Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Revising The Borg Yet Again, “Dark Frontier, Part 1” Returns The Borg Queen!

The Good: Good special effects, Decent acting, Moments of character
The Bad: A massive bevy of continuity errors, A lot of set-up for little payoff, Light on character development.
The Basics: “Dark Frontier, Part 1” undermines (further) Borg history and characterization and sets up a conflict after pretty much putting to rest the tension between Janeway and Seven Of Nine.

I am not a big fan of revisionist history. In fact, it freaks me out. So, when I popped in the DVDs for the fifth season of Star Trek: Voyager, I was really upset to find “Dark Frontier” as a single episode. The reason I was upset was that it is revisionist history. I remember because such a big deal was made of the episode when it originally aired. Promoted as a double-long episode, a la “Way Of The Warrior” (reviewed here!), I went through extraordinary efforts to get UPN in at the time in order to watch the episode. At the halfway point, I was shocked and annoyed when the words “To Be Continued . . .” came up. In its original airing, “Dark Frontier” was shown on one night, rather ridiculously, as “Dark Frontier, Part I” and “Dark Frontier, Part 2.” The DVD version puts the two episodes back together, but because they aired as separate episodes, I’ve opted to review them that way.

The commentary on revisionist history is entirely relevant to this, beyond simply kvetching about how the show is presented on DVD. “Dark Frontier” continues the trend of revising who and what the Borg are. Apparently, the writing staff realized that it was a huge problem to create the idea of “Borg Space” but then put Voyager outside it. Even more problematic is that “Dark Frontier” recasts Annika Hansen’s family as exobiologists who actually went hunting for the Borg about ten years before “Q-Who?” (reviewed here!). While the episode firmly establishes that the Hansens might have been the first humans the Borg encountered, it does so in a ridiculous way; presenting a scenario where the Federation clearly knew about the Borg long before Q had the Enterprise encounter them.

Opening on a Borg scout ship, the Borg detect Voyager and are destroyed when the ship beams a photon torpedo aboard the small Borg ship. Janeway orders a salvage operation to begin and she is thrilled when the salvage nets data nodes, medical tools, and a transwarp coil. In discovering another Borg ship, a small sphere, nearby that is only slowly regenerating, Janeway decides to organize a heist of a transwarp conduit from the Borg ship.

To prepare for the mission, Janeway has Seven Of Nine go through her parents’ records of their study of the Borg. In doing so, the flight of the S.S. Raven is illustrated. In that way, Seven Of Nine begins to recall her childhood as Annika Hansen and the events leading up to the Borg capturing her and her parents. The crew begins training on the Holodeck for the heist they hope will net them a transwarp coil.

“Dark Frontier, Part 1” is a sequel to “The Raven” (reviewed here!) and its final moment makes it feel much like Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “Unification, Part 1” (reviewed here!). The revelation of the Borg Queen might have been a surprise had it not been for her presence in all of the advertising surrounding “Dark Frontier.” As it is, it just seems here like yet another derivative aspect of the episode.

The derivative nature of the episode is hardly the greatest problem of the episode. The big problem is that “Dark Frontier, Part 1” very sloppily revises the history of the Borg. When, for example, the Hansens in the S.S. Raven encounter a Borg ship for the first time, the Borg cube ignores them. Magnus Hansen notes that the Borg are ignoring them because they pose no threat to the Borg. While that has long been established as trait of Borg in personal interactions (like when an Away Team tries to interact with the Borg on their own ship), in spatial encounters it makes no sense. The Borg assimilate technology and if the encounter with the S.S. Raven was their first with a Federation ship, the Borg cube would, of course, have attempted to assimilate it. The Borg do not know what is a threat until they actually encounter it!

Moreover, when the Hansens encounter the Borg, the Borg are using transwarp conduits. This, too, makes absolutely no sense based on “Q-Who?” After all, if the Borg wanted the Enterprise (and they did!), they could have easily opened a transwarp conduit and plopped themselves back in real space in front of the Enterprise. The writing of “Dark Frontier, Part I” is just sloppy.

One of the notable aspects on the character front comes from Seven Of Nine. Hearing Tom Paris describe Borg drones leaves her sarcastically claiming not to be offended. This does the work of making Seven Of Nine feel isolated. The episode manages to focus on Seven Of Nine and her relationship with Captain Janeway. Janeway is perceptive enough to recognize that Seven Of Nine is getting twitchy as the crew moved toward executing their undercover mission. Janeway actually has a pretty remarkable appreciation for her newest crewmember and for the first time in a long time, she seems like a viable leader and StarFleet Captain.

Jeri Ryan gives a decent performance, though director Cliff Bole presents some incredibly obvious shots where Ryan is framed in such a way to accent her breasts, especially with her out of breath. Undeterred by the exploitative shots, Ryan gives one of her best dramatic performances near the episode’s end as Seven Of Nine and Janeway square off and Seven Of Nine avoids telling Janeway that she has heard from the Borg Queen.

Like “Unification, Part I,” “Dark Frontier, Part I” is a set-up episode where the crew is planning for a mission and the culmination of that brief adventure is a surprise that is hardly surprising. “Dark Frontier, Part 1” sets up a character conflict between Seven Of Nine and the Borg Queen, building in an “escape hatch” for the forthcoming episode. But, for as exciting as the episode is, it is sloppy in its writing and continues to undermine the frightening nature and strength of the Borg. As a fan of the Star Trek franchise, it is frustrating to watch the episode, even with its incredible special effects, and be forced to realize that the show has fallen so incredibly far from the nature of one of its most incredible villains. Like so much of Star Trek: Voyager, style trumps substance in “Dark Frontier, Part 1” and leaves the viewer wishing for better from their beloved franchise.

[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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