Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Collective"

**

Air date: 2/16/2000
Teleplay by Michael Taylor
Story by Andrew Shepard Price & Mark Gaberman
Directed by Allison Liddi

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Negotiation is irrelevant. You will be assimilated."
"Not today and not by you."

— The Borg and Janeway

(Note: This episode was re-rated from 2.5 to 2 stars when the season recap was written.)

Nutshell: There's groundwork here for some potentially intriguing future material, but the episode itself is lackluster.

In "Collective," we're introduced to a small group of young Borg. They're the sole survivors of a Borg cube that suffered a catastrophe, and now the five of them are running this massive cube-shaped spaceship. Frankly, they're not up to the job. When it comes to being Borg, these kids need practice.

Enter the Delta Flyer, which is manned by the team of Chakotay, Paris, Kim, and Neelix (after "Memorial" and now this installment, one wonders if this is the new official crew of the Delta Flyer). We join them as—apparently trying to be more like the TNG crew—they are engaged in a game of poker, which is interrupted by the sudden appearance of said Borg cube, much to the dismay of Ensign Paris, who had a full house. (The shot that reveals the cube is nicely played for its mild shock value but logically dubious; one wonders why the ability of the Borg to sneak up within visual range of a ship isn't something we've seen before. What we have here is a scene for spurring an argument about cinematic ends vs. means, but never mind.)

The Delta Flyer is captured in a tractor beam and the crew members are thrown into a cell for use as ... hostages? Since when do the Borg take hostages? We'll see in a moment, but first some chit-chat.

It's an episode like "Collective" that has me hoping, hoping, hoping that the producers of Voyager are looking well beyond the end of the hour at hand. If you take the hour for what we've got, let's just say it's not the most compelling hour of all time.

For starters, I have to ask: Have the Borg as story devices been exhausted? I remember the awe of first seeing them in TNG's "Q-Who" all those years ago, and the terror of seeing them again in "The Best of Both Worlds." Over the past few years of Voyager, that awe has been replaced with a sense of nearly clockwork annual routine. The Borg were still interesting, but our fear that they might assimilate us was hardly a factor anymore. Instead the question was how the Borg would figure into a story about the nature of human individuality, particularly once Seven of Nine came on board. In spirit, she was our weekly Borg representative.

"Dark Frontier" last year was essentially the final word in Borg as action/adventure devices—one of the best-produced (but not best-told) Trek episodes of all time. Given that they were no longer the awesome terror of the galaxy they once seemed to be, "Dark Frontier" was acceptable use of the Borg, but by pulling out all the stops it also served as an implied resignation that perhaps the Borg were ready for retirement. An idea can only go so far before it becomes tired.

"Collective" appears to be an attempt to tell a "different" kind of Borg tale: Since we can no longer plausibly battle the Borg, we'll instead negotiate with adolescent drones—whose behavior resembles your average adolescent human more than your average Borg. When Voyager comes looking for their missing team, they find the Borg cube, but because there are only five drones—severed from the hive mind—who haven't a clue how to run a Borg ship, Voyager is able to swiftly stalemate the confrontation.

We learn that the five children—or "neo-natal drones," as the story sometimes calls them—had emerged prematurely from their "maturation chambers" after the shipwide catastrophe, a cybernetic-targeting pathogen that infected the ship and killed all the drones. The maturation chambers protected the children from being infected.

Now the juvenile drones demand that Voyager surrender its navigational deflector. They hope to modify it so they can contact the Borg and be reintegrated into the collective. If Janeway turns over the deflector, the Borg will release their hostages.

One oddity with "Collective" is its somewhat inaccurate title. These five Borg do not seem to comprise a collective. At first they do, but then they don't. They seem more like individuals who answer to a willingly established hierarchy. They don't act much like Borg. The leader of the five, the "First" (Ryan Spahn), represents the story's primary source of conflict: He's a drone who follows the Borg protocols and intends to rejoin the collective. It would seem the other four drones are less mature, and thus don't hold strong Borg-like opinions; they follow the First simply because he's the First.

