Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives

  • Awards & Nominations

Star Trek: Voyager – The Gift (Review)

The Gift belongs to a very particular subgenre of Star Trek episodes.

It is an episode that fits comfortably alongside the other second stories of the other fourth seasons, alongside Family on Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Visitor on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Home on Star Trek: Enterprise. It is a relatively quiet and contemplative piece, more rooted in character than plot. In fact, very little of note happens during the episode, even as it is positioned at an important point in the larger run of Star Trek: Voyager following Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II.

Things come to a head.

Things come to a head.

As with FamilyThe Visitor and HomeThe Gift is a breather episode following a more epic adventure. As with Family and Home, The Gift is explicitly about working through the consequences of earlier episodes. Family allowed Jean-Luc Picard to work through the trauma of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and The Best of Both Worlds, Part II, while Home provided an opportunity for Jonathan Archer to make sense of everything that happened between The Expanse and Zero Hour. (Let’s not worry too much about Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II.)

The Gift is an episode of contrasts, driven by the demands of the series rather than its own distinct plot. It is very heavily serialised, playing almost as the third part of Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II; much like Family played as the third part of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and The Best of Both Worlds, Part II. However, there is something very cynical in the use of serialisation in The Gift, as the episode rather transparently exists to transition away from where the show was at the end of Scorpion, Part II towards a more sustainable status quo.

Kes of death to an established character.

Kes of death to an established character.

The Gift is also a tale of arrivals and departures. It is an episode about introducing Seven of Nine to the cast of Voyager, establishing her character arc and setting up her journey across the rest of the series building on her separation from the Borg Collective in Scorpion, Part II. At the same time, it is an episode about the departure of Jennifer Lien from Voyager, bidding farewell to Kes as a result of her exposure to “Fluidic Space” in Scorpion, Part II. There is something quite poetic in that set-up.

However, The Gift is just as much an episode of extremes in terms of quality. The story focusing on Janeway and Seven of Nine is rivetting and compelling, but the thread focusing on Kes plays almost as an afterthought. More than that, the episode’s final act plays as a gigantic cop out, another example of Voyager retreating from some of the bolder ideas in its core concept. The result is a curate’s egg of an episode, a reminder of Voyager‘s discarded potential.

Breakout character.

Breakout character.

The Gift is not so much a gift as a swap. Voyager is swapping actor Jennifer Lien for Jeri Ryan, trading the character of Kes for Seven of Nine. The character of Seven of Nine was added to shore up the ratings, which were very much in decline. The audience for Star Trek had been steadily decreasing since the end of The Next Generation, and it had reached the point where the production team were beginning to notice. After all, this was the decline that would eventually lead to the cancellation of Enterprise in its fourth year.

The addition of Jeri Ryan to Voyager was not the first attempt to boost ratings with a shake-up of the primary cast. Michael Dorn had joined the cast of Deep Space Nine in its fourth season, reprising the role of Worf from The Next Generation. However, it should be noted that Deep Space Nine was in the position to retain all of its existing cast members. Unfortunately, Voyager lacked that comfort. One of the existing regulars had to leave to make room for the new cast member. It was decided that Kes should be that crew member.

Lien on me, when you're not strong...

Lien on me, when you’re not strong…

This was an emotional experience for all involved, particularly since it was clear that Lien was making room for a cast member who would be receiving considerable focus and media attention. Kate Mulgrew confessed to being quite emotional shooting her farewell scene with Kes:

The farewell scene was very real. It was my farewell from Jennifer Lien, it was a really hard day. It was hard – for myself as much as for the others – to say good-bye to her. The circumstances were – as you might imagine – very disturbing. What you saw in that scene was something that really touched me.

The details of Jeri Ryan’s arrival and Jennifer Lien’s departure are still subject to rumour and speculation, with the production team never discussing exactly how or why the decision was made. There are rumours that Garrett Wang was originally considered for replacement, while Jennifer Lien has had a hard life after her time on Voyager.

"You know, you think I would have learned from Cold Fire, but apparently not."

“You know, you think I would have learned from Cold Fire, but apparently not.”

Whatever the logic behind the decision, Kes’ departure feels very rushed. Theoretically, it is Kes that gives the episode its title. As Kes leaves the ship on board one of the seemingly infinite number of shuttlecraft, she offers the crew of Voyager one last “gift.” Using her powers, she pushes the ship and its crew “nine-point-five thousand light years” and “ten years closer to home”, as well as “safely beyond Borg space.” However, this important contribution to the structure of the episode, Kes’ departure is very much a subplot rather than than the primary plot.

It does not help that the character’s transformation is particularly abrupt, relying on the sort of sixties counterculture psychedelia that has been consciously sidelined since Cold Fire in the middle of the second season. (In fact, The Gift even returns to the visual motif of Kes trying to control fire as an expression of her power.) The character’s departure has not been foreshadowed or set up, coming out of nowhere in terms of her larger arc. Then again, the Star Trek franchise was never particularly good at bidding farewell to regulars; look at Skin of Evil or Tears of the Prophets.

