Star Trek: Voyager: Dark Frontier   Rewatch 
January 11, 2018 2:52 AM - Season 5, Episode 15 - Subscribe

These are the voyages of the starship Raven. Its ill-conceived mission: to explore a strange new quadrant with a crew of two…to deliberately seek out the Borg Collective…to boldly perish like no human has perished before!

(Note: Memory Alpha considers "Dark Frontier" to be one episode, so Jack and I decided to do the same. Thus, this is actually episodes 15 and 16 of season 5.)

- This episode's origin was similar to that of the third season outing "Unity", in that – when the writing staff of Star Trek: Voyager were faced with the challenge of devising a show for the February rating sweeps period – the writers thought of the Borg. However, this idea was not an immediate one. Co-writer Joe Menosky offered, "We were heading into sweeps [....] But we had no idea what we were going to do."

- The scale of the episode was influenced by the first airing of the fourth season two-parter "The Killing Game" and "The Killing Game, Part II". Joe Menosky reflected, "Because of the success of airing 'The Killing Game' in a single night, the network and the studio were really interested in doing a movie." Braga explained, "I really felt we needed something spectacular for February sweeps [....] To do a Borg movie, telefilm, or whatever you want to call it, we had to outdo First Contact. The space battles and the Queen had to be more elaborate."

- It was Brannon Braga himself who crafted the episode's plot. He recalled, "We had all these different storylines laying around having to do with the Borg. I just cobbled them together late one night and we had 'Dark Frontier'." Joe Menosky remembered, "Brannon wrote this amazingly complete story memo that had everything."

- The inspiration for the backstory of the courageous Hansens – Magnus and Erin Hansen – was the history of gorilla specialist Dian Fossey.

- The script for this episode's first half defines the Borg Queen that appears here as being separate from the one in Star Trek: First Contact, as the scripted version of the queen's introduction in this episode specifies, "Although this Queen has a similar design to the one seen in 'First Contact', she is a different character with her own, distinct personality."

- Brannon Braga felt that this episode was an important one for the character of Kathryn Janeway. "I think [it] was as important a show for Captain Janeway as it was for Seven," Braga mused. "I think Janeway became more heroic and more Human herself [....] The scene with Naomi made [Janeway] a little warmer, a little more human. I think her relationship with Seven changed in that show, inexorably in some ways. They will always be in conflict, that's the nature of their mentor-pupil relationship. But I think they became a little more Picard and Data than they ever had been in 'Dark Frontier'."

- Franchise veteran Susanna Thompson (who played the Borg Queen) loved the effect of lights in the Borg Queen's lair following the queen as she moved, believing that the effect lent a greater sense of ambiance and power to her character. Thompson also felt that her Borg Queen's costume, particularly the restrictiveness of the outfit, aided her performance by making it hard to make any "extravagant" gestures.

- When the Hansens first detect a Borg cube, the music is reminiscent of the V'ger-themed music from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

- The transporter effect used in the flashback scenes corresponds with the effect used in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

- This is the final Star Trek episode that Cliff Bole worked on as a director.

- In Great Britain, Sky first showed the episode as two separate parts that aired on the same night as each other. After the first part was shown, the continuity announcer joked that the second part would be postponed because the tape had broken.

- The Queen tells Seven she is the first drone that has regained its individuality, apparently denying the existence of Hugh and the rest of Lore's rogue Borg faction, as well as Riley Frazier and the rest of the Borg Cooperative and disregarding Captain Jean-Luc Picard's temporary assimilation into Locutus.

- The Hansen logs indicate that Federation knowledge of the Borg existed prior to the events of TNG: "Q Who", citing the limited information as "rumor and sensor echoes." No doubt the El-Aurians must have been a source of at least some of the knowledge, since the USS Enterprise-B witnessed their escape in Star Trek Generations. It is somewhat puzzling, however, that the Starfleet crew of the USS Enterprise-D are unaware of the Borg and the Hansens in the earlier TNG episode. As Joe Menosky remembered, the writers of this episode were well aware of the discontinuity when they devised this installment. "There was no way in the world we were going to get rid of the Hansen arc, just because it didn't match exactly what had happened when Q first threw the Enterprise near that Borg cube [....] There should be some mention in a database somewhere, and Picard should have known. There was a little bit of that knowledge [....] In our minds, the Borg were a very slender rumor, and the Hansens followed up on the rumor and just disappeared. Whether that completely holds water or not, that's all the justification we needed to go with the Hansen arc. Even if we couldn't have come up with that justification, we would have done it anyway. I think you are denying new audiences the chance to see this arc that couldn't be told if you were going to be faithful to something that was established a decade ago. We are not willing to be that rigid with continuity."


"Vessel identified: Federation Starfleet, Intrepid-class, 143 lifeforms. Prepare for assimilation."

- Borg Collective, sizing up Voyager


"Captain! Don't touch that!"
"What is it?"
"I don't know, but a few minutes ago it was crawling around on the floor."

