Unimatrix Zero, Part IIBy Edward James Hines
Posted at October 12, 2000 - 5:51 PM GMT
"Unimatrix Zero, Part II" **
Teleplay by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
Story by Mike Sussman and Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
Directed by Mike Vejar
Seventeen minutes after being assimilated by the Borg, Janeway, Tuvok and Torres still retain their individuality aboard the Tactical Cube and have not fallen victim to the Collective, thanks to a neural suppressant administered by the Doctor before they left. As they make their way to the central plexus, intending to download the nanovirus that will liberate the mutant drones in Unimatrix Zero, Tuvok's neural suppressant begins to wear off.
The Away Team eventually accesses the central plexus and Torres downloads the nanovirus. On the way out, however, Tuvok succumbs to the Collective. He knocks aside Torres and captures Janeway, intending to bring her before the Borg Queen (Susanna Thompson).
Voyager monitors Tuvok's destabilizing life signs and moves to attack the Tactical Cube. Unfortunately, Tuvok shares his knowledge of Voyager's access codes with the Collective and helps lower the starship's deflector shields. Voyager must retreat after suffering heavy damage.
The nanovirus begins working throughout the Collective and the Queen registers the loss of many voices. To prevent the mutant drones from commandeering Borg ships, she orders the destruction of various Cubes and Spheres, killing thousands of normal drones just to eliminate the pitifully few mutants whom she can no longer control. The Queen lays the blame for these deaths on Janeway, attempting to prey on her human regard for life. She will stop the killing if Janeway convinces the mutant drones to rejoin the Collective. Janeway refuses.
The Collective is soon able to reprogram the nanovirus to target the mutant drones, erode their autonomic functions and kill them. The Queen vows to release it directly into Unimatrix Zero, since the mutant drones are no longer linked to the central plexus. Janeway is permitted to contact Voyager, apparently signaling the end of the Borg resistance movement, but she surreptitiously impresses on Chakotay that "Unimatrix Zero can no longer exist." He and instructs Seven of Nine to evacuate Unimatrix Zero and prepare to disrupt its interlink frequency.
Meanwhile, Klingon General Korok (Jerome Butler), one of the mutant drones, joins Voyager after overtaking his Sphere. Together, the two ships use their deflector arrays to destroy Unimatrix Zero, thus depriving the Queen of her victory. Aboard the Tactical Cube, Torres manages to disable its deflector shields, allowing Voyager to beam up the Away Team just as the Queen orders the Tactical Cube to self-destruct.
Two days later, the Away Team has been successfully "de-assimilated." Korok will try to keep Voyager informed of the efforts of the Borg resistance. Seven is troubled by the knowledge that she may never again see Axum (Mark Deakins), with whom she reconciled before Unimatrix Zero went offline.
In my arrogance, I thought I could predict the events of "Unimatrix Zero, Part II" from the crumbs scattered in Part I. I thought I saw the whole picture. For instance, I guessed that the Doctor had infected the Away Team with the nanovirus, and that they would never need to access the central plexus directly to download the nanovirus. Instead, they could rely on assimilation to distribute the nanovirus throughout the Collective. When it turned out that I hadn't figured correctly, I admittedly soured to Part II during its original broadcast. A subsequent viewing, however, minus my expectations, improved the episode's quality in my estimation, but only slightly.
"Unimatrix Zero, Part II" mostly holds up to its predecessor, despite some noticeable cheats by those continuity contraries, Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky; but as cliffhanger resolutions usually go, there is a fair amount of disappointment included in the package. By definition, season-ending cliffhangers are fraught with excitement and mystery. They are designed to keep you locked in anticipation until the following season premiere resolves the lingering plot threads. But here ends the mystery. The story line is completed. There is no more guessing. It kind of leaves you feeling "empty" after several months of mounting excitement and building expectation. But this is a necessary evil, a byproduct of the cliffhanger creation. Spock said it best in TOS's "Amok Time": "You may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true."
An important thing to remember is that the Voyager crew has had more firsthand experience with the Borg than anyone in Starfleet; thus, Janeway and company know much more about the Collective's internal functioning than anyone else. But just because we viewers are not privy to every new scrap of insight doesn't mean that Voyager hasn't already learned it.
With this in mind, it is easier to accept the idea of a "neural suppressant," which could otherwise be seen as a cheap, careless way to get around the problem of assimilation. Apparently, it also helped the Doctor to more easily extract most of the Away Team's Borg technology. What's interesting about this final scene in Sickbay is that, 48 hours after surgery, Janeway, Tuvok and Torres all have their hair back! This should come as no surprise, however, since the Doctor was able to stimulate Seven's hair growth after de-assimilating her in "The Gift."
