Star Trek: Voyager: Unimatrix Zero, Part II   Rewatch 
May 21, 2018 6:49 AM - Season 7, Episode 1 - Subscribe

[Season premiere; part 2 of 2] Assimilated by the Borg, Janeway, Torres, and Tuvok plot to release a virus into the Borg Collective which will allow members of Unimatrix Zero to retain their individuality in the real world and resist the Borg Queen. Is resistance futile? Thus begins the last season...

Part I post here.

Memory Alpha is a warrior in the bedchamber as well as the battlefield, if you know what I mean and I think you do:

- Tuvok reveals the time and place of his birth in this episode: "Stardate 38774, Vulcanis Lunar colony." This would make him 113 years old. However, in "Fury" Janeway specifically stated in reference to Tuvok's age that it was "Not long until you hit the big three digits." Janeway may have been referring to his age in Vulcan years (which would have been 95 at the time).

"Assimilation turns us all into friends."

- Borg Queen, talking to a young boy within Unimatrix Zero

"Lieutenant. A first officer could get in a lot of trouble for talking to his captain that way."
"Well, I've learned from the best."

- Chakotay, as acting captain, and Paris, as acting first officer

"Whenever you mention his name, your pupils dilate by nearly a millimeter, blood flow increases to your facial capillaries. Both are consistent with an emotional response."
"Axum and I apparently had a relationship."
"Oh. Romantic? (Seven hesitates) There go those pupils again."
"Your diagnosis is accurate."

- The Doctor and Seven of Nine

"If I ever imply that it's been easy on you these last few years, remind me about today."

- Janeway, to Seven of Nine

Poster's Log:

I'll echo Cheeses from last episode: This show shuts off its brain whenever the Borg Queen shows up. The idiot ball is shared between Janeway and crew in thinking that allowing themselves to be assimilated and assuming that the "neural suppressant" would allow them to remain in full control of themselves and all of their critical strategic and tactical knowledge out of the reach of the Collective is a really good idea (whoopsie), and the Borg Queen, who... wow, where do I start? Not immediately concentrating on retrieving said knowledge from the three Starfleet officers upon assimilation, as was done with Picard; being seemingly uninterested in the process that allows physically assimilated drones to remain mentally independent; acting as if the only way to rid the Collective of Unimatrix Zero-positive drones were to destroy their entire ships. (Quick thought: have all the drones group together so that there are at least three drones in any individual space, and tell them to raise their arms; deactivate the ones who don't.) Plus, the idea that individual drones can take over entire cubes simply by virtue of regaining their individuality. None of this really makes any sense. And the shame is that the episode--as so many others in this series--could have been saved, or at least made within the boundaries of suspension of disbelief if you weren't too picky, by a few small changes: having the crew go in already "assimilated" with bits and pieces salvaged from Seven or replicated, have them fool the Queen and the Collective by running a programming "loop" of Borg code that would be the equivalent of fooling a CCTV system by splicing in a video loop that wouldn't show robbers breaking in, even having the eventual ex-UZ drones gaining control of their cubes by using a Trojan horse that Seven had devised using her experience as an ex-drone. Maybe even involve the Borg babies, who are missing even though they were in "The Haunting of Deck Twelve" and therefore presumably still aboard the ship, maybe even using Icheb's virus that's been modified so that Icheb himself wouldn't have to die. The basic premise didn't have to completely suck. As it is, I'm pretty much down with Bernd on this one.

There are some nice aspects to the episode. Tom and Chakotay acting out the XO raising objections scene that we've seen crop up in Trek so many times before; Tuvok being the one to become assimilated because, presumably, the logical Vulcan mind would be more susceptible to assimilation; even that scene with the kid meeting the Queen, who is so smoothly manipulative that I half-expected her to offer the kid all the Turkish delight that he could eat. And, as tiresome as Seven and Axum's romance was, the scene where UZ is breaking down around them reminded me of a hair metal ballad from KISS' makeup-less period. With a little more care and thought put into this episode, it could have made more sense and been a worthy addition to the canon.

