Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Infinite Regress"

***

Air date: 11/25/1998
Teleplay by Robert J. Doherty
Story by Robert J. Doherty & Jimmy Diggs
Directed by David Livingston

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"You are strong. You will make an excellent mate."
"GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME!"

— Seven as a Klingon, and Torres on defense

Nutshell: There's not all that much to the story, but what's here is executed well.

"Infinite Regress" is a true example of high concept. From the critical view, there's a weird phenomenon about high concept: It sends the mind, if only for a brief moment, into a bizarre series of gauging stages. In the first stage, the mind suspends analysis in favor of a sense of adventure, saying to itself, "Wow, that's a really cool idea." In the second stage, the mind's skepticism retorts, "But wait a minute—that's really just a shallow gimmick." In the third stage, the mind uses reason to strike a balance between the first two thoughts, with the sentiment, "Let's wait and see how they handle this idea, because it could just as easily work as fall flat."

Okay, maybe that's just my own thought process, but you get the point. A high concept's ability to suck you in can turn out to be its own undoing because of the question: Where can the story go from its setup as pitched?

The five-words-or-less pitch for "Infinite Regress": "Borg multiple personality disorder." Okay, so now what?

Well, if you can assemble some good performances and a good director, you might have something here. At least, you'd better hope so, because there isn't all that much meat to the story ... although there's an abundance of technobabble (albeit tolerable technobabble) and plot procedures that are somewhat arbitrarily conjured.

This is an episode that could've come off as pedestrian, but thanks to the skilled David Livingston (one of my favorite Trek directors) it ends up being intriguing and at times fairly intense and haunting.

What's causing Seven to experience "Borg multiple personality disorder," you ask? The crew's investigation leads it to the debris of a destroyed Borg vessel, where they find the Borg ship's "vinculum" is still functioning. The vinculum suppresses individuality in Borg drones, regulating and organizing their thought patterns for maximum efficiency in the hive mind. It "brings order to chaos," as Janeway aptly puts it. But somehow this vinculum is transmitting a signal that is causing Seven's brain implants to malfunction and bring forward the repressed personalities of other individuals the Borg had assimilated.

The crew must now shut down the vinculum in order to solve Seven's problem. Destroying the vinculum without first initiating a proper shutdown would not be a great idea because Seven could suffer brain damage. (PC users take note: This is what happens when you don't shut down Windows before turning off your computer—you get brain damage.)

The can of worms of course is: If this vinculum had been 5,000 light-years away, and Seven couldn't escape its side effects because it "permeates subspace" (you gotta love those tech rationales!), she would essentially be screwed. I can't see Janeway following a signal for five years to cure Seven of multiple personality disorder. But never mind; I'm reaching here. My point is simply that any plot device that alleges the ability to affect something half a galaxy away makes me somewhat uneasy.

"Infinite Regress" is primarily plot-driven. As such, there are some well-played ideas here to go along with the dubious ones. For example, I liked the subtle exchange where Janeway reluctantly agrees to bring the vinculum on board the ship so Seven can deactivate it. Janeway's skepticism is appropriate: Not only is there the "Trojan horse" issue, but one would think something as important-sounding as a "vinculum" might draw further Borg attention—and, personally, I wouldn't want to be caught dead with it when they came looking.

Naturally, the crew's attempts to shut down the vinculum are complicated by the fact that some nearby aliens had intentionally corrupted it with a virus designed to spread through the Borg collective and wreak havoc on as many Borg ships as possible. These aliens, listed in Seven's Borg database as Species 6339 (we never learn what they call themselves), want the vinculum back, because it is a Trojan horse—and they want the Borg to re-assimilate it. It's their retaliation for the bulk of their society being assimilated four years ago. (As a side note, it's an episode like this, among other Voyager offerings, that makes me wonder how it is the Borg decide whom they're going to attack and when.)

These aliens provide an understandable, but all-too-routine conflict. Their captain, Ven (Neil Maffin), is at least is willing to talk to Janeway, but when she refuses to turn over the vinculum to them until Torres can disable it, Ven opts to attempt taking it by force. This leads to the requisite battle sequence, etc. Although these aliens are provided with just enough motivation to avoid falling into the usual Hard-Headed Aliens of the Week paradigm, I couldn't help but think there was a more inventive way the writers could've handled this.