Fire starter.

Fire starter.

The idea of having Kes evolve to higher plane of existence did not come from within the Voyager writing staff. It was developed by freelance writer Bryan Fuller, fresh from pitching the stories to The Darkness and the Light and Empok Nor to the fifth season of Deep Space Nine. Fuller’s original pitch had a more horrific bent to it:

My first assignment was to pitch ideas for Kes leaving the ship. Evolving into a higher lifeform was just one of the ideas. It was pretty much a group effort, as it was with a lot of the stuff for [Voyager]. One idea was somewhere between [The Gift] and [Fury]. Then, Kes was going through “Ocampan menopause” and became like Firestarter [by Stephen King], and they had to get her off the ship to save themselves.

Fuller had hoped that he might earn his first teleplay credit for The Gift. Unfortunately, the episode was pushed up in the production schedule and so the script was handed to veteran Star Trek writer Joe Menosky. Still, Fuller would get his chance to write for Star Trek with The Raven, relatively soon.

Kes disappears into thin air.

Kes disappears into thin air.

In theory, The Gift hinges on continuity from Scorpion, Part II. It is suggested that Kes’ contact with Species 8472 has effectively jump-started some long-buried evolutionary imperative. “It’s the telepathic centres of your brain,” the EMH reports. “They’re in a state of hyperstimulation like they were a few days ago when you were in contact with Species 8472.” In theory, this is a good thing. After all, Voyager would do well to become more serialised, to accept that actions have consequences and events are never entirely self-contained.

However, in the context of The Gift, this feels like a transparent cop-out. The connection between Kes’ ascension and Species 8472 is a convenient handwave for a story that cannot be bothered explaining why Kes is suddenly evolving to a higher state of consciousness at this exact instinct. It is the worst impulse of serialisation, the casual dismissal of narrative cause by a loose reference to continuity. In some ways, it recalls the awkward plot-driven continuity that Voyager employed in its second season, in episodes like Investigations.

Kes and tell.

Kes and tell.

The Gift features a number of short scenes in which Kes bids farewell to various characters. However, these are often rushed and insubstantial. Neelix and Kes finally acknowledge their break-up from Warlord, another nod to Voyager‘s somewhat lackadaisical approach to character development. Tuvok does some meditating with Kes. Janeway has an important and emotional conversation. However, that is really the extent of it. Kes asks to spend time with the EMH because she has “misses” him, but the episode never bothers to show any discussion.

The result is that Kes’ departure feels like something that only affects a handful of the crew, and only fleetingly. Before and After suggested that Kes would marry Tom Paris and have a child with him. Although the future can obviously never come to pass, Kes clearly remembers it. However, she does not have any meaningful interaction with him over the course of the episode. Harry Kim and B’Elanna Torres barely seem to notice that she is gone, which is rather disconcerting.

Lighten up.

Lighten up.

At least Tasha Yar got a memorial service and the occasional acknowledgement. Jadzia Dax cast a shadow over the final season of Deep Space Nine. However, Kes is just gone. Some of the cast were understandably frustrated by this. As Tim Russ confessed in Star Trek: Voyager Magazine:

The scene in The Gift, where you see Tuvok reacting to Kes [Jennifer Lien] having left the ship wasn’t perhaps a defining moment, but it was important. I didn’t have as much to do in that episode as I thought I might. Her departure ended up being very abrupt.

In fact, the episode’s closing scene of Tuvok lighting a candle to mark Kes’ departure feels very much like something tagged on to the very end at the last minute. As far as the structure of the final act is concerned, the episode already had its closing shot of Voyager flying through the cosmos following Janeway’s last conversation with Seven of Nine.

Keeping the audience in the dark.

Keeping the audience in the dark.

It does not help matters that The Gift falls back on stock techno-babble and pseudo-science when it comes to explaining Kes’ departure. Kes’ transformation seems tied to her discovery of something “beyond the subatomic.” Once her change manifests, Janeway orders Tuvok to “enhance the structural integrity fields throughout the ship” and suggests that the EMH investigate “particle physics” for possible causes or solutions. The EMH responds, “I’ll try looking through the quantum substructure database.” This is not compelling drama or an exciting farewell.

The departure of Kes is a damp squib, which is a shame. The arrival of Seven of Nine is much more intriguing. Technically, Seven of Nine was introduced in Scorpion, Part II, but she spent most of that episode acting as a representative of the Borg Collective. As a result, The Gift is the first episode of Voyager that gives a sense of what Seven of Nine will actually be like as a character on a week-to-week basis. The result is electrifying. For all the problems that Seven of Nine generated on Voyager, she was a bolt of energy to the series.

Taking his (Nee)lix...

Taking his (Nee)lix…

A lot of this is down to Jeri Ryan. The production team get extraordinarily lucky when it came to casting. Even from her performance in The Gift, Ryan is easily one of the strongest performers in the ensemble. There is a wonderful pathos to the character as introduced in these episodes, the sense of a woman coming to terms with a horrific trauma because she has been torn away from the only life that she ever knew. Ryan conveys a lot in through her delivery, even wearing all of that heavy Borg make-up and costume.

