Voyager rewatch 4.06 – “The Raven”

Seven of Nine has a birb Borg problem.

Received wisdom has it that Seven utterly dominates Voyager after her introduction, especially season 4 — so it’s kind of amazing that we’ve gone a few weeks with nothing more than a B-plot for her. Sure, it’s more than, say, Chakotay usually gets, but it’s hardly what I’d call “dominating”.

Anyway, as “The Raven” opens, Seven has been human for about two months, and where I’d be spending my days curled up in bed in a foetal position in her shoes, she seems positively functional. Maybe it helps that she doesn’t have a bed.

She just has a few problems: Janeway wants her to embrace her creative side; she has to eat Neelix’s food; she’s having these assimilation flashbacks; and if horrifying visions of the Borg aren’t bad enough, there’s also a bird.

I … honestly had a really hard time writing this post. For a long time, my notes were just:

  • trauma road trip!
  • Tuvok is just so great
  • one bite of Neelix’s food and Seven wants to go back to the Collective
  • Seven claims she doesn’t fear the Borg and does fear the bird in her hallucinations, but the bird is protecting her?????
  • I mean, birbs ARE horrifying
  • why do they make Jeri Ryan climb things in high heels?????????????)

Accordingly I cheated, and stole my friend’s notes. That is to say, I hit up the excellent Nenya, who has also just recently watched the ep, and asked if they had any particular thoughts.

Their response:

Off the top of my head:

      • the aliens of the week are annoying and smug AS FUCK, oh my god, poor Janeway and Chakotay
      • trauma is confusing so it makes sense to me that Seven’s flashbacks are confusing, e.g. the raven may not be a threat to her but it’s a threat to her entire understanding of the situation/her entire worldview at this point? like once she realizes that the raven is the Raven etc, her world turns 180° on its head emotionally with a sickening jolt
      • one of my favourite scenes is when Seven is in the Raven and finally remembering what happened and can actually access the memories of being small and terrified of the Borg (instead of “I’m not scared of them, they’re my people, I am them”). Like bloody terrifying event, but oof right in the feels, and brilliant acting. And then the bit where she’s describing it, and her voice is getting emotional, and “And then the…men came” (obviously Annika POV), followed shortly by a flat “And then I was Borg.” Just ugh, all the feelings
      • my other favourite part is Tuvok and Seven on the shuttle, ofc
      • I actually kind of expected Janeway to leap into the shuttlecraft (or the Delta Flyer, is it the Delta Flyer yet?) herself to go after her, but of course she can’t bc she has to stay on Voyager for diplomacy, and I guess maybe her days of “Drop everything to hare off after Seven” are still in her future
      • (I wonder if she was thinking Tuvok would be great at talking with Seven, or just sent him in his capacity as security?)
      • Oh and the half-assimilated Raven looked so much like it was half-petrified by natural processes, on my small screen
      • High heels are bullshit ofc, but I did appreciate that they’d moved on to the brown catsuit from the silver one just a couple episodes in
      • And I found the bit where she’s being shot with phasers and regenerating shields etc like a regular Borg kind of hilarious when she looks mostly like just a human
      • Oh and the scene where she’s learning to fork via Neelix’s space scrambled eggs charmed the hell out of me somehow/my reactions at the moment

Clearly I have very smart friends and should steal their notes more often.

Quoth the … oh, you know

I particularly loved Nenya’s observation about the raven: “the raven may not be a threat to her but it’s a threat to her entire understanding of the situation/her entire worldview at this point? like once she realizes that the raven is the Raven etc, her world turns 180° on its head emotionally with a sickening jolt” — which is what I was getting at with my “the bird is protecting her???????” note.

Because Seven, at this stage in her recovery, doesn’t fear the Borg, and she doesn’t even understand why people think she should. She’s having these flashbacks to assimilation, and her childhood fear, but she cannot associate that with the Borg yet. So there’s the raven, which is both a symbol of her original life, but also … well, it’s scary! And its presence is telling her, “It’s okay to be afraid right now. Even if it’s just me you fear, at least you’re feeling something.”

(Being afraid of a bird is the most sensible thing Seven has done since her de-assimilation.)

(A swooping magpie took a chunk out of my scalp once, so I really am a bit scared of birds. I don’t hate them, despite what I claim on Twitter, but I try to give them a wide berth.)

