Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Child's Play"


Air date: 3/8/2000
Teleplay by Raf Green
Story by Paul Brown
Directed by Mike Vejar

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"When the project began, they wanted to clone Naomi. But I suggested they start with something smaller." — Seven on potato cloning, a Borg-kid science project

Nutshell: A very nicely acted hour, though I'm not so sure aspects of the twist ending are completely fair to the viewer.

"Child's Play" is a well-acted study of characters who find themselves in emotionally difficult situations and have to make tough choices. For a long time, the story seems like one of the most fairly and even-handedly developed sci-fi child-custody issues that could possibly have been conceived given the setup material. But there's a twist ending that exists to give the episode some action zip and additional plotting intrigue. The twist ultimately works in story terms, but it somewhat undermines some of the earlier drama. After watching characters who ring so true given their apparent motivations, it's a bit frustrating to see that half their heartfelt dialog turns out to be laced with lies and deception.

The episode centers on (who else?) Seven of Nine, who has been successful in helping the Borg children adjust to life on Voyager. But her attachment could be nearing the end for the oldest of the children, Icheb; the crew has located the boy's parents, and they have set course to return him to his homeworld, Brunali.

Brunali is located right next to the exit of a Borg transwarp conduit. "Not exactly prime real estate," Paris notes in his typical metaphorical one-liner fashion. The Brunali comprise a primarily agrarian culture that has suffered numerous attacks by its Borg neighbors. The Borg usually leave the Brunali alone—unless they detect technology that's of enough interest to them. The Brunali therefore do everything they can to maintain a low profile and keep any advanced technology under wraps. Why don't they relocate?, Seven asks. Because home is home, and the Brunali won't be bullied by the Borg.

Icheb's parents, Yifay (Tracey Ellis) and Leucon (Mark A. Sheppard) are portrayed as understanding people. There's no forced conflict here. Yes, they certainly want their son back, but they're not made to be unreasonable forces against Seven, which is a good thing. They're characters who are not scripted unfairly, and the guest performances are on par.

"Child's Play" is the sort of basic story that for a long time doesn't have much plotting but instead simply and slowly analyzes a situation with its characters. Scenes exist to reveal attitudes and gradual understanding through sensible dialog that fits the situation. The story takes a simple problem and cranks it through various details that grow naturally from what's going on, as Icheb starts out wanting nothing to do with his parents, then gradually becomes open to the idea of returning home to live with them.

There's really no reason to describe these scenes in great detail. My analysis of most of the episode simply comes down to, "Yeah, that's a sensibly written scene." I'll also point out that the performances are right on target. I'm trying to remember the last time I criticized a Jeri Ryan performance, and I'm not sure if I even have. I won't be here, either; Ryan is once again the key to making us believe in the problem at hand. Seven has a lot of emotions at stake here, and we can see that she truly wants what's best for Icheb, while we also see that it pains her to send him back with parents that even to Icheb are strangers. Manu Intiraymi works well as Icheb in these scenes, taking the less-is-more approach of Borgish rendition. (There are, of course, also the typically solid Janeway/Seven discussions.)

I also liked the way this episode tied Seven's dilemma into her past involving her own parents. Part of Seven's skepticism concerning Icheb's parents boils down to the fact that she understands his needs as a liberated Borg better than his parents possibly can, and that his options on Voyager will better allow him to exploit his talents and interests in space travel. But there's also her worry of parental irresponsibility. Seven fears Icheb will be reassimilated if the Borg come visiting the Brunali world again, and the Brunali's determination for staying on the planet seems at odds with Icheb's well-being. Seven notes a connection here with her own parents' recklessness in chasing after Borg cubes. The situation hits her close to home. It's a character-history point that makes a great deal of sense.

As I already mentioned, "Child's Play" features a plot twist that the writers cleverly launch upon us near the end of the fourth act. It involves Icheb's parents turning out to have hidden motives, on the account that Icheb was really a bio-engineered weapon who was genetically altered at birth to develop a pathogen that would infect the Borg. His assimilation was intentional, and Icheb's parents plan to "deploy" him again, launching him toward the transwarp conduit in a ship designed to attract Borg attention.

