Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Unity"

Yesterday’s episode brought us a glimpse of a long dead Borg corpse. “Unity” brings the borg back in earnest, albeit very briefly. Henceforth, the Borg are marked property of VOY until ENT demands a ratings boost by throwing them into the mix in order to save the sagging series. They are going to lose much of their mystique over the frequent encounters they have with Voyager from now through season seven, with lots of highs and lows. One thing we can establish with “Unity” is its inauspicious reintroduction for them. We last saw them attempting to assimilate Earth in the past. Now, we see them as--wait for it--vegetarian hippies longing for collectivism.

Oh, dear. Kenneth Biller, I suggest you marry Lisa Klink. You have much of the same thought processes and writing skills. You will be happy together, but you musdt promise to never, ever have children. Violate this promise, and we will confiscate every writing utensil in your house. Your children must not be encouraged to write! The two of you should consider giving it up, too. Open a frozen yogurt stand or something.

Chakotay and Nearly Anonymous Ensign--she has appear once with dialogue, so at least she earned a SAG card out of it, are on a survey mission in a shuttlecraft when they pick up a Federation distress beacon from a nearby planet. It is not Voyager, so they go to investigate. There is a settlement down there that looks like survivors of a large ship crash built a shanty town out of the ship’s structure. Chakotay and the ensign are attacked with energy weapons by a group of unknown aliens in brown robes. In typical Star Trek fashion, one blast to the shoulder kills the ensign, but Chakotay gets it full on in the chest and is only knocked out. Gold Shirts are the glass jaws of Starfleet.

Chakotay awakens to find he was dragged off to safety by a separate group under the leadership of Riley, a blonde human who reminds me so much of Elizabeth Mitchell/Juliet Burke from Lost, I had to track down this episode once back in Lost‘s third season to make sure it was not her. Every online source said it was not, but I had to see for myself. Up until these reviews started up in June, “unity” is the only episode I have seen since the series ended in 2001. Riley fills him in that her community is populated by species all over the galaxy who were kidnapped by aliens, but have now freed themselves. They all live in harmony--human, Romulan, Cardassian, etc.

Chakotay has a head injury from being shot, which is the only plausible explanation why he makes absolutely no connection between riley’s description of their kidnapping and eventual freeing of themselves with the way the Borg operate. It could not be more obvious these people are unassimilated Borg if it was tattooed across riley’s forehead. Chakotay is going to be presented as dumb and easy to manipulate throughout “Unity.” Sadly enough, that really is not out of Character. Watching VOY with a critical, I am becoming more sympathetic to Robert Beltran’s criticisms of the series far more than I was when he contemporaneously made them.

Riley and a few others have built a community of peace, harmony, and granola bars here that is constantly threatened by the outside rabble rousers who attacked Chakotay and killed the ensign when they landed. He becomes enamored with the idea behind the place because it fits in with the progressive fantasy of the lives native Americans allegedly livid in harmony with themselves and nature. He accidentally discovers these people are all former Borg. I guess the shock of the revelation makes his head injury worse, because he is presented with an ultimatum--let them connect with him in a localized collective and heal his injuries, or he will die. He is reluctant to join the Borg, even if for a short time, but decides that is better than dying. He apparently decides it is better than sex, too, because he eventually sleeps with riley, but only raves to her and others about how cool it was to be part of the collective.

While all this is happening, Voyager finds an inactive cube adrift in space with all hands aboard dead. The cube suffered some sort of electro shortage whatsis that may or may not have been from a weapon, as Torres ominously speculates. An enemy more powerful than the borg, you say? They will probably wind up being forgettable villains. While fumbling around during an autopsy, the Doctor accidentally restores a drone’s programming. Tread carefully, because that could happen for the whole cube. Janeway decides to leave the cube alone and get Chakotay and the ensign before any more Borg show up.

Riley convinces Chakotay to lobby janeway for the equipment to establish a new collective between the members of the settlement. It would be apart from the Borg, and therefore only have all the positive aspects Chakotay thinks is better than ejaculating in a curvy blonde. Janeway says no, because of that whole force of nature assimilating all living beings in their path thing the Borg are known for. Upon Janeway’s refusal, they takeover Chakotay’s mind with residual connections and force him to reactivate the cube. With the big power source in hand, riley and her group establish a new collective involving everyone-- including the violent factions who have resisted. They blow up the cube as a way of making amaends for using Chakotay. Voyager has no choice but to leave them to do their thing.

“Unity” has its merits, but it is a disappointing first appearance of the Borg. But aside from that, there is another problem. Biller had pitched the idea of using formerly assimilated Borg trying to live together as an allegory for the emerging Eastern European democracies post Cold War. Fans wanted an action story involving fighting the Borg. “Unity’ is a bad mash up that does neither very well. Its glaring flaw, if you take the Eastern European analogy seriously, is the violent settlers who attacked Chakotay and are battling riley’s group are pro-democracy freedom fighters attempting to stop riley from forcing communism back on them. Yet there is no sympathy given for them at all. The opposition is not even mentioned in the conversation between Riley and Janeway when her plan to build a new collective is nixed. Is Janeway not bothered at all to know why riley and her group are under constant seige, particularly when Janeway herself does not trust Riley’s motives? It is strange they are presented as unquestionably the bad guys until they get swooped up against their will into the new collective.

I have a penchant for the Borg, and they could have been great here if Biller had not been so gung ho to throw his pet issues into the script. “Unity” is definitely worth watching for the ominously spooky atmosphere on the Voyager side of things if nothing else, but the whole idea of formerly assimilated Borg forming their own hippie commune is a horrible way to bring the Borg back. Fortunately, the next time we see them will be two of VOY’s finiest hours. This one certainly is not.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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