Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Dark Frontier”

“Dark Frontier”
Written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
Directed by Cliff Bole and Terry Windell
Season 5, Episodes 15 & 16
Production episode 211 & 212
Original air date: February 17, 1999
Stardate: 52619.2

Captain’s log. A Borg probe encounters Voyager. The Borg do their usual you-will-be-assimilated dance, but Janeway beams a photon torpedo onto the probe, which destroys it. Janeway orders the debris brought on board for salvage.

They don’t find all that much useful, though the EMH finds a nifty-keen armature that will help him with surgery. What they need is a transwarp coil so they can use it to access the transwarp conduits the Borg use—the one on the probe self-destructed.

Seven downloads tactical data from the probe and finds that there are three Cubes on a parallel course nine light-years away, but aren’t pursuing them, and are easily avoided. However, there’s also a sphere that was damaged by an ion storm and is in the midst of a regeneration cycle.

Emboldened by their victory over a dinky-ass probe, Janeway proposes “Operation Fort Knox.” The sphere is very much like the Fort Knox Museum on Earth was: a source of fabulous wealth that’s damn near impossible to break into and rob from. But they’re going to try it. As part of the research on how to achieve this heist, Janeway asks Seven to read the journal entries made by the Hansens that they downloaded from the Raven. Torres also has some Maquis tricks that will hide their warp signature from the Borg.

Seven is reluctant to read the journal entries, ostensibly because they are irrelevant. The Hansens were all assimilated, so they failed, so their accounts are of no help, but Janeway knows that Seven finds the notion of reading them painful. Seven eventually accedes to the order to read them.

She reads about how Magnus and Erin Hansen took their little girl Annika out on the Raven in order to track down the Borg. They only had rumors to go on, and they don’t have much support from Starfleet or the Federation, but they head out to try to find out what’s true and what isn’t about the Borg. After eight months of searching, and after an argument over whether or not they should divert to refuel or keep going, they find a Borg Cube. It ignores them, not seeing them as a threat, which confirms one theory the Hansens had about them. They continue to follow the Cube at a safe distance.

When Voyager comes close to the sphere, Seven comes to the bridge. They have 72 hours before the sphere will be operational again, so that’s how long they have to come up with a heist plan. Janeway orders Paris to keep a distance of ten million kilometers.

They run a simulation on the holodeck. Tuvok and Kim plant charges by the generator, and Janeway and Seven place transporter enhancers around the transwarp coil. However, they don’t complete the mission within the two-minute window they have when the Borg sensor array is down, so some Borg drones beam onto Voyager. Janeway is also concerned that Seven froze at one point—she hasn’t been on a Borg ship since Voyager separated her from the Collective.

In Cargo Bay 2, Seven is about to go over more journals when she hallucinates Naomi arriving and bothering her and then turning into a Borg drone. She then hears a voice: the Borg Queen, saying that Voyager’s heist will fail and that she wants Seven back in the Collective. Seven doesn’t understand why she in particular would be desired, but the Queen says that she is unique.

And then the voice leaves her head and Seven is alone in the cargo bay. She continues to read the journals, learning that after three months, the Hansens had followed the Cube into a transwarp conduit. Magnus has constructed lifesign inhibitors that keep the Borg from detecting them, and they beam over to the Cube to observe their behavior.

Star Trek: Voyager "Dark Frontier"

Screenshot: CBS

Seven immediately takes this lifesign inhibitor design to Tuvok and the EMH. The former orders the latter to start fabricating ones for the crew to use, as this will be hugely helpful during the heist.

Janeway summons Seven to her ready room, saying she’s taking her off the away team. Seven’s expertise would be better suited to running tactical in case something goes horribly wrong, but Seven thinks that Janeway is reading too much into Seven freezing during the simulation. (In fact, Janeway is reading exactly the right thing into Seven freezing…) Seven convinces Janeway to let her go on the team.

