Nutshell: A solid hour of sci-fi, and some nicely characterized arguments, but also some glaring flaws. Good, but not quite everything I was hoping for.
Given how promising "Scorpion, Part I" was, it seemed guaranteed that "Scorpion, Part II" would fall under some heavy scrutiny. This is the resolution to one of the most promising cliffhangers in all of Trek, and the hope was that it wouldn't be botched, because "part twos" to Trek cliffhangers have a pretty spotty track record.
Well, I'm happy to report they didn't botch it. I think I may have initially set my standards a little bit higher than I should've, but as an episode of Trek and a resolution to the promising first half of sci-fi action, "Scorpion II" works.
But not, of course, without its share of problems.
Where were we? Species 8472—a powerful and malevolent race with superior technology—is at war with the Borg, and the Borg are losing. Meanwhile, Voyager doesn't want to fall prey to the Borg in the relentless assimilators' vast territory, so in exchange for safe passage across Borg space, Janeway agrees to help them develop a prototype weapon.
It's a "deal with the devil" premise, which in part one was extremely intriguing. What would be the consequences of Janeway's actions? What about the disagreement between Janeway and Chakotay concerning the issue? What kind of characteristics and motivations would Species 8472 take on? Would the Borg keep up their side of the bargain?
Combine the answers to these questions along with the fact that "Scorpion II" also had to add the series' new cast member, Jeri Ryan as human/Borg liaison "Seven of Nine," and you've got a story that had to cover a lot of ground quickly and plausibly.
Well, nine times out of ten, when you've got that much ground to cover in an hour, something's got to give. And there's plenty that gives in "Scorpion II."
But, first, the good news. This installment does get a lot of things right. I believe the scene that sets the stage is the early one where the Borg collective announces its intention to temporarily bring Janeway and Tuvok into the fold to "better communicate," using a neural transceiver (a device that makes sense, especially given "Unity" from last season). The Borg drones force Janeway and Tuvok to the ground and proceed to begin a temporary mind assimilation. Naturally, Janeway wants nothing to do with it. "That wasn't part of the deal," she says.
This is probably the most psychologically intense scene in the episode, because it's what the Borg are all about—stealing your individuality by joining you with the collective. It doesn't matter that it's temporary, it's the very idea itself—that of being forced into such a circumstance. It's about here where it becomes clear the alliance with the Borg is all but destined to fail. The thing about the Borg—one factor which undoubtedly caused Chakotay to oppose the alliance in the first place—is that when they see an opportunity providing any advantage to them, they exercise all malevolence to take it. This scene effectively portrays this—speaks volumes, in fact.
The scene also makes another thing clear: "Scorpion, Part II" is not about Species 8472. It's about the relationship between the Borg collective and human individuality. It's a reliable if familiar theme, and in many ways this is good, especially considering that the Borg are by far a superior storytelling device to the comparably hollow 8472.
Rather than using the neural transceivers, Janeway convinces the Borg to use a verbal liaison—like Locutus in the Borg's "Best of Both Worlds" assault. This is where we're introduced to Seven of Nine (whom I'll call "Seven" henceforth); a character usage which is among the best things about "Scorpion II." Jeri Ryan plays the role effectively (we'll have to see how and where things go from here in subsequent episodes), managing to be intimidating in her Borgness. A few lines, especially the references to "small thought," are reminiscent of the Borg Queen's persona in First Contact. Her aura of superiority is always interesting to watch.
The other big selling point of this episode is the argument of efficiency in cohesive oneness versus the discord of individual opinions. This is represented, naturally, by the Borg's efficiency to do things quickly (like beam crucial survivors to a Voyager cargo bay when their cube is unexpectedly destroyed in a bio-ship attack) and the conflict arising out of the difference of opinion between the Voyager captain and first officer. It's the core that gives the episode its bona fide relevance. (On an unrelated note, the Borg's assimilation of the cargo bay is a neat idea—very First Contact-like.)
The "oneness versus individuality" argument works for the most part. But I'd like to present a problem about the way things play out just for the sake of discussion: Ultimately, I believe, the story takes the easy way out by making Janeway and Chakotay both "right." It turns out that working with the Borg does yield the weapon that defeats 8472. This makes Janeway (kind of) correct. But also, once the 8472 threat is absolved Seven takes the initiative by trying to hijack Voyager so the Borg can assimilate it. This makes Chakotay's "scorpion" argument fully realized. To really drive home the point of the Borg's evil, Janeway should've realized (perhaps even after the fact) that her decision to see the alliance through—even in the face of so many changes to the agreement—was destined for some major problems. It was foolhardy of her to turn a blind eye to Chakotay's point of view given the circumstances. After all, as Chakotay pointed out in part one, Janeway's desire to get her crew home doesn't make her decision-making infallible.
Instead we get a line about how if Janeway and Chakotay can simply stop "fighting" each other, everything will be fine—which seems a little too clear-cut and naive; not probing enough given the richness of the material. But any episode that can raise this sort of argument is doing a reasonably good job in my book.
Once again, the production was all-around phenomenal. I loved the Borg set design, the makeup, and costume work (Borg are just so visually cool), and the CGI effects were very convincing. The episode also sported the return of director Winrich Kolbe, one of Trek's finest in my opinion.
However, here's where we get to some of the significant problems of the episode. For starters, the whole "magical cure" to the 8472 virus was entirely too easy. Ensign Kim's recovery approached being laughably swift and succeeded in being dramatically shoddy. Here was an element that was a big concern in part one—Harry's condition of being "eaten alive" was downright ghastly—but with part two, Doc gives him a magical hypo-spray and he's cured by the next scene, end of story. It just doesn't have any impact.
Ideas like this one are what threaten to make "Scorpion" fall victim to the same pratfall that "Basics" did a year ago: In part one the writers set up a number of impossible situations, and in part two they quickly resolve them with little regard to emotional payoff.
Less questionable, but still a tad annoying, there's Janeway's severe neural injury that Doc solemnly says will take "creative thinking" to repair. Janeway temporarily being incapacitated is crucial to the plot, but the suddenness to which she recovers feels iffy; and I was annoyed at Doc's line that provided comic relief in the situation ("I'm two for two!"), because it was as if the writers were making fun of our own gullibility—hoping we wouldn't notice the sudden convenience of Janeway re-entering the story's equation.
The episode culminates with a visit to 8472's realm, and the appropriate revelation that the Borg started the war between them by trying to assimilate and, when that didn't work, destroy them. Then proceeds the big battle between the alien bio-ships and the Voyager, now equipped with the prototype weapons. This works well for action-packed entertainment, and the visual effects are great, but intellectually I was left a bit perturbed.
Not to get too nitpicky, but come on—if these aliens are really as powerful as they're supposed to be, the bio-ships' attacks on Voyager should've easily destroyed it. (We are, after all, talking about vessels that can destroy entire planets.) Here we have an all-too-transparent, intentional disregard for continuity. Suspension of disbelief is the byword here, but not with full acceptance.
The ending comes down to the old adage of the ultimate enemy defeated by technobabble weapons. Granted, the road documenting the invention of the weapons was nicely traveled, but it still unfolded awfully easily and with even fewer surprises than I had anticipated. I recommend you just turn your brain off and go with it, because it's much more fun that way.
But the thing that bothered me the most about "Scorpion II" was that parts of it felt like the standard Voyager Reset Button Plot. As obvious as it became that this episode intended to be about the Borg, I still couldn't help feeling completely short-changed on Species 8472. We learned absolutely nothing new about them in this resolution; ultimately they're merely a plot device. And although the possibility exists that they could appear again, there's a bigger possibility that they won't. Even if they did, I'm not sure what the writers could do with them given their simplistic, overlarge motivations to "purge" our galaxy. In the end, these guys are just shallow one-time villains. I guess that's simply the unavoidable consequence of making such large "galactic Armageddon"-type statements in the first place. Braga and Menosky did all they probably could under the circumstances.
Yes, I think this episode could've been more than it was. Nevertheless, "Scorpion, Part II" is a solid premiere that gets Voyager's fourth season started on the right foot—even if not quite on a springboard.
Next week: Someone leaves the cast. Who could it be? Hmmm ... perhaps the actress who was not in the opening titles this week?