Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Icheb Is Recharacterized As A Derivation Of Hugh Born In “Child’s Play!”

The Good: Clever concept, Good character work, Interesting plot
The Bad: Mediocre acting
The Basics: When Voyager arrives at Icheb’s home planet, the crew discovers a planet fighting the Borg without remorse and Seven Of Nine wrestles with impending loss.

Star Trek: Voyager frequently wrestled with issues stemming from how derivative the show was of Star Trek: The Next Generation. So, it is always frustrating when an episode of Star Trek: Voyager starts out as something original and then turns into something derivative. That is almost the case with “Child’s Play,” one of the better sixth season episodes of Star Trek: Voyager.

“Child’s Play” actually affords Star Trek: Voyager the opportunity to do something that Star Trek: The Next Generation was never able to do. Instead of being a pale retread of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Child’s Play” takes an interesting tact to go farther than Star Trek: The Next Generation went. For a rare twist, Star Trek: Voyager committed to a serialized plot and, more important, character arc in the wake of “Collective” (reviewed here!). Unlike episodes like “Equinox, Part 2” (reviewed here!) where Voyager takes on some new crewmembers and then pretty much forgets about them for the rest of the series, “Collective” added four ex-Borg youth to the ship and then began exploring issues with them. In “Ashes To Ashes” (reviewed here!), the ex-Borg Mezoti begins to rebel. In “Child’s Play,” the eldest ex-Borg, Icheb is focused on.

“Child’s Play” wisely follows up on issues left dangling from “Collective” and it does it in such a smart way that it is almost easy to miss how clever the episode actually is. What starts as a plodding episode wherein the reluctant adoptive parent, Seven Of Nine, begins to wrestle with issues stemming from Icheb leaving the ship evolves into a conflict whereby Icheb is exposed as an unwitting weapon against the Borg. “Child’s Play” becomes, more than a follow-up to “Collective,” a philosophical continuation to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “I, Borg” (reviewed here!). And while Janeway needs little differentiation from Picard at this point, her actions illustrate a clear philosophical difference in priorities between her and Picard.

Following the first annual Voyager science fair, whereby Janeway becomes impressed with a gravimetric sensor that Icheb designs that might help Voyager find a faster way home, Seven Of Nine learns that Janeway has had contact with the Brunali, Icheb’s home world. After delaying telling Icheb about the contact and that Voyager is headed to his home, Seven Of Nine comes clean and discovers Icheb is disinterested in rejoining his family. When Voyager arrives at the Borg-damaged planet, Seven interrogates Yifay and Leucon, Icheb’s parents, about how they will protect the boy and what they can offer him.

After Icheb spends time at the agrarian community, he learns that while the Brunali are technologically devastated in many ways, they are incredibly adept at genetic manipulation. With Seven Of Nine forced to give up Icheb, Voyager leaves the planet and prepares to head back for home. But, when Mezoti begins poking holes in the story Icheb’s parents gave Seven Of Nine, it seems like a more nefarious plan is in the works and Voyager must return to try to save Icheb’s life!

It seems, of late, when I watch Star Trek: Voyager, it is the minutae that I get tripped up on. “Child’s Play” is remarkably light on such problems that drag the episode down. In fact, the only two that come immediately to mind are how Michael Vejar captures pick-up shots of Garrett Wang as Ensign Kim looking surprisingly not at all worried during a Borg attack and the concept that the Borg are characterized more as stupid, as opposed to unyielding, in “Child’s Play.” There is a Borg transwarp conduit near the Brunali homeworld and the experience the Borg have had, in addition to “easy pickings” have been universally bad. Icheb’s assimilation resulted in a ship that the Borg actually characterized as a total, unsalvageable, loss. So, why would the Borg keep sending ships through, as opposed to noting that one star system as a “hot zone” from which they would not assimilate more ships, technology, or individuals?

That said, “Child’s Play” is pretty wonderful. The concept behind Icheb’s true nature (or, nature of what he is altered to be) is surprisingly compelling. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, the arc that involved Hugh Borg was cut ridiculously short. Hugh was freed from the Collective, then sent back on the somewhat witless idea that his sense of individuality might infect the Collective and change the nature of the Borg (a silly idea considering that all unassimilated creatures start as individuals, therefore, the Borg clearly are adept as suppressing and eliminating individuality as a matter of course and survival) and the lone follow-up does not explore the personal consequences of that. In “Child’s Play,” Icheb is defined as a weapon of mass destruction for use against the Borg and given that, he now has a troubling legacy that he must wrestle with. Moreover, he becomes a surprisingly strong weapon for Voyager for future encounters with the Borg.

Part of what makes “Child’s Play” so successful is how Seven Of Nine has realistically become attached to Icheb. The reluctant adopted parent of the four Borg youth, Seven Of Nine has evolved (perhaps a little too quickly) to actually care deeply for Icheb and in “Child’s Play,” she finds the idea of having to give him up untenable. That seems very real, very human, and like a logical progression for the character. Jeri Ryan’s performance as Seven Of Nine sells the transition far more than the writing can (especially when watching these episodes back to back and seeing how fast this transition occurs).

Icheb is not given as much to do; while he is the focus of the episode, he is largely manipulated by the machinations of others, as opposed to having much of a chance to shine on his own. Manu Intiraymi performs fine as Icheb, but it is not an extraordinary performance by any means. In fact, in her brief time on screen, Marley McClean steals her scenes as Mezoti, especially playing off an especially playful Kate Mulgrew’s Janeway.

Tracey Ellis is very stiff as Icheb’s mother, Yifay, and Mark Sheppard delivers one of his less memorable performances as Icheb’s father, Leucon. Neither performance is enough to seriously diminish the quality of the episode. In fact, “Child’s Play” is a refreshingly original-feeling episode of Star Trek: Voyager!

[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!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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