Star Trek: Voyager: Drone   Rewatch 
November 27, 2017 8:15 AM - Season 5, Episode 2 - Subscribe

Hey! You got Borg nanoprobes in my 29th-century tech! You got 29th-century tech in my Borg nanoprobes! Hmmm... two great techs that tech great together!

Memory Alpha: party-poopers of the galaxy:

- Harry Doc Kloor's original pitch for this episode started with aliens pursuing Lieutenant Tom Paris, who successfully fled from them in the Delta Flyer, only to then crash land on the surface of an unknown planet. After struggling out of the Flyer, he realized that his arm was almost entirely ripped off. A friendly member of a technologically-advanced race inhabiting the planet reattached the limb using Borg ingenuity. The staff writer taking the pitch found it too gruesome, commenting, "Oh no, we can't do anything like that. The fans wouldn't want to see all that blood and gore." The story pitch was consequently rethought by Harry Doc Kloor, who then submitted the new version to executive producer Brannon Braga. Kloor remembered, "One day I went into Brannon's office and said I've got a story you're going to buy. Seven of Nine's nanites infect the Doc's holo-emitter and create a 29th century Borg." However, the Borg drone's nature was to undergo a significant change. Staff writer Joe Menosky recollected, "Harry Kloor pitched what we used to call 'Terminator Drone' [....] It was going to be an unstoppable, killer drone. We didn't go that route. We decided to go softer, character-oriented." Through about seven more incarnations of the plot concept, Kloor and staff writer Bryan Fuller devised this approach, considering that The Doctor and Seven might become parents of a rapidly matured Borg, essentially changing the "killer" into a "child" who would learn life through the teachings of his "parents." Brannon Braga loved the modified concept.

- The small clips that One watches regarding the Borg Collective were clips from VOY: "Scorpion" and "Scorpion, Part II". The images that are displayed while the drone is assimilating information from Voyager's computer include two unnamed planets and schematics of the Phoenix warp ship, a Cardassian military freighter, a Galaxy-class starship, a DY-100-class sleeper ship, a K'Vort-class Klingon Bird-of-Prey, a D'Kora-class Marauder, a Romulan Bird-of-Prey, an Academy flight trainer, a Jem'Hadar warship, a Klingon D7 battle cruiser, a long range shuttle, an orbital office complex, a Defiant-class escort, a D'deridex-class Warbird, a Sovereign-class starship, and a Negh'Var warship.

- When convincing One that he needs a name, Neelix says that the crew cannot call him the "drone" because it is "not very interesting." Ironically, this unused name is used for the title of this episode. The name "One" had already been given to a previous installment.

"I`m a doctor, not a peeping Tom."

- The Doctor

"Good morning."
"That remains to be seen."

- Seven of Nine to Chakotay, after her proximity transceiver has been activated

"It will become what we help it to become."
"How Starfleet of you!"

- Neelix and Torres

"How many Borg hitchhikers are we gonna pick up on this trip? Maybe this is the Collective's new strategy. They don't assimilate anymore, they just show up and look helpless."

- B´Elanna Torres

Poster's Log:

As befits an episode about a chimerical melding of two different types of tech, this episode consists of some good acting in service of a... problematic plot. But the positives first, hmm? I appreciated the opening with Seven practicing her facial expressions in the mirror, because Jeri Ryan did a fine job in conveying Seven's growing attachment to One throughout the episode, and especially her grief at the end, because it was so well-modulated, especially in a franchise notorious for its scenery chewers. I also thought that J. Paul Boehmer, the once and future Nazi officer, did a great job as well. The episode in which someone who is working on developing their humanity and/or personhood gets someone or something to care for is a pretty well-worn Trek trope; you had Data and Lal, Odo and the baby changeling, and the Doctor and his holofamily, and, ultimately, it becomes a story about loss. But it's a formula that gets repeated because it works, and it worked here. I would have appreciated a few gestures to Seven from the other crew at the end of the episode, maybe relating their own stories of losing a loved one, but her going back to the cargo bay and shutting One's regeneration alcove off works as well.

