Star Trek Voyager: Scorpion, Part 1

"If that moment comes, we'll face it together. You're not alone, Kathryn."

Voyager reaches Borg space.

This excellent two-parter quite often appears on Top 10 and Top 15 Episodes lists for Voyager – though, er, not the one I wrote! I do like it a lot and I totally understand why others put it in their Top 10s. It's a great episode, a brilliant season-ending cliffhanger, with plenty of action and excitement and some lovely character work as well. (Incidentally, Voyager Top 10s can be quite different from site to site, and two episodes I really dislike – 'Distant Origin' and a season four episode we haven't got to yet – regularly appear on them. I think this is a show where every fan gets something slightly different out of it, which is no bad thing.)

If the success of action drama rests on the quality of its villains – which, honestly, the MCU pretty much proves it doesn't, but still – then it's no wonder this is such a strong episode. The Borg are terrifying from the moment they appear, largely thanks to what we know of them from TNG, though Voyager has shown how big a threat they are in a couple of earlier episodes as well. And then Species 8472 are introduced, and Kes' psychic abilities are very effectively used to establish just how scared we should be of them as she communicates their ruthlessness and desire to wipe out pretty much everyone.

One of the key things that makes this episode work so well is that it's built on not just the huge, scary threat of the Borg and Species 8472, but on Janeway and Chakotay's relationship as well. Early on, they're joking with each other, having dinner together, and Chakotay reassures Janeway that she's not alone (the quote at the top of the page) while she replies that she can't imagine a day without him. But just when my little shipper heart is about to explode out of my body in a shower of pink sparks, they find themselves in conflict.

Their conflict is rooted in their backgrounds and personalities. Janeway is a quintessential Starfleet officer, looking to negotiate and to make alliances. She'll go for the most plausible or tactically sound alliance, whomever it's with. Chakotay left Starfleet to become a freedom fighter/terrorist (delete as applicable depending which side you're on). He believes in fighting forces perceived to be 'evil' – as we're reminded the Borg are early on – no matter the cost. He's also more willing to embrace the possibility of not getting home, or to keep looking for alternative routes, as he has been before.

The episode is also well made, and as the season finale, it's had a lot of the budget thrown at it. Janeway contemplating a deal with the Devil with a large cross on the wall behind her is beautifully shot. I also love the Doctor's simulation of Borg nanoprobes taking over blood cells like a virus. The Borg's methods of assimilation developed a bit over the years, largely because the movie First Contact needed something fast-acting and exciting to watch (whereas the first time we saw assimilation, in 'The Best of Both Worlds', it was implied to be a longer and slower process and not even necessarily a frequent one). The simulation fits this accelerated form of assimilation really well.

In amongst all the excitement, and on another subject all together, this episode also introduces Janeway's new holodeck hangout, Leonardo da Vinci's workshop, complete with the great John Rhys Davies playing Leo himself. I love this idea for a holodeck hangout. Janeway wants to sit in a corner of the workshop to work on some art projects, because if you've got a holodeck, why not? This is so much more sophisticated on every level than the eternal beach holiday (not that I wouldn't be hanging out there quite happily) and a really nice idea for Janeway the scientist. Her cheesy Jane Eyre romance holonovel from the earlier seasons was fun, but here we see her playing with and enjoying her interests in science, art, and philosophy. It's more of a private hangout for Janeway than a new group hangout for the crew, but it's lovely, and the set design is absolutely gorgeous (and much more convincing than the beach was).

The story of the fox and the scorpion that Chakotay tells and that gives the episode its title suggests that a creature cannot change its nature. If it was any alien race other than the Borg this might seem a bit speciesist when applied to intelligent species, but he has a point about the Borg, and an even better point about the consequences of helping them for other innocent species. In truth, Chakotay is probably right that Voyager should just move away, explore more of the Delta Quadrant, and look for another way home. But that would make considerably less exciting television.

Bits and pieces

 - This episode has quite possibly the coolest, most exciting (and also shortest) cold open of any Star Trek episode across the franchise. Two Borg cubes turn up. They do their terrifying thing. And then something blows them both up. And cut to credits!

 - Janeway quotes from Picard as well as another Captain on how awful the Borg are.

 - The walk around the dead Borg cube is pure horror movie and several of the dead Borg are really pretty gory for mainstream 1990s Star Trek – there's red blood and everything.

 - The shot of Voyager being thrown about by the passage of several huge Borg cubes is gorgeous.

 - Poor Harry Kim get another Weird Space Disease, following the mysterious disease he and B'Elanna were given in the pilot, and that time the space Sirens tried to make him one of them.

 - The shipping news: This episode takes Janeway and Chakotay from their most adorable to their most antagonistic, but that's exactly what good romance often does. Their love for each other is palpable, even when Janeway is coldly complaining that she is alone after all (purely because Chakotay doesn't agree with her, which is pretty harsh, as her plan is not exactly foolproof, nor a particularly good idea for many reasons).

Quotes

Janeway's reply to Chakotay's line at the top of the page: Three years ago, I didn't even know your name. Today, I can't imagine a day without you.

Da Vinci: When one's imagination cannot provide an answer, one must seek a greater imagination. There are times when even I find myself kneeling in prayer.

Janeway: Do you trust me, Chakotay?

A really great end-of-season cliffhanger. Four out of four exploding Borg cubes.

Juliette Harrisson is a storyteller, freelance writer, Classicist and Trekkie. She runs the podcast Creepy Classics, re-telling and discussing ancient, medieval and early modern ghost stories. She tweets @ClassicalJG

1 comment:

TJ said...

So here we are.

Up until now Voyager has been a nice and pleasant trip. But here things really gets interesting. Love this two-parter and what can I say - my favourite ST character gets introduced next episode:)

Wonderful review, Juliette!