They commence the heist. A shuttle is sent out as a decoy with faked lifesigns. When the Borg go to assimilate the shuttle, they lower their shields, which is when the away team beams over. Just like in the simulation, Tuvok and Kim place the charges and Janeway and Seven place the transporter enhancers. Voyager beams off the transwarp coil.

Janeway and Seven head toward the beam-out coordinates, but then the Borg Queen speaks to Seven again. Seven halts in the corridor and a force field is erected between her and  Janeway. Seven urges the captain to leave her behind, that she’s returning to the Collective. Janeway doesn’t wish to leave her behind, but she doesn’t really have a choice. She joins Tuvok and Kim at the beam-out point. Tuvok notes that the Borg can detect them, even with the inhibitors on. The three beam out.

The sphere goes to transwarp and zips away to a Cube, where Seven is brought before the Queen, who welcomes her home. They don’t wish to reassimilate her, to Seven’s surprise, but instead wish to keep her unique perspective. The Queen says that letting Voyager take her was the plan all along.

On Voyager, they clear away the debris from the Borg probe, intending to melt it down for polytrinic alloys. Neelix asks after Seven’s regeneration alcove, which uses a lot of power. Janeway says to leave it for now. The captain then retires to her ready room; she’s convinced that the Borg influenced Seven in some way. While she’s waiting for the computer to run a scan, Tuvok enters, saying a crewmember has asked to see the captain; Tuvok said she was busy, but the the crewmember was insistent. Janeway’s about to fob the crewmember off on Chakotay when Naomi peeks out from behind Tuvok.

Janeway lets the girl in, and she submits a proposal for a rescue mission to get Seven back. The proposal itself is unworkable, but Janeway commends the girl’s initiative. The computer then finishes the scan, showing that there were Borg communications sent to Cargo Bay 2 several times in the last few days. This confirms that the Borg were influencing her.

The Borg restore Seven’s Borg eyesight, but leave her individuality otherwise intact. The Queen finally explains why: they will use her insight to help them succeed in assimilating humanity, which they have failed to do twice.

Star Trek: Voyager "Dark Frontier"

Screenshot: CBS

The Cube heads to a planet that has been targeted for assimilation. Seven watches in horror as the occupants, members of Species 10026, are assimilated.

Chakotay takes up the reading of the Hansens’ journals and learns that they captured a drone in the midst of regenerating and put a tracker on it, enabling them to pick up the signals the drone got from the Queen. Chakotay reports this to Janeway, including the intelligence that there is a Borg Queen.

Janeway mounts a rescue mission. The Delta Flyer is outfitted with the transwarp coil, as well as various bits of tech the Hansens developed: shielding and tracking that should enable them to find Seven and hide from the Borg.

Janeway, Tuvok, the EMH, and Paris sally forth in the Flyer, Chakotay staying behind at the mouth of the transwarp conduit as backup.

Unable to stand the assimilation of Species 10026 any longer, Seven contrives to rescue four of them. The Queen eventually determines that Seven did so, and moves to bring them back. Seven begs them to be spared, arguing that it’s a waste of the Collective’s resources to go to this much trouble for only four future drones. For reasons the script never bothers to provide, the Queen decides to let the quartet go.

We get one last Raven flashback, as the Hansens’ shielding went down for 13.2 seconds, which was enough for the Borg to detect them. At that point, the jig is totally up.

The EMH suggests trying to send a message directly to Seven through her interplexing beacon. The Flyer arrives at the Unicomplex surrounded by dozens of Cubes, and one gigunda Cube, on which they read the sphere. They have remained undetected, and Paris flies them into the Cube.

The Queen reveals her cunning plan: instead of their usual instant assimilation, they’ve developed an assimilation virus. It will take longer, but will eventually take over an entire planet. She wants to use it on Earth, and she wants Seven to program the nanoprobes that will make up the virus for maximum efficiency. Seven is appalled. The Queen then reveals that one of the drones she has by her side is the former Magnus Hansen.

