• Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives

  • Awards & Nominations

Star Trek: Voyager – Collective (Review)

Watching Collective, it’s strange to imagine a time when the Borg were considered a credible threat to the larger Star Trek universe.

Collective alludes to this palpable sense of menace in its opening scene. Several members of the crew are playing poker in the Delta Flyer. They are playing in the cockpit, for some reason, rather than in the aft section that would seem to lend itself to such recreational activities. The reason for this storytelling decision comes at the end of the teaser, when something catches Paris’ eye in the middle of one hand. The other members of the away mission follow his gaze, spotting a Borg Cube in the shuttle’s path. Panic ensues. The crew rush to their stations. This, Collective seems to scream, is a big deal.

Baby on Borg.

Of course, this is not actually a big deal. Collective focuses on a Borg Cube that has effectively run aground, a ship that has been disabled. The crew are dead, the result of “a space-borne virus that adapted to Borg physiology” that Child’s Play would reveal to be a form of biological warfare. It should be noted that “the crew discover a disabled Borg Cube” is something of a recurring trope on Star Trek: Voyager, with a similar plot beat employed in both Unity and Scorpion, Part I during the third season. When Kim talks about “bad memories” while skulking through the Cube, it initially seems like he might be referencing the latter.

(Ultimately, Kim is not referring to his traumatic experiences in Scorpion, Part I, which left the character on the verge of death after being attacked by a member of Species 8472. Although the Borg Cube in Collective evokes such memories for the audience, Kim is insulated by Voyager‘s stubborn refusal to acknowledge its own internal continuity. As a result, the memories stoked by the trip to the Borg Cube are generic in nature, of “a haunted house [his] parents took me to when [he] was six.” This is never referenced again. This reveals nothing of Harry Kim. It is just empty filler.)

Dead circuits.

There are plenty of reasons why Voyager keeps stumbling across damaged and derelict Borg Cubes. From a narrative perspective, it allows Voyager to tells stories featuring the Borg without have the crew overwhelmed. Voyager has allowed its characters major victories over the Borg in episodes like Drone or Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II, but understands that having a lone lost ship triumph repeatedly over the Borg Collective would strain credulity. So having the ship repeatedly encounter broken-down Borg Cubes allows the series to involve the Borg in these stories while nominally preserving their menace.

However, there is also a sense that there might just be something more at work here, that the sad and story state of the Borg Collective across the seven-season run of Voyager might reflect more than just the demands of the production team. It would seem to hint at a broader sense of social anxieties.

“For the promo!”

The Borg Collective does occasionally appear at something approaching full strength across the run of Voyager. Their appearance in Endgame is perhaps the most obvious example, in which two versions of Janeway effectively go head-to-head with the Borg Queen as part of one last daring attempt to get the crew home. Again, there is some obvious narrative logic at play here, where for that final victory to really matter, the writers need the stakes to be as high as physically possible. Similarly, the Collective seems to be functioning efficiently in Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II.

At the same time, it should be noted that the overwhelming majority of depictions of the Borg in Voyager suggest that the Borg Collective is downright dysfunctional. A Borg Cube has broken down in Unity, and its drones are forced to grapple with individuality. A vessel crashes in Survival Instinct, and those drones on board find themselves forced to fend for themselves. In Unimatrix Zero, Part I and Unimatrix Zero, Part II, the Borg Queen finds that there is a threat to harmony within the Borg Collective that leads her to mount heads on spikes.

Better assimi-late than never.

Even outside of these most obvious examples, there is a sense that the Borg Collective is no longer the confident monolith that it once was, no longer secure in its identity and no longer a scourge of the larger cosmos. In Scorpion, Part II, it is revealed that the Borg Collective suffered from something approaching an existential crisis; concerned at the limited capacity for growth and expansion within their own universe, they actually opened portals into other universe so that they might have more to conquer and consume. This suggests a culture wrestling with a fundamental anxiety.

It seems fair to observe that the Borg Collective was working through something close to a nervous breakdown on Voyager. To be fair, a lot of this approach can be traced back to Star Trek: The Next Generation, which used the Borg a lot more fleetingly. The crew discovered a crashed Borg ship in I, Borg and confronted a group of disconnected drones in Descent, Part I and Descent, Part II. In many ways, Voyager is just extending this approach to the Borg Collective to its logical extreme, without the buttress of stories like Q Who?, The Best of Both Worlds, Part I, The Best of Both Worlds, Part II and Star Trek: First Contact.

Of course the Borg forget about Kim. I mean, who’s really going to be bothered about Kim?

While there are pragmatic narrative justifications for this recurring portrayal of the Borg Collective as on the verge of collapse across the run of Voyager, largely down to the idea that the Borg Collective should be an existential threat to the entire galaxy and the fact that Voyager is a series about a lone ship stranded on the far side of the galaxy without any support structures, there is also a sense that Voyager is hinting at something more significant in its fascination with a deeply dysfunctional Borg Collective.

