Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Survival Instinct"

“Survival Instinct” is the first of two episodes written by TNG/DS9’s Ronald D. Moore. Moore “enjoyed” a blink and you will miss it stint on VOY. The details are not entirely clear, but he has gone on record as claiming he felt edged out because his ideas were being largely ignored. Star Trek had been the totality of his professional career up until that point, so he felt like he knew a thing or three about how things should work. His rationale for departing sounds suspiciously similar to Michael Piller’s after the second season, so it is probably safe to assume Moore and Piller suffered the same problem--Brannon Braga was not interested in anyone’s creative input but his own.

Moore turns in an interesting Seven-centric story exploring the nature of individuality versus life in the Borg Collective. There have been several such episodes thus far, but all have been punctuated by some slam bang action which has often been distracting at best, forced at worst. “Survival Instinct” is a small, personal story which serves as one of the better efforts in explaining the psychological effects of one who has been assimilated as a small child, but finds herself suddenly alone.

On a stopover at a space station, three stranger come aboard Voyager seeking out Seven. One of them gives her a set of implants from her former unit. The three are former drones from Seven’s unit who have somehow had their minds linked. Iit is a link they cannot sever. They believe seven is the key to freeing themselves from each other. None of them, however, can remember exactly what happened to them. Seven agrees to help even after they ssault her in an attempt to force her to do so.

Their story is told in scattered flashbacks a la Lost. eight years ago, their ship crashed on Dagobah. Okay, not really Dagobah, but it is a swamp setting that that bring’s Yoda’s backyard to mind. They are stranded there, separated from the Borg Collective for an unspecified time, but it is long enough for their individualism to resurface. As the realization of what has happened to them becomes more clear, they decide not to rejoin the Borg collective.

However, all but seven had been assimilated as adults. The triad possess a more mature understanding of freedom and individuality. Seven was assimilated as a child. As her individuality emerges, it is that of a scared little girl who fears abandonment. When the triad rebel, seven tracks them down and injects nanotech into them in order to create a neural link--a smaller Borg Collective. She repressed the memory of what she had done, but an interface between her and the triad recover the repressed memory.

Upon learning the truth, the triad go into the old Borg standby of neural shock. Because seven is the closest thing they have to family, the decision on their treatment falls to her. Either they can return to the Borg Collective and live out their days as drones or have the nano tech removed from their brains. The latter will allow them to bring individuals, but they will only have a month left to live at most. Seven decides survival is not enough. The triad would certainly rather live a month as individuals than a lifetime as drones. The Doctor suspects seven is attempting to alleviate her guilt, but she convinces him otherwise by inspiring empathy with them. Would he want to go back to being nothing more than an EMH trapped in sickbay? He answers that he would not. This rationale overcomes his do no harm programming it would appear. The triad resume what is left of their lives, but feel only begrudging gratitude for Seven.

“Survival Instinct” suffers some plotholes. How did the triad know Seven was on Voyager at all, much less docked at the space station? How did they manage to escape the Borg Collective? How come the Borg did not realize there was a new subunit within the Collective if they all share the same thoughts? Why not just ask Seven for help instead of attacking her? The triad does not know their connection is her fault until the climax. A lot of these points we are just suppoed to assume flow naturally, so quit thinking about it and dwell on the intended message of freedom of choice, even for a little while, is more valuable than surviving as a mind controlled slave. I can only partially do that, though. I am a cynical nitpicker at heart.

“Survival Instinct” is interesting character study in spite of its plotholes. The drama is personal with no slam bang firefights to break up that whole inner conflict stuff VOY writers appear to hate so much. The triad’s story is interspersed with just the right amount of light comic relief--Janeway is attacked by an aggressive planty given to her as a gift while Harry and tom explain a fight they got into on the space station--that hits just the right notes unlike, as is still fresh in my mind, scott Thompson’s drunken antics going far too overboard in another quiet, personal episode last week. “survival Instinct” is a solid installment.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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