Janeway contacts Seven through the EMH’s trick, but Seven says “Captain” when she hears the voice, which clues the Queen in. They can’t detect the Flyer, but they know the Hansens’ technology, so they can adapt to it. (Why they haven’t already, since they assimilated the Hansens two decades ago, is left as an exercise for the viewer.)

Janeway and Tuvok are equipped with new lifesign inhibitors and beam in, ordering Paris to train weapons on the Queen’s hive. Janeway sticks a Hansen-designed probe on a drone, which walks through one of the force fields. That enables Janeway to reprogram the lifesign inhibitor to allow Janeway to pass through the force field. She leaves Tuvok behind to sabotage the Queen’s chamber’s shields and goes through, the force field burning out the inhibitor.

Star Trek: Voyager "Dark Frontier"

Screenshot: CBS

The Borg find the Flyer and start the you-will-be-assimilated speech. Seven attacks the Queen, but the Queen rebuffs the attack and starts to strangle her, saying the notion of keeping her as an individual was a mistake. Janeway arrives and tells her to let Seven go or the Flyer will fire on the Queen’s now-unshielded chamber. The Queen soon realizes that Janeway isn’t bluffing, but she puts up a scattering field that keeps the Flyer from beaming the away team out. Seven goes to a console and disperses the field, finally choosing Voyager over the Borg. They beam out and the Flyer zips away at transwarp. The Queen’s Cube follows and fires on the Flyer in the transwarp conduit. Paris is barely able to get the Flyer to the rendezvous point, and as soon as they transit to normal space, Chakotay has Torres mine the mouth of the transwarp conduit with a spread of photon torpedoes. The only thing that comes through the conduit is the debris from the Queen’s Cube.

Voyager uses the transwarp coil until it burns out, and it gets them 20,000 light-years closer to home. Janeway checks on Seven, who isn’t regenerating as instructed by the doctor, but is downloading all the Borg tactical data she acquired into Voyager’s database. Seven is surprised that Janeway came back for her after she so thoroughly betrayed them. Janeway says she has a lot to learn about humanity, and orders her to regenerate and finish the download later.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The Hansens apparently found all kinds of ways of observing the Borg without being noticed. Somehow, this still works on the Borg twenty years later, even though they assimilated all knowledge of it.

Also, the heist on the sphere involves putting transporter enhancers around the transwarp coil, and I’m wondering why the away team wasn’t standing inside those so they could be beamed out at the same time as the coil….

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway is hugely overconfident while facing the Borg, which is disturbing, but she’s also loyal to her people, which is heartening.

Half and half. Torres mentions some “Maquis tricks” to modify their warp signature, and one wonders why she hasn’t mentioned these any of the eight thousand other times in the last four-and-a-half years when hiding their warp signature might’ve been useful.

Forever an ensign. When they’re salvaging Borg debris, Kim yells at Janeway not to touch something. When Janeway asks why, he admits that he doesn’t know, but that it was crawling across the deck a minute ago…

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. When he provides Seven with the downloaded Hansen journals, which he’s also sorted by subject matter, Neelix tells Seven that he wishes he had this much of a treasure trove to remember his family by—all he has is a faded holoimage of his sister Alixia.

Resistance is futile. Even though they’ve had the Hansens’ journals for a year, it isn’t until now that anybody bothers to read them. Seven is reminded of how impressive, daring, and batshit crazy her parents were.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH thinks that learning more about her parents is a big step on Seven’s journey to become more human. He also is able to re-create the Hansens’ lifesign inhibitors and also reuses his trick of communicating directly to Seven’s interplexing beacon.

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. Showing tremendous good sense, the crew tests out their heist scenario several times on the holodeck.

Do it.

“There are three things to remember about being a starship captain: keep your shirt tucked in, go down with the ship, and never abandon a member of your crew.”

–Janeway reassuring Naomi that she won’t give up on Seven.

Welcome aboard. The Borg Queen is back from First Contact, this time played by Susanna Thompson, as Alice Krige was not available. Thompson—who previously played a Romulan in TNG’s “The Next Phase,” Jaya in TNG’s “Frame of Mind,” and Lenara Kahn in DS9’s “Rejoined“—will reprise the role in the “Unimatrix Zero” two-parter, but Krige will return to the role in “Endgame.”