But it seems these "drones" are capable of free, independent thought, and that provides a source of confusion at times, because it's hard to determine how exactly the story envisions these Borg. They're "different," which is supposed to be part of the point, I think. But they also talk among themselves like any individuals might. There's often no sense that they're connected, and something about it just doesn't sit right. In order to continue using the Borg, it seems the writers have to make them progressively less like Borg, and more human.

Naturally, the story involves heavy focus on Seven of Nine (be sure to join the online petition for renaming this series Star Trek: Seven of Ninevisit this page) who beams over to the Borg ship to confirm the well-being of the prisoners and negotiate with the drones. The core of the story emerges when Seven discovers that the Borg collective will not be dispatching a ship to retrieve this cube, which has been deemed a total loss. To the Borg, five neo-natal drones are not worth salvaging (which strikes me as perhaps the most believable Borg sentiment in the episode).

The central dilemma is (of course) a human one: Janeway proposes that the drones be "saved" if at all possible. Sure, there's some plotting along the way, including (a) Doc reluctantly re-synthesizing the pathogen that killed the Borg ship, for possible use as a weapon against the drones should negotiations fail; and (b) Harry Kim regaining consciousness aboard the docked Delta Flyer unbeknownst to the Borg, and his eventual venture through the cube in an attempt to blow up a shield generator so Voyager can beam out the prisoners. But if you want to know what the episode is about, it's the dynamic between Seven and the drones as she tries to negotiate with a leader who has one, and only one, goal—to rejoin the collective. Along the way, she comes close to connecting with one of the other drones, the Second (Manu Intiraymi), who seems to have traces of his pre-assimilated individual self somewhere beneath the surface.

Alas, these dynamics aren't on par with the potential. I expected more. The episode is too content to resign itself to standard negotiation-standoff "tension" dialog and predictable chatter. Although representing an inflexible attitude that seems to fit the Borg, the First is not a very interesting character. And with all due respect to the actors portraying the Borg, they just don't measure up. Here, one can very easily see Ryan's mastery of her character and the perfect vocal control; she is able to convey the masked emotion and Borg-like monotone without seeming forced, and there are subtle nuances that blend right into her performance. The same cannot be said for the other Borg players. They always seem to be "acting," and not convincingly (especially Spahn as the First).

What plays better are some sincere scenes between Janeway and Seven. The idea of utilizing Seven's insights to bring these Borg to some sort of new understanding of their situation is something that makes sense—after all, Seven experienced the process of being de-Borgified first-hand. The show's best-written scene reveals that the mental structure that the collective gave Seven when it assimilated her is an ordered structure that has also been a source of strength in regaining her individuality. It's a sense of order the Borg children, who were not fully developed before emerging from their maturation chambers, do not have. Seven worries that the transition for them will be even more difficult than hers. Between Seven, this installment, and "Survival Instinct," there ought to be some sort of therapy program for ex-Borg.

The final act of "Collective" is a muddle that doesn't work. It's as if the writers couldn't figure out an adequate way to resolve the story. The ending here is one of those tech wrap-ups where we have Janeway and Torres aboard Voyager throwing around meaningless technobabble dialog in a desperate last-minute search for a way to rescue the hostages before Voyager is severely damaged. Meanwhile, the final conflict on the Borg ship is poorly staged. Moments of tension feel misplayed by the actors and director, and the fact that the First is killed as a result of his inability to go against his Borg directives is a story point that doesn't come across as particularly important, though I get the feeling it was meant to be. Oh, and we've got Harry Kim lying critically ill, injected with nanoprobes, for no particularly necessary reason (beyond keeping him a peripheral aspect of the plot, which itself seems unnecessary).

And after the crisis ends, my lingering question was: What happened to the Borg cube? It apparently didn't self-destruct, so did Janeway just leave all that technology floating in space? In "Dark Frontier" the crew shaved 15 years off the trip by using Borg technology. Shouldn't this cube be a major cache of tech foodstuffs? But never mind.

That brings us to the story's coda, which simultaneously gives me great hope and worry. Four of the five drones (as well as a Borg infant that is beamed aboard the ship) are rescued and turned back into individuals. This screams for future storylines. We have four youths whose source for identification will be Seven of Nine. The pupil will now become the teacher. This could make for challenging material, a source of growth in the series. Then again, it could also make for redundancy if not handled carefully. After all, we've been down this road with Seven for almost three seasons now.

