Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Drone"

****

Air date: 10/21/1998
Teleplay by Bryan Fuller and Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
Story by Bryan Fuller and Harry Doc Kloor
Directed by Les Landau

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Maybe this is the collective's new strategy. They don't assimilate anymore, they just show up and look helpless." — Torres on the Borg

Nutshell: Very intriguing and poignant. Voyager at its best.

"Drone" opens with Seven looking into a mirror, practicing her smile. This is a wonderful scene. It works on the "cute" level, but there's a lot going on under the surface. It's quite clear that her smile is completely superficial. Seven doesn't feel like smiling, and she can't "feel" the smile when she makes it. It's just there. And knowing that frustrates her. In 20 seconds, without a single line of dialog, "Drone" has already managed to say something interesting about Seven: She's trying, but she's just not there yet—and it may be quite some time before she is.

"Drone" is one of the classic type of "human" Star Trek stories. What does it mean to be human and to have feelings? Why do we consider certain values so important? What kind of sacrifices should we make to serve the greater good? All of these questions have been asked dozens if not hundreds of times through the years of the Trek canon, but "Drone" does it as well as some of the best of them.

Once again, it accomplishes this through an analysis of Seven and the Borg. Voyager has played these cards many times, but when they're played as well as they are here, I'm hardly in a position to complain.

In this case, a freak transporter mishap causes Doc's mobile emitter to malfunction. And somehow, when Seven touches it, some of her Borg nanoprobes fuse with the holo-emitter technology. A bizarre technological process spontaneously erupts, and before long, Doc's emitter is assimilated by the nanoprobes, which in turn assimilates a Voyager computer station, turning it into a Borg maturation chamber. The chamber steals a sample of an ensign's DNA, and presto—a Borg fetus. It's surprising how plausible the episode makes this techno-evolution all seem. And the episode's visual conception of this process is neat—creepy and weird, and also irresistibly intriguing. Because this new Borg is based partially upon the 29th-century technology in Doc's emitter, there's the frightening prospect that this will become a very advanced new form of Borg drone.

So what's the prudent course of action? Pull the plug? Terminate the Borg before it can become a threat? Possibly. But that certainly wouldn't be the human thing to do, and it most definitely isn't what Janeway is going to do. The plan is to allow it to develop; since it won't have access to the Borg collective, the Voyager crew can train it to adopt human values. Janeway puts Seven in charge of this endeavor.

"Drone" is a primarily Seven-oriented episode, but it utilizes the ensemble much better than a lot of single-character-heavy shows. If "Drone" and "Night" are any indication, Voyager is doing a better job of balancing the cast than last season. (But somebody please promote Harry to lieutenant, already. Now he's an ensign who's running the bridge at night, for crying out loud.)

This episode is a melding of sorts of TNG's "The Offspring" and "I, Borg," as well as Voyager's "The Gift" from last season. It's not be the first episode of its kind, but who really cares? "Drone" is entertaining from beginning to end, working on every level—evoking mystery, fear, wonder, and eventually sympathy and pain.

The most noteworthy characteristic of "Drone" is that it made me care. Sure, some aspects of the story are more or less inevitable, but that didn't hurt the show because I felt for all parties involved in the plot—particularly Seven and the drone—and I was very caught up in the flow of the story.

Part of this arises out of the sense of amazement in watching this new Borg come to life. Within a day, it fully develops from fetus to adult. When Seven activates it, the drone is like an empty shell waiting for a set of instructions and a purpose—sort of like a computer with no operating system loaded. Being a Borg, the drone is able to assimilate information easily and quickly, which the crew provides in a manner that allows him to learn at an incredible pace.

J. Paul Boehmer, who plays the Borg drone, brings a detached sense of confused curiosity to the role, which proves immensely effective. He asks questions and is genuinely interested in learning the answers, but in some cases he doesn't understand the nature of the questions he asks or the answers he receives. He's extremely innocent, and certainly doesn't understand the nature of emotions, even though he obviously has them. But he's perceptive and is quick to clue in to the fact that people are nervous around him, as shown in a scene where he asks the Doctor, "Am I unwelcome here?"

Meanwhile, Seven helps him as best she can, but proceeds with caution when the subject of the Borg arises. There's that area of doubt—the question of whether the drone will seek out the collective if he learns about it. But as Janeway rightly says to Seven, they can't hide the nature of the Borg from him forever. The parent-child bond that begins to form between Seven and the drone (who adopts the appropriate name, "One") is quietly moving, especially the scene in the cargo bay where Seven shows One that he must regenerate in a Borg alcove. "Thank you," One tells her. Seven, caught off-guard, finds she can only repeat, "We must regenerate."

