Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Survival Instinct”

“Survival Instinct”
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Terry Windell
Season 6, Episode 2
Production episode 222
Original air date: September 29, 1999
Stardate: 53049.2

Captain’s log. Voyager has docked at the Markonian Outpost, a major commercial hub for the sector. Janeway invites several folks on board, and there are many exchanges of gifts—and also some security issues with so many new people on board, to Tuvok’s great annoyance.

Naomi arrives in astrometrics to go to lunch with Seven, who is awash in work and claims to be unable to keep the lunch date. However, Naomi convinces her to take a break and join her for lunch as promised. Seven is uncomfortable in the mess hall, packed as it is with, not just Voyager crew, but all their guests. Naomi is surprised, since as a former drone, she should be used to crowds, but that’s precisely why Seven hates them now.

Then an alien named Lansor approaches Seven, asks for her by name, and offers her some Borg cortical nodes for sale. The sight of them triggers a flashback in Seven to a mission from eight years previous where all nine of her Unimatrix crash landed on a planet and were cut off from the Collective. She accepts the nodes, saying that Janeway will give him a fair price. Lansor then speaks telepathically with two other aliens—one of whom is a Bajoran—and says that she took the nodes.

Seven and Torres examine the nodes, with Seven wondering why it triggered a flashback. The computer informs her that it will take five hours to perform a complete analysis, so Seven decides to regenerate. In the mess hall, the three aliens speak telepathically about their next step now that Seven is regenerating—they can detect it through the nodes’ being plugged into the computer—and they can’t proceed until all three of them agree. Once they have consensus, they go to Cargo Bay 2 and probe Seven with tubules. Seven wakes up and tries to fight back.

However, their actions triggered a security alert, and Tuvok and two guards show up and stun the trio.

They’re brought to sickbay, where the EMH reveals that they’re ex-Borg like Seven, but their implants were removed by a surgeon less skilled than he. Seven now recognizes the three of them: they used to be part of her Unimatrix. Lansor was Two of Nine, the Bajoran is Marika Wilkarah, who was Three of Nine, and the third alien is P’Chan, formerly Four of Nine. They were all on that mission she flashed back to.

Eight years previous, the Unimatrix crashed on a planet and were cut off from the Collective. They scavenged parts from one of the drones who died in the crash to create a beacon that would draw the Borg back to them. But as time goes on, all four survivors start to remember their lives before being drones. Seven—who was assimilated as a child, and therefore has fewer pre-Borg memories—insists that they remain drones and not be individuals. Seven also found a fifth member of the Unimatrix, who dies in front of her.

The mystery is what happened next. All four them have no memory of anything past when they were sitting around the campfire trying to survive until their rescue. There’s a memory gap that they all have. But after they were reassimilated into the Collective, Two, Three, and Four were all telepathically linked in a kind of mini-Collective in addition to being part of the larger Collective. This enabled them to eventually separate from the Borg. But they’re in a weird kind of limbo—freed from the Collective, but not fully individual, as none of them know where one of them ends and the other two begin. They finish each others’ sentences, and each is lost in the others’ thoughts. They want to be completely separate, and they were hoping Seven would hold the key.

Star Trek: Voyager "Survival Instinct"

Screenshot: CBS

Unfortunately, Seven has the same memory gap. Although there is a risk that she will be sucked into the mini-Collective with them, Seven agrees to let them access her memory files, in the hopes that they can unlock the gap.

They discover that the trio became more and more individualized as time went on waiting for the Borg to rescue them. Seven kept trying to kick them back in-bounds, as it were. Finally, Seven imposed the mini-Collective on the three of them to force them to act like proper drones once again.

Lansor, P’Chan, and Marika are outraged to learn that Seven was responsible, and they break the neural link, which puts all three of them into a coma. The EMH says there are only two options: remove the micro-cortical implants that link them, without which they’ll die, as their brains have become reliant on them to function; or send them back to the Collective. This is complicated by the fact that the trio are all comatose, and can’t decide for themselves. After discussing it with both Chakotay and the EMH, Seven decides that just surviving isn’t enough—freeing them of their link will allow them to live, even if only for a month or two.