Though it's too early to say, the final scene already has me voicing one gripe: According to what the story told us earlier, these children are supposed to be disturbed—more so than Seven (who in "The Gift" was violent and unstable after being severed from the Borg). But they don't seem disturbed at all to me. They seem to be handling it way too okay.

But bringing aboard more Borg—and younger people—reveals a potential for the sort of community-building that this series should've focused on from day one. The key word is potential. Will it be used? (Of course, the worst-case scenario would be never hearing about these Borg again. That would be unforgivable, and probably unlikely, but not unthinkable given Voyager's track record. We haven't, for example, heard one single peep about those Equinox crew members that joined Voyager at the beginning of the season.)

Bottom line for "Collective": The general theme here that examines drones hanging with uncertain self-identities was done in fifth season's "Drone" (and to a lesser extent in this season's "Survival Instinct")—and I assure you it was done with much greater insight. "Collective" is reasonable, but it probably works best as stage setting. Now let's just hope the players actually decide to show up.

Next week: Return to Fair Haven. Just what we all wanted.

Previous episode: Tsunkatse
Next episode: Spirit Folk

Season Index

35 comments on this review

Mike - Tue, Aug 26, 2008 - 4:24pm (USA Central)
Spot-on review. Run-of-the-mill Borg themes that we've already seen several times. Making the Borg children doesn't change that. Medicore at best acting from the Borgs (Naomi Wildman (the actress) never looked so talented, not to mention Jeri Ryan). Abrupt ending that solves all the loose ends; killing First, potentially a major loose end, is narratively quite cheap. Two stars is generous.
Michael - Fri, Jul 9, 2010 - 11:02am (USA Central)
Ugh...

Forty-five minutes of toing and froing when all that was necessary would have been to put the hoodlum Borg across the knee and give them a good spanking.

Janeway holding a baby Borg in her arms. What the hell is this show coming to...

MINUS two stars.
reviewreviewer1 - Fri, Dec 10, 2010 - 9:25pm (USA Central)
I actualy thought the episode was very god, cause I was reay in doubt over the conclusion, and the Borg kids were very scary, and them wanting to rerurn to the collective maade them seem very inocent, but killing first felt very crel, I would have like it more if he was taken prisoner, and more forcefully deasimliated like Seven, onnes was and too see the others Drones react to this, I also foud Seven`s order rant to be a giant kick in the head.
Jay - Mon, Mar 7, 2011 - 12:58pm (USA Central)
Bratty Borg? Yeesh.

Almost as bad as the bratty ball of light from TNG's excruciating "Imaginary Friend".
Cloudane - Sun, Mar 27, 2011 - 5:45pm (USA Central)
Argh, don't remind me of that awful TNG episode!

Yeah nothing special really. I'm glad Janeway didn't turn to murder on this occasion.

The thing that annoys me about the episode is it's one of those that pretends Voyager has an ongoing story, which aside from extreme exceptions like Seven or the overall voyage home (which itself seems to go back and forward) it certainly doesn't. Now I'll admit, I haven't seen the rest of the series yet and haven't read about it but my opinion at this stage is that anyone who thinks we'll even hear about the Borg Children ever again is kidding themselves. Which is a highly unfortunate aspect of Voyager.
Cloudane - Sun, Mar 27, 2011 - 5:49pm (USA Central)
Forgot to say, the moment they spotted the Borg cube lurking there was priceless. From Tom's face to the panicked rush towards the controls (reminds me of about Series 6 of Red Dwarf in the Starbug) - classic. Best moment of the episode by some distance.
Overthinker - Tue, Mar 29, 2011 - 9:22pm (USA Central)
Yep, loved that scene. Trying to fanwank it away, we could hypothesise that since the cube was damaged, it wasn't emitting the Mysterion Waves that the sensor is adjusted to pick up, so they only came on it visually. Maybe.

Also, this ep. featured a great Badass Janeway moment. She cradles a tiny Borg baby in her arms, then orders the Doctor to ready a pathogen to destroy Borg.