What's particularly interesting given this story's situation is that One is permitted the chance to become a very human, individualized Borg, unlike the individuals who are assimilated into the Borg collective and vanish into a hive bent on consuming everything it encounters.

When the moment comes when One must learn about the Borg collective, he exclaims, "I would like to experience the hive mind." The scene doesn't play out One's exclamation for us to fear, as one might initially expect. Rather, the scene as it unfolds demonstrates how Seven and the captain try to teach him about the nature of individuality, and how the Borg collective steals such individuality away from people forever. Slowly, they get through to him; One coming to grasp what it means to be an individual is a big part of "Drone's" appeal.

There's a significant action overture here, which also works on story terms, where the Borg collective learns of this drone's presence and sends a ship to intercept Voyager and assimilate him. What this demonstrates, alas, is the danger in adopting something so complex and inherently dangerous as a Borg. Even when the situation is seemingly controlled, an unknown variable can bring about disaster (in this case, One unknowingly sends a homing signal to the Borg). Before long, the Borg are looming in front of Voyager, spouting their usual threats of assimilation. The confrontation benefits from the typically impressive effects, including a spherical CG Borg ship.

Voyager's fate ultimately hangs on a noble sacrifice on One's part, who beams himself aboard the Borg ship and, with the aid of his superior technology, is able to take control and destroy it from within. It's not so much the confrontation with the Borg ship that's important; it's One's sacrifice that hits home. Even after One miraculously survives the destruction of the Borg ship, he denies himself emergency surgery once beamed back aboard Voyager. He realizes that his existence—an accident, as he even acknowledges—will put Voyager in danger if the Borg ever learn he survived.

I was moved by One's selfless act; who would've conceived of a selfless, noble Borg individual? Equally impressive is Seven's reaction to this sacrifice—which for her is a personal loss. Jeri Ryan's performance is heartfelt and on-target, leading into a finale that has no words, but just a silent Seven staring into the mirror like she was at the story's beginning. It's very nice, allowing the moment to speak for itself rather than offering us overly obvious dialog.

This ending peers into Seven's mind. She may not be able to make a smile work yet, but Seven knows partially what it means to feel and to be human. That may not be a particularly new concept in itself, but it's the fact that we've made additional progress—a step forward—that really counts.

"Drone" epitomizes the broadest concepts of Star Trek in its most visible forms. Everything that has always made Trek so accessible and appealing—new types of alien intelligence, action and special effects, neat gadgets—can be found here. But there's also the deeper meanings, questions, and emotions—the ongoing character analysis, the broad strokes of wonder and tragedy, the contemplation upon what makes us human. "Drone" is like the perfect balance of a little of everything, and the story pulls it all off within an appealing, pleasant, and quietly exciting hour. It's one of Voyager's best moments.

Next week: And one of the longest-standing Voyager mysteries is answered—how the crew goes about making new shuttles!

Previous episode: Night
Next episode: Extreme Risk

Season Index

30 comments on this review

Robert Murphy - Thu, Feb 14, 2008 - 10:58pm (USA Central)
I agree. This is a great moment in Voyager history. Although I never considered Voyager to be the best series in ST, this episode gave us a really good sci-fi story. I really wish they had given One a nice arc instead of a one off (lousy pun). This would probably have been too un-Voyagerlike, but I really think One deserved an arc. Of course he is too powerful to keep in the story forever, so they would have had to eventually kill him off, perhaps selflessly killing Borg, or some other threat, but that could come after the crew (and the viewers) got really attached to him over a longer period of time. It would have been much sadder and would have made this season a better one. There was so much potential in this One character -his parts are from the future! He is the strongest Borg alive, and he's on our side! So many cool things could have come from this concept. It's such a shame that it all ended in one show... but such is the way with Voyager... sigh.
Stefan - Fri, Mar 21, 2008 - 4:18pm (USA Central)
This episode is similar to Tuvix. The transporter accidentally leads to a merger. The merger results in a new individual. In a very dramatic climax, the new individual is killed. At least this time Captain Janeway didn't murder the new individual, although that possibility was brought up during the episode.
Dirk Hartmann - Fri, May 9, 2008 - 4:23am (USA Central)
I loved this episode. Actually, I even enjoyed it more the second time around because during the first time I watched it, I constantly feared that the story would eventually decline into a predictable "drone gets out of control, goes on a rampage and must be stopped" setting. Boy, am I glad it didn't!
John Pate - Mon, Jan 19, 2009 - 4:40pm (USA Central)
This was a solid episode and the story played out well. The drone had to die at the end, he was simply too powerful not to overwhelm subsequent storylines by being more than a match for any challenges "Voyager" faced - presumably it wouldn't have taken him long to fix up transwarp drive for "Voyager" or figure out howto make "Quantum Slipstream" drive function. Still looks good in 2009. Classic "Voyager."
EP - Thu, Feb 26, 2009 - 4:27pm (USA Central)
The setup required another transporter accident...sigh...but at least it serves the purpose of creating a good story, as opposed to, say, hyper-aging.