- Ensign Kim and Captain Janeway, speaking about a sphere-shaped piece of salvaged Borg technology


"Ah, ah, put down the cube, muffin. It's not a toy."

- Magnus Hansen, to Annika


"They left behind their trivial, selfish lives, and they've been reborn with a greater purpose. We've delivered them from chaos into order."
"Comforting words. Use them next time instead of 'Resistance is futile.' You may elicit a few volunteers."

- The Borg Queen and Seven of Nine, on the assimilation of 300,000 new drones


"There are three things to remember about being a starship captain: keep your shirt tucked in, go down with the ship, and never abandon a member of your crew."

- Captain Janeway, to Naomi Wildman


Poster's Log:
I don't want to start the thread off on a strident note, and maybe some folks will disagree strongly… but I gotta say, I find this one both boring and stupid. I've previously alluded to this show seeming to shut off its brain when it's time to spend lavishly on impressive sets, effects, and action sequences; this "television event" episode may be THE major example of that that I was thinking of. Learning that its whole raison d'etre was the venal need to Do A Sweeps Episode is not shocking in the least. It's got spectacle and cool moments, sure—but I couldn't get past certain stuff, like how:

1- Ultimately it feels so much like a rehash of the Data storyline in First Contact that you quickly start to wonder why we're spending time on it at all.

2- It seems out of character (not to mention weak, plot-wise) for the hyper-connected Borg Queen to say to Seven that "Our thoughts are one" when they demonstrably are not. The Last Jedi is a nice example IMO of handling the same scenario (between Kylo and Snoke) much more convincingly.

3- The Hansens couldn't find a sitter? No, I mean, seriously: in a setting where civilian scientists can get access to long-range starships, nobody suggests maybe leaving their child on the safest planet in the Federation? "Hey honey, you know this trip deep into the Amazon we have planned? Let's bring our newborn! She'll be a nice bite-size morsel for the first python to find our camp." For me, this pretty seriously undercut the thrill of watching them study "Junior" and "Needle-Fingers" and "Pinhead" and "Chairface."

And though I'll concede that there are some effective, imaginative visuals here… they aren't even all that memorable, which is something this show has proven it can pull off. Like, prior to the rewatch, if you asked me to characterize this two-parter, I'd have said "The Borg Queen tries to kinda-seduce Seven like the other Borg Queen tried to actually-seduce Data, and they have a lot of talky scenes on a Borg Cube. Also we watch Seven's parents careen happily toward their doom."

Really, on rewatch, the only significant change in my opinion of it is greater appreciation for the use of Naomi. (I will say, though, that I've always thought the casting of Seven's parents in this was excellent: those two really look like they could have produced Jeri Ryan.)

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Susanna Thompson will return as the Borg Queen in another two-parter that ends season 6 and begins season 7. Alice Krige, who played First Contact's Borg Queen, returns to the role in the series finale at the end of season 7 (even though I guess it's not the same Borg Queen as FC, but the same one as here, just with a different face now?…well, whatever; this episode suggests that she probably has modular body parts, like Johnny Longtorso).
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (17 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I had no particular problem with the Hansens dragging their daughter along for their Borg-tracking expedition, simply because we know that people absolutely have been and can be that dumb. Take, for example, this recent case, which gets weirder and skeevier the more you look at the facts. (Hiking in Afghanistan with your pregnant wife? What could possibly go wrong?) There's even an element of arrogance in their adventuring that seems as plausible as it is infuriating; the Hansens come off as the most sheltered and overconfident of postdocs who seem to have in mind not only their own future fame in mind ("that's right, we crossed the Neutral Zone because, people, there are no borders in space, amirite?"), but also maybe that their daughter would one day describe her wacky Borg-chasing childhood in glowing terms at a 24th century TED talk.

As for the rest of the episode: yep, it's pretty much VOY's First Contact clone. UPN is still trying to get TNG numbers, and so, with the movie having been the most successful iteration of the franchise for some time, they're trying to recapture some of that old magic. Susanna Thompson successfully aped Alice Krige to an uncanny degree, so much so that she's basically unrecognizable from her more memorable DS9 appearance, and the Borg Queen suffers severe Villain Decay; she's still as creepy-seductive as her STFC appearance, but whereas in the former she seems to make some impact on Data before he comes back around, here she's more of just a plain old bully and Seven never really seems to be that close to being seduced back into the Collective. Even the appearance of her assimilated dad is only momentarily startling. (Maybe Seven has come to realize what dummies her parents were.) I don't even object to the Queen being part of the Collective, as many fans were on the release of STFC; I don't see it as a retcon so much as the Collective evolving the concept of a Speaker for the Borg to be more personable and authoritative than Locutus in order to handle special cases such as Data and Seven. But the scenes in this episode seem to be endless rounds of "Oh no I won't"/"Oh yes you will".

