Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"One"

***

Air date: 5/13/1998
Written by Jeri Taylor
Directed by Kenneth Biller

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Leave it to Mr. Paris to cause as much trouble now as when he's awake."
"You knew this might happen. Why complain about it?"
"If you had even the slightest sense of humor, you would realize I was making a small joke."
"Very small."

— Doc and Seven

Nutshell: Fraught with excess at times, but a good story nonetheless.

I have a tendency to sometimes look beyond what's on the screen to see what the episode is trying to tell me, and what hidden implications it has on the characters. There are times when a good story can come in a less-than-stellar package.

Such is the case with "One," an episode that has quite a bit to say, even though the way it goes about saying it proves a little uneasy and excessive. At times, "One" is a good example of using a sledgehammer to get the job done—a job that really only requires a tack hammer, or perhaps a rubber mallet.

I'm calling this a good episode with some evident flaws. The story is a cerebral outing featuring Seven of Nine, which effectively tackles her individuality by way of a plot that ensures she is alone and isolated for long stretches of time. The premise that sets the story in motion is a little on the goofy side, as the crew comes across a nebula that, whenever they get close to it, puts them in extreme pain. One nameless crew member is even killed by the bizarre side effects. Why this happens is never explained, which is just fine by me—I prefer a little mystery to a muddle of technobabble any day. Still, it strikes me as a bit silly that the crew would just happen upon a nebula that's as huge as this one without detecting it ahead of time. (The situation seems analogous to hiking through an area and not seeing the mountain until you're standing right next to the foot of it.)

The crew's problem is that going around the nebula would take a year or more, while going through it would only take a month. Only two crew members can withstand the side effects—the Doctor, for obvious reasons, and Seven, because of her Borg bio-technology. Janeway decides she can put the entire crew in biological stasis while Doc and Seven pilot the ship through the nebula. This, of course, requires Janeway to put her trust in Seven, who has always been one capable of erratic, unpredictable behavior.

There's a reasonable scene that sets up the character theme, as Janeway explains to Chakotay her faith in Seven's ability to do the right thing. It's a decent scene, if a little simplistic in dispelling the possibility that not everyone would be particularly happy that their fate rides on someone who has been a loose cannon in the past. Still, I find the bond between Janeway and Seven intriguing, even though it has often been a rough ride.

Once the crew is put into stasis, the episode becomes the Doc and Seven show. Can the two keep the ship running by themselves? (It's not an easy task.) Furthermore, another question emerges: Can Seven cope with the prospect of having no other individuals to interact with—especially once the nebula's strange properties cause the Doctor to malfunction?

It's this intriguing question that is at the heart of "One," and it brings up a host of other issues concerning Our Former Borg. Humans are social creatures—and so, it would seem, are Borg (in a twisted manner of speaking). The transition from being part of the Borg collective to being an individual was difficult enough for Seven; now she's faced with the prospect of being the lone individual in a high-pressure situation. It is more difficult than she could've imagined.

Yet "One" is not simply a rehash of "Scorpion, Part II." Rather, it's the point where Seven is tested—not just in her ability to perform under pressure, but her ability to make difficult decisions while also confronting her inner demons. These dilemmas are packaged within a series of mini-crises aboard the ship, slowly wearing Seven down as she finds the demands of being alone more than she can deal with.

Isolation is an frightening prospect. Can you imagine being completely isolated, even for a week? I can't. It seems to me that an isolated Borg (or former Borg) would have even more difficulty coping than a human being, which makes Seven's plight more believable, in my view. True, Seven has the holodecks to escape into, and even the Doctor to talk to through some of the journey, but that doesn't make it easy. Besides, she has a ship to run, and duties she must perform by herself.

Jeri Taylor's script for "One" gets a bit choppy and schizophrenic as the shipwide problems become more and more elaborate. An enigmatic alien (Wade Williams) shows up, only to disappear and then later reappear. Meanwhile, Doc's program malfunctions at bizarre moments throughout the narrative, going from on-line to partially on-line, to completely on-line, to completely off-line. I suspect the sense of disjointedness is partially intentional, because it serves to confuse and torture Seven. At the same time, it serves to puzzle the audience—and when the puzzles are solved it sometimes makes sense, but other times comes off as merely distracting.

For example, the story uses hallucinations to an extreme, bending the episode's sense of reality so far that, at times, it becomes difficult to see the images as believable hallucinations; they seem more like obligatory red herrings. Simply put, some of the imagery works, and some of it doesn't. The deception the story uses—convincing us that the alien is actually a real entity—seems unnecessary and implausible in retrospect. It makes segments of the narrative uneven and repetitive. Besides, I don't really think I needed a hallucinated alien, a Borg drone, the entire Borg collective, and the Voyager crew telling me everything that is going through Seven's mind. It's too much. In and by themselves many of these images are quite effective, but after it became obvious what the point of it all was, it grew tiresome. Kenneth Biller's direction over the surreality ventures further into the melodramatic for my tastes, sometimes pushing too hard.