But oh that "First" was the worst bunch of teen angst cliches ever.
Troy - Wed, Aug 3, 2011 - 10:56pm (USA Central)
I just watched this episode and perhaps I missed a piece of the dialogue but why the BORG just abandoned one of its ships?

Iceblink - Tue, Aug 30, 2011 - 4:21am (USA Central)
Voyager really did kinda ruin the Borg, didn't it?

I rewatched TNG recently and, up until Descent at least, the Borg were truly something special - and were actually genuinely scary (still to this day Q Who and Best of Both Worlds convey their terror and danger immensely well). The Voyager writers just didn't have the skill to maintain that. With every episode, the Borg became less frightening and even less Borg-like (now they're just like regular people in cyborg costumes, completely gone is that sense of alienness). The Borg are now little more interesting than the other 'great' races Voyager gave us, the Kazon, the Hirogen, the Malon.

The idea of a ship of Borg children maybe seemed like a different twist on the old Borg themes, but we've seen all this before and the fact they are children further blunts the Borg's impact. This episode isn't scary, it isn't tense, it certainly isn't original or groundbreaking and it isn't even particularly entertaining to be honest. We've seen the whole thing of drones becoming individuals umpteen times and the plan to release a disease or pathogen on the Borg and the moral implications thereof are directly lifted from "I Borg". This one just didn't hold my interest. Worst Borg episode yet. And what's with the lighting on Borg ships now - why all the LIME GREEN?...it actually looks a bit hokey.
Jay - Sat, Sep 17, 2011 - 10:24pm (USA Central)
Well, Voyager was between a rock and a hard palce on the Borg. Being set in the Delta Quadrant, where it had already been established the Borg come from, it was inevitable that eventually they'd run into them. But Voyager vs. the Borg as presented on TNG would make for a short series.
Cappo - Wed, Mar 14, 2012 - 11:12pm (USA Central)
The cube itself seems to be a 9 cubic kilometer plot hole. Yes, I can see the Collective not wanting to bother with 5 damaged "imperfect" drones... but what about that ship? Especially after 8472 (or the Undine, as Star Trek Online named them) laid waste a large portion of their fleet not too long ago, you'd think they'd want it back.

Then again, Janeway apparently didn't want it or any tech from it either. A giant (literally and figuratively) technological gold mine! But, meh, who needs that? We're not trying to get home *this* week, we're doing a Borgling episode. Maybe we'll grab the next Cube handed to us on a silver platter, we're too busy now. The writers gave it no more thought than a cardboard set prop, not even considering the implications. I feel insulted on that ship's behalf. It got less respect than Rodney Dangerfield.

Story-wise, I suppose it would be considered nitpicking, but from the characters' point of view... wow! Their metaphorical ticket home just hovering there, and Janeway ignores it without a thought and moves on. Even after 6 years you'd think the former Maquis, at least, would be willing to gang up and lynch her for that one.

Maybe Seven was right about The Voyager Conspiracy, and Janeway is staying in the Delta Quadrant on purpose after all? *Twilight Zone Music*
Jelendra - Thu, Jun 7, 2012 - 3:33pm (USA Central)
There are a lot of complaints about the Captain NOT stripping the Borg cube...how do you know she didnt ? The story moved to the Borglets and Seven, as it should have...
Destructor - Mon, Jul 2, 2012 - 1:17am (USA Central)
I was largely bored during this episode. The shot of the 'Borg hanger bay' was pretty rad, though.
Alvez - Tue, Aug 28, 2012 - 2:46am (USA Central)
What ever happend to the Borg infant that Seven transported to the ship and the Doctor saved?
Take it easy - Thu, Jan 3, 2013 - 1:52am (USA Central)
I am surprised with 5 borg children, they were not able to rescue the hostages.
Chris - Sun, Jan 13, 2013 - 8:49pm (USA Central)
I can't believe that the Borg would keep "assimilation profiles" with the individuals names and such that Seven could "salvage". Why would the Borg bother retaining such information?
Nancy - Mon, Aug 12, 2013 - 3:31pm (USA Central)
I liked this episode more than most. I found the kids and their botched assimilation very scary.

