Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Prey"

***1/2

Air date: 2/18/1998
Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by Allan Eastman

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"I believe you are punishing me because I do not think the way you do—because I am not becoming more like you. You claim to respect my individuality, but, in fact, you are frightened by it."
"As you were."

— Seven and Janeway

Nutshell: I do believe we have a winner.

Before I begin, I have two sidebar comments to make:

First, given the two episodes previous to "Prey," I had become very worried about the notion of creating an "arc" around the Hirogen. The Hirogen we had met in "Hunters" were utter cardboard and terribly acted, with completely unconvincing and unnecessary shouting and grunting. Although I still have some serious reservations about the Hirogen (and I severely doubt they'll ever be truly interesting), "Prey" was a turn for the better—much better, in fact. The Hirogen here aren't played anywhere near as over the top as the two Hirogen in "Hunters." From the moment "Prey" begins, there's almost a sense that the writers or director or somebody made a conscious effort to tone down the Hirogen to something that's ... well, watchable.

Second, I'd like to point out that this isn't really an "arc" the way DS9's "lost the station" arc was. "Message in a Bottle's" plot line really had nothing to do with "Hunters's" Hirogen plot line which really has nothing to do with "Prey." The only common element are the Hirogen themselves, with which Voyager has never twice come in contact with the same individuals. And the only two reasons I even expect to see the Hirogen return is because (1) I've seen the press releases, and (2) every episode ends with a captain's log where Janeway says something to the effect of "I don't think we've seen the last of them." There's really no dramatic connection, which is kind of unfortunate.

But never mind. I don't mean to start things off on a sour note, because "Prey" is, in fact, the best thing Voyager has done all season. I'd easily rank this in the series' top ten. This is a solidly constructed, very focused story that transcends the lightweight nature typical of season four by addressing a moral issue and framing it in the context of a punchy action/adventure premise.

We have more Hirogen, of course, but this time they're part of a much more probing story—and the key Hirogen character is played by someone who can actually act (fathom that!): Tony Todd. (DS9 viewers will recognize the deep, raspy voice from his appearances as old Jake Sisko in "The Visitor" and Worf's brother Kurn in "Sons of Mogh.")

The opening is atmospheric and effective, focusing completely on the Hirogen and the hunt for their latest prey, which happens to be one of Species 8472, left behind in our galaxy after the skirmish with the Borg. The two Hirogen hunt the 8472, shoot it, think they have killed it, then transport it onto their vessel. They're wrong, of course, and it tears up their ship and attacks them, killing one and severely wounding the other.

Enter the starship Voyager, who happens upon the wounded Hirogen's ship and beams him aboard for medical treatment, after a strong voice of skepticism from Seven of Nine. Janeway attempts to negotiate with the lone Hirogen, with some limited success.

Meanwhile, 8472 breaks into the ship from an access port (there's a particularly nice setup visual that shows 8472 walking along the outside hull of the ship). As 8472 begins causing havoc on Voyager, Janeway finds herself making a weighty decision concerning the Hirogen, who wants to continue the hunt for his latest "prey." When the 8472 takes over a deck of the ship and disables life support and artificial gravity, Janeway grants the Hirogen to accompany a team in finding the dangerous alien. But she doesn't want it harmed; she wants to make a peaceful negotiation.

Does this sound particularly interesting? Probably not, because it's hard to do justice to the finer points of the plot flow. But much of "Prey" is a very pleasant surprise, particularly once the 8472 alien is cornered with nowhere to run.

From a technical standpoint, this episode is probably one of the most engaging action pieces since "Scorpion II." The special effects are convincing and appropriately utilized. The use of environmental suits and magnetic boots (a la First Contact) made for a believable situation of suspense. I'm not sure exactly why, but something about the crew's search for the 8472—perhaps the sense of understated urgency in Allan Eastman's directing and the cast's acting, or perhaps the low lighting combined with the "zero gravity" effect—made the scenes build with much more realism, drawing me into them more than usual.

