Thursday, September 22, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Dark Frontier"

This is my lucky day--”Dark Frontier” is the first two hour episode in the history of Star Trek that is not a premiere or finale. Before anyone gets their panties in a wad, I consider DS9’s “The Way of the Warrior” a premiere because it adds Worf to the cast while shifting the emphasis of the series away from Bajoran and Cardassian religious/political strife. Supposedly, the airing of “The Killing Game, Part I/II” last season was so successful, the powers that be decided to film a movie. The truth is likely an attempt to shore up VOY’s sagging ratings and UPN’s falling fortunes by reintroducing the Borg and especially the Borg Queen.

Take you pick which rationale you think is the most likely, but ’Dark Frontier” throws in every popular notion available to the VOY creators. It could very well be subtitled The Last Temptation of Seven . The are huge, special effects laden battle sequences and borg settings. The Borg Queen is back for the first time since 1996. I cannot forget that Janeway is back and crazier than ever. Hypocritical, too. With the exception of some quite laughable budget saving bits, “Dark Frontier” is the ultimate VOY story.

The episode begins with a bang--literally. Voyager encounters one of those Twinkie shaped Borg ships and destroys it by beaming over a torpedo during one of the shield remoulations. Janeway decides to beam over the wreckage to see if anything can be salvaged. There is a treasure trove of technology and tactical data, including the exobiology notes of seven’s parents. When the tactical data identifies a borg sphere limping home after suffering damage in an ion storm, Janeway hatches a plan to attack the sphere and steal its transwarp core. With tramway technology, the crew can shave decades off their journey home.

I would not be doing my job here if I did not mention that Janeway is being a hypocrite here. She has punished members of her crew for hatching plans to use alien technology and power sources on more than one occasion. She has also risked everyone’s lives because she has refused to share their technology with the Kazon. She and Leonardo Da Vinci have risked themselves in order to recover technology stolen from Voyager. In many of the instances I just mentioned, the situation was dire, so Janeway either sacrificed more than is reasonable to maintain her principles, or recklessly took risks to recover stolen technology. Here, neither of those is true. She just tosses her principles to the wind and decides to steal something that will help them get home faster, but at a greater risk than any other time the issue has arisen. Ergo, she is hypocritical and crazy.

In the midst of the planning of the Ocean’s 11 caper, Seven sorts through her parents’ data on the Borg. Scattered throughout “Dark Frontier” are continuity busting flashbacks of the Hansens studying the Borga full decade before Q flung the Enterprise into the Delta Quadrant for the first encounter. (Do. Not. Mention. ENT. “Regeneration.” Thanks. This old comic book geek can only handle so much retroactive continuity without Roy Thomas to write a reconciliation of the inconsistencies. Kudos to anyone who gets that reference.) continuity issues aside, the flashbacks are effectively tense, as we know what tragic event they are moving us closer to viewing. They are very well done, right up there with the best of Lost.

Janeway runs her away team through holodeck simulations in order to get the robbery down pat. She worries because seven appears uncomfortable and hesitant. In a situation like this, that can get them killed. Janeway has good reason to worry. The Borg Queen has been secretly communicating with Seven. Bnow she has been given an ultimatum--rejoin the collective, or Voyager will be assimilated. Janeway, who is not aware of any of this, takes Seven off the away team. Seven, who still does not tell Janeway the whole story, argues until she is reinstated.

Remember I said there were a couple laughable budget saving moments? The first comes during the actual mission on the sphere. The exact same footage, which is not even redubbed with different dialogue, from the holodeck training scenario is used for the real McCoy. Star Trek reuses effects shots all the time, but entire sequences, dialogue included? I supposed it is supposed to indicate the away team is a well oiled machine, but still. The audience knows the real reason. New footage begins when, as Janeway is about to successfully flee with the transwarp coil, Seven opts to stay behind to rejoin the collective. The away team has no choice but to leave Seven behind. They are allowed to escape per the borg Queen’s agreement with Seven.

It is at this point “Dark frontier” really becomes interesting. The borg queen offers Seven--no pun intended--the best of both worldss. She can return to them, but keep her individuality intact. She is more valuable to the collective that way. But seven has sacrificed herself for the sake of saving the Voyager crew she feels a loyalty to them--a loyalty which is not being returned, by and large. Torres has gone through her personal logs to learn how to install the transwarp coil and is nonchalant about the personal violation because she has already written seven off. Neelix suggest shutting off Seven alcove to conserve energy. Chakotay essentially shrugs and says he always figured she would leave at some point. Indeed, it has only been recently Seven would avoid the Borg if given a choice. Now she is in a spot where she can go home, have pretty much the best way possible, but she is pulled by loyalty to a crew who does not give a crap about her. Joke is on her, too. The audience is the only one who knows how the Voyager crew feels.

