Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Human Error"

**

Air date: 3/7/2001
Teleplay by Brannon Braga & Andre Bormanis
Story by Andre Bormanis & Kenneth Biller
Directed by Allan Kroeker

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Don't kill the messenger." — Icheb

In brief: Great fascination that gives way to great frustration.

When it comes right down to it, "Human Error" is a gutless story trying with all its might to hide in the camouflage of tragic circumstances. No such luck. After the recent stretch of mostly solid shows, this episode serves almost as a depressing reality check: Voyager is a series determined to go so far and absolutely no farther. The writers refuse to take the risks that are standing right there in front of them and are the ones that would be most satisfying to the audience. And why? Because we just can't have change?

Basically, this episode is the ultimate Reset Button Plot [TM]. Oh, the writers try to peddle to us the notion that this is groundbreaking character analysis, but who are they kidding? We travel what seems to be the fascinating journey of a character (Seven of Nine, naturally) only to have it all yanked away in the last five minutes. What's the point of that?

As opposed to the past two weeks of the mega-plotted "Workforce," "Human Error" comes to us as an easygoing change of pace. The plot has no unnecessary complexities; it's simply Seven's humanity re-examined, which has been a reliable if occasionally tiring character theme.

This time the story takes us into Seven's newfound holodeck fantasy life. Sure, we've done the holodeck fantasy story before, even recently, whether it was with the Doctor ("Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy"), Janeway ("Fair Haven"), or Barclay ("Pathfinder"), but it also makes plenty of sense here, and with Seven we have the feeling that there's even more at stake. We've seen for four seasons how hard she has tried to grow, and she's trying here, too.

What, in retrospect, can be seen as a preview of the frustration we get at the end is how the story violates our trust with a needless deception right at the beginning: At a baby shower for B'Elanna and Tom, Seven gives the toast — and a good one at that — and we hear her discussion with Janeway about the recent removal of her remaining Borg implants — and Seven's request for a Starfleet uniform (which practically had me cheering). My interest was captured: Could it be we're going to take some noteworthy steps with Seven in the series' few remaining episodes? Nope — it's all a holodeck simulation, edited into the show to look real for the purpose of, I guess, frustrating us.

No biggie — I'm quite willing to overlook a cliched little deception like that, especially since the simulation premise itself is intriguing. For Seven, fantasies on the holodeck are not to feed her emotions but rather lab experiments to see if she is capable of deeper emotions.

There are scenes of her playing the piano. Changing her appearance. Moving into her own quarters. And eventually, she ends up on a date with a holographic Chakotay, which I'm sure for some viewers may seem like an odd character choice but is perfectly reasonable for the simulation and the story at hand. We end up with several romantic encounters that are tastefully handled, and some even better scenes where holo-Chakotay tries to help Seven unleash emotions she consistently tries to suppress.

In particular, the story's use of a metronome is very apt. When playing the piano, Seven uses the metronome to keep her ordered rhythm. But there's no true emotion behind her skilled technical approach. Chakotay recommends she not use the metronome, but Seven finds playing without it troubling and disordered. Seven is essentially a control freak driven mad by any chaos, no matter how small. This is the same reason she has trouble dealing with emotions.

This is good material, even though I kept cursing the fact the writers didn't have the courage or cleverness to find a way to use a real character for these encounters instead of a holographic one (is he programmed to behave and interact just like the real Chakotay? Gee, how convenient). Even the by-the-numbers subplot involving Voyager obliviously wandering into a weapons test range (duh!) manages to work okay, since it shows how Seven's personal life conflicts with her duties and causes her even more disorder.

Seven's interaction with the real people outside her holodeck experiments makes sense too, whether it's Doc, Torres, Icheb, or Janeway. Doc's support of Seven's emotional quest is sincere and well realized.

Unfortunately, all this talk of Seven's emotions is servicing a last-minute plot development that lets the writers off the hook for anything and everything resembling consequences or change. Doc discovers that a function of Seven's cortical node prohibits her from having strong emotions without shutting down, so furthering the development of her emotions could be harmful. Just what we needed — a human story with an arbitrary technical twist.

