Star Trek 528: Scorpion

528. Scorpion

FORMULA: First Contact + Tin Man

WHY WE LIKE IT: The Borg are back.

WHY WE DON'T: Janeway loses it.

REVIEW: Scorpion starts with one of the shortest teasers ever, but it's an effective one. A number of Borg cubes approaches the camera, intent on assimilation, when a beam hits them and blows them out of the sky. So we have the Borg and an even more powerful menace, and Voyager caught in the middle. And it's the kind of energy and urgency that are sustained throughout, with high production values, mostly thanks to borrowed sets, costumes, effects and music from First Contact. I'm not complaining, it creates the right atmosphere.

After initial "successes" with CGI monsters this season, Voyager goes all in with Species 8472, a CGI race from another dimension (which can be used to explain their unreal look). The CGI isn't bad, actually, but by today's standards look like a video game cut scene. They are essentially Bizarro Borg, biological rather than technological, with DNA that can override yours not unlike the way a Borg nanoprobe can assimilate you. In addition to better weapons, unassimilatability, a poison touch, and the ability to come out of nowhere, they are also psychic and prone to sending Kes visions of gory Todd MacFarlane Productions statues.

By right, Chakotay (and the rest of the crew) should be right when they suggest turning back, but the script does a lot to justify Janeway's over-confidence in this. The Doctor unlocks the secrets of the nanoprobes much too easily, the Borg database is downloaded and deciphered without a hitch, Voyager survives weapons and shockwaves that destroy Borg cubes and planets, and most crucially, the Borg unprecedentedly agree to an alliance. The way this plays out sadly creates a new paradigm for the captain. The admit to having enjoyed the last three seasons of the folksy, motherly and almost overwhelmed Janeway, but here she is turned into a hysterical and hypocritical fury. When Chakotay tries to reason with her, she goes for the guilt trip: "Then I am alone." While I agree Starfleet isn't a democracy, her plan isn't exactly foolproof, and if the crew would rather live than get home, her motivations are ridiculous (especially in light of past decisions on the subject). Other Star Trek captains have managed to take their crews into impossible situations "on faith" without looking either catty or childish. If she turns out to be right, it's because the script says she has to be.

In fact, the scripts makes a lot of assertions we have to take on faith. Chakotay's contention that Janeway does a good Picard impression, for example, might have looked good on the page, but isn't supported by Janeway's performance. The odd inclusion of her newest favorite holoprogram, Leonardo's workshop, has the virtue of casting the magnetic John Rhys-Davies in the role. In story-telling terms, it isolates Janeway even more by tossing aside other, more flesh and blood, advisers. I'm glad to have him along, and the quiet scenes and skewed perspectives he brings with him. I'm just saying isolating Janeway from the rest of the crew in this process felt wrong-headed. I'd rather have a united crew facing those odds than their being forced into a suicide mission.

LESSON: DNA is king.

REWATCHABILITY - High: Despite my contention that this episode lastingly "breaks" the character of Janeway, it's still an exciting and good-looking piece of Star Trek. And a story that's an important milestone in the journey.


Stephen said...

i never liked the da vinci program it felt forced to me and john rhys davies in star trek ought to have a part worthy of him like kahless or something like that

Siskoid said...

He would make a great Kahless!

Ah well.


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