobster-claw closes on the spot where his throat had been.
Paris notes that all are now aboard, including B'Elanna and the shuttle. Janeway orders him to take them out slowly. Paris notes that the Borg cube is arming weapons. Janeway orders Mr. Mackenzie to arm Phasers, photons, and prepare to fire.
Harry reports that the Borg ship just activated its self-destruct, and will blow in three seconds. Janeway orders Tom to get them out of there. His hands fly across the control, his face pure determination.
We cut to a danged impressive exterior shot of Voyager swiveling in space, lumbering away more slowly than the weak of heart would like, picking up speed and direction as the Borg Cube starts to ignite in a hundred spots. It surfs away sideways as Voyager seems caught by some--but not the worst--of the conflagration, when the Cube disappears in a ball of expanding debris and orange death.
"What the hell happened back there?" Paris asks.
Ensign Kim reports that there's an audio message from the planet. "Let's hear it," says the captain.
We are the new Cooperative. We have destroyed the Borg cube. We regret that we forced Commander Chakotay to assist us, but it was necessary for our survival. His link with the Cooperative has now been severed. Our lasting gratitude. Transmission ends, leaving Janeway with slack jaw and Gowron eyes.
His neuropeptide levels have returned to normal, Doc says, and there's no sign or trace of a link. Janeway asks how they were able to do it; Doc says it's possible his heightened neuropeptide levels must have heightened his telepathic receptivity. Janeway still wonders how it was possible, given the limits of their transponder; Tuvok suggests the repaired communications array must have helped them broadcast the link to longer distances.
Janeway asks Tuvok and Doc to excuse them. She has one hand on her hip and her eyes are cast to the ground; everyone knows by now that this is the prelude to an Official Discussion, of the sort that most folks don't want to be anywhere near. The last time she had that body language, Neelix ended up scrubbing warp nacelles for two weeks. Doc and Tuvok beat a hasty retreat.
Chakotay stands from the bio-bed as Janeway drops her hand from her hips, steps into his Personal Space and stares at him blankly--though if Torres had that look I'd expect my throat to be torn out. Chakotay offers a feeble apology. Janeway says that according to the Doc it's clear he was acting against his will. But her voice is even, and she's swallowing hard.
"That doesn't make me feel any better," Chakotay admits. "I helped repair their communications array, and I told you they were sincere." He's being harder on himself than even she seems willing to be. She even smiles. "That's part of who you are, ya big lug," she says affectionately, socking him on the shoulder. "Given who you are and how you believe I can't see how you could have behaved differently."
"But I couldn't have been more wrong about them, could I?"
"I don't know. I'm not saying I'm happy about what happened, but so far they're not acting like typical Borg. They saved us from the Cube, and they let you go."
This doesn't help Chakotay's mood. "But that didn't stop them from imposing their collective will on me when it served their interests, did it?" Janeway acknowledges the truth of that.
"I wonder how long their ideals will last in the face of that kind of power," he says finally, and that's the question we're left with.
Impressive, in a number of ways. Disturbing, in some other ways. This is Robert Duncan McNeill's second directorial effort (the first was "Sacred Ground,") and it's a beaut.
The Borg are one of the coolest adversaries ever created in Trek. They can't be reasoned with. They can't coexist peacefully. There is very little room for understanding about what makes the Borg tick. But guess what? In "Unity" we actually get a chance to understand them, and perhaps even agree with them--and still loathe what they do.
In "Unity," the Collective has a human face. And a darned pleasant one at that. Riley Frazier is a Texas Belle, and intelligent, compassionate soul who does for the Borg what Locutus was intended to--speak for the Collective, and do it persuasively. This wasn't a resistance-is-futile sales pitch. This one actually talked about the upside of Borg life: harmony, unity, absolute understanding and compassion and assistance. The collective is the logical conclusion of "It Takes a Village," and Chakotay's short-term link gives him a genuine appreciation for a group consciousness.
Let's be frank about this: what the former Borg do in much of "Unity" is simply a larger scale of the Vulcan mind meld. The words are even the same at times. The Cooperative (a nice newspeak rendition of Collective--different song, same dance). Imagine: no Mars/Venus dichotomy. Imagine there's no misunderstanding. Imagine no war, no want, no disease.
It's the same kind of thing the Federation aims for. The techniques may be radically different, but the goals, at least on the surface, are quite familiar. These are kinder, gentler Borg, with warm smiles and comforting words.
But when the comforting words are spoken simultaneously...it doesn't sound so comforting. It sounds ominous.
There were signs early on. Chakotay was lied to from the beginning by Riley. When told about the link, he was lied to about there being no residual effects. There were, and of course Riley introduces him to one of the more intriguing ones right off the bat--sex with a linked mind is what Pon Farr is all about, though perhaps not as physically taxing. A lie here, a lie there, and pretty soon Chakotay's being manipulated like a Muppet. We also hear warnings of things to come: Orem's enthusiastic gratitude to Chakotay for allowing a new mind to join the link, however temporarily. If Chakotay found it a mind-altering experience, the former Borg got a taste of the old thrill of assimilation. It must be terribly addictive, and may explain why the Borg are so bent on grabbing new cultures, new individuals. By linking with new consciousnesses, they can explore strange new worlds as intimately as those they assimilate knew them. That's a powerful motivator, and if you've got the clout to expand your mental pool, as Chakotay notes, it's awfully hard to resist the temptation. Recall when Hugh first considered the question: what if Geordi doesn't wish to be assimilated. He can't imagine anyone not wanting to be. When he finally does, it's the death of his Collective.