Voyager is a television series firmly anchored firmly in the nineties, like most television series are rooted in their particular cultural moments. The series reflects certain social anxieties, and offers an insight into the contemporary zeitgeist. This can be seen in any number of aspects of Voyager, from the fear of gang violence reflected in the Kazon in Caretaker to the worries about the end of history evoked by Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II. In their own sorry way, the diminished and decaying Borg Collective that is frequently discordant and disconnected across the run of Voyager speaks to broader cultural trends.

Playing their cards right.

As with a lot of classic Star Trek aliens, the Borg provide a contrast to the Federation; the Klingons were the Russians or the Chinese to the Federation’s United States, the Cardassian Union was effectively Nazi Germany. More broadly, alien species in Star Trek tend to amplify certain base human characteristics; the Ferengi embody human greed, while the Vulcans give expression to mankind’s attempt to balance rationality with emotion. The Borg have always been a more particular Jungian shadow of the Federation, particularly the Federation as it existed in the era of The Next Generation.

The Federation has always been an extension of the United States, projected into the future. It is possible to read the Borg as a metaphor that exists in opposition to that reading, with the Borg representing collectivism in contrast to liberal democracy or communism in the face of rugged individualism. In that sense, it is possible to read the recurring collapse of the Borg Collective as a metaphor for the fall of the Soviet Union and the ensuing chaos during the nineties. This is definitely an influence on Descent, Part I and Descent, Part II, and perhaps even in Unity.

Bed time.

At the same time, the Borg can also work as a twisted reflection of the United States, a gigantic and potent cultural force that invades and transforms other entities. It is an unstoppable all-consuming cultural hegemony. Although Star Trek: Deep Space Nine never really featured the Borg outside of a brief appearance in Emissary, it made a point to have Michael Eddington describe the Borg and the Federation as equivalent forces in For the Cause. The Borg and the Federation are both expanding cultures that seems to “assimilate” other entities into themselves to create a homogeneous whole.

If the Borg are a reflection of the Federation, then they also serve as a mirror to the United States. During the nineties, the United States was in effect the only global superpower, having a great deal of influence on the larger world. American popular culture was more widely exported than ever, and American businesses expanded to a variety of markets around the globe. The Federation represented the most idealised expression of American influence during the “American Century”, but Borg represent a more cynical and monstrous interpretation of the same basic idea.

And so ends the Delta Quadrant’s “Borg Century.”

However, in its recurring fascination with the collapse and decay of the Borg Collective, Voyager hints at a recurring anxiety of the nineties. The Borg Collective is the perfect metaphor for a community, a group of highly-integrated individuals working together for the greater good. However, Voyager repeatedly undercuts that idea of the Borg Collective, suggesting a community that is built like a house of cards and that can be destroyed with so much as a light breeze. Voyager repeatedly reminds viewers how precarious that bond is, how delicate this seemingly harmonious institution has become.

In Unity, a bunch of drones are disconnected from the Borg Collective as a result of an “electrokinetic storm.” In Survival Instinct, a bunch of drones become disconnected when their ship crashes on the surface of an alien world. In Collective, a virus kills all of the Borg drones on board a ship and forces the developing entities in the “maturation chambers” to emerge before they are fully developed. This is ignoring the discovery of a wrecked Borg ship in Scorpion, Part I, devastated by Species 8472, or the collective unconsciousness causing disharmony in Unimatrix Zero, Part I and Unimatrix Zero, Part II.

“Greatest threat the galaxy has ever seen, eh?”

It should also be noted that Voyager has a long-standing trend of depicting alien species without a centralised government or power structure, civilisations where the social fabric seems to have been eroded to such a degree that groups wander the cosmos like violent gangs. The Vidiians encounter Voyager repeatedly in episodes like Phage, Deadlock and Lifesigns, but they never seem to have a centralised government. The Hirogen hunt in small packs in episodes like Hunters and Prey, the Alpha Hirogen lamenting this decentralisation in The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II.

However, this idea of disharmony and disintegration is perhaps best expressed by the Kazon, the primary antagonists of the first two seasons of Voyager. They are explicitly described as “sects” and implicitly likened to “gangs.” In episodes like Manoeuvres, Maj Cullah dreams of reunifying the Kazon as a singular political entity, instead of a collection of discordant factions scrambling for dominance. On paper, the Borg Collective should be the literal opposite of the Kazon. Instead, Voyager seems to suggest that Borg are perhaps undergoing the same collapse that defines the other Delta Quadrant powers.

Talk about character growth.