But this raises an interesting question of exactly what happens to a newly assimilated individual. Do the injected nanoprobes cause the "growth" of a "Borg suit" over the individual's other garments, as happened to Ensign Lynch in Star Trek: First Contact? Or are new drones stripped of their old garments and placed inside a Borg suit, as happened to Captain Picard in TNG's "The Best of Both Worlds"? In "Unimatrix Zero, Part II," the Away Team was completely assimilated in under 17 minutes, which includes a complete loss of hair for each, as well as the installation of Torres' subvocal processor and Janeway's blue "head blinkie." This implies either fast-acting nanoprobes with wide-ranging capabilities or a lot of backstage Borg helping to make costume changes. A curiosity about the Away Team's assimilation — and a deliberate oversight, some might say — is that none of them has an eye or an arm removed and replaced with enhanced Borg technology. At least the Borg made it look convincing with Picard by fitting a prosthetic arm over his real one. The absence (or inexplicable delay) of this portion of the assimilation process, which was detailed quite thoroughly in Star Trek: First Contact and "Dark Frontier," is glaring in "Unimatrix Zero" and makes it even more obvious that our heroes will return to status quo ante without a scar in sight.
Aboard the Tactical Cube, Torres uses her assimilation tubules to deliver the nanovirus directly into the central plexus. (At least I was right about this portion of my Part I guesswork, that the Away Team would be carrying the nanovirus in their bodies.) But is she the only one carrying the nanovirus? How was it not destroyed during her assimilation? How did she even know how to download it via her assimilation tubules — i.e., how did she know how to extract it from her body and deliver it via nanoprobes after only 20 minutes as a drone? These questions, like many from Part I, are some that the producers probably hoped nobody would ask.
Another leftover question has to do with the multiregenerative security grid that protects the central plexus. After observing two drones pass through this field unobstructed, the Away Team is able to do the same. But what is the point of protecting the central plexus with such a complex security shield if drones can pass right through it? Are there some drones who cannot? If yes, then should new drones like Janeway, Tuvok and Torres need access to such a critical area of the ship? If no, then why have a security shield in the first place?
Finally, the differences between the "central plexus" and a "vinculum" grow ever more blurry. In "Unimatrix Zero, Part II," Janeway says that drones who are no longer linked to the central plexus are separated from the hive mind. They are individuals, outside the Collective. How is this different from a vinculum, which Seven defines in "Infinite Regress" as a "processing device at the core of every Borg vessel" that "interconnects the minds of all the drones … purges individual thoughts and disseminates information relevant to the Collective"? The vinculum "brings order to chaos." Is this not the function of the central plexus as well? Doesn't it also distribute information to the Collective? Where does one end and the other begin?
Unfortunately, with so much going on in the bigger Borg plot of "Unimatrix Zero, Part II," little time is left to develop the romance between Seven and Axum. At the end of Part I, Seven decided to cool things down with Axum, but by the beginning of Part II (before her pivotal conversation with the Doctor), her sensibilities have changed. She seems to have warmed to the idea. She and Axum only have three scenes together in the whole episode, and by the second one (after talking to the Doctor), Seven expresses a desire to meet him outside the Collective, and also recalls having made plans to "see the sights" of the galaxy with him. And then they start kissing. Their corny final encounter, when Seven chooses to leave the Bridge in the heat of battle (?) and meet Axum against the overexposed, green-screen backdrop of the "burning" Unimatrix Zero, seems like it was lifted word-for-word from a black-and-white romance classic. What's interesting is that, despite being stationed on a Borg scout ship in a remote sector of the Beta Quadrant, Axum promises to find Seven someday, outside the Collective. It will be interesting to see whether the producers pursue this idea before the end of the series or leave it to the Pocket Books writers.
Arguably the best scene in "Unimatrix Zero, Part II" has nothing to do with the Borg or battles or assimilation, but rather with a leftover plot thread from S5's "Someone to Watch Over Me" involving the Doctor's crush on Seven. His friendly efforts to ensure that, after the crisis, Seven can continue to visit Unimatrix Zero lead to a conversation in which she admits having had a relationship with Axum. The Doctor, recognizing the depth of Seven's feelings for Axum, is crushed, but maestro Robert Picardo continues to play the scene with forced smiles and light conversation, making the Doctor the best friend he can be to Seven, despite his "breaking heart." Picardo expertly conveys the gut-wrenching experience of any high school geek who ever tried to impress a girl, only to have her run off with the cutest boy in the class.
