Thursday, October 26, 2017

Voyager, Season 5: Infinite Regress, Season 5
"Infinite Regress"
Airdate: November 18, 1998
100 of 168 produced
99 of 168 aired

When Voyager passes a Borg debris field, Seven of Nine starts exhibiting strange behavior. The crew must try to help her control a series of alternate personalities from assimilated drones that seem to be taking over her body.

 Mmm, it's assimilation-tubule-lickin' good!


So Star Trek has created a trope of the "strange/alien character has mental breakdown" story. They did it with Spock, with Data, with Dax, with the Doctor, with Tuvok, and now with Seven of Nine. In many ways she is the most reasonable character to do it with - having actually suffered an extreme trauma which might have lasting psychological repercussions. But the question to ask of any of these kinds of stories is: is it telling me something new about the character, or is it just punishing them to manufacture drama? I think this episode just straddles the line. It gave us opportunities to see Seven being vulnerable, but I don't know that we really learned anything about her going forward. She was involved in the assimilation of thousands. She doesn't seem especially put out by that. I think I'd have preferred it if one of the assimilees had some sort of important information to impart, but receiving it put Seven at risk.

Kevin: I appreciate that. My other concern from a plot standpoint is similarities to episodes like Raven. Despite ostensibly having cleared Borg space, we keep running into them, and keep having Seven have a techonobabble generated problem with her post-Borgness. I agree that this episode manages to give us enough character notes of Seven eventually seeking help and showing vulnerability that it still feels like some kind of breakthrough for the character.

Matthew: As far as the assimilated personalities go, the most interesting were the distraught mother and the little girl who enjoyed Kadis Kot. They gave an interesting window into the lives and feelings of people who have been affected by the Borg. Less interesting were the Vulcan and Klingon personalities. The way the personalities came out was interesting, and I liked Neelix being annoyed by the midnight snacker, B'Elanna having her typically sarcastic reaction to Seven's problems, and how the Doctor and Janeway reacted with deep concern and the scientific method. Everybody behaved the way they ought to.

Kevin: I do have some questions about how many Alpha Quadrant species were assimilated given the relatively limited contact in the Alpha Quadrant they've had, but that's a small question. And yeah, the mother and the little girl felt the most urgent, and not name checking a list of species. That said, the Ferengi daimon actually cracked me up more than a fair number of actual Ferengi have done over the years.

Matthew: The alien story ended up being pretty lightweight. They present the same ethical quandary that "I, Borg" in TNG gave us, but it was not a focus of the episode in the slightest. Overall, it just seemed like a mostly unnecessary way to inject tension into scenes. Tuvok volunteers a mind meld to help Seven, which the Doctor calls "Vulcan Mumbo Jumbo." Haven't mind melds been firmly established as a thing, by this point, even within the confines of this show (see: Lon Suder)? I did not really find these scenes to be terribly involving. It had a bit of a Star Trek Paint By Numbers feel to it. On the science front, we are presented with "neural patterns," which seem to be treated as the seat of consciousness. Used interchangeably are the terms "memory engram" and "synaptic pattern." But these things aren't the same, are they? If they are synaptic patterns, aren't they physically different, owing to the synapses they fire across? What is a "neural pattern" if it is not this? Is it like an EEG? How can they "lose" Seven's neural pattern? Have they solved the "hard problem" of consciousness, i.e. knowing what structure or structures in the brain give rise to conscious awareness, and how? Tuvok seems to know what Seven's "sense of self" is identical with her neural pattern. Speaking of neural patterns, the Vinculum idea, while internally reasonable to the needs of a Borg vessel, also raises questions. Does it store the entire cognitive contents of thousands of people, including their personalities, hopes and dreams? Why would it, since these things are immaterial to the Borg ethos?

Kevin: Yeah, they were just there to add artificial tension to accessing the vinculum. I also totally agree on the more complex philosophical questions this episode skips over. I think it would have worked better as rather than being some kind of true enduring personality, it was some kind of imprint of the last thoughts and emotions of someone as they were assimilated, and Seven's brain responded by spinning them out into full personalities. That all said, the exact mechanics take a bit of a back seat to the impact on the character and that's there when it needs to be.


Matthew: Well, this episode really puts to rest any grumbling with regard to Jeri Ryan's acting chops, doesn't it? She creates at least five distinct characters here,each with different walks, speech inflections, and emotional interiors. Her scenes with Scarlett Pomers were wonderful in both her normal and child personae. Something about pairing Pomers with Seven of Nine really works. Her line readings as Mrs. Bergan were really affecting, and I believed she was kind of a horny Klingon when she sparred with B'Elanna. All in all, it was a master class, and a lot of fun to watch.

Kevin: Ryan really nailed the distinct physicality of her different personalities. She literally seemed smaller when portraying the little girl and her hunching over Ferengi was spot on. Did she duck over to DS9 and get lessons from Shimerman? Her Vulcan really drives home the notion it's the portrayal more than anything that creates that type of character. More than anything, there was just nothing held back in each performance. Each character was fully and instantly realized. I agree on the rapport between Seven and Naomi, and I think it's akin to children always having an affinity for Data. There's something about the outsider that children seem to respond to, as if since they are both developing into more functional grown up humans, that provides something to bond over. In many way Naomi is better at navigating life on Voyager than Seven, so that gives their relationship an odd kind of parity.

Matthew: The rest of the cast was mostly in a holding pattern, doing what they do perfectly well. No single performance stuck out as deficient. I'd say Roxann Dawson probably stands out the most, but mostly because I always enjoy seeing her flustered and pissed off.

Production Values

Matthew: I liked the Kadis Kot game, it kind of looked like Go crossed with Connect Four.  We got a nice design on the Vinculum, complete with neat camera angles to make it look like it was floating in Engineering. As far as optical effects, there were reflection effects on surfaces showing Seven's different personalities, which was subtle and well done.

Kevin: The reflections were a great trick giving us insight into Seven's perception and subtly informing the audience without letting it get bogged down in exposition. Kadis Kot has the benefit of looking like a real game that might have real rules and be played by real people. Unlike Strategema, say.

I cannot say I liked much of what was in Seven's visions. I absolutely hate strobe effects in television, and I almost uniformly find them cheap and irritating. The pinhole distortion was also ugly and stupid, and only served to obscure whatever amount of money they spent on extras and sets. I will say, though, that the little girl screaming was quite emotionally jarring. So at least one thing worked in those scenes.

Kevin: It's the same problem as always. You can't really literally display the interior of someone's mind. All the fish eye lenses in the world can't make the ephemeral concrete. If the show had a counselor Troi, I think I would have preferred a more traditional talk therapy approach. We could have really dug into Seven's guilt and trauma as she did so, the personalities could recede more organically.


Matthew:  On the strength of story alone, this would probably be a low 3, perhaps even a 2. It didn't tell us enough to justify its existence. But Jeri Ryan nearly single handedly (with a bit of help from Scarlett Pomers) pulled this into watchable territory. She was riveting when she was on screen. So I think in the balance this is a 3.

Kevin: I could give this a 4 based on Ryan's acting. I agree the plot pulls it back into a 3. The plot is a little straightforward and a bit of well tread ground at this point, but I watched Patrick Stewart opine on the human condition more than once and I can watch Jeri Ryan deal with her post-Borg trauma a few times, too. That makes a total of 6. 

Melbourne reference Wolf 359

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