Ryan also had tremendous chemistry with her primary co-stars. Following the introduction of Seven of Nine, Voyager came to focus primarily upon three core characters: Janeway, Seven of Nine and the EMH. Seven of Nine is very much the nexus of this relationship, with Jeri Ryan playing very well against both Kate Mulgrew and Robert Picardo. Although Ryan does not get much interaction with Picardo in The Gift, she does get the chance to square off against Mulgrew. Sparks fly in their scenes together.

Seven's heaven?

Seven’s heaven?

That said, the production team did struggle to define Seven of Nine in her early appearances. In an interview with Cinefantastique, writer Joe Menosky explained the difficulty of pitching the character’s arc at the right level:

… we had to think about where she came from, because she came from the Borg. Was she, for example, a drug addict, and is that what that is when you separate yourself from the collective mind? Is it like a junkie going through cold turkey? Or is she an ex-cult member? Are the scenes between her and Janeway in The Gift equivalent to a de-programmer trying to de-program someone who has been a member of an all encompassing cult-like family? That stood in for the Borg and the Borg Collective. Both of those images are negative. You’d have a main character, who in the back of your mind you’re thinking, she’s an ex-drug addict, an ex-cult member. We were really thinking about that, and we came up with the idea of the wild child, the wolf child, the little girl who was raised by wolves in a forest and is finally reclaimed by humanity. She always was human, but for a formative period of her life she was also a wolf.

The Gift explicit acknowledges this idea of Seven as a child raised by wolves. When Chakotay points out how difficult it will be to bring her back to humanity, Janeway responds, “What’s the alternative? Toss her back to the wolves?”

Borg to be wild...

Borg to be wild…

However, The Gift also plays with the idea of Seven of Nine as an addict or as a cult member. She is a character who feels an undeniable pull back towards her old life in the Borg Collective, regardless of how toxic or horrifying that life might have been. At one point, Seven tries to hijack the subspace transmitter and send a distress call to the Borg. Janeway is justifiably outraged at how Seven betrayed the trust that was placed in her. Seven acknowledges that it was an impulsive and distinctive decision.

“I honestly believed you were going to help us,” Janeway confesses. Seven acknowledges, almost tenderly, “You were not deceived, Captain Janeway. It was my intention to help you.” At this concession, Janeway presses, “What happened?” Seven explains, “There was a chance to contact the Collective. I took advantage of it.” She is an addict falling back into dangerous patterns of behaviour, unable to resist the siren call of familiarity and comfort. It is a compelling character hook, this idea that Seven of Nine might not be ready to leave, physically or psychologically.

"Onions have layers. Borg drones have layers... You get it? We both have layers."

“Onions have layers. Borg drones have layers… You get it? We both have layers.”

This suggests an interesting tension to the dynamic between Janeway and Seven. Can Janeway ever trust Seven? Will Seven betray Janeway to get back home? In some ways, this recalls the conflict teased between the Starfleet and Maquis crews in Caretaker, a tentative and necessary alliance that might possibly build to a lasting friendship. However, as with the relationship between the Starfleet and Maquis crews, Voyager drops the ball on this angle of the relationship between Janeway and Seven.

Despite all the tension between Janeway and Seven in The Gift, Seven is ultimately domesticated far too easily. In the final scene of the episode, Janeway reflects, “Let’s see how things go over the next few weeks. I’ll consider granting you access to the rest of the ship once that I can trust that you won’t try to get us all assimilated again.” Seven immediately promises, “It will not happen again.” It all seems rather pat, as if Seven has travelled a full character arc in the space of a single episode. It took Kira longer to trust Sisko on Deep Space Nine.

Janeway and Seven will never see eye-to-eye.

Janeway and Seven will never see eye-to-eye.

There are moments in the fourth season when the writing staff realise that they have pushed the character of Seven too far and too fast. Prey is an episode that hinges upon the character’s ambiguity and her willingness to push back against Janeway for her own emotional satisfaction. There are even faint traces of it to be found in her paranoia and insecurity in Hope and Fear. However, Seven is humanised so quickly that there is no tension when the Borg Queen offers to assimilate her back into the Borg Collective in Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II.

There are valid comparisons to be made to Deep Space Nine, most notably to its own outsider character. In many ways, Odo provides an interesting contrast to Seven of Nine. Like Seven of Nine, he belongs to a race with a minimal concept of individual identity. Like Seven of Nine, he is drawn to be reunited with them. However, while Voyager never takes Seven’s desire to reintegrate with the Borg Collective seriously after The Gift, Odo’s desire to reunite with the Founders leads to betrayal in Behind the Lines and his departure in What You Leave Behind.

She's got her humanity locked down.

She’s got her humanity locked down.

However, for all that Voyager tends to shy away from the darker implications of Seven of Nine, there are a lot of clever ideas in The Gift. Most obviously, there is the recurring question of consent and moral authority. Is Janeway right to want to separate Seven of Nine from the Borg Collective? Is she justified in imposing her will upon the rescued Borg drone? Can she decide that a stranger effectively has to become human? These are bold and challenging questions that immediately distinguish Seven’s journey from that of Data or Spock.