Unfortunately, the Doctor continues to become more shrill and tedious with each passing episode. His utter petulance when he calls up Torres at dawn to find out about his mobile emitter is played for laughs, but it only served to annoy and remind viewers that the chain of command is quickly breaking down on this ship.
Straha - Tue, Mar 3, 2009 - 4:24pm (USA Central)
It's amazing that this episode, which in a way is quite derivative of TNG's "I, Borg", still somehow manages to be a masterpiece in its own right.
Remco - Wed, Jul 15, 2009 - 6:15am (USA Central)
"Terminate the Borg before it can become a threat? Possibly. But that certainly wouldn't be the human thing to do, and it most definitely isn't what Janeway is going to do."

I seem to remember a certain murder of Tuvix. That wasn't even a threat. Janeway just liked Tuvok and Neelix better.
Will - Tue, Oct 27, 2009 - 9:50am (USA Central)
People liked this? I thought it was just a copy of I, Borg. I could see the ending a mile off.
Paul - Thu, Feb 25, 2010 - 6:26pm (USA Central)
I've enjoyed watching Voyager, since about mid season 4, but it does like its lack of continuity. So in this episode, we see that the Doc's emitter is effectively inside the Drone's brain. So can we take it then that it is unserviceable? Nope, we need the Doc to be mobile again, so 2 episodes later, he has it at his disposal once more! Grr.

navamske - Sun, Aug 1, 2010 - 4:41pm (USA Central)
The biggest plot hole in this nonetheless enjoyable episode is the clear implication that since the Super Borg dies, the regular Borg lose interest in the mobile emitter. The twenty-fourth-century Borg would be interested in that emitter -- hell, interested in any twenty-ninth-century technology -- whether it's a standalone piece of equipment or whether it's embedded in the Super Borg's head. I can accept that they didn't know of its existence until they made contact with One, but now that they know about it they should be frantic to get their hands on it.

We know from "First Contact" that the Borg have time-travel capability. I guess they're limited to going into the past; otherwise, they'd be traveling to the future to get all sorts of techno-goodies.
Cloudane - Tue, Nov 23, 2010 - 6:15pm (USA Central)
This wasn't bad, but don't think I'd have given it 4 stars. It seemed to use every cliché in the book, recycled a LOT of stuff and ended up with the usual Voyager reset button plotting (how convenient that the borg survived in a way that has never been known before, just long enough to get the mobile emitter back!)

A little bit of amusement is how One's walk seems to match that of Kryten in Red Dwarf. Maybe they should have put him in charge of laundry :-)

Don't know about how Janeway has become at this point. "Stubborn as a Klingon" is about right, but she didn't seem to rule out murder. "I'd *prefer* not to" isn't good enough and very unbecoming of a respected Starfleet captain IMHO! I'd taken Tuvix as a bit of a "forget about it, the writers weren't thinking" type episode, but to have that ruthless nature show up again, even if it wasn't acted upon... hmm.

It did have its good points. Seven losing One (does that make her Six?!) was pretty powerful, and far more effective than Data losing Lal. I appreciate what the episode tried to do, and I didn't hate it like it sounds, but I'd struggle to give it this kind of glowing review.

On another positive side, at least they had gone back to the concept of a manned transporter room. Poor Kim gets a break from being blamed for the Transporter Difficulty of the Week!
Jay - Sat, Jan 29, 2011 - 12:52pm (USA Central)
Seven says the Borg assimilate rather than reproducing in this fashion, but way back in Q-Who? they showed a nursery where Borg are born biologically and then immediately fitted with implants.
Iceblink - Mon, Jul 25, 2011 - 3:56am (USA Central)
This episode was engaging and compelling, but no way was it a four-star effort. For me it was far too derivative of "I Borg" and I had a problem with the guy playing the Borg - while his delivery was often fine, he still played it far too 'cutesy' at times and his walk was hilarious - whenever he moved it was so obvious it was an actor trying hard to 'do the robot'. As someone said he walked like Kryten from Red Dwarf. I also wonder at Voyager's decision to make the Borg speak like regular humans - why didn't they use the vocoder effect they used on Locutus and Hugh, for example? That was highly effective and made the Borg seem more Borg. I also didn't buy the climax in this episode and One's self-sacrifice. Nothing in the story really justifies One's willingness to make sacrifice himself for the Voyager crew - it was obviously just done because the writers had backed themselves into a corner and had to end the story. As a result I found the climax lacked the emotional resonance it really thought it had. As I said, it was an engaging episode, but ultimately didn't quite work for me. 3 stars from me.
Saebin - Tue, Aug 9, 2011 - 12:05am (USA Central)
Although there were certain things I didn't like about this episode, I thought the portrayal of the borg was refreshing. Hugh from TNG was more like a wussy child, not an intimidating presence that could actually instill fear.

