To paraphrase Kermit the Frog: It’s not easy being Trek. Every incarnation of the mega-popular science-fiction franchise has faced the near-impossible task of measuring up to Trekkies’ mythic standards. The Next Generation, fans moaned, was not the classic Trek. Deep Space Nine, watchers wailed, couldn’t hold a tricorder to Next Generation. (Which brings to mind a joke: How many Trekkies does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Two, one to screw it in and one to complain how much better the light was in the original series.)
That’s why the premise for the season finale of Star Trek: Voyager — resurrecting the Borg — seems at once thrilling and foolhardy. The reintroduction of Trek’s greatest villains certainly adds weight and resonance to what has been a wayward and somewhat bloodless show. But it also invites direct comparison to Borg visits gone by. And those are some tough space tracks to follow.
First, the plot: While toddling along on their journey home from the Delta Quadrant, the Voyager crew runs smack into the Borg’s home turf. Distraught at the prospect of having to turn back and abandon their quest, our heroes decide to chance it and slip into a seemingly quiet passageway through Borg space. That’s where they discover that a super-alien species has dropped in, apparently from an alternate universe, and started annihilating the previously insurmountable Borg. Turns out these guys are stronger, uglier, and ten times nastier than anything seen before. They even come complete with their own pithy ”Resistance is futile”-style catchphrase: ”The weak will perish.” In short, they make the Borg look like Barney.
What this situation means for our intrepid travelers is lots of gnashing of teeth as they try to decide what’s worse: getting assimilated by the Borg or perishing at the tentacles of the Uberaliens. What it also means, luckily for us, is lots of creepy atmospheric shots inside derelict Borg vessels and way-cool scenes of slinky new spaceships zapping things to bits.
Although, initially, there’s a kind of visceral thrill in seeing the Borg get their cybernetic butt kicked, in the end the effect is deflating. After all, what’s the point of bringing Jaws to the beach if you’ve yanked all its teeth? The Borg just ain’t the Borg if they’re not the baddest cats on the galactic block. Where’s the skin-crawling eroticism of Alice Krige’s Borg Queen, so purely showcased in last year’s feature film Star Trek: First Contact? Where’s the naked malevolence of the bogeymen who kidnapped Jean-Luc Picard in The Next Generation’s classic third-season finale?
These are the antecedents that the episode evokes, and were it not for the fresh perspective created by plunging Trek’s prototypical female captain into the fray, the conflict would have failed miserably. As it is, Kate Mulgrew’s quietly desperate Janeway adds a vitally important emotional core to the ensuing star wars. Her challenge to the Borg isn’t driven by duty or vengeance; her response is that of a mother protecting her brood. And when she decides on a course of action — one that Picard never could have taken — that alienates her confidant Chakotay (a convincingly intense Robert Beltran), her loneliness is palpable. That’s a situation all the other Trek captains with their male-bonded crews never faced. (As that 24th-century best-seller might read, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From a Quantum Singularity in the Delta Quadrant.)
Ultimately, in the grand tradition of season finales, we are left hanging while the ship’s fate, along with Janeway’s convictions, remain caught between the Collective and a hard place. But there is a kind of resolution, as Voyager the show manages to barely escape another force more powerful than the Borg: its Trek ancestry. B