Once Seven and the captain figure out what's really going on, we get an action premise where Voyager must rescue Icheb before the Borg capture him. Structurally, this is kind of weird, because we have a slow-moving hour for most of the way, and then suddenly we get what I'm opting to call the weekly Voyager Action Insert—the mandatory isolated action sequence that exists in the final act of so many episodes simply because the creators believe viewers will not tolerate an action-free show. (And preferably, something in the Action Insert needs to get blown up.) Hey, I have nothing against explosions, and I even think the blown-up Borg sphere here manages to work on its given terms (and is executed with some vigor). But I also feel a bit iffy about the fact that such sincere material (Icheb's parents coaxing him to return home) is instantly turned on its head into something so sinister. Within barely two minutes of screen time, we go from a story about one child to a story about defending a planet from Borg by using one child as a time bomb. That's not a huge problem given the way it all plays out, but it doesn't exactly seem like the story we started with.

The episode depicts the parents as people who are acting in the interests of a greater good—the protection of their planet from the Borg—but one wonders exactly how this plan is supposed to work given the way "Collective" resulted in the destruction of only one ship, left abandoned. Speaking of, the way this episode ties in with "Collective" is interesting, and shows that the writers might actually have been thinking a few shows ahead (!) when they wrote it.

But what really carries the show are the Seven/Icheb scenes and the emotional undercurrents. The final scene does a good job of reflecting on the actions of Icheb's parents. Seven calls those actions "barbaric," but Icheb's response isn't to wonder whether he can forgive his parents, but whether they can forgive him for failing to become the weapon he was intended to be.

The questions here, I think, look at this boy's odd place in life. Was Icheb's purpose preordained, and was being rescued by Voyager providing him a second chance to live a real life? If his original purpose in life was to destroy Borg, was he led astray by a combination of fate and Voyager's actions? Or was he freed from an enslaved existence supplied to him by his parents? Does defending a planet make it right to preprogram a life as a pathogen-carrying future Borg drone? The humane answer would be an obvious "no," but where does morality end and desperation to address a greater good take over?

Obviously, parents aren't always right and children aren't in the position to make the best decisions for themselves. Fortunately, Icheb now has Seven looking out for him, and her perspectives have a great deal of human reason. But Icheb's parents didn't have a son; they had living, breathing time bomb that they raised as a son. That's pretty meaty stuff. Funny, how it all comes to light in the last 10 minutes, while the first 50 exist in a world so much simpler.

Next week: Some members of the lower ranks go on an adventure with the captain.

Previous episode: Ashes to Ashes
Next episode: Good Shepherd

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27 comments on this review

Jakob M. Mokoru
Tue, Feb 19, 2008, 3:02am (UTC -6)
Doesn't the prime directive forbid Janeway to rescue Icheb?
Wed, Apr 23, 2008, 4:01pm (UTC -6)
Since Voyager is the reason he's home in the first place, I don't see why the prime directive would apply; an since when does anyone quote that old thing.

There was one scene in this episode that kind of annoyed me. Mezoti asks Seven what will happen if Icheb gets assimilated again. Seven replys that it's unlikely. Mezoti then informs Seven that Icheb was on a ship when he was assimilated, not the surface like his father claimed. The problem I have with this scene is how horribly it was executed. Mezoti asks her initial, presumably out of concern for Icheb. However, she quickly seems to stop caring at all what the answer is, as she goes off to regeneration-sleep right in the middle of the apparent conflict of information.
Ken Egervari
Mon, Dec 14, 2009, 12:59am (UTC -6)
This is a passable episode. It's not amazing, but it's decent. One could only wish the bad Voyager episodes were of this equality... then we'd have a much better series.

I know this isn't groundbreaking... but I do have to commend the writers for continuity. This is now 3 episodes with the children from the borg cube... AND... they managed to tie a plot point to explain how the first cube in "Collective" was infected in the first place. That's admirable.