But forget all this, because it's not what makes "Infinite Regress" work (which doesn't say much about my ability to write in inverted pyramid style). This episode's selling point is its high concept implications—Seven exhibiting multiple personalities.

I would imagine such a device would be a lot of fun for an actor. Here, Jeri Ryan gets to show a much more diverse range, as buried personalities hijack control of Seven's mind, making her act out the parts of a lustful Klingon, a greedy Ferengi, a logical Vulcan, playful and scared children, a terrified Starfleet officer looking for a loved one who was supposed to rendezvous with her at Wolf 359 (oops), and so forth. "Infinite Regress" walks the line between compelling chaos and outright excess, but Livingston and Ryan keep the story on track.

A lot of this is interesting to watch simply because it's so un-Seven-like. There's one scene where a 6-year-old personality emerges and plays a game with little Naomi Wildman (a character who is starting to grow on me). Jeri Ryan dives head-first into the role in a way that, in another actor's hands, could've made the whole idea look silly, but here works well. Other characters, like the Klingon personality who tries to (ahem) jump Torres in engineering, highlight Ryan sporting a confidence that strikes me as refreshing: She's going all the way out there whether it ultimately works or not. And for me, it worked. Even if it didn't work, she'd still get an A for effort.

The final act, in which Tuvok mind melds with Seven to keep her individuality from disappearing into nothingness while Torres attempts to take the vinculum off-line is an exercise in blurringly fast-paced, pure technique. There's an interesting metaphor used to show the struggle inside Seven's mind, as we see Tuvok trying to find Seven on a Borg ship, while all of the other people in Seven's mind shout and get in his way. The way this is shot is eerie and intense; I thought it worked very well. In particular, the little girl screaming for help was effective and unsettling. The extreme cinematic chaos utilized in this sequence effectively conveys the chaos in Seven's mind. Meanwhile, chaos breaks loose on Voyager as the 6339s open fire.

Sporting hyperactive camera movements and even one noticeable jump cut (Livingston betrays his secretly repressed desire to direct an episode of Homicide), the final act pushes the envelope in a way that borders on excess—as we cross-cut between the 6339s' attack on Voyager, the battle inside Seven's mind, and Torres' frantic attempt to disable the vinculum. Livingston pushes almost too hard, but I still liked the net result.

If this episode is truly about anything substantive on a character level, it's that Seven has reached a point of no return in her evolution. She can no longer bear the voices that she once needed to survive as a part of the collective. Instead, she has come to appreciate her social ties. She is grateful to the crew for risking themselves to help her. And at the end she reaches out to Naomi, whom we suspect reminds Seven of something she herself never completed—her childhood. The story doesn't analyze these themes in any deep or groundbreaking way, but what's here is pleasant.

"Infinite Regress" is a superior example of an episode in the spirit of stories like "One" and "The Raven," which all fall into their own Voyager genre: Borg psychological thrillers. I liked it. It has energy and a strangely appealing impudence. It shoots for the moon at times, but, hey—if it works, it works.

Next week: Torres bonds with an alien—literally—requiring treatment from a Cardassian hologram. (Say what?)

Previous episode: Timeless
Next episode: Nothing Human

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19 comments on this review

TH - Tue, Mar 25, 2008 - 4:48pm (USA Central)
The biggest hole I found in this episode was the conversation between Chakotay and the Captain where she says she's wondering if he was right that they could never bring Seven "into the fold". I have a hard time believing that Janeway would take this technological borg problem of the week and actually have it in her mind that this is an internal Seven problem, and not some external force acting upon her. As an audience member, clearly this is a problem of the week that will be solved by show's end with no ill effects. I simply can't see how Janeway can take this incident (it's like an illness) to shake her confidence in Seven's ability to become human. It's not the kind of incident where Seven willingly defied orders or the chain of command because of her borg hard-headedness. This was completely beyond her control.
TH - Tue, Mar 25, 2008 - 5:06pm (USA Central)
PS: I also had a problem with the Doc calling Tuvok's mindmeld idea "Vulcan mumbo jumbo" after telling him in a previous episode that he was programmed with the knowledge of all of the experts on mind melds; it seemed very out of character. In the same scene, Tuvok tells Janeway that the risk is his to take, and she agrees - I'd have expected her to have questioned him on that one, saying that she couldn't let him put himself at risk as his captain. Again, uncharacteristic.

