The Hirogen pursue a member of Species 8472 onto Voyager, where Janeway must decide whether to turn the deadly alien over to their mutual enemy.
Plot Summary: A Hirogen hunter follows a member of Species 8472 into an asteroid field, but the prey eludes the hunter, leaving his ship damaged. Soon after, Seven of Nine abandons etiquette lessons with the Doctor to go to the bridge, where Janeway decides to rescue the dying Hirogen pilot though Seven warns that this will put Voyager’s crew at risk. Aboard the ruined vessel, Chakotay finds evidence that the Hirogen eat their prey as well as taking trophies. Meanwhile, the Species 8472 creature boards Voyager and wreaks havoc while the crew tries to find a way to track it. The recovering Hirogen pilot explains that he has been hunting this dangerous prey for months and requests permission to finish the job, which Seven feels would be a better option than putting the crew at continued risk. But Janeway believes the hunt to be cruel. She asks Seven for Borg nanoprobes to try to disable rather than destroy the creature when it communicates telepathically with Tuvok to explain that it was injured battling the Borg and only wants to return to fluidic space. Crewmembers in environmental suits track down the creature, joined by the recovering Hirogen, who warns Janeway that his fellow hunters will destroy Voyager if she does not let the hunt continue. To save the prey, Janeway orders Seven to open a rift to fluidic space, but because of the Hirogen fleet bearing down on Voyager to capture the prey, Seven believes that Janeway’s compassion will cost the crew their lives. As the Hirogen fleet’s attack frees the recovering hunter and triggers the 8472’s regeneration, Seven disobeys Janeway’s orders to beam the creature to a Hirogen ship, which departs with the prey. A furious captain tells Seven that she will no longer be permitted access to the ship’s primary systems. Seven replies that although Janeway wants her to become an individual, she finds little room for individuality in Voyager’s command structure.
Analysis: “Prey” tries very hard to do what Star Trek does at its best: to wrap a moral conundrum around a solid science fiction story with a recurring alien. And if you’re a viewer who is thrilled to find the show refocused around Seven of Nine and her development, it succeeds nicely. If you’re focused on Janeway and how she’s characterized, it’s a bit more of a problem. I’ve said before that one of the nice aspects of having stupid Starfleet admirals and ambassadors show up – something every previous captain has had to contend with, whether it was Kirk with Decker and Fox, Picard with the worm-eating cabal, or Sisko with Leyton and his anti-Dominion faction – is that the lowly captain gets to come up with innovative ways of bucking the system to save it from itself, thus looking like an innovative thinker at the same time he’s upholding and representing Federation values. But because Janeway is the highest Starfleet authority in the Delta Quadrant, she always has to be the voice of authority, which sometimes makes her sound stodgy and conservative, especially in this new era when a much younger woman is challenging her at every turn. It’s not that Janeway says the wrong things, since I can’t really argue with her pleas for compassion. It’s that lately she always sounds like a schoolmarm, repeating lessons that have become Star Trek cliches instead of letting her actions speak for themselves, while Seven quite often gets the last word or at least the better one. Having seen the fourth season’s subsequent episodes, I find that I can’t resent Seven for this the way I did the first time around. In fact, I find it really hard to watch the way she’s constantly smacked down for failing to be a good girl the way her elders expect, not only with an angry maternal captain but during the extremely disturbing scene with the EMH where Seven is apparently expected to learn that casual sexual harassment is part of everyday human behavior. In the upcoming “Retrospect” when Seven has flashbacks of being victimized, it will be impossible not to loathe Janeway and the Doctor both for grooming her to accept such treatment.
The Hirogen make a stronger showing in “Prey” than they have in previous episodes, though they still have too much in common with the Hunters from “Captive Pursuit” and their strength comes at the expense of Star Trek’s most innovative villain, the extra-dimensional creatures who inhabit fluidic space and create singularities to enter the Delta Quadrant only when provoked by the Borg. Species 8472 was genuinely scary when they nearly killed Harry Kim in “Scorpion” – something not even Kim appears to remember now – yet like so many Delta Quadrant threats, not least the Borg, the writers have defanged them, pasting humanoid values on top of their astonishing alien variety. If they’re telepathic, of course this one would tell Tuvok it’s lonely and just wants to go home, since sending Tuvok images of death won’t help its position this time. Janeway may not approve of the Hirogen hunting sentient beings like this one, but Chakotay learns that the Hirogen likely have been doing it for millennia to sustain themselves as well as for sport, since they seem to have no home planet. It’s fair for Janeway not to want the repellent hunt to occur on her ship, but it’s the 8472 who sneaks on board, not the rescued Hirogen. This episode could easily be a lesson in the non-interference directive and the challenge of infinite diversity among a cannibalistic race. Instead we get an overblown diatribe about the importance of compassion, although, when faced with a similar situation with Tosk, Sisko felt that he had no right to interfere with the hunt and could not protect prey without a formal request for asylum even though that prey posed no threat to his crew. It’s easy to see how, from Seven’s perspective, Janeway might seem reckless rather than compassionate, insisting that it’s worth risking her ship and the lives of all her crew to let one vicious former enemy die in peace in its own realm. I’m not seeing Federation values so much as Janeway’s personal obsession with teaching Seven the right lessons, particularly since Janeway tells Chakotay and Tuvok that they can shoot the Hirogen captain if he threatens the 8472 (who arrived as part of an invasion force and viciously attacks Torres; this is no wounded Horta protecting her eggs).
The dynamic between Seven and Janeway certainly gives the show a jolt of energy, replacing what should have been stronger conflict between the Starfleet and Maquis. The actors are well matched and their dialogue crackles, But it displaces the Starfleet captain at the center of the Star Trek show, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the producers decided to try it with a female captain instead of one of the others. I don’t mind her playing a parental role in Seven’s life, but Sisko was the parent of an adolescent and he never displayed this degree of obsession with inculcating specific values in Jake, nor did Picard let Wesley Crusher debate with him as an equal. I understand that Seven’s a shiny new plaything for the writers, and moreover that the producers want her front and center as the catsuit-clad visual representation of a focus on what their beloved young male demographic prefers to see, but it’s disturbing to see her as the protagonist of so many storylines. We’ve been told for centuries that women don’t make good leaders because they can’t control their compassionate, nurturing instincts, and in Janeway’s case, her desperation to play mother to this little lost Borg fits right into that stereotype. Janeway comes across as conservative and reactive while Seven keeps making things happen – she makes tough choices for the good of the crew, as she says, just like Janeway – and though Janeway constantly tries to shape the niceties of her behavior, she also lets Seven question her tactics on the bridge, refuse a direct order when summoned to the ready room, and violate a direct order with no greater consequence than being allowed to spend more time regenerating and in the astrometrics lab where Seven is in her element anyway. When Seven complains that she doesn’t understand what is being asked of her – that she’s supposed to become an individual, but only the sort of individual of whom Janeway approves – Janeway falls back on a military phrase, “As you were,” that’s almost chilling. The captain probably only means to emphasize the fact that she’s storming out of Seven’s alcove, but given that Seven has just accused Janeway of being frightened of her growing individuality, it also suggests that Janeway prefers Seven not to be so independent, to be more a part of Voyager’s collective…to be the compliant good girl the Doctor tells her to be.