On the more positive side, the dream scene with Naomi ending with the implant popping out of her cheek was pretty good.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:09 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Particle of the Week: They were pretty good about that this time, but honorable mention goes to Borg nanoprobes again.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: Dark Frontier is the template for a ton of Star Trek Online content - the probe ship seen here is the template for the smallest and weakest Borg vessels (essentially their shuttles), while the command diamond is a real PITA. Tactical drones are a recurring menace. Places like the unimatrix are a staple of assaults on the Borg. Even the 'beam a warhead directly onto an enemy vessel' thing is available as a bridge officer skill. Basically, I could talk about how Dark Frontier pertains to STO for pages and pages, except it's a workday and I'm already going to burn too much time on this. ;)

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 1. We saw one used via beaming here.
* Crew: 134.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 9. As previously discussed, encounters with the Borg don't count anywhere in the galaxy due to their transwarp capabilities.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful, 1 game of chicken, 1 ramming speed.

Notes:
* This is like the ur-example of Voyager going wrong.

I don't want to start the thread off on a strident note, and maybe some folks will disagree strongly… but I gotta say, I find this one both boring and stupid.

Don't feel bad! If you hadn't, I would have.

Last time, I described Bliss as a good example of Voyager firing on all cylinders: it's an affectionate and slick homage to older ideas.

Dark Frontier wants to be that too, but it's a great example of where Voyager went wrong. Not in every possible way - it gets my obligatory high praise for casting with Susanna Thompson (I agree with Jack that her impersonation of Alice Krige is uncanny) - and the visuals are good. Like Jack, I feel like the Hansen storyline is believable in its stupidity. Half my friends, (mostly upper middle class types), have more irresponsible parents than that.

Also, the visuals are beautiful, (I'm still struck by how good Voyager looks even twenty years old), the acting delivers and Naomi Wildman is still great.

However... yeah. This is bad TV.

Going point by point:

1) Seven's not unique.

This has already been discussed, so I guess I don't need to write too much. We've seen Borg drones regain their individuality going all the way back to Locutus. It was a major plot point with Hugh in TNG, both in his initial appearance and Descent. It was a thing in Unity. It's probable the Borg don't actually know about every instance, but the Locutus thing is definitely on their books.

The big difference between Seven and all prior iterations was mostly that Seven was pro-Borg even after disconnecting due to her early assimilation and resulting stunted development, but that factor is gone by the time this episode occurs. From a character perspective, Dark Frontier would've been more interesting before Seven came around to wanting to be an individual to provide some tension about her choice.

2) The whole 'Starfleet knew about the Borg' thing is bad.

Because of First Contact, the Borg are a big ball of timey-wimey in Trek canon. On TNG, nobody'd heard of them before Q Who, but because of the events of First Contact, Enterprise had a Borg episode that could have been the genesis of the rumors that the Hansens based their research on. (Indeed, the Enterprise episode is actually pretty good, IMO.) Like crazy old Cap'n Braxton was on about in Future's End, we're in a C leads to B leads to A kind of situation with regard to Borg continuity...

Except that we know that behind the scenes, they weren't thinking about how to reconcile all of this in a clever way, they were just all 'oh well fuck TNG.'

This gets back to my central thesis about Voyager: Voyager's got some lazy writers who just didn't think very well of their audience.

3) The episode fails to play by its own rules.

One of the most important things about the Borg is the whole 'adaptation' thing. None of the tech the Hansens had should've worked at all because the entire point of assimilating stuff is that the Borg are subsequently impervious to that tech. See The Best of Both Worlds, where the Borg shrug off the deflector blast based on Picard's conversion to Locutus. They don't even think about it, they're just invulnerable.

The crew should not have used Hansen-tech without some kind of modding or breakthrough because the Borg should already be immune to it before the episode starts. Voyager should've known that, too - they've been over this and over this.

4) The Borg plan makes no sense.

The Borg Queen goes on and on about how 'special' human resistance is... but it's not. The Best of Both Worlds was a squeaker - if they'd sent a wave of cubes instead of just the one, they would own the Federation right now. Ditto First Contact - they only sent one ship.

The Borg have transwarp, the Borg have trillions of drones. They have no known supply line issues, technological and numerical superiority and so on. Right now, the only reason Earth should be free is because it's not interesting enough to warrant a real military push, something that is believable.

Either way, there's no reason they should need to come up with some weird biogenic cybervirus. All they really need to do is just send more ships. (I'd believe the Queen's talk more if she were having it with Odo about the Founders - he's pretty much the only Trek regular where this whole thing makes sense.)

5) Keeping Seven 'unique' is against everything the Borg do and are.

The Borg get information via assimilation. This is their thing. Data's stuff in First Contact already pushed that a lot, but was predicated on 'he's not a life form, standard assimilation doesn't work.' (It's also in direct contradiction of TBBW, where Locutus claimed Data was 'primitive.')

Seven's... just a human woman. They pry information out of the skulls of human beings routinely - there's just no reason for the Borg to need to talk to her, and indeed, it's unclear why they bother here because they can still just read her mind via her cranial implants.

