Thursday, December 6, 2012

Nonsensical Xenobiology: “Survival Instinct” Illustrates How Star Trek: Voyager’s Writers Did Not Know What They Were Doing.

The Good: Moments of concept, Moments of performance, Resolution
The Bad: Much of the acting, Poor understanding of the Borg, Drawn out to fill time
The Basics: “Survival Instinct” illustrates further problems with exploring the Borg.

One of the serious problems with having a television series written by a slew of writers is that the writers sometimes have a very loose grasp on what it is they are writing about and the producers of the series are simply impressed with a script that does not read as familiar. While Ronald D. Moore is by no means an amateur writer, when it came to the Borg, he was woefully out of his league. Prior to “Survival Instinct,” the only Borg-related episode that Moore was involved with writing was “Descent, Part 1” (reviewed here!) from Star Trek: The Next Generation. That episode featured aberrant ex-Borg.

Unfortunately, much of “Survival Instinct” features Borg who have been separated from the Collective and the scenes Moore penned to sell the episode have a poor understanding of what the Borg are and how a hive mind works. The lousy understanding of the Borg, which are interpreted as essentially a democratic collective, sinks the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Survival Instinct.” Between the lack of understanding on how the hive mind would work and how separated Borg would interact, and a very simple idea that is stretched out in order to reach the running time, “Survival Instinct” becomes painful to sit through time and again.

Years ago, a Borg sphere crashed on a planet and the unimatrix that included Seven Of Nine was disconnected from the Collective. Now, Voyager is docked at an alien station and, against Tuvok’s better judgment, Janeway has allowed visitors to overrun the ship. Three of the visitors are people who have scars on their face and one of them, Lansor, brings Seven Of Nine some Borg equipment. When the three agree to attempt to extract information from Seven Of Nine, she incapacitates them and learns that they were the three survivors who were with her on the alien world.

The Doctor reveals that there is a neurological link between the three people who want nothing more than to escape the Collective. Working with Seven Of Nine, they try to learn what happened on the alien world and have the link between them broken. But in the process, Seven discovers the link cannot be broken and she is faced with the choice of cutting short their lives or returning them to the Borg Collective.

Moore’s best-written scene in the episode has nothing to do with the rest of the episode’s conflict. Tom Paris and Harry Kim, having been in a bar fight, get chewed out by Janeway and have to explain their actions. The scene is funny, well-acted and well-directed. It also kills time in “Survival Instinct” in order to get the episode up to its proper duration.

The problem with “Survival Instinct” is that it shows a lack of understanding of the Borg and what has been established in the Star Trek franchise. In “I, Borg” (reviewed here!), viewers are told that lost Borg simply wait to be rescued. In fact, in that episode, Hugh does not suddenly become an individual; he is cut off from the Collective by a shield the Enterprise crew erects. There is no such conceit in “Survival Instinct.” The Borg, despite their ship being destroyed, should have no reason to be cut out of the collective consciousness of the Borg. After all, it would be a pretty lousy mind to lose the connection when a simple mechanical failure on one ship occurred.

So, the basic conceit of the episode, which occupies several flashback scenes, is a real flop. In fact, Peter David got the idea of the Borg right and best in his novel Vendetta (reviewed here!). In that, his freed Borg could not even speak. That makes sense; the Borg would have no reason for personal vocalizations. If they want to communicate, they do it mechanically (effectively telepathically). So, the freeing of these Borg and Seven Of Nine’s repressed memory of being an individual seems far more preposterous than compelling.

The acting in “Survival Instinct” is mediocre. Scarlett Pomers reminds viewers of the old adage of not working with children in Hollywood as she presents Naomi Wildman with childlike stiffness in several of her scenes. Jeri Ryan’s performance is fine, but she is servicing a character that is poorly written. And while Vaughn Armstrong (Lansor) and Bertila Damas (Marika) manage to straddle their character’s complex emotions, Tim Kelleher’s P’Chan is poorly presented. Half the time, Kelleher looks like he is trying to remember his lines and the other half, he seems to be struggling to figure out what emotion to apply to those words he speaks.

Ultimately, the character conflict, the moral dilemma Seven Of Nine eventually faces, comes far too late in the episode for the viewer to care. That said, it is an interesting conflict and the resolution to it is smart and well-conceived. It offers one of the more memorable exchanges between The Doctor and Seven Of Nine (and for moments, the ultimate relationship between Chakotay and Seven Of Nine is hinted at) and it is all that brings this episode out of the lowest of the possible ratings.

[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!


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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