Although One's movements were more robotic, he was a new drone and a new being... and I found the mouth and body movements helped to show this (move here, say this) as well as create unease and uncertainty of how he would react, would the borg side win over?

Overall I wish this episode would have been split into two... things happened too quickly and made his quick development seem somewhat unbelievable and didn't allow long enough for the viewer to emotionally connect with him.
Justin - Sun, Apr 29, 2012 - 10:40am (USA Central)
"now that (The Borg) know about (Doc's mobile emitter) they should be frantic to get their hands on it."

@navamske, as far as The Borg are concerned One died in the sphere explosion and the emitter (even if they did know that *it* was responsible for his existence in the first place) was destroyed with him.

"Nothing in the story really justifies One's willingness to sacrifice himself for the Voyager crew"

@Iceblink, I disagree. When One assimilated all of the information he was given on humanity and human history, he learned about the concept of self-sacrifice. His interactions with the crew and his understanding of the inherent dangerousness of his own existence led him to make that sacrifice.

"(this episode) seemed to use every cliché in the book"

@Cloudane, in my mind that's one of the reasons it is such a great episode. It does use clichés, but the story is so powerful, it manages to transcend all of them.

As Jammer said, there's a little bit of everything here that makes Trek what it is. In fact, episodes like this are why I watch Star Trek in the first place and continued to watch Voyager even during its worst days. I suffered through the boredom of the Kazon, the insanity of "Threshold," and the high-concept ridiculousness of "Demon" to get to episodes like "Drone." Occasional brilliance was inevitable with a cast this good and characters this interesting.
Reichu - Wed, May 16, 2012 - 11:09pm (USA Central)
The whole time I was watching this, I was waiting for One to meet his "father". One's biological component is based on a *member of Voyager's crew*. That could have serviced the story and One's character development in so many ways.
Jay - Fri, Jun 22, 2012 - 4:58pm (USA Central)
I'm wondering why B'Ehlanna would have a towel next to a sonic shower...there's nothing to dry afterwards...
xaaos - Sat, May 11, 2013 - 11:56am (USA Central)
A great episode. The best scene was when One transported into the Borg sphere and pwned the 2 Borg drones who tried to stop him. That was hilarious.
skadoo - Wed, Jul 10, 2013 - 11:43am (USA Central)
@Jay - good point it should have been a robe instead of a towel. But the scene bothered me. "Look we can sexually exploit another actress in the series..."
Ian - Thu, Jul 25, 2013 - 4:34am (USA Central)
Forget the absurdity of these magical nanoprobes creating a new living being etc...
How about the thought of the doctor frantically ripping into the drones skull to remove his mobile emitter...
Thats entertainment....
Nancy - Sun, Aug 4, 2013 - 5:04am (USA Central)
I too noted the plot holes and derivative nature of the show but at the end when One dies, I got choked up. This story was emotionally compelling and that's good enough for me.
Yanks - Fri, Aug 16, 2013 - 12:42pm (USA Central)
Wonderful Star Trek. Easily 4 stars.

SEVEN: You must comply. Please, you are hurting me.
ONE: You will adapt.

snif...snif...
Kempt - Tue, Oct 8, 2013 - 3:41am (USA Central)
One was only dying on his human biological side. What happened to Seven's Borg technology that can revive a dead person "up to 72 hours after death" like she did for Neelix?
Alessandro17 - Thu, Oct 10, 2013 - 5:13pm (USA Central)
I am watching again Voyager. It was the first complete series I watched about 8 years ago.
Well, what to say? Drone is a refreshing change from Voyager's dominant theme: the evil alien. At list in DS9 there was only one relentless villain, the Dominion. In Voyager, from the Kazon to the Malon (that is what I am watching now) they are all bad guys. Even the good ones have something "wrong".
In this episode "humanity" shamelessly wins over other considerations. Best episode thus far.
Nick - Sat, Nov 2, 2013 - 7:18pm (USA Central)
Overall a pretty good episode, another nice vehicle for Seven to demonstrate progress on her journey to rejoining the human race. Gotta agree with others that the plot was incredibly derivative, with the ending fully predictable lightyears away.

