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Star Trek: Voyager – Human Error (Review)

Human Error is a staggering act of creative cowardice.

Star Trek: Voyager is in the literal home stretch of its final season; only seven more episodes remain. By this point in its final season, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was mapping out an impressive and ambitious epic tying together seven years of threads into something loosely resembling a single tapestry; the “final chapter” was kicking into high gear with Strange Bedfellows. While Star Trek: The Next Generation was less assuredly wrapping things up, as Star Trek: Generations loomed, there was an air of finality and closure to stories like Journey’s End or Firstborn.

What a dish.

Voyager shows little real sign of progress in the final stretch. There is the occasional piece of housekeeping, such as the awkward decision to get Neelix off the ship in Homestead. There are occasional flashes of thematic reflection on the end of the journey, as in Workforce, Part I and Workforce, Part II. There are also episodes asserting the show’s place within the larger franchise, espousing hollow takes on familiar franchise storytelling in episodes like Critical Care or RepentanceVoyager even shows flashes of anxiety about the franchise iteration that will replace it, in episodes like Friendship One.

Watching the seventh season of Voyager, there is never any doubt that this will be the final season. There is a funereal atmosphere running through the season, that awkward sense of an exhausted athlete grasping desperately for the respite of the finish line. Watching the seventh season of Voyager, fatigue hangs in the air; it is abundantly clear that nobody involved expects an eighth season. However, it is equally obvious that nobody involved with the show has any idea what to do with the seventh season itself.

Not feeling herself.

On its own terms, Human Error is a disappointment in a manner similar to a lot of late Voyager episodes. The premise is highly derivative of a number of relatively recent episodes. As with Imperfection, Seven of Nine experiences a technological malfunction that may kill her due to her Borg implants. As with Someone to Watch Over Me, Seven of Nine experiments with her humanity. As with Pathfinder (and much earlier Hollow Pursuits), a character finds themselves escaping from reality into holographic fantasy. As with Fair Haven, a lead character falls in love with a holographic partner.

Human Error is dull and drab in terms of plotting. Its structure is fairly conventional. It’s secondary plot is underdeveloped, unnecessary and distracting. Its resolution is trite, with Seven of Nine naturally redeeming her earlier failures by saving the crew at the last possible minute using techno-babble and hazily-defined stakes. All of this is pretty standard Voyager plotting. It is not an aberration. There is very little to be said about these elements of the episode. These have been problems with the show for years, and Human Error is not even the most egregious example of any of them.

More like Chako-bae.

The big problem with Human Error is lack of conviction. Human Error is an episode with a premise that requires and demands proper development and exploration. It is an episode that lays down a marker, one that exists primarily so that it can be honoured over the final stretch of the season. Despite the problems within the episode itself, Human Error gambles in a big way on how the rest of the season builds off it. Naturally, Human Error loses this bet, its set-ups never honoured by the episodes that follow. This deals the episode a fatal blow, undercutting it brutally. Human Error is dull and drab, but also pointless.

To be clear, Human Error is not making an unreasonable request of the seven episodes that follow. The premise flowing from Human Error isn’t especially ambitious in the context of early twenty-first century television. Both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine have built skilfully off individual episodes like Human Error, using these set-ups as stepping stones to build something more impressive. Even Voyager has employed that sort of storytelling before, albeit to mixed effect. There is no reason for Human Error to crash so spectacularly, beyond a complete disinterest from Voyager itself.

Don’t bottle it.

Human Error starts with an intriguing hook. A dialogue-less teaser focuses on a young woman playing a grand piano in an old-fashioned setting; there is wood paneling on the wall, a bust in the window. While an unusual place to start an episode, it is not entirely alien to Voyager. The show has frequently used the holodeck to take the crew back to these sorts of environments; most notably the Irish village in Fair Haven and Spirit Folk or the period holonovel in Cathexis, Learning Curve and Persistence of Vision. Leonardo DaVinci’s workshop from Scorpion, Part I or Chez Sandríne from The Cloud also loosely fit the aesthetic.

However, as the metronome ticks, the camera suggests that the player is of more interest than the setting. The camera sweeps across the hands as they move over the keys; they are perfect, unblemished. The camera moves around the room, revealing that a the player is a blonde woman. As the piece builds to a crescendo, the woman’s features become clearer. It is Seven of Nine. However, she looks different. Her right hand is missing the exoskeleton that has been present since the end of The Gift. Her hair is worn more casually. The implant above her eye has been removed. In short, Seven of Nine looks human.

