Written by Paul Brown and Raf Green
Directed by Mike Vejar
Season 6, Episode 19
Production episode 239
Original air date: March 8, 2000
Captain’s log. Since Voyager now has five kids on board, they hold a science fair. Azan and Rebi cloned potatoes (they apparently wanted to clone Naomi, but Seven convinced them to try something simpler first), Mezoti developed a colony of ants that are bioluminescent, Naomi created a detailed scale model of her father’s homeworld of Ktaris, and Icheb created a sensor array designed to seek out wormholes.
Janeway then informs a shocked Seven that they’ve tracked down Icheb’s homeworld and are en route there now. Janeway has spoken to Icheb’s parents, and are looking forward to being reunited with their son.
Seven is not particularly sanguine about Icheb leaving. The Brunali are an agrarian society who don’t even engage in space travel anymore. Icheb’s interest in astrophysics will atrophy there. She has bonded with the four Borg kids, and doesn’t want to lose one of them, but Janeway is adamant that they reunite him with his parents.
It takes Seven a while to tell Icheb where they’re going. He’s completely engrossed in his project to improve Voyager’s sensors and help them find wormholes that might get them to Earth quicker. He’s fascinated by the expansiveness of the galaxy, after spending his time as a drone not caring about anything outside the Cube. When Seven finally gives in and tells him what’s happening, he’s uninterested in meeting parents he doesn’t even remember.
When they arrive at the Brunali homeworld, Seven reports that they’re dangerously close to a Borg transwarp hub. The world itself only has a scattered population, in tiny settlements all over the world of less than 10,000 people each. Janeway has Tuvok constantly scan the hub for Borg activity.
Icheb beams down, accompanied by Janeway, Tuvok, and Seven. He is (re)introduced to his parents, Leucon and Yifay, and then asks to return to Voyager immediately.
Janeway invites Leucon and Yifay to Voyager, and they discuss the situation in the briefing room. Seven is concerned about his medical needs, particularly with his need to regenerate in a Borg alcove. She also thinks the Brunali should relocate to a world that isn’t so close to a transwarp hub, but Leucon and Yifay insist that they will never abandon their home.
Seven is brutal in her interrogation of the pair to the point where Janeway orders her to wait in the captain’s ready room. Janeway then apologizes to Leucon and Yifay and asks them to remain on board, to reacquaint themselves with their son in an environment where he’s more comfortable.
The Janeway upbraids Seven, who is unrepentant. Besides all her other concerns, the Brunali are sitting ducks for further Borg attacks. She’s convinced that he’ll be reassimilated if he stays. She also believes that anyone who would put their own goals over the safety of their children is irresponsible, and Janeway pointedly asks if she’s talking about Leucon and Yifay or the Hansens. Seven candidly says, “Both.”
Janeway convinces Seven that this is, ultimately, not either of their decisions—it’s Icheb’s. Let him get to know his parents and his homeworld and make his own choice.
In Cargo Bay 2, Mezoti, the twins, and Naomi are all curious about Icheb’s experiences with his parents and if he’s going to stay. Azan and Rebi lament that they don’t remember their parents, either, and Naomi also mentions that she’s never met her own father. Seven then arrives and says that Icheb’s having dinner with his parents. He doesn’t want to go, but Seven allows as how it’s not optional.
Yifay has prepared a meal using Neelix’s galley. It’s Icheb’s favorite food from when he was a child, and he finds himself enjoying it immensely.
The next day, Icheb beams back down and Leucon and Yifay show him the world. The Brunali have become very adept at genetic engineering, mostly in creating crops that can survive on the ravaged world. When Icheb asks about space travel, Leucon allows as how re-achieving that is still in the future, but it will be possible due to the brilliance of the next generation of Brunali, like him.