Yet when I think about what this all means, it somehow makes sense. The final act, which is a fury of bombardment, may go over the top, but the way these hallucinations ultimately reveal Seven's inner psyche had me engaged, and the relentless line delivery by the faux-characters convey Seven's panic and mental overload rather nicely. While there's a part of me that feels like this is a foray into Trek Reality Bending, another part of me sees that Seven's inner problem is very real, and might just be torturing her enough to conjure up all these visions.

In the end, this episode may be a crucial turning point for Seven, as she faces the collision of past and present, Borg collectivity and human individuality, social independence and the need for others. Her stressful experience in saving the crew is marked with a decision that opens a side of self-sacrifice that has until now remained unseen. And the ending can be seen as a mini-breakthrough, as she finally realizes the benefits of socializing—expressing thoughts even though they may be less "relevant" than the exchange of crucial information.

Yes, there are some plot problems in this episode, including one hole big enough to fly a starship through: I can't see how Paris could leave his stasis chamber without being affected, especially when considering that it's later established that taking the stasis chambers off-line would result in certain death of crew members. Such holes keep this episode far from the realm of standout Voyager. But I'm feeling generous today; it simply isn't worth complaining too loudly about these things. I'm more interested in what this has to say about its central character.

Not surprisingly, "One" also serves to highlight the prevalent trend of season four—a trend which has made this season the most entertaining chronicles of the starship Voyager yet, but a very frustrating season whenever I try to think about where the series as a whole is headed. This series just can't seem to think for more than one hour at a time. It seems that these days the only character the writers can make interesting is Seven of Nine. Everyone else has become a cipher, with poor excuses for character shows like Paris' theme in "Vis A Vis," Chakotay's pointless endeavor in "Unforgettable," or Kim's scripted-from-nowhere attitude transformation in "Demon." When other characters are used well, it seems to be in relation to Seven, like Janeway's constant challenges throughout the season.

It's a ponderous subject. For months, I've found Seven of Nine to be the most believably and interestingly written character on the ensemble. Why is it the writers can't do these stories for anyone else? Maybe it's simply that Seven's quest for individuality and humanity is an inherently interesting topic, and the writers can come up with good material for such a topic relatively easily. In that sense, then, Seven is an asset. They've been telling a story about her, which has evolved and taken slow, believable turns. It's what is known as an "arc." We need more arcs.

Really, what this series needs are more challenges for its characters. And I'm not talking about plots that are solved with technobabble or even cleverly plotted ingenuity. What we need is to give these crew members a direction—personal goals and inner obstacles to overcome. What works for Seven would work for the rest of the cast, in some form or another.

Next week: Season finale. What is in the secret message from Starfleet? Bring your decoder rings.

Previous episode: Demon
Next episode: Hope and Fear

Season Index

14 comments on this review

Mal - Tue, Feb 16, 2010 - 3:48pm (USA Central)
"Why is it the writers can't do these stories for anyone else?"

Here's where Season 4 dropped the ball at Message in a Bottle:

1. Harry: after Kim got a letter from his folks, he should have been OBSESSED with cracking the message from Starfleet. When he first feels pain in One, it could be yet another case of him falling asleep at his post - because of his incessant all-nighters. And when the Alien Tourist in the next episode quickly breaks the encryption, we could have a borderline schizo Harry insisting that It's A Faaake!

2. Paris: Isn't Tom supposed to be the new nurse? Wouldn't that butt heads more often with his bridge duties, not to mention his love life? And what about consoling schizo-Harry?

3. B'Lanna and Chakotay never seem to need to console each other, let alone the other Maqui, after a 10 second mention that everyone they cared about back home is... dead.

4. Tuvok: well, at least Tuvok does ok in Season 4 (and throughout the show in general).

5. Neelix: Dude is Voyagers fucking Ambassador, but he doesn't seem to have a staff, and still spends most of his time cooking. WTF?!? No wonder these people have so much trouble with Hard Headed Alien of the Week (TM: Jammer).

6. Doc - Doc is great. He always is. Plus he gets Living Witness.

7. Janeway: Either sleep with Chakotay. Or sleep with Seven. But for Christ's sake, sleep with someone. I mean, who wants to have a bitch of a boss who never get laid?!? (unless Da Vinci...)

