Monday, August 15, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"The Gift"

You know something is up when a regular cast member is listed as a guest star. “the Gift’ is Jennifer lien’s final regular appearance as Kes. She will show up once more in the sixth season, but the less said about that episode, the better. “The Gift” is also the first big outing for Jeri Ryan as Seven. As such, the episode sets a motif that will run throughout the rest of the series: even when an episode is centered on another character, the main point of interest will be seven standing around in a tight catsuit learning some new lesson about being human.

Look at it this way--instead of ignoring the Starfleet/Maquis conflict, the series is now going to ignore every conflict other than seven’s struggle to become more human. The journey towards her humanity will lack a lot of the charm Data’s similar journey, but ryan will be required to do just as much heavy lifting as Brent Spiner in the last couple seasons of TNG. The tall and the short of it is the final four seasons are all about Seven and the Doctor with everyone else along for the ride. Now is as good a time as any to reveal I liked the first three seasons of VOY much more than the final four. If you have been reading these reviews for a while, you ought to have a good idea of what that means for the future.

Did I mention Janeway is a lying, hypocritical fascist in ’The Gift?” Because that is really important. In case case, she actually switches positions on the same matter in back to back scenes with the only obvious motivation being she can completely control one person, but has no power over the other. If there is any other explanation for her behavior, I cannot come up with it.

The episode begins with seven, still very much a Borg, suffering from her human self emerging. Specifically, her immune system is rejecting the Borg implants. She is going to die if she does not have them removed. Seven declares she would rather die than become fully human. When janeway at least fakes consideration over allowing Seven to make her own decision, Chakotay reminds her that Seven, as he discovered conveniently last episode, was assimilated as a little girl and knows nothing else. It might be cruel to force her to live as something other than Borg. But this is Janeway we are talking about, so forget that noise. She orders the doctor to remove the implants.

There is a touch of medical drama involved and an interesection with Kes newfound powers developing that I will to in a moment. Like I said, this is only marginally a kes episode even though it is her swan song. In a lot of ways, it feels like the big screw you Denise Crosby received when Tasha yar was killed by an agitated oil slick in the third act of her final episode and is even more inexplicable. At least here the actress was not grumbling about her character development amid rumors Maurice Hurley was making a hobby out of goosing her rear end. But I digress. This episode is about the bonding of Janeway and Seven, though you have to have some incredibly low standards to call it that.

We can break it down into three points. One, Seven argues first she ought to be allowed to contact the collective and return home. Janeway nixes the idea because of the threat to Voyager. Then Seven suggests stranding her on a planet with a communication device so the Borg can find her. Janeway nixes that idea, too. Convenientiently for Janeway, Seven passes out from her immune system battle, so she can order the Doctor to remove the implants. When the Doctor is only partially done, that is to say he has removed anything that would make it easier for her to be reassimilated, Janeway forces the doctor to awaken Seven and requests she help remove the Borg adaptations to the shop she caused last episode. In other words, Seven could have used her help to repair the ship as a bargaining chip to return to the Borg, but janeway removed that possibility in order to force or to make the changes anyway.

Two, Janeway has Seven confined to the brig after she attempted to contact the Borg while making repairs. The two have a philosophical/moral debate over self-determination. Seven says as a human, she would be able to decide her own fate. Janeway has no right to take that away from her, even if she believes what seven will choose is not in her best interest. Janewasy disagrees without offering any rationale beyond seven is supposed to be human and that is what she is going to become, darn it!

Flashback to the second season when Voyager discovered Quinn imprisoned inside an asteroid. The Q Continuum had placed him there to keep him from committing suicide. Quinn requested janeway hold a hearing to decide on his ability to choose his own fate. She ruled that quinn had a right to decide for himself what he wanted to be or even if he wanted to kill himself. Now janeway has completely disregarded her own decision, imprisoned seven, and is forcing her to become what Janeway wants rather than allowing her own choice.

Three, during the debate, seven argues she will not handle being unassimilated well. It would be cruel to do it to her. Janeway counters by saying she has met unassimilated borg before, and while it was tough, they handled it fine. Which is a bald-faced lie. The only unassimilated borg she has ever met were the ones in “Unity.” You know, the ones who had to establish their own mini collective in order to get by and forced dissenters to join it, too? Yeah, those unassimilated Borg handled freedom just swell.

Fans often look to this episode fondly for either the maternal or lesbian ‘shipping, whichever may you want to look at it, but I do not see anything but another Janeway power trip over controlling someone under her far more than her powers should allow. That Seven acquiesces far too easily in the end to justify janeway;s behavior is a laughably pitiful resolution.

Now to the main point of the episode--Kes going all Dark Phoenix on us. Maybe it is because of her contact with Species 8472. Maybe it is some usually untapped Ocampa power emerging. Maybe joe Menosky was smoking the same stuff he smokes when he writes many of his high concept, existential episodes. Whatever it is, kes is demonstrating new powers that are disrupting matter at the subatomic level. She uses her new abilities to perform surgery on Seven and stop her from communicating with the borg, so we at least connect the two stories. She escapes the ship before evaporating into…well, something, but not before she propels Voyager ten thousand light years beyond borh space, thereby lopping a decade off the trip to the Alpha Quadrant in the process. What gets me about it is the scene in which Kes explains to Janeway she is going to leave even though Janeway does not want her to do so occurs right after Janeway refuses to allow Seven to do the same. Kes, who can now rip Janeway’s atoms apart, gets to decide her own fate. Seven, locked in a prison cell, does not. She really picks her battles, no?

I have mentioned a couple times someone was due to be fired from the series in order to shake things up. It was originally supposed to be Garrett Wang. A fair choice, really. Does Harry resonate with anyone? But Wangwas included in People’s fifty most beautiful people in the world. The powrs that be could not mess up the good publicity, so someone else had to go. Why Lien? I have no clue. It is not like fans would object to having two hot blondes on the show simultaneously. It is doubly inexplicable considering Neelix, her longtime romantic interest, is terribly unpopular, but still on the show. There is no justice.

‘The Gift’ serves its purpose well. That is to say, it gets seven out of the Borg getup and into something sexy for all those fourteen year old virgin eyeballs to ogle. The real implications of what would happen to a lifelong member of the collective suddenly finding herself alone are glossed over too quickly, but that is the nature of television. You have to squeeze a lifetime of institution zed therapy in four commercial breaks in order to have a usable character. Kes gets a fair send off, but there is a definite , Why are you still here? We have Jeri Ryan now,” vibe to it. Lien should not feel bad. The same will happen to the rest of the cast scores of times before the merciful end.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

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