Voyager rewatch 5.15 and 16 – “Dark Frontier”

Seven of Nine learns that she doesn’t have to forgive her parents.

“Dark Frontier” — not to be confused with Star Trek: Dark Passions, the 2001 crossover novels depicting “the bad girls of Star Trek” — is a big, exciting movie-length action-adventure story.

It’s also a pretty intense psychodrama for Seven of Nine, as she is forced to confront the full might of the Collective and her memories of her parents.

Now, I’m not saying we should cancel the Borg Queen, but I do think she’s problematic

This was widely promoted as a tug-of-war between Janeway and the Borg Queen for Seven’s loyalty, and the words “Seven of Nine has two mothers” were uttered in jest throughout the fandom. Including by me, just for full disclosure.

The thing is. I mean. You know how a lot of media made by men doesn’t really know how women interact, so they’re depicted as incredibly tactile, to the point where it starts to seem sexual?


And the Borg Queen is sexual to begin with! Honestly, given Star Trek‘s treatment of queerness in this era, I’m kind of impressed that Susannah Thompson got away with interacting with Seven the same way the Queen interacted with Picard and Data in First Contact. But framing this as a maternal relationship gives me the icks.

And it doesn’t help that “Oh no, the relationship is maternal” was the line used to no-homo the Janeway/Seven relationship. I don’t ship J/7 the way I used to, but there’s no denying that the chemistry is compelling.

(For the record, I don’t have this problem in Discovery, mainly because the pseudo-parental relationship between both Philippas and Michael was clearly intentional, and a lot of Michael’s arc is about her seeking maternal figures. But if the show tried to claim that, for example, President Rillak was a maternal figure to Michael, I would be skeptical.)

Now, there has always been something a bit sexual and transgressive about the Borg. Picard’s assimilation was treated as a rape long before the Borg Queen turned up to make the metaphor more literal. I do not hate that the Borg Queen is, as the kids might say, Mummy. But Seven was a child when she was assimilated, which makes it a lot squickier and subtextually … problematic.

(Brannon Braga has also talked about Seven as a metaphorical rape victim. It’s just allegory all the way down.)

I don’t think this is Star Trek‘s worst depiction of a problematic sexual dynamic. It’s entirely subtext and extremely subjective allegory. It’s like one of those Magic Eye puzzles — lots of people aren’t going to see it or be bothered by it. And that’s okay.1 It’s there, but you can do what you want with it — whether that’s politely ignore it, or go running to AO3 with some really messed up fic.

Either way, Seven is having a rough few days

First, Janeway’s like, “Hey, now that we have the most basic element of defense against the Borg, let’s go steal their stuff!”

Then she follows up with, “Hey, Seven, I know this is going to be extremely traumatic for you, but please go read your parents’ diaries to find out about their Borgwatching adventures.”

In fairness, at the exact moment I was thinking, “Wow, Kathryn, there are SO MANY OTHER PEOPLE who could have had this job!” she offered to pass it on to Chakotay instead. Seven volunteered. Like, they’re her parents.

But still. Seven is very much not okay, and every time I was about to yell at Janeway for not noticing, she noticed.

For all that she’s had a lot of focus across her season and a half, we haven’t really seen Seven this vulnerable in a long time. Her long-repressed childhood memories are returning, she’s having nightmares, and it turns out the Borg Queen is hanging out in her subconscious for funsies. Jeri Ryan has never actually given a bad, or even mediocre, performance in Trek, but she achieves a new height here.

This is also a solid Janeway story

Brannon Braga has said that “Dark Frontier” took Janeway and Seven from a more adversarial relationship to something more akin to Picard and Data. Which is completely true, and I love it — though I also think their “adversarial relationship” has been overstated, and a lot of it is simply Seven being Seven, and Janeway interpreting it in the worst possible way.

(Braga also says that this story made Janeway “more warm” and “more human”, especially in her scene with Naomi — and I love that scene, but I’m sorry, Janeway has always been this warm and human. Dude.)

This is where Janeway goes from mistrusting Seven to trusting her absolutely, and also being able to recognise that Seven’s “betrayal” was under duress. Which is a deeper type of trust.

And Seven is willing to sacrifice herself for Voyager’s crew, which is is a love language that Janeway understands.

Other than her interactions with Seven and Naomi — and the showdown with the Borg Queen at the end — this is kind of maybe not the greatest Janeway episode.

