As Seven of Nine is forced to adapt to human limitations, Kes continues to evolve into a more powerful state.
Plot Summary: The Doctor operates on Seven of Nine, who has collapsed after demanding to be returned to the Borg Collective. Kes summons medical tools via telekinesis and removes a Borg implant from Seven of Nine using only her thoughts. Though Kes finds this exhilarating, Tuvok suggests that she meditate to learn to control these new abilities, leading Kes to discover even more powers. In the Starfleet database, Janeway discovers that Seven of Nine’s birth name was Annika Hansen and that she was assimilated at a young age after her maverick parents entered a remote region of space. Chakotay warns that it may be impossible for her to become human after growing up Borg, but Janeway insists that Annika can learn to replace a collective with a community, though Seven of Nine insists that Janeway should have let her die. When Janeway asks for assistance in removing modifications the Borg made to Voyager, Seven of Nine initially agrees to help, then knocks out Kim to take over a communications node and try to contact the Borg. Before the bridge crew has time to react, Kes notices the incursion and uses the ship’s circuitry to shock Seven of Nine. But Kes’s use of telekinesis also weakens the ship’s infrastructure. Waking in the brig, Seven of Nine warns Janeway that any attempts to “assimilate” her will fail. Janeway shows Seven of Nine pictures of herself as a young human girl, saying that in time she will accept her individuality and will no longer wish to return to the Collective. During a visit with Neelix in the mess hall, Kes – along with the ship – begins to destabilize at the molecular level. She tells a reluctant Janeway that she must leave Voyager to explore her new powers. As Kes and her shuttle disappear in a burst of energy, she restarts Voyager’s warp engines, throwing the ship safely beyond Borg space, ten years closer to home. The Doctor removes nearly all of Seven of Nine’s implants and she promises not to try to assimilate the crew again, confessing to Janeway that she remembers Annika’s favorite color was red.
Analysis: Though it always makes me sad to see Kes leave Voyager (and Voyager), and I will never stop wincing about the way we’re introduced to newly human (and newly objectified) Seven of Nine, “The Gift” remains one of this show’s best episodes. Not only does it grapple with questions that dominate both the original series and its sequels, but it’s also an extraordinary story about extraordinary women who rise to meet a wide range of intellectual and emotional challenges. At its core, this trilogy of episodes is a coming-of-age story for two adolescents with the bodies of grown women but the life experiences of young girls, and an adult woman who must balance roles as their maternal figure and clan matriarch more than military captain, though she is called upon to make decisions about their welfare that will affect the entire crew. Both Kes and Seven of Nine (whom I’m going to call Seven from now on for convenience’s sake) are only just beginning to discover who they really are, with bodies that have become unfamiliar to them and inherited abilities from species with whom they can’t communicate to share the experiences of others like themselves. Even in Kes’s now-distant home, she knew no other Ocampa developing the powers she now can unleash, and apart from Jean-Luc Picard, whose assimilation was brief and bitter, no human before Seven has become fully Borg and been fully recovered. What a pleasure it is to see Janeway willing to admit that she isn’t sure how to proceed, that she’s going to make mistakes, that she sometimes makes choices based purely on instinct and they may very well be wrong – it’s a nice contrast to the Janeway who slapped down Chakotay for disagreeing with her at the start of the crisis with the Borg, more like the Janeway from the end of “Caretaker” when Voyager’s journey began.