Political theorist Francis Fukuyama was one of the most influential political commentators of the nineties. Even if a lot of the specifics of his observations have been disproven or undermined by subsequent events, Fukuyama seemed to understand the mood of the times in which he was writing. Even if the nineties weren’t really the “end of history”, they certainly felt like it. Fukuyama spoke about fears of social disintegration in The Great Disruption:

Since the 1960s the West has experienced a series of liberation movements that have sought to free individuals from the constraints of traditional social norms and moral rules. The sexual revolution, the feminist movement, and the 1980s and 1990s movements in favor of gay and lesbian rights have exploded through the Western world. The liberation sought by each of these movements has concerned social rules, norms, and laws that unduly restricted the options and opportunities of individuals-whether they were young people choosing sexual partners, women seeking career opportunities, or gays seeking recognition of their rights. Pop psychology, from the human-potential movement of the 1960s to the self-esteem trend of the 1980s, sought to free individuals from stifling social expectations.

Both the left and the right participated in the effort to free the individual from restrictive rules, but their points of emphasis tended to be different. To put it simply, the left worried about lifestyles and the right worried about money. The left did not want traditional values to unduly constrain women, minorities, gays, the homeless, people accused of crimes, or any number of other groups marginalized by society. The right, on the other hand, did not want communities putting constraints on what people could do with their property-or, in the United States, what they could do with their guns. Left and right each denounced excessive individualism on the part of the other: those who supported reproductive choice tended to oppose choice in buying guns or gas-guzzling cars; those who wanted unlimited consumer choice were appalled when the restraints on criminals were loosened. But neither was willing to give up its preferred sphere of free choice for the sake of constraining the other.

As people soon discovered, there are serious problems with a culture of unbridled individualism, in which the breaking of rules becomes, in a sense, the only remaining rule. The first has to do with the fact that moral values and social rules are not simply arbitrary constraints on individual choice but the precondition for any kind of cooperative enterprise. Indeed, social scientists have recently begun to refer to a society’s stock of shared values as “social capital.” Like physical capital (land, buildings, machines) and human capital (the skills and knowledge we carry around in our heads), social capital produces wealth and is therefore of economic value to a national economy. But it is also the prerequisite for all forms of group endeavor that take place in a modern society, from running a corner grocery store to lobbying Congress to raising children. Individuals amplify their own power and abilities by following cooperative rules that constrain their freedom of choice, because these also allow them to communicate with others and to coordinate their actions. Social virtues such as honesty, reciprocity, and the keeping of commitments are not worthwhile just as ethical values; they also have a tangible dollar value and help the groups that practice them to achieve shared ends.

The recurring motif of social collapse in the Delta Quadrant seems to play into this political idea of loosened civic bond, much like Voyager‘s recurring fixation on a stable and recognisable future that is largely indistinguishable from the present seems to play into Fukuyama’s idea of “the end of history.” The Borg Collective once again serves as both a metaphor for Russia and the United States, as an empire collapsing to individualism and disconnect.

Left holding the baby.

Indeed, Collective plays into other recurring tensions and fears within the seven seasons of Voyager. Most obviously, Voyager seems anxious about children. It seems wary of youth. The Kazon are very obviously a metaphor for gang violence, which was largely rooted in fear of young and violent children. Although initial plans to cast teenage actors as the Kazon did not pan out, this metaphor is made explicit in the episode Initiations. Similarly, Innocence found Tuvok stranded on an alien planet with just a group of children for company.

Collective even suggests a broader context for the crisis facing these young drones. Discovering that they had already signalled the Collective for assistance, Seven reports, A vessel was not dispatched. The Collective declared the neonatal drones irrelevant and severed their link to the Hive permanently.” Janeway is horrified, “They see them as damaged, unworthy of re-assimilation.” Seven almost agrees with that assessment. “Not all drones can be saved, Captain.” The horror of Collective is that of a society that would give up on its children, abandoning them to the cruel universe. It plays into nineties social fears; no child left behind.

No drone left behind.

This anxiety about children is in some ways an extension of the fear about the decaying social fabric. As the United States approached and crossed the millennium, there was a great deal of uncertainty around the way in which younger generations were engaging (or failing to engage) with civic society:

More fundamental, Xers have internalized core beliefs and characteristics that bode ill for the future of American democracy. This generation is more likely to describe itself as having a negative attitude toward America, and as placing little importance on citizenship and national identity, than its predecessors. And Xers exhibit a more materialistic and individualistic streak than did their parents at a similar age. Moreover, there is a general decline in social trust among the young, whether that is trust in their fellow citizens, in established institutions, or in elected officials. These tendencies are, of course, related: heightened individualism and materialism, as Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out, tend to isolate people from one another, weakening the communal bonds that give meaning and force to notions of national identity and the common good.

To be fair, older generations had always been wary of the challenge that the youth pose to the status quo. It may even be read in Freudian terms, children as a reminder of their parents’ mortality. Star Trek expressed this anxiety in episodes like This Side of Paradise, The Way to Eden or And the Children Shall Lead.

