The Good: Interesting concept, Good acting
The Bad: Objectively makes little sense, Mediocre character growth.
The Basics: Star Trek: Voyager introduces the idea that Borg children are different from Borg adults . . . in a surprisingly pointless way.
Star Trek: Voyager, regrettably, had a habit of making some of the most interesting adversaries from Star Trek: The Next Generation into something far less fearsome than the way they were initially characterized. By the time “Collective” came into play, the Borg had been explained to death to the point where they were surprisingly minor in their threat value. By bringing Seven Of Nine aboard and forcing her to give exposition on the Borg way of life, the writers made the Borg far less scary and much more annoying. This followed on the heels of Star Trek: Voyager’s writers ruining the Q Continuum by basically recharacterizing them as beings with vastly better technology and scope than humans, but otherwise not significantly different.
In “Collective,” Star Trek: Voyager further weakens the Borg and while some of the issues that arise come out of continuing earlier problems with the writing of the Borg (i.e. Borg ships are ridiculously easy to disconnect from the Collective Mind), “Collective” creates some new and ridiculous problems with the Borg. Chief among them is that the neonatal drones that populate “Collective” only fail in their mission because . . . their technology does not function the way adult Borg technology works. This is an utterly ridiculous concept and the idea that five child Borg would create a mini-collective that was either ineffective or at all Borg is baffling. While the universe exists in shades of gray, the Borg do not and while the organic components of Borg children might not be functional, their technology not working right makes no sense. If the Borg technology did not work for assimilation, it seems unlikely that they would be able to create a mini-Collective and vice versa.
The Delta Flyer is returning from a mission, with Tom Paris, Chakotay, Harry Kim and Neelix playing poker when they encounter a Borg ship. In the ensuing fight with the Borg ship, Harry Kim is seriously injured and the Delta Flyer is taken into the Borg vessel. When Voyager encounters the Borg ship it is able to defeat it fairly easily; discovering that only five Borg are aboard the massive ship. They are stymied by the Borg attempting to negotiate for Voyager’s deflector dish in exchange for the captive crewmembers. Seven Of Nine beams over and determines that the Borg are in control of the ship, but are comparatively ineffective.
After Chakotay lets Seven know that Harry is at large, Seven beams back to Voyager where the Doctor is able to determine how the Borg ship was thwarted. A pathogen killed the Borg and the Doctor is incensed when Janeway and Tuvok want to revive the virus for use against the children if the hostage situation spirals out of control. Janeway and Seven Of Nine try to complete the negotiations and save the hostages as Harry tries to save himself. Unfortunately, the First aboard the Borg ship is especially belligerent and their work to save the hostages is complicated by infighting among the Borg.
“Collective” is a great example of an episode that sounds good on paper, but the moment one pulls on an essential thread in the plot or character structure of the episode, the whole thing begins to unravel. On the minutae front, “Collective” once again illustrates a lack of understanding of the Borg by the writing staff. Michael Taylor, who wrote “Collective” gives Harry Kim a simple mission: destroy the Borg ship’s shield generator so the hostages may be beamed off the cube. The idea that the Borg cube has a single shield generator is utterly ridiculous. Borg ships are designed to be decentralized and filled with redundancies. That was established almost immediately in Star Trek: The Next Generation. And yet, in “Collective” the Borg ship has a convenient central target to attack.
Putting aside all of the detail-oriented problems, “Collective” is not bad. While Seven Of Nine has a monologue that is little more than Borg religious propaganda (the idea that the Borg restructuring her mind, like religious conditioning, would still be a source of strength to her as an individual shows another severe lack of understanding in the Borg and post-cult deprogramming), the show is surprisingly ballsy in showing a Borg infant dying, though it chickens out from being really daring. Harry Kim is given a line of decent character enhancement when he reveals a fear of haunted houses stemming from a childhood incident.
The make-up and special effects in “Collective” are good, but what helps the otherwise problematic episode rise up into average territory is the acting. Jeri Ryan, Robert Picardo, and Garrett Wang all make decent use of their time on screen. Kate Mulgrew gives a great silent performance while holding the infant Borg where she completely expresses Janeway’s appreciation of the road her character never took.
But, the young actors do the heavy lifting in this episode. Marley McClean is creepy as the Borg girl and Ryan Spahn presents First as a creepy dictator. Manu Intiraymi makes an auspicious entrance into the Star Trek franchise as Second (Icheb) and as he has a significant character arc, it makes for a good beginning for his character.
Ultimately, “Collective” is one of the few strongly serialized episodes of Star Trek: Voyager and it begins an arc that is significant, which is interesting for starting the thread this late in the series. While it might be part of the essential Star Trek: Voyager, it is hardly exceptional Star Trek or incredible television.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate season here!
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© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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