When one considers the disastrous previous encounters with the borg, galaxy wide battles with hundreds of cubes and millions of drones, Janeway should have aborted the drone fetus in a heart beat. For the sake of the ship and crew, how suicidal is she to take on such a risk? Indeed, the drone ended up summoning a borg sphere.

That said, Tuvix was a more compelling 'transporter malfunction' episode, mainly because it forced the Voyager crew (particularly Janeway) to make a moral decision on behalf of a new lifeform - that choice being forced euthanasia. --- or was it cold blooded murder? Depends on your point of view.

In Drone, we get noble self-sacrifice, not unlike Spock in Star Trek II. Though obviously the ending was necessary for the sake of continuity of voyager, it failed to bring anything new to the moral universe of star trek - it merely reinforced well trodden tropes. Furthermore, at no point in the episode did actions of the crew have any meaningful impact on the course of events - they were just extraneous window-dressing. However, Seven did learn yet another consequence of being human, suffering emotional loss. A longer denouement could have fleshed out these new emotional scars.
Ric - Sat, Apr 19, 2014 - 2:45am (USA Central)
Holy Trek. Aside from the very implausible, silly, ludicrous explanation for how One was "born", the rest of the episode was pure joy to watch. Oh mine, it is amazing how much Seven has added to this show. The final of the episode, the dialogue, and how it builds upon Seven's contexto is just really really good.

I also enjoyed quite a lot the portrayal of One, as well as the actíng behind him. They ressembled the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz, in the way he moved, talked and, most touching, both the facial expressions in between machine and human and the way he looked at the others.

Loved this one.
James - Thu, May 1, 2014 - 1:07pm (USA Central)
I loved this episode. This one really shined, and is by far one of my favorites of Voyager. ST VOY really should have had many more episodes along these lines (not necessarily with the Borg, but overall).

Although they had Geordi make a cameo appearance for the episode: Timeless, and DeLance reprise his role as The Q between Barkley here or there, what Voyager really needed was an appearance of Commander Data (perhaps even Lore) in the Delta quadrant.

What a trip that would have been if of all things, Lore had to teach the drone the aspects of NOT being evil having learned lessons from Data and others...between Seven of Nine trying to be a mother to One.

Honestly though, I think that they should have saved One until the end and combined his existence with Endgame for the most powerful season finale / Star Trek ending ever.

Could you imagine what it would have been like for One and Admiral Janeway to have teamed up and worked together to jump from one Borg ship to the next before encountering and doing a final Battle with the Borg Queen?

And although Admiral Janeway manages to save the lives of the crew, Seven and the Voyager crew are able to return to earth and survive not just because of Admiral Janeway's sacrifice...but also because of One's.

Seven then would have to deal with knowing that One was gone, but his sacrifice was to get them home as well as to save their lives with Admiral Janeway.

The end of the story could have shown Seven of Nine looking in that exact same mirror at the end, only on Earth as the final scene after they made it home...and as the last human on Voyager before she steps out onto the planet for the first time since she was a child herself.

What do you think?

Would that have been too haunting to end the show with and final season?
Dom - Wed, Jun 18, 2014 - 6:18pm (USA Central)
I found this to be just a redo of "I, Borg" with better special effects and less compelling drama. The whole process of growing the Borg out of stolen cells seemed too contrived for me. The actors depiction of the Borg just wasn't convincing either - a far cry from the mechanical and chilling performances of the TNG era Borg.
Horg - Thu, Oct 9, 2014 - 5:08pm (USA Central)
Well I thought Janeway had completely lost her marbles, the most advanced borg ever, clearly a dangerous threat to the ship and everyone in it and she decides to let it live.
mark - Thu, Dec 11, 2014 - 6:34pm (USA Central)
I thought One's decision to resist the Borg was completely unearned by the plot. He spends a few days with the Voyager crew and suddenly he's willing to die for them? He has no human sense of morality, so I don't see how he could be so moved by the plight of those that the Borg assimilate. When he finally learned the Borg's history he reacted to it the way a human being would, but he's not a human being. When he finally made contact with them it would have made far more sense for him to embrace them rather than fight them.

The greater problem though, is that the episode was sappy. I thought the same thing about "I, Borg". Episodes like this serve to neuter the Borg as adversaries. I will say that Jeri Ryan was enjoyable to watch as always though, and like T'Pol on Enterprise, she's my favorite part of this show.

Even

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