6) Giving the Borg a Queen ruins them.

This is more of a First Contact complaint, but since Dark Frontier is a direct ripoff, it applies.

Part of what make the Borg scary is that they don't care about you. They don't have conversations. They don't listen. They give zero fucks about anything. They're just an implacable, faceless menace in a universe where everybody else can be reasoned with. Making them have feelings and special interest in specific characters undercuts them thematically - it makes them just another group that can be spoken to, threatened, even reasoned with.

Basically, giving them a Queen removes everything that makes them special in the Trek universe. The Borg Cooperative in Unity is a lot scarier than the Queen despite meaning well because they retain that faceless homogeneity.

So basically... ugh. I could see defending them ignoring other shows - I realize Trek is a big huge continuity snarl - but the Borg aren't obscure. They're one of the most popular Trek baddies of all time, and it's reasonable to assume people know a lot about them. But even leaving that aside, Dark Frontier doesn't really play by the rules that just Voyager has set forth about the Borg either.

Anyway. I know this is pretty negative. If other people did like it, I'm still sincerely curious to hear why even though I'm unlikely to agree.
posted by mordax at 10:08 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


A few things that I forgot to mention:

- I'd let the Hansen stealth armband thing go, because the Voyager crew could have modified them enough to work again. They could have figured out how to switch things around enough to get them to work, at least for a little while, without potentially giving the Borg all the 29th-century Federation tech secrets, as was threatened in "Drone."

- Similarly, my explanation for the Federation knowing about the Borg before "Q Who" is that Guinan told them, because she was picked up by the Enterprise-B along with the other El-Aurian refugees way back in Star Trek: Generations. Now, just how much she knew, and when, is unclear; it's quite possible that she didn't know that much at the time of her rescue and pieced together some things later on. But I could certainly imagine the Hansens picking up a few more things between STG and the beginning of their expedition.

- I didn't buy the nanoprobe-virus scheme, though, because I don't see the Borg being able to release enough of it to assimilate all of Earth without it being discovered in time to do something about it. The Federation knows about the Borg using nanoprobes, they have had other problems with nanites in the past, so I sincerely doubt that they don't already have some blue goo system in place.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:12 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


I'd let the Hansen stealth armband thing go, because the Voyager crew could have modified them enough to work again.

If they'd taken a sec to establish that, I'd be more forgiving. (Just a quick scene of 'oh we'll take what Seven knows about Borg sensors and use it to update the thing.')

But I could certainly imagine the Hansens picking up a few more things between STG and the beginning of their expedition.

Also possible. I don't really mind it even being due to weird causality, I'm more miffed they just shrugged the whole thing off at the time.

Oh, one other thing I did find interesting here: the idea that Janeway wants to mug the Borg. This is the most original idea present in Dark Frontier, and it made me really want to like what was going on. I mean, it's gutsy, it's clever and it makes sense: the Borg have transwarp, Borg tech is designed to integrate with alien systems, 'let's just take their engines and plug them right in' has a definite appeal as a plan.

I wish the episode had been more about that and less about 'Borg Queen tries to vamp an unwilling Seven of Nine,' because that's a really cool story pitch, and up until the Queen talks to Seven, I was pretty into what was going on even with the inconsistencies.
posted by mordax at 11:31 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


To avoid abusing edit: actually, I think a lot of my unhappiness with this story is that it was going really well, and then swerved into nonsensical and weird after I was sold on the premise.
posted by mordax at 11:33 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Oh, and one more thing: if I'm keeping track of the progress (at least in the stated "big jumps" scattered throughout the series) of the ship correctly, Voyager should be halfway home, or more, by now.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:36 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Crud, I'm going to have to go back and make some notes when I get a minute - that should've been another counter over the course of the series.
posted by mordax at 6:06 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


These threads are really improving my criticism skills with Trek. I watched this and thought "Hmmm. That was ok. Decent Trek." But with some new perspective it does seem like a weak offering. First Contact came out in 1996. This episode played in 1999. On retrospect, the Borg were pretty played out by this time.

I'm still sincerely curious to hear why even though I'm unlikely to agree.

For me, this is the McDonalds theory of entertainment. Like a McDonald's burger, this episode is the same comforting thing after the last comforting helping of Trek. It gives us the Borg, with a tiny bit of extra stuff. ie Seven's parents. Voyager makes a good fight. We rehash some stuff that Data went through in the movie, only this time with Seven. There's a heist. There's the promise of Voyager getting closer to home. But you know they aren't. But yeah, after Cheese's and your critique this seems pretty weak. I've always had the attitude that crummy Treks is better than a good quality sit-com. So that's led me to give it a pass on some of the lame stuff.