She hasn’t a ‘nome to go to.

This is an intriguing trailer, one that plays on the audience’s ability to recognise that something is unusual. There are very few characters who could support a teaser like this. There are relatively few visually iconic Star Trek characters, especially outside of the original series. Casual audience members might be able to recognise Picard or Data (or even Worf) on sight, but very few of the later spin-offs had characters enter popular consciousness. Could the average television audience member identify Neelix, Quark or Odo on sight? Would they know that Jadzia Dax should have brown spots running down her body?

Seven of Nine is a rare exception to this. A large part of this is down to the major publicity push that she received at the start of the fourth season. Jeri Ryan’s arrival on Voyager registered in public consciousness, even just cynically as a ploy “to save UPN’s Voyager as Borg babe Seven of Nine.” Her arrival garnered coverage in magazines like The Advocate, Broadcasting and Cable and TV Guide. It also bumped up the ratings to a higher point than they had been since Deathwish in the second season; Scorpion, Part II marks the rare upward spike on any graph of Voyager‘s Nielsen ratings. People noticed.

She’s only human.

So while Seven of Nine’s arrival didn’t exactly dominate mainstream media, it made her arrival a larger part of the cultural conversation than anything else in Voyager, and perhaps more than any other part of the Berman era following the end of the show’s celebratory thirtieth anniversary year. For better or worse, Seven of Nine was the most iconic part of Voyager. Her costume and wardrobe were an important (if embarrassing) part of that. Seven of Nine’s distinctive catsuit and very adolescent idea of sexuality ensured that the character had a memorable design; if not for the best reasons.

As such, there are very few characters in the larger franchise who could anchor a teaser like the teaser to Human Error, and Seven of Nine is one of those characters. Human Error understands exactly what it is doing. This is a version of Seven of Nine who has actually grown and changed, who has progressed in a very real and tangible sense beyond her reintroduction at the end of The Gift. This is a version of Seven of Nine who has moved forward, taken the next logical steps towards embracing personhood in general and humanity in particular.

A puzzling gift.

Immediately following the credits, Human Error doubles down on this idea. Attending the baby shower for Paris and Torres, this new version of Seven of Nine has been stripped of her implants and is wearing more casual clothing. “Now that your Borg implants have been removed, you might think about having children of your own one day,” Janeway muses, with complete disregard for personal boundaries. Seven responds, “One day. I have been considering some less radical changes in my personal life.” She clarifies, “I realise I don’t have a rank, but I would like to request a uniform.”

This is, to put it frankly, a long overdue character development. Seven of Nine has been walking around in a catsuit for almost three full seasons, one designed to present her as a sex object for the (presumed young and male) audience watching at home. (Within the world of Voyager, it is no less creepy for being designed by the EMH himself, who would serve as one of Seven’s mentors and develop romantic feelings for her in Someone to Watch Over Me.) Having Seven of Nine dressed similar to the rest of the cast would be a welcome development. It need not even be a uniform, it could just be regular clothes.

What a Hansen young woman.

After all, it’s hard to excuse the creepy objectification of Seven of Nine as a product of its time. Neither Deep Space Nine nor The Next Generation had been as consistent in leering at their female leads, occasional missteps and mirror universe episodes notwithstanding. Even cast members like Martha Hackett had called out the costuming and design of Seven of Nine, while the show was still on the air:

“It was a lot of fun in those first episodes, and there were a lot of strong women,” Hackett recalls, sounding sympathetic to the cast’s frustration with the recent focus on Seven of Nine and her catsuit. “I was astonished when I first saw that character; I thought, my god, she’s naked, and this is a family show! Especially when this show started on the right foot with the female captain. It was sort of revolutionary, and then to backslide into something like this.”

All of this is to say that there is no reason why it should have taken Voyager nearly three full seasons to take Seven of Nine out of the absurd catsuit and put her in some more practical and comfortable clothes. Even on a purely superficial level, it is not as though Jeri Ryan suddenly becomes appreciably less beautiful when taken out of the catsuit, as demonstrated in episodes such as The Killing Game, Part I, The Killing Game, Part II and Relativity.

Won’t be caught nappy-ing.