“Do you think we were Borg yesterday?”

On paper, Collective is a ridiculous story, and it undoubtedly contributes to the decline of the Borg as a credible nemesis in the Star Trek canon. It is another episode about a damaged Borg ship, but this one happens to have a group of homicidal children on it. Nevertheless, Collective feels very much in keeping with the general mood and aesthetic of Voyager, reflecting its own anxieties and uncertainties through a story in which the crew find themselves held hostage by a group of dangerous children living in the ruins of a broken social network.

Indeed, Collective could arguably be seen to exist in the context of the more specific anxieties of the sixth season of Voyager, which is a season that seems very anxious about the passage of time and how Voyager has somehow positioned it outside of that flow. The Voyager Conspiracy found Seven of Nine attempting to stitch together a meta-arc spanning the five-and-a-half seasons of the show to date. Blink of an Eye imagined the ship literally positioned outside the flow of history. Pathfinder was effectively a lost episode of The Next Generation. Meanwhile, Tsunkatse looked around at contemporary television.

Drone warfare.

Collective is one of those relatively rare episodes of Voyager that has actual long-term implications for Voyager. It would get a direct sequel in Child’s Play, which even retroactively explained how the Borg Cube was disabled. More than that, the Borg children would become a recurring part of the series’ (relatively small) ensemble. The children would reappear in both Ashes to Ashes and The Haunting of Deck Twelve, while Icheb would appear in ten more episodes across the remaining season-and-a-half of Voyager. His future self would even appear in Shattered, wearing a Starfleet uniform.

It is that last appearance that suggests the objective here. The introduction of the Borg children into the Voyager ensemble serves a very particular function. It allows Voyager to have children, for the crew to take on another generation of crew members as part of a journey that should (theoretically) span the better part of half a century. Obviously, Voyager already has a child on board in the person of Naomi Wildman, but Collective allows Voyager to welcome four children into the cast all at once. It allows for something that Voyager has never really acknowledged to this point, progeneration.

Tuvok is consistently a-mazed.

After all, this relative absence of this idea of continuation and continuity across the seven-season run is one of the long-standing criticisms of Voyager, an example of how the series squandered its unique premise. Ronald D. Moore was quite blunt about this in his infamous exit interview, which would have been released shortly before Collective went into production:

I don’t know what the difference is between Voyager and the Defiant or the Saratoga or the Enterprise or any other ship sitting around the Alpha Quadrant doing its Starfleet gig. That to me is appalling, because if anything, Voyager—coming home, over this journey, with that crew—by the time they got back to Earth, they should be their own subculture. They should be so different from the people who left, that Starfleet won’t even recognize them any more. What are the things that would truly come up on a ship lost like that? Wouldn’t they have to start not only bending Starfleet protocols, but throwing some of them right out the window? If you think about it in somewhat realistic terms: you’re on Voyager; you are on the other side of the galaxy; for all you know, it is really going to take another century to get home, and there is every chance that you are not going to make it, but maybe your children or grandchildren will.

Voyager never really dealt with that question, which is one of the most provocative aspects of the entire premise. The series raised the point in Elogium and had Samantha Wildman give birth to a daughter in Deadlock. By the time that B’Elanna Torres discovered that she was pregnant in Lineage, it was too late to explore the point. In fact, Miral Paris was only born at the end of the journey, as Voyager travelled through a transwarp tunnel in Endgame.

They grow up so fast.

As such, the introduction of the Borg children in Collective feels like a very half-hearted solution to a very deep-seated problem. It recalls the manner in which Tsunkatse and The Voyager Conspiracy acknowledged changes in contemporary American television in the most superficial manner possible before ignoring any potential insight. Collective allows Voyager to introduce a set of children to the cast at the last possible minute, without doing any of the planning that would be required to do it properly.

Naturally, Voyager cannot even follow through on this modest effort. The Borg children become a part of the Voyager cast, but only superficially. The characters popped up twice over the remainder of the sixth season, helping to give a very slight domestic flavour to the show, something that had been sorely lacking to that point. However, Mezoti, Azan and Rebi would all leave the ship in Imperfection, when Janeway just happened to run into the Wysanti. It seems a massive contrivance that all Icheb, Azan and Rebi were all assimilated along Voyager’s flight path and that Mezoti is happy to leave with Azan and Rebi.

Oh, baby.

In fact, Voyager never even bothers to explain what happened to the baby that is recovered in Collective, which seems like a big deal given how much attention is paid to the child within the episode itself. Brannon Braga insisted that the child was reunited with its people off-screen:

The Borg baby was prepared in a delicious orange glaze sauce by Neelix. Just kidding. The baby was returned to its people, which you did not see depicted in an episode. We considered showing it onscreen, but decided it would be best to focus on the remaining Borg kids. They have given us some great story material so far.