The thing that really popped my warp bubble was that the Hansen's were so chill about going to the Delta Quadrant. I mean, they're scientists, surely they'd want to publish a paper on their Borg research. You can't do that from the Delta Quadrant. I watched this a week or two ago. I don't remember that the Hansen's had a way back to the Alpha Quad. But the idea that they'd go 75 years travel away from home with their daughter seems off. I wouldn't gamble my entire career and my child's life on maybe getting a trasnwarp hitchhike with a Borg cube.
posted by hot_monster at 7:37 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


These threads are really improving my criticism skills with Trek.

Me too, actually. Trek's a perfect ground for playing with criticism - it's big, it's thoughtful without being inaccessible to amateurs (like me), it has a large enough cultural footprint to warrant evaluation, and the behind the scenes stuff is widely available now which gives us a lot of insight to why it took the shape it did.

For me, this is the McDonalds theory of entertainment.

Hm. Fair enough. As a big fan of the McChicken, I'm in no position to judge. ;)

The thing that really popped my warp bubble was that the Hansen's were so chill about going to the Delta Quadrant. I mean, they're scientists, surely they'd want to publish a paper on their Borg research. You can't do that from the Delta Quadrant.

*facepalms*

Good catch there, too.
posted by mordax at 8:39 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I can't say I find this one boring and stupid exactly, more like weirdly irrelevant as if it was written more for a imagined Voyager rather than the one that exists. There are things I like about the episode, in theory anyway, but most of it seems out of sync with the show as its gone to the extent of some of it seeming bizarrely unmotivated by anything sensible.

That the show starts off as if it's an in continuity episode, where Voyager has been dealing with the Borg regularly in recent episodes puts things on the wrong foot a bit to begin with. The "reversal" idea Janeway has to turn the tables on the Borg would fit into an arc something like a Borg Year of Hell concept, where Voyager has been under constant threat by the Borg and is now making the attempt to alter their destiny by seizing the initiative themselves rather than being the target. The plan might be an interesting twist in that kind of scenario, but here it comes out of left field, seeming to arise out of nothing much at all. That Voyager is now able to battle the Borg on more equal terms in regards to firepower and shielding makes some sense given all Voyager has encountered and should have been able to develop, but they never actually established any of that and at times have suggested otherwise, though as usual such things are left to fit the story needs for an episode more than carry any stronger definition. (Oh, and before I forget, mordax, your photon torpedo count seemed to miss the six they fire to close the transwarp portal at the end of the episode. They're down to -5 now. Heh.)

I could forgive them leaving the viewer to imagine Voyager either undergoing a constant state of readiness for the Borg or in having dealt with them "offscreen" more than we've seen and thus fit this new plan to that kind of idea, but the episode doesn't even deal with the reversal in much detail or built it as something all that interesting in itself since the Borg Queen's secret plan? with Seven is put in motion instead. That element of the episode is the really bizarre element since it radically changes what we've understood about the Voyager, Seven, Borg relationship, gutting some of the earlier episodes of meaning and making the Borg master spies in some way that still doesn't make sense even after this episode.

Whether or not there should be a Borg queen is fun to think about since there are good reasons the Borg are more frightening without one, but also harder to do much dramatically with lacking personality in a way. Without the queen they'd always be faceless others as a mass, that couldn't be stopped unless one took out all of them. That lends itself to some fascinating scenarios in how the menace of the Borg would work and be visualized, to do it really well might be a budget buster, but more significantly for the franchise I think, is that it lacks the kind of back and forth that you can have when you provide a queen that is in charge to some extent. It makes the conflict easier to dramatize and provide desires and interests to, so it's a crutch basically. Once TNG added the queen I can't blame Braga for making use of her especially since that element at least does make some sense for the show.

Having the Borg queen and Janeway as opposing mother figures to Seven works well in some ways for the writing here, having lines and ideas virtually repeated by each in their separate contexts. That had some promise, unfortunately they didn't really fulfill that promise, but they do take it up again so it isn't a complete loss as this episode does heavily foreshadow the finale. On the other hand, Braga's insistence on the "Mother Janeway" aspect is itself disappointing. It's a cliched way to treat women and obviously more than a bit sexist as well in limiting them to narrow roles in ways that wouldn't be the same for men. It isn't that there couldn't be some of that element brought in, but the insistence on it as being so defining doesn't really work or make sense given what we've seen and will see from Janeway later on. I suspect Mulgrew didn't entirely take to it since she doesn't really play some of the scenes as the writing suggests in terms of emotions, something that also lends some weirdness to the episode. For the series to go this route after Taylor's more romanticized view of Janeway and the more practical one of the first couple seasons just shows how inconsistent they were with character growth and accumulation of meaning. There were simply too many different ideas of what Voyager and Janeway should be that kept battling for supremacy that they often lost track of what they actually did it seems.

The Hansens were another interesting premise that I liked quite a bit in the abstract but which didn't fit into the episode as well as it should have losing a lot of the good in making it secondary and not fully developing the ideas on their own. There is also something a bit problematic in linking them to Dian Fossey and seeing this kind of research as somehow accurate for treating other races/species that leaves me a bit troubled. That it was the Borg gives it some sense given their singular system, and that the show had previously shown aliens studying Voyager in much the same way and was critical of that lends them some credit for how we might see the Hansens, but there is still some lingering unease there for me too that comes from how the Hansen story is used as a secondary element without added clarity coming from a deeper look.

