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Star Trek: Voyager – Imperfection (Review)

With Imperfection, the seventh season of Star Trek: Voyager can begin in earnest.

After all, Unimatrix Zero, Part II was the second-half of the almost-obligatory season-bridging two-parter, the conclusion to Unimatrix Zero, Part I. As the second episode of a two-parter, the season premiere had been written by Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky. Those two writers would be mostly absent from the final season. After a decade of contributions dating back to include Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Joe Menosky was taking a break from the franchise. Meanwhile, Brannon Braga was busy working with Rick Berman on the upcoming launch of Star Trek: Enterprise.

The episode never really gets inside Seven’s head.

As such, Imperfection is an episode that is much more indicative of the seventh season of Voyager. It offers a much more concrete example of what Voyager will look like during the final stretch of the journey home. It reflects the tone and aesthetic of Voyager under its latest showrunner, with Kenneth Biller stepping into the role that Brannon Braga had vacated to plan for Enterprise. While Imperfection is still very much a product of the same show that had broadcast The Haunting of Deck Twelve or Life Line, there is something subtly different within it.

Of course, Imperfection isn’t really the start of the seventh season. It was the fourth episode of the seventh season to be produced, following Drive and Repression. It was just awkwardly bumped up the broadcast order, resulting a variety of glaringly obvious continuity issues that the production team never even bother to acknowledge. Of itself, this suggests the tone that is being set for the seventh season.

Some cheek.

Kenneth Biller was drafted on to Voyager during its troubled first season, making an impression by contributing a number of relatively solid scripts at a point when the series was in turmoil; Faces, Jetrel, Elogium. More than any other writer on staff, Biller was the first Voyager writer. He was the first major writer on the series who wasn’t carried over from The Next Generation, and the first writer on staff to really approach Voyager as its own television series with its own unique identity. As such, it is a shame that Biller was not a better writer.

In some ways, the obvious point of contrast for Kenneth Biller is Ronald D. Moore. Both were relatively inexperienced writers when they were drafted on to the Star Trek franchise; Moore found his way on to The Next Generation by submitting his spec script for The Bonding to a tour guide, while Biller had some more practical experience working on Beverly Hills 90210. However, both writers were considered the young up-and-comers of their respective shows, the new recruits who held great potential.

Smooth sailing.

Indeed, Michael Piller seemed to approach Moore and Biller in a similar way. During the third season of The Next Generation, Piller tasked Ronald D. Moore with coming up with a memo that provided context for the Klingons. During the second season of Voyager, Piller assigned Biller responsibility to come up with a document outlining the finer points of Kazon culture. However, while the two young writers had been assigned similar tasks, the results illustrated the major differences between Moore and Biller.

Moore’s work on the Klingons remains hugely influential in Star Trek fandom, essentially reinventing the iconic alien race. Moore developed a culture that was intriguing and compelling, and also radically different from how these aliens had been approached in classic episodes like Errand of Mercy or The Trouble with Tribbles. Moore’s reinvention was so successful that later iterations of the species were inevitably measured against it, including Bryan Fuller’s reinvention of the aliens in Star Trek: Discovery. Moore’s script for Sins of the Father effectively set up a decade of Klingon-centric stories.

Yep. We’ve reached the point of Kazon-nostalgia. Time to call it a day.

In contrast, Biller’s work with the Kazon was an unmitigated disaster. Of course, it’s hard to blame Biller for this, given that Piller’s core concept of the Kazon was so toxic. Nevertheless, Biller’s attempts to flesh out and develop the Kazon into a fully-functioning three-dimensional culture were a spectacular misfire. As the writer on both Initiations and Manoeuvres, Biller deserves a certain amount of the blame for how the horrific second season arc played out. More to the point, Biller missed an early opportunity to distinguish himself.