A lot of good serialized shows do this kind of plotting all the time... but because Voyager has virtually no plotting across episodes at all... it actually comes off as surprise. The show is better and stronger for it. One can only hope they did it all the time.
Fri, Dec 10, 2010, 9:31pm (UTC -6)
I thought th episode was very intruiging and I oved the spot on written scene with those ex Borg kids, who jus randomly kept speaking their thoughts, non stop, which real showed thateven tough they now speak they are stll used to very close communication, anyon agrees???
Tue, Mar 29, 2011, 6:13pm (UTC -6)
Yeah some pretty good stuff (if a bit chilling!)

Moar continuity!! Wow!! See it's not so difficult when you put your mind to it, and your audience appreciates it.

I have to say, I found it pretty obvious straight away that something wasn't quite right with his parents. Their son comes back from being assimilated and when he first materialises on the planet do they look delighted, run up and hug him? No! They just stand there all kind of "yeah, so er welcome back I guess". Hmm.

I think most of what was to be said has been said otherwise, so a couple of points of amusement:

- This time Seven couldn't get a lock. Poor Harry "Chump" Kim gets blamed all the time, but the fact is it's Voyager's transporter locking mechanism that is as much use as a chocolate teapot. Between this, lack of shuttle retention, holodeck safeties that can be destroyed by holographic bullets while they are still switched on etc, really seem to suggest that whoever designed that ship was a complete idiot :P

- Part of the dialogue asks whether Naomi would find her mother irrelevant. Well she seems to look to Seven as her mother and her real one vanished into thin air, so yeah, I guess she would!
Tue, Jun 21, 2011, 3:37am (UTC -6)
It's not a twist ending, it's commentary on another manner in which the Borg ruin lives (turing parents into heartless freedom fighters), and it connects thematically with every other thread of the episode. This is yet ANOTHER case where you just wanted it to be something else (a character study). This is Star Trek; characterisations drive the mythical subtext. That's how it works.

This is easily a 3.5 star if not 4 star episode, but again your bias paints the series mediocre.

I propose an experiment: add half a star to every review of VOY and deduct half from every review of DS9 (all the 4-stars can remain). What would that look like? It's that half a star that really makes the difference and it's all a question of taste.
Tue, Sep 6, 2011, 4:46am (UTC -6)
Elliot, this Voyager > DS9 fixation you have is an argument you're unlikely to win in many places other than your own mind. I actually think Jammer is more than generous when it comes to Voyager's ratings. Many others have been far less forgiving when it comes to this show.

I enjoyed this ep; the themes are quite familiar, but it's perhaps the first time we've seen an ex-Borg reuniting with family. It was well-executed and engaging. I knew there would be some kind of twist at the end (and it IS a twist), but wasn't expecting this. I liked it, and does nicely explain the events of 'Collective' (forward-thinking? Impressive!!). I wish there had been a little more foreshadowing, however, maybe some indication that Icheb's parents weren't all they seemed. It came a little out of the blue. The best twists are those that are unexpected, yet when you look back you can see they've been cleverly foreshadowed and fit in with the rest of the story. Still - above average episode, I'd give it a healthy *** too.
Sat, Sep 17, 2011, 10:29pm (UTC -6)
Ice, Elliot has managed to point out double standards in the reviews where a plot device used on DS9 got raves while on Voyager it got gripes. In The Cards was among the better examples of this.
Sat, Nov 12, 2011, 2:41am (UTC -6)
Ahhh, so this is the episode where "transwarp conduit" goes from being something created by the ship to a piece of fixed infrastructure. Love that Voyager continuity.
Captain Jim
Sun, Apr 22, 2012, 9:20pm (UTC -6)
As Ken Egervari and others have mentioned, kudos to the writers for the great use of continuity in this episode - something which, oddly enough, Jammer doesn't even mention.

I did find it a bit odd that Icheb had developed such in attachment to Voyager in such a short time (and likewise, that Seven had developed such an attachment to Icheb in such a sort time) but that's a small matter that I'm willing to overlook.

All in all, a very entertaining episode and I think three stars is about right.