What doesn't work for me is the whole premise that a stray nanoprobe or two could have done all that they did in this episode even when plugged into 29th-century tech by accident, because that's not what either one of them does. The emitter is there to be a holographic emitter--which is the one thing that One doesn't do with it in this episode--and the nanoprobes are there specifically to prepare organic beings for assimilation, something that was established in Star Trek: First Contact, which Brannon Braga co-wrote. (The comment that I made in an earlier episode discussion, about Braga being willing to drive an SUV through the china shop of canon while chasing after a story, seems even more apropos here, even with canon that he created.) Existing tech has to be converted to Borg tech by hand, just as the drones have to have the dronification process (getting their various hand and eye prosthetics installed) completed by other drones after the nanoprobes have done their work. It doesn't make any sense whatsoever that a few nanoprobes would have the data and technology to hijack the functions of the mobile emitter and not only set it up to take over a random LCARS panel and steal DNA from a random crewmember (who approached it closely in the best redshirt fashion--and, by the way, why not just assimilate that guy rather than go through the lengthy process of growing a drone?), but also give the new drone abilities that are neither part of the current Collective's repertoire nor, again, related to what the mobile emitter does.

The only real solution that I could see--and, I'm warning you, this is an ass-pull of interstellar and transtemporal proportions--is that the nanoprobes could get that much out of the mobile emitter because the mobile emitter itself is based on 29th-century Borg technology. Hear me out, my Trekkies: from the little that we've seen of 29th-century Starfleet (and even the more that we'll see of it later this season), the Federation not only hasn't been assimilated (or, if they have, it's pretty subtle), but they seem pretty easily able to deal with Seven during the events of "Relativity" in terms of making her implants seem to disappear. What if the Borg of the future were a lot more mellow, more like the Cooperative of "Unity", and actually on really good terms with the Federation? What if they made their own drones from DNA samples instead of forcibly assimilating beings from other species? What if they obtained new tech by exchanging it with other cultures, and that's how the Federation got a mobile emitter the size of a combadge? If that emitter still had a Borg OS, which contained the basic instructions for creating a drone from scratch, it might have been triggered by the introduction/melding of nanoprobes from the earlier, more hegemonic Collective. It would also open up a lot of possibilities in terms of what the emitter could do. Of course, none of this will really ever be explored by the show, but it would be a lot more plausible than the super-advanced drone resulting from a couple of pieces of unrelated tech being brundleflied. (P.S. Using "brundlefly" as a verb isn't my idea, I got it from a recent tweet.)

Poster's Log, supplemental: This year's Star Trek ship Xmas ornament is the Franklin from Star Trek Beyond. It's not bad, but I'm a little disappointed that it's not Discovery, and that it doesn't plug into a string of lights as past ornaments have done.
posted by Halloween Jack (19 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Shit, Jack. A Borg-Federation alliance, or at least detente, would be one hell of a concept for a Trek series set post-DS9, which much of Trek fandom agrees really needs to happen.

Anyway, yeah, not too shabby a variation on the Lal trope, but I've always found this one too tropey for its own good. I might've enjoyed it more if it ended with something OTHER than a dramatic death scene for a series regular actor to Act in. Like maybe One shedding his primitive corporeal form and joining Wesley Crusher and Kes in Woo-Woo-Space or something.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:25 AM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm a little disappointed that it's not Discovery, and that it doesn't plug into a string of lights as past ornaments have done.

Next year's inevitable Discovery ornament had better spin. As for this year, I skipped the Franklin and bought the Picard and Data on the bridge of the Enterprise ornament which invokes many more warm fuzzy memories.

A Borg-Federation alliance, or at least detente, would be one hell of a concept for a Trek series set post-DS9, which much of Trek fandom agrees really needs to happen.

My unwritten followup to the DS9/Voyager era that I would pitch to CBS if ever offered the chance begins with a Borg cube entering Earth orbit. There's tense music playing on the soundtrack because AHHHHH BORG but we find out quickly that the Borg are there to discuss an alliance with the Federation. No tricks. It's actual peace talks in good faith between the Federation and the Collective.
posted by Servo5678 at 11:02 AM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Particle of the Week: Borg nanoprobes again.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: The feedback pulse used by the Borg sphere to reflect Voyager's phaser is another one-off Voyager thing that became huge in Star Trek Online. (It's the cornerstone of entire builds - get stuff to shoot at you, laugh while they explode from their own fire.)

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 4.
* Shuttles: Down 8.
* Crew: 135.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 9.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful, 1 game of chicken, 1 ramming speed.

* Some great performances here.

I also thought that J. Paul Boehmer, the once and future Nazi officer, did a great job as well.

I felt like Boehmer was the MVP here, yeah. In particular, I appreciated his gawky body language - despite being a grown man in full body armor, Boehmer walks like a duckling. He's leading with his hips, his head moves around in bizarre ways. His speech patterns are convincingly immature until the final act, where he begins talking like an Action Guy, (although I personally think he was fronting a bit - trying to act the way he thought he was supposed to after consuming a bajillion files that presumably included mission reports).