Working on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, Moore continually pushed himself to develop as a writer. Moore was constantly pitching bold ideas and writing daring scripts that really challenged preconceived notions of what Star Trek could be; FamilyRedemption, Part I and Redemption, Part II, Tapestry, The Inner Light, Doctor Bashir, I PresumeSoldiers of the Empire, In the Pale Moonlight. Moore’s scripts didn’t always work, but they were generally interesting and engaging on their own terms.

“Well, I bought these flowers when the show got its terminal diagnosis, but I guess they’re still good.”

In contrast, Biller’s work on Voyager often aspired towards an aesthetic of “just enough.” The writer never really pushed himself or the series, resulting in a string of episodes that often felt like archetypal Star Trek stories that could easily have been written for any of the series; The Chute, The Q and the Grey, Random Thoughts, Thirty Days, The Disease, Warhead. To be fair to Biller, there were times when this approach worked well; Nemesis and Lifesigns are two examples of episodes that demonstrate “archetypal Star Trek” is not such a bad thing. Nevertheless, his writing was always safe and modest, rarely ambitious.

Somewhat ironically, Moore and Biller would never actually work together on Voyager. Biller would depart Voyager at the end of the fifth season, when he failed to secure a raise and a promotion, and when Moore was drafted in from Deep Space Nine. Moore would only work on Voyager for a few weeks. In that time, he would produce Survival Instinct and Barge of the Dead, two of the most ambitious and intriguing episodes of Voyager ever made. However, Moore quickly discovered that Voyager was not a work environment that rewarded ambition, and so quit the show in a spectacular fashion.

Dudes Standing Over Seven’s Shoulders, a Series. Number one.”

In perhaps the most damning indictment of Voyager as a television show, the production team very quickly hired Kenneth Biller back to fill the gap left by Ronald D. Moore, one of the greatest downgrades in the history of the franchise. Indeed, Biller’s first major contribution to the sixth season of Voyager would be shepherding Alice into production, an episode in which Tom Paris is possessed with (and seduced by) an evil alien ship in homage to Stephen King’s Christine. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Alice is how such a gonzo premise leads to such a boring episode.

It feels inevitable that Voyager would be the television series to end Ronald D. Moore’s long-standing association with the Star Trek franchise, just as it feels inevitable that Voyager would be the show that decided Kenneth Biller would be the perfect candidate for showrunner when Brannon Braga focused his attention on Enterprise. Biller was nothing if not a safe pair of hands. He was mostly competent, if rarely exceptional. He was never ambitious, but generally reliable.

Dudes Standing Over Seven’s Shoulders, a Series. Number two.”

Discussing his elevation to the role of showrunner in The Fifty-Year Mission, Biller acknowledged that he was still working under Rick Berman:

He was like the king of a big kingdom. That show was hugely popular and he had his way of doing things. It was his prerogative to do things that way. He was the boss and sometimes he would remind you of that. So when I say I was running the show, I was running the show to a point. I was breaking all the stories and Rick was dealing with the day-to-day of casting and the production meetings and all of that sort of stuff. But when it really came down to a big decision, I for sure needed Rick’s approval.

This is a familiar tension on Voyager. Both Brannon Braga and Bryan Fuller have discussed the tension that a showrunner of Voyager felt under Berman.

Dudes Standing Over Seven’s Shoulders, a Series. Number three.”

So, to be fair to Biller, there was only ever going to be so much that he could do with Voyager. As showrunner, his influence was severely curtailed by Berman. Much like Brannon Braga had been unable to properly realise his own big and bold ideas for the series, Biller was unlikely to have been afforded the opportunity to introduce long-form plotting into Voyager or to reinvent the series from the ground up. As such, any discussion of the seventh season of Voyager should not treat the change in stewardship as a complete reinvention.

At the same time, it is important not to excuse Braga and Biller from all responsibilities for the systemic failures of Voyager. After all, Ira Steven Behr worked under many of the same restrictions on Deep Space Nine, theoretically just as subject to Berman’s mandates as Braga and Biller would have been on Voyager. Behr was able to leverage the launch of Voyager into more freedom and independence on Deep Space Nine. There is no reason that Braga and Biller could not have done something similar with the launch of Enterprise.

