Saturday, January 23, 2016

Voyager, Season 4: The Gift, Season 4
 "The Gift"
Airdate: September 20, 1997
69 of 168 produced
69 of 168 aired


Seven of Nine is adjusting slowly and more than a little reluctantly to life on board Voyager. Meanwhile, Kes' powers appear to be increasing at an alarming rate.

Speaking of things that seem to increase at an alarming rate...


Kevin: This episode has a lot of housekeeping to do, and it achieves it, but it does so in an almost utilitarian way at the cost of making a self-contained story. The two obvious goals are introduce a de-Borgified Seven and say goodbye to Kes. I'll start with Seven since I think it was the more successful of the pair. I agree with Matt that not forcing these scenes into Scorpion was a good call. If you had seen a TV Guide in the last month before this episode aired, you probably knew both that Jeri Ryan would be a permanent addition and that the only Borg implants remaining would be the ones that flattered her naturally stunning bone structure, so the end result is a bit of a foregone conclusion. I think this half of the episode succeeds since it focuses on not one, but two interesting questions. Other people freed from the Collective had a life before the Collective, an identity that could be restored. Seven obviously does not. Is there an individual identity to return her to? I think they abandon this question a little early, but that was probably for the best. You can't really have an actress in her twenties spend the series navigating the development milestones of a preteen. Still, I'm glad they asked it.

Matthew: What they got right about Seven of Nine from the start was her emotional journey. She is a grown woman who skipped a significant portion of human emotional development. She careens between Borg hard-ass and wounded child in interesting ways. I think where they eventually settled was "gifted teenager." Someone you expect to perform consistently and admirably all the time, but who occasionally betrays the fact that they're not completely cooked all the way through yet. It's a nice counterpoint to the Starfleet crew.

Kevin: The other part of Seven's arc that gets established here is the tension between giving her an individual identity and respecting her choices in the context of both her limited capacity to function as an individual and the confines of a ship with a command structure of its own. I will say that the discussion, "When you freed me from the Collective, you defined humanity as X and your actions contradict that," gets repeated way too often over the next four years, but that's not this episode's fault. I like Seven's debating skills in the brig scene. Rather than defend her decision making, she paints Janeway into a corner by essentially getting her to acknowledge she would never return Seven to the Collective regardless of her wishes. Tack on the Doctor acknowledging that under "ordinary" circumstances, the Doctor would respect a patient's wishes even if it meant her death, but can he do so her? Janeway exercises authority as...captain? De facto next of kin? Is Seven her ward? The episode paints both sides of the discussion well and doesn't feel the need to over resolve the issue. Overall, it's the kind of ethical debate I come to Star Trek for.

Matthew: I think the dialogue in these scenes was very crisp. The Doctor and Janeway had an interesting moral quandary, and Janeway seems adamant about her position, which is interesting. It's more than a bit paternalistic, but it makes sense for her character - she is the nurturer, the builder of community. Naturally she wants to extend her flock even further. If anything, the Doctor should have pressed his case a bit more. Either way, Seven's reluctance gave the drama some teeth.

Kevin: Kes' exit is not entirely out of nowhere, since it hinges on her increasing powers which have been increasing for a while. That being said, it did feel a bit like one of those big vaudeville hooks yanking her off screen. I think I would have felt better about it if it felt more like her choice to go rather than being forced by circumstances. I liked the final conversations with Neelix and Janeway but really wish she had gotten one with the Doctor. Overall, it felt a little rushed and it compressed the other half of the episode. And I go back and forth on whether or not the "gift" of the 10,000 light year boost is a good plot device. I suppose my problem is that it's the first of a handful of times they do it and despite being clear of Borg space, they keep running into them.

Matthew: So, I was tickled intellectually by the "seeing beyond the subatomic" aspects of Kes'  story thread. It dovetails nicely with TNG's notion of the equivalence of time, space and thought, but also with string theory (which may well remain unproven even in a 24th century that possesses antimatter power). I do think there were some somewhat tropey echoes of past stories in which a being is going to go non-corporeal, and they didn't do that in an altogether interesting way. I think a better notion of where she was going and what she would be doing would have helped. How is it different than the other Ocampa and the sporocystean life form? How is it different than the Q? Do all the non-corporeal beings of the universe get together to play canasta? 


Kevin: The main cast did a good job. I liked Mulgrew in her final scene with Kes. I also enjoyed her and the Doctor discussing Seven's care. Lien did a good job portraying the ephemeral nature of her transformation without really over explaining them.

Matthew: Robert Picardo got lots to do, with both Seven and Kes.  I think Tim Russ did a nice job, as well, playing the mentor whose student is about to leave him. Come to think of it, this was Ethan Phillips only chance to play his relationship with Kes in a non-creepy way, and he nailed it (this had never been his fault, for the record, it was always the writing).

Kevin: Jeri Ryan did a good job having to run a gamut of emotions. She managed to really infuse the aggression with an almost "lost child" vulnerability in her performance. She really created a fully realized character from the first episode.

Matthew: One benefit of making her transformation take a few episodes is that Ryan could sell us on her acting chops before she got into the silver boob suit. And boy, has she. When she yells, I believe it. When her voice trembles just a little bit, I believe it. She has eyes and motions that match Kate Mulgrew's in terms of depth and expressiveness. It's a bravura performance, and like you say, it's from day one. I think the best scene gave Mulgre a real chance to shine, too, in the brig. The way she played it was like a parent of a child with mental illness.

Production Values

Kevin: The CGI is okay but not stellar. I think the distortion effect on Kes' face was a little weird. The "beyond the subatomic" scene looked like a screensaver. The shot inside Seven's brain to dissolve the implant is cool in a Fantastic Voyage kind of way, but like of 90s CGI shows its age.

Matthew: I am always going to cut the slack for visualizations of particle theory. They made the particles little string-looking doohickeys, and that tickled my fancy. The rippling of her powers was average. I really liked all the Borg stuff on the ship exterior.

Kevin: Seven's makeup was really well done. The middle steps of the make up were great. I think the first generation of the jumpsuit is a little ridiculous. It's a little overdone. The boning in the ribs is a bit extreme. Once they soften  everything a little, it's much better.

Matthew: Yeah... the jumpsuit. I don't think it's just a little ridiculous, it's a lot ridiculous. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy looking at it, and heck if Jeri Ryan can't fill out a debilitating corset with aplomb, but it took me out of the story just a tad.


I think I have to go with a three. It's a good episode and achieves all the house keeping goals it has to, but the compression of the Seven story to make room for Kes' exit keep the episode from a 4 for me.

Matthew: I think a 3 is right, mainly on the slightness of the Kes story. I can't help but feel these two threads should have been treated separately. Look, it was always going to be really unusual and weird to have a character leave two episodes into a season. I'm still baffled as to why they did it this way. But here we have it. Seven of Nine is going to get fuller explorations of the scenes we are teased with here, while Kes is going to get "Fury." That makes for a total of 6, a solid but ultimately unfulfilling show.

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