More to the point, Human Error suggests that Seven of Nine is taking real and serious steps towards developing herself as a person. “The Doctor tells me you don’t need to regenerate any more,” Janeway observes. “I can arrange some quarters for you, unless you enjoy curling up in the Cargo Bay?” Seven concedes, “A bed would be more comfortable.” This would be long overdue. The Cargo Bay set exists largely to define Seven of Nine as an archetype rather than as a character, to provide visual shorthand for her “otherness” and her status as a former Borg drone. It says very little about Seven of Nine as an individual.

This should be a standard part of introducing a new character into the ensemble. As a point of comparison, Worf was introduced into the Deep Space Nine cast during its fourth season. While this is an imperfect comparison owing to Worf’s status as an established character on The Next Generation, it is still illustrative. Deep Space Nine made a point to integrate Worf into the show. Worf acclimitised to his position in Hippocratic Oath, moved his quarters to the Defiant in Bar Association, started dating Jadzia Dax in Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places, and married her in You Are Cordially Invited…

What a (cham)pagne.

As with episodes like Critical Care, Repentance or The Void, there is a strong temptation to praise the seventh season of Voyager for doing the bare minimum. This sort of character development should not have taken the best part of three seasons, and to cram it into the final stretch of the series feels like a cynical cop out on the part of the production team. At the same time, at least the opening scenes of Human Error seem to be consciously trying to do something to advance Seven of Nine as a character. Voyager has never been particularly good at this sort of storytelling, but it is good to see it trying.

Then, before the first act break, the façade drops. The episode cuts to the bridge. It initially appears like this might represent a time skip; many of the characters who were at the baby shower are now on the bridge together. There is an “energy discharge” that requires investigation. Janeway contacts Seven of Nine. A quick cut reveals that the baby shower is happening simultaneously to the bridge scene. This can only mean one thing. Summoned to duty, Seven utters the fateful command, “Computer, end programme.” The holodeck shuts down. The simulation ends. Seven of Nine returns to factory settings.

Uniform concerns.

This is a disappointing development on a number of levels. Most obviously, it affirms a recurring theme on Voyager. The series has always been fascinated with questions of nested realities, dating back to the EMH’s breakdown in Projections. In someways, the blurring of the line between reality and fantasy in episodes like Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy reflected the existential nightmares of the nineties, the fear that the entire world was an elaborate and deceptive illusion. The theme – the blurring of fiction and reality – recurs so frequently within Voyager that it was also the entire plot of Workforce, Part I and Workforce, Part II.

However, what is particularly striking about the blurred boundaries between reality and fantasy on Voyager is that character growth and development seems to take place primarily within these virtual frameworks. The EMH starts a holographic family in Real Life as part of a conscious effort to develop as a person, but they are never mentioned again. Starfleet and Maquis tensions flare up in Worst Case Scenario, only to be revealed as a simulation. Paris and Torres get married in the teaser to Course: Oblivion, only for the episode to subsequently reveal that the entire episode is set on a duplicate version of Voyager.

Staying the course.

In each of these stories, character development is something that happens away from the reality of the show, so as to preserve the status quo. On Voyager, it is enough to imagine these sorts of significant changes, but only if they have no long-term implications for the series. As such, before the end of the first act, Human Error has revealed itself as something hollow and meaningless. Even imagining something as trivial as Seven of Nine wearing comfortable clothes or having her own living space that doesn’t double as a storage space for the rest of the ship must take place outside the “reality” of the show itself.

Human Error presents a world where Seven can dream of the kind of growth and character development that Deep Space Nine casually afforded to Worf, but only so long as she agrees to return to her rigidly-defined factory settings. When Seven of Nine utters the word “end programme”, the episode literalises the infamous “reset button.” All of the growth and development that Seven of Nine experienced in her fantasy world is wiped away. Her uniform is stripped off, her cybernetic implants are restored. Seven looks exactly like she always has, and like she always will. Progress is an illusion.

Catch a falling dream.

Perhaps this reflects the sense of cultural status that defined the nineties, the decade to which Voyager was wed. However, it might also reflect a conscious rejection of the trend towards serialisation in television drama at the turn of the millennium. After all, Voyager had already expressed its anxiety about this trend in The Voyager Conspiracy, another Seven-centric episode. The exhortation to “change or die!” is practically a cliché dating back to the early eighteenth century, but there is some truth to it. However, even now, in its final hours, Voyager refuses to allow any meaningful change.

