Saturday, August 13, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Scorpion, Part I"

We have reached the end of the highly uneven third season. Fortunately, the season concludes on a very high note. In fact, it is the highest point of VOY thus far because it fulfills the promise of what the show was supposed to be--a ship, alone and desperate, attempting to survive against long odds when the crew has sharp philosophical differences on how to proceed. If only it had not taken nearly seventy episodes to fulfill that promise.

The biggest selling point is the return of the Borg. Say what you wish about “Unity,” the faux return of the Borg was a disappointment. More of a Borg hippie commune than the world conquering force of nature they are supposed to be. “Scorpion, Part I’ is a much needed course correction with the surprising twist of adding a new villain in Species 8472. They never quite caught on, as the Borg became the main villains of VOY instead, and it is not terribly hard to see why. There is not much there outside of their ability to easily mangle the Borg. There is also an underlying sense Species 8472 is too much like the Shadows from Babylon 5, but since I managed to avoid the B5 v. DS9 who ripped off who debate during my DS9 reviews, I would like to skip the comparison here, too.

Alas, this is still VOY. Therefore, its worst elements are still present. The most lighthearted--relatively speaking, of course--is Hard Luck Harry. The poor guy faces his worst fate yet, and perhaps the one that would have lead to Garrett Wang’s departure from the show. It is not really clue how all that came about other than the good publicity of People naming Wang among the fifty most beautiful people in the world. The other element is the most blatant example thus far of janeway’s hypocrisy and mental instability. Surely you saw that coming?

Voyager finds itself on the edge of Borg space when a probe they sent out months ago is captured by a cube. As luck would have it, they have also discovered a long patch of space through Borg territory in which there are no Borg cubes. Perhaps suffering from denial over their chances of escaping the Borg, they dub this area the Northwest Passage and assume it is their salvation. The real Northest Passage is an often unnavigable because of packed ice sea route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oeans by way of the Arctic. They should have chosen something more uplifting.

The atmosphere is wonderfully moody as the ship quietly sneaks through borg space in hopes of making it to the Northwest Passage undetected. The crew is on edge as they modift weapons to battle the quickly adapting Borg, prepare to stretch out meager supplies, and desperately brainstorm ways to battle assimilation. Matters are not helped when Kes begins having visions of piles of dead Borg and the destruction of Voyager. It turns out, she is in communication with Species 8472. They have been engaging in a brutally one-sided war in which the Borg are being wiped out.

The Borg are so distracted by the war, fifteen cubes pass by Voyager with little more than a quick scan before heading off to fight a new incursion. All fifteen are found disabled with most crew killed. Jjaneway, perhaps thinking the enemy of my enemy is my friend, opts to investigate what is left of the cubes. She orders chakotay, Tuvok, and Harry to beam over. If you have watched any Star Trek before, you know the least important guy on an away mission rarely makes it back. In this case, it is Hard Luck Harry.

I mentioned the overall dark mood is well done, but never quite so as when Chakotay, Tuvok, and Harry explore the disabled cube. Species 8472 has killed scores of them and stacked them up in piles of corpses. Surviving borg are minlesslessly attempting to assimilate organic material left over by the attack without success. The whole scene is apocalyptic. Kes has a prominition Harry is about to die--so did we, Kes--and urges their beam out. Janeway complies, but not before Harry gets punched in the stomach by a lone member of Species 8472.

The prognosis is grim. While he was not hit that hard, a few cells from Species 8472 imbeeded in his skin and a now literally eating Harry alive at the cellular level. It is the complexity of species 8472 that has kept the borg from assimilating them. However, the doctor has devised a way to modify Borg nanotechnology he took from the Borg corpse in “Unity” to allow them to sneak up on Species 8472 cells and assimilate them. But he may not be able to make enough to save harry in time. Worse yet, Torres discovers way the Borg have avoided the Northwest Passage--it is a long convoy of Species 8472 ships.

Here is where we switch from the Hard Luck Harry theme to Janeway coming unglued. There is not a good option other than turning around and looking for another way home from the Delta Quadrant. If they go forward, they either face assimilation by the Borg or destruction by Species 8472. Janeway refuses to accept that, so she comes up with an idea. She is going to offer the Bortg the modified nanotechnology that can destroy Species 8472 cells in exchange for safe passage across Borg space.

The crew unanimously thinks this is a bad idea. When the two are alone, Chakotay tells her the fable of the scorpion who talked a fox into swimming across the river with him on his back on the scorpion stung him so they both drowned because that is in his nature and whatnot. The fable is where the episode title originates. The point here, aside from the Starfleet v. maquis way of thinking conflict that ought to have been there all along, is that janeway has not only made up her mind to go through with the plan is spite of everyone’s objection, she demands Chakotay change his mind to agree with her. He says he will follow her orders, but thinks the plan is suicide. Janeway pouts that she is now truly alone. What level of narcissism do you have to suffer from to demand those under you not only cooperate with what you want, but acknowledge it is the only idea worth pursuing? That is how Janeway thinks.

Let us take a trip down memory lane while we are at it. Back in “Caretaker,”, Janewat stranded Voyager in the Delta Quadrant by destroying the array that could have gotten them home because she did not want the kazon to use it to commit genocide against the Ocampa. Theirs was a conflict she had no involvement in, but interjected herself because she thought it best to destroy a genocidal weapon. Here, she is going to give a genocidal weapon to one side of a war in exchange for a way to make getting home easier. Bonus points awarded for her planning to turn a medical treatment into such a weapon.

Flash ahead to the second season. In “Alliances,” Voyager has been repeatedly coming under attack by the Kazon because janeway refuses to share technology with them. The entire crew thinks perhaps negotiating with the kazon might be a good idea, even if it means giving them replicators and transporter technology. Janeway steadfastly thinks it is a bad idea, but she agrees based on keeping up crew morale. The matter blows up in her face when the side she chooses to negotiate with turns out treacherous, so she gets to arrogantly lecture everyone how she was right all along to eschew alliances with the enemy.

Now we have thrown both those points out the door with no explanation why Janeway has changed her mind other than which side of the bed she got up from this morning. This is how janeway makes her decisions. Her rationale and morals change daily, and she demands everyone not only cooperate with them, but agree wholeheartedly they are correct, even if she demanded everyone think the exact opposite yesterday. Janeway is crazy.

I doubt you need further proof, but if you do, consider the following. Rather than attempting to sneak through borg space as far as they can go, something which has proved successful until deciding to investigate the fifteen cube carnage, and use the bioweapon as a bargaining cghip if they get cornered, Janeway seeks out a cube to negotiate directly. Once she is on board, Species 8473 attacks and we go to the cliffhanger.

The latter half of my review sounds like I am down on ‘Scorpion, Part I.” Far from it. Janeway’s unhinged ways are so much a part of the show, it is difficult to hold it against the episode. Honestly, if this were any other show, the crew could mutiny against its captain and you would root for them as heroes. You just have to laugh as this point. The yuks do not stop here, either. Janeway is not quite done with being a looney tune just yet. We see that tomorrow. For now, “Scorpion, Part I” is the first VOY episode to earn five stars. It has flaws, but its triumphant return of the Borg is done as well as anyone could have hoped, and that is good enough.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

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