Ironically, Icheb would soon be the only “remaining Borg kid.” This feels like a very calculated and cynical way for the writing staff to avoid writing about children on Voyager, writing out all but the most mature of the young drones. Voyager cannot even commit to a half-hearted execution of a bold concept.

Got to be kidding…

Of course, Collective resembles Tsunkatse in other ways. This is very consciously a sweeps episode, an episode designed to lure in a larger audience than usual, with the production team pulling out all of the proverbial stops. The presence of the Borg is enough to make Collective a big deal, even in their sadly diminished state. There was clearly a lot of money spent on the episode, including the model of the baby and all the associated computer-generated special effects, not to mention the shots of the Delta Flyer trapped inside the damaged ship.

The plot of Collective is also clearly designed for a broader audience. Strip away all the big-ticket Star Trek elements like the Borg, and all the weird thematic choices like the children, and Collective is a fairly bog-standard hostage drama in which members of the crew are held hostage by an alien power and Janeway is forced to navigate a very precarious situation. It is a very basic thriller scenario, one that is accessible to people even without an understanding of the mechanics of a given television series. A hostage crisis is easy to understands and generates immediate tension.

Implanting the seeds of doubt.

As such, it is no surprise that “hostage crisis” is a go-to plot template for Sweeps and event episodes. It could be argued that the mythology on The X-Files was kick-started with a “hostage crisis” plot in Duane Barry, which was such a success that it set the template for what would follow over the next seven seasons. Alias would do something similar with The Box during its first season, a two-part episode that combined the “hostage crisis” template with the special celebrity guest star by casting Quentin Tarantino as the hostage-taker.

Collective hits all of the expected beats in a “hostage crisis” plot. There are delaying tactics, deliberate threats, high stakes. The hostage-takers want something that the heroes cannot possibly surrender, the ship’s deflector dish. Janeway’s primary objective is to stall the enemy long enough to put a contingency in place. There is even a sequence in which the hostage-takers threaten to execute one of the hostages to raise the tension during the final act. Along the way, there is a suggestion of Stolkholm Syndrome as Seven undermines the hostage-takers’ hierarchy.

Borg Day Afternoon.

It should be noted that Collective is far from the first hostage drama within the Star Trek franchise. There are a number of antecedents in the canon, from Whom Gods Destroy to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. However, there are also much more straightforward examples like Power Play, the subplot from Starship Down, or Invasive Procedures. However, what is most striking about Collective is how awkwardly it tries to position itself as a very generic and formulaic hostage crisis, instead of one specific to the Star Trek canon.

Collective is not exactly subtle in framing itself in terms of broader pop culture. When Seven refuses to comply with First’s demands, First states, “That wasn’t the agreement.” Seven responds, “I’ve modified the agreement. I didn’t realise I’d be dealing with children. Your behaviour is erratic. I can’t be certain that you–“ This feels very much like a conscious nod to an exchange between Darth Vader and Lando Calrissian from Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. The First responds, “No modifications. We show you the hostages, you give us the deflector. Comply. Comply!”

“Pray I do not alter it further.”

There was reportedly some tension behind the scenes during the production of the episode. In Science Fiction Television Series, 1990–2004, director Allison Liddle confesses that the production team overrode a lot of her original plans for the episode:

I liked [my] episode … well, my cut. The producers had other ideas in mind. They cut out a beautiful crane shot wither all of the children surrounding the big light [in the Borg ship]. I also didn’t agree with the producer’s choice for the lead kid. I thought that his voice was odd. I come from the theatre and I thought that his voice was immature and didn’t land.

This is very much in keeping with other stories about the production of Voyager, most notably the recurring inference that the series would temper the ambition of those working on it to avoid anything that might be considered a creative risk; the neutering of stories like Once Upon a Time and The Fight comes to mind.

A charged debate.

Indeed, the casting of the First is something of an issue with the episode. To be clear, it is difficult to cast young actors; there are so few good ones. It often takes actors years (if not decades) to grow into their craft. The casting of Scarlett Pomers on Voyager is a minor miracle, and arguably the exception that proves the rule. Indeed, the production team scuppered the idea of casting teenage actors of the Kazon in large part because of how hard it would be to find large quantities of good teenage actors on a television schedule and budget.

Collective requires the casting of a number of talented child performers. To be fair, not much was required of the younger children, but the script had two meaty roles for older teenage boys; First and Second. However, while the character of First was more important in terms of the episode, it was very clear that the character of Second would be have greater importance in the longer term. As a result, it was more important to properly cast the secondary supporting role in Collective than it was to cast the primary antagonistic role.

“It’s okay. We’re going back to Fair Haven next week.”

