Note: This episode was rerated from 3 to 2.5 stars when the season recap was written.
In brief: Played out about how I expected. Surprises are scarce, contrivances are plentiful, but it's a pretty enjoyable hour.
The funny thing about the implausible but well-crafted "Unimatrix Zero, Part II" is that it more or less plays out the only way it possibly could've. Everything here borders on the inevitable.
Obviously, Our Heroes would not still be Borg drones by the end of the episode (beware the Reset Button). Obviously, the crew's plan to subvert the hive mind and help the individualized Borg in Unimatrix Zero would be successful. Obviously, there would be some snags in the plan along the way. Obviously, Seven's romantic theme would play into the human storyline. Obviously, the setup in part one called for an eventual Borg insurgence within the collective, which would happen here. Obviously, a big season-opening budget would provide us with all the production design, makeup, and visual effects to give it a slick, high-tech look — yet another episode that proves this is one of, if not the, best-looking sci-fi shows on television.
What we have here is a story that contains few surprises but works so efficiently that it hardly matters. This is not an inspired episode of Voyager, or even a believable one, but it is an entertaining and interesting one, and it hints that there may be a Bigger Picture [TM] concerning the Borg that might be revisited down the line.
What I expected of "UMZ II" was pretty much what I got — a solid-on-its-own-terms cliffhanger resolution that left me puzzled with questions about the Borg (and especially, of course, the Borg Queen), but provided enough change in the Borg's situation to justify the effort and revisions used to get there.
Oh, the contrivances and silliness are here. I for one would still like to know how any Starfleet officer wakes up in the morning and decides they're going to march into a Borg cube and get assimilated (here, saw my hand off while I sit and watch calmly). Convenient how Janeway, Tuvok, and Torres all manage to get Assimilation Lite, which means no amputations or ocular implants. Even more convenient that they're able to remain individualized — separate from the hive mind, thanks to a magical device called a "neural suppressor." (Why wasn't such a device invented long before this? It probably could've been the undoing of the Borg centuries ago.) This allows them to walk about the Borg ship without easily being detected or detained, so they can set the Master Plan in motion.
Said plan suggests that the Borg need to renew their McAfee VirusScan license, not to mention establish a firewall between possible individualized Voyager crew drones and crucial network areas of the ship. Janeway et al are able to (easily) make their way to the ship's "central plexus," where Torres uploads the virus into the system, where it promptly spreads through the Borg collective. This virus has been designed to allow the drones who exist as individuals in the virtual reality realm Unimatrix Zero to retain their individuality when they awaken from their regeneration state, severing them from the collective. It also allows them to remember what ship they exist on in real life when they enter UMZ, supplying the Borg resistance movement some tactical means to subvert the hive. This is a neat concept, even though it makes Borg security look like Swiss cheese. (With all those drones walking around doing who-knows-what, you'd think some armed guards protecting crucial network areas of the collective would be prudent.)
Meanwhile there's a problem with Tuvok; his neural suppressor is not getting the job done, and his connection with the hive begins to turn him into a drone. This also allows the Borg Queen to figure out Janeway & Co.'s whereabouts in the collective and realize what they're doing. You'd think that the last person to have problems resisting the collective would be the mentally disciplined Tuvok, but there you are.
Subsequently, Janeway is held captive and the Borg Queen attempts to negotiate a surrender of the individualized Borg drones in UMZ. In a potent scene, the Queen destroys two entire Borg vessels with tens of thousands of drones because a handful of Borg on board had been severed from the collective, outside its control. This plays Janeway's conscience and respect for life against her own need to see the Borg's undoing: It hurts to watch Borg cubes incinerated by the collective will because of her own actions, but she'll be damned if she's going to give into the Queen's attempt to put down the insurgence ("You'll have to destroy the entire collective to find them all").
There are some other nice character touches in the episode, including some mildly ironic debating between Chakotay and Paris concerning command decisions, where Chakotay plays the Janeway role and Paris plays the Chakotay role.
Seven's romance with Axum (Mark Deakins) is more or less by the numbers, but the fact that it's Seven we're dealing with makes it a situation that seems halfway new. There's also a wonderfully acted and directed scene between Doc and Seven where they discuss this possible romance. As always, Doc/Seven is a character pairing that never seems to fail on this series. The subtle nuances in Robert Picardo's performance reveal Doc's true feelings for Seven without needing a single line of dialog to remind us.
As for the Borg Queen ... there's a fine line between a mystery and a muddle, and everything about the Queen resides on the "muddle" side of that line. What is the Queen's purpose? She is the collective personified as far as I can tell, used solely as a narrative tool so the audience knows what's going on and why. There are scenes where the Queen talks to herself to explain to us that links have been severed. Unlikely, but probably necessary for a television story. And there's also a scene where the Queen tells a child that she also was assimilated as a child. 'Scuse me? I always figured the Queen — who has been "killed" twice — was a symbolic drone simply assembled on demand. After "UMZ II" there's nothing for me to do but admit but logical defeat; there is no logic to apply here. (I highly doubt that even Braga & Menosky understand, or care about, the Borg rules that they've written by.)
A lot of people are unhappy that the Borg have been reduced to a presence that is no longer remotely intimidating or threatening. I will not be arguing that position, because the Borg have not been intimidating for years. There's no going back to what the Borg were in their TNG heyday, so I'm all about moving forward. The direction that "UMZ II" takes seems to me like a reasonable direction. It's certainly a better direction than the one proposed (and ultimately rejected) by TNG's "Descent."
The conclusion provides what I mean: the simple but intriguing concept of a Borg civil war. Yes, I wondered how General Korok (Jerome Butler), the Klingon drone from UMZ, could take command of an entire Borg ship with thousands of drones against him. And in thinking about it, I'm even a little hazy about the notion of the Queen delivering the second virus in UMZ. (If these drones can be traced through the Borg network to UMZ, surely they can be traced back to their real-life locations? I suppose the UMZ drones have a better-trained network administrator.) But the sight of one Borg ship firing on another is so bizarre, twisted, and interesting that I didn't care about the logical questions. I for one hope the Borg are changed forever. Heck, I wouldn't mind seeing this arc played all the way through until the Borg collective has fallen. That seems to be the direction we're headed in, and we certainly could use a storyline with a direction on this series.
"UMZ II" is such an efficient hour of production, in fact, that in retrospect it almost feels mechanical and preordained. It's an exercise in technical mastery more than it is creative storytelling. It lacks passion. It's a Borg drone.
And yet with sly conviction, it peddles BS like only the best door-to-door salesmen. Even though you know it's BS, you still want to buy it. Logic suggests that this story is so full of holes it's an incomprehensible mess. But somehow, it's not. It's remarkably confident on its terms, and it swept me along for the ride. Resistance was, as they say (but not anymore), futile.
Next week: Seven comes face to face with her mortality.