Survival Instinct

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 10:16 PM GMT

See Also: 'Survival Instinct' Episode Guide

A round Borg ship crashes on a planet. Four Borg, including Seven of Nine, survive - but their link to the collective has been severed. Before long they are using the pronoun "I."

Docked at a space station, Janeway records in her log that she has allowed her crew shore leave and invited the aliens onto Voyager. She and Chakotay are greatly enjoying the cultural exchange, even though she has a prehensile plant in her ready room - plus crewmembers getting into bar fights on the station - and the first officer has to haul expensive gifts from alien ambassadors. Tuvok, however, has no sense of humor about the security breaches the aliens have caused. Seven of Nine is not amused either, as she tells Naomi Wildman: since her break from the Collective, she has not been able to abide crowds.

An alien approaches Seven of Nine with a case of Borg implants. Shocked, she identifies them as synaptic relays from her original unimatrix and says she will buy them from him. The alien then communicates telepathically with two other visitors to the ship, announcing a plan to infiltrate Voyager's security protocols. In flashback, Seven speaks to the same three individuals, who were then Borg, telling them their individuality is irrelevant and demanding that they make a beacon to contact the Collective.

In the present, one of the ex-Borg expresses to the others his fear that their plan could damage Seven of Nine, but they insist that consensus is necessary for their success, and he apologizes for his hesitation. While their former colleague regenerates, the three sneak into her alcove and insert an interlink module. Tuvok becomes aware of a security breach and bursts in with an armed team just as Seven awakens, shouting that she will not comply with the others.

In flashback, they all recall gaining individuality after the crash - Seven remembered barbecuing with her father, one of the others remembered taking care of his parents around a hearth, a third recalls that she was a married Starfleet officer serving on the Excalibur at the time of her assimilation. "My name is Marika," she says, refusing the designation Three of Nine. Seven of Nine demands that they delete this extraneous information and revert to survival protocols only.

In the present, the Doctor examines the three now-unconscious ex-Borg, observing that whoever removed their implants did a poor job. The three are connected to one another despite having severed their link to the Collective, and when they wake, they explain that they want to break the triad - they are going crazy hearing one another's individual thoughts all the time - but they need Seven's memories. Seven herself has no memories of the events on the planet after the crash, but agrees to try to access her memory files for them. While she does so, the others ask why she is still called Seven. They do not use individual names because they do not feel like individuals as a result of their own link.

Janeway asks Seven why the Collective would have linked three individual drones, and whether there might not be a way to break the link despite the memory gaps they all share. Seven believes that if she joins the link, she may be able to solve the problem, but she also fears getting trapped with them, and does not relish the thought of having to return to a state of collective consciousness. After Janeway points out that ties to family are often very strong and Seven learns that Naomi thinks of her as family, the ex-Borg decides that she feels the same way about her unimatrix: she will try to help them.

With the Doctor nervously monitoring the exchange, all four former Borg relive the crash. Seven recalls that she found a dying drone and felt horror when he expired. The others did not want to rejoin the Collective as they regained their individuality, but Seven became increasingly panicked, finally hunting down the others and injecting nanoprobes into the left hemispheres of their brains. This forced them to be compliant to her orders, but it also linked the three of them together. Once the others discover her actions via the four-way link they share in present time, they attack her.

Later, in sickbay, the Doctor explains to Seven that the other three went into neural shock from their implants overloading - a side effect of the link Seven created among them was to tie their higher nervous system functions into their linked implants, and now they cannot survive as individuals longer than a few weeks. He suggests returning the group to the Borg, who could repair the damage if the three were reassimilated.

Seven discusses the situation with Chakotay, admitting that she wanted to rejoin the Collective when they were stranded after the crash because her memories of being an individual were those of a frightened little girl; she created the new interlink because she did not want to die alone, then she erased the evidence of her actions. Chakotay notes that now they need the Collective to survive, but they will not really be living if Voyager returns the three to the Borg. "What would you choose?" he asks her.

