Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “The Omega Directive”

“The Omega Directive”
Written by Jimmy Diggs & Steve J. Kay and Lisa Klink
Directed by Victor Lobl
Season 4, Episode 21
Production episode 189
Original air date: April 15, 1998
Stardate: 51781.2

This past weekend, Star Trek novelist Dave Galanter, whose work included the Voyager novel Battle Lines, as well as the recent Discovery novel Dead Endless, lost his battle with cancer at the age of 51. He was a valued colleague and a dear friend, and he will be sorely missed. This week’s rewatches and reviews are dedicated to his memory. 

Captain’s log. Seven comes out of her regeneration cycle, dictates a log entry, and then goes to the mess hall to fetch Kim for a sensor diagnostic, finishing his kal-toh game for him, to Kim’s annoyance and Tuvok’s surprise. En route to the diagnostic, Voyager falls out of warp.

The ship has basically come to a full stop and won’t allow anyone save Janeway access to anything, with a big Greek letter omega dominating all the monitor screens. Janeway tells everyone to sit tight and not speak of this, and then locks herself in the ready room.

Janeway unseals the computer and is informed that “the omega phenomenon” has been detected a bit over a light-year away, and so the Omega Directive is in place.

Without saying why, Janeway orders multiphasic shielding put around the warp core. Chakotay passes this order to Torres, who says that the rumor going around the ship is that the Omega Directive has been engaged. This gets Seven’s attention.

Janeway then summons Seven to her ready room. Janeway assumes that, since the Borg have assimilated starship captains (Jean-Luc Picard for sure, and possibly some others at Wolf 359), she also knows of the directive, which Seven confirms. Janeway can either read Seven in on her mission or confine her to the cargo bay. Seven suggests the latter, because she does not wish to destroy the omega molecule that has been detected, as required by the directive.

Star Trek: Voyager "The Omega Directive"

Screenshot: CBS

The Borg has encountered the omega molecule—an incredibly powerful but destructive force—several times, and almost was able to stabilize for a fraction of a second, which is better than anyone else has managed. Janeway, however, stands by her orders, especially since the Borg learning how to stabilize the molecule, even briefly, resulted in the loss of twenty-nine ships and six hundred thousand drones. Janeway thinks the destructive risk is too great. Seven accedes to Janeway’s order, as even getting to observe an omega molecule would mean a great deal to Seven. Apparently the Borg think of the omega molecule as the closest nature has come to perfection.

Janeway then goes to sickbay, ordering the EMH to whip up some arithrazine. The EMH is unwilling, because arithrazine needs to be monitored when administered, but Janeway can’t read the doctor in on the mission, and orders him to make it anyhow, even though it violates Starfleet protocols. She also has Tuvok and Kim modifying a torpedo to have a yield of fifty isotons, which would be enough to destroy a small planet.

Seven analyzes the sensor data, and it turns out to be worse than they realized: there are hundreds of unstable omega molecules. It’s going to take more than two of them to deal with it. Janeway refuses.

Janeway has Kim and Tuvok increase the torpedo yield to eighty isotons, and then informs Chakotay that she and Seven will be leaving in a shuttle to perform their classified mission. If they come back, all is well. If they don’t, there will be a massive subspace explosion, and if that happens, Chakotay should take Voyager as far away from the area as possible, and to just keep booking it to the Alpha Quadrant.

Chakotay pleads with Janeway to at least read the senior staff in—they can help her more readily if they know what they’re doing.

Janeway relents and reads in the senior staff. The omega molecule was discovered by a twenty-third-century scientist named Ketteract, and the resultant explosion when he tried and failed to stabilize it caused tremendous destruction in both space and subspace. The Omega Directive was then implemented, and it applies to all Starfleet vessels, and knowledge is limited to captains and admirals. Were they home, Janeway’s response to Voyager detecting an omega molecule would be to summon a special Starfleet team to dispose of it. Since they’re stuck in the Delta Quadrant, they have to do it themselves.

Voyager traces the omega molecules to a Class-M moon, where the local civilization has apparently been experimenting with omega molecules. The explosion on the surface is as devastating as the footage Janeway showed of Ketteract’s facility. Despite the radiation, Kim says a team can transport to the surface, and Janeway and Tuvok lead a security team down.