Dudes Standing Over Seven’s Shoulders, a Series. Number one, redux.”

A younger and more ambitious addition to the Voyager writers’ room, with a great deal more imagination and creativity, Bryan Fuller reflected on Biller’s promotion in The Fifty Year Mission:

I butted heads with Ken quite a bit, to the point where I wasn’t asked to join Enterprise because I was such a brat. Ken was not Brannon and he was not Ron and he was not Joe. He had a different type of showrunning style, which was “the trains run on time.” That’s were Ken excelled. He knew how to make the trains run on time. He knew how to keep the production going, but I didn’t think the trains were necessarily going some place interesting… and I behaved so badly.

This encapsulates Biller’s tenure in a nutshell, and explains why he was such an obvious choice to succeed Braga. At this point in the run of Voyager, the production team wanted nothing more than for the series to run on time.

Dudes Standing Over Seven’s Comm Badge’s Shoulder, a Series.”

The seventh season of Voyager is largely driven by dull stories without any real sense of purpose, without any overarching ideas or a bigger picture in mind. However, relatively few of the episodes are embarrassing. There’s nothing here to compete with Threshold or Alliances or Tattoo. That would seem to be the appeal of Biller as a television showrunner. There are a lot of generic episodes, and few (if any) standout episodes in this final twenty-odd episode homestretch. All Biller has been asked to do is to park the family stationwagon without getting a scratch on it.

As such, Imperfection serves as an effective mission statement. It’s clumsy and sloppy, but it fills forty-five minutes of television without embarrassing itself. It has no big ideas, no strong central throughline. It is a collection of stuff that just happens, a sequence of events arranged in such a way as to check a list of pre-determined criteria and knock another episode off the season order, so that everybody can go home. There is no attention to detail here, no finesse, no skill, no consideration. There is just stuff.

“Are you absolutely sure you don’t want to meet–“
“Let’s not draw this out any longer than we have to. There’s a primary plot to get to here.”

It is interesting that Imperfection was brought forward in the broadcast schedule for a number of reasons. Most immediately, it means that the first on-screen event of Biller’s tenure is to effectively undo one of the handful of genuinely interesting ideas of the previous season. Imperfection ends with the crew shipping off most of the Borg children who were rescued in Collective. The crew happen to have stumbled across a Wysantis ship, and so have the opportunity to reunite Rebi and Azan with their own people.

There is something very awkward in this, as Janeway hands over a bunch of children to a group of complete strangers based on nothing but the fact that they have similar forehead ridges. It doesn’t matter that Rebi and Azan have spent months on board Voyager, presumably forging relationships and growing attached. It doesn’t matter that the pair are undoubtedly on a long road to recovering from the monumental trauma of assimilation. All that matters is that Janeway manages to get two aliens off her ship and put them back where they belong.

“I’ll miss you so much that I’ll never acknowledge you again.”

“We’re just glad that Rebi and Azan will have a chance to grow up with their own people,” Janeway states. That’s it. There is no suggestion that Rebi and Azan have any living relatives. There is no discussion of who exactly is going to care for them, or who will provide for them. There is no consideration given to standards of living. Instead, there is just a blunt and unspoken assertion. Rebi and Azan are Wysanti. As a result, they should be with other Wysanti. They do not belong on Voyager. Janeway wasn’t providing them with a home, but mere a temporary shelter.

This is a decidedly grim (and borderline racist) subtext, suggesting that people of different backgrounds should “keep to themselves.” It is a decidedly un-Star Trek like sentiment, to the point that the episode Child’s Play was an extended condemnation of Janeway for thinking that way about Icheb. More than that, it is entirely in keeping with the reactionary subtext that runs through Voyager; the fear of globalisation in Unity, the fear of immigration in Displaced, the fear of refugees in Day of Honour. It appears that Voyager has a very particular (and uncomfortable) set of standards about who gets to be part of the family.