Indeed, actor Manu Intiraymi recalls auditioning for the role of First before being cast in the role of Second:

No, they didn’t tell me it would be a recurring role. I guess they must have known, right? But I went in for Collective, and I actually auditioned for First, the bad guy that got killed at the end of that episode. They brought me back, all the way to the producers, to Rick (Berman) and Brannon (Braga) and the director, who was Allison Liddi. I got the role and then, when my character didn’t die off, I got a call about a month later saying, “Hey, would you like to do another episode?” Then I got another call a couple of weeks after that and another call after that. That was season six, and when I was still getting called about episodes when season seven started, I figured, “Hey, I think I’m going to be on this show for a while.”

This makes a certain amount of sense. The role of Second would become the role of Icheb, and so it was more important to find a stronger actor for that role.

Enemy Nine.

Even watching Collective, it is clear that Manu Intiraymi is an appreciable stronger actor (and presence) than Ryan Spahn. It is worth noting that Intiraymi was also an appreciably more experienced actor than Spahn. Intiraymi had a wealth of experience under his belt, including television appearances in shows as diverse as JAG, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and King of Queens. He also had a number of small roles in relatively big films like Go or Senseless. In contrast, Spahn had only one credit to his name; the role of “Boy” in Polish Wedding two years prior.

Although the reason for casting the more experienced Intiraymi in a supporting role in Collective is very obvious in hindsight, it creates a frustrating dynamic within the episode itself. Second is much a more interesting character than First, and Intiraymi’s performance is much more nuanced and compelling than that of Spahn. This isn’t simply down to the writing. On paper, First should be a tragic character; a teenager abandoned by his parents without the necessary survival skills or a willingness to ask for help. This was Seven’s arc in Survival Instinct. There is real pathos there, but Spahn never truly sells it.

Hostages of fortune.

In contrast, Intiraymi is appreciably stronger as Second. He is more interesting to watch. His scenes with Jeri Ryan work better. As a result, there is an imbalance within Collective, where the primary antagonist simply is not as interesting as he should be. This undercuts a lot of the episode’s dramatic tension. In many cases, a hostage crisis is only as compelling as the hostage-taker; Die Hard would not be as effective without Alan Rickman, there’s a reason that Alias stunt-cast Quentin Tarantino, and even the Under Siege movies have vaguely memorable antagonists. Collective falls flat in this regard.

At the same time, it makes sense to cast the stronger actor in the supporting role in Collective in the long term. Intiraymi might not be among the strongest performers ever to appear in Star Trek, but he is appreciably stronger than a lot of the recurring actors within his age bracket; Wil Wheaton on The Next Generation, Marc Worden on Deep Space Nine. While Collective might have been more effective with Intiraymi in the primary guest role, it would greatly diminish later episodes like Child’s Play or Imperfection to have cast a weaker performer in the secondary role here.

I, cheb.

Manu Intiraymi would be very proud of the work that he did on Voyager, citing it as something of a creative second chance following an early setback in hise career:

“I was cast on Voyager by a man named Ron Sterma, and Ron gave me my first job ever on a movie called Senseless with David Spade and Marlon Wayne in 1998,” said Intiraymi. “I was working with them and it was my first job. I was nervous, because I wasn’t from Los Angeles. I was from out of town. I was blown away by the spectacle of a movie production. Suddenly I’m working with two famous people. This was the real deal. I did so many takes that I remember the director started yelling to nobody on set in particular, ‘This horrible actor, what’s this guy’s problem?’ The director grabbed me by the shoulders and got in my face. It was just a horrible day. But that got back to Ron, that I was terrible, so two years later I’m auditioning for Voyager and my agent and Ron are getting a pedicure together, and my agent tells Ron that I’m auditioning for Voyager. Ron says, ‘Oh not that guy, he was awful! We can’t hire him.’ My agent got mad and yelled at him, and the lady who was doing his pedicure cut his foot, so he used that and said, ‘Ron, I cut my foot, you are going to see my client. I’m bleeding for my client! You are going to at least read him.’ And so they brought me in and I read.”

There is something very charming in the way that Intiraymi talks about his time on Voyager, offering a somewhat more affectionate portrayal of life on the series than the unvarnished accounts of many of his older co-stars.

Big deal.

Collective is a very strange episode, which manages to wed a gonzo (and thematically rich) premise to a decidedly mediocre execution. Like a lot of Voyager episodes, it’s not particularly terrible. It’s just not especially good, either.

8 Responses

  1. Great review, Darren! I think this is the only place I can go to read a review of an utterly forgettable hour of Voyager and walk off with an extended riff on Gen X and the end of civilization and trivia about Icheb’s agent getting a pedicure with Voyager’s casting manager.

    I think that these mediocre episodes are good for creativity, because without anything outstanding or outright terrible, they force the writer to really scrounge for something interesting to say about the topic 😛 Rationally I know I’ve probably seen this episode, but mentally there’s just a weird jump between “episodes without borg kids” and “episodes with borg kids” in my memory. This must mean we’re getting close to the Haunting on Deck Twelve, I guess.

