Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Scorpion, Part II"

***

Air date: 9/3/1997
Written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Do you have a better idea?"
"We are Borg."
"I take that as a yes."

— Janeway, Seven of Nine, and Tuvok

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?

Previous episode: Scorpion, Part I
Next episode: The Gift

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16 comments on this review

mlk - Tue, Dec 25, 2007 - 7:44pm (USA Central)
The way Janeway woke up was laughable, she just suddely stood there, like she had never got hurt
Daniel - Fri, May 30, 2008 - 3:05am (USA Central)
I had no problem with Doc's "I'm two for two" line...it fit in perfectly with his character. He's very good at what he does, and no matter how dark or critical the situation is, he always makes sarcastic comments about how good he is. It fits.
Jeff - Mon, May 4, 2009 - 12:43pm (USA Central)
I totally agree with you in regards to the treatment of Kim's being "eaten alive." The makeup effects are very disturbing and although Wang says nothing his eyes show that he's in extreme pain.

But Doc works his magic (and by this point in the series I believe it has to be magic. He can simply cure anything!) and not only is Harry completely cured, but there's Harry on the bridge with a goofy smile relieving whoever was at the post before him. Considering this was Kim's only real scene in the episode he should have just stayed in sickbay.

But this continues that trend of keeping Kim as green and innocent now as he was on day 1. I mean, Voyager is trapped between the Borg and 8472 who are currently at war with each other. And he just got miraculously healed by Doc from being eaten alive by an 8472 virus and how does Kim react to all of this? With his trademark goofy smile.

God bless Wang for having the endurance to see this series through to the end considering how much disrespect the writers seemed to have for his character. I know that's a harsh statement and probably even unfair, but the evidence is all there on the screen.
Sloan - Tue, Oct 19, 2010 - 5:59pm (USA Central)
Forgive me if this is explained in part one, I haven't seen it -- I'm going off of Jammer's review and a viewing of part 2, but I'm having a hard time understanding why the Borg don't just assimilate Voyager? If Voyager's crew has knowledge of how to create a weapon that the Borg want, wouldn't the fastest way to get that knowledge be to assimilate them? We've seen in Best of Both Worlds that when the Borg assimilated Picard they gained access to knowledge of the Enterprise's secret main deflector dish weapon and, either through Picard or their own ability, even came up with a defense for it.

The Borg just never seemed the type to "negotiate" with any species. But I guess they have to in order to tell this story.

Nic - Mon, Jan 17, 2011 - 11:27am (USA Central)
Yes Sloan, in Part I Janeway did mention that if the Borg even TRY to assimalate Voyager, she would destroy all the data they had collected on 8472, in which case assimalating Voyager wouldn't get them anywhere.

This one gets 3.5 stars for me. It wasn't as good as part I (as is the case 95% of the time) but it had its own twist and turns and kept true to its theme. I love that at first you think Janeway has actually put Chakotay in the brig for disagreeing with her, only to realize that they have actually worked out their argument and come up with a solution that they both agree to.
justbrandy - Fri, Mar 4, 2011 - 11:44am (USA Central)
MY FIRST POST BUT GOT TO SAY I DID LOVE SCORPION 1@2 BUT MY BIGGEST PROBLEM THROUGHOUT THIS AND OTHER EPISODES IS JANEWAYS ABILITY TO DISMISS THE PRIME DIRECTIVE WHEN IT SUITED OR SHOULD I SAY WHEN IT SUITED THE WRITERS
V - Sat, Jan 21, 2012 - 3:29pm (USA Central)
I'm surprised some people still don't understand the concept of prime directive. In essence it is not interfering or introducing yourself to a PRE-WARP civilization. This concept came from the point of industrialized civilizations interfering with natives of non-industrialized nations. Most of the time in the course of human history, industrialized cultures end up being the upper hand wrecking the natural progression of the non-industrialized culture - at least this was the point ST is making.
Laroquod - Sun, Jun 17, 2012 - 5:00pm (USA Central)
Picard also broke the Prime Directive when it suited him, and Kirk was famous for it. The Prime Directive is really made to be broken; the whole message of Star Trek is that you should have a rule like the Prime Directive but that you should probably be willing to break it or at least bend it real hard when it's for humanitarian reasons (or at least turn a blind eye to those who do).

For some reason, however, fans seem to only have a problem with the inconsistent application of the Prime Directive when it is being applied by Captain Janeway. Gee, I wonder why. Couldn't be that they have a chip on their shoulder regarding Voyager and therefore all the things that Star Trek normally does (break the PD, engage in technobabble) are suddenly capital offences when they are done by the crew of Voyager.

Wake up and smell the hypocrisy. Star Trek is all about technobabble and about seeking out ethical situations in which the crew will be forced to selectively break its own rules: it always has been about these things in every single series; Voyager is no exception. To all those who say Voyager sucks because of reset buttons and technobabble and bad use of PD, I guarantee you that I can find dozens of examples of those exact things in your favourite Star Trek series. End of line.
OpenEye - Mon, May 13, 2013 - 3:17am (USA Central)
Two remarks:

How can Seven have a hearable voice in a decompressed cargo bay?

Chakotay never had a neural transceiver implemented in his spine. It was just an on-skin device as seen in "Unity".
Michael - Sat, Jun 15, 2013 - 1:20pm (USA Central)
One really jarring thing in this episode for me: Kes' blood-curdling scream... - yet again. That broad is bimodal: either annoyingly arch-browed serene or hysterical.
Lt. Yarko - Thu, Jun 20, 2013 - 5:46am (USA Central)
Here's what bugged me about this episode:

1. Why is it when the good guys are facing an overwhelming enemy and are at their most vulnerable, the enemy only shows up in minimal force when they could have showed up with just a bit more force and completely obliterated the good guys? This is a common problem in later Trek when (because) a weaker Federation entity is confronted by an overwhelmingly superior force. Of course, I know the answer to this question. The good guys have to live, so the enemy can never bring all their force against them, even if it would be simple to do so. Whenever it served the plot for species 8472 to show up with 12 ships, they did. When it was just one Borg cube and Enterprise heading away from Borg space, only one enemy ship shows up! Well, that was lucky. I'm sure that some rationalization can be invented that would explain this, but it just seemed terribly convenient to the plot when it happened.

2. How in hell did Voyager security not consider the access that the Borg could gain to Voyager’s critical systems through a freaking Jeffries tube connected to the assimilated cargo bay? This one almost knocked me out of my chair. Chuckles warns, “If a single drone steps one millimeter out of that cargo bay…” Well, Seven got quite a lot further than a millimeter into the tube before the bridge crew finally sensed that she had, and they only sensed it because her interference was already messing with systems. Nice work, Chuckles and Tuvok. How can you threaten consequences from microscopic movement when you are not even watching the people you are threatening? As happens too often in Trek, Starfleet security is only as capable as the plot allows them to be.

3. I doubt Janeway’s decision to stay in the alternate universe and fight the enemy there. (I also doubt Seven’s decision to send Voyager there in the first place.) That just seemed like a really risky proposition if they had the option to go back to their home realm. And, it was convenient that the matter-filled universe didn’t cause any problems for a vehicle designed for the void of space.

4. Species 8472 sure is a terrible shot, isn’t it? This was a problem in DS9 also. The enemy always seems to miss (how can anyone miss with the advanced computering available to targeting systems in this future universe?) when it’s convenient for the goods guys, but the good guys always hit. Four enemy ships, four fired torpedoes, four direct hits, and four destroyed enemy ships. Blech.

These problems (and others that Jammer mentioned) really ruined this two parter for me. It just felt like more of the worst of Trek (attempted) epic story writing that was a real problem for DS9 on the whole and TNG to a more sporadic extent. I am reminded of how the Borg kidnapped Picard, and then just flew off without immediately destroying Enterprise. That was really a bad move given that the Enterprise would be the only Federation ship that would, on its own, be capable of defeating the cube.

Sigh.
Paul - Wed, Nov 13, 2013 - 11:32am (USA Central)
This is probably the best character exchange between Chakotay and Janeway in the entire series. Part 2 might be Chakotay's best episode.

But it's sad that we don't really see a change in the way the characters interact after this show. Like so much of Voyager, the lack of continuity just undercuts the series.
Latex Zebra - Sun, Dec 22, 2013 - 5:55pm (USA Central)
The weapon they use against 8472 is a bit... Well. Hardcore.
The Federation are nasty sods when they want to be.
Corey - Fri, Apr 11, 2014 - 9:57am (USA Central)
I loved how, when they no longer had use for the Voyager, the Borg swiftly began assimilating Janeway's ship. They get what they want, and then instantly break the alliance. Very machine-like and methodical.
Ric - Sat, Apr 12, 2014 - 5:18pm (USA Central)
Good episode, but once again we have to see the complete lack of security measures in Voyager. Nobody was watching what the Borg were doing in the cargo bay? Nobody can use a knife or something similar while the Borg is assimilating Voyager, since the Borg is resistant to the faser? Bleh.

In the end, however, it seems that we are going to get some good welcome continuity. And to be fair, the interaction between Chakotay and the captain remains a joy to watch.
Vylora - Wed, Aug 27, 2014 - 5:57am (USA Central)
Despite a couple of minor contrivances, this easily stands toe to toe with the previous episode.

I agree that Kim's recovery was a little too quick but I don't agree that the cure itself was "magical" or felt "the Doctor can cure anything". It was well-established what the cure was and what it entailed in part one. It wasn't as if he just whipped out a hypospray with a sudden announcement of a cure. As it is, though, he would've been better off staying in sickbay as his fresh-faced appearance on the bridge was nothing but a distraction. Especially as there was no point of him being in the episode. A simple acknowledgement that the cure was working and he was in recovery for a period of time would have been much better.

The Voyager being able to withstand attacks by the Undine is understandable given the nature of the situation. Having been at war with the Borg and been able to learn more about their defenses lends credibility that, at this point, the Undine would have more of an edge to say the least. Voyager, on the other hand, is a new element and therefore something new to adapt to. It may sound like I am reaching but it makes sense in my head. That being said, however, i do agree with the notion that Voyager got off a little too easy combat-wise. Although the modified torpedoes all hitting their targets in fluidic space made sense given the nature of the modifications. They were meant to disrupt the biology at a cellular level and were likely adapted to lock on to targets in the same way.

A continuation of the great dialogue from the previous episode along with some expected and some unexpected turns of plot makes this a standout Voyager two-parter. I think everything came together really well here and is very nearly as good as part one.

As an added bonus, we get Seven of Nine whom, despite the tired "VOY gets a babe" rhetoric, turns out to become one of the best characters on the series and will have potential that actually becomes utilized with some great stories and character growth.

4 stars.

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