More than that, the internal logic of Human Error amounts to “change and die!” Seven of Nine is told quite late in the episode that she simply cannot realise the change for which she longs. While escaping into the fantasy, Seven of Nine begins to deteriorate. “What you experienced was no malfunction,” the EMH assures her. “Your cortical node was designed to shut down your higher brain functions when you achieve a certain level of emotional stimulation.” He explains, “It appears to be a fail-safe mechanism to deactivate drones who start to regain their emotions.”

Switching it off.

Seven of Nine cannot change or she will die. In fact, the EMH even suggests that he might be able to offer a long-term solution that might work over time. “I’ve been thinking about a way to reconfigure the micro-circuitry,” the EMH tells her. “I won’t lie to you, Seven. It would entail multiple surgeries, and the recovery might be difficult. But I believe we could eventually succeed. I’ll prepare the surgical bay. We can begin tomorrow morning.” Seven of Nine is not convinced. “No,” she states. “I’ve experienced enough humanity for the time being. They were only holographic fantasies, Doctor. An inefficient use of my time.”

Seven of Nine opts to remain static and frozen in time, because change is hard work. The EMH acknowledges as much. “You don’t really believe that,” he protests. “That’s the Borg talking, not you. As your physician. As your friend, I’m asking you to let me proceed.” Seven refuses. Seven might secretly long for growth and development, but is unwilling to commit to the work necessary to realise that sort of change. Instead, she falls back into old patterns and routines. As with The Voyager Conspiracy, it feels like Human Error is positioning Seven of Nine as an avatar of Voyager itself.

“C’mon, Seven. Only seven more episodes.”

Notably, once the episode reveals its nature within the first act, Human Error feels like a tired reheated collection of Voyager clichés. There is not one unique storytelling element baked into the episode. The episode suggests that Seven’s holographic fantasies are intruding into her professional life, recalling Reginald Barclay’s struggles with holodeck addiction in Hollow Pursuits and Pathfinder. Seven’s decision to programme herself a holographic boyfriend in the form of Chakotay recalls Janeway’s relationship with Michael Sullivan in Fair Haven and Spirit Folk.

Even outside of Seven’s own plot, the structure of the episode feels familiar and well-worn. As with Voyager episodes like Real Life and The Swarm, there is a tangible reluctance to have a simple character-focused drama without shoehorning in some broadly-drawn science-fiction high concept around the margins of the episode. Human Error finds the ship navigating “an alien testing ground”, fighting off warheads launched by an unseen (and presumably oblivious) antagonist. This is a potentially interesting story of itself, but it exists purely to provide Human Error with some action sequences and nominal stakes.

“We are out-of-range, captain.”

More than that, the basic structure of Human Error is so tired as to border on cliché. This is most notable in the last act. Seven of Nine has been humiliated an embarrassed by the time that she has been spending on the holodeck, struggling to meet her obligations to the crew. Janeway is disappointed and gives her a dressing down. “The work took longer than I anticipated,” Seven of Nine reports. “It might’ve gone faster if you’d stayed at your post, as you were ordered to do,” Janeway answers. “You were on duty. This isn’t the first time you’ve left your station over the past few days.” Seven has failed the crew.

Naturally, the final act conspires to allow Seven of Nine some small moment of redemption, because that is the narrative path of least resistance. However, it is also incredibly lazy, largely because it is couched in stock Voyager clichés. The climax of Human Error hinges on having characters working at consoles and spouting technobabble seem both intense and work as a satisfying resolution to a narrative. “The detonator’s protected by tritanium shielding,” Seven tells the bridge. “I can penetrate it, but not at this distance. We’ll have to wait until it’s closer.” So they wait, and she penetrates. The day is saved. There is no tension.

What the tech is going on?

Human Nature is notable as the last episode of Voyager to be written by Brannon Braga, who had already left the show to develop the next Star Trek spin-off. Braga would get story credits on Author, Author and Endgame, but Human Nature marks his last credit on a finished teleplay. Indeed, the only other teleplay credit that Braga had on the seventh season was on Unimatrix Zero, Part II, which was a direct follow-on from the sixth season finale Unimatrix Zero, Part I. This alone would make Human Nature an intriguing episode.

Interestingly, there is a sense of tension between Braga and the seventh season of Voyager. The returning showrunner clearly wants to build a stronger sense of continuity than the seventh season will allow. Indeed, Human Error even tries to contextualise Seven’s experiments as a consequence of the events of Unimatrix Zero, Part I and Unimatrix Zero, Part II. Examining Seven, the EMH asks, “What prompted all this?” Seven responds, “Unimatrix Zero. I’ve been trying to recreate some of the experiences I had there. Ever since it was destroyed, my life has seemed incomplete. I wanted to feel those emotions again.”

