Voyager rewatch 4.01 – “Scorpion” (part 2)

We’re back! So far 2021 hasn’t gone up in flames or come down with a mysterious new virus, and I finally managed to tear myself away from Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey long enough to watch some Voyager! Let’s hope it sticks, eh?

This week on Voyager: the Doctor is very sad that no one appreciates his jokes. Some other things also happen.

Generally, the second halves of Star Trek two-parters are considered a bit disappointing. Especially season finales/premieres, where the writers set up a brilliant cliffhanger, only to return from their summer break and realise they have to write their way out of it.

I mention this because, well. I thought “Scorpion” part 2 was amazing. As good as, or maybe even a bit better than, part 1.

Is that a controversial opinion? I have no idea — I’m deliberately avoiding Other People’s Opinions, because otherwise this blog turns into the Liz Repeats What Darren Mooney Has Already Said But Not As Well As He Said It Show. (We’re workshopping the title.)

But I remember, as a teen, being disappointed that part 2 sidelines Janeway, and not even because she has suffered some sort of terrible, ongoing trauma.

(I like to hurt the fictional characters I love.)

But here’s why teen!Liz was wrong: this is an outstanding Chakotay story, and that’s what it needed to be.

I just went back to look at my post for part 1, to see if I discussed the fact that both Janeway and Chakotay are correct in their disagreement. Buuuuut oh yeah, that post suffered from a bad case of Moving House In 2020, and typically, most of my thoughts were shipping-related.

But I did say this:

I don’t think making a deal with the Borg is a terrible decision — although Chakotay is right to raise the ethical quandaries involved — but then she makes their disagreement personal because she cannot tolerate anything less than complete and wholehearted support.

Right! So! In taking Janeway off the board for a chunk of time, the writers put Chakotay in the worst possible position — and that’s fantastic. He’s given the handling of Janeway’s alliance, which he doesn’t even believe in — and yet he sticks with it until the Borg make it untenable.

Along the way, he gets some marvelous scenes with Seven of Nine (I’m getting to her, I promise!) and we see his command style in action: soft spoken but unyielding, idealistic but intensely pragmatic. He’s reluctant to disobey Janeway’s orders, but only because of their personal relationship. When push comes to shove, he goes his own way — just as he left Starfleet for the Maquis.

And that’s an interesting, unspoken wrinkle.

Seven says:

You are erratic, conflicted, disorganized. Every decision is debated, every action questioned, every individual entitled to their own small opinion. You lack harmony; cohesion; greatness. It will be your undoing.

Which, by the way, is a bloody good bit of writing, and Jeri Ryan acts the hell out of it. But it’s also a metaphor for the Maquis, and for the first dangerous alliance Janeway struck when she incorporated the Maquis into her crew.

(Note that Janeway/Starfleet stand for the Borg in this metaphor.)

“Scorpion” part 2 never overtly mentions the Starfleet-Maquis conflict. This isn’t quite a reboot of the whole series, but there was certainly a hope that it would bring in new viewers, and it doesn’t spend much time going over the past. But the parallels are unavoidable, and as usual, half the fun in watching Voyager is recognising the continuity in the subtext.

(Of course, the show is widely criticised for wrapping up the Starfleet-Maquis conflict too quickly and neatly, and indeed, the introduction of Seven was in part to give us a new source of ongoing tension. There’s a sense in which “Worst Case Scenario” resolves the Maquis story, which rarely comes up going forward — except in episodes specifically about B’Elanna.)

Ultimately, of course, Janeway and Chakotay conclude that their differences make them stronger, and that’s how the story unfolds: as soon as the Borg execute their sudden yet inevitable betrayal, Janeway reveals that she kept Chakotay waiting in the wings, ready to put the hivemind mojo on Seven and separate her from the collective.

Hey, continuity!

I know I just said that “Scorpion” is going for new viewers, and not spending too much time on continuity business — yet here we are, using Chakotay’s experience in “Unity” to resolve the whole storyline.

But I stand by what I said — “Unity” was a sweeps episode, a Borg story, a big deal. I’m far too lazy to go looking for, uhhhh, actual ratings data, but I reckon the writers could safely rely on the casual viewer recalling what came before.

Blink and you’ll miss her, but “Scorpion” introduces a new character

But let’s face it, Seven’s not really a character yet. She’s just … the Borg.

I mean, you could ask why she’s the only drone in the whole Collective with secondary sexual characteristics — indeed, why she’s the only drone who is visibly female. You could ask why she exhibits ego, or even something approaching a sense of amusement. Why she has a much stronger “personality” than Third of Five did back in “I, Borg”.

But … it’s best not to think too hard about these questions. I’ve seen headcanons along the lines of, “Seven was a proto-Queen”, and I’m like, sure! Whatever makes you happy!

My personal feeling is that, just this once, we don’t need to overthink it. This is Seven, she’s a Borg drone and we love her.

Seven doesn’t quite have a personality yet, but that’s not to say that Jeri Ryan doesn’t give an amazing performance. With one eye, in a costume which seems to limit her movement, she’s simultaneously forceful, arrogant and creepy. And, in the final scenes, tragic. It’s a hell of an introduction.

Also, Kes is still here

Look, I know I said nice things about Chakotay earlier, but I do have to point out — Species 8472 are in Kes’s head and know what they’re planning, and yet she’s still allowed to sit in on all the meetings?

It’s cool that Kes is on the bridge, and participating in the climactic events (though I wish we had more of her communications with the Fake Shadows), but. You know. Bit of opsec here, guys, please. Tuvok’s really letting us down here.

What’s sad is that Kes’s final story is … not really about her. I have almost no memory of “The Gift”, but I hope her actual farewell serves her better.

Hey, it’s the male gaze!

This episode was directed by Winrich Kolbe, a Trek veteran who retired with 48 episodes under his belt. And I was really surprised when I realised this was one of them, because there are two shots which are … let’s say atypically pervy.

First, there’s the long mid-shot of Kes from behind, taking in her velour-clad bum. Then there’s the final shot, of Seven of Nine on the biobed, where her breasts are so prominent they’re photobombing a close-up on her face.

I put it down to a half-hearted attempt to sex up the series for new viewers, but it’s … well. Strange. Are these scenes intentionally sexy, or is that just how the costuming worked out? Yet they both go on soooooooooooooo looooooong.

(I just remembered how Janeway is naked under a sheet in a sickbay scene. Okay, three is a pattern. Yikes.)

Other observations

  • A little bit of the Doctor goes a long way, and I wasn’t especially entertained by his “Well, not the first sign of trouble” line. On the other hand, I laughed out loud at him shutting down his program in double time to avoid getting caught in the crossfire between Janeway and Chakotay.
  • Other weak humour: B’Elanna telling Harry there’s a tendril up their nose. Love their friendship; am ambivalent about teasing the guy who has just survived a major trauma. Too soon, B’Elanna, too soon.
  • Okay, so Janeway carries that piece of paper out of the holodeck, and it just goes with her, and … and … don’t think about it, Liz, don’t think about it.
  • I realise that it would be impractical and expensive to do a full HD remaster of Voyager, but I wish Paramount would do it for “Scorpion”, at least. Because that was a beautiful pair of episodes, back in the day, and modern televisions don’t do them justice.

in conclusion

Oh, should you watch “Scorpion” part 2? Is it a bit good? YES, IT IS FANTASTIC and also, you know, sets up the rest of the series to come. Five out of five Borg drones.

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