What proves more interesting is the heart of the show concerning the moral dilemma. Should Janeway risk making enemies with another race by saving the innocent 8472, therefore denying the Hirogen their greatly desired prey? Or should she hand the dangerous creature over to the Hirogen reinforcements so that they'll leave Voyager alone instead of coming in with phasers firing?

Well, this is Star Trek; what do you think?

Like many of Janeway's decisions, her decision in "Prey" is one that looks out for human sensibilities. But, at the same time, it also puts Voyager and its crew at the significant risk of being hunted down and destroyed by angry Hirogen—and I'm sure there's a part of everybody that wouldn't mind seeing the dreaded 8472 taken away if it meant their own safety. But this would of course not be a moral course of action, especially considering the creature's motives as conveyed telepathically to Tuvok: that it just wants to be left alone and returned to its realm. Janeway intends to do just that, even if it means angering a pack of aggressive hunters.

Not surprisingly, but very appropriately, this is where Seven of Nine comes into play. "Prey" features the long-awaited and, in retrospect, inevitable culmination of Seven's differing attitudes and actions as compared to Janeway's. As I said back in "Message in a Bottle," the kind of assertive, dangerous impulse that Seven is capable of is not something that Janeway can simply allow to happen week after week. There's a point where the line has to be drawn, and that line is drawn in the latter stages of "Prey," when Janeway requests that Seven (who would be able to quickly perform the necessary task) open a quantum singularity to 8472's realm—a request Seven adamantly refuses.

There's a dialog scene that I believe will go down as one of the highlights of the season because it's so well acted. There's energy and frustration boiling in this scene, but it boils just under the surface as the characters wrestle their contrasting points of view into the open. Janeway wants Seven to see this as a chance to reach out with compassion to a helpless being—a chance for Seven to grow and understand the reasons and origins of human values. Seven, still looking at the situation through primarily Borg eyes, thinks it is a tactical risk; she believes the 8472 forfeited its rights when it selfishly put the ship in danger to save itself from the Hirogen.

Janeway's frustration is perfectly conveyed through Mulgrew's performance. Meanwhile, I'd like to go on record saying I think anyone who still believes Jeri Ryan is merely eye candy after witnessing the dynamics of this scene is just fundamentally biased against the character, because the performance here is something I think is worth a lot of praise. It's hard to convincingly convey anger through the Borg-like dispassion with which Seven's character has been drawn, but Ryan pulls it off here, and the whole scene comes together. I can't remember the last time Voyager had me on the edge of my seat over a dialog scene, but this one accomplished just that; it's the best-conceived scene of conflicting attitudes since Janeway and Chakotay's "scorpion" argument in the first part of "Scorpion." I really like this stuff.

There's a lot of substance here, because it gets to the heart of the agenda Janeway has been battling for ever since Seven came aboard: a maternal figure trying to bring someone else into her "family." It's a battle Janeway isn't winning, and you can see how frustrated it's making her. She probably wouldn't have been forced to take the disciplinary actions she ends up taking under "Prey's" circumstances, but the emotional side of it I'm sure has been taking its toll for the months that Seven has been rubbing people the wrong way and disregarding protocol.

In a sense, the family idea echoes elements of how the Starfleet/Maquis alliance used to be before it was unsatisfactorily swept under the carpet. But with Seven the questions are a little easier to deal with because she simply doesn't understand human behavior.

Still, this wouldn't have worked nearly as well as it ultimately does if there hadn't been some real consequences resulting from it. Immediately after the dialog scene, my one fear was that the rift that had become evident would be reversed by some sort of redemption on Seven's part—some redemption that would've made Seven see Janeway's side of the story. Fortunately, this didn't happen. Instead, the opposite happened when Seven made the split-second decision to beam the 8472 and the hunter onto a Hirogen ship in the middle of a battle situation running out of control.