This isn't characters solving a problem; this is the script artificially creating its own circumstances. I don't even buy this plot element as a Borg "fail-safe" to prevent drones from having emotions. We've never heard of it before — it seems to go against many previous assumptions about assimilation, and it conveniently draws the line of what's deemed "too emotional" solely for the purpose of ending this story and not accounting for any of Seven's emotions that came before.

Nonetheless, Doc proposes complicated surgery that could eventually solve the problem. Seven decides against it, for the arbitrary reason that the writers want her to continue being a control freak who puts duty over emotions rather than taking the risk of developing her humanity. This decision is also enacted artificially by the script and not Seven's character, who just as easily could've had the courage to take Doc's proposed step into humanity. It's a writer's toss of a coin.

So, I'm thinking, what did we just watch and why? Essentially it's all another self-contained character situation that we're supposed to ponder thoughtfully. The tragedy of the story is supposed to be that Seven can't take that step toward humanity. But why is this a tragedy we as an audience need to see? Especially when the tragedy as written is more contrived and unbelievable than taking the story to a more daring and satisfying conclusion? We've been down this "deferred development" road with Seven so many, many times. Why pretend to shake things up if you don't mean it — if you reverse it in the end? It baffles and frustrates me. A lot.

If ever there were a time to change the Seven Humanity Quest formula, with only a handful of episodes left until the series is done and gone, now is the time. But no, sorry.

And too bad. The actors and production staff give this story their all. It's almost flawlessly performed, with Jeri Ryan using her expertise for conveying subtle, buried emotion underneath the calm Seven surface. The music is well placed. Seven gets to let her hair down and have a good reason. Chakotay is likable.

Indeed, there are parts of "Human Error" that are so fascinating that it's all the more depressing that the ending is an act of terrorist sabotage. There should be a litmus test for situations like this: If you have several ways you can take a situation, and you pick the one that cheats the characters, the audience, and common sense, you need to pick again.

They failed to pick again, and here lies the season's biggest disappointment.

Next new episode: The return of Q, who brings along Q Jr. (sounds like a burger).

Previous episode: Workforce
Next episode: Q2

Season Index

24 comments on this review

Jakob M. Mokoru - Fri, Apr 4, 2008 - 5:16am (USA Central)
I fully agree with Jammer: What a shame, that Voyager characters aren't allowed to change (too much!). Seven looked really good in that uniform. And should't she want some quarters by now? Even though it is dangerous for her to have emotions (Come on - we have seen Seven going through pretty serious emotions!), a living space of her own should not prove to dangerous!

(Besides: Seven lives in a cargo bay, right? But where is her bathroom? Sonic shower? Closet (she has different sets of garment!)
IS - Fri, Oct 17, 2008 - 11:28am (USA Central)
"You have an intriguing facial structure."

Oh boy.
Greg M - Fri, Jan 2, 2009 - 2:12am (USA Central)
Jammer,

You pretty much said what I was thinking after I just watched this episode. This would have been a 3 or 3.5 star episode if it hadn't been for the final 2 minutes. So much good opportunity to Free Seven of Nine and the Writers blow it. I find that, as someone who likes this series, to be really depressing. She looked so great in the uniform, and the hair-loose style.
EP - Tue, Mar 10, 2009 - 7:42pm (USA Central)
I actually enjoyed 7's character more when she was, in her own words, "Unique." Not quite human, not quite Borg. Her desire to assimilate fully back in to human culture is dull and written like a soap opera. It's also a violation of ship protocol to use holograms of personnel without their permission (or something like that).

Of course, the "can't do Emotion" tech twist is even lamer.