You want to like these ex-Borg. You see them save Chakotay's life. You even see them helping him and saving Voyager once they get what they wanted. But the abuse of power came naturally to them, and it may be just a matter of time before the new Cooperative is indistinguishable from the old Collective in terms of their actions.
Chakotay was a part of the Cooperative for a short time. He understood them--particularly Riley -- as he'd never understood anyone before (poor Kathryn). He even got to see himself as others saw him. It's hard to hate someone you know so intimately, and Chakotay doesn't--until they give him reason to, by their lies and manipulations. It was clear even before Janeway made her decision that Chakotay--the officer, not the man--would probably have done the exact same thing. In the chain of command the subordinates give their best read and can argue passionately, but once the decision is made, that's it. Chakotay understood this, but even before the decision Chakotay said his heart and mind were not united on the matter. Nobody could live through the horrors of Wolf 359 (or know someone who did) and not have some loathing for the Borg.
So...we learn more about the Borg than at any time since "I, Borg"--we actually get motivations, a desire among those freed from Assimilation to reunite. Once you've lived in fourscore thousand minds, it's got to be hard to return to just your own. Since their freedom, they degenerated back into hardship and ethnic squabbles. Individuals are unpredictable, and often dangerous. The Cooperative seems an attractive alternative.
And to be honest, when I think of the Borg, a part of me thinks of the Internet. In a good way. My horizons have expanded to fill the entire globe as a result of the Internet, one giant though filtered GroupThink. When I'm not online, I feel the difference. Looking things up takes longer. Communications takes a more active effort when have to get up and go to the phone, than when the pleasant "you've got mail!" voice tells me I'm connected to someone else on this planet by a shared desire to communicate. I don't see the Internet as a collective, but based on the ex-Borg I saw in "Unity," I found a group that I can relate quite well to. Despite all the horrors of the Collective, there was a piece they found worth keeping; and for me, there's a piece of the Internet that part of me would love to hook directly into my skull so I could always be aware of the newest and coolest links online. The difference is only a matter of degree.
Of course, that's a darn big difference, thank goodness. But look at how people are looking for spiritual fulfilment: meditation, astral surfing, psychic friends--people who understand us as well as, or better than, ourselves. To break beyond the confines of individuality and find soulmates. With or without technology, within or beyond the reaches of science fiction, we're all searching for folks we connect with. The Collective simply makes it possible to force that connection. For now, it's all voluntary, if a tad addictive.
Anyway. I thought the Borg Philosophy parts of this episode were excellent. It turned a formerly black-or-white adversary into something perhaps more frightening--a Frankenstein's monster that doesn't know its own strength, understandable but no less fearsome. Feeling their pain doesn't lessen the hell they can subject you to, for the best of intentions. I'll never look at the Borg the same way again.
For you Janeway/Chakotay types, this episode is surprisingly understated, but Mulgrew's Eyes can speak volumes. I 've had a dozen people comment on the "jealous looks" she was casting in Chakotay's direction. I noticed some of this, but I was more struck by her concern for Chakotay, and their intimate way of conversing--she circles him like a lioness stalking prey--or like an electron orbiting a proton. She leans her head against his forearm. There's frequent physical contact--not sexual, but certainly intimate. This is not the Captain/First Officer working relationship of the first two seasons; they've definitely grown closer. As to the nature of this relationship...I'll leave it to the fanfic writers. McNeill's direction does a great job of portraying their connection, though.
McNeill's direction is frequently impressive. The final scene in sickbay, a distance-closing single camera shot that started far away to encompass Tuvok, Doc, Chakotay and Janeway, and moving ever-closer as Doc and Tuvok leave until we end on a closeup of J/C -- it was nicely played. The pastiche of mental images during the link, overlapping images of cultural memories, violence and peace, death and life, all forming the panorama of sentient existence--was downright inspiring. The shot of the settlement at the top of the canyon was also breathtaking. McNeill's got a great eye for direction, for both awesome spectacle and the encapsulization of intensely personal moments. This and "Sacred Ground" are two of my favorites this season, because of the insight on a human level, yet grand in scope.
Riley and Orem, the two most talkative ex-Borg, are quite effective in their roles. Within moments I had completely forgotten their Borgness and saw them as complex, compassionate individuals--until they provided glimpses of their Borg motivations. Riley's long blondish hair and cherubic face hid a mind unaccustomed to taking No for an answer.
Everyone had something to do here. Tuvok and Holodoc had some great lines. We got more than casual glimpses at Neelix, Kes, Harry, Tuvok, even Paris, who managed a few good moments despite McNeill's time behind the camera. (Directors often say that while they're directing, they prefer to spend as little time in front of the camera as possible. I don't blame them; the schedule must be incredibly tight as it is, without adding wardrobe, makeup, etc. to the mix.)
There are some unanswered questions as well. Such as, what could be more powerful than the Borg? It's been hinted at in the rumor mill for a while that we could see such a thing. We even know of a few that are: Q, for one. But the Universe is a big place, full of mystery. I imagine the answer will not be something we've seen before. And...if it's powerful enough to stomp the Borg, posits the mind of a Janeway--maybe it's powerful enough to send them home.
One never knows.
This episode made me laugh, cry, think, gape, frown, and wonder. Not bad for an hour of television.
On a 0-10 scale, I'm giving this one a 10. Considering all the crap I took for giving this score to "Basics Part II," I expect I might get more this time. But I think this is one of the classics of Trek, and deserves to take its place aside the Giants of the canon.
Next week: Holodoc explores his evil side. And I hear that Kes and Neelix make their breakup official.