Icheb informs Seven that he’s spending the night on the surface. Seven points out that he needs a regeneration chamber, and Leucon offers to beam back to Voyager to help fabricate a portable one for him. While he and Seven do so, Leucon tells her the story of how Icheb was assimilated. The Brunali have been cautious in developing new technology, as anything too advanced will get the Borg’s attention. They developed a fertilization array four years earlier, and Leucon promised to take Icheb to see it. But Icheb couldn’t wait, and snuck out one night to check it out. Unfortunately, the Borg also detected it and assimilated it, and Icheb with it, along with everyone else in the area. Seven admits that she’s had to deal with Icheb’s impatience a few times herself.
Leucon, Yifay, and Icheb spend the evening looking at the constellations. It’s a pleasant night, and the next morning Icheb announces that he is staying with them. Seven is sad, but respects his decision. She gives him a ton of padds with astrometric data and also a telescope. Icheb promises to use the telescope every day, and also wishes Janeway and the crew luck in their journey home.
As Voyager tootles away from the Brunali homeworld, Mezoti finds that she can’t settle enough to regenerate, as she misses Icheb. She’s also worried about him—what if he’s reassimilated? Seven assures her that the Borg won’t take much interest in the Brunali as they are right now, they’re too technologically backward at present. But Mezoti asks if he’s on a ship again, what then? Seven is confused, as he was assimilated on the planet, from what Leucon said, but Mezoti has perfect recall of the records on the Cube she was on, and Icheb was assimilated in a one-person transport all by himself.
Seven goes to astrometrics and looks through the records they downloaded from the Cube they found the Borg kids on. There are inconsistencies between those records and Leucon’s story: Icheb was indeed captured on a single-person craft, not on the Brunali homeworld, and also there were no Borg attacks on the Brunali homeworld four years previous.
Janeway isn’t sure this is enough to justify going back to the planet, but Seven insists, and Janeway agrees.
On the Brunali homeworld, Leucon is reluctant to do what needs to be done, but Yifay talks him into it, using the same arguments he used on her four years earlier. They then sedate Icheb with a hypospray and prepare to launch a ship.
When Voyager returns, Leucon and Yifay are evasive and equivocating. Tuvok’s scans reveal that Icheb isn’t on the planet. They do, however, detect a Brunali transport appearing to be traveling at warp 9.8, even though that’s not possible for a ship of that design. Paris determines that they’re emitting a false warp signature, which Seven says is bait for the Borg. Leucon and Yifay admit that Icheb is on that ship, and he’s fighting for his people using their genetic expertise.
It becomes clear that the pathogen that wiped out all but six of the drones on the Cube in “Collective” was introduced by Icheb. And they’re using him for that purpose again. Despite Leucon and Yifay pleading that it’s the only hope for their civilization (not to mention that they’re risking going into battle with the Borg), Janeway orders red alert and for Voyager to catch up to the transport.
They do catch up to it, but right on top of the transwarp hub, and a Borg sphere is coming through. They manage to beam Icheb to sickbay, but then the Borg arrive. Seven beams a photon torpedo onto Icheb’s transport, which serves as a grenade. It does enough damage to the sphere to allow Voyager to escape.
Icheb recovers, and discusses what happened with Seven. For her part, Seven is livid that his own parents used him this way and says he shouldn’t forgive them. But Icheb is more concerned with whether they would forgive him. He was specifically created for this purpose: he was genetically engineered to be a weapon against the Borg. He actually feels bad for not being able to serve his function. But he also throws himself back into his studies on Voyager, to Seven’s relief.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Icheb wasn’t infected with the pathogen, he was genetically engineered to create it. It apparently only works on full Borg, as it never seems to infect him or the other kids, or Seven.
There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway serves as Seven’s counsel throughout the episode, giving her reality checks and playing devil’s advocate—and also making sure that she does what’s best for Icheb.
Please state the nature of the medical emergency. When examining Icheb, who is complaining of a stomachache just prior to his reunion with his parents, the EMH jokes that his stomach is filled with butterflies, and then has to explain that human metaphor.
Half and half. Torres is particularly intrigued by Icheb’s fancy-shmancy sensor array at the science fair.
Resistance is futile. After practically begging Chakotay to let someone else take care of the Borg kids just one episode ago, Seven has become incredibly attached to the kids, and does everything she can to shitcan Icheb’s return to his people.
“We are the Borg. Resistance is futile.”
–The Borg doing their usual dance and Seven saying fuck you
Welcome aboard. Tracey Ellis plays Yifay, while we also get all the youthful recurring regulars in Manu Intiraymi as Icheb, Marley McClean as Mezoti, Kurt & Cody Wetherill as Azan and Rebi, and Scarlett Pomers as Naomi.
And for the second week in a row we have a Robert Knepper moment with a recurring player on Supernatural! I knew that Mark A. Sheppard had appeared in a ton of genre productions, including Doctor Who, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, and, yes, Supernatural, not to mention the genre-adjacent Leverage, but I’d totally forgotten he’d been on Voyager. He pays Leucon with an only occasionally successful masking of his natural British accent.
Trivial matters: This episode establishes that the pathogen that trashed the Borg Cube in “Collective” came from Icheb himself.
Icheb is looking at a star chart in astrometrics, and one of the worlds on the chart is Jouret IV, which is a world the Borg destroyed in “The Best of Both Worlds.”
The name of the planet where Naomi’s father Greskendtregk comes from is established as Ktaris. Naomi gets to finally visit Ktaris in the Voyager novel Atonement by Kirsten Beyer.
Set a course for home. “I never assimilated butterflies.” This is an episode that was much more effective when watched the first time in 2000 than it was to rewatch it twenty-one years later, knowing full well that Icheb will remain on board Voyager to the end of the series (and also appear later in the Alpha Quadrant as a Starfleet officer in Picard’s “Stardust City Rag”).
Knowing all this makes it impossible to invest in Icheb’s growing attachment to his parents, because you’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Worse, that other shoe completely changes the tone of the episode. What should be a fascinating custody battle between Icheb’s adoptive parent (Seven) and his biological ones instead hits us with the surprise twist that Icheb was created to be a weapon.
This creates several problems. The first is an out-of-the-box one as we have yet another case where the folks on Voyager escape from the Borg completely unscathed. It’s growing tiresome and is utterly ruining the Borg as a threat. Since it’s just one sphere it’s less frustrating than, say, “Dark Frontier,” which Voyager had no business escaping from intact, but it’s still absurd.
The second is internal to the story. The pathogen Icheb creates has already been proven not to work beyond a single Cube. All the Borg did was cut that Cube off from the Collective. Plus, it’s the Borg, whose entire schtick is assimilation and adaptation. The one consistent thing about the Borg from when we first met them way back in TNG’s “Q Who” is that the same trick will never work on them twice. They scanned the Cube Icheb and the gang were on and cut it off from the Collective, but I find it impossible to credit that they haven’t already long since adapted to that pathogen and would’ve been completely unaffected by it this time. And this is something that the Brunali should have known, having dealt with the Borg, y’know, a lot.
It’s a pity, because up to the rather tiresome surprise twist, the episode is very effective. Both Jeri Ryan and especially Manu Intiraymi do a superlative job of showing the difficulties that Seven has in letting go of her parental relationship with Icheb and Icheb has in returning to a home he doesn’t actually remember. And the front that Leucon and Yifay put up works very well, and you wish there had been a more genuine conflict between Seven’s growing attachment to Icheb (and the other kids) and Leucon and Yifay’s desire to get their son back. That the latter desire was solely so they could use their (ineffective) weapon again undercuts the conflict, and artificially boosts Seven’s position, taking the easy way out.
Warp factor rating: 6
Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s latest book is All-the-Way House, the latest in the Systema Paradoxa series about cryptids. AtWH is about the Jersey Devil, and takes place in 2020, 1909, and 1735. It’s out this month from the NeoParadoxa imprint of eSpec Books. Ordering links here.