The Hansen's themselves were quite well handled I thought for what they had, both seeming to be concerned and loving parents up to the point where their work interfered. That was a nice touch that keeps them from seeming completely like fools or monsters, and the excitement of their work to them came across as well. Those two bringing their daughter along didn't strike me as really off given the portrayals since those kinds of people are out there and those sorts of things have and do happen. I didn't even mind them following the Borg to the Delta Quadrant since I can assume they'd figure they'd get back by following them into the slipstream again tracking them until they reached home, if they thought very deeply about it at all given their obsession with the research in the first place. I thought that was about as good an origin for Seven as one could hope for in many ways since they'd already established some elements that they couldn't easily change. I would have just liked to seen it fleshed out more and some of the more troubling aspects about how the show potentially seems to view either them and their methods or alien species and gorillas/wolves/animals better addressed.

The rest of the Borg queen angle made no sense at all to me for reasons y'all have already addressed. If the plan even was something dumb like to make Seven Borg princess in waiting for queendom it would have at least fit a little and could be stretched to make some thin sense, but taking her because she's somehow inexplicably unique and needed for some vague preoccupation with attacking Earth was utterly vacuous. I mean all of the episode surrounding Borg interest in Seven was pretty much worthless and didn't fit, but some of the writing within that void had some possibility and some of the drama that built from that as the central part of the show was good.

Borg cube holds 129,000 Borg, about the same population as New Haven Connecticut, planet Borg seek to assimilate has 374,000 people about the same population as Tampa. Are the planets in the Delta quadrant really small or do advanced societies stop breeding at some point?

Oh, and once again, taking the doctor on an away mission with Paris is dumb, taking him to the Borg when fitted with that fancy-schmancy 29th century tech they were so worried about the Borg getting previously? A crappy excuse to get Picardo more screentime. I'm sure there were other things that caught my attention, but I can't remember them at the moment.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:56 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


See, this is part of why this episode particularly bugs me: even with all the dumb stuff I thought of, and even though I was pretty much predisposed to pick this one apart, you folks have pointed out like three or four other head-smacking elements that just didn't occur to me (e.g. the mobile emitter *headsmack*).

"Dark Frontier" so intensely WANTS you to like it and be impressed by it; you feel pressure to acknowledge it, which reduces just how much you're able to think about it. (Like a McChicken?)

Now I'm almost wondering if this was the Point of No Return for me deciding, on my first watch, that VOY had disappointed me overall. At minimum, "Dark Frontier" saddles VOY with the Borg Queen as a recurring villain, which IIRC they were never really able to exploit for compelling drama in the way that they apparently thought they were.

Giving the Borg a Queen ruins them. This is more of a First Contact complaint, but since Dark Frontier is a direct ripoff, it applies.

I think I'm with gus on this one: it's not that it's an inherently bad idea, but definitely a risky one, and since FC had the same motivating spirit as "Dark Frontier" (butts in the seats and whiz-bang action, rather than being overly concerned with the integrity of the franchise), it's a gamble that they were setting themselves up to lose. Like, to put it another way: when I first saw FC, I was far from the pedantic Trekkie I am now, but I knew enough about the franchise to immediately express (to the friends I saw it with) the same criticism about the whole Borg concept having been altered, and likely weakened, by the Queen. Like hot_monster and mordax said, you don't have to be an expert to analyze it. (Not to derail, but I feel like Star Wars could be entering the same league now, thanks to the complexities that TFA introduced and the way TLJ gut-punchingly exploited and further complicated them.)

and the behind the scenes stuff is widely available now which gives us a lot of insight to why it took the shape it did.

Well…for now, in the case of VOY. Sometime in roughly the next season or so, Memory Alpha's background information mysteriously starts to diminish for this series. (But I'm confident we'll still have plenty of grist for the…beanplate.)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:56 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


This episode, I think, runs into the same problem that affects a lot of the series, where the writers keep feeling the need or simply have the interest in retilling the same soil over and over whenever they find some new take that seems more promising than what they've already done. We saw that last episode, where they rehashed the faux letters from home idea and hear it at different times regarding things like the amazing vanishing and returning interest in the Maquis. Here, they dig into an idea that might have worked, as a concept anyway, last season and dump it in the middle of this season when Seven's interest in returning to the Borg has already been seemingly settled. The "debate" over her return here then lacks any tension since there isn't really anything at stake as we already know where her loyalties lie, and while we would have never believed Seven would side with the Borg and/or Voyager would be destroyed, at least there could have been some play to the debate if it had been done sooner.