I was surprised and pleased to see Mark Sheppard guest-starring here after having become acquainted with him in recent episodes of Doctor Who.
Wed, Jun 13, 2012, 7:11pm (UTC -6)
3 stars is about right. It's a good story and Icheb is a compelling character, but I agree that his parents' "flip" was a bit jarring and that the action seemed perfuctory.

If the VOYwriters had delivered more continuity and story arcs like this one involving the Borg children it would have been better than just a good series.
Mon, Aug 6, 2012, 12:39am (UTC -6)
I hated this episode on first run, mainly because I was not interested in the Borg kids and thought Voyager was going off the rails. However, watching it again on 2nd run, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit- particularly the continuity with Collective and the fight with the Borg Sphere. I'd give it a 3 also.
Fri, Jan 11, 2013, 7:41pm (UTC -6)
Okay, whatever became of the Borg infant from "Collective"? It was last seen beamed to Voyager...but who is caring for it now? If they didn't want to be saddled with it, they could have just technobabbled some excuse for it not having survived, but I recall no mention one way or the other...
Mon, Jan 28, 2013, 4:00am (UTC -6)
Sorry... My previous comment is intended for Good Shepherd.

[Previous comment moved by administrator to correct page.]

Since I'm here, I have to say I agree with Elliott, it's a truly good episode indeed.
Fri, Feb 22, 2013, 6:26am (UTC -6)
Some people here praise this Episode for rare continuity.
However, there is still something that does not work. It feels like Icheb is already about 1 or 2 seasons on Voyager considering the strong emotions Seven and the others have regarding his departure. But don't forget that only 2 Episodes! passed since he was released from the Borg.

This episode would have worked better if more time since "Collective" had passed.
Wed, Jun 26, 2013, 6:38am (UTC -6)
Yet another superb analysis. I can't think of anything to add.

Many people like to point to Seven of Nine and Jeri Ryan as one of the primary ways in which Voyager "ruined the Borg". In fact, the character (thanks in large part to the actress) were the best explorations of the Borg "species" Voyager had to offer. I agree that the Borg as the ultimate Federation adversary were severely diminished by their overuse in Voyager, but Jeri Ryan/Seven had little to do with it.
Mon, Jul 8, 2013, 3:08pm (UTC -6)
To those complaining that the kids haven't been aboard long enough to have developed such attachments:

Just because we've only seen two episodes doesn't mean that it's only been two days or even two weeks in Voyager time. I actually got the impression that they'd been on board for a few months, as clued by how far their "studies" had progressed and the fact that they were having a science fair. Also, it is mentioned that Seven has successfully helped them to adapt to life on Voyager and make the transition to individuals. This also implies a greater span of time. We just didn't see any of it happen.

All of that being said, it would have been nice to have at least one line mentioning a time-frame.
Mon, Aug 12, 2013, 8:31pm (UTC -6)
The twist with the parents really took me by surprise - in an good way. Very clever writing.
Fri, Aug 16, 2013, 9:55am (UTC -6)
I always love when people complain about continuity then they think that 2 episodes =2 weeks and 5 episodes= 5 weeks. lol.

now, i must say, voyager has continually used 1 season = 1 year. however, this doesnt mean that the episodes have to be fixed positions in the year. it is not like there are 52 episodes.

in any case, i enjoyed this episode.

funny thing, clearly, Jammer is biased toward DS9 in his reviews, but his RATINGs...usually dont show that bias.

i agree, this is a 3 star episode.
Lt. Yarko
Fri, Sep 6, 2013, 10:57am (UTC -6)
Oh brother. The parents ended up being Bad Guys. Figures. And the episode was going so well. This episode was been the most moving one yet, and then they ruin it with bullcrap. Too bad they couldn't have been this moving with any of the original characters. They had to wait until a late season and with recently added characters before making me actually give a damn.
Thu, Dec 19, 2013, 2:27am (UTC -6)
Those asking about the baby Borg- this is a massive cop out but according to Memory Alpha the writers have gone on record to say that the baby was returned to its parents off camera. No mention of it on screen though means they most likely forgot about it and the writers just wanted to get people to shut up.

