Sunday, January 13, 2013

Never Before Has An Ending To Star Trek: Voyager So Ruined An Episode As With “Unimatrix Zero!”

The Good: Initially clever premise
The Bad: Terrible execution, Sloppy on the details, Horrible lack of understanding of the characters and the Borg
The Basics: “Unimatrix Zero” is the final Star Trek: Voyager season finale first parter and it establishes a problem that devoted fans will find utterly preposterous.

The longer Star Trek: Voyager went on, the more clear it became that the writers writing the episodes focused upon the Borg had absolutely no idea what the hell they were doing or no respect for what had come before. Sometimes, this took the form of writers writing against their own material, which in the case of Brannon Braga meant virtually nothing because he frequently said he did not give a damn about Star Trek continuity (albeit in the context of Enterprise and its relationship to the original Star Trek). Braga, surprisingly enough, did not write any of the Borg episodes on Star Trek: The Next Generation and that might be why “Unimatrix Zero” diverges so much from the concept of the Borg.

Writers Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky, however, illustrate a stunning lack of understanding of what the Borg are in “Unimatrix Zero.” In addition to starting out with the Borg Queen (a terrible conceit of Braga’s for Star Trek: First Contact, reviewed here!) explicitly doing something that Dr. Crusher pointedly noted the Borg could not do in “The Best Of Both Worlds, Part 2” (reviewed here!), the appreciation for the horrific nature of the Borg is lacking from the script and its execution of “Unimatrix Zero.” Without spoiling the end explicitly, the final moments of “Unimatrix Zero,” which involve members of the crew willingly getting assimilated by the Borg, shows a fundamental lack of appreciation of how terrible the Borg actually are. In “Family” (reviewed here!), Picard likens his abduction and assimilation by the Borg to a rape and the idea that the crew of Voyager would willingly be raped and/or that Janeway could order members of her crew so violated is somewhere between preposterous and utterly insulting.

Opening with the Borg Queen torturing a “sick” drone for information on the frequency by which he, and other “deficient” drones are communicating, it seems that the Borg Queen is in a strangely desperate situation. On Voyager, Seven Of Nine is unnerved when she begins dreaming and is more alarmed when she returns to the same setting of her dream the next night. After Paris is restored to the rank of Lieutenant, Voyager encounters a colony that was recently destroyed by the Borg. In her dream, Seven Of Nine encounters Axum, who tells her that they are Unimatrix Zero.

Unimatrix Zero is a dreamscape where some of the Borg come while they regenerate and Axum claims to know Seven Of Nine’s human alter ego. Axum reports that the 1 in a million Borg who can exist in Unimatrix Zero are being hunted down in the real world and that he and some of the others have developed a nanovirus that they are powerless to disburse when they awaken. He appeals to Annika Hansen to wake up and deploy the virus to the Borg. Seven Of Nine appeals to the Voyager crew to go on a mission to protect the Borg who exist in Unimatrix Zero. After Janeway, with telepathic help from Tuvok, enters Unimatrix Zero as the Borg Queen finds a way to infiltrate Unimatrix Zero, she and Seven Of Nine work to deploy the nanovirus.

The idea of Unimatrix Zero is a somewhat preposterous one. The idea that individual Borg might have an unconscious that is active when they regenerate is not a fundamentally bad idea. In fact, it makes some sense. However, the idea that they have created, technologically, a realm where they comingle is entirely ridiculous. Moreover, the premise is flawed from its very first scene; the moment the Borg Queen is able to identify a single Borg who participates in Unimatrix Zero, it follows that she would have the means to get the information she seeks. In other words, because the gimmick in “Unimatrix Zero” is technological, once an individual Borg is “outed,” the Borg could study it the next time it regenerates and get all they need to know.

Second, the reason Janeway agrees to investigate the Unimatrix Zero phenomenon is because she wants something that will disrupt the Borg Collective. Are the writers stupid or just sloppy?! Voyager has a weapon that does exactly that. In “Child’s Play” (reviewed here!), Icheb was re-infected with a Borg-destroying virus and he remains a carrier of something that will destroy the Borg on contact. In other words, Janeway and her crew need not risk themselves in any way for the stated goal of the episode.

On the acting front, there is nothing stellar here. In fact, Roxann Dawson gives a shocklingly flat presentation of B’Elanna when the engineer volunteers for the mission and when she and Paris are prepping the Delta Flyer. Mulgrew is decent at giving Janeway enough weight to her performance when she says goodbye to Chakotay, but otherwise, she gets a supporting role that is largely unimpressive.

Seven Of Nine has the best potential for a character arc in “Unimatrix Zero,” but the character work is erratic; she does not play Annika as human enough to sell the idea that it is her own unconscious that visits Unimatrix Zero. She and Axum have a prior relationship and Hansen resists revisiting that, which is fine, but not terribly inspired.

The final conceptual insult for “Unimatrix Zero” is in the Borg Tactical Cube. “Unimatrix Zero” sees the invention of what is essentially a Borg warship. It’s a cool execution to a terrible idea; as a decentralized species on decentralized ships, every Borg ship should be both a tactical cube and a scientific vessel. It’s a sloppy execution of an idea that illustrates the writers did not understand the creation they had inherited. With “Unimatrix Zero,” though, it is par for the course.

[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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