It's hardly a neat or tidy solution for Janeway, who watches a moral decision countermanded (effectively sending an innocent being to its death). But she can't judge the individual who violated her order the way she could any other crew member. It provides Janeway with a true challenge. Just how should she deal with Seven as an individual under such bizarre circumstances? Since Seven doesn't yet understand her own individuality, how accountable can she be for it?

I also think the final dialog exchange served to strengthen the ending. As much as I understood Janeway's point of view and the necessary ramifications imposed (barring Seven from computer access) as a result of Seven's behavior, I had a feeling that this was turning into another "Janeway is right" ending. But "Prey" avoids this possibility by adding a little ambivalence, as Seven announces her belief that Janeway is punishing her because she is not evolving into what Janeway had hoped—and that her individuality, in fact, frightens the captain. It's an interesting and challenging way to end the episode, and it doesn't have an easy answer—partly because, in some ways, Seven is quite correct (especially considering it was Janeway who imposed this individuality upon Seven in the first place). As many undoubtedly know, I like questions that don't have easy answers.

Pretty much everything about "Prey" worked quite well. Even the Hirogen—despite the fact that Tony Todd's character was still a sketchy, half-defined personality—seemed more fleshed-out and believable. Chakotay's briefing about their entire society being "based on the hunt" may not make the Hirogen more interesting or deeper than any other member of the Stock Delta Quadrant Alien Club [TM], but it did manage to make their motivation seem a little more focused and a little less dramatically shoddy. But even though the Hirogen worked surprisingly well this time around, I still say forget them, because that's not where the gold is. The gold, like last time, is within analyzing the behavior of the regular characters.

But if Voyager can use adventure-oriented premises as effectively and with as much panache as "Prey" does, I certainly won't complain.

Next week: Seven of Nine seeks justice in "Retrospect."

Previous episode: Hunters
Next episode: Retrospect

Season Index

19 comments on this review

Ken Egervari - Tue, Dec 1, 2009 - 2:01pm (USA Central)
I Agree with everything in the review.

I also want to comment on Tom Paris - he was great in this episode! The way he has a weapon, but doesn't really know what the hell to do with it, and his expression when Tuvok comes to the rescue.

I was thinking at first... "Why is tom paris going?" And then the writers make Tom act the way he should. I mean, seriously... how many times do you see Tom firing his phaser and stuff? Like never.

Lastly, he has the funniest line in the entire season. The hirogen brags that "I once tracked a silicon-based lifeform through a neutronium mantle of a collapsed star."

And then Tom responds - with the best expression ever - "I once tracked a mouse through Jeffrey Tube 32."

LOL. Best line in the entire episode. The expression on his eyes and just coming out of the blue is so priceless. I laughed so hard.
John Pate - Sat, Feb 6, 2010 - 7:01am (USA Central)
Although I enjoyed the ep, I didn't grok Janeway's reasoning - other than simply as a way to have a confrontation between her and Seven. Seven was so clearly correct, versus Janeway's bizarre stance, in the context of what the knew about the capabilities of the combatants and the situation.

I feel the writers could have come up with a more reasonable basis for a fifty-fifty judgment call leading to a disagreement between the two where Seven should clearly have deferred to Janeway's command authority.
Nic - Thu, Jul 7, 2011 - 9:48am (USA Central)
Great review Jammer. Nice to see such positive comments about Voyager for once. I still think "Nemesis" is superior but this was without a doubt one of the best episodes of the season. It had great character interaction and un unexpectedly dark ending for a Star Trek episode, yet still remained true to the spirit of Star Trek. I agree 100% with Janeway's decision, but Seven did also raise some interesting points. This being may have been responsible for many deaths, but does that make it any less humane to sacrifice it to save ourselvesS? I'm still pondering it.