Also back are Magnus and Erin Hansen, last seen in “The Raven,” also re-cast, with Kirk Baily now playing Magnus and Laura Stepp now playing Erin.

And we also have recurring regular Scarlett Pomers as Naomi.

Star Trek: Voyager "Dark Frontier"

Screenshot: CBS

Trivial matters: This story is an odd hybrid. It was always intended to air as a single two-hour movie on one night, just like “The Killing Gametwo-parter. But it still had two separate production numbers, two independent production schedules, and a different director for each part. But where “Killing” has remained separated on home video release, “Dark Frontier” has remained a single unit, despite the separated production. (This is in contrast to DS9’s “The Way of the Warrior,” which was produced as a single two-hour episodes, ditto the various two-hour pilots and series finales among the first wave of Trek spinoffs.)

The flashbacks expand on the flashbacks seen in “The Raven,” detailing the Hansens’ mission to learn about the Borg.

The Hansens’ mission would seem to contradict the events of “Q Who,” when the Borg appear to be brand-new to Starfleet, given that the Hansens’ mission to find the Borg and learn more about them happened a decade prior to that TNG episode. However, when they set out, they only knew rumors and innuendo about the Borg and didn’t learn any hard facts until they were long out of touch with the Alpha Quadrant.

The Borg tried to assimilate Earth in “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II” and First Contact, and failed both times.

Janeway mentions that they’ve gotten the better of the Borg twice, referring to the “Scorpiontwo-parter and “Drone.” Chakotay reminds Janeway that Seven said that she would betray them in “The Gift.” The Federation didn’t learn of the Borg Queen until First Contact, which postdated Voyager’s disappearance, so this is the first Janeway and the gang know of the Queen’s existence.

Neelix’s faded holoimage of his sister was seen in “Mortal Coil” and “Once Upon a Time.” It was established that his family was all slaughtered in the Talaxian war with the Haakonians in “Jetrel.”

The EMH first communicated directly with Seven via her interplexing beacon in “Scientific Method.”

Borg spheres were first seen in First Contact. This the first time we’ve seen a Borg probe. The Borg’s use of transwarp conduits was established in TNG’s “Descenttwo-parter.

After saying early on in the first season that they an “irreplaceable” stockpile of thirty-eight photon torpedoes, the show has ignored that, as they’ve fired a lot more than that over four-and-a-half years, and Chakotay orders a “spread” of torpedoes fired at the transwarp conduit.

Amazingly, no work of tie-in fiction has chronicled the attempted Ferengi break-in of Fort Knox that Paris mentions.

This is the last Trek episode by prolific director Cliff Bole, who directed 42 episodes of TNG, DS9, and Voyager (among his credits were both parts of “The Best of Both Worlds,” another big-ass Borg two-parter). The Bolians were named for the director.

The Borg examine Voyager and declare there are 143 lifeforms on board, and I can’t even with this anymore. They’re obviously just throwing random numbers out. Oh, and a shuttlecraft is sacrificed to the Borg, so they’re now down ten shuttles. The construction of the Delta Flyer indicates that they have the means to replace them, but still, that’s a lotta shuttles…

Star Trek: Voyager "Dark Frontier"

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home.Voyager is my collective now.” One of the main features of teleplay writing, as opposed to screenwriting, is the tyranny of time slots. Historically, broadcast television has always aired its shows in very specific durations, generally either thirty or sixty minutes. If you’re writing an episode of a show that airs on Wednesday from 9-10pm, it has to fit in that precise time slot—you can’t go over or under that time.

Those barriers started to erode on some cable channels that had less original programming, and a certain amount of flexibility in terms of when the scheduled show could end. As a result, shows on places like HBO, Showtime, and F/X might go long one week without impacting the rest of the channel all that much. And the rise of streaming services has shattered the barrier (witness, for example, the wildly varying episode lengths of the recently completed season of WandaVision on Disney+).