Of course, the debate between Janeway and Seven is rather weighted. It is not simply a retread of Suddenly Human, with Janeway navigating cultural relativism as she rescues a child who grew up in an alien culture. This is not a debate about opposing cultural forces, as in In the Hands of the Prophets. The Borg Collective are unambiguously monstrous, to the point that Scorpion, Part I labelled them as both “pure evil” and “the devil.” The Borg are not the Klingons or the Cardassians or the Ferengi. There is no way to really justify their cultural norms.

Pulling it back together.

Pulling it back together.

The Gift makes several very faint nods towards acknowledging the Borg Collective as an experience that an individual might embrace. Seven of Nine repeatedly describes her memories in terms outside the crew’s frame of reference. She tells Kim about “a transmaterial energy plane intersecting twenty two billion omnicordial lifeforms.” Trying to describe the link to Janeway, she explains, “You are an individual. You are small. You cannot understand what it is to be Borg.” There is a sense that the Borg operate at a level beyond human comprehension.

Of course, none of this changes the fact that the Borg are still a dangerous and predatory race. They do not incorporate alien species into their shared consciousness through negotiation and consent, they expand their influence using assimilation and invasion. Seven of Nine might long for the comforts of the hive mind, but Annika Hansen never asked to be connected in the first place. No matter how satisfying that experience might be, it is still rooted in that original crime.

Don't force the issue...

Don’t force the issue…

As a result, t is hard to argue that Janeway is being unreasonable in her refusal to surrender Seven of Nine back to the Borg, an alien race responsible for untold suffering that is completely uncompromising in its efforts to enslave the wider cosmos. This is an issue that The Next Generation ran into with I, Borg, when it tried to make a compelling argument against the use of a weapon of mass destruction and in favour of the continuing existence of the Borg. It would be very hard to justify returning Seven of Nine to her former captors.

However, The Gift does an excellent job of generating ambiguity around Janeway’s relationship to Seven of Nine. After all, while surrendering Seven of Nine to the Borg would be unconscionable, Janeway is effectively imposing her own will upon the former drone. Early on in the episode, the EMH brings up the subject of surgical consent. He needs to remove the implants from Seven before she dies, but she would refuse the treatment. So the question becomes whether Janeway can force her consent.

Fractured psyche.

Fractured psyche.

“This is no ordinary patient,” Janeway tells the EMH. “She may have been raised by Borg, raised to think like a Borg, but she’s with us now. And underneath all that technology she is a human being, whether she’s ready to accept that or not. And until she is ready, someone has to make the decisions for her. Proceed with the surgery.” This is an extension of Janeway’s characterisation in Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II. She is a character far more convinced of her moral authority than Picard. Janeway unflinching believes that she knows what is best.

Repeatedly over the course of the episode, the question of moral equivalence is broached. Is Janeway’s desire to turn Seven of Nine into a human any different than the Borg’s desire to turn her into a drone? Seven makes this accusation at several points. When Janeway locks Seven in the brig, Seven promises, “Your attempt to assimilated this drone will fail.” More explicitly, Seven insists, “You are no different than the Borg.”

Janeway outta line.

Janeway outta line.

This is a very pointed accusation, but The Gift reinforces it. These are not just low blows from a passive-aggressive recovering junkie. Janeway even appropriates several verbal cues from the Borg in trying to coax Seven of Nine to embrace her humanity. “You must comply,” Janeway informs the former drone. When Seven of Nine explicitly states that she doesn’t want to reclaim her lost humanity, Janeway does not accept her answer. “It’s what you are. Don’t resist it.” She stops just short of suggesting that resistance would be futile.

This is an interesting approach, if only because it taps into one of the long-standing metaphorical elements of the Borg Collective. It is tempting to read the Borg as a metaphor for socialism or communism, a twisted mirror of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; Descent, Part I, Descent, Part II and Unity touched upon the idea of that collapse into the early nineties. However, they also serve as a distorted reflection of the Federation as suggested by The Next Generation; a rapidly-expanding force hoping to incorporate alien cultures into a greater whole.

Fed up.

Fed up.

There is a sense of that in Janeway’s conversations with Seven of Nine. Locked in the brig, Seven contemplates how far Janeway is willing to permit her self-determination. Wondering what might happen when Janeway is satisfied that she can make her own decisions, Seven inquires, “If at that time we choose to return to the Collective, will you permit it?” Janeway tries to dodge the question, “I don’t think you’ll want to do that.” It is not an clear answer, contrasting the unambiguous response that Janeway offers Kes when she suggests leaving the ship.

Seven of Nine quite justifiably points out the logical gap in Janeway’s argument: Seven of Nine is free to choose, only so long as she makes the choices that Kathryn Janeway deems acceptable. “You would deny us the choice as you deny us now,” Seven states. Janeway does not disagree. “You have imprisoned us in the name of humanity, yet you will not grant us your most cherished human right. To choose our own fate. You are hypocritical, manipulative. We do not want to be what you are.” In these scenes, it is hard not feel a measure of Seven, despite knowing what the Borg have done to her.