I do not believe the writers intend for the crew to be so cold. Rather, I think the story is meant to be about the relationship between Janeway and Seven. It looks to be Janeway is the only one who cares seven is gone. We would not care about that as much if the rest of the crew were bummed, too. Of course, they do come across looking like selfish jackasses, but there you go. A lot of fans consier the Janeway/Seven relationship to be a surrogate mother/daughter one. I have felt more likr Seven was a personal project for janeway instead, but I am going to cast aside my cynicism over the issue for one thing--Naomi.

Naomi insists upon seeing janeway. She has become very attached to Seven, so has devised a rescue plan that actually has some merit, since it involves tracking Seven’s implants. Precocious kid. Janeway proves for the first time she actually possesses maternal instincts by honestly dealing with Naomi, assuring her Seven is not going to be abandoned, and allowin her in on the initial planning of the rescue. It is sweet and genuine, not a strained, emotionally fake encounter with a child like Picard would have. Or even Sisko, who is a father, but would still sternly demand Naomi be realistic about the situation. Seven could be halfway across the Delta Quadrant by now.

She is, by the way. The Borg have built on impressive city in space for the sake of…well, having a city in space. The Borg Queen has noticed seven’s less than enthusiastic response to rejoining them, so she sets up an assimilation scenario in which Seven will have to take part, even in the most superficial way, in order to survive. The borg attempt to assimilate a species of 200,000 people. Seven has to improvise a shield modulation in order to survive the initial attack. She cannot bring herself to aid in the actually assimilation. In fact, she helps the lone four survivors escape. This is the other busget saving bit. None of the four utter a word during the entire rescue sequence even though seven has a string of dialogue directed at them. Are they too frightened to speak? Nope. It is solely because if they have any dialogue, SAG rules says they cannot be paid at the lower level extras are. Heh.

Back on Voyager, they have managed to use Naomi’s idea to locate Seven and hook up the transwarp coil to the delta flyer in order to get there faster. They have even hooked up some techno babble shield Seven’s father used to get up close and personal with the Borg undetected. Chakotay warns the Hansens were assimilated because they got overconfident. Janeway replies tish tosh. She is just going to take the delta flyer into the heart of their territory, invade their biggest, most well defended city, fight her way to the queen’s throne room, rescue Seven, and get back out again. No over confidence there.

I guess there truly is not, because the plan works. In the throne room, Seven is faced with the choice of staying with the Queen, who has brought in her assimilated father to sweeten the deal, or Janeway, who is barking orders at her to leave with her. It sounds like seven is scrwedc either way. The tipping point is the Borg Queen’s intentions for seven. She is to help manufacture a slow acting nanotech plague on Earth which will slowly assimilate humanity. By the time the people figure out the plan was stolen from the Drakh on Crusade, it will be too late for Warner brothers to sue Paramount for plagiarism. Er..I mean humanity to save itself. Seven chooses to let Janeway boss her around, so they all escape safely. For good measure, the ending is Janeway ordering Seven to regenerate against her will. You made the right choice, Seven.

As a bonus, the transwarp coil works only just enough to shave twenty years off the journey before it burns out and can conveniently never be used again. So the risk was worth it, but we can still have two and a half more seasons because it will only work once. Pat the course for VOY.

“Dark Frontier” has some definite flaws. Janeway’s behavior is inconsistent with how she has acted before and will act in the future. The Hansens’ knowledge of the Borg ten years before anyone could have known about them is a big continuity glitch. The spectacular special effects scenes like the space battles, the Borg Queen assembling herself, and the city in space are impressive, and their obvious expense actentuates the cost cutting measures in several other scenes. Truth be told, the whole ending rescue has to be rushed because of timre constraints, so it stretches credibility to the breaking point with how easy it is to pull off successfully. seven never mentions saving her father would be nice, nor is she reunited onscreen with Naomi, which would also have been a nice touch. Whatever happened to that Drakh plague plot, too? The Borg never used it. Warner Brothers legal department must be quite resourceful to have reached into the Delta Quadrant.

Forget the flaws, though. “Dark Frontier” is really good in spite of them. Credit where credit is due, it does offer a solid exploration of Seven. I was a bit snarjky at times, but her inner conflict over who she is, who she wants to be, and where she belongs is the best we are going to get in the series. There is a goos mix of action and drama, as well. There is a lot going on, with a lot of different storytelling techniques--flashbacks, dream sequences, special effects shots, and reams of dialogue. At times, the episode feels overly kinetic, but it is still a cannot miss.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

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