“You’re just lucky that you’re old enough to put in a Starfleet uniform.”

This is compounded by the decision to sen Mezoti off with Rebi and Azan. After all, Mezoti is not Wysanti. However, she is an alien. She is unknown. She does not fit within Janeway’s acceptable parameters to be accepted as part of the ship’s family. So Mezoti is clumsily offloaded with Rebi and Azan, as a sort of a “buy two, get one free” offer that Janeway seems to be running. Of course, this opening is really just a way for Biller to clumsily off-load a large chunk of the continuity that he would otherwise inherit. Nevertheless, it’s worrying that it fits so comfortably with Voyager‘s more reactionary impulses.

It is very revealing what Imperfection chooses to do with Icheb as soon as the younger children have been dispatched. If he is to become a part of Voyager, he is expected to conform. He cannot exist as an individual, despite the fact that he only recently broke from the Borg Collective. “I’ve been thinking,” Icheb tells Seven. “While I’m grateful for the opportunity to assist you in Astrometrics, I’d like to take on more challenging assignments.” He elaborates, “I want to work on the bridge.” He explains, “I’d like to take the entrance exam for Starfleet Academy.”

“Icheb was talking to me about his latest idle. Have you heard of Wesley Crusher?”

Voyager is a series about a ship stranded in the Delta Quadrant, with a crew that is nominally composed of Starfleet officers alongside terrorists and misfits. However, Voyager very quickly abandoned the potential of that premise. In episodes like Parallax and Learning Curve, it was made very clear that the show would conform to the expected norms of a Star Trek series. Icheb enrolling in Starfleet Academy, the first step to becoming an officer, reflects this perspective. It is very similar to how the early seasons of The Next Generation approached Wesley Crusher.

Again, it is a very “safe” play and a very “conventional” approach to the character, reflecting Biller’s direction for the series. Under Biller, Voyager is to be even more generic than it had been before, even less tolerant of unconventional approaches or radical ideas. Deep Space Nine had dared to suggest that Jake Sisko could be a part of the cast without signing up for Starfleet, which was a radical idea that opened up a variety of storytelling opportunities. Icheb’s desire to enroll in Starfleet in Imperfection does the opposite.

“I’m afraid you arrived too late to be part of this recurring gag, captain.”

Another interesting aspect of the shift in the broadcast order for Imperfection is how much disregard it demonstrates for the idea of continuity. Voyager had never been particularly interested in continuity, largely rejecting serialised storytelling following a disastrous experiment during the second season. In the sixth season, Voyager had repeatedly rewritten its own internal continuity with episodes like Fury or The Haunting of Deck Twelve. At the same time, none of that is quite as brazen as the contempt for the idea of internal continuity suggested by the plot of Imperfection.

Relatively subtly, Paris can repeatedly be seen wearing his wedding ring in Imperfection. This is most apparent during the scenes where he is assisting the EMH with surgery, particularly during the holographic trial runs using the node recovered from the dead drone. Paris got married to Torres at the end of Drive, a decision that was not the culmination of any long-term engagement. The ring is visible enough that it stands out during these scenes, inviting the audience to wonder whether twenty-fourth century surgery is that sanitary.

Rings true.

However, the most obvious continuity issue generated by bringing Imperfection forward in the season involves the action sequence with the Delta Flyer. The Delta Flyer last appeared at the climax of Unimatrix Zero, Part I, when Janeway used it as part of her daring ploy to sneak on board a Borg Cube and get assimilated. However, the Delta Flyer was destroyed in the effort. So the obvious question arises; how exactly could Janeway take a destroyed shuttle on a daring raid? The obvious answer is that the Delta Flyer was rebuilt in Drive, the episode directly following this one.

Imperfection even draws attention to the issue, rather than trying to hide it. “With all due respect, the last time you took the Delta Flyer to confront the Borg, it ended up in a couple of thousand pieces,” Paris advises Janeway after she comes up with a plan to raid a Borg debris field. Janeway responds, “I intend to bring it back in one piece this time.” Even inattentive viewers would notice that exchange. Even without knowing that Drive was produced earlier in the season, audience members might wonder how Paris found the time to rebuild it from “a couple of thousand pieces.”