    • Ha! Thanks!

      It is a bit of a challenge, to be honest. There are so many generic and bland episodes of Voyager, that it’s kinda hard to come up with an interesting angle on them. But I do think that this stuff is all there, of course. But there is a bit of digging to get to it.

  2. Despite effective CGI the first scenes were somewhat ludicrous. Even the propulsion system of a damaged and unfocussed Borg cube should not be so easily destroyed by the tiny Delta Flyer in this absurd pseudo-Star Warsian maneuver.

    And Kim not remembering the events of “Scorpion”, but his grandpa’s haunted house? Seems unlikely, to say the least. It almost appears as if Voyager deliberately, intentionally tries to avoid continuity. Why? Out of fear of losing audience? Well, there was only the hardcore fanbase left at this moment in the series’ run.

    I found the baby Borg somewhat horrifying, and it is interesting that Janeway seemed to develop instantaneous motherly feelings for it. Even in that case the Borg seemed to have lost the aura of menace and horror. Interesting that I did not lose my memory about the Borg baby, as you, Darren, point out it was merely forgotten. Could have been an interesting arc, clearly more interesting than some stuff around the children.

    Still, as a whole package I enjoyed this episode. Seeing Voyager being routinely not good nor too bad is one more incentive to keep on doing my rewatch, and knowing some of the episodes around the corner there is clearly a shortage of good reasons 😉 (In my recollection though season 7 was pretty decent and I look forward to the impostor episode.)

    • Rewatching the seventh season of Voyager really, really drained me. Take a look at the dates on the reviews. It was a real slog to watch and review for me, at least.

      • I enjoy it at times, if not for the fact that it is soon to be over. There are some kind of good episodes and it all looks very convincing. But yes, especially near the end of the show, it really is a challenge. All the more Kudos to you for bravely writing your reviews! It certainly contributes to this not being as hard as it could be… I am always in suspense how you evaluate individual shows.

      • It is taking me a huge amount of time to work through Voyager, as compared to any of the prior Star Trek series. I often take breaks for many days.

        I think it’s telling that here we have yet another Seven of Nine episode, and that Voyager is now producing families for her rather than any of the actual crew. Seven spends more time with Naomi than her own mother does. Seven gets an instant family. No one else on board is reproducing. Seven is literally carving out her own show-within-a-show.

        We are never really informed why these Borg children cannot properly assimilate people, or why Kim passes out rather than join their collective when he is assimilated. I’ll tell myself it was the virus, but if that’s the case then Seven of Nine should be experiencing extreme health problems as well. The cube should be a bio-hazard site for her.

        As usual, logic problems and plot holes abound.

        I enjoyed the small homage to TNG poker at the beginning, even if it was contrived.

        Stay tuned next week, for another episode of Star Trek: The Adventures of Seven of Nine!

  3. “As with a lot of classic Star Trek aliens, the Borg provide a contrast to the Federation; the Klingons were the Russians or the Chinese to the Federation’s United States, the Cardassian Union was effectively Nazi Germany.”

    “The Borg Collective once again serves as both a metaphor for Russia and the United States, as an empire collapsing to individualism and disconnect.”

    I’ve seen it suggested that the Borg were meant to represent expansionist Stalinist Communism. They were presented as an almost-unstoppable expansionist menace bent on leveling all differences between peoples, fanatical collectivism, destroying the uniqueness not just of individuals but of civilizations/cultures/nations/peoples. Almost a purely destructive energy.

    To the extent this is the correct political/geopolitical reading of the Borg I agree with your analysis here.

    if the Borg were tied to the USSR and the prospect of expansionist Stalinist-Communism, the events of late 1989 to late 1991 themselves all but inevitably set up the long Borg arc that you describe in Voyager. I refer of course to the dissolution of the Communist bloc in Europe, followed by the dissolution of the USSR itself, accompanied by the apparent mass-abandonment of Socialism/Communism by its hitherto rhetorical standard-bearers and regimes, at least in the ‘White’ world.

    The Warsaw Bloc Collapse and all that was associated with it set up a likely trajectory for the Borg themselves, so a sharp observer could hypothetically have predicted, by 1992/93 or so, that within five to ten years the Borg would (also) dramatically loosen up, their threat slacken, and they become sorta-friends, sorta-pitiful, seldom-threatening. And, as your review here (and other of your Borg episode reviews) says, this happened.

    If this episode (‘Collective’)’s creative genesis came from the minds and discussions of astute world-observers in either 1998 or (more likely) 1999 (and I assume the creative team behind the show were all such people), seven+ years after the USSR itself dissolved and by then nearing ten years after the Berlin Wall fell, it’s hard even to imagine it any other way.