The only thing that irked me on first viewing was Tuvok's sudden onset of telepathic abilities. Vulcans had never before shown the ability to communicate in this manner without a mind meld. It made Kes' absence all the more noticeable (I still think it would have been better to 'demote' her to a recurring character).
Nic - Thu, Jul 7, 2011 - 9:50am (USA Central)
Oh, and what a great shot of 8472 walking along Voyager's hull. It's probably one of my favorite shots of the series.
V - Thu, Jan 26, 2012 - 5:23pm (USA Central)
@nic vulcans are telepathic. Limited but they still are. See "random thoughts" episode and T'Pol's explanation when they dealt with the Andorian's "telepathic cousins".

Very good episode and i agree with both janeway and seven. I agree more with janeway and honestly 100% agree if i was in the delta quadrant. Sometimes i have to remind myself that the ST universe, the culture is the idealistic notions of today become reality. ST people are on more naive, trusting, and good side than us -from that point of view, you can understand where Janeway is coming from.
Rosario - Tue, Mar 6, 2012 - 4:25pm (USA Central)
You sell Seven short in your review. You say she can't be held accountable because she doesn't know what her individuality is yet. Yet, here she is before you loudly asserting her individuality. Similar to Picard once saying, "Our mission is to seek out new life, well There He Sits!" You clearly have your own moral compass that lets you choose your preference but that doesn't give you any cause to be dismissing differing views out of hand.

Seven's tactical assessment is 100% correct and she saved Voyager this episode - Janeway's kurt dismissal of this assertion doesn't make it any less true. I am just so glad that there is a character on Star Trek that finally understands reality. Not everyone thinks the same way. Not everyone has the same value system. Not everyone has the same moral code.

The "fiction" part of Star Trek in almost all cases is that our intrepid crew keeps surviving. They would be dead time and time again if they existed in reality. "Ah, a new species, Captain. Shall we raise shields?" "No, Number One, we don't want them to get the wrong impression." NO, NO, NO. Shields UP! Any species that gets miffed at your raised shields is probably just picking a fight. Err on the side of caution - don't bare your chest to the knife and hope for an equal dose of compassion in return.
Chris - Sat, Apr 7, 2012 - 4:23pm (USA Central)
I think Tony Todd as the Hirogen character was the best guest star so far in the first 4 VOY seasons. Nice acting and his deep voice matched perfectly with his merciless attitude.

Tony Todd played a role as a badass terrorist in The Rock movie (Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage) delivering some funny lines.

Great episode, 4 stars!
Justin - Wed, Apr 18, 2012 - 2:54am (USA Central)
Despite my overall dislike of the Hirogen, this episode is indeed a winner. It was also Tony Todd's last ever appearance on a Star Trek show and, as usual, he knocked it out of the park. He really is a terrific actor and I don't think it's a coincidence that pretty much all of his Trek appearances were in classic episodes. He brought something as an actor every time that transformed good scripts into good shows.
Latex Zebra - Fri, Jan 18, 2013 - 6:42pm (USA Central)
Yep, not much to say other than this is good Voyager. Some great scenes that are well acted with some suspense and action thrown in. 3 1/2 is about right.
Leah - Wed, Jun 19, 2013 - 3:42pm (USA Central)
Scene of the 8472 walking on the outer hull:

"There's something on the wing..."
Jordy - Mon, Aug 19, 2013 - 6:11pm (USA Central)
I think Seven was right in this episode and I'm glad she defied Janeway. If things had gone Janeway's way, the Voyager and her crew would have been reduced to their component atoms by the Hirogen in about six seconds flat. Compassion is all very well, but doesn't Janeway have a duty to keep her ship and crew safe? Shouldn't that override her duty to help one single (and definitely not 'innocent', by the way!) alien life form? She seemed all too ready to throw the lot of them under the bus.
When Seven states that following Janeway's plan would have resulted in Voyager's certain destruction, the best response Janeway can muster is the profoundly feeble 'Maybe not.' That says it all, I think. Seven saved the ship.
Petrus - Mon, Oct 7, 2013 - 8:08am (USA Central)
Along with "Equinox," and the second half of "Year of Hell," this episode is probably the strongest example, of Janeway's trademark abuse of authority. We see it to a degree in "Spirit Folk," as well, but not quite as severely as here.