Jammer complains that they don't act like a collective despite their claim to be one, but that's the point. They are trying to act like a collective because it's all they know, but they are no longer linked by the Borg and so they aren't truly one. They are in denial. Presumably the episode title is ironic.

I thought it was odd, however, that Harry's trip though the Borg cube brought up bad memories.... Of a haunted house. I would've thought he might have instead been reminded of the time he went traipsing through a Borg ship and almost got eaten alive by a species 8675309 virus. Looks like he came away the worse for wear here, too, but that card trail idea was so asinine he deserved to get caught.
azcats - Thu, Aug 15, 2013 - 12:08pm (USA Central)
i thought this episode reminded me of when Seven was disconnected with the 3 other borg on the planet..and she panicked and forced them into the collective.

very much like this borg drone.

interesting episode, but not my favorite.

2 stars
Bb - Thu, Jan 16, 2014 - 4:38am (USA Central)
Here is where Voyager started going downhill.


Not really - it always sucked.
Grumpy - Thu, Jan 16, 2014 - 6:50pm (USA Central)
Conventional wisdom is that Voyager's suckitude wasn't evident until Season 2, specifically Janeway's speech at the end of "Alliances." There were good & bad episodes before, but that's when the warning flags were raised.
Trent - Thu, Jan 16, 2014 - 7:49pm (USA Central)
That's bad news for me, then. I finished Season 1 and rather liked it. It's quite depressing to know that things only get worse.
Troy - Thu, Jan 16, 2014 - 8:25pm (USA Central)
Hi Trent:

Why don't you watch the rest of Voyager and develop your own opinion on Voyager?

Trent - Thu, Jan 16, 2014 - 8:38pm (USA Central)
I will. Im starting s2 now. I like going in with low expectations.
grumpy_otter - Fri, Jan 17, 2014 - 7:47am (USA Central)
Naughty Trent, reading reviews before you've watched the episodes! :-)

Voyager has its ups and downs--I think what most people find objectionable is their constant use of the "reset button" where pretty much nothing that happens in any one episode has later consequences. Certain storylines, like this one, screamed for more development. (and strangely enough. . . maybe the writers were listening to fans a bit by this point?)

I just wanted to comment that I don't hate this episode. I actually got a bit emotional when Seven tucked her charges into "bed."
Grumpy - Fri, Jan 17, 2014 - 10:13am (USA Central)
Good advice, G.O.. Furthermore, I try not to comment on reviews of episodes I haven't seen. And I try to confine comments to the review at hand. Well, I haven't seen "Collective" and my earlier comment was more about "Alliances" anyway. But to complete the thought... the "conventional wisdom" I mentioned is mainly conveyed by the Agony Booth recap of "Threshold": www.agonybooth.com/recaps/Star_Trek/Voyager/Threshold.aspx

Regarding "Alliances," "...the ship merrily cruised off into the status quo. In retrospect, that was probably the moment the Trek franchise died.... Because that speech was the signal that from here on out, no chances would ever be taken with the franchise."
Amanda - Tue, Mar 4, 2014 - 7:01am (USA Central)
To those wondering about Borg infant. She ran off to be an actress. She guest stared as a boy in Friendship One :D
Nathan - Sun, Mar 30, 2014 - 5:57pm (USA Central)
How many Borgs does it take to be a collective? I was kind of hoping for a Children of the corn, Lord of the flies theme being Borg and such but no. Beating a dead horse with a stick seems to be a recurring theme. It's like the writers don't even make the effort. Every other series utilized the classics and contemporary literature for source material.
Voyager is just falling flat in this ep, agree about Red Dwarf being better. I always enjoyed Borg episodes, but this devalues the Borg so much into redundancy that we have to see Janeway holding a baby, trying to decide on using a Pathogen? No wonder why I have forgotten a lot of Voyager but can remember akl the other shows.
Elliott - Sun, Mar 30, 2014 - 6:48pm (USA Central)
You mean those 2 times eddington channels Hugo? or when Garak tries to skewer Julius Caesar? or how about that quotation of Hamlet Picard makes to Q sans irony that everyone except me hates? or that time Archer...oh wait...