Only a few weeks after she declared it was too dangerous to go messing about in a Borg debris field, she’s now planning a heist, with a live Borg sphere as her target. Seven has a lot to say about the overconfidence of the Hansens, and Janeway has the same problem. If I’m going to criticise the Hansens for taking their little girl along on their ill-considered Borg hunt, I should definitely apply the same standard to Janeway — judging by her nightmare of Naomi being assimilated, Seven has absolutely made the connection.

I enjoy it when Janeway is a bit reckless, but I don’t think the story has done the job of setting it up. The stakes are too low — yes, getting hold of a transwarp coil will knock a couple of decades off the journey, but the risk seems greater than the reward. Especially when Janeway so recently declared an inert debris field too dangerous to hang around.

ALSO it is hugely frustrating that we’re five seasons in, and suddenly Janeway has a brand new, never-seen-before character trait: fidgeting with her commbadge when she has A Scheme. It’s ham-fisted writing and Mulgrew’s execution is not natural or easy.

This two-parter asks a lot of the audience, but this is a step too far. And, on a related note…

Also, this plot requires everyone to be a little bit stupid

I had a big, long rant about this with regards to the finale of Star Trek: Picard, but there’s no denying that Voyager has the same problem here. The Voyager crew are using the technology the Hansens developed to get close to the Borg, while knowing that the Hansens and all their knowledge was assimilated twenty years ago. And yet it’s meant to be a Shocking Twist when the Queen reveals she has been aware of the infiltrators all along.

This could have been very easily solved with a throwaway line about B’Elanna upgrading the tech. Which actually makes it better than the “everyone’s stupidity is load-bearing for the plot” problem on Picard. But it’s nevertheless frustrating.

The Hansens are THE WORST but you have to respect the casting

I hate Erin and Magnus Hansen, but at the same time, I deeply admire how the casting for Seven’s father looks like Any Male Guest Star On Early TNG. This would be pre-TNG in the overall timeline, but he fits the aesthetic incredibly well.

(I don’t really have a problem with the idea that there was some awareness of the Borg prior to “Q Who”. They literally tried to invade Earth in the 21st century! Lily Sloane witnessed drones! It’s clear that the Hansens are well and truly outside of the mainstream; I can buy that there are conspiracy theories and fringe nonsense in Federation databases, but nothing credible or worth bringing to Picard’s attention in “Q Who”.)

One thing I very much admire about this episode is how no one is telling Seven that she should forgive her parents for putting her in harm’s way. She has complicated feelings about them — resentment, grief, affection — and she’s allowed to have them. I love this.

Chakotay is also here!

He has two tasks in this episode:

  • General heist back-up, support for the captain, voice of common sense
  • LIKE
  • GUYS

Other observations

  • Everyone gets a small moment in this episode … except B’Elanna. Apparently there’s a scene where Janeway takes her to task for being too critical about Seven, but it was cut in reruns — and for some reason, that’s the version on most streaming services. Am I gonna have to buy the season 5 Blu-Rays?
  • Janeway’s hair is remarkably flat. After half a season of VOLUMINOUS LOCKS, it’s a bit of a shock!
  • We follow the Hansens for several years in the flashbacks, but little Annika stays the same age.
  • There are some pretty amazing lighting choices on the Borg sphere, but my favourite is the green lights that follow the Borg Queen around. Arachnia should look at getting something similar installed.
  • Voyager is a series full of inexplicable decisions, but the most mysterious to me is the decision to make B’Elanna increasingly blonde in the second half of season 5.
  • The Borg city is an amazing piece of design, and I wish we had a HD remaster just for that.
  • I know Seven says the Queen’s plan of assimilating Earth using a nanoprobe virus is inefficient … but it’s much better than the Queen’s plan B, which involves assimilating a drone’s sperm, hoping he gets rescued, hoping he’ll eventually have children, brainwashing those offspring and then using their DNA to alter the transporters so that every Starfleet officer under 25 is assimilated. That is an inefficient plan.

In conclusion

DON’T think too hard about the plot or Janeway’s motivations. DO think about Jeri Ryan’s performance and Seven of Nine’s growth as an individual. Whether or not you think about the Borg Queen’s sexuality is entirely up to you. Three and a half transwarp coils out of five.

  1. I am miserably bad at Magic Eye puzzles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *