Voyager rescues a sentient android that wants Torres to help its race develop the ability to reproduce.
Plot Summary: An artificial life form finds itself beamed aboard Voyager, where Torres works through the night to repair and revive it, though Tuvok believes it represents a security risk. With help from the Doctor and Kim, Torres develops a plan to give it an “infusion” of warp plasma, which successfully restores the android’s power systems. It identifies itself as Automated Unit 3947, thanks Torres for her help, and instructs the crew how to find and return it to its ship. During the journey, 3947 asks Torres whether she is a Builder and explains that the Builders who created it are now extinct. Since there are no working prototypes to make more, 3947 fears that its own kind will soon be extinct as well, and asks Torres whether she can create such a prototype so that its species can reproduce. Torres pleads with Janeway to let her help the androids, but Janeway, citing the Prime Directive, says she can’t allow it. When 3947 arrives in the transporter room to depart, it stuns Torres and beams her aboard its ship. Other androids fire weapons at Voyager, threatening to destroy both Torres and her own ship if she will not construct a prototype. To save her crewmates, Torres begins work on the new android. Meanwhile, a similar ship approaches the damaged Voyager, warning Janeway not to interfere as its own crew of androids assaults the ship where Torres has been taken hostage. Seeing the battle as a diversion, Janeway orders Paris to take a shuttle to rescue Torres, who has learned that the two groups of automated androids have been at war for decades. 3947 explains that when the Builders tried to make peace and deactivate the androids, the androids on both sides killed their makers in accordance with their programming to survive. Though she successfully brings a prototype to consciousness, Torres destroys her creation, telling a threatening 3947 that she will never create another. Paris beams her aboard the shuttle while the two groups of androids continue their war. When Janeway tells the recovering Torres that she knows destroying the prototype must have been difficult, Torres says that it was necessary.
Analysis: “Prototype” is one of my favorite B’Elanna Torres episodes and goes a long way to restore the character whom we met in “Caretaker” – the fiery half-Klingon rebel engineering genius – instead of continuing to turn her into Janeway’s model Starfleet officer and Chakotay’s secret admirer. Certainly she’s changed and grown since “Parallax” and “Prime Factors,” so there’s never really any concern that she’ll rebel against Janeway and ignore Starfleet regulations until she’s forced to do so to protect Voyager. Even so, we also get to see the woman who never finished studying at Starfleet Academy, who’s never delved into the reasons that Starfleet has a Prime Directive or done any serious investigation of engineering ethics. She still tends to favor emotional instincts over intellectual rationalization, believing that the alien androids should have as much right to reproduce as organic beings and apparently unaware of the controversy that erupted when Data created a child for himself, though she’s familiar with Data’s legal status as an individual and explains it to 3947. There’s never any suggestion that her emotions or her temper will get the better of her and drive her decisions; when she chooses to defy Janeway’s order to refuse to build a prototype, it’s as much a ploy to stall for time to help Voyager as a wish to help the androids who have repaid her hard work and sympathy with abduction and violence. She remains in control at all times, focusing on science rather than anger or fear about its implications, and once she understands what is truly at stake, she chooses to forfeit her own life and accept the risk of another attack on Voyager rather than allow her creation to become part of a war that has already resulted in genocide.
One of the things I love about Voyager is that its three brilliant scientists – Janeway, Torres, and Seven of Nine – are all women, and they enjoying discussing and debating it even more than Jadzia Dax did. The Bechdel Test didn’t exist when Voyager was first broadcast, but pretty much every episode passes it because the women do so much of the scientific work on the ship, whereas in Next Gen and DS9, the main female characters work in such different fields that they don’t interact as often. One of the reasons I resented Seven when she appeared was the way she was often used to show up Janeway and Torres instead of what one would expect from a Borg for whom collaboration has always been inevitable and instinctive. Even people who are joined at the brain must disagree sometimes about the best course of action in any given situation. Torres may be frustrated that Janeway’s position allows her to overrule the chief engineer, yet she’s aware that Janeway always listens to her and takes her perspective into consideration. Janeway doesn’t enjoy being right in this case; there’s no hint of “I told you so,” only sympathy for what she knows must have been a painful decision to destroy an unprecedented technological achievement. It’s a pleasure to see that Torres can disagree passionately with Janeway, both about this ethical issue and about whether the crew should rescue Chakotay a few weeks ago, without any hint of disloyalty or desire to undermine a captain from an organization Torres once renounced. Given how much Janeway has dithered about the Prime Directive since arriving in the Delta Quadrant, I might in Torres’s place have been tempted to accuse the captain of hypocrisy. Instead Torres follows orders until disobeying becomes the only way to save Voyager, then accepts what she knows Janeway would do and takes an action that might very well result in Voyager’s destruction rather than assist in the android war.
If I’m a bit surprised that Torres doesn’t struggle with the androids more when she’s first abducted and ordered to build the prototype, I’m not sorry. This unusually structured episode, which opens from the perspective of an outsider and shows us the crew through android eyes, doesn’t waste time on the fight sequences even though in this case they’re an intrinsic part of the plot rather than a gratuitous effort to generate excitement. Most of the plot itself is predictable even for people who don’t know about Nomad or the Terminator or Ultron or the Cylons – of course the android turns bad, of course it turns out that the lot of them killed their creators, of course they look a bit like tin men – but this episode isn’t really about the evil robots, it’s about the characters we know. Dawson and Mulgrew give terrific, complex performances as two strong-willed, smart people who have a hard time accepting that their approaches might be wrong. It’s nice to see Janeway getting her hands dirty with the tech, working with Torres and Kim on a scientific problem even as Tuvok voices his disapproval – when it comes to scientific exploration, he’s so very un-Spock. Even the few minutes of screen time given to Paris and Chakotay are telling, as Paris demands to play the hero while Chakotay warns him not to lose any more shuttles…it’s surprising Paris’s jaw doesn’t crack with the effort not to blurt out the obvious retort about who keeps risking shuttles instead of a sarcastic remark about Chakotay’s minimal concern for his welfare. Even 3947 is a well-rounded character, conflicted about whether to regard the women who saved its life as enemies despite its programming. Surely 3947 could have killed Torres at the end had it really wanted to, yet even without facial expressions, it reveals that it finds the contradiction disturbing. Maybe there’s hope for its android species after all.