With the exception of the original series, the Treks' use of classic literature was pretty limited. Voyager has utilised Dante, the bible, Beowolf, Spencer, not to mention da Vinci, Verdi, Puccini and others, so the claim that it ignored the classics is just nonsense.

Voyager was more like the original series than any of the other modern Treks. If you want to criticise it for, in this way, being conservative, that's fine, but to consider it an outlier is provably false.
Paul - Mon, Mar 31, 2014 - 11:24am (USA Central)
@Elliott: It's true. Voyager, more so than TNG, DS9 or ENT, was fairly similar to TOS. Frankly, the series that is the most significant outlier is DS9.

But that's not really a bad thing. Voyager's biggest flaw was the reset button, but it's second biggest flaw was that it wasn't all that original/it didn't take advantage of its premise. True, there were characters who were new and different (Seven, the Doctor) but the stories certainly weren't that different than what could have been told without a divided crew and if the ship had been in the Alpha Quadrant.
Ric - Sat, May 17, 2014 - 10:08pm (USA Central)
Ok, enough is enough. This episode is a monument to how much Voyager, although have gave us the superb character that Seven is, was at the same time so much capable of completely messing up the way Borg were portrayed.

This episode was a terrible idea all along and one more step of Voyager in making Borg... forgettable. The Borg-kids-on-the-block were shameful, bad acted, never looked like Borg nor even for a second, not to mention how much out-of-character they were written in what Borgs are concerned. Also, the pseudo-conflict of "should we kill the kids or not?" felt artificial, predictable, not truthful for a minute.

Two stars was a very generous gift from Jammer's part. Maybe a gift to the hilarious scene when the Defiant crew gets a hell of a scary with the Borg cube.
Capitalist - Thu, Sep 25, 2014 - 12:09am (USA Central)
I'm surprised at the number of comments regarding Janeway's failure to utilize the cube. Either the NetFlix version that I saw had some extra footage, or a lot of people here simply weren't paying attention.

Voyager is sending shockwaves back along the tractor beam. At first this just has the effect of weakening/lowering the cube's shields. But then one of the borg kids says that the latest shockwave has overloaded the (tech tech). At that point,
Capitalist - Thu, Sep 25, 2014 - 12:12am (USA Central)
... Seven clearly says that the cube is going to be destroyed. Just because they didn't have the budget to show the big 'splosion, doesn't mean it didn't happen. The dialogue makes it clear.
Capitalist - Thu, Sep 25, 2014 - 12:16am (USA Central)
Not sure why this site cuts off the latter half of these posts but anyhoo...

On another note, I thought the actress that played the little girl borg nailed it when she says, "Your weapon won't work here..." (head tilt) "...dampening field."

That was CREEPY. I don't know why (cough cuz it's not DS9, cough cough) Jammer's picking on the guest actors in this one.
Robert - Thu, Sep 25, 2014 - 8:41am (USA Central)
Speaking only for myself, as someone who is often really hard on VOY for a lot of reasons.... I see very little to complain about with this episode.

I thought especially Mezoti and Icheb were very well acted (especially for kids) and although people like to rag about the eventually lost Borg infant (it either died off screen or they found it's people.... you don't even have to fanwank this one) this episode adds a continuing storyline in the form of guest characters we'll actually see again, the bizarre thing with a virus randomly taking out a cube is actually going to be explained in a later episode (actual setup here!), and the kids let a character who is not really ready for romance explore a different kind of close relationship (specifically parenting). The only thing wrong with this storyline is that Mezoti eventually left, I really liked her as well.
Robert - Thu, Sep 25, 2014 - 8:43am (USA Central)
In short we've just added some character development, setup for a future plotline (that we'll actually follow through on), and some guest cast. The only thing wrong with this is that VOY didn't do anything like this sooner.

3.5 stars (4 stars are reserved for "classics")

Submit a comment

Above, type the last name of the captain on Star Trek: TNG
Notify me about new comments on this page
Hide my e-mail on my post

Season Index

Copyright © 1994-2014, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of any review or article on this site is prohibited. Star Trek (in all its myriad forms), Battlestar Galactica, and Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc., NBC Universal, and Tribune Entertainment, respectively. This site is in no way affiliated with or authorized by any of those companies. | Copyright & Disclaimer