“Continuity, Chakotay? What are we? Deep Space Nine?”

However, what is more striking than these continuity issues is just how little Imperfection cares about them. The production team make no effort to disguise these issues, which would have taken a few quick reshoots and a few additional lines of dialogue. Imperfection doesn’t believe that internal continuity – even on the scale of a character’s marriage or a ship’s fate – merits any additional effort or attention. Voyager had always been indifferent towards long-form storytelling, and The Voyager Conspiracy seemed wary of serialisation, but Imperfection demonstrates wilful contempt for the idea of continuity.

Imperfection is a shockingly nihilistic piece of narrative theory, an episode that demonstrates wilful contempt for anything beyond the most basic storytelling. Setting aside how the glaring continuity issues feel like an attempt to signal that to the audience, the story itself is constructed in a remarkably shoddy way. It is very much structured as a sequence of events, a story full of things that happen, with little room for introspection or theme or character. Imperfection is not trying to tell a single cohesive story so much as it is trying to reach the end credits.

“Strange, people don’t usually faint until after I’ve made them dinner.”

In theory, Imperfection is a story about a character coming to terms with their inevitable death. This is certainly an interesting premise for a Star Trek episode, albeit one somewhat hampered by the constraints of the episodic television format. Any audience member with any understanding of how the medium works understands that Seven of Nine cannot actually die, and so they understand that the central plot is completely toothless. Imperfection is apparently the story of a character confronting their mortality, but it is instead a story about a character waiting until they get miraculously cured in the final act.

It is revealing, for example, that when Deep Space Nine wanted to do a story about terminal illness in Ties of Blood and Water, it chose to build the story around a guest star rather than the lead. While viewers understood that Kira Nerys would be returning the following week for Ferengi Love Songs, there was no such certainty for Legate Tekeny Ghemor. As such, the episode was able to follow its ideas to a logical conclusion in a way that a story like Imperfection is simply not. Seven of Nine would be around for the next episode, even if the season wasn’t broadcast out of sequence.

Kathryn Janeway, daring explorer, dynamic poser.

At the same time, it is possible to wring drama from this sort of premise. Deep Space Nine was very good at constructing introspective episodes in which characters found themselves confronting uncomfortable truths. Episodes like Family Business and Doctor Bashir, I Presume were practically stage plays, with a lot of the tension psychological in nature. It would be entirely possible to construct a compelling episode about a character coming to terms with a terminal illness. There are shades of that in the lovely conversation between Seven and Torres in Imperfection.

However, Voyager is not a series that tends to do introspective character drama, certainly not under Kenneth Biller. Biller’s approach to breaking a story is largely driven by plot beats rather than character developments. Indeed, many of his scripts for Voyager don’t feel like individual self-contained narratives, but instead play as extended chains of events that propel the episode through the forty-off minute runtime. Biller’s scripts often shift focus or premise heading into the final acts, as if the writer has grossly underestimated the amount of story that he requires to fill an episode.

All of a piece.

Twisted is perhaps a great example of this, a collection of interlocked sequences rather than a singular cohesive narrative. Worst Case Scenario begins as a reflection on the show’s squandered potential, before becoming a meditation on ownership of stories, before turning into a gonzo holodeck malfunction story. Demon opens as a story about the ship in crisis, develops into a narrative about Harry’s crisis of self-confidence, becomes a tale about a mysterious planet, and then ends with the duplication of the ship’s entire crew. Biller’s version of Voyager has a preference for storytelling that hinges on “… and then…”

Imperfection is a great example of this, with the middle section of the episode essentially surrendered to a completely pointless narrative dead-end designed to help the episode hit the runtime and provide an obligatory action beat for the audience watching at home. When Seven takes ill, Janeway embarks upon a daring raid into a Borg debris field “just outside the Yontasa Expanse”, hoping to recover a cortical node from a recently deceased drone. During that scavenging sequence, Janeway encounters a bunch of marauders. This leads to a tense stand-off and a battle sequence.