Poster's Log, supplemental: As we're sliding into the last season, I'm going to repeat an offer that I made previously: if anyone wants to try their hand at guest-posting, I'm game for giving up one or more of my slots.
posted by Halloween Jack (18 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Based on cursory glancing around MA, it appears that Korok's big Borg rebellion is never revisited. MA suggests this two-parter is only mentioned again briefly during "Endgame," and I won't go into speculation about the consequences of this two-parter for the rest of canon, because (A) to do so would probably entail "Endgame" spoilers and (B) this two-parter makes precious little sense, as amply demonstrated by Jack and Bernd.

As we're sliding into the last season, I'm going to repeat an offer that I made previously: if anyone wants to try their hand at guest-posting, I'm game for giving up one or more of my slots.

VOY fatigue, eh? I know the feeling. But I have a message of hope to relay to the thread's readers and to Jack: I'm about halfway through season 7 right now, and it really is significantly better than season 6 IMO.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:04 AM on May 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


Honestly, season 7 is when Voyager finally figures out its own identity. Shame it happened so late.

It was sort of amusing to see the Vulcan's superiority finally get turned detrimental. They could have easily had the other crew members succumb to the Collective while Tuvok remained free because Vulcan, but they took a route opposite what they normally take.

I know the idea of a Borg queen isn't popular 'round these parts, but it never bothered me. Sure, a voiceless, faceless Collective where no individual matters is much scarier an enemy. Not to mention more unique. But I also understand how much more difficult it would be to write. Without the Queen we would have fewer Borg episodes, and I think that would be a sum negative. (And can you possibly imagine Hollywood green-lighting First Contact with a completely faceless enemy?)

All that said, I've had this completely non-canon, not-at-all-rooted-in-facts theory for a long time now that the Borg created the Queen because they were defeated by humans. The Borg had never really suffered defeat before, and they could not understand how the humans beat them. They couldn't simply assimilate that knowledge, so they decided to create an Individual within the Collective. (If this happened, it could possibly represent the first original idea the Borg ever had.) This all came to a head when the humans made a huge effort to save One Individual when they rescued Locutus. Whether by design or by flaw this Individual became the Queen and asserted a sort of dominance over the Borg. However, I don't believe the Queen is a true Individual. She is still connected to the Collective, of course, but even more so, I think she can be "created" at will wherever she is needed. This is why we repeatedly see her being assembled in First Contact and in multiple Voyager episodes. So she is not one Individual, but a Concept of Individuality.

This goes a long way toward explaining why the behaviour of the Borg changes so drastically throughout the franchise. They are having either a Renaissance period, or a mid-life crisis, depending on how you look at it. They suffered defeat at the hands of their greatest enemy, Individualism, so they are studying it in-depth. We see this taken further at various times with Seven, and with the Queen's intent focus on her. And at this point, we could also ponder whether Unimatrix Zero began as a Borg experiment to study Individualism that then got out of control and spread throughout the Collective.
posted by 2ht at 7:32 AM on May 21, 2018 [7 favorites]


The idea of the Borg making deeper structural changes because they've been defeated by the Federation, more than once, makes a lot of sense, and is absolutely the way that it should have been sold to the fandom. One of the ways that this could have been used in this two-parter is to have the stories that the Queen tells the kid turn out to be lies, although maybe not consciously untrue, in an I'm-whatever-or-whoever-I-need-to-be kind of way.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:03 AM on May 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


2ht, I like that theory at least as much as the widespread but also very non-canon theory that the machine planet that created V'Ger was a/the Borg homeworld. The two theories can even work together!: if V'Ger, upon reaching Earth space, was still connected to the hive mind (which seems plausible based on my memory of ST:TMP), then the Collective would've become aware of V'Ger's evolution (into whatever it is that it evolved into) and its likely disconnection from the hive mind. This may have put humanity on the Borg's "radar" for the first time (pre-First Contact's temporal-shenanigans) and may even account for their first incursions into humanity's neighborhood.