"I assimilated his liver with some fava beans..."

“I assimilated his liver with some fava beans…”

The Gift really demonstrates the potential of the relationship between Janeway and Seven as a window to explore the assumptions that Star Trek takes for granted. The discussions between Seven and Janeway in The Gift even echoes Michael Eddington’s taunt to Benjamin Sisko at the end of For the Cause, underscoring those uncomfortable deep-seated similarities between the Federation and the Borg Collective. This is Voyager almost living up to the promise of Caretaker, offering contrasting and compelling perspectives and trying to mediate between them.

It likely helps the tension between Janeway and Seven that there was similar tension behind the scenes. The addition of Jeri Ryan to the cast, particularly at the expense of Jennifer Lien, was controversial at the time. Fandom was understandably anxious about the casting and costuming of Jeri Ryan, but there were also anxieties on the set itself. Not all of the actors welcomed the addition with open arms. In fact, Kate Mulgrew was quite pointedly opposed to the show’s new character in principle.

Left to her own devices.

Left to her own devices.

Mulgrew saw Seven of Nine as an encroachment upon the feminist potential of Voyager, a rather blatant and awkward attempt to sex-up the first Star Trek series with a female lead:

I found that that was hard, Jeri notwithstanding. Certainly, I could see with my own eyes that she was a va-va-va-voom and beautiful-beautiful bombshell of a girl. Sexuality was brought into Voyager, and that’s what I resented. I chose not to use sexuality. I thought that if Paramount and UPN and Rick (Berman) were being exceptionally prescient and brave, they would give a woman a shot at commanding without sex. “Can we do this without sex?” There are always other ways. So I resented that and I was hurt by the immediate, extraordinary attention given to this character. The numbers went up. And I thought, “Ah, you can’t argue with a business decision and you can’t argue with sex.” That’s just part of life, but all of that is very difficult for a woman, particularly an actress like me. But it had nothing to do with Jeri.

Of course, it’s not as if all of Voyager‘s problem with women materialised the moment that Jeri Ryan first appeared wearing a silver catsuit. The third season featured episodes like The Q and the GreyAlter Ego, Blood Fever and Favourite Son.

Injecting a new character into an existing ensemble.

Injecting a new character into an existing ensemble.

Still, there is something very disconcerting about how quickly Voyager insists on getting Jeri Ryan out of her impressive (and unsettling) Borg make-up and into a transparently sexed-up skin-tight latex catsuit. It was awkward enough when The Next Generation felt the need to oogle Marina Sirtis’ cleavage for five-and-a-half seasons. The whole point of putting Deanna Troi in a uniform after Chain of Command, Part I was an acknowledgement of how pervy that approach to the character had been.

It is entirely possible for female characters to be sexy (and sexual) without simply applying a layer of latex over their skin. Deep Space Nine painted Jadzia Dax as one of the most overtly sexual characters in the franchise, all while dressed in pretty much the same uniform as family man Miles Edward O’Brien or lovable dork Julian Bashir. The costuming for Seven of Nine remains one of the most embarrassing moments in Star Trek history, a twelve-year-old boy’s idea of what “sexy” and “hot” looks like.

Meldmerised.

Meldmerised.

In contemporaneous interviews with Cinefantastique, Brannon Braga defended the choice and treated the criticism as unfair:

Then Braga thought of bringing a Borg on board the ship as  crew member. He recalled, “I called Joe Menosky and we brain-stormed. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a stupid idea. I then took it in to Rick Berman and Jeri Taylor, and they liked the idea. I believe it was Rick’s inspiration to make it a woman, and it spun out from there. We began the casting process, and we read a lot of different kinds of actresses of different ages. We narrowed it down to three, and Jeri Ryan was the best. She also happens to be very, very sexy. We knew we would take some flack for that, but a little bit of controversy is a good thing.”

Actually, Voyager received quite a bit of criticism, all before the first show with Jeri Ryan even aired. A number of fans took exception to the early publicity photos of Seven of Nine, a beautiful, voluptuous female dressed in a tight silver catsuit. They expressed their opinions on the Internet and at conventions. Said Braga, “A lot of people were angry when they saw images of Jeri Ryan. They thought we were turning the show into Baywatch.”

In Braga’s defense, the character is fascinating. More than that, the actor is phenomenal. But the costuming is just creepy.

"What is your dress code?"

“What is your dress code?”

This is a recurring problem with the Berman era as a whole. The Next Generation and Voyager frequently ran into trouble doing “sexy” television. It frequently felt like a fifty-something television producer imagining what a twelve-year-old kid would find sexy. Boobs! Latex! Deep Space Nine had a bit more success with episodes like Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places, but also had a large volume of misfires with episodes like Meridian, Let He Who Is Without Sin… and the male-gaze-y lesbian stuff in The Emperor’s New Cloak.

