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The Trek Nation - Human Error

Human Error

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 11:23 PM GMT

See Also: 'Human Error' Episode Guide

Feeling incomplete after the loss of Unimatrix Zero, Seven of Nine creates a holodeck program where she can experiment with being fully human. In the program, she has no Borg implants. She wears her hair down even on duty and requests a uniform from Janeway. Off-duty, she plays the piano and inhabits her own quarters. A holographic version of Chakotay is attracted to her.

Voyager is traveling through a region of space where aliens test high-yield warheads, which Seven is supposed to be tracking. But she keeps escaping to the holodeck when she's supposed to be working and regenerating. In her fantasy life, Seven is comfortable socializing, even flirting. She makes most of the first moves with her hologram of Chakotay -- inviting him to dinner, ordering him to hold still so she can trace his tattoo with her fingertips, even kissing him. Yet on the job she finds reasons to avoid the real man, particularly when she is supposed to report her plans to be away from her post.

Seven remains uncomfortable with other crewmates in her real life as well, shunning Paris and Torres' baby shower (perhaps because of Paris' insensitive query "No baby showers in the Collective?" and Torres' less-than-gracious reception of her gift of "unique" thermal booties). The Doctor becomes suspicious when he realizes Seven has not been regenerating on schedule. She is troubled by pain and buzzing in her head when she becomes intimate with the holographic Chakotay, but she refuses to discuss her experiment with the Doctor.

Meanwhile, the real XO chides Seven for being late and distracted on the job. When Seven fails to protect the ship from the alien warheads at a critical moment, the captain calls her protégée to her ready room to insist that she stay at her post while on duty. Seven lies to Janeway, claiming she has been working on a new gravometric array. The former Borg decides to end her experimentation and prepares to break off her relationship with holo-Chakotay, who has been encouraging her cooking and piano-playing as well as her emotional development. When the hologram protests that nothing is more important than real intimacy -- not even work -- Seven becomes distraught and passes out.

In sickbay, the Doctor explains that Seven's cortical node was shutting down when he found her. After some investigation, he concludes the Borg must have programmed their drones to stop functioning if they experienced strong emotional stimulation, to keep them at top efficiency in the Collective. The Doctor believes he may be able to reconfigure the circuits controlling Seven's node, yet she refuses, saying she has been distracted enough. After saving the ship from a final deadly warhead, she declines Chakotay's invitation to socialize in the mess hall with him and others.

Analysis:

In The Next Generation's "Force Of Nature," the Enterprise crew discovered that the fabric of space was being destroyed by warp drive -- the mythical gimmick that makes Star Trek possible by allowing starships to travel rapidly among distant solar systems. Picard determined that no starship should travel faster than Warp 6 except in extreme emergencies, and the Federation Council agreed. Thus did "Force of Nature" sabotage everything the franchise had done to date, making impossible much of the very action for which fans watched the series. The entire premise of Voyager would be impossible if the show's writers had bothered with continuity concerning this incredibly ill-conceived Next Gen episode, so for once we should be grateful for each Trek series' disregard for the tenets of its predecessors. After all, what's the point of having a science fiction show with self-imposed limits on what can be explored or achieved?

"Human Error" makes a similarly idiotic move with Seven of Nine. For four years, Voyager's major project -- even more than getting the ship home -- has been the reclamation of Seven's humanity through the discovery and exploration of her emotions and her relationships. Now, we learn, that has all been for naught, because the Borg have built in a fail-safe that will kill her if she tries to explore her feelings. (Next Gen's Hugh didn't have the same limitations, but there's little point in comparing TNG's Borg to Voyager's version.) Now we're told that all those times Janeway risked the ship to reclaim a lost Borg, all those times Seven put people in jeopardy as she stretched her limitations, they were making stupid errors. Now we can't even root for Seven to have powerful emotions, because the show has made that a foolish and deadly choice.

Apparently "powerful emotions" refer specifically to sexual intimacy, since we have seen Seven far more emotional with the captain and One and Axum than she ever becomes in "Human Error." Still, an erotic kiss only gives her a mild jolt, yet a lovers' quarrel devastates her. The mechanism seems to work in sort of the way that Buffy's Angel loses his soul and reverts to evil after feeling great joy while making love. (I'm not clear on what effect it might have that Seven uses Icheb's cortical node, since her own was damaged and removed in "Imperfection," and "Human Error" doesn't address such an important continuity issue.) In a nutshell, the gimmick turns Seven into the wet dream of every shallow teenage boy in the demographic the producers so desperately seek. She's a beautiful woman, a responsive woman, a willing woman...and a woman who cannot impose her own emotional demands upon a man because to do so would destroy her.

