Saturday, 23 January 2016

Review: Voyager 3.26: Scorpion

Star Trek Voyager - Season Three, Episode Twenty-Six - Scorpion
Written 23rd January 2016.

The idea of reviewing Star Trek was always a very daunting one to me when I started here on Nostalgia Filter, mainly because a lot of the context which I had for these shows was from having watched them back when I was a kid. Star Trek was a relatively new addition to the pantheon, and as well as being a more long-winded US show it also had seven seasons. I told myself that I might review it, but that if I did, it might make sense to stop at the end of the third season. That's not going to happen,  but I thought it was important to mention anyway.  Scorpion, like many end-of-third-season episodes for these shows, is something of a game changer, opening up many new avenues for the show and, for a time, taking us out of the doldrums.
Species 8472 are the show's most alien species yet.
     Voyager is about to enter Borg Space - the massive home territories of the Borg, a race of cyborgs who seek only to assimilate and destroy. (We met them back in Unity.) The crew are very tense, planning to continue their journey home via "The Northwest Passage", a thin corridor of space unvisited by Borg Ships due to Technobabble. Being passed and ignored by an armada of Borg Ships, they're later confused to find that all of them have been destroyed by a bizarre species of non-humanoid creatures who use biological ships and who telepathically tell Kes that, "The weak will perish." While exploring an abandoned bio-ship, Harry Kim is attacked by one of the species, and his body starts to be enveloped by toxic vines. The alien race, known only by their Borg designation of Species 8472, turns out to be basing itself in the Northwest Passage, emerging through a wormhole from a place known as Fluidic Space. Debating how to proceed, Janeway consults a Hologram of her idol Leonardo Da Vinci, and decides to make an important decision - to make an alliance with the Borg.
     This episode is often called the Best of Voyager, and it's easy to see why. Voyager often lost a lot of points on the consistency of its characterisation, to the point where even Kate Mulgrew was on board with the fan theory that Janeway had some form of bipolar disorder. This episode sets up a character play between Janeway and Chakotay, in three scenes which explore all aspects of their relationship - the first showing their almost romantic admiration and devotion to one another, the next showing Chakotay's role as an advisor and advocate, and the last showing the ideological divides between them that separate Federation and Maquis. The issues of the episode are discussed thoroughly, and we aren't driven by the narrative to necessarily agree with either of the two on their stances on the Borg Alliance. It's not in-depth characterisation as Voyager often does; instead, it's utilising those characters for the good of the plot, and it works marvellously.
     One of the episode's hallmarks that set it apart from the season it's about to finish is the sense of tension woven through the script. This is before the days when Voyager would go around blowing up Borg cubes willy nilly, and there's a feeling that everyone involved is terrified, either at the possibility of inevitable assimilation, the new possibility of destruction by Species 8472, or the prospect that their 67 year journey will have to be postponed even further to find some way around Borg Space. This comes across in everyone's tone - there is still some mild humour, but everyone feels more alert and the idea that the Borg does this to Voyager lends them an amazing sense of gravitas.
Janeway negotiates with the Borg. I'm actually impressed at
that badassitude.
       This balances out the other side of the episode, the introduction of Species 8472. Their introduction here presents them almost as the "new" Borg, a new villain for the series to hook itself on. Unfortunately they wouldn't get to use them this way (having only two appearances after this two-parter, the latter of which saw them going to great lengths to make peace), but right here it works immensely well - the sheer alienness of the 8472 and their (as yet) unexplained hostility towards our Galaxy, their living ships and their immune system, which is so powerful it can destroy Borg nanoprobes. It was a really interesting concept which was, at least initially, fairly well executed, and the added threat they present manages to make the Borg that more interesting an enemy.
     Scorpion isn't my favourite episode of Voyager - they tend to be the more stand-alone character pieces or great, well-executed concepts. As a piece of serialised television, though, taking Voyager into the next stage of its evolution, Voyager's attempt to reach the heights of TNG's Best of Both Worlds manages not just to reach its target, but excel it and take the show into a brand new direction. Scorpion marks the beginning of a string of amazing Voyager episodes, and I look forward to taking on Season Four with fresh eyes and fresh enthusiasm. And to see Seven of Nine, of course.

Thanks.

NEXT TIME: We rejoin the conflict and meet Jeri Ryan's Seven of Nine in Scorpion, Part II.

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