Didn't this episode occur because Robert Beltran, having grown fed-up of his character, basically dared Brannon Braga, who was dating Jeri Ryan at the time, to write a Chakotay-Seven relationship story?
indijo - Sun, Mar 29, 2009 - 3:21pm (USA Central)
To err is human, taken to it's episodal apex. I kind of like that point, because it really says a lot, but it would have been better if the story went a step further and had Seven finding a way to deal with that problem.
Greg M - Sun, Mar 29, 2009 - 3:38pm (USA Central)
Indijo,

One thing I heard from the special features was that Seven was going to die in Endgame. That might have had more of an impact on what happened in this episode but since it didn't, it made this episode kinda lame.
Jason - Mon, Apr 26, 2010 - 4:48am (USA Central)
I found this episode very poor and 'fast-forwarded' through a lot of it. Just not my cup-of-tea I suppose...
Paul - Mon, May 24, 2010 - 6:56pm (USA Central)
Unusual episode. Yes some bits were 'fast-forwardable'.

Quite an unusual vegetarian Chakotay isn't he? Loin, Chicken....he does eat a lot of meat. In an earlier episode, Seven cooked quail's eggs... That kind of thing is just lazy writing/production.

Good analogy with the metronome. Would have been better to use the sheet music itself in this analogy... why would she need to look at it with her brain capacity? Sticking to it is the reason there can be no feeling in the music.
Michael - Wed, Jul 21, 2010 - 2:05am (USA Central)
Uf, at first I though, thank goodness the initial scenes turned out to be a holo-program! I feared Seven had at last balked and joined the "Dr. Phil Collective." It's a shame she doesn't tell Janeway, The Doc and Neelix to pack it in and shove their "Seven, you must improve your social skills" baloney up their matter discharge conduits. But then it turned out that crock would form half the story of the episode, and it all went downhill from there.

Neelix has gotten increasingly and palpably irritating in Season 7. Why can't he just mind his own business (not that he seems to have any!) and let people be themselves? His unremitting badgering of Seven, Tuvok and anyone else who doesn't share his "the world is bunnies and rainbows, let's all hold hands and celebrate it" perma-effervescent disposition is infuriating. The four minutes of him "advising" Seven on what to do with her imaginary quarters are four minutes of my life I'll never get back. And then, just when you think it couldn't possibly get any worse, in comes Acoushla Moya with some Indian piece of junk for her to decorate her pad with, and the two get it on (over the course of fully a THIRD of the episode!). Then her seeking guidance from Torres about hairstyling. The Doctor and his little pep-talk with Seven. WHAT IS THE NEED for any of that!?! I found myself fast-forwarding thru more than half the show. I wish they'd cut out all such scenes - if Seven really needs to "grow," let her do so off-camera - and left us with an episode of 15 minutes focusing on the warheads and their electric pulse discharges (about which, incidentally, we never find out ANYTHING). I also wish more Voyager crewmembers had a similar cortical node that prevented them from waxing all emotional, needy, depressed and, in a word, boring.

The ending was the BEST part of the show: Seven telling the touchy-feely Doc to hologram off and resolving to remain her distant, clueless, callous, insensitive self, which, ironically, makes her far more unique than "growing" into some blonde bimbo clone of Neelix, Janeway, "No-Lock" Kim or any one of the rest of them ever would.

I liked Icheb's behavior: Faced with Seven's outbursts, he goes away when she tells him to. Most others would insist on getting her to open up, tell them what's wrong, talk about her...FEELINGS *rolls eyes* You go, Icheb!