Returning to Sickbay, Seven poses the same question to the Doctor when he protests that it is his obligation to prolong the lives of the former drones. He warns her that if she severs the link, she will be acting out of guilt, choosing the option which is best for her rather than for the others, but Seven reminds him that she is in a unique position to judge: she was a drone. And so was the Doctor, when he had no individuality and could only follow orders. "They would choose freedom, no matter how fleeting," she tells the Doctor, who is forced to agree - now that his thoughts are his own, he would not choose otherwise no matter the cost.

After the surgery, the three former drones are at peace and enjoying the quiet. One says that he will go explore the station; another says he wants to go to a nearby uninhabited planet and spend his remaining time in the open air. The former Starfleet officer tells Seven that she wishes to remain on the starship, and the captain has granted her request. "I can't forgive you for what you did to us, but I can understand it," she says. A pensive Seven retreats to astrometrics, where Naomi visits her, saying she thought Seven might want to spend some time with family.


Every time Voyager puts on a good Seven of Nine episode, I have to grit my teeth and unclench my stomach before I can admit, grudgingly, that despite how completely and totally sick I am of Seven and the Borg and recitations about individuality and quotes about assimilation and all the rest, it's the one thing this show does well. And then I have to add, quickly, that this show does it well at the expense of absolutely everything else - all other characterization and relationships, and all the things that originally drew me to the series and to Trek.

But in fairness, "Survival Instinct" was a fine hour of television. Not a great one, mind you - the plot was overly reminiscent of "Retrospect," "Infinite Regress," "Dark Frontier," and all the other episodes about Seven's repressed Borg memories, and it was never entirely clear why the aliens chose to sneak behind Seven's back, then to trust her, then to blame her for their condition so obsessively that their circuits overloaded and ultimately led to their impending demises. It's never clear exactly what the others hope to accomplish by forcing a link, especially since they didn't know at the time that Seven was responsible for their plight. It's also not clear how they knew she was on Voyager if their link to the Borg was severed.

Those aren't major problems, however, in this visually stylish episode - both the planetary exteriors and the ex-drones themselves (particularly the former Starfleet Patty Hearst lookalike) made powerful impressions, the stuff of which nightmares are made. Seven's emotions were wrenchingly believable. Her scenes with Naomi were touching as well; there's something both sad and hopeful about the fact that the person who understands her best is a little girl. And it was interesting that Chakotay - who killed most of her unimatrix in "Scorpion Part Two" - was the person to convince Seven not to send the Borg back to the Collective to live out their lives.

Normally I would have expected Janeway to be the person in that position, but Janeway was oddly absent this episode. Oh, she was around...getting her hair pulled by a plant as she teased Chakotay and Tuvok, confining Tom and Harry to quarters (that's three in two episodes, Mom) for getting arrested on the station, babbling about the ties of family...but her bright smile seemed completely out of place. When we learned that one of the ex-drones had been an Excalibur crewmember, I expected Janeway to do everything in her power to repatriate the Starfleet officer, just as she did everything in her power to bring Seven back to a human community when she discovered her. Instead Janeway seemed to see Marika as one of three - exactly the thing she was trying to break out of. I wonder whether we will ever see Marika again before her inevitable death, and how the captain will react to her.

"Survival Instinct" had a gutsy ending, quite the opposite of the usual pat wrap-ups (or the utterly chaotic failure to achieve closure in episodes which seem to be getting shorter by the week). The character growth for Seven seemed sincere, not just a recital of statements about individualism fed to her by humans, and the scene with the Doctor was breathtaking - the recognition of their parallels, his realization that the Hippocratic Oath applies to living as well as to life. I wish they weren't the only two characters we ever saw such consistent development from, but I have to admit the writers do well by them.

What does it mean that Voyager's two most interesting characters are the ones who are largely machine, while the human characters act like badly-programmed automatons most of the time? This show retreads the issue of Seven's individuality so often that it should feel redundant, but it doesn't. It's of crucial importance that she be reminded how precious her freedom is. Why don't the rest of the characters get the same freedoms, the same explorations?

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.