It seems that his promotion, as well as his brief stint as Voyager's acting first officer, have done nothing to improve Tom Paris' professional demeanor and adherence to protocol. "Unimatrix Zero, Part II" finds him almost incessantly badgering Chakotay to rescue the Away Team. He is especially unreasonable during Voyager's first battle with the Tactical Cube, insisting that Chakotay press on with the rescue even though Voyager's shields have collapsed. His unspoken urgency, of course, has everything to do with girlfriend B'Elanna Torres being in danger. In fact, Paris acts this way almost every time Torres is in danger, throwing his Starfleet training to the wind and stubbornly refusing to accept the contrary decisions of his superiors.
Chakotay, of course, does not allow his friendships with Janeway and Torres to override better judgment, with Voyager in a tactically inferior position. He remains cool under Paris' bombardment and, picking up a cue from Janeway in Part I, implores Paris for his support in waiting for the Away Team to complete its mission.
Being a member of a telepathic species, and given the Borg Queen's description of the Collective as a kind of telepathic blending of voices, it seems logical that Tuvok would be the first to fall victim, despite the neural suppressant. One wonders, however, if Seven should have known about Tuvok's especial vulnerability — given her former status as a drone — and tried to prevent his inclusion on the Away Team.
After a slow start in "Unimatrix Zero, Part II," in which she did little more than complain about either not hearing voices or losing voices, the Borg Queen steps up her insidiousness by casually destroying Cubes and Spheres and trying to convince an alien boy (Ryan Sparks) that assimilation is "fun" because it guarantees you a lot of friends. Some fans seemed surprised that the Queen herself was once assimilated. This could have been a tactic on her part to convince the alien boy to "join up," except that in "Dark Frontier" she mentioned the actual species from which she came. Apparently, this species is the template on which Borg queens are built (like Alice Krige's Queen in Star Trek: First Contact).
Tuvok's place of birth was the Vulcanis Lunar Colony. In early versions of TOS's writers' guide, "Vulcanis" was the name given to Spock's home planet. This name was never used in an episode, but in early shows like "Mudd's Women" and "A Taste of Armageddon," Vulcans were referred to as "Vulcanians."
Tuvok's daughter's name is "Asil," born in the city of T'Paal. In TNG's "Gambit, Part II," Tallera (Robin Curtis) identified herself as "T'Paal" of the V'Shar, or Vulcan security.
Failing to take a cue from "Gambit, Part I," however, which established that officers' access codes were automatically changed when they left the ship, in "Unimatrix Zero, Part II," Tuvok's access codes are readily employed by the Borg to lower Voyager's shields. In the interim before the next attack, however, somebody remembers to change the shield access codes manually so that the Borg cannot try this trick again.
Also, on the heels of Four of Twelve's too-rapid reacquisition of his individuality in Part I, the Errant Drone (Andrew Palmer) in Part II immediately refers to himself as "I" after the Queen discovers he has been separated from the hive mind.
In a couple nice bits of continuity, we see that Unimatrix Zero still has Hirogen among its ranks. Also, since his Borg scout ship is patrolling the border of fluidic space, Axum believes he will try to enlist Species 8472 in the resistance movement against the Borg.
Janeway's well-timed and -delivered "I don't compromise with Borg" — which will go down in "Famous Star Trek Lines" history with her "Go back to hell" from "Coda," Worf's "Assimilate this" from Star Trek: First Contact and Spock's "Vulcans never bluff" from TOS's "The Doomsday Machine" — unfortunately isn't true. Somebody forgot that she made that deal with the Borg in "Scorpion."
One convenient oversight in "Unimatrix Zero, Part II" is whatever happened to Torres after Tuvok (as Three of Twelve) knocked her out of his way. Obviously, she recovered from the blow, but how did she manage to lay low until the Away Team was rescued?
Finally, it looks like the Queen's threat against Harry Kim in Part I was an idle one. Too bad. It was a poignant throwaway line.
Mark Deakins ("Axum") also played the Ba'ku native "Tournel" in Star Trek: Insurrection as well as the "Hirogen SS Officer" in "The Killing Game, Parts I and II."
Jerome Butler ("Korok") also plays the "Alpha Hirogen" in the "Star Trek: Voyager — Elite Force" computer game.
Andrew Palmer ("Errant Drone") was a Borg in Star Trek: First Contact as well as a Jem'Hadar soldier in DS9's "Favor the Bold."
Finally, in a strange bit of billing, Brannon Braga's executive producer credit runs over the first act, just before the listing of writers, while Kenneth Biller's name is alongside Rick Berman's at the end of the show. Usually, the day-to-day guy (in this case, Biller) has his name in Act I while the big cheeses (Berman and Braga) get end-of-show credit.
Copyright Edward James Hines
11 October 2000
Edward James Hines writes weekly reviews of Voyager episodes.