It's these episodes which really demonstrate the fact that, while Picard as a character actually went on to have a book about leadership written from his perspective, by a couple of real-life military generals, ("Make It So,") most of the time, Janeway served as an example of how any sort of leader should *not* behave.

As I've written here before, Janeway's immaturity and immorality as a leader, was by far the most negative and problematic element of Voyager as a series.
RenC - Tue, Oct 15, 2013 - 4:42pm (USA Central)
This was a fantastic episode. For me a full 4 stars. The conflict between Janeway & Seven had been brewing for a while & even so Seven's flat refusal to obey a direct order was a bold move by the writers.

As Janeway says there's a limit to individuality on a starship where there's a hierarchy. The Captain's word is law.
Granted, Seven did not choose to be on Voyager but she should be able to see how the crew works as a collective in their own way to keep the ship & each other alive. And on that ship Janeway is Queen of the Hive.

I see Janeway as trying give Seven a moral compass where she previously had none. Her decision to protect the 8472 despite the species' previous encounters is quite typical of Star Trek. Take for example Picard's decision to protect Q when he was turned mortal by the Continuum & then hunted down by a species he had tormented & who wanted revenge. Picard risked his ship then to save Q.

8472 effectively requested asylum & Janeway granted it. While 8472 would never sacrifice itself to protect the human crew as Q did on that episode of TNG, that doesn't make Janeway's decision any different from Picard's.

Consider also that 1 member of the race cannot be held responsible for the actions of the species as a whole. That particular 8472 was a soldier in a war. (A war which the Borg started in fact & which Seven conveniently ignores when talking about the millions of Borg that were destroyed.)
Now the war is over & it just wants to get back home.

Janeway has made it clear that even though her top priority is to get her crew home, she will still uphold the principles of the Federation. And to me it wouldn't be Star Trek without this.


Caine - Mon, Nov 11, 2013 - 10:01am (USA Central)
To me, this show is an ecxellent example of Star Trek when it works best - i.e. putting the spotlight on a very interesting dilemma without "handing" us a solution. I love that stuff!

On one hand, 7 of 9 is - obviously - in the right: refusing to hand over the "prey" to the Hirogen puts Voyager at high risk ... as it turns ou at SUCH high risk that she would probably have been detsroyed had 7 of 9 not disobeyed the Captain's orders.

On the other hand Janeway is taking a stand for the morally right thing to do.

Now, some of the comments above point out that Janeway is moraaly in the wrong here, because she needlessly endangeres the ship and the crew.
I, however, would argue that Janeway is doing exactly what she and her fellow Starfleet officers have been trained to do: to protect the weak and defenseless from the violent "bully", no matter the personal cost.
As RenC pointed out in the post above this one, Picard has done it before with Q ... in fact we've seen him do it time and again in TNG.

The Starfleet officers are eesentially saying "we do not bow for bullies - you may be able to destroy us, but we will keep doing the RIGHT thing ... you will NOT dictate our actions!"

You might argue that this is stupid, because it'll end up getting you killed. On the other hand you might argue that this is the only right way to act if you want to gain any respect from other species around the galaxy in the long run.

Is it realistic? Well, I don't think I would personally have the courage to stand up for what I think is right in the face of nearly cetain destruction - but then again, I'm not a Starfleet officer, and I didn't sign up to serve on a tarship encountering dozens of species in vast, cold space.

7 of 9's position on all of this is pragmatic. Janeway's position is idealistic. Neither of those views are necessarily wrong - but from previous experience (i.e. many episodes in the past)we know exactly which position Star Trek takes!

The really great thing abput this particular episode - to me, anyway - is that it DOESN'T say that Jabeway is right and 7 of 9 is wrong! This wouls normally be the Lesson of the Day (tm) from an episode like this, but not here - this episode lets the question linger in the air.

