Thursday, November 1, 2012

Jeri Ryan’s Grand Acting Exercise Results In An “Infinite Regress”

The Good: Jeri Ryan’s performance, Moments of concept
The Bad: Dependence upon a technological construct guts the potential character growth.
The Basics: “Infinite Regress” gives Jeri Ryan an opportunity to shine (briefly) as an actress in an episode that is ultimately utterly without practical consequences for her character.

In its perpetual quest to reinvent itself as a show that focused more on the sex appeal of Seven Of Nine, Star Trek: Voyager occasionally tried a concept episode that had a fundamentally flawed premise. “Infinite Regress,” where Seven Of Nine begins to suffer from a multiple personality disorder, is one of them.

It concept is not actually a bad idea, to be fair. The idea that a former Borg rescued from a hive mind would have identity issues is a pretty decent idea for a story, actually. The problem with “Infinite Regress” is that, in true Star Trek: Voyager fashion, the fundamental character problem cannot be character-based, it is technology based. So, just as “Flashback” (reviewed here!) gutted the opportunity to have Tuvok experience a real traumatic event by having a preposterous parasitic organism in his brain or memories, “Infinite Regress” becomes ridiculously dependent upon a technological anomaly. Keeping a tight character episode as opposed to relying upon a plot technique has not often worked in the Star Trek franchise – “Sword Of Kahless” (reviewed here!) might be an unsuccessful episode but it is strengthened by the fact that the Klingons in it just become jerks because of their own character defects, as opposed to a plot contrivance – but mostly because the writers don’t stick to it.

Following Seven Of Nine, thinking of herself as a Klingon, raiding the pantry at night, Voyager encounters a damaged Borg ship. When Naomi Wildman, following Seven Of Nine to understand the woman’s quest for perfection in her own quest to become Captain’s Assistant, directly encounters Seven Of Nine, the former Borg suddenly begins acting exuberant and childlike. When Torres calls Seven Of Nine to Engineering, something in the debris field sends a signal that affects the former drone again.

The interlink frequency from a Borg viniculum begins transmitting information to Seven Of Nine’s cortical implants. Subdued after exhibiting traits of a Klingon, Vulcan, and human officers once assimilated by the Borg, Seven Of Nine’s health begins to degrade, forcing the Doctor to take more aggressive measures to save Seven Of Nine’s life.

The entire reason to watch “Infinite Regress” is to see Jeri Ryan perform roles other than Seven Of Nine’s terse, stern primary character. Seven Of Nine is not without emotion, she just presents a façade of brutal simplicity, which makes some sense for an individual that comes from a hive mind that sees the universe as a binary equation or simple dialectic (the unassimilated and the Collective). “Infinite Regress” has Jeri Ryan acting playfully girlish, aggressively mannish, and analytical as a Vulcan. Even the performance aspects are not enough to truly sell the episode as something incredible. Ryan undersells the Ferengi and grieving mother personalities and when she is in Sickbay following the incident in Astromestrics, her performance is outdone by Kate Mugrew’s physical acting. The facial expression of grief on Mulgrew’s face listening to Seven taken over by a mother looking for her son is extraordinary.

“Infinite Regress” lacks what Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “Masks” (reviewed here!) possessed, which is a compelling “hook.” The excuse of the Borg Viniculum robs the episode of a compelling threat both to Voyager and Seven Of Nine. Ultimately, one feels they could get essentially the same net result by watching a demo tape of Jeri Ryan as this episode leaves nothing fundamentally changed, despite one or two melodramatic act breaks.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Fifth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the season here!


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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  1. Good review, but I don't see why the technology angle weakens the episode. The whole point of sci fi is that the greater range of science and technology allows the writers to explore situations that physically aren't possible in the real world. The whole existence of the Borg depends on this. Trek is soft sci fi, but the concept here isn't unreasonable. 7 has circuits in her brain that enhance her memory. These circuits store the knowledge and experience of the drones in her unit, and enhance her capabilities. Now she's struggling with these repressed memories as the circuits interact with her brain under conditions they weren't designed for. What's wrong with that?

    I like your reviews, and your comments about Janeway outdoing 7 in a low-key way are very apt. I just don't see why the tech is the major issue here.

    1. Hi!

      Thanks very much for the comment!

      The fundamental problem with the technology in this episode is that it makes no rational sense. The Borg assimilate technologies and entire cultures, but ignore individuals. As a result, it makes no sense why they would store individual memories, as opposed to actually wiping the memory centers of drones in order to allow new Borg programming to more efficiently utilize the drones.

      But my issue with the technological problem instead of a character problem is what separates good or adequate television from great works. By relying on a "technological problem of the week," "Infinite Regress" falls down because it does not leave room for actual, substantive character growth. Seven Of Nine is not actually feeling guilt or remorse or even loss, instead, she is the victim of an alien's anti-Borg weapon. That means that by the end of the episode, everything is neatly tied up and Seven Of Nine does not actually grow or develop (they could have done a follow-up episode even where Annika Hansen is sick of being constantly victimized even!).

      Thanks for reading!