Debris or not debris?
That is the question.

Of course, all of this is very quickly revealed as pointless. It is a shaggy dog tale. Once Janeway returns to Voyager with the recovered cortical node, the EMH promptly explains that it is useless. “The salvaged node has been inactive too long,” he explains. Even Icheb reaches a similar conclusion on analysing the crew’s failed attempts to transplant the node into Seven. “I’ve been analysing the simulations you performed. They failed because you tried to implement a cortical node from a dead drone.” It renders that whole middle sequence of the episode completely pointless.

To be fair, the internal logic of the sequence holds together. Of course Janeway will try anything to save Seven of Nine, and of course not all of those efforts are going to work. However, Imperfection devotes so much energy and effort to the raid on the debris field that it feels like a cheat to have the sequence mean absolutely nothing. The episode could have just as easily made that point with a shorter sequence that would not have disrupted the flow of the episode and kept the focus on Seven of Nine herself. Instead, the whole heist sequence messes up the tone and tempo of the episode, and offers nothing in exchange.

Janeway runs into trouble in this neck of the woods.

In keeping with Biller’s approach to Star Trek, the episode is structured in such a way that it remains “archetypal Star Trek.” It is painfully and generically in keeping with the established tone of the franchise, a collection of familiar beats and stock clichés that mark out a story as belonging to the Star Trek franchise, aimed squarely at the kind of conservative fans who found Deep Space Nine or Discovery to be ambiguously “un-Star-Trek-ian” in how they told stories. It is insistent and trite. Voyager doesn’t really care if the audience thinks it is good television, but is very insistent that they recognise it as good Star Trek.

This is obvious in a number of respects. In the early scenes, Seven seems upset at the departure of the younger Borg children. This makes sense, given that she was effectively their primary caregiver. In conversation outside the transporter room, Icheb notes that there is a tear running down her cheek. “You’re crying,” Icheb observes. Seven replies, “My ocular implant must be malfunctioning.” This is one of those obligatory “innocent non-human character has a fleeting moment of humanity” beats, which The Next Generation did repeatedly (and to great effect) with Data.

Alcosy in the Alcove.

Naturally, it turns out that her ocular implant is malfunctioning, which is the laziest way of writing out of that beat while also being incredibly cliché. Then again, in its own way, it is very much archetypal Star Trek writing to try to literalise an abstract emotional concept through blunt technobabble. After all, Deanna Troi’s primary function on The Next Generation was to use her genetic gifts to explain how characters were feeling at a given moment. So it makes sense that Imperfection would argue that Seven crying is a technological malfunction.

Star Trek has often literalised emotional beats. In Facets, Jadzia Dax is forced to literally come to terms with the various parts of herself when they are personified through an ancient Trill ritual. In Dreadnought, Torres comes face to face with her own past when she has to converse with a missile that she designed that speaks in her voice. In Riddles, Tuvok undergoes a change that is equivalent to a severe neurological disability, but which is explained in terms of Vulcan psychology and alien weapons.

Neelix is a glass half-full kinda guy.

This is particularly true with cybernetic or computer-driven characters like Seven or the EMH. Repeatedly, Voyager uses their technological facets as a prism through which the show might look at certain biological or psychological processes. In One, Seven has a psychological breakdown when radiation interferes with her implants. In Infinite Regress, an alien plot to attack the Borg Collective leads Seven to manifest multiple personalities. In Darkling, the EMH’s manipulation of his own matrix has a similar impact. As such, a malfunction causing Seven of Nine to start crying is very much in keeping with this approach.