Since they are coming to it essentially out of order the way they found to make it seem relevant again then also becomes a serious problem. The Borg have been able to basically read Seven's mind this entire time and the best scenario they can concoct is in guessing Janeway will go after one of their damaged ships and bring Seven along to get a transwarp device at which time they'll allow the device to be taken in exchange for convincing Seven to stay, knowing that she wouldn't tell Janeway any of this ahead of time and that they then will be able to convince Seven, who's declared her loyalty to Voyager and developed relationships, to return to the collective. This, instead of simply sending a dozen cubes to engage with Voyager and asking Seven to return or capturing the ship since they always know where it is evidently, or putting this plan in motion before Seven goes native with team Voyager. Good plan. Can't see any flaws in it at all.

The debate itself is indeed stupid, just as the Data one was in First Contact, here though the vagueness of their interest in Seven just shows how little they seemed to care beyond assuming the audience would accept the idea Seven is super special because they keep devoting so many shows to her superborgyhumanism. Even little things stand out as obnoxious, like Seven's rejoinder to the queen who allowed Seven's "rescued" aliens to escape with "I thought compassion was irrelevant." Nice timing smart ass, maybe wait for the aliens to actually disappear before being petulant so the queen doesn't just say "It is" and blow the ship up or something. Pointless one upmanship for show to make Seven look tough in the dopeyist way possible.

The entire situation was completely implausible within the rules they themselves set, something that keeps coming up with the Borg given their excessive powers established at first meeting. That TNG set up is at the root of the problem with the Borg since it made them too powerful to be used effectively without serious redundancy, even as those Borg, as a concept, are much cooler. As far as I know, they've never been able to right the ship since then leading even TNG to screw them up after that initial encounter. That Braga focuses so much on wanting to beat TNG at its own game as well as continuing to tinker with past elements of Voyager that were dropped just seems to show he can't let go of the past and go forward with the hand he was dealt. He's got some real strengths as a writer, some of which are even on display in this episode, where there is some good, in concept, dialogue and a lot of different plot elements brought together in a way that brings a lot of different ideas to the story, giving it more weight than most of the writers could, except here its mostly in empty calories rather than something substantial, leaving the whole thing feeling a bit unhealthy in the end.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:26 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


It makes the conflict easier to dramatize and provide desires and interests to, so it's a crutch basically

'Crutch' is a good summation of my annoyance, haha. You're not wrong about why they did this.

The thing they could've done to placate me is make the Queen like Locutus - a speaker ('locutus' is literally Latin for 'speaker') instead of a ruler. Like, a special purpose drone for situations where diplomacy was required, instead of an actual ruler. Seven was, notably, also a figure like that, so the idea wasn't foreign to them.

That could've gotten them some talking without making the Borg so vulnerable. (It's my understanding that Ronald Moore actually wanted to kill off the entire race in First Contact, which... no. Just no.)

On the other hand, Braga's insistence on the "Mother Janeway" aspect is itself disappointing. It's a cliched way to treat women and obviously more than a bit sexist as well in limiting them to narrow roles in ways that wouldn't be the same for men

Yeah, this also keeps rubbing me the wrong way. Janeway isn't maternal, and there's nothing in her background that suggests she should be apart from gender. I would've bought a mentor/pupil relationship between them, but the show doesn't really sell that either (Janeway's explanations about humanity are written badly, even though she's mostly right when telling Seven about the appeal of humanity).

Borg cube holds 129,000 Borg, about the same population as New Haven Connecticut, planet Borg seek to assimilate has 374,000 people about the same population as Tampa. Are the planets in the Delta quadrant really small or do advanced societies stop breeding at some point?

Two possibilities come to mind:

1) These planets are often just colonies, which could conceivably be teeny-weeny in an advanced civilization due to automation/replicators/low birth rates. (Like, I was willing to give Rise a pass about the whole 5000 person mining colony because sure, maybe they're just mining.)

2) They suck at math. Given that they suck at distances, this seems likelier.

Oh, and once again, taking the doctor on an away mission with Paris is dumb, taking him to the Borg when fitted with that fancy-schmancy 29th century tech they were so worried about the Borg getting previously? A crappy excuse to get Picardo more screentime. I'm sure there were other things that caught my attention, but I can't remember them at the moment.

*two-handed facepalm*

Man, good catch.

Well…for now, in the case of VOY. Sometime in roughly the next season or so, Memory Alpha's background information mysteriously starts to diminish for this series. (But I'm confident we'll still have plenty of grist for the…beanplate.)

Yeah, you and Jack have mentioned that before, but I think we've heard enough to have a picture of how this worked - lots of frantic stuff, the one-upmanship with TNG that just got mentioned, etc. Like... even without further specifics, we've got detailed stuff on 5/7ths of the run, which is huge.

(Not to derail, but I feel like Star Wars could be entering the same league now, thanks to the complexities that TFA introduced and the way TLJ gut-punchingly exploited and further complicated them.)