    Looking it up via google just now, I see the Borg were first introduced in a ‘Next Generation’ episode which I think would have been conceived and written first in 1988(?) (aired May 1989), then the Borg were established as a recurring and particularly terrifying villains as of episodes that aired in 1990 (perhaps conceived and written pre-Berlin Wall Fall, the year prior, and in any case their original origin is definitely pre-Berlin Wall Fall).

    The perceived Communist Threat will therefore still been “in the air” at conception/introduction of the Borg. And there was still a strong living-memory-tether to peak Anti-Soviet feeling back from its seemingly unstoppable Stalinist and early post-Stalinist eras. Many of the writers themselves may have been slightly too young to remember that first-hand, but even the younger ones have been well aware of attitudes during the Peak Fear of Soviets era of the mid-20th century, being just one generation removed. For a young writer today in the 2020s to come up with something similar, when the living-memory-tether is so much weaker, is harder to imagine.

    In any case, if anyone knows of any good commentary on this topic (the Borg as metaphor for the USSR), especially contemporary 1990s commentary on the matter, I’d love to see a link. Thanks!

  4. “The Borg and the Federation are both expanding cultures that seems to “assimilate” other entities into themselves to create a homogeneous whole. […] During the nineties, the United States was in effect the only global superpower, having a great deal of influence on the larger world. American popular culture was more widely exported than ever, and American businesses expanded to a variety of markets around the globe. The Federation represented the most idealised expression of American influence during the “American Century”, but Borg represent a more cynical and monstrous interpretation of the same basic idea.”

    The scary and villainous Borg’s association of the word “assimilation” (and its variant forms) strikes as really notable in the late-1980s/1990s/2000s US domestic context, a topic which I see only alluded to in this review but not explored.

    “Assimilation” as practiced by the Borg is one of those things that broke into wider culture. In other words, most pop-culture-literature Americans, even those who have never seen Star Trek, and a good deal of other Westerners (especially English speakers), born (say) 1965 to 1995 (and maybe even later), will recognize “Resistance is Futile” as a phrase, and will recognize association of “Assimilation” (and “You will be Assimilated”) with the Borg, and therefore with this terrible menace.

    “Assimilation” in US political discourse/rhetoric was a highbrow way to refer to the “Melting Pot” idea, that all immigrants either did or should “melt” into some generic whole and abandon uniqueness. This has long been a ‘meme’ in US culture, and in the early 21st century I sense other Western nations’ discourses have all also adopted it — the question of whether immigrants should ‘assimilate’ or stay separate and retain their original cultures, the latter I suppose what is meant by Multiculturalism as most people understand it.

    So the Borg desiring “assimilation” may be a double-metaphor — clearly signaling Collectivist Communism at times and in general but by this strong tie-in to the word ‘assimilation’ also secondarily symbolizing the people who demand Immigrant Assimilation and oppose Multiculturalism.

    From Google-Ngram you’ll see that in the 1980s the word “assimilation” began to increase in US political discourse, really breaking out in the 1990s, associated with immigration and the presence of foreigners in the United States, especially ones particularly culturally distinct, as the large waves from Latin America and Asia which date to the 1970s were. (You can find this in Google-Ngram by searching the AmE corpus for phrases like “assimilation to american, assimilate to american, immigrants assimilate.” All begin to increase in the 1980s and become especially prominent in the 1990s). I point this out to say that when the Borg and their “You Will Be Assimilated” slogan-threat first entered the public consciousness, the word had already begun to emerge more and more in the immigration discourse.

    The word “assimilate” was always used in the context of “immigrants should assimilate to US culture,” or some variant of that kind of usage either pro or con, and the word was almost never otherwise heard by the 1990s (except for Star Trek using it as the Borg’s own twisted and horrifying civilizational-imperative). To me the word become so tightly associated with immigrants/immigration in US rhetoric that the word itself became archaic outside that narrow band of usages — again except on Star Trek.

    And by the 1990s in left-wing circles, assimilation was becoming a bad word, something mean ogres would impose on people, stripping them of their identities. I think by the 1990s some of these academics were proposing, and pushing, a model saying the metaphor of a melting pot (and its associated “assimilationism”) should be discarded and a “tossed salad” approach adopted to immigrants. We can still make a palatable dish out of these parts, but no need to melt them down into a giant cultural mishmash stew.

    This is another way to see the humanization of the Borg, including through the character of Seven of Nine herself (as a tossed-salad ingredient in the Voyager crew), and more overtly than even by the early-2000-airing ‘Collective’ and its Borg children.

    This also signaled a sense of (if not an actual) defeat by the Anti-Multiculturalists as Assimilationists within this secondary (US-domestic) reading of the Borg-as-metaphor (the primary reading arguably being as the USSR/Communism): The fearsome “assimilationist” Borg had been so defanged by 2000, and offers/threats of assimilation seemed much less credible than the early Borg of the late-1980s and early-1990s.

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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: