Star Trek 581: Survival Instinct

581. Survival Instinct

FORMULA: Unity + Latent Image

WHY WE LIKE IT: Emotional payoff. Effects.

WHY WE DON'T: The open ship concept.

REVIEW: With DS9 over, Ron Moore was free to move over to Voyager's writers' room, which he did briefly (more on the politics of it in tomorrow's review). I wasn't paying attention to the credits and didn't realize it, but now that I know, I do recognize a certain boost in quality (and at the time, I felt it through the first few character-building episodes of Season 6). These episodes have an attempt (Moore-fueled or not) to integrate the various Janeways into a coherent whole, at once severe and jokey (as per her reaction to Harry and Tom's bar brawl) and more flexible, and the focus is definitely on character.

Not to say Moore fires on all cylinders here. The open ship concept seems like a dangerous security nightmare. Is it an inside joke about turning the ship into an open port like Deep Space 9? I sometimes felt like I was back on DS9 with the number of aliens running around. But it seems a stretch to aliens unknown inspecting every inch of the bridge. It might be a change from the usual xenophobia, but it's unsound strategy to allow potential spys and saboteursinto sensitive areas (indeed, Tuvok has three pages of thefts in his report). Some make-up fact-checking might have been in order before calling this lot "friendly". Fascist Voth are plainly seen, and I'm pretty sure there's an Alpha Quadrant species or two (I think I saw one of those fish people from Insurrection on a turbolift, for example). I'm not saying the comedy doesn't work (the hungry plant, the bric-a-brac, Tuvok's reactions), but maybe it distracts from the heart of the episode.

Survival Instinct is really about fleshing out Seven's past, going back to a time when she first got disconnected from the Collective, along with three other drones. Now, they've been de-assimilated too, but are still stuck in a group mind, just the three of them. Seven must confront the dark memory they all share when, cut off from the Hive, they started reverting to their former selves. It's pretty horrible, actually, to suddenly realize they've mutilated you physically and mentally. Each of them had a life, a culture, and these are broadly but efficiently detailed. There's even a Bajoran in the lot, Marika, who served on the Excalibur. New Frontier reference? Nah, Moore used the same ship in Redemption.

Turns out it's all Seven's fault. Instead of reacting like a rebel, 8 years ago, she reacted like a good drone (it's all she's really known) and re-assimilated the triad herself, reinforcing their collective bonds. Moore finds a way around the implicit problem of "guilting" a character that has effectively participated in the destruction and assimilation of millions by making her responsible for suffering as an individual. Even cut off from the hive mind, she was still a true daughter of the Borg, and that had a cost.

I was surprised at how emotional the episode is. A sweet moment between Naomi and Seven warms the heart. Also strong is Seven's impassioned plea to the Doctor about only they can understand that it is better to live free and die, so to speak, than survive indefinitely with free choice. And the episode ends on something of a downer, with the triad freed but with only a month to live. It's actually a quiet, touching scene, in which each one makes his or her decision of what to do with that month, each one reacting differently to Seven. Marika even stays (though we never see her), I guess dying in the bowels of the ship later on. So there's a very real emotional payoff.

LESSON: Borg campfire songs are the worst.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: Manages to create sympathetic guest characters and Jeri Ryan pulls off her usual emotional performance.



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