Unfortunately, that also can be constrictive. The decision to do a big-ass two-hour movie was made before a single word of “Dark Frontier” was written, and unfortunately, they didn’t come up with enough story for two hours. The result is a tale that slogs and is chock full of uninteresting filler and repetitive scenes. The flashbacks to the Hansens on the Raven are particularly stultifying, as they add absolutely nothing to the story that we didn’t already learn from “The Raven.”

Worse, those flashbacks provide two major issues, one of continuity, one of plot. The continuity one I mentioned in the Trivial Matters section: the Borg’s introduction in TNG’s “Q Who” gave the impression that they were completely unknown to the Federation (though they were known to the el-Aurians), yet the Hansens were seeking out stories of the Borg—which were widespread enough for little Annika to have a model of a Borg Cube to play with—a decade prior to that episode.

The plot issue is a much much bigger one, though. The Hansens came up with all these nifty-keeno doodads that would protect them from the Borg. But the Hansens were assimilated. We even saw the Borgified Magnus Hansen right there in the episode. We also know from “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II” that the Borg instantly absorb all knowledge of folks they assimilate and immediately incorporate that knowledge, as the Borg already had a defense against the Enterprise’s fancy-pants weapon because they had assimilated Picard a few hours earlier. And yet twenty years later the Borg never bothered to create a method of defending against the lifesigns inhibitor, the multiphasic shielding, or anything else? Really? We’re supposed to buy that?

But that would require the Borg to be a competent foe, and they’re very much not that here. One of the reasons why the Borg had been such effective bad guys, especially in “Q Who,” “The Best of Both Worlds,” and First Contact, is because of how incredibly difficult to stop they are. And also dangerous: in all three of those stories, there were casualties on the Enterprise (and elsewhere, viz. Juret IV, Wolf 359, etc.).

Voyager has often been dinged for how they made the Borg toothless, and Exhibit A in that case is this disaster of an episode. Nobody gets hurt, nobody is ever even really in any danger. Seven isn’t reassimilated back into the Collective because she wears plot armor. The Queen’s excuse that she’s unique is nonsense—the Borg’s entire MO is to absorb a species’ uniqueness into themselves. Why depend on one unreliable unique person when that uniqueness can become part of every Borg with the simple insertion of a couple tubules?

The story starts with Janeway posturing at the Borg, which is insane enough as it is, but then the rest of the story justifies her posturing, because everything Voyager tries either works perfectly (despite the fact that it shouldn’t as it’s all based on twenty-year-old tech that the Borg is intimately familiar with) or doesn’t work in a way that still isn’t all that bad, since everyone gets out alive. The Queen’s keeping Seven makes no sense (except insofar as Seven is a main character and must go back to being on Voyager when the episode is over), her plan makes no sense (why do they care that much about humanity? there are plenty of other species in the sea, after all), and her letting Seven and Janeway go at the end is incomprehensible.

Jeri Ryan does a good job with Seven’s coming to grips with her humanity in the face of possibly being stuck back with the Borg, but that’s all the misbegotten mess has going for it.

Warp factor rating: 2

Keith R.A. DeCandido has written several works of Voyager fiction, the vast majority of which doesn’t take place in the Delta Quadrant. The Voyager portion of his two-book series The Brave and the Bold takes place prior to “Caretaker.” His short story “Letting Go” in the Distant Shores anthology focuses on the family and friends of the crew left behind in the Alpha Quadrant. He’s also written two alternate universe versions of Voyager, one in the Mirror Universe (the short novel The Mirror-Scaled Serpent in the Obsidian Alliances trade paperback, which involves the Terran Rebellion against the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance), the other in a timeline where the Maquis were never formed and so Voyager remains in the Alpha Quadrant (the short novel A Gutted World in the Myriad Universes: Echoes and Refractions trade paperback). He’s also written Janeway after Voyager returned home in Q & A and Articles of the Federation(the EMH also appeared in the latter).

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