I should also point out that Doc tells Seven about the mindmeld idea, well after he has informed the captain that Seven is completely gone and the other personalities have taken over. She was around for quite a long time too, considering earlier he said that she was changing identities without even being able to complete a sentence.

The cheesy looking shower curtain and masking tape alien outfits didn't help the episode.

I didn't like this one as much as you did, it seems.
Ensign Sturdy Neutron - Fri, Nov 20, 2009 - 8:02am (USA Central)
I'm not sure what to make of Jeri Ryan's performance in this episode. At times she's very good, but at other times she embarrassingly bad. She gets it right most of the time though. Still, it's just another one of those Seven's Borg technology malfunctions (again!) episodes. From Seasons 4-7, there were far too many Seven episodes, and they almost made Chakotay an extra in many episodes.
John Pate - Thu, Feb 25, 2010 - 4:38am (USA Central)
I like this one a lot. A four star for Voyager fans.
Paul - Thu, Feb 25, 2010 - 6:32pm (USA Central)
No, best line is

'With all these personalities around, shame we can't find one for you Tuvok'.
Michael - Tue, Jun 29, 2010 - 1:05pm (USA Central)
Seven to that annoyingly precocious kid: "Naomi Wildman, subunit of Ensign Samantha Wildman, state your intentions." HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! That's worth five stars right there.

I wish they'd let Seven and the Doctor stay their synthetic selves, rather than trying to turn them human all the time.
navamske - Fri, Sep 3, 2010 - 8:08pm (USA Central)
At one point Seven mentIons a Starfleet vessel that was assimilated "thirteen years ago." That would have been before Q introduced the Enterprise to the Borg, and wasn't that supposed to be the first time any vessel manned by Federation people (except for the Hansens') had any contact with the Borg?
Cloudane - Fri, Dec 3, 2010 - 2:47pm (USA Central)
This is a 4-star for me.. loved it. Okay it was no "inner light" but it's one of those type of episodes where the character work is so good that it makes the plot mostly irrelevant. So I didn't mind the little glitches really.

Others have had multiple personality episodes... I seem to remember Nana Visitor had a good one in DS9 for example... Jeri Ryan really shines with this instance of it though, probably one of the best of the lot.

If I have any gripe at all it's not about the episode but about Voyager as a series from 4 onwards: Jeri Ryan steals the show. She's great, this episode was great, but all the other cast go completely ignored. I'd like to see some of the others get a bit of characterisation once in a while! (except Neelix, as he's back to being annoying like in season 1)
Justin - Tue, May 1, 2012 - 2:22pm (USA Central)
I liked this episode a lot. It showed that the possibilities for the character of Seven and the idea of the Borg were practically endless. Jeri Ryan's portrayal of Seven was easily as good as Brent Spiner's Data. It's really no wonder the best episodes of Voyager often revolved around her.