The defense in most of these cases is to reference the work of William Ware Theiss on the original Star Trek. After all, the sixties was heavily sexualised. However, there two things to note. The most obvious is that Star Trek itself frequently skirted that line between to sexy and creepy. It’s a thin line; All Our Yesterdays is sexy, Wink of an Eye just about stays on the right side of the line, The Enterprise Incident is hot and problematic, while Elaan of Troyius is simply terrible. So it is not that the original Star Trek was perfect.

Getting a jump(suit) start on T'Pol.

Getting a jump(suit) start on T’Pol.

However, there is more to it than that. There is a sizable difference between the costuming employed by Theiss and that employed during the Berman era. Theiss tended to tease and suggest, most obviously with iconic female costumes for episodes like What Are Little Girls Made Of? or The Cloud Minders, costumes that threatened to collapse at any moment while still looking elegant and beautiful. In contrast, the Berman era production team had a tendency to basically treat female characters is if they were nude with a layer of fabric over them.

It is a very blatant attempt to sexualise a character without sexualising the surrounding show. As demonstrated by the third season, Voyager shared a common problem with a lot of nineties prime-time television; it wanted to be sexy without being sexual. It was willing to indulge in the male gaze and to objectify female characters, but without affording any of its characters sexual agency for fear of offending audiences. This is obvious just looking at episodes like Warlord, Blood Fever, Darkling and Favourite Son.

Why do all beautiful women have implants?

Why do beautiful women get implants?

Ronald D. Moore acknowledged as much in his discussion of Seven of Nine’s costume:

How can you really take her seriously in this getup? If you want to posit a future where we wear our sexuality on our sleeves, where it’s very open, and no one is put off by people being very sexual, that’s great. That’s very much in tune with how Gene saw the future. The rest of Voyager is not like that. Nobody walks around with an outfit like that on the ship. You don’t go down the corridor and see some woman strolling by in a bikini on her way to the holodeck, which would be perfectly plausible. If you are really going to have the holodeck, and you are going to have beach parties down there, every once in awhile you should see somebody just strolling to the beach, doing their thing, guys in Speedo’s, or whatever.

If you want to play that, play it, but to just have Jeri Ryan do it because Jeri Ryan is voluptuous and gorgeous and appeals to a certain demographic, is ludicrous! Nobody really wants to touch that. You bring it up in a meeting, ‘She’s a beautiful woman; we’ll let her look beautiful.’ Yes, she is a beautiful woman. I don’t object to that. But walk her onto the bridge, and tell me that the audience’s eyes aren’t watching her walk onto the bridge. The original series did it all the time, but that was of a piece; it was of its time; it made sense in context. Uhura [Nichelle Nichols] could walk around the bridge in a miniskirt, and in the ‘60s nobody thought that was completely insane. That was just part of the era that show was produced, and people accepted it. Seven of Nine, what are you thinking? It kills me, and it was always just vaguely embarrassing when you would have to do serious scenes with her in the room. You are just sitting there thinking, ‘Well, you essentially have this naked woman at the table.’ Everybody is just supposed to pretend like that is okay, but you don’t play anyone else like that.

Why doesn’t Janeway come to the bridge in a halter-top one day. Seriously, why doesn’t Tom [Robert Duncan McNeill] wear hot pants periodically. The characters don’t act that way. They don’t were their sexuality on their sleeve except her. I’ll even go one more. Let’s say that given all that, you still say: she’s a Borg; she’s expressing herself in a different way than the rest of the crew. She is shaking them up a little bit, and she is not afraid of her sexuality, or her impact, or the way she looks. Why isn’t she sleeping with the crew? Why isn’t she like jumping into bed with Chakotay, or jumping into bed with Tom, with anyone?

If you are going to do it, do it. Otherwise, it’s just eye candy with no content. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a way to watch her walk around the bridge. It’s a disservice to Jeri, because she gets the brunt of it. She’s the one that has to answer the questions about the costume, and has to defend it, and has to talk about that it doesn’t really bother her. It may not bother her, and that’s fine, but I think it does a disservice to her, and to her character, because it’s the primary characteristic of her character, and that’s unfortunate. It’s the primary characteristic in the audience’s mind, I feel. I just think it’s completely unnecessary.

The character is a good enough character, and she is a good enough actress, that you don’t need to do it, at least not every week. Even if ‘this is my preferred uniform,’ it doesn’t mean she has to wear it 24 hours a day, and wear nothing else. If you are going to go there, go there with everyone. Take them all along. It’s an opportunity Voyager won’t seize. Why aren’t they developing their own social customs and morays? Why aren’t they doing their own thing out there? They are a long way from home. Develop your own habits and your own ways of dressing. People probably would pad through the corridors barefoot periodically, and treat the ship more like it’s an apartment building where they all live, and are stuck together for a very, very long time, and would stop being so straight-laced.

In that kind of context, her outfit wouldn’t stand out so much, because you would see people letting their hair down a lot more, and being more individualistic, and walking around with earrings, and growing beards occasionally. Doing things to stand out from the crowd, instead of just being this homogenized cookie-cutter thing, where she jumps out at you, because, why isn’t everybody else like that?”