I don't know that it'll ever fully catch up, but it's definitely moving in that direction. Personally, that's why I like the new stuff - my preference for Star Trek over Star Wars is rooted in which one is more nuanced and thoughtful. (Same when I was a kid.)
posted by mordax at 10:42 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


The thing they could've done to placate me is make the Queen like Locutus - a speaker ('locutus' is literally Latin for 'speaker') instead of a ruler. Like, a special purpose drone for situations where diplomacy was required, instead of an actual ruler. Seven was, notably, also a figure like that, so the idea wasn't foreign to them.

Yeah, that is a better choice, and I would have liked to see them move further away from the Borg as space zombies to something more involving too. My problem with the Borg as they were first shown is in how limited their responses are and how closely they match a zombie-like template.

Having an implacable and insatiable foe in Star Trek doesn't work that well since there are diminishing returns in repeated engagement. The main issue a zombie like opponent brings is fear of contamination and unexpected vulnerability to attack. That can be truly scary and effective in some circumstances, but the Trek franchise relies on there being some opportunity to reason and chance for change. The Borg as a immense horde or collective of interchangeable linked units makes them largely immune to the kinds of solutions Trek relies on since there is no concern for the individual and in the choice, once again, to make them emotionless there is little room for leverage in any discussion.

It seems to me that they were both too ambitious for their budgets and not ambitious enough with some of their ideas about the Borg, where they didn't allow room to really develop the idea of billions of interconnected minds enough by tamping them down from the beginning. The talk in this episode, for example, where the queen admonishes Seven for her emotions shouldn't be a Borg thing, first off because they go to that well way too much already, and more importantly because the Borg should be experiencing all emotions constantly and seeing all things simultaneously. That's something of a different nature than eliminating emotions. I would have liked to see less Borg magic on the "instant adaptation" side, which doesn't make a lot of sense given physical change takes time to enact no matter how many bodies one has on hand and a billion organic minds still shouldn't to be that much faster than computers able to create sentient beings.

Their strength should be in unanimity of action in a billion bodies and a mind that sees and understands things with a kind of collective vision that stretches form one end of the galaxy to the other simultaneously. In individual action against a small crew their advantages are more limited due to the constrained space and actions required for the interactions. 170,000 Borg aren't going to make turning a specific knob go any faster than one human if that one is in the right place and modulating shield harmonics and other sci-fi woo shouldn't go much faster for them than humans doing the same either given the limits of the info and physical adjustments needed. Many thousands of bodies acting in unison and complete harmony should be advantage enough, and threatening enough, that the added tech magic shouldn't have been so central to their story. Some of that is surely fine given how much knowledge they've assimilated, but the way they use it as instant immunity is less satisfying to me.

I guess I just don't see the Borg having been developed with a good long term since of clarity over who they are beyond the assimilation and desire for perfection things. That latter should have been the more telling concept for their culture, but the former that takes up so much space that the mindful side of the Borg gets lost a bit. More cult, less zombie would have been my choice I think.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:27 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I keep writing comments and abandoning them, which ends up being fine too because everyone else has said what I wanted to say but better. The Borg have been mishandled almost from the beginning and it's a shame. They were an idea that was too good to leave alone, so Trek kept going back to the well over and over again.

Like I said in an earlier discussion, the Borg are more interesting as the antithesis of the Rugged Individualist ideal than as robot zombies. They're a collective of minds in perfect sync, free of loneliness or doubt or fear. It's easy to see how that could appeal to people. If the Borg are really as great as they think they are, they should be able to assimilate the galaxy without lifting a finger.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:41 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


A lot of this really boils down to the difference (with many exceptions, of course) between TNG and DS9--the syndicated shows--and VOY and ENT, the UPN shows. TNG and DS9 largely were concerned with putting together good shows, adding to the continuity in a significant and meaningful way. VOY and ENT were usually grubbing after ratings, although that may have started to change in ENT's last season.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:13 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Their strength should be in unanimity of action in a billion bodies and a mind that sees and understands things with a kind of collective vision that stretches form one end of the galaxy to the other simultaneously.

I like that quite a bit.

Like I said in an earlier discussion, the Borg are more interesting as the antithesis of the Rugged Individualist ideal than as robot zombies. They're a collective of minds in perfect sync, free of loneliness or doubt or fear. It's easy to see how that could appeal to people. If the Borg are really as great as they think they are, they should be able to assimilate the galaxy without lifting a finger.

Yeah. Seven even lampshades that here, with the whole 'maybe you could get some volunteers' thing here. Borg-as-cult would be pretty awesome, plus work neatly with Seven's own issues with the Collective. (Plus, it fits with Unity.)

TNG and DS9 largely were concerned with putting together good shows, adding to the continuity in a significant and meaningful way. VOY and ENT were usually grubbing after ratings, although that may have started to change in ENT's last season.

Yeah. It's a shame, too - much as I complain about Voyager now, (and there's more where that came from), it's clearer to me in retrospect how much potential the show had, even at this late date.
posted by mordax at 2:07 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


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