As with the rape analogy in "Retrospect," I'd feel sorry for Seven if I weren't so revolted by the ends to which the character gets used on this series. It's impossible to feel anything for these cardboard cutouts at this point, other than disgust at their creators. I have an urge to laugh at Janeway for accusing Seven of spending too much time on the holodeck -- Janeway, whose major emotional and sexual relationships on this show have been with programmable men! But underneath my scorn, I feel too much anger and sorrow at the message Voyager promotes over and over about the triviality of female commanders, female sexuality, female audience members. I can't blame Janeway or Seven or any of the others for their pathetic characterizations. It's not fair to take potshots at the characters.

And I can't even make snide comments about how this episode must be Robert Beltran's wet dream, because no matter how much of a kick he may get out of playing hot babe Seven of Nine's dream man, it's a poor consolation prize for not having been given a real character to play for the past several seasons. Holo-Chakotay has more personality than the first officer ever displayed, even though we never learn exactly what Seven finds admirable about him -- we see him purely in a romantic context, not being brave or clever or selfless. Seven's fantasy man gives her a generic Native American dreamcatcher, cheats on his vegetarian diet, and jokes about never using his phaser on a first date -- more overt sexual innuendo than the real Chakotay has lobbed at Janeway since their first year on Voyager. The fact that Beltran pulls off an appealing performance in this repulsive storyline demonstrates that if the writers had given him anything at all to play with in the vast majority of episodes, he could have created one of the most compelling characters on television.

Instead he's left showing off his skills as a romantic lead in a scenario that will excite only viewers who like to watch any two random attractive people making out. Smut fans don't get to see enough flesh to be satisfied; Seven and holo-Chak sleep together with their clothes on. In the meantime, Janeway/Chakotay fans are throwing up, Doc/Seven fans are throwing up, Janeway/Seven fans are throwing up. If the writers had courage, they would have scripted Janeway as Seven's unattainable romantic interest and addressed the extent to which homoerotic desire gets repressed in the Trek universe. Instead Seven's fevered yearning is just a sleazy ripoff of the Chakotay/Torres scene from "Persistence of Vision" in which a fantasy first officer tells B'Elanna he's the Chakotay she always wanted him to be, the one who loves her. In these gratuitous romantic scenes, Beltran gets used as a sex object in a more demeaning way than Jeri Ryan ever is -- at least her character gets to save the ship on a regular basis.

Ryan's performance is "Human Error" is subtle, appealing, and sympathetic if one can get past how infuriating it all is. Kate Mulgrew, whose character acts more like a cranky middle-aged mother than ever before, invests Janeway with a complex range of emotions toward her protégée. And Robert Picardo does a marvelous job in his limited screen time with a few small changes of facial expression -- he portrays the Doctor's heartbreak, then reassertion of his professional obligations to Seven, along with the discovery that he cares about her deeply, even if he can't make her care about him the same way. It reminds me of the way Rene Auberjonois used to portray Odo's love for Kira back when it was all subtextual. For me, that's the most moving aspect of the episode -- that a hologram has the depth of feeling Seven has been denied.

There are the usual logic holes -- why does Voyager bravely forge on through a region of space infested by warheads instead of trying to find a way around it, how does Voyager ever function when Seven's out of astrometrics to regenerate, why must everything be solved with technobabble. There's blanket theft of the storyline from TNG's Barclay episode "Hollow Pursuits," without even making any reference to the inappropriateness of using one's co-workers as recreational holograms. There's fine directing -- the lighting in the scene with the piano and the fireplace is beautiful, Seven looks lovely in her red dress with the built-in push-up bra, the kiss has more chemistry than Chakotay has ever had with any of his Aliens of the Week. But it's superficial chemistry, exploiting the attractiveness of the stars rather than exploring the nuances of their characters. It's such a shame that these actors and their talents have been wasted on this travesty of a Star Trek show.

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green reviews 'Enterprise' episodes for the Trek Nation, for which she is also a news writer. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.