Sending her to Seventh Heaven?

Notably, Braga didn’t just want to contextualise Human Error in terms of what had gone before. In interviews given after the fact, Braga has argued that he intended Human Error to set up developments leading into Endgame, particularly the fate of Seven of Nine:

I always saw as a tragic character and it was my strong feeling – and I said this before – that she should have sacrificed herself in the final episode of Voyager. To me the final episode was missing a tragic component. The only episode of season seven that I wrote was called Human Error. It isn’t a very memorable episode to many, but it was to me. It is the one where Seven of Nine was experimenting with emotions on the holodeck and she is using Chakotay as a foil. But she realizes there is a piece of technology insider that if she begins to feel emotions it will kill her and it was incurable. To me that was setting up her realizing that she did not ever want to go back to the Borg and yet she could never fully be human and therefore she had no where to go and no one to be with. And I thought she should have somehow sacrificed herself to get the closest thing she had to a family home. I think it would have been amazing but I was shot down. I was not running the show at the time it was Ken Biller and Rick [Berman].

To be fair, Braga has a long history of talking up potential story line ideas after the fact; the plans for a first season of Star Trek: Enterprise set largely on Earth, the reveal that “Future Guy” would be an evil future Archer, the plans to expand Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II to a full season.

Keeping eyes on the (Enter)prise.

Nevertheless, this makes a certain amount of sense. Braga was always an ambitious writer, even if he didn’t always have the leverage or skill to realise his bolder ideas. Indeed, it’s notable that Human Error prefigures a lot of what Braga has stated that he wanted to do with the first season of Enterprise. The first season of Enterprise made a number of awkward and stilted attempts to slow down its pacing and focus on characters, leading to stories like Breaking the Ice, Cold Front, Shuttlepod One and Two Days and Two Nights. Even episodes like Strange New World tried to give space to character development and expression.

Of course, this approach didn’t always work. Too often, the first season of Enterprise fell back into the trappings and routines of familiar Star Trek storytelling; the “phenomenon of the week” plotting of Vox Sola, the return of the Ferengi in Acquisition, the presence of pseudo-holodeck technology in Unexpected. More than that, there was a recurring sense that the production team had no idea how to actually construct the sort of character-focused narratives that they were interested in telling; Two Days and Two Nights is a spectacular misfire, and second season episode A Night in Sickbay is an intriguing hot mess.

Making herself at home.

Nevertheless, there’s a strong sense watching Human Error that Braga is trying to tell that sort of character-focused story within the confines of Voyager, and brushing against the limitations of the series. It almost has to be a simulation. Braga had managed to write this sort of story in the late fifth season with Someone to Watch Over Me, but it was the exception that proved the rule. More to the point, it seems impossible to imagine Voyager ever pulling off an episode like Shuttlepod One. Episodes like Day of Honour and Gravity might come close, but they lack the same naturalistic quality.

Braga has always felt a particular sense of ownership and authorship of the character of Seven of Nine. Braga had been the writer who came up with the “midnight idea” of adding a new Borg to the cast. Although the character was developed by a number of creative personnel, Braga was particularly drawn to her; he described her arrival as “a nice touch of magic that the show needed at the time.” For some of the cast, Braga’s ascent to showrunner is inseparable from Seven’s introduction, with Robert Beltran noting that the show changed “when Brannon Braga took over, when the Seven of Nine character made her entrance.”

Living space.

As such, it seems appropriate that Braga should see Voyager concluding with the death of Seven of Nine. For Braga, Seven of Nine was the embodiment of the show as he had reinvented it. Braga had even entered a relationship with Ryan during their time working together on the show, reportedly as early as 1998. which Ryan would retroactively claim did a lot to claim tensions between herself and Kate Mulgrew by shifting the balance of power on set. During the sixth season, Braga and Ryan would be stalked by obsessive fan Marlon Pagtakhon who was later arrested and brought to trial.

Of course, Voyager was far too conservative a show to kill off a character like Seven of Nine, even in the finale. The basic plot of Endgame even features Janeway travelling back in time to prevent her death. In this case, that conservatism might not even have been a bad thing. Braga got his wish at the end of Enterprise, killing off the character of Charles “Trip” Tucker in the series finale. Much like Seven embodied the spirit of Voyager, Tucker embodied the spirit of Enterprise. The death of Tucker in These Are the Voyages… felt arbitrary and mean-spirited, an ill-judged conclusion.