On this run through of Voyager I'm not as enthusiastic as when I was a teenager. With TNG I was hooked on a run trough but with Voyager I'm bored but soldiering on.
Fri, Jan 10, 2014, 10:07am (UTC -6)
The baby was pretty much newborn...it must have been assimilated mere days (or at best a few weeks) before the events of this episode, and born certainly AFTER the kids became detached from the Borg. The only conclusion is that these children snatched the infant and assimilated it.
Wed, Jan 22, 2014, 8:51pm (UTC -6)
Um...am I the only one who thinks it's okay that they used someone as a weapon against the Borg? Granted, I think it's a dumb idea to use a kid instead of a voluntary adult. I'd volunteer for such a thing. It's been a while, but is there any reason why they couldn't use an adult? Seems that kind of thing wouldn't make that much of a difference.

Also, the boy can't be the only one they sent after the Borg. Surely they'd try more than one. And when the Borg caught on to which of the cubes were being destroyed, they'd come and destroy the planet.
Mon, Mar 3, 2014, 4:30pm (UTC -6)
I think the "twist" is problematic, not because it’s unfair to the viewer, but because it sends the wrong message. Instead of Seven getting a lesson on being overprotective, she is vindicated because it turns out her unfounded suspicions were correct (how convenient!) The way it’s presented also doesn’t make much plot sense. The Brunali may have initially thought their pathogen would affect the entire collective instead of a single ship. But why send him out a second time? Why not keep him with them until the Borg find reason to attack them again? Using up their weapon at a time when their planet would otherwise not be in danger is short-sighted and implausible (but I guess we needed that action quotient!)

Then again, if it wasn’t for this twist, we probably wouldn’t have an episode. The first three acts are drawn out as it is. 2.5 stars at best.
Fri, May 23, 2014, 2:22am (UTC -6)
Finally a good, powerful episode. I have been exposed to quite a too many mediocre to bad Trek in a row this season.

But this is really good. Naturally deep, not forced. Organically touching, not artificial, since it brings character developmental issues that tie very naturally to the situation they are in. Great piece of Trek.

I do not think the final twist was neither unfair to the viewer (it is a twist, you know), nor did send the wrong message. Seven was not being overprotective. She was certainly suffering and concerned with a lot of things, but she was not even exactly egoist, if you think she always "complied" to any request the parent, the kid or the captain made.

On the other hand, I think the final questioning raised by the episode, i.e. about how the kid felt about his role in life according to different angles, could have been much more well developed. This was the real deal being settled during the whole episode, but did not explode as powerful as it could have. Even though, that's certainly a 3 to 3.5 stars for me.

In a side note, I can't help but answer Jammer's concluding question: "Does defending a planet make it right to preprogram a life as a pathogen-carrying future Borg drone? The humane answer would be an obvious 'no,' but where does morality end and desperation to address a greater good take over?". The answer is simple: DS9. As well as our real Earth.
Mon, Nov 10, 2014, 7:10pm (UTC -6)
The main problem with this episode is the gaping whole in the plot logic: if Icheb naturally produces a pathogen that kills Borg, why doesn't he infect Seven and the other ex-Borg in this and the first episode he's in? This spoiled what was otherwise a decent episode for me. Classic lazy Voyager writing cop out...
Sat, Jun 6, 2015, 8:00pm (UTC -6)
The parents having bred Icheb as a living weapon to destroy the Borg seems a little farfetched, if you ask me.
First of all: He wasn't really that effective, given that he only disabled a single cube. In Collective, we learn that one cube is roughly 5.000 Borg. What's a few thousand compared to the billions of the collective? That's like going to war arming your soldiers with bbguns.
Then there was also the fact that apparently waited until Icheb was in his early teens before deploying him as a weapon. Why risk it? What if you become so emotionally attached to him during that period that you find yourself unable to go through with it, as you would expect of any decent parent? The situation is dire for the Brunali, but the love parents can have for their children can often be overwhelming and, as Tuvok would say, impair their logic.

Most of the episode worked, until they implemented that twist. I wouldn't go so far as to say it ruined the episode, because they do tie it in reasonably sensible, but it still feels out of place. It's too sudden and jarring. It feels like they should have been 2 seperate episodes.

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