Seven of Nine is the embodiment of the madonna/whore dichotomy; dressed like a bondage queen, with the innocence of a child.

Standing orders.

Standing orders.

Seven is just the most overt example to this point in the franchise, although Enterprise would adapt the character of T’Pol from the same template. In some ways, it feels appropriate that Seven of Nine should replace Kes. The third season had made a number of awkward attempts to sexualise Kes, from putting Jennifer Lien in tighter catsuits to building a number of creepy episodes like Warlord and Darkling about a character who was frequently infantilised over the first two seasons of the show.

After all, it should be remembered that Seven of Nine is effectively a child. She has had no interaction with human beings (or individuals) since she was assimilated at the age six. Even discounting her difficulties adapting to human life, Seven of Nine is in many ways still that frightened and lost little girl. As such, it makes it kinda creepy that the EMH dresses her in a curve-emphasising catsuit. “Fashion, of course, is hardly my forte,” he confesses. “Nevertheless, I’ve managed to balance functionality and aesthetics in a pleasing enough manner.” It is worth noting that the EMH subsequently nurses a crush for Seven.

"It's okay, the EMH just took your measurements while you were sleeping."

“It’s okay, the EMH just took your measurements while you were sleeping.”

While the twelve-year-old-boy’s-idea-of-sexy is an issue with the introduction of Seven of Nine’s catsuit in the closing scenes of The Gift, that creative decision is indicative of much more severe problems with Voyager‘s approach to the character. Basically, stripping the character of most of her Borg implants and dressing her like a catwalk model effectively minimises her sense of “otherness” and erodes the sense of “alienness.” Looking at Seven at the end of The Gift, it is hard to imagine that she would difficulty integrating into the crew. She looks like she belongs, which undercuts a lot of the character arc ahead of her.

In a way, it is ultimately an extension of the decision to put the Maquis in Starfleet uniforms at the end of Caretaker and to resolve any potential conflict between the two crews in Parallax. It is a rush to a stable status quo. This is another example of Voyager wasting incredible storytelling potential. There is a reason why the Borg became the most iconic new aliens of the Rick Berman, because their look is distinctive and striking. It seems strange to have a Borg character on the show and then almost immediately strip her of that Borgness, right down to “stimulating [her] hair follicles.”

"Damn it, Chakotay. This will void the warranty."

“Damn it, Chakotay. This will void the warranty.”

In The Fifty-Year Mission, future staff writer Bryan Fuller acknowledged that this transition was a source of controversy to the writing team:

I remember it was, like, the second episode after Scorpion, Part II. She was already out of her Borg suit and I was like, “Ehhh… I wanted to see the transition go much more smoothly and less abruptly.” I think that was something that a lot of people wanted internally in terms of the writing staff, but there was that feeling, “Nope, now we’ve got to settle into the syndication pattern.” The solutions for things weren’t always creatively based. They were sort of spreadsheet based.

These are the same arguments that the Next Generation staff were fighting over Sins of the Father seven years earlier.

It's like Kes was never there.

It’s like Kes was never there.

This is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of The Gift, outside of its mangling of Kes’ departure. It feels like the second episode after a second pilot, an episode about taking the lessons and the changes of a big “event” episode and incorporating them into the day-to-day running of the show. The Gift is one of the most serialised episodes of Voyager, unfolding directly after and being entire dependent upon the events of Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II. However, instead of using that opportunity to reinvent the show, it instead uses them to instill a new status quo.

There is something very effective and striking about the teaser to The Gift, which opens an establishing shot of Voyager that has retained some of the Borg modifications from Scorpion, Part II and then cuts to the inside of a cargo bay that is still dominated by Borg technology. It is a very rare episode that opens without hitting the reset button. That sense of intrigue and novelty only builds over the episode, as it is revealed that Voyager and her crew are still trapped in Borg space trying to avoid an encounter with the Borg Collective. That is a very compelling hook.

"Kes, there is nothing beyond the subatomic. But if you see Janet Van Dyne, please let us know."

“Kes, there is nothing beyond the subatomic. But if you see Janet Van Dyne, please let us know.”

In some ways, the looming threat of Borg attack that permeates The Gift feels like it is fulfilling a lot of the potential squandered after Caretaker. It really underscores the idea of this lone Federation ship trapped on the far side of the galaxy without any support or back-up as it ventures through potentially hostile territory. There is something powerful in the idea of the crew trying to avoid a confrontation with a much more powerful opponent. In some respects, it suggests the plot that Ronald D. Moore would employ for 33, the first episode of Battlestar Galactica that would air after the pilot miniseries.

However, all of these interesting ideas are conveniently reset and discarded by the end of the episode. Seven of Nine looks like a normal human being dressed in a ridiculous catsuit, stripped of all but the least obtrusive Borg implants. Most of the Borg equipment is stripped out of the cargo bay. The Borg enhancements are removed from the ship. Most egregiously, Kes acts as a deus ex machina to push Voyager ten thousand light years closer to home and well beyond the boundaries of Borg space so that business can get back to usual.