I appreciated the opening with Seven practicing her facial expressions in the mirror, because Jeri Ryan did a fine job in conveying Seven's growing attachment to One throughout the episode, and especially her grief at the end, because it was so well-modulated, especially in a franchise notorious for its scenery chewers.

Also agreed. Part of the reason the catsuit and ogling of Seven bothers me is that Ryan's such a great actress - she manages to sell a bunch of stuff without even talking during this episode. (I was particularly impressed with the opening smile - presumably, she smiles in real life all the time, but she still managed to convey just how unnatural that was for Seven in just a couple moments, like she was trying on a particularly ugly Christmas sweater or something.)

So yeah, I'm willing to forgive a lot on the strength of the performances. I even liked Neelix here. (Second week running for that.)

* This is subtly different than the Lal thing.

In general, this is a rehash of many similar plots, but one difference that I enjoyed: he knows he's an accident, and the crew handle it gracefully. Even the Doctor is cool about it, and he's a real jerk for most of this episode.

* Also, the Doctor is a big jerk here.

Poking in on B'Ellana when she was entitled to sleep in for once was crazy unkind. Popping in on her shower was worse, particularly how he handled it when called out. I think they were trying to be funny with the shower scene, but it was Not Cool.

* The plot makes very little sense.

What doesn't work for me is the whole premise that a stray nanoprobe or two could have done all that they did in this episode even when plugged into 29th-century tech by accident, because that's not what either one of them does.

I came here to complain about this specific thing at length, but since you already have, I'm going to just second it.

The only real solution that I could see--and, I'm warning you, this is an ass-pull of interstellar and transtemporal proportions--is that the nanoprobes could get that much out of the mobile emitter because the mobile emitter itself is based on 29th-century Borg technology.

This was pretty clever. I have a couple of further thoughts on the topic:

1) Increasingly, Borg nanoprobes are just magic. As I mentioned in an earlier thread, I recently did a rewatch of every episode that involved the Borg, and there's an escalation of what they can do over time. By Regeneration, First Contact-era drones were just plugging their assimilation tubules into consoles on Archer's Enterprise and Borgifying them in seconds. It's Flanderization, basically. I blame it on so many writers, many of whom just didn't care about continuity or worldbuilding.

2) The effect may have been a security protocol within the holoemitter. Like, sure the nanoprobes can assimilate it, but in the process, they're soaking up a bunch of 'don't assimilate anybody' rules. But the nanoprobes aren't going to be kept from making a drone, so the end result is them making a maturation chamber and jacking someone's DNA.

So... hm. I like this episode pretty well, even though the plot forces a lot of fanwank and it's been done so many times before. I'd call it a solid B outing, myself?
posted by mordax at 2:11 PM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

The DNA is from Ensign Mulchahey. No one ever asked him what HE wanted done with his "offspring." Lol. I mean the thing is his clone, maybe his child.

I recall some TNG episode where Riker took issue with his DNA being stolen.

DAE get an 'I, Borg' vibe from this?
posted by hot_monster at 9:13 PM on November 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

This is one of the few Voyager episodes I can rewatch in its entirety. Yes the magic technology fiction element is strong but the performances of Ryan (no surprise there of course) and Behmer are outstanding and make the episode work.

That said, part of any pitch I would make post DS9/Voyager was to use the Borg as sparsely as possible. I was sick personally sick of them by Descent and though I didn't mind their introduction in Voyager since it is, if I recall correctly, the Borg's source quadrant but though many say Voyager became the Seven and Janeway show I felt it became the Seven of Nine and Borg show, no doubt by order of some higher ups.
posted by juiceCake at 9:41 PM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'd also say this episode works even though it's a Borg one because the anxiety within the crew was similar to the intial anxiety the crew of the Enterprise felt in Q Who and the Best of Both Worlds. Just the possibility of being assimilated returns as if the Federation's victory over them was always temporary and everyone realized they may be on borrowed time. As Voyager continues, the appearance of the Borg has all the anxiety a person may feel when the rain might mess up their hair.
posted by juiceCake at 9:49 PM on November 27, 2017

Heh. It seems like I'm always caught on the disagreements over the tech stuff. For me, the melding of the mobile emitter, Seven's nanoprobes, the science station, and some cells from poor Mulchaey was fine, with the mobile emitter, metaphorically, providing a link between the nanoprobes and the formation of a created being, with help from Mulcahaey's cells and science! The mobile emitter exists to give form to sapient holograms, so that gives shape to One when combined with the nanoprobes powerful assimilation protocols.

The effect would have made even more sense had it just involved the emitter, nanoprobes, and Seven's own cells and had One be created as a quasi-human/tech/light hybrid given shape by the emitter in his cortex, but the writers really wanted to push the analogy of One as an unplanned pregnancy, which required him to develop from a fetus, so they extended his creation a bit foolishly. I mean how exactly did that advanced Borg maturation chamber get built? It also points to the less appealing, though not over-stressed part of the analogy in there being a somewhat decidedly pro-life message to the episode that wasn't really needed and was finessed so clumsily in having One as a fetus that finding another way would have been better, even if that meant another Tuvix kind of scenario. Ideally though it could have been something more unique than that, coming perhaps from the nebula that caused Seven's nanoprobes to intersect with the emitter which then created One when the doctor removed it later or something.

There's a strong narrative prejudice towards pro-life messaging in films and TV since having a a child offers more chance for storyline than not having one for the most part, and visualizing a child prejudices the viewer and story towards that decision. Janeway should know better than mistake fetus for child, but that's how the prejudice works, show a "baby" or child and the choice is rendered moot.

Anyway, aside from that, the episode was a good one, though the point about it being a familiar storyline for Trek also rings true. Nonethless it does work thanks to solid performances all around, most notably from Ryan and Boehmer, but Phillips, Mulgrew and Dawson as well. Picardo, at the end was also good, though some of the bits in the first half of the show were a bit much both in concept, why would there be a visual com system in the shower anyway?, and in his over-fussy exaggerating attitude. I won't harp on the changes to his character since I've done that before save to say some of the "funny" stuff ill-becomes him as much as it did Neelix in the first few seasons. I do like the doctor's excitement over away missions and his developing interest in photography and some of the "drier" humor and more serious moments are still quite good.

The episode felt a little rushed for the amount of growth One had to go through, which stole a little potential from his sacrifice, but that comes with the episodic structure, so I won't gripe. The threat One posed should he be assimilated was underplayed and I'm sure Starfleet would give Janeway a talking to for risking it had the balance actually been fairly portrayed at One's "fertilization" instead of jumping straight to "baby". Once that happened then there was no chance of the "pregnancy" being terminated no matter who the captain was.

The crew interactions in this episode maintained a reasonably high quality for brief remarks and help to continue to add some feeling of connection between crew members and a sense of place to the show. All in all I think it's a fine episode and is part of a run of conceptually interesting and reasonably well-crafted episodes that show the new energy Braga's bringing to the show, it won't all be so rosy, but the showrunner changes at least give some additional oomph to the series, which just shows Voyager is more relay race than marathon, with each new runner changing the show's stride but not building up for longer distances.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:27 AM on November 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

why would there be a visual com system in the shower anyway?

It's plausible that 24th century showers would be designed with screens in them for, like, accessing files to work on. Lord knows I do some of my best thinking in the shower, and often wish I could write stuff down while in it. If this headcanon were true, it would be a short jump for the Doctor to have just enough technical knowledge to hack into those screens (or even to have been given Special Medical Dispensation to use them, maybe even to modify them to be 2-way), and knowing the Doctor, it's a short jump from that to misusing them. (Still not as bad as DS9: "Profit and Lace.")

The only hole I can see in that theory is, aren't most Starfleet showers "sonic showers"? And why would you linger long enough in a sonic shower to NEED a little screen?
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:32 AM on November 28, 2017

I think that it's possible that B'Elanna put it there herself if she wanted to read while she was in the shower. The analogy would be to people who brought their tablets into the bathroom to read while they were sitting on the toilet (ahem) and didn't know that someone could hack the camera.

As for how sonic showers work... sorry, no idea.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:29 AM on November 28, 2017

Okay, I'll go with B'Elanna putting it there herself. She's someone who might be obsessive enough about her work to add an extra screen. How the doctor knew about it and accessed it is another question, but I'm willing to give that a pass for him being part of the computer system or some such. (His exact mode of existence remaining awfully vague and subject to changing at whim as it is.)

Can you sing in a sonic shower and still be heard? Is there sonic soap and shampoo too?
posted by gusottertrout at 7:54 AM on November 28, 2017

Re: Post-DS9 Star Trek, I like the idea of the Borg as allies with the Federation, especially if it involved undoing some of the damage done to the Borg by Voyager. Personally, I'd like to see a Borg collective that abandons the nonconsensual body horror aspects of their M.O. They'd still get new converts; I can imagine lots of people tempted by the idea of joining a society where they are never lonely, never anxious, and never afraid. Basically, a cult.

Imagine if the Borg let people experience and tap into the collective without having to sign themselves fully over. The sum total knowledge of trillions of people across thousands of civilizations? The feeling of oneness, unity, strength? And then the knowledge that this is only a pale shadow of what being a part of the collective truly is... but if you let us install these implants, well, you can satisfy this craving we've carefully manufactured in you.

That would be an interesting enemy for the Federation to fight, one that's friendly and helpful while also getting into the heads of more and more Federation citizens.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:05 PM on November 28, 2017 [5 favorites]

Like, imagine a new show with an ensign who is way into tapping into the Collective, and several episodes where he saves the day by searching for a solution inside the Collective. He goes on leave and comes back and now he has implants, the Collective is always with him, and he starts saying We and Us...
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:09 PM on November 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

I suspect someone else has mentioned Bob the Angry Flower's 27th century Borg before.

But yeah, the Federation is already very close to being a Banks-style Culture except for the fact they don't want that: they actively resist creating sentient A.I.s although they respect the personhood of the ones that emerge accidentally from their holodecks or ship computers or that get built by a rogue inventor—though that one took a bit of lawyering. They have strict laws about genetically engineering themselves save for narrow medical purposes.

So what would it take for that to change? There's been hints it does: a farther-future Federation that uses time travel to police the timeline; that has humanoid members drawn from the genetics of hundreds of member species, that becomes the sort of thing Q are so interested/afraid of.

I want to see that story. I barely trust them to tell it, but I'd love if they could do it justice.
posted by traveler_ at 9:11 PM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hah, yeah I haven't seen that strip before but it's exactly my idea. Despite how often Godlike beings appear, transhumanism wasn't a central part of Roddenberry's vision. It's ended up being a big blind spot in the Trek universe. I'd love to see a Trek that goes in that direction. Even Discovery doing that would be cool, as a way of explaining why the Federation avoids transhumanism and AI.

Also, the fact that holographic tricks aren't in One's toolbox seems especially dumb, given that he came from a holoemitter. He could've had a holographic tool hand that could reconfigure jtself to any task, or the ability to make holographic duplicates of himself, or alter his appearance.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 9:31 AM on November 29, 2017

Given how often fans have cried out for a post-DS9 Trek, I wonder why Paramount has never gone there. Why do we only see prequels and reboots? it'd be great to see a show where Borg were uneasy allies with the Federation, like the Klingons were on TNG.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:47 PM on November 30, 2017

After some thought about the Bob the Angry Flower strip and the Borg, I think Janeway's insistence on the importance of individuality makes even more sense, in a round about way. Bob's claim of being "everyone" is at once a thrilling lure, but also a really ugly prospect. That would mean you "are" the nazis, gamer gaters, Trumpo voters, and every other ugly part of the collective consciousness as well as the more pleasing aspects. That may even point to why the Borg act as they do with so little regard for other life. If the dominant common strain of consciousness is selfish and violent impulses, then the Borg may act as they do because that is the collective will of the group. The better strains of thought get drowned out in the commonalities, the exceptional is lost to the masses.

That, of course, fits certain theories about government and the masses and works against others, for which I obviously can't make proof of either way in reality, but in the same way I can accept it as a possibility for the fictional world they create, even if it isn't spelled out as such.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:12 PM on November 30, 2017

Just wanted to note that this suicide is not documented at Memory Alpha.
posted by Brocktoon at 2:41 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

If I had a device in the shower it would be for listening to stuff in the shower - podcasts, news, stuff like that. But I'm very unlike B'Elanna in personality and interests so ... *shrug*

Given that the doc is anxious/jerky about his mobile emitter being out of commission, enough to wake B'Elanna and intrude on her shower - geez - it's really interesting that he doesn't look for alternatives when it becomes clear that he will not get it back as long as One is alive. I'd expect at least a private meeting with Janeway: "Captain, I know he's sentient and his life depends on the mobile emitter but- how can I function like this? Isn't there something we can do?" I love the doc - shower scene aside - but he's not typically one to accept such a loss without a fight. Or a little dramatic martyrdom.
posted by bunderful at 11:53 AM on January 29, 2019

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