Jay - Fri, Sep 2, 2011 - 4:21pm (USA Central)
SO Voyager just happened to have 150 stasis chambers on board for what was originally to be a three week mission?
Destructor - Sun, Sep 25, 2011 - 8:04pm (USA Central)
I assume they constructed them from replicated components and then recycled them back into energy once they had made the trip. Same argument for shuttles.
Nic - Wed, Nov 16, 2011 - 8:30am (USA Central)
Yeah, you'd think with their shiny new Astrometrics lab they would have detected the nebula long enough in advance to avoid it. Oh well, these are minor points, overall it's a good character study.
Arkay - Mon, Jan 2, 2012 - 9:57pm (USA Central)
Jay: The mission may have been three weeks but I'd think Voyager was built for the possibility of long-term missions as well. Who knows what it would've been assigned to afterward.
Justin - Sat, Apr 28, 2012 - 12:44am (USA Central)
I wasn't a big fan of this episode when it originally aired because I've never really cared for psychological thriller-type stories that rely heavily on halucinations or what goes on inside people's heads. However, this really is an excellent look at Seven of Nine's psyche and provided some pretty powerful character development. It has its flaws, but I'd call it a minor classic.

One glaring flaw: why would the computer voice slow down and speed up like a tape deck on low battery power? Is this the 24th Century or the 1970s...?
Domi - Tue, Jul 16, 2013 - 7:10pm (USA Central)
I really liked this episode aside from the terrible acting in the teaser (and by the way, the effects of the nebula ARE explained, several times). The alien is creepy in a good way (not like the "Isomorph" which was way over the top to the point of being aggravating), though I do not like how that plot thread was left completely unresolved. Did he die or did they just beam him back to his ship?

I particularly liked the surreal feel which reminded me of Season 2 (Persistence of Vision, Cold Fire, and Projections). The warp core turning green was a really cool effect.

Anyway, I couldn't help but see a metaphor between this episode and the direction the series as a whole would take from this point: the rest of the crew basically gets put in suspended animation and it becomes The 7 Of 9 Show. At the beginning of Season 4, they at least tried to make shows about other characters. But I believe this episodes marks the turning point where they've given up and the rest of the characters basically become extras.
Daniel - Sat, Jul 27, 2013 - 3:14am (USA Central)
Domi: I don't think the alien ever existed, I think he was a hallucination the entire time.

You know, Seven could have deactivated life support much earlier and just put on an environmental suit and just rode it out.
Nick - Fri, Nov 1, 2013 - 1:11pm (USA Central)
So many predictable plot holes;

- as Daniel said, what about a spacesuit for Seven?

- is there no Prozac in the 24th century? Seven was clearly having a nervous breakdown/paranoid delusions/ect... could have been precipitated by the 'radiation', regardless, the Doctor was completely useless assisting her deteriorating mental state.

- Why the strange alien of the week to pester Seven's subconscious? It made no sense. They should have stuck with the Borg theme, it would have been a perfect opportunity to explore coping mechanisms of the Borg when they lose contact with the collective. Instead we get inconsequential manifestations from Seven that strain credibility. Seven is after all part Borg, her adherence to logic should have prevented any such delusions from overtaking her better judgement.

Even so, the episode was a great set-up, showing the doctor and Seven working as a team, the last 25% of the episode clearly went off the rails.
Jack - Fri, Jan 10, 2014 - 2:36pm (USA Central)
The radiation is devastating to organic tissue, but Seven i somehow immune. She has plenty of organic tissue.

Jack - Fri, Jan 10, 2014 - 2:54pm (USA Central)
Plus, Seven is rather Archeresque here...she tells some strange alien that her entire crew is in stasis (and therefore incapacitated). He could easily have been hostile.
Ric - Fri, Apr 18, 2014 - 12:38am (USA Central)
@Nick "Why the strange alien of the week to pester Seven's subconscious? It made no sense. They should have stuck with the Borg theme"

I agree, but it is clear why they chose the alien at first. Because we were supposed to believe, for a while,m that he was real. If it was a Borg bothering her from the begining we would not be foolished. However, it got obvious pretty soon that the alien was not real... So I also regret they did not use the oportunity to explore in the way you've suggested.

Sure, the episode had a few big logic flaws, many of them already pointed here by others. But overall I found ths episode really entertaining, with a terrific development of Seven's character. Pretty good.
Corey - Sat, May 31, 2014 - 2:42pm (USA Central)
Hokey in places, this is nevertheless a warm, compassion look at 7's lonliness and her budding camraderie with the crew. It strikes me that Season 4 is a giant arc in which the FEDERATION essentially ASSIMILATES a BORG and replaces its ideology with Janeway's FED ETHOS. Nice.
HolographicAndrew - Tue, Oct 14, 2014 - 9:10pm (USA Central)
Entertaining episode but it kinda highlights my issue with season 4.

So far in my own rewatch I preferred the episodes before Seven came aboard. I think if this was an episode in season 1-3 it would have been better.

The whole, 'Seven is unique and can do x, y, and z' thing gets really tired. Like Jammer's review said the writers could have done this episode with any of the characters, but everything is so Seven centric this season.

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