The trio are grateful to Seven for making that decision for them, as they’d rather live a short life as individuals than return to the Collective, or continue as they had been. Lansor is going to remain at the outpost and meet new people. P’Chan is going to an uninhabited planet and just be alone in the open air. Marika asks to remain on Voyager. She was an engineer on the U.S.S. Excalibur before she was assimilated, and she likes the idea of living her final days on a starship. Marika also tells Seven that she can’t forgive what she did, but she understands it.

Later, Seven is working in astrometrics, and is joined by Naomi, who thought she might like some company.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Seven’s solution to the other drones getting too individualized is to force them into a mini-Collective. Hilariously, this has the unintended consequence of making it easier for them to separate from the Collective later on.

There’s coffee in that nebula! One of the gifts from the Markonian outpost is a plant that tries to eat Janeway’s hair. Our cat does the same thing…

Star Trek: Voyager "Survival Instinct"

Screenshot: CBS

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok is rather perturbed and exasperated by the number of security concerns that come with all these guests on board. He also does his job supremely well when the trio of ex-Borg invade Seven’s sanctum, showing up and stunning all three in a remarkably efficient method. Given how incredibly incompetent starship security tends to be in Trek (as seen in the original series, TNG, Enterprise, Discovery, Lower Decks, and here), it’s worth commenting when they do their job right for a change.

Half and half. Torres tries to be friendly to Seven and gets her head bitten off for her trouble. Torres then turns to leave, at which point Seven belatedly and abashedly apologizes.

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Neelix disappoints the mess hall patrons when he tells them he’s out of marsupial surprise, whatever that is (it apparently involves pouches). He attempts to convince said patrons that pizza would be a great alternative…

Forever an ensign. Kim and Paris got into a brawl on the outpost due to their completely misunderstanding the rules of a game they were challenged to. The scene with them abashedly explaining what happened to a Janeway who is at once amused and exasperated, is really just there to give Kate Mulgrew, Garrett Wang, and Robert Duncan McNeill something to do, but it’s delightful enough that I don’t mind that much.

Star Trek: Voyager "Survival Instinct"

Screenshot: CBS

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH suggests returning them to the Collective, a notion that Seven rejects by pointing out that it would be the equivalent of forcing the EMH to be confined to sickbay and lose all the things he’s learned since being activated.

Resistance is futile. Seven was assimilated as a child, so becoming more individual wasn’t something she particularly wanted, as her memories were that of a scared child whose parents were killed in front of her. So she resisted the flooding of memories of her pre-Borg life in a way the other three didn’t, and resulted in her forcing them into the mini-Collective.

Do it.

“You have to admit, the generosity of our guests is very impressive.”

“As is their proclivity for criminal behavior. This morning’s security report.”

“Broken ODN line, some missing personal items, damaged scanner relay—all in all, not that bad.”

“There is a second page to the report.

“Well, some of these incidents are a little more serious, but on balance, I still think we did the right thing.”

“There is a third page.

–Chakotay, Tuvok, and Janeway discussing the security concerns of all the visitors.

Star Trek: Voyager "Survival Instinct"

Screenshot: CBS

Welcome aboard. Bertila Damas, last seen as Sakonna in DS9’s “The Maquistwo-parter, plays Marika. Tim Kelleher, last seen as Gaines in TNG’s “All Good Things…” and who will play Lieutenant Pell in Enterprise’s “The Communicator,” plays P’Chan. Recurring regular Scarlett Pomers is back as Naomi, and Jonathan Breck plays the dying drone.

And then we have the amazing Vaughn Armstrong as Lansor, his fifth of a dozen roles on Trek. He previously appeared as Telek R’Mor in “Eye of the Needle,” and also played a Klingon in TNG’s “Heart of Glory” and two different Cardassians on DS9, in “Past Prologue,” “When it Rains…,” and “The Dogs of War.” He’ll return in “Fury” (as a Vidiian), “Flesh and Blood” (as a Hirogen), and “Endgame” (as another Klingon), have the recurring role of Admiral Forrest on Enterprise, and also play a Klingon and a Kreetasian on that show.