Hey, good-lookin’?

However, the death of Seven of Nine isn’t the only aborted arc that Human Error sets up. The episode seeds the idea of a romance between Seven and Chakotay. Interestingly enough, like Chakotay’s sudden and inexplicable interest in boxing in The Fight, this idea originated with Beltran himself:

I remember having a conversation with her and I said I guess, I guess now that you’re with Brannon, there won’t be any Chakotay/Seven of Nine kissing scenes. We can throw that out the window that idea out the window. She said, “I’m going to tell him what you said.” I said, “Tell him. Tell him. Maybe he’ll take me up on the challenge.” It took a long time.

There is something vaguely sordid in all of this, particularly given Beltran’s history of deriding the series while it was on the air and the generally unpleasant atmosphere behind the scenes. Here, Beltran has goaded Braga into writing a script in which he makes out with Braga’s girlfriend.

“Yes, I did sleep with my clothes on. Why do you ask?”

Ironically, Beltran’s lobbying backfired. As the actor noted in an interview with Cinefantastique, there was actually no real character work for him in Human Error outside of playing the role of Seven of Nine’s holographic lover:

“That was fun, but it was all about Seven. I was just a hologram. It could have been any other character and worked just as well as far as having a prop for Seven of Nine. As an actor, I want to be able to reveal things about my character. When you are just a hologram, you can’t do that.”

Human Error largely avoids the implications of Seven of Nine modelling her holographic boyfriend after Chakotay, mostly by keeping the contents of Seven’s holodeck program private to herself and the EMH. Still, there is something just a little uncomfortable about using a colleague’s image in that manner.

Making sweet music together.

This is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Human Error, even beyond the complete lack of chemistry between Beltran and Ryan. It sets up the prospect of a romantic relationship between Seven and Chakotay, which is being seeded so that the two can pair off in Endgame at the end of the season. Of course, that relationship serves little narrative purpose except to heap a little more pathos on the dark alternate future in which Janeway finds herself; it is implied that Seven’s death had a profound impact on Chakotay, who died the year that the ship returned home.

This is not only a cynical choice, but is a surreal one. The romantic relationship between Seven and Chakotay is ultimately set up so that Endgame might place Seven in a refrigerator. (Not a literal refrigerator; that’s Timeless.) “Women in refrigerators” is the familiar genre trope of killing or hurting a female character in order to motivate a male character, often a lover or husband. However, what makes the use of the trope in Endgame so surreal is that the episode puts Seven of Nine in a refrigerator to provide emotional motivation for a male character who is long dead before the episode starts.

Commander of her heart.

To be fair, there may be a broader trend at work. In their final seasons, many television series like to pair off their lead characters. After all, relationships provide a sense of closure and purpose for characters. They offer a very heteronormative definition of a “happy ending”, playing into familiar clichés about relationships and marriages as “settling down”, marking the end of the more adventurous period of an individual’s life. (This is why, for example, comic book companies have historically been anxious about marrying off characters like Spider-Man, feeling that it ages the character.)

This is not a new thing. The final season of The Next Generation did this with its abridged romance between Worf and Troi, which was promptly dumped when Worf transferred to Deep Space Nine. While inelegant, at least that potential pairing was more thoroughly seeded. Worf glimpsed an alternate universe in which he was involved with Troi in Parallels, and decided to express his interest in Eye of the Beholder, with the pair dating by All Good Things… In contrast, the pairing of Julian Bashir and Ezri Dax in The Dogs of War was seeded dating back to ‘Til Death Do Us Part, but was no less awkward for that.

Putting her boots in it.

On top of all the other issues with the potential romance between Seven of Nine and Chakotay, there was the simple fact that Voyager chose to completely ignore it between the laying of the seeds in Human Error and the pay-off in Endgame. As Jeri Ryan concedes when asked about the romance:

It’s not that I didn’t buy it… My problem with that relationship was that it came out of the blue. They had started the set-up of the relationship a few episodes earlier, in the episode (Human Error) where Seven was experimenting with her humanity on the holodeck. And so she sort of fell in love with Chakotay there. They said something like her could never have these sorts of relationships because she would die, or whatever. The next episode that we shot after that (Natural Law), Seven and Chakotay were stranded on some planet together. We specifically asked the producers – Robert and I – “Now, are we going to play this? Is this going to go somewhere? Because, obviously, we’d need to carry something over from…” And they said, “No, no, no, no! Absolutely not. Don’t play any of that. Nothing’s going to happen.”