I will confess that, though it’s intrinsic to the story, I find the whole “the raven is the name of the ship!” twist a bit much. It worked in Doctor Who‘s “The Girl in the Fireplace” because robots are not clever people, but Seven is not a robot, and I’m not entirely convinced that human brains — even after assimilation — really work that way. On the other hand, I’m told there are people out there who don’t dream in colour, so the human(oid) experience is vast and variable.

Trauma roadtrip

Even before she reaches the Raven and discovers the truth behind her hallucinations, Seven demonstrates a tremendous amount of growth in her scenes with Tuvok on the shuttle: she has developed sufficient empathy — even, I daresay, imagination — to understand that, however much she might accept re-assimilation, Tuvok doesn’t welcome it.

I know I keep saying this, but how did I sleep on Tuvok for so long?! He’s the perfect companion for Seven: he pushes her, but with more subtlety and gentleness than Janeway; he cares for her, but doesn’t objectify her the way the Doctor and Harry do; and he respects her for who she is.

It’s easy to go, “Oh yes, Seven and Tuvok are great, they can sit together in silence and not have feelings!” And that’s true … to an extent. But I think it’s more accurate to say that they both have very strong feelings — yet Tuvok has learned to master his, while Seven never learned to express hers. As Tuvok once said, “Do not mistake composure for ease.”

Sexy logic girls

This is a trope which Star Trek invented and I named: the female character who is extremely attractive, yet favours logic over emotion or sensuality — a flaw (so it goes) that either makes her an antagonist (T’Pring) or which simply requires fixing so she can become a “proper” (sexually available) woman: Number One (Barrett edition), a multitude of sexy androids in TOS, Seven of Nine, T’Pol, and even Michael Burnham. There are also shades of it in Saavik and Valeris, and even early Jadzia Dax, before the writers decided to just give her Curzon’s personality.

Seven and Michael get the best writing, of course, because they’re both written as people (most of the time). And in Michael’s case, it’s less about making her sexually available and more helping her become an emotionally healthy human being who no longer sublimates her trauma in logic.

Seven’s arc is more of a mixed bag, because Star Trek was (and is!) all about that compulsory allosexuality. Pairing her with Tuvok in “The Raven” lets her just … be. But I’m outlining the concept of the Sexy Logic Girl here, because it’s going to come up a lot over the next few years.

(Is Soji a Sexy Logic Girl? No. If anything, the Maddox-Soong androids are too comfortable with their sexuality — looking again at Sutra, who is literally less than thirteen years old — in a way that raises a lot of worrying questions about what their creators intended.)

Querying the track listing

One reason I had trouble writing this post — she says, 1,300 words later — is that “The Raven” feels like it should be a much bigger episode than it is. It doesn’t have enough plot to sustain two parts, yet it’s odd to me that the story of Seven’s assimilation, and this key step in her recovery, is stuffed between a handful of episodes which could have been left over from season 3.

There are downsides to modern Trek‘s short seasons — less time for casual character interactions, or to build up the supporting cast in an organic way — but one benefit is that every single episode feels like an Event. And that’s what “The Raven” needed: a sense of its own gravitas, rather than a really long scene where Seven learns to chew food.

Other observations

  • I hate the brown catsuit. It’s just unspeakably drab. I realise it was the ’90s and everything was a neutral, but this is too much. And the neckline bothers me. The brown catsuit keeps the worst aspects of the silver one (the high heels, the corset) but ditches everything which made it aesthetically appealing.
  • I do not believe that Janeway is a qualified art therapist, but those Da Vinci sets were expensive, we gotta get our money’s worth.
  • I enjoyed how the obnoxiously paranoid aliens signified rank with … a sort of Mickey Mouse ear situation involving translucent coloured plastic?
  • Seriously, there are moments where it looks like Jeri Ryan is struggling to walk on uneven ground, please give this woman some flat shoes.
  • Honestly, she was just so young here, protect Jeri Ryan at all costs.

In conclusion

A pretty essential episode, and one which I like despite struggling to articulate why. (Yes, I am absolutely the best person for this job, why do you ask? Also no one is paying me. In fact, I pay money to run this blog!) Four scary birbs out of five.

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