Trivial matters: This was the only script (and one of only two writing credits) for Ronald D. Moore during his abortive term as co-executive producer of the show, which ended after this episode. He went on from here to become a co-executive producer for the second and third seasons of the Roswell TV show on the WB.

Seven mentioned in “One” that she was separated from the Collective for two hours. The flashbacks in this episode seem to cover a longer timeframe than that, but that can at least be partly explained by the subsequent memory erasure.

The story of Marika’s assimilation by the Borg was told in the short story “Making a Difference” by Mary Scott-Wiecek in the New Frontier anthology No Limits. New Frontier is a tie-in-fiction-only series that took place on the U.S.S. Excalibur. Written mostly by Peter David, NF had established early on that the Excalibur had had more than one encounter with the Borg prior to the series’ commencement, and Scott-Wiecek’s story told of two of those, including the one where Marika was taken.

The Excalibur was seen on screen in TNG’s “Redemption II,” also written by Moore.

Regular commenter Christopher L. Bennett wrote a sequel to this episode that focused on Marika’s time on Voyager in the Distant Shores anthology, entitled “Brief Candle.” This story also fleshes out the Markonian Outpost.

Seven talking with Chakotay about the dilemma with what to do with the trio makes sense, as Chakotay himself was part of a collective of ex-Borg in “Unity.”

We see some Voth (from “Distant Origin“) amidst the aliens on Voyager, and we see a Mawaki cruiser (from “Year of Hell, Part II“) among the ships at the Markonian outpost.

Star Trek: Voyager "Survival Instinct"

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “Survival is insufficient.” Oh, what might have been…

Ronald D. Moore is one of the best writers of Trek in its screen history, and this episode is a lovely tease of what kinds of stories we might have seen had he not quit in disgust. This particular story has one of Moore’s hallmarks: looking at the characters’ pasts and using it to inform the story in the present. We saw it in Moore’s very first script, TNG’s “The Bonding,” which made excellent use of Picard’s discomfort with families on his ship, the history of the Crusher family, the death of Yar, and Worf’s general personality profile to craft a superb story that also subverted the usual Trek trope of the faceless away team victim.

Likewise with Moore’s first Voyager script. He took her comment in “One” about being separated from the Collective and built a story around it, one that also made good use of Chakotay’s past experiences in “Unity,” the EMH’s ongoing development, Seven’s assimilation story as seen in “The Raven” and “Dark Frontier,” and what was established in TNG’s “I, Borg” about how a drone separated from the Collective might behave to craft another excellent story.

Massive amounts of credit must go to guests Bertila Damas, Tim Kelleher, and the great Vaughn Armstrong, who beautifully played the trio of ex-Borg who were all living in each others’ heads. Credit should probably also to director Terry Windell for shooting those bits in a way that didn’t seem forced or labored. The delivery was effortless, and convincing. Windell also gets credit for a nice touch: the flashbacks are filmed in a slightly different aspect ratio than the rest of the episode.

I loved the use of Chakotay in this one, too, from his stumbling through the bridge with the ungainly gift to his confab with Seven where he asks the direct question of what would be better: living in the Collective or dying as an individual. Robert Beltran and Jeri Ryan perform the scene magnificently, as do Ryan and Robert Picardo in the next scene where Seven expertly uses the EMH’s own history to explain why extending these patients’ lives at any cost isn’t worth that cost.

And I loved the Markonian outpost, and wish we’d gotten to see more of it. Given how few friendly faces Voyager has encountered in the Delta Quadrant lately (I’d say the last completely friendly folks they’ve dealt with was way back in “Thirty Days”), it’s nice to see them actually having friendly interactions with cultural and gift exchanges and stuff.

This is a good, strong, powerful episode from one of Trek’s best, and it’s so very disappointing that Moore didn’t stick around.

Warp factor rating: 9

Keith R.A. DeCandido is also reviewing The Falcon and the Winter Soldier for this site, with the season finale coming tomorrow! Woot!

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