@Michael, Star Trek in all its incarnations is in its heart of hearts a study of the human condition. Based on this and many of your past comments, it is clearly not the show for you.
Jelendra - Wed, May 2, 2012 - 7:20am (USA Central)
I enjoyed Jeri Ryan's acting in this one. She doesnt portray all of the roles perfect (Her Vulcan falls flat) but she manages quite well with the others. I like this one. Species 6339's reasoning makes a lot of sense as well...
T'Paul - Fri, Apr 12, 2013 - 6:26pm (USA Central)
Although I often disagree with him, this time I have to agree about the subunit of Ensign Wildman, a laugh out loud moment if ever there was one... I think it was an interesting episode, but I would perhaps have delved more into the idea of Seven's guilt about her role/actions in the collective, that could have been more interesting and had more impact.
Jo Jo Meastro - Mon, Jun 3, 2013 - 8:11am (USA Central)
Not much to add except that I really liked this one, it was very effective and it had a certain energy and freshness about it. It struck a good balance between action and drama, had just the right amount of humour and it services character over plot manipulations. I especially enjoyed the ending sequence with the mind meld, it was original and chilling and an excellent pay-off to the story. Perhaps this will help develop a bond or a friendship between 7 and Tuvok, after all these two can learn a lot from each other as they both continue to adapt to our perplexing human ways. Even if such a friendship/relationship doesn't end up happening, this episode is still above the standard Voyager faire IMO. 3.5/4
Jonathan Baron - Wed, Jun 12, 2013 - 5:36pm (USA Central)
Balanced against my sympathy for the people who created the weapon was the horror that it made eternal all the anguish and fear of all Borg victims. Yet I wonder - did they give species 6339 such ludicrous early Doctor Who outfits so that we'd have less sympathy for them?
Nancy - Sun, Aug 4, 2013 - 9:13pm (USA Central)
The sequences with all the assimilated personalities screaming in terror - including children - were absolutely terrifying. Well-directed.
Tom - Sat, Aug 31, 2013 - 3:33pm (USA Central)
I wish Star Fleet had apprised them of the new uniform specs with that data burst in season 4. Those TNG uniforms look awful by comparison.

Caine - Mon, Nov 25, 2013 - 8:39am (USA Central)
To me this episode marks the point where Jeri "Eye Candy" Ryan made it absolutely clear that she's more than a walking, talking wet dream.
Sure, I'm still convinced she was hired (and dressed) to keep the male audience coming back for more week after week, but luckily they also got a skilled individual at the same time they hired that killer body and big blue eyes.

Ryan's acting is stellar - she glides in and out of the many characters seemlessly, making each and every character believable (and sometimes hillarious) with a lot of empathy.
Wonderful job!

The girl playing Naomi Wildman should also be commended: she's not just adorable, her way of delivering lines is great and she has a superb screen presence.

A different note about the episode:
This is one of the VERY few Trek episodes I've seen that made me question whether children should watch it. The sequence where Tuvok is inside 7's nightmare is really disturbing!
Kevin - Mon, Jan 20, 2014 - 3:52am (USA Central)
The interactions with species 6339 were almost a throw-away subplot, but I think that this was one of the most frightening parts of the episode. The Borg are relentlessly bad in Trek (although freed drones are almost universally good...), and the Borg are the most terrifying force in the galaxy. However, the fact that species 6339 had created and deployed biological weapons of mass destruction against them got me thinking about how far Trek was willing to go in this arena. Species 6339 had already been assimilated - there was no ongoing conflict with the Borg - this was just a revenge weapon. And according to the aliens, it wasn't intended to defeat the borg, just inflict a lot of damage. The fact that the writers didn't have Janeway question the use of such a weapon at all was a bit disappointing to me. Yes, the episode was better without delving into that topic, but that's an awfully potent throw-away story that shows some of the dark side of the Federation, imho.

On a side note, Jeri Ryan's performance was quite good. Not amazing, but believable in every role. The transitions were crisp and the personalities were kept distinct, rather than feeling like it's just the (adjective) version of the main character like so many multiple personality TV shows. The performance was comparable to Toni Collette's acting on United States of Tara, although the characters were a bit too stereotypical and cliched. She's got real chops.
Jack - Thu, Oct 23, 2014 - 3:19pm (USA Central)
The midnight snacker ate an animal leg Neelix was saving for some ensign's birthday, but with Voyager's compliment, someone on Voyager is likely having a birthday every three or four days...is it really that special?
Jack - Thu, Oct 23, 2014 - 3:38pm (USA Central)
TH said:

"The biggest hole I found in this episode was the conversation between Chakotay and the Captain where she says she's wondering if he was right that they could never bring Seven "into the fold". I have a hard time believing that Janeway would take this technological borg problem of the week and actually have it in her mind that this is an internal Seven problem, and not some external force acting upon her."

I get where you're coming from, but I saw Janeway's comments more as meaning that Seven's Borg nature may leave her vulnerable to a number of unique and unpredictable situations, of which this is but one, which may make reclaiming Seven chronically problematic.

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