Meanwhile on Voyager, Seven is supervising the construction of a module that will contain the omega molecules so they can be neutralized—and if they can’t be neutralized, they can be destroyed, which was the original plan before they realized how many molecules there were.

Star Trek: Voyager "The Omega Directive"

Screenshot: CBS

The alien scientists are sent up to Voyager for treatment. Seven talks to the head scientist in sickbay, and learns that they attempted a method of stabilizing the molecule that neither the Borg nor Ketteract thought of, and she thinks she can adapt it to work for them. She then pleads with Chakotay to convince Janeway to allow her to try this.

Janeway and Tuvok set up the molecules to be beamed to the containment unit. The captain then returns to the ship, and refuses Seven’s request. The risk is too great—if these molecules explode the way every other omega molecule has, it’ll destroy subspace in half the Delta Quadrant, making warp travel damn near impossible.

Unfortunately, they’re on the clock now, as the moon is an outpost for another world that is pissed that some ship has come in and invaded their space. Chakotay tries to convince the ships that their intentions are peaceful, but given that Voyager stole their scientific research, they don’t really buy it.

Seven’s neutralizing program isn’t working fast enough—and, worse, the omega molecules start to reset to their unstable forms. So they go with Plan B: eject the containment unit into space and blow it up.

After they do that, and run like hell from the aliens, Seven goes to the da Vinci workshop on the holodeck, staring at the crucifix on Leonardo’s wall. Seeing the omega molecules up close was as close as the ex-Borg is ever likely to come to a religious experience.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Omega molecules are unstable and powerful enough to cause an explosion that bleeds into subspace, damaging both permanently.

There’s coffee in that nebula! It takes Janeway half the episode to realize that trying to implement the Omega Directive all by herself, even with Seven’s help, isn’t especially practical.

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok and Kim have apparently continued to play kal-toh against each other, and Kim has actually approached the possibility of beating Tuvok occasionally.

Star Trek: Voyager "The Omega Directive"

Screenshot: CBS

Forever an ensign. When Seven mentions the sensor diagnostic she and Kim are supposed to perform, she states that she is designated three hours and twenty minutes for the actual diagnostic, plus “an additional seventeen minutes for Ensign Kim’s usual conversational digressions.” Kim later proves her right by indulging in multiple conversational digressions with Tuvok while modifying a torpedo.

Resistance is futile. When constructing the containment unit, Seven gives the crewmembers assigned to assist her Borg designations (“three of ten” and so on). Kim complains about this to no avail.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH is not happy about giving Janeway arithrazine without knowing why, nor is he happy with Seven wishing to interrogate the alien before he’s recovered. Not a happy-making episode for him…

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. Seven goes to the re-creation of medieval Italy to try to figure out religion. When Leonardo complains, she deactivates him. 

Do it.

“Want to know what I think?”

“No.”

“I think there’s a type-6 protostar out there, and the captain’s planning on detonating it and opening up a wormhole to the Alpha Quadrant. In theory, it’s possible. And because she doesn’t want to get our hopes up, she’s not telling anybody.”

“Then I wouldn’t suggest getting your hopes up.”

–Kim gossiping and ignoring Tuvok’s very pointed replies.

Welcome aboard. The only guest is Jeff Austin, who plays the alien scientist. He previously played a Bolian security guard on the Defiant in DS9’s “The Adversary.”

Trivial matters: The story of the discovery of the omega molecule, the destruction caused by Dr. Ketteract’s experiments, and the creation of the titular directive was told in the Section 31 novel Cloak by S.D. Perry. Versions of it also were told in the video game Star Trek: Legacy and the comic book Star Trek: Year Four: The Enterprise Experiment by D.C. Fontana, Derek Chester, & Gordon Purcell.

The EMH recommends that Seven read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens for educational purposes. That story was also performed by Data in TNG’s “Devil’s Due,” and TNG/Picard star Sir Patrick Stewart did one-person shows performing the entire story throughout the 1990s.