All because of a lousy chunk of space garbage.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 9:19 AM on May 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


Particle of the Week: No strong contenders this week.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: The main challenge of fighting the Borg in space in Star Trek Online is their shield drain - it's nigh impossible to maintain shields against them no matter what abilities or equipment are slotted.

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: -17. Three more shots here. Not sure I caught them all in the first part, but I suppose my point's been made either way.
* Crew: 140.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 14.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful, 2 games of chicken, 1 ramming speed.

Notes:
* Addressing this:

Without the Queen we would have fewer Borg episodes, and I think that would be a sum negative. (And can you possibly imagine Hollywood green-lighting First Contact with a completely faceless enemy?)

I strongly disagree with all of this, but to be clear: in a friendly way. :)

The Best of Both Worlds is one of the most popular episodes of Star Trek ever made, and it presented them without the Queen.
TV Guide ranked this as the eighth best Star Trek episode for their celebration of the franchise's 30th anniversary. (TV Guide August 24, 1996)
Entertainment Weekly ranked this episode (combined with Part II) #2 on their list of "The Top 10 Episodes" to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation. [4]
TV Guide ranked this as the eighth best Star Trek episode for their celebration of the franchise's 30th anniversary. (TV Guide August 24, 1996)
Entertainment Weekly ranked this episode (combined with Part II) #2 on their list of "The Top 10 Episodes" to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation. [4]
Per Memory Alpha. I can totally imagine a better movie than First Contact getting greenlit on the strength of 'this is the most iconic story in TNG.'

It's also noteworthy that the Borg Queen only appears in 3 stories in the entire franchise: First Contact, Dark Frontier and Unimatrix Zero. Susannah Thompson has all of 4 credits for Voyager.

For reference, Memory Alpha lists 32 episodes involving at least mention of the Borg. Not all of them are full blown outings, (stuff like the skeleton in Blood Fever, or flashbacks in Emissary count), but still, this is pretty thin.

So no, this argument doesn't hold much water. But again: not meaning to be fighty, just... when I complain about this, I've considered all of what you said too, and it doesn't really scan. This was a dumb idea that even Voyager mostly didn't stick to.

This is why we repeatedly see her being assembled in First Contact and in multiple Voyager episodes. So she is not one Individual, but a Concept of Individuality.

The crazy part about this is: in TBoBW, Picard's assimilation is presented as 'the Borg want one liaison to address a civilization they're conquering.' Locutus is literally Latin for 'speaker.' So the Borg designating one drone to talk was actually a thing almost from the get-go, and it was fine. The dumb part is making her an actual ruler, which she clearly is.

I would've stuck with 'they like having a liaison.' Notably, Scorpion does that too: that was Seven's job in that story, and it was also just fine.

So yeah... they didn't need to make any big structural change, they didn't even need to introduce a Queen to add a personal element of confrontation to these stories since that happened in two of their better Borg outings without.

I do appreciate your ruminations on the matter though: for what it's worth, I think you've thought about this more than the people who wrote the script for Unimatrix Zero.

* Blergh, this episode.

Viruses are released in cyberspace now? The Queen thinks killing Borg will dissuade Janeway?

This episode feels like a Kirk vs. android logical attack meant to make my head asplode.

* Stray nitpick.

So, we have another survivor of Wolf 359 in part one.

How's that supposed to work? The cube that attacked the Federation there was destroyed with all hands. Do the Borg have galactic range transporters? If so, it's weird the Queen doesn't kidnap Janeway with one here.

Anyway... yeah. Dumb episode is dumb.
posted by mordax at 10:32 AM on May 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


Oops, fridge logic: my citation is wrong because it's missing Endgame. Four stories in the entire franchise. Pardon, rough morning on unrelated grounds.
posted by mordax at 10:41 AM on May 21, 2018


Do the Borg have galactic range transporters?