“The Gift” may focus on Kes and Seven of Nine, but it’s probably the best Janeway story of the entire series. Often when episodes concentrate on the captain, it isn’t in her role as captain of a starship – she’s off the ship in “Time and Again” and “Resistance”; she’s lost control in “Persistence of Vision” and “Basics”; she’s not in charge in “Resolutions” and “Coda” – whereas here, she’s very much in command. But rather than isolating herself on the holodeck and holding junior officers at arm’s length, she behaves as if she believes her own rhetoric about the crew being a family. Instead of interacting with phony misbehaving children in a holographic Victorian fantasy, she’s faced with the loss of a crewmember who’s practically a daughter and the addition of a foster child who wants nothing to do with new rules and expectations. She’s still a bit of a control freak – it would make sense for her to let Tuvok try to help Seven as well as Kes, given that Tuvok might be able to recreate for an ex-Borg the experience of mental collaboration, to wean Seven more slowly from collaborative thinking into verbal communication, particularly since Seven is suffering such anguish at being alone – but she’s more willing to listen to Chakotay’s concerns, she doesn’t micromanage the Doctor as he disables Seven’s implants, she trusts Torres and Kim to do the best they can with an ongoing engineering crisis that ultimately requires a deus ex machina solution. This Janeway is confident in her authority yet knows when it’s time to take a step back, all while she’s dealing with one blossoming young adult leaving the nest – probably forever – and an angry child-woman moving in with all her strange equipment, her hard-to-ignore body modifications, and her extremely provocative wardrobe. These developments aren’t anyone’s fault – Kes’s inability to control her evolution puts the ship at risk, and the Doctor gets to decide which prosthetics must remain with the preposterous catsuit and heels that he insists Seven needs to wear – but they’re a big change in what’s been the status quo.
I’m a little frustrated that Kes isn’t given more of a chance to say goodbye to the men who’ve been so significant in her life to date: Neelix, her rescuer and lover, Tuvok, her guide and mentor (who gets the episode’s final, silent last moments to ponder Kes’s loss), the Doctor, her father figure and teacher…not to mention Paris, her could-have-been husband, and Kim, her might-have-been son-in-law. The scene in the mess hall in which Neelix and Kes discuss their now-long-past breakup seems like far too little for closure, considering that they dated for at least two years and seriously considered having a baby together. We should see more evidence of what they’ve meant to each other than jokes about Neelix’s cooking. As is often the case in serious episodes, the Doctor largely serves as comic relief, which would be more welcome if it wasn’t at the expense of character; the loss of Kes should be a grave personal and professional blow to him and it’s quite astonishing that he doesn’t insist on performing more medical tests to be certain that what she believes to be evolution isn’t some sort of alien interference, especially so close to the Borg and Species 8472. I won’t even get started on the sexism of the comments the Doctor makes about Seven of Nine’s appearance, since it’s obvious he’s serving as a mouthpiece for the leering writers and producers who’ve “programmed” him, but it’s a contributing factor to why I’ve never been a fan of the couple in a romantic sense, though the writers will continue their use of the Doctor as their mouthpiece by having him pine for Seven for a long time. No Galatea should wind up stuck with her Pygmalion – she should grow up to be her own person, not begin to conform to what someone else wants her to be, especially not a pseudo-parental figure – which means I’m really turned off by the three major Seven of Nine ‘shipper pairings, namely Seven/Doctor, Seven/Chakotay, and Seven/Janeway.
We see here the beginning of an argument that will go on for several seasons about whether a Janeway who will imprison Seven in the name of freeing her can ever be trusted to see Seven as an independent person. Janeway is reluctant enough to let Kes go, initially saying she can’t let her leave on the basis of Kes’s intuition, requiring Kes to demonstrate that she hasn’t lost her judgment and isn’t under any outside influence. When Seven accuses that Janeway will not concede to a Borg the same cherished right to choose her own fate, calling the captain hypocritical, Janeway can only fall back on the argument that because the Borg took away Seven’s rational choices as a child, Janeway must step into the parental role and make choices for her. “Then you are no different than the Borg,” accuses Seven, and it’s hard to argue. It’s a beautifully played scene between two strong performers whose chemistry is probably fueled by their thinly-veiled (or at times, since the show left broadcast, not-at-all veiled) animosity. Janeway steps up what she perceives as human advantages, her verbal dexterity and wry humor, her warmth and sympathy, which Seven counters by demonstrating her physical prowess, her dramatic gestures, her ability to turn phrases sarcastically back on themselves. We don’t often get to see Janeway cry, but Kate Mulgrew always lets us see when she’s suffering, whereas with Seven, Jeri Ryan gives subtle hints of the character’s pain without allowing her displays of strength to slip. I’ll always miss what might have been a rich conflict between Janeway and Chakotay, who met as equals and never fully developed the arguments about Starfleet and Maquis, loyalty to institutions versus loyalty to people. But there’s no question that, from this point on, the battle of wills between Janeway and Seven about individuality, privacy, independence, and humanity become the compelling focus of Voyager.