When discussing scientists who worked on scientific projects used for destructive purpose, Janeway mentions Albert Einstein in reference to the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb during World War II, as well as Carol Marcus in reference to Project: Genesis from The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock.

Kim and Tuvok play kal-toh, the Vulcan logic game that was first seen in “Alter Ego.” When Kim is gossiping to a disinterested Tuvok, one of his speculations is that they’re chasing Species 8472 from the “Scorpiontwo-parter and “Prey.”

This is the first mention of arithrazine and of theta radiation, which arithrazine is used to treat. Theta radiation will again be seen in relation to the Malon in “Night,” “Extreme Risk,” and “Juggernaut.”

Torres is only in one scene, as Roxann Dawson went into labor during the filming of this episode. She doesn’t appear in either of the next two episodes, either, not returning from her maternity leave until “Demon.”

Star Trek: Voyager "The Omega Directive"

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “The final frontier has some boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed.” This is one of those episodes that probably seemed like a great idea in the writers room. “So we’ve got the Prime Directive, right? So what if we have, wait for it—the Omega Directive! It’s, like, the ultimate directive!”

The problem is that what they came up with doesn’t entirely work. Okay, fine, there’s this molecule that’s so incredibly dangerous that it has to be neutralized when its found to the exclusion of all else. First of all, why is it confined only to captains and admirals? There are smaller ships that are commanded by people of lower rank (for example, the Prometheus in DS9’s “Second Skin,” not to mention the Defiant for the entirety of DS9’s third season). I mean, what if Commander Sisko took the Defiant into the Gamma Quadrant and the Omega Directive went off. Would he even be informed what to do? For that matter, what if it had been Janeway who died when they fell down the Caretaker’s rabbit hole and Lt. Commander Cavit survived and was in charge of the ship. Would he have known what to do when they reached this part of space?

And then there’s the fact that Starfleet—which has contingencies for, y’know, everything—has no contingency for a ship that is very far from home triggering the Omega Directive. I mean, Voyager is hardly the first ship to find itself thousands of light-years from home unexpectedly (cf. “By Any Other Name,” “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” “Where No One Has Gone Before,” “Q Who“), not to mention the fact that we know that Starfleet sometimes sends ships on long-term missions that will take them very very very very far from Federation space (cf. “The Icarus Factor,” “The Sound of Her Voice“). So why doesn’t Janeway have such a contingency?

Also I have a serious jurisdictional issue here. The omega molecule is so dangerous that Starfleet captains have standing orders to invade a sovereign nation and confiscate their property. That’s how wars start. I can understand the directive having full force and effect in the Federation, and even possibly in the territory of people who are allied with the Federation. (Though I’d love to see them try this nonsense with the Klingons…) But there’s absolutely no way it could possibly work in space not controlled by the Federation, because it would require a full-on invasion of a military force into sovereign territory, and there’s nothing that really justifies that. Worse, the alien scientist specifically says to Seven that his people are in dire straits and they need the omega molecule as an energy source. Usually, in dramatic fiction, the powerful people who show up and steal your stuff without caring that you need it to save your people are the villains of the piece.

I like the character development of Seven. The notion that the Borg worship perfection is actually in character, since they were established from the git-go as consumers of technology that they use to improve themselves. This is the closest to emotional that Seven has gotten when she wasn’t brainwashed into thinking she was a chanteuse. I also love the way the crew speculates and gossips about it. The Tuvok-Kim scene when they’re modifying the torpedo is a classic.

I don’t like that Janeway and Chakotay are still allowing Seven to be insubordinate—Seven speaks to Janeway in an imperious manner that she wouldn’t tolerate from anyone else under her command, and the whole notion of giving the members of her engineering team Borg designations is obscene. But Chakotay just laughs it off when Kim complains.

This is a classic case of a good idea that is utterly botched in execution.

Warp factor rating: 3

Keith R.A. DeCandido’s 2021 output will start with the thriller Animal, a novel written with Dr. Munish K. Batra; continue with Feat of Clay, the second book in his urban fantasy series following 2019’s A Furnace Sealed; and also include the short story “Unguarded” in the anthology Horns and Halos, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail & John L. French; with more still to be announced.

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