One star but hardly for the same reasons as Jammer.
Elliott - Thu, Aug 12, 2010 - 4:33am (USA Central)
Does it occur to no one that the jolt we feel at the end, the betrayal, the anger and frustration is intentional. Because we have this "characters develop linearly" preconception going into drama, we forget that a very real human tragedy is seeing one's own attempts to better oneself fall flat, fail, or worse, go completely unnoticed. Seven has this huge character breakthrough, but no one else can admire her for it, no one can applaud her courage for trying--how deeply sad this is. In the end, the metronome-metaphor implant problem represents another very real human quality, relying on habit or custom to justify inaction. Don't we think all that anger and frustration we feel is precisely how Seven, and to some extent the doctor, feels here? Isn't that the mark of a very successful episode?
Procyon - Mon, Nov 1, 2010 - 4:19pm (USA Central)
I'm usually all for character development, but not in this particular case. I like seven the way she is, as a unique borg-human hybrid. Making her too human destroys her character.
No more "slice these vegetables transversely in five millimeter increments" dialog would be a great loss for voyager.
Cloudane - Sun, Apr 10, 2011 - 2:52pm (USA Central)
If it was earlier in the series I'd agree that she should be left as she is. However at this stage seeing her transform into who she wants to be would've been nice... what a pity the writers show us "this is what could happen" and then snatch it away at the last minute - cruel to the character of Seven, unfair to the audience and ultimately depressing. Not an episode I am fond of.
Elliott - Tue, Apr 16, 2013 - 6:47pm (USA Central)
How is Seven's "lack of change" any different from Barclay's in "Hollow Pursuits"? We see what she is capable of feeling and expressing, but she's become comfortable with the persona she's developed as a human who was recently Borg. Considering how much anger was spewed at the writing of Torres' character change in "Extreme Risk", I find it amusing that a similar change would have to occur here; now, they could certainly have done this episode sooner and developed (rather than just foreshadow) the Chakotay/7 relationship before this point. It does seem like a lot of material squeezed into an hour's show, but since they didn't it would be awful silly for Seven to just drop her persona because she indulged in a fantasy life.
skadoo - Sat, Jul 13, 2013 - 11:46pm (USA Central)
I'm just not a fan of a Seven/Chakotay pairing. While she is technically not a Starfleet officer she's still part of the crew. Chakotay as first officer is her boss. Same argument for why a Janeway/Chakotay romance doesn't work either. Although I have to admit I'd have prefered the later to the former.
navamske - Wed, Jul 17, 2013 - 8:16pm (USA Central)
Holo-Neelix suggests that Seven needs some drapes for the windows in her holo-quarters, then says they'll need to make sure the drapes "match the carpet." Pretty racy for Star Trek.
Leah - Sun, Jul 21, 2013 - 5:14am (USA Central)
@Michael: "...distant, clueless, callous, insensitive..." Yeah, I wonder why you want those characteristics. Couldn't have described you better myself.

Anyway...I know a lot of people don't like the Seven/Chakotay pairing but I thought they had pretty good chemistry. Seven chose him just as an experiment but then started to develop some real feelings for him. Since he acted just as the real Chakotay would act, it was more than just some trumped-up fantasy version of him. Her feelings for him leading into an actual relationship later are understandable considering this. His feelings, on the other hand, do feel a bit more manufactured.

Alas...it's Voyager. Ryan actually said in an interview that she and Beltran asked if they should indicate a building relationship between their characters in the following episode and were told, "No, no, no, no! Absolutely not. Don't play any of that. Nothing's going to happen." Imagine how frustrating it was, then, when just a couple of episodes later, they were told, "Oh, by the way, you guys are in love now." So if the relationship felt sudden and forced...it totally was, but it was despite the actors' attempts to encourage a more plausible development.

It's no wonder Beltran was openly negative about the show. A lot of people say he's an attention-whoring jerk for openly voicing his displeasure with how his character was mishandled and underused, but I personally think he's right. Even Ryan, who got most of the attention after joining the cast, expressed frustration with the inconsistencies and lack of care for character continuity and development. She felt like she constantly had to "babysit" her character to make sure the writers didn't destroy it.

*SIGH* So, yes, I agree that the last 2 minutes of this episode shat upon everything that happened prior. Lame, lame, lame, lame, lame!
azcats - Wed, Aug 28, 2013 - 3:59pm (USA Central)
It is watchable only because of 7 of 9. the character is just fun to watch. but pretty much any of character would have been boring.

b plot was not entertaining.

i did like the idea that chakotay doesnt even know she was trying to change. a bit of cruelty.

