Child's PlayBy Edward James Hines
Posted at March 11, 2000 - 6:00 AM GMT
"Child's Play" * *
Teleplay by Raf Green
Story by Paul Brown
Directed by Mike Vejar
Janeway's efforts to locate the various parents of the former Borg children result in one bite: Icheb's (Manu Intiraymi) Brunali parents contact Voyager and are eager to be reunited with their son. Seven of Nine, who has grown attached to Icheb, objects for various reasons — not the least of which is that the Brunali planet's proximity to a Borg transwarp conduit and vulnerability to repeated Borg attacks could jeopardize Icheb's safety. Leucon (Mark A. Sheppard), Icheb's father, explains that the Borg are attracted to the archaic Brunali for their sophisticated techniques in agricultural genetics. He says that Icheb was assimilated after having run off to see a new fertilization array in the lower field. Mezoti (Marley McCLean), however, tells Seven that Icheb was assimilated as the only passenger on a transport vessel. Seven investigates the logs from the children's Borg cube and also discovers a discrepancy between the actual times of Borg attacks on the planet and Leucon's story of when Icheb was assimilated. While confronting the parents with this new information, the Voyager crew learns that Icheb has again been placed aboard a transport vessel aimed directly at the transwarp conduit. The parents genetically engineered Icheb from birth to serve as a weapon against the Borg. Icheb's last cube was infected with a pathogen that he carried and spread throughout the ship, killing all the adult drones and disabling the vessel. Janeway rescues Icheb from a Borg sphere that emerges from the transwarp conduit and Voyager narrowly escapes.
This is a complicated morality tale about destiny, parents' rights and what some may see as child abuse. The overriding question is, of course, does Janeway have the right to interfere with the plans of Icheb's parents? The obvious answer should be "no" if she is adhering to the same Prime Directive that cautions, "No interference with the normal social development." Janeway may feel that using Icheb as a weapon is barbaric and "abnormal" by her standards, but it is not within her purview to act on such judgment based on human values. Icheb is his parents' son and they may do with him as they please. They are Brunali, not human. They are autonomous and subject to the approval of no one. If they engineered Icheb to be a weapon — if that was their intention from the very beginning — then that is their choice and Janeway has no say in the matter. After all, she went out of her way to find the parents and return Icheb. What right does she have to suddenly change her mind simply because their plans for their son don't jibe with "normal" human values? By interfering and rescuing Icheb from the Borg, Janeway has most likely condemned the Brunali to eventual assimilation. By removing the Brunali's inherent right to choose their own destiny, Janeway is, in a way, no better than the Borg.
Janeway's seemingly arbitrary decision is similar to many calls that James Kirk had to make in TOS. Episodes like "The Return of the Archons," "A Taste of Armageddon" and "The Apple" saw Kirk destroying computers that controlled the populations of certain planets. But by what right did he swoop in and decide that this was not "normal social development"? There were differences in each of these cases: Kirk's ship and crew were in danger of destruction. By interfering in these societies, he was saving the lives of his crew. Of course, one could argue that saving his own people at the expense of an alien's civilization's way of life is not justification enough, but in comparison to Janeway's situation, it's better than having no excuse at all. For the sake of a continuing television series, Kirk had to save his own. Those kooky computers gave him the excuse he needed to take control. What was Janeway's excuse? Compassion … based on human values. There she goes again, thinking with her heart and not her head. This is not to say that compassion is an undesirable quality in a starship captain, but there are times when it is irrelevant. It is virtually certain that no one at Starfleet Command is going to laud Janeway for condemning a species to possible assimilation just so she could save the life of one child.
It's interesting seeing Seven in a maternal role. In "Ashes to Ashes," she seemed more disciplinarian; but here — especially with Icheb — we understand that she cares for the children very much. While she has softened and allowed their individuality to poke through — as evidenced by Mezoti's ant colony project (which earns a smile from Chakotay) — she is unwilling to let Icheb make important life decisions for himself. The stubborn Janeway, in the ultimate instance of the "pot calling the kettle black," implores Seven to let go, but Seven is determined to hang on for more personal reasons. Whereas in "Dark Frontier" she was reluctant to indulge in any information regarding her parents, here at last she is able to understand her anger toward them. She feels they were irresponsible in dragging her along as a child on their foolhardy mission to study the Borg. Regarding Icheb, she uses every excuse in the book to prevent his returning to his parents: What about his studies? What about his medical needs? What about his need to regenerate every day? Her overriding concern is, of course, for his safety, and she feels that if she doesn't do everything in her power to protect him from danger, then she is no better than her parents were. This was a terrific character point to nail down and exploit.
Manu Intiraymi does an exceptional job performing as Icheb, especially as the character allows himself to warm up to his parents. The best scene involves the three of them stargazing. As Icheb relates the story of Voyager's quest to get home and the various hardships that have befallen the crew, he seems to appreciate having a home of his own and also esteems the difficulties that his own people have endured.
The Brunali seem to be a race of wild incongruities. While they are agrarian and have limited technological resources, they also possess working spacecraft that can simulate false warp signatures. They live in hovels yet are able to pursue sophisticated experiments in agricultural and humanoid genetics. They don't have particle weapons but their huts have two-way visual communications. Much of these conflicting extremes can, however, be chalked up to the Brunali having to hide evidence of their technological advancement from the Borg.
But surely the Borg know that the Brunali are the source of the deadly pathogen. Surely it's not merely warp signatures that attract Borg vessels to the Brunali planet. Undoubtedly, it's the pathogen that keeps the Borg coming back, albeit with a relentlessness that's vastly subdued compared to their one-time pursuit of Species 8472.
The Borg's behavior is infinitely curious regarding the Brunali. In TNG's "Q Who," Guinan said that when the Borg decide to come, they do so in force. "They don't do anything piecemeal." In "Dark Frontier," the Borg queen told Seven that if even one ship of an assimilated species were to escape, then that species continues to resist the Borg. This is not an ideal situation because resistance is supposed to be futile. So why haven't the Borg assimilated everyone on the Brunali planet? How is it that pockets of the population have escaped detection? Could it be that the aftermath of the near-debacle involving Species 8472 has made the Borg more cautious? They are undoubtedly afraid of this pathogen, which apparently they cannot assimilate.
What's also curious about the pathogen is that the Doctor didn't detect it during his earliest medical scans of Icheb. When he was assimilated, Icheb spread the disease throughout his ship but was incubated from its effects in a maturation chamber. The Doctor, who studied the effects on the Borg cube, surely should have noticed similar readings coming from Icheb when he was brought aboard Voyager.
It is untrue that Seven never again saw her parents after they were assimilated. She saw her father as a drone in "Dark Frontier."
The Brunali settlement is located in a huge crater not unlike the one left at the New Providence colony in TNG's "The Best of Both Worlds."
The "1st Annual Voyager Science Fair" bears a passing resemblance to TNG's "Captain Picard Day" from "The Pegasus." During Icheb's explanation of how he thought to scan for neutrino fluctuations with his high-resolution gravimetric sensor array, he mentions having studied Starfleet records about the Bajoran Wormhole.
Finally, it is often said that children improve on the abilities of their parents. Seven is duly impressed by Icheb's ability to further increase the resolution of Voyager's long-range scanners. Evidently, this is a task she either had not thought to do or was unable to do herself.
Edward James Hines writes weekly reviews of Voyager episodes.