10,000 light years forward, ten steps back.

10,000 light years forward, ten steps back.

Of course, this doesn’t stop Voyager bumping into the Borg Collective repeatedly in the years ahead; it seems that Borg space pops up whenever the plot demands it. Nor does it mean any material gain for Voyager as it gets closer to home; one part of the Delta Quadrant is as good as any other, and the defining aspect of this place where Kes has deposited the ship is that it is simply not Borg territory. Essentially, the only difference to Voyager between the end of Worst Case Scenario and the end of The Gift is a slight tweaking to the cast roster.

There is something extremely disheartening in all of this. The arrival of Seven of Nine and the events of Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II were effectively a gift to Voyager. Ironically enough, The Gift sets about squandering that.

Advertisements

9 Responses

  1. The original advertisement for this episode was hysterical as UPN challenged viewers to speculate which crew member was leaving! “One of your favorite characters!” They proclaimed. Gosh! Who could it be? Perhaps the one who was listed as a special guest star in “Scorpion Part II,” rather than during the opening titles?

    • Ah, the original UPN advertisements.

      I remember how they treated the arrival of Seven of Nine. You’d think her subplot in Revulsion was her sole storyline.

  2. Was looking forward to your first write-up of Seven, and I’m not disappointed. Has Jeri Ryan herself commented on the costuming and her character’s sudden prominence in the show, since Voyager ended?

    • Hi Roderik!

      Short answer is to look for the next couple of reviews, particularly The Raven. That covers the character’s first costume change and the tension on the set. I’ll probably revisit the some point down the line, but I think I deal with it quite thoroughly in the first seven reviews.

      But there are some great interviews, like her one with Letterman towards the end of the show, or her conversation with Starlog when she first showed up, in which she talks with increased candour about the absurdity of the outfit.

      I don’t believe Ryan has ever talked about effectively gazumping the rest of the regular cast (if so, I’d love to read it), but I can understand why she’d be reluctant to discuss it for reasons of good taste and also because she knows that Mulgrew likely still smarts over it.

  3. “Although Ryan does not get much interaction with Picardo in The Gift, she does get the chance to square off against Mulgrew. Sparks fly in their scenes together.” Well, I think there is a reason that the Janeway-Seven of Nine ship is one of the most popular ships in Star Trek Fandom. The actors have so much more chemistry than Jeri Ryan and Robert Beltran.

    Besides the sexism of putting Jeri Ryan in the catsuit, the most frustrating thing is that the Voyager writers constantly tease the viewer with putting Jeri Ryan in actually sensible clothing in episodes like “Relativity” and “Human Error,” but never go through with it. There is no reason on earth why she should not have gotten an actual uniform by the seventh season, or at the very least the finale.

    I understand your problems with this episode, but I tend to more forgiving, simply because I think it is such a better send off than “Fury.” I always kind of liked the idea that Kes, who was always going die before the rest of the crew, has now become the most powerful. I thought that was touching along with her final act of getting Voyager out of Borg territory. Of course “Fury” messed everything up, but that is a rant for another day.

    • I am a very shallow man, I know, but actually think Ryan is a lot sexier in a Starfleet uniform than in her bodystocking. Part of this is probably down to the fact that I know taking off an outfit like that takes about twenty minutes. Which kinda limits its sex appeal.

  4. I think the catsuit could have worked with tweaking.

    Have some random bulges under it, suggesting that underneath, there’s this mess of implants and wires. Have one arm exposed with some metal plates/straps like in this episode.

    My problem wasn’t the sexiness, it was making her so human. She’s a Borg, how do we now this? She has a cool looking metal eyebrow. How did she immediately have this thick blonde hair and perfect makeup and skin?

    Her inbetween phase here is much more interesting, obviously give her both eyes since covering 1 would be hell for everyone on a weekly TV show, but keep her bald, her skin’s a bit off, there are random bits of metal/computer chips on what we can see. If it’s too intensive, then gradually remove bits, showing physical development of the character, but when they have a Vulcan and half Klingon there every week, the makeup team should be able to do something more interesting than 20 seconds sticking on an eyebrow and spiky cheek thing.

    • If they were going to adopt that approach, though, I think they would have steered clear of the cat suit completely.

      And I agree it would have been more interesting to treat Seven’s transformation as a gradual thing, rather than something that happened almost instantaneously overnight.

  5. Great review Darren.

    Despite my very mixed feelings on the Borg and my disappointment at the departure of Kes I actually ended up a strong fan of Seven… and not just because teenage me found Jeri Ryan gorgeous (adult me is, alas, no less shallow.) As you say she proved a very strong actress. I was actually familiar with her from the short lived sixties set conspiracy series ‘Dark Skies’ where she played an initially villainous but then heroic Soviet feme fatale. (Actually I’d love to hear your thoughts on that show some time!)

    By the way have you heard the theory the casting of Ryan is the reason Obama was in a position to run for president? (http://ew.com/article/2008/01/09/obama-jeri-ryan/)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: