Thursday, January 23, 2020

Voyager, Season 6: Unimatrix Zero, Season 6
"Unimatrix Zero"
Airdate: May 17, 2000
144 of 168 produced
144 of 168 aired


Seven of Nine goes to sleep and finds herself in a strange dream world - full of assimilated Borg who have thrown off their shackles, and a romantic partner she had forgotten.

From a purely chiropractic standpoint, the Borg are totally superior.


Matthew: For some time now, Kevin has been threatening to criticize Voyager for going back to the Borg well too often . I think we've arrived. Here is a Borg story that needs to prove it has a right to exist (to be fair, it's not the first, and even TNG has had one of its own). The idea of Unimatrix Zero is... interesting. I feel as though there is a bit of a nod to a Matrix-style virtual world being made. Great. But I would have liked it better if the Unimatrix had actually been the product of some lone rebel, our main hunk Axum for instance, which would be an indication of resistance from within. Having it be a mutation is less interesting and raises too many questions that pull us out of story. How could a mutation persist in thousands of disparate species? How could it have lasted for so long without the Borg detecting and mitigating it? What it all comes down to is the idea of the retcon. Here, the Borg are retconned as having been plagued by this dream world for some time. Seven of nine is retconned into having had an extensive history there. To some degree, all past-tense storytelling is retroactive continuity. Retcons live or die by whether they give us interesting and vital information about characters that both fits with prior continuity and grows them in interesting ways. I would say, in this case, it succeeds with Seven of Nine and it fails with the Borg. (Other successful examples: Indy's dad in "The Last Crusade." Vader being Luke's father in "Empire." Riker's ordeal on the USS Pegasus. Unsuccessful: Spock's stepsister. Spock's half brother. Rey being a Palpatine. Middling: The Borg Queen.)

Kevin: The problem for me crops up in a few places. The critique that they keep encountering the Borg 10,000 light years from Borg space is taken as read. The real problem is this is a problem that fundamentally alters the Borg, even more substantially than the introduction of the Queen in First Contact. How can these people have discrete personalities that survive in sleep mode but be part of the collective in the day? It attacks the core idea that Borg are truly a hive mind. More importantly here, it makes Seven the only and most interesting drone in the entire Universe. She was the first human assimilated a decade before Q Who even happened. She formed a mini collective that hunted her down. She was apparently hand picked by the Queen she allowed to be liberated by Voyager, and now is one of a small fraction of drones with this 'mutation.' It's the character equivalent of the Enterprise always being the closest ship. The plot in isolation is interesting enough, but it just doesn't paper over at all the writers' room deciding that season finale = Borg. Three out of the last four season finales have focused on Seven and the Borg in some meaningful way, as will the series finale, while I'm thinking about it. That's a lot.

Matthew: So the Queen is back. I am ambivalent about it. On the one hand, more Susannah Thompson is always welcome. But I do wonder what this does to the "character." Having her form a vendetta against Janeway makes sense dramatically, but not plot-wise. If she wanted to destroy Voyager, she could in a heartbeat. She could send an armada out to find it. Which, come to think of it, would be interesting.

Kevin: The biggest problem for me is that it really cements her transition from the movie version to the TV version. Whatever you think about the idea of the Queen, her turn in First Contact had a fun 'otherness' to her presentation and priorities. 'Focused but unhurried' is the best way I can think of describing it. It helped to ensure that even if the Borg now had a personal face, it was the one that supported the notion of a detached coldness, the unknowable serial killer who just keeps slowly, calmly following you. The vendetta against Janeway and in particular threatening the drone "Tell me what I want to know!" and then dismembering him turn her into an ordinary villain with ordinary motivations. Susannah Thompson is great and again, in isolation, the scenes work, but as a whole, they just further dilute what the Borg are.

Matthew: As far as the plot proper goes, Janeway's plan is batshit cuckoo-bananas and I don't know why Voyager feels obliged to intervene at all. It should have been better explained how this made sense strategically for them (I know it was very briefly mentioned). How in the hell did Chakotay sign on for this? Skipping the scene in which Janeway sells Chakotay on this plan is cheap. The twist of the episode, that they get assimilated, is less interesting because we know it's part of the plan. Instead of wondering "gee, how will they escape," I am wondering "gee, what sort of wackadoo plan involved this?"  A better twist would be us knowing the plan and the reasons for it, and the plan going wrong.

Kevin: My biggest qualm is that it retcons assimilation into a mildly annoying experience. I can accept that they would have a defense that would stave off assimilation ten years after Best of Both Worlds, this would still be an insanely traumatizing experience. I suppose that's more a problem for how the next episode will handle it, but I agree, it's a kernel of an interesting idea that just won't bear scrutiny.

Matthew: Minor nit-pick: How does a "nano virus" propagate across thousands of light years instantly? They should have said "computer virus." It's small, yes, but it was an unforced error, and if I'm going to call out Kurtzman-Trek for it, I will also do so here.

Kevin: My nitpick is the idea that Seven had a romance in Unimatrix Zero. She was assimilated as a child, and even if she was her for years, that still makes her very young in terms of actual lived experience, so I just find it a little lazy and reductive that the only valuable relationship they could give her was a romantic one. I think it would have been more interesting to see a world where Seven had found a surrogate family that she interacted much more easily and openly with, and then the payoff becomes Seven opening up to the Voyager crew a little more rather than deciding to start eventually romancing a holo-Chakotay. I'm certainly not against Seven developing a romantic or sexual life, it just bores me that that is where the writers went when they tried to imagine a more chill Seven.


Matthew: Whatever the plot problems are, I can muster no criticism of the acting work done here. Up and down the cast, the actors provide fine performances. Jeri Ryan is of course the lead here, and she creates, both with acting choices and with wardrobe and hair, distinctly different personae for Real World Seven and Unimatrix Annika. Even when the script has her being weirdly cold to Axum, I bought it. Speaking of Axum, Mark Deakins was excellent. He came off as likeable and ambitious, and not creepy. Romantic interests for Seven are tricky because of the danger of the "Born Sexy Yesterday" trope. He overcomes this.

Kevin: Axum definitely nailed a kind of 90s romance novel hot. For whatever my complaints about the knee-jerk heteronormative assumptions I feel lie behind the decision, I agree both Deakins and Ryan acted it well and gave it the life it needed.

Matthew: I liked the conversation between Janeway and Chakotay, which is why it's a shame we didn't get more of it for the actors to deliver. I thought the peripheral guest stars were particularly good, as well, especially Jerome Butler as Korok and Joanna Heimbold as Laura.

Kevin: I don't think the Queen was served well by the script but was well served by Thompson. She nailed a performance in line with Alice Krige while making it her own.

Production Values

Matthew: The exterior space shots were pretty good. Was the big Borg complex CG? Sure. But it was interesting CG, and is always fun to look at. As far as the other big set, the Unimatrix, it was fine. I was never fooled into thinking it to be a real jungle, certainly, but it had variety and drama, and it wasn't horribly lit. The digital matte vista was... somewhat less convincing.

Kevin: I agree the CGI is solid for its day and stands up okay. The choice of the jungle felt like "Well we have this jungle set..." but it certainly wasn't bad. I agree on the matte vista though.


Matthew: Overall, I think this is a 3. It has fine performances and solid production values, but the story probably fails to meet the "this needs to exist" threshold. Some tightening up of stakes and emotional involvements would have improved things, as well as banishing some of the nagging logic issues.

Kevin: My Borg-fatigue aside, I can't deny that largely thanks to the acting, the story is enjoyable if not entirely satisfying. I agree with the 3, for a total of 6.

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