1 star
Watching the reruns - Sat, Sep 28, 2013 - 5:23am (USA Central)
Well, I enjoyed this one. (Perhaps the result of viewing it thru the lens of nostalgia.) Seven is always an interesting character and, while I can see that the ending can be viewed as a cop out, I agree with those who say that the character's Borg characteristics are what make her so compelling. Making her too 'human' would make her too similar to every other character--it's her very 'Borgness' that makes her intriguing. @Procyon "slice these vegetables transversely in five millimeter increments" indeed!
Niall - Fri, Oct 4, 2013 - 12:03pm (USA Central)
What harms this episode is that holo-Chakotay carries so much of the key dialogue. And that the reset button is arbitrary. We've seen Seven experience strong emotions before on many occasionals, other ex-drones too (one thinks of the ending of Survival Instinct). Even in this episode, Seven was able to successfully romance and sleep with holo-Chakotay - it's only when he confronts her the next morning that her node flips out. Similarly, the fact the doctor says correcting the problem would require multiple operations is also arbitrary. I'd much rather we'd have seen Seven develop for real the way she did on the holodeck in this ep. There's no reason why she couldn't have, other than Voyager's golden rule that characters can't change or develop. Which wasn't unusual for TV series at the time, but is why the show now comes over as so dated in our present era of continuity-based shows.
Jo Jo Meastro - Fri, Oct 18, 2013 - 11:33am (USA Central)
I liked how the episodes' story telling style and atmosphere was a perfect reflection of Seven.

It was calm and composed, paradoxically cold and mechanic but flesh warm and heartbreakingly vulnerable; such a unique, silent battle for humanity and somehow almost visibility quaking with a violent ocean of buried feelings.

I think this works best if you view it as a Day In The Life show to understated Sevens' everyday inner pain and hardship that her humanity suffers her through. The crew only ever see her unmoving surface, but we get to see deeper and inside she's crying and tragically shacked by so many mechanical scarrs torn deep inside her humanity. It makes you hate the Borg and feel for Seven all the more.

But I agree it was a mistake to open the window for Seven only to slam it down and barricade the glass with lame technobabble. It was not only cruel a dramatic end, it was just badly executed and ends so abruptly it only baffles you.

A reluctant 2 stars for a brilliant show that got sabotaged.
Jo Jo Meastro - Fri, Oct 18, 2013 - 11:46am (USA Central)
A couple of typos to fix.

*I think this works best if you view it as a Day In The Life show to understand

*It was not only cruel and a dramatic dead end

I also forgot to say I kind of liked the strange Seven and Chakotay pairing which is hinted at. I just hope they are actually going to go through with the pay-off, even if I had to wait for the finale...although seeing Seven finally getting together with the love-sick Doctor is still my first choice! :)
Maxwell Anderson - Fri, Jan 3, 2014 - 3:42am (USA Central)
I agree with Elliott. Excellent episode. I only wish it went on longer and we saw how Seven dealt with this tragic blow to her sense of self. Haven't seen the subsequent episodes yet. I can only hope Voyager does what it usually doesn't do and follows up.
Nick - Wed, Feb 5, 2014 - 7:01pm (USA Central)
A subtle, quiet, contemplative, character driven episode. I echo many here and like Seven JUST THE WAY SHE IS, or rather, the way the Borg built her. :::sigh::::

However, if she had end up with anyone, I echo JO JO and agree the Doc understands her best out of anyone else on the crew. The Doc certainly spent the most time with Seven since her rescue from the Borg. All those endless hours of surgery, elocution lessons, dating practice! ect... it's a natural fit. IMO to me Chakotay is way too flakey for Seven's assertive and logic driven personality.

The 'reset switch' didn't bother me one bit. Indeed, the emotion overload borg button sounds logical enough.
Steinway - Tue, Feb 25, 2014 - 12:05pm (USA Central)
So Seven loses her virginity to a hologram?! Ugh.

I thought Seven/holo-Chakotay did have great chemistry though. Glad Beltran got to actually do something on the show!

All the writers had to do to redeem this episode for me was to have Seven change her mind at the last second of the episode and tell Chakotay she'd go with him to the cooking class. I couldn't believe they didn't give us that one little glimmer at the end! It would have been a nice, subtle payoff.

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