So, after that one episode we never played any sort of attraction or anything between the two characters. And then, out of the blue, all of a sudden, they’re dating (in Endgame). That was a little annoying, especially when you’ve specifically asked about it and they said, “No, absolutely not.” Then, suddenly they’re in love. That was a little… It’s one of the frustrations of network television. And it’s how you learn, also. You have to try to be the babysitter and the protector of your character.

This is lazy, even by the standards of Voyager. There are only seven episodes left. Natural Law will even focus on Seven of Nine and Chakotay. Deep Space Nine closed its run with a ten-episode epic. It should not be too much for Voyager to even broadly gesture at a potential romance between two of its leads.

Droning on.

Human Error demonstrates that even as the show enters its final run of episodes, there is no end to the laziness of Voyager. On Voyager, character growth and development is an illusion, something conveniently reset as soon as it becomes inconvenient and something enforced through arbitrary plot devices. The end of the programme cannot come soon enough.

2 Responses

  1. Totally agree about the laziness of this, and the contrivance to the typical reset at the end, so that all of Seven’s character development is wiped out by default. It seems cynical, and we all know it’s done to keep Seven in her role of being a sexy female version of Data. I say Data because we’ve seen her add hobby after interest after skill: singing, gourmet cooking, boardgames, maternal figure, piano, etc. etc. She is in many ways more ‘human’ than Kim or Chakotay, in that she has defined interests and a far more richly fleshed out background that actually affects her day to day life. In contrast we almost never hear of Kims childhood or Chakotay’s terrorist life. They are a grey veil in the past.

    I found Icheb’s mention of Oedipus Rex to Seven (of all people) to be a bit of a perverse wink from the writers. He’s already tried to get with Torres. That Borg dude has a thing for older maternal figures, and how he’s blatantly dropping Oedipus Rex quotes? Perhaps the average viewer would just let that wash past them and not realize the reference…

    Despite the inconsistency and awkward suddenness of Seven and Chakotay’s relationship, it was basically canonized…which has had the effect of making fans question what happened to it with the first season of Picard. One does wonder. They killed of Icheb, so they could at least have let us know why Seven and Chakotay broke up. Mind you, they didn’t really bother with Troi and Worf (a combination I never really liked), so who knows.

    The best part of this episode was the metronome. In fact, I would have preferred for the title to have been “Metronome” as it was an apt metaphor for how Seven is ruled by the machine. She is like us, just more so.

    As Lewis Mumford writes in “Technics and Civilization”:

    “…[O]ne is not straining the facts when one suggests that the monasteries – at one time there were 40,000 under the Benedictine rule – helped to give human enterprise the regular collective beat and rhythm of the machine; for the clock is not merely a means of keeping track of the hours, but of synchronizing the actions of men.

    Was it by reason of the collective Christian desire to provide for the welfare of souls in eternity by regular prayers and devotions that time-keeping and the habits of temporal order took hold of men’s minds: habits that capitalist civilization presently turned to good account? One must accept the irony of this paradox…

    The clock, not the steam engine, is the key-machine of the modern industrial age. For every phase of its development the clock is both the outstanding fact and the typical symbol of the machine: even today no other machine is so ubiquitous. Here, at the very beginning of modern technics, appeared prophetically the accurate automatic machine which, only after centuries of further effort, was also to prove the final consummation of this technics in every department of industrial activity…

    The clock, moreover, is a piece of power-machinery whose “product” is seconds and minutes: by its essential nature it dissociated time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences: the special world of science.”

    Seven is ruled by the clock. She must regenerate. She must reset before the end of the episode. Voyager must make the next advertising break.

  2. Funny how Jeri Taylor’s last act as showrunner was to hook up Torres and Paris, which the writers begrudgingly went along with, and Braga’s last script hooked up Seven and Chakotay, which the writers even more begrudgingly went along with. From what you write, Braga did not seem to envision these two staying together, treating it as a means of giving Seven a tragic arc. The writers seemed to completely ignore the technological inability of Seven being able to love (perhaps like the TNG writers ignored the warp drive destroying space thing) and hooked them up anyway with no build-up.

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