Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Review: Voyager 3.17: Unity

Reference to the previous bald Star Trek girl?
Star Trek Voyager - Season Three, Episode Seventeen - Unity
Written between 28th and 29th September 2015

How appropriate that as I begin Cybermen Month on Nostalgia Filter, we encounter Unity, the first Voyager episode to star the Borg, Star Trek's direct equivalent. It's funny now to see look here and see that Unity was considered such a highlight episode, a rare guest appearance. While this episode may have only been added to the series in order to tie the show in with the release of Star Trek: First Contact, the movie which renovated the Borg, Voyager would go on to use the pre-existing lore around them to turn them into their most important recurring villains - and would even have one as a main character. It's no exaggeration to say that the Borg were Voyager's saving grace as a show.
   Chakotay is on a shuttle with Obviously-Dead-Ensign when they crash onto an island with a Federation hail. Chakotay awakens to find himself in a community inhabited by lots of species from back in the Alpha Quadrant - the result of a Borg Ship being separated from its collective, its inhabitants regaining their old lives. In particular, Chakotay becomes friends with a human woman, Riley. Voyager is trotting along until it encounters a burnt-out Borg Cube. Riley says that they're creating a shared society, and asks Chakotay to ask Voyager for weapons and supplies should they arrive. Chakotay has a brain injury from being attacked upon the crash, and so the Borg-ettes implant him with a temporary brain device which allows him to become part of their collective, somehow healing his wounds. When he returns to Voyager and Janeway refuses to help them in their desire to reestablish a collective, they use the residual trace connection to force Chakotay to reactivate the Cube, allowing them to spread their collective across the planet and achieve peace and harmony.
     Despite last week leaving that big ol' cliffhanger that this was the Borg episode, and the presence of the Borg being a massive part of the publicity around this episode, the episode tries its best to keep their presence here a secret. When Riley explains the reason why she's in the Delta Quadrant in the first place, she's obtuse in her description of the Borg, simply calling them "aliens". This has a story purpose, of course, but it feels a little lacklustre to hold this information hostage - I would have preferred it had the episode had Voyager encounter the cube in the cold open, allowing the scenes with Chakotay's shuttle to feel more sinister with the knowledge that the Borg are here, just not in plain sight.
Because we had to have at least one active Drone for it to be
considered a Borg episode.
     While there were hints towards the Borg's future in the series (the "greater enemy" which would become Species 8472), there's really nothing here that hasn't either been done better before in Trek or would be done better later. Meditation of whether it's possible to return from life as a Borg was already thoroughly examined as a philosophy in TNG's I, Borg, while the emotional side would be embodied in the character of Seven of Nine. It would have been a decent character piece for Chakotay if it hadn't felt more like a Love-Interest-Of-The-Week plot which didn't really characterise him as anything other than "Starfleet guy." Considering that Chakotay is supposed to have become a member of the rebel Maquis (that plotline's relevance being shown by how seldom I write that word), I think it's a real shame that it never came up here - and that this episode wasn't a better showing for one of Trek's biggest villains.


NEXT WEEK: The "unholy trio" of bad Season Three episodes begins with Darkling.

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