Nevertheless, Imperfection tries to have its cake and eat it, with a sequence at the end of the episode in which Seven cries for real. It’s an incredibly hackneyed conclusion to the episode, not least because it suggests that Seven never really had any emotional attachment to the three kids she just palmed off to a bunch of strangers. It is also incredibly forced, because it suggests that the only reason that Seven would care for Icheb would be because he risked his own life to help her. It is incredibly forced and clichéd, but it exists largely so Imperfection can have “an archetypal Star Trek moment” reflecting on the human condition.

Standard operating procedure.

Imperfection aspires to be recognisably Star-Trek-y in other ways, most notably in framing the episode as a gigantic allegory. As actor Manu Intiraymi observes, Imperfction is effectively a gigantic metaphor for kidney transplants:

Most of us who act or paint or write or make music think of ourselves as artists, and we all want to make a piece of art that affects people in a big way, that touches people in some way, shape or form, that makes them feel something. I’ve been in this business about 15 years and I’ve probably done 30 or 40 projects now, and not many of them can I say, “Wow, I know that that affected a lot of people.” I had that with one particular episode, Imperfection, where I gave my cortical node to Seven. It wasn’t that I felt it making the episode or that I even saw it watching the episode, but going around to the cons over the years a lot of people have told me that that episode affected them in an emotional way, that their brother or sister or mom was going through a kidney operation or a transplant of some kind, and something in Imperfection touched them. Any time someone tells me that, even now, it rocks me to the core because it’s why I do what I do. So, Imperfection is the episode I’m most proud of. I know it did what I want to do with my life.

The episode is clearly and recognisably about these sorts of medical procedures, right down to its central theme of family and the focus that it places on the particulars of the operation itself.

Seven needs this like she needs a hole in the head.

Allegory is one of the defining features of Star Trek. Even among the general public, the franchise is best know for its broad metaphorical commentary on contemporary events; on Vietnam in A Private Little War, on racism in Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, on the end of the Cold War in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. To certain audience members, Star Trek is at its best when it is constructing these stories about modern society reflected through the prism of science-fiction; commentary on euthanasia in Half a Life, on gay rights in The Outcast, on arranged marriage in The Perfect Mate.

Biller has a fondness for this kind of story, perhaps reflecting his emphasis on the idea of a pure and distilled archetypal Star Trek storytelling on Voyager. As such, many of Biller’s episodes can be read as metaphors in that traditional Star Trek way. The Chute is about incarceration, Nemesis is about killology, Random Thoughts is about political correctness, Extreme Risk is about self-harm, The Disease is about AIDS. Biller commits to this idea in the seventh season, especially those on which he is credited; Critical Care is about healthcare, The Void is about coalition-building, Natural Law is about the Prime Directive.

That healthy green glow.

However, the issue with Star Trek allegories is that it is not enough for an episode to be an allegory. The episode has to be more than an allegory, no matter how clever that allegory might be. The episode has to tell a story. That story doesn’t have to be action-packed. It can be character-driven instead. However, it needs more than just a central metaphor for a relatively uncontroversial procedure. If Imperfection is an allegory for kidney transplantation, what is saying? What keen insight does it have from a plot or character perspective?

To pick an arbitrary example, when The Simpsons did an episode about kidney transplantation, it chose to focus it on character. It should be noted that Homer Simpson in: “Kidney Trouble” aired as the eighth episode of the tenth season, around the point where most observers would accept that the show was in appreciable decline. Even allowing for that, the episode has a clear plot that is centred around Homer’s character arc. Homer volunteers to donate his kidney, has a panic attack and abandons his father to die, and then eventually tries to do the right thing, before chickening out again, forcing fate to intervene.

You gotta be kid(ney)ing me.

It might be too much for Imperfection to follow those beats, but Homer Simpson in: “Kidney Trouble” demonstrated that it was entirely possible to construct a story around kidney transplantation. In fact, Star Trek has done this repeatedly, using allegories as storytelling engines rather than as points to be made of themselves. The franchise has returned time and time again to allegories for the ravages that age takes upon a person and those around them, often framed in technobabble terms; Sarek, Brothers and The Swarm.