No, because Scotty didn't invent them in this timeline :-)
posted by 2ht at 10:55 AM on May 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


The mostly canonical reason for the borg queen in the destiny novels that sort of wrap up the borg threat over three very good books is really really good. SO If you want a good read get the three Star Trek: Destiny books!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:00 AM on May 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


One of my favorite nit-picks is human life expectancy in far-future sci-fi. Tuvok is 113, but if human life expectancy continues to increase like it has, Janeway could easily be 150. I get that ELE's could hand wave it away, but I think that this far into the prosperous history of the Federation, human life expectancy should be significantly higher than it is now.
posted by Brocktoon at 11:41 AM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


There's no particular reason to believe that human lifespans would increase indefinitely; Wikipedia says that "A theoretical study suggested the maximum human lifespan to be around 125 years using a modified stretched exponential function for human survival curves." The oldest non-modified human in Trek (remember that genetic engineering is forbidden in the Federation except to correct severe birth defects) that we've seen AFAIK is Leonard McCoy, who is 137 in "Encounter at Farpoint." Flint (from "Requiem for Methuselah") was around 6000 years old, but also a mutant who started to age when he left Earth.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:16 PM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


From your link:

"No fixed theoretical limit to human longevity is apparent today."
posted by Brocktoon at 2:10 PM on May 21, 2018


But that's a very general statement and doesn't exclude genetic intervention.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:24 PM on May 21, 2018


Tuvok is also not especially old at 113. Sarek died due to complications of Bendii Syndrome at 203 and it's implied he could've lived longer, but other sources indicate 200 is somewhere between the average and the maximum. Perhaps it's common for humans to live to 125 in Star Trek's future, but I have to imagine working with someone 113 years old is still pretty uncommon.

I can't imagine a Star Trek where a human could be 150 years old and still look as young as Janeway does without the sort of transhumanist shenanigans that the Federation would never embrace.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 2:52 PM on May 21, 2018


if V'Ger, upon reaching Earth space, was still connected to the hive mind

I don't think it could have been. V'Ger seemed very much like a lost individual, without any hive mind to call on. It was also searching for the "creator," and the Borg wouldn't see humans that way. I have always liked the idea of Voyager Six being "upgraded" by the Borg though.

I'm of two minds about the Borg Queen. I like her as a villain and I can see how the writers felt the Borg had to evolve. Maybe they just hit a wall where they couldn't come up with good stories without an actual villain to talk to. But there was something so creepy about the Borg as these mindless antagonists. They were like space zombies, and maybe the writers should have explored that aspect more. After all, people never run out of zombie stories!

As for the response to this episode, it's one of those moments when I'm glad I made my resolution to stay out of arguments in these threads. It'd be no fun to be the one person defending this show over and over.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:20 PM on May 21, 2018 [5 favorites]


But there was something so creepy about the Borg as these mindless antagonists. They were like space zombies, and maybe the writers should have explored that aspect more.

This is all true. The other thematic thing that's lost with a Queen: the Borg are a dark mirror of the Federation. The Federation's ideal is to seek the betterment of everyone by coming together and working as friends.

The Borg are the forced, body horror version of the same ideals, much like the Dominion are the fascist version.

Making them autocratic loses some of the symbolic punch they have. (The 'speaker' idea embodied by Locutus and Seven of Nine worked much better for that.)
posted by mordax at 6:00 PM on May 21, 2018 [5 favorites]


I feel weird criticizing this one.

The effects looked really good. The atmosphere was well done. Characterizations were decent. (I liked the conversation between Chakotay and Paris mentioned upthread.) The story hung together quite well. I can totally buy the Queen being the narrative tool the writers need to get these stories across and don't begrudge them for it. The scenes between Seven and the Doctor also worked for me. Picardo is so good at subtly, wordlessly conveying his feelings. Plus, Wolf 359 continuity! These two episodes had a lot of elements that I liked. Taken on those merits, the two episodes work! Heck, if I caught them randomly on tv one night, I know I'd enjoy watching them.

But as part of the series.... *sigh*.

"You can't outrun them. You can't destroy them. If you damage them, the essence of what they are remains. They regenerate and keep coming. Eventually you will weaken, your reserves will be gone. They are relentless." - Q, "Q Who?", TNG

I watched that episode when it aired and those lines sent chills down my spine. Because you knew the crew of the Enterprise was screwed.

In this episode, the crew of Voyager voluntarily gets themselves assimilated to take down the Borg. This does not come across as a badass move, although that's what's intended. Instead, we come away thinking that the writers have nerfed the Borg. And so they have. Maybe this is an unwritten law of scifi. Familiarity breeds contempt and a weakening of villains. Darth Vader. Cylons. Species 8472. The Borg.

Remember Species 8472? At the end of Season 3, we met them and the Borg and man, oh man, they were terrifying. That scene where Voyager is being buffeted by Borg cubes? A Species 8472 blasting a Borg cube to bits. Voyager: a tiny ship, massive threats. And you can't help but think, "They're screwed." Remember TNG? A single(!) Borg cube wiped out a huge number of Starfleet vessels in one battle. First Contact: Same. ("Perhaps today is a good day to die! Prepare for ramming speed!")

"We've made too many compromises already, too many retreats. They invade our space, and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds, and we fall back. Not again! The line must be drawn here! This far, no further!" - Picard, First Contact

Welp. Now at the end of Season 6, Species 8472 ("The Weak Will Perish") are no longer a threat. They've turned into Boothby and dancing at Pon Farr night at the local nightclub. (I'm never, ever getting over that line.) The Borg are clearly headed in the same direction.

It's frustrating. It also feels like the writers went to the well once too often.

I enjoyed these episodes. But they felt like a turning point for the Borg that I did not like at all.
posted by zarq at 1:59 PM on May 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


Maybe this is an unwritten law of scifi. Familiarity breeds contempt and a weakening of villains.

I don't think it absolutely has to, at least not the mechanism we're seeing here.

It's true that most stories of this nature require finding a villain's weaknesses and exploiting them, rendering some person or force who appears to be a juggernaut into something more manageable. The thing is, the manner in which it occurs matters.

One way is: the protagonists do the work. This is basically how the Dominion story arc worked over on DS9 - the Dominion began as an unstoppable force, able to effortlessly blow through Alpha Quadrant shield tech, with overwhelming numbers and so on. We watched our heroes learn their weaknesses, adjust tactics and otherwise earn their victory over the course of the Dominion War. Some stuff occurred offscreen, but plausibly.

By the time they beat the Dominion, it felt earned even though the Dominion remained a technologically superior power with greater numbers. We got to see victory occur step-by-step.

The other way is Villain Decay - once powerful villains lose their advantages until they're manageable because authors feel painted into a corner. It's cheating.

The Borg started as a 'show your work' problem. In all TNG show episodes, we see innovative solutions to them: they get hacked in The Best of Both Worlds. Hugh's individuality poisons a cube in Descent. It's all stuff that is thematically appropriate.

First Contact starts to cheat, and Voyager eventually does. Early Voyager entries feature old school, invulnerable Borg (Scorpion and Unity are particularly fun stories). Then they just... start cheating.

Nothing about the rot in Unimatrix Zero was inevitable or justified. It was folks cutting corners.
posted by mordax at 4:08 PM on May 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


Perhaps encountering Species 8472 helped destabilize things a bit; something that challenged them and forced a major change in philosophy and doctrine by accepting diplomacy. Also my memory may be fuzzy, but I want to say that Voyager encountered Collective "separatists" well before the discovery of Unimatrix Zero. I think there was plenty of fuel in place to ensure their defeat, but unfortunately a TV show doesn't have a Fall of Rome amount of time to address it. A large block of fans also weren't terribly thrilled by the depth of the Dominion War (I loved it), so maybe they felt pressure to close The Borg chapter more quickly. I can't say I was ever a huge fan of The Borg as an enemy; too many absolutes. The Dominion were fantastic!
posted by Brocktoon at 9:47 PM on May 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


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