In my own personal oppinion Janeway was in the right - but I understand how others think that 7 of 9 was in the right.
What I DON'T understand is how some people can write off Janeway's view as stupid or even immoral, when she is taking the Classic Star Trek Captain Stance (tm) here.
Susan - Mon, Nov 11, 2013 - 5:31pm (USA Central)
There's compassion, but then there's just stupidity. I really DO like the Captain Janeway character, but I so didn't agree with her in this episode. If she'd had her way and they had tried to send the alien back there's NO DOUBT Voyager would have been destroyed and probably even before they could have sent it back. She was making a choice, she was trading the life of everyone on the ship for the life of that alien. Compassion would have been to RISK the ship and crew for the alien, not TRADE it. I can't stand it when people I admire in a show do ignorant things like that, hopefully she'll redeem herself for me in the next few episodes, if not I don't think I can continue watching a ship with a captain who just doesn't give a damn about the crew and would trade it for any stupid alien that came along.
Chris P - Fri, Jan 31, 2014 - 1:07pm (USA Central)
If ever there was a time to mutiny it might be after the events in this episode. Janeway has put her crew in extreme peril numerous times now for flimsy reasons varying from "I want to get a closer reading" to "Hopefully the six warships that have us dead in the water won't kill us". In a recent episode she was going to let B'Elanna be lobotomized for no reason.

Frankly it's difficult to keep watching this show when the captain of the crew is religiously naive and careless with her crew's lives.

This was a good episode but for the fact that Seven alone stood up and protested Janeway's willingness to sacrifice all of their lives for an aggressive creature that had put them in danger and assaulted her crew even though it was clearly capable of communicating with them and *asking* for help. For me that is a major oversight by the writers. As usual.

I may not continue with this show after this episode, as I'm simply not enjoying the contrived way these plots come about. The writing quality is inferior to that which you can find in good fan fiction and I suspect that the writers attained their positions through some combination of political/social favor or because of lazy producers giving jobs to marginal talent within rather than seeking talented outsiders. Just way too many plot holes and way too many scenes that only work if the characters act illogically.
Susan - Sun, Feb 9, 2014 - 10:16pm (USA Central)
Quote - Chris P. Frankly it's difficult to keep watching this show when the captain of the crew is religiously naive and careless with her crew's lives. End Quote

Exactly. I've continued watching, but it was only after a friend of mine said "Didnt you see the episode where they went through an anamoly and it made nearly everyone on the ship brain damaged and backward? You know the one where the Captain loses everything BUT her Liberalness and now just a few non damaged characters have to do their best to keep the ship running from the posts they have?" I said "No, I missed that one." He said "yeah I did too, but it explains pretty much everything doesn't it?" lol. So now, when I watch it, it's more like 'Die Hard' (or 'Die Borg' lol), Seven of Nine is Bruce Willis, and Captain Janeway and most of the rest (not the doctor) are the evil foreigners.

Seriously though, 7 just saved their butts and Janeway is like "Can we pursue?" Can we pursue??? I mean really! Come on. How utterly idiotic. What did she think they were going to do if they DID manage to catch up? "Excuse me, give us your prey back, or I'll blow up my own ship!" What an idiot.
Susan - Sun, Feb 9, 2014 - 10:21pm (USA Central)
It's not a bad show, it just makes some really ignorant non-points sometimes - pepsiadikt
Ric - Wed, Apr 16, 2014 - 2:01am (USA Central)
I can't help but keep saying: it is impossible to keep swallowing how easy it is for someone to escape security measures. To overcome security officers at the sickbay, to by-pass command codes. To beam people without authorization. The lazy writing is extreme. Btw it is funny that Jammer did usually excuse these things more than he did the losses of shuttlecrafts.

That said, of course it was a good episode. Mostly by the fact that we start seeing continuity regarding the development of Seven's character. And finally we see some consequences for her wild actions. The last scenes and the dialogues between her and the captain were a joy to watch.

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