The issue isn’t that Imperfection is an allegory for a terminal diagnosis or a kidney transplant. The issue is that Imperfection does absolutely nothing interesting with that story. It never gives its characters room to breath, instead feeling like an episode assembled from a list of factory floor requirements rather than a story that needed to be told. It’s not enough to have the basic and recognisable ingredients of Star Trek, they have to be assembled into something interesting. Then again, the seventh season of Voyager has begun in earnest.

9 Responses

  1. I suspect this episode derives from the TNG episode where Worf broke his spine.

    Much ado over the “overuse” of the Borg, but the Borg Kids did start to grow on me. Chances are, if you’re a VOY fan, you tuned in each week for the crew and their relationships, and not the writing (which was obviously lacking).

  2. Hi Darren,

    I just want to say, even if I never saw the Voyager reaching home since its time on television, and your reviews do little to make me interested in ever trying again, I enjoy reading these reviews of yours. The best thing about them are the captions of the pictures, something enjoyable without necessity of reading the whole thing. The “Kathryn Janeway, daring explorer, dynamic poser.”-line got a chuckle from me, so perhaps more fun than I would have had watching this episode. So, thank you for this.

  3. I found the episode a bit better than you, Darren, especially as sort of a coming of age story for Icheb and Seven. I was rather moved by the end scenes with Seven’s tears. A lot more than by her strange appearance in “Picard”.

    Two big “buts” (with one t!):

    Where does the Delta Flyer all of a sudden come from? When they first build it, it seemed like a pretty big deal.

    If they can simulate the operation up unto the details – why cannot they repliacte a new cortical node? A good proof of the fact that replicators can destroy your story if you not rule them out as a solution – but this makes not always sense. Too complex sounds strange if the can create it holographically.

    • I think that you can handwave a holographic expression of an object as long as it doesn’t actually work in the holodeck by claiming it’s just like a prop rather than an actual functioning example of the object.

  4. One of my problems with this death/organ-transplant allegory was that the various dramatic scenes play out very inauthentically. The doctor spends a lot of time shouting at Icheb when the situation doesn’t really call for it. I can not imagine Bashir or Crusher screaming at a kid who came up with a proposal to donate his own organ to save a patient. At the same time, almost all of Seven’s reactions play out as emotionally stunted rudeness. The director seems to have pushed Jeri Ryan to ramp up her weird persona. The dialogue is often incredibly flat and unnatural. The scene between Torres and Seven stands out for being only slightly more real – and I suspect Roxann Dawson and Jeri Ryan might have improvised or suggested some of that scene to get it to flow better.

    The continuity issues with the shuttle, the dumping of the Borg kids, and Chakotay’s shocked worry at engaging the Borg (again) just grated gently as I am becoming very numb to the rampant holes in the writing. Voyager doesn’t mistakenly make continuity errors. It purposely violates them with a sort of glee. Even contemporary 90s episodic American sitcoms have more care and concern for continuity and story.

    Borg tech also seems incredibly unreliable at this point in the franchise. Far from being ‘superior’ or ‘perfect’, they seem to struggle with as many problems as Windows 98 and XP did at the time.

    • That’s a really good point. Borg technology is miraculously powerful or pitifully weak depending on the requirements of the episode. TNG brushed against this problem, but it wasn’t a serious concern because they used the Borg so little. Voyager’s massive use of the Borg meant they had to confront this problem, and the show pretty much avoided that.

  5. When I watched this episode many years ago, what jumped out at me was how willing Janeway was to respect Seven’s wishes, even of it meant her death. Having watched Nothing Human, this attitude seriously jarred with how she treated Torres in a similar situation. It might be a compliment to Torres that her job is considered more essential to the ship, or it might be less complimentary in the sense that to Janeway, Seven is a person and Torres is a function. Most other shows could’ve explained this by suggesting Janeway had changed in the time between the episodes, though it would be a huge shift, but Voyager just writes in the behavior that works for the episode.

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