In brief: A deviously clever premise, with the best-executed action of the season.
I can't help myself. I like the Borg too much to frown on "Regeneration," recycled as some of it may be. And although I will say that Enterprise is doing itself few favors by reaching into the obvious Trekkian bag of tricks like this, I will also say that the way the writers handle the plot for "Regeneration" is too clever to dismiss. Let's just hope that after this the creators have gotten the Borg out of their systems and can move on.
The way the Borg are brought into this series' time frame is some sort of simplistic genius. It simultaneously makes perfect sense ... and is colossally absurd. I love it. The premise is the kind of thing the fans would come up with, and you'd expect the professionals would dismiss it on their belief that the general audience would be too confused by the continuity references. It's good to see the writers going forward with this sort of ingenious, reckless abandon. Well, this time, anyway.
The idea is this: A human research team inside the Arctic Circle on Earth finds buried in the ice the wreckage of the Borg sphere that was destroyed in Star Trek: First Contact and has been preserved there for the last century. How a crash site so large has gone undetected for the last 100 years is a question best left unasked. Naturally, the researchers have no idea what they've found, because they've never heard of the Borg, let alone seen one. To the researchers, these are unknown humanoid corpses filled with cybernetic implants. I laughed at an exchange where one researcher urges caution and suggests re-freezing the bodies to halt the resumed activity within their nanotechnology:
Researcher A: "There's no reason to assume they're hostile."
Researcher B: "They don't exactly look friendly."
Researcher A: "Keep them here for now; we'll see what happens."
It's funny precisely because we know what they do not — that these are Borg, for crying out loud — and Researcher A, who does not heed the monster movie rule of taking adequate precautions, is obviously going to be the first Dead Meat. Or, rather, Assimilated Meat.
One may be tempted to question the latitude the writers permit themselves here by alleging that the Borg wreckage, blown up by the Enterprise-E a century ago, could've crashed to the surface of the Earth without being incinerated ... AND that intact Borg corpses could be so conveniently preserved. I'm not here to argue against whatever convenient fates protected the Borg wreckage; stranger things have happened on Star Trek. Besides, this simply makes too much sense on its terms for me to quibble over. This is a franchise tie-in that allows the Borg onto this series in the only acceptable way.
Crucial to the impact of "Regeneration" is the way it plays the story straight, like a mystery, as if no one has heard of the Borg — which, come to think of it, they haven't. The story employs a device that's been used on this series before, sometimes unsuccessfully, which is that of something being new to the characters in the story but not new to us in the audience. We've seen the Borg many, many times, and the question is whether this particular encounter — the first encounter by these characters in this time frame — will be effective. I'm reminded of the unsuccessful "Sleeping Dogs," where the Enterprise crew got their first glimpse of the inside of a Klingon vessel. In that case, it was not enough that the Klingon ship was new to them, because the story itself was not interesting.
But here, with the Borg, the writers pull it off. A big part of this is because of the clever tie-in with First Contact and the details shown in the researchers' discovery. The rest of it lies in our curiosity of how far the Borg will get and what they will do now that they've essentially been allowed out of their ice prison. The story is able to conjure a nice sense of dread.
The first act is a refreshing change of pace, taking place entirely on Earth and featuring an array of guest actors. The snowy research facility gives this typically enclosed series some much-needed breathing room. It's nice to get a sense that there's Starfleet activity outside the crew of the Enterprise. Once the Borg are loose, they assimilate the research team and escape the planet in the team's transport vessel. Conveniently, they are headed in the direction of the Enterprise. The only remaining question is how they come so close to the Enterprise so quickly. By now, you'd think the Enterprise would be many months away from Earth, even at maximum warp.
Starfleet orders Captain Archer to pursue the vessel, investigate the threat, and retrieve the kidnapped research team, if possible. What ensues is all action and nuts-and-bolts plotting — chases and firefights (inside and outside both the Enterprise and the Borgified transport ship), and struggles to avoid being injected with invasive nanoprobes, which seem to facilitate the Borg assimilation process to the point that it might as well be a really, really, really bad virus you absolutely don't want to get.
The crew must contend with two Tarkaleans that they attempted to rescue from attack by the Borg-hijacked transport; the Tarkaleans of course have already begun the transformation and then try to begin assimilating the Enterprise. Meanwhile, Phlox is infected by nanoprobes and must race to find a cure for himself before he becomes another one of these cybernetic beings. Reed works on upgrading the phase pistols to pack more punch. And some people get blown out into space.
Basically, if you're looking for meaningful or subtle character interaction, this is not the place to find it (save perhaps a very brief moment between Hoshi and Phlox).
The simple fact is, this is one of Enterprise's most engaging action episodes to date; it's a superior hardware show. This story moves forward at a relentless pace. There is scarcely a dull moment. Some of the material may be quite familiar (we know how the Borg operate when trying to take control of a ship, and such action here is straight from the Borg Assimilation Handbook), but that's okay, because the plot flow and David Livingston's direction is dead-on. Brian Tyler's music score is terrific. The overall sense of the episode is: The Enterprise crew has a problem, and they need to address it, RIGHT NOW. There's a sense of urgency that never lets up or releases our attention.
David Livingston, known for sometimes pushing the envelope of cinematography in episodes like DS9's "Crossover" and Voyager's "Distant Origin," again does so here, with a camera that is not content to sit idly during the action. I liked the results. While I found I was aware of the director's hand at times, the shots are fresh and interesting and add to the episode's aggressive tone when the Borg are on the offensive.
There's also one novel nugget of information that explicitly references this story's First Contact connection, but without letting the characters in on the joke: Archer finds an archived speech (one that was later recanted) where Zefram Cochrane had talked of cybernetic beings trying to prevent his warp flight, and humans from the future who had stopped them. T'Pol's response that Cochrane was known for his "imaginative stories" and frequent drinking is perfect. Nice touch.
The plot itself manages to make sense and hold together believably on its terms. (Although, the ease by which the Borg can assimilate people and technology with their magical nanoprobes makes you wonder why they didn't just start marching around Earth and infecting as many people as they could find.) After the crew is able to destroy the threat and Phlox cures himself by irradiating all the nanoprobes (afterward, John Billingsley is excellent depicting a very fatigued man who looks like he's really just been bombarded with radiation), the crew discovers that the aliens sent a homing signal aimed deep into the Delta Quadrant — where presumably they came from. It's apparently the precursor to an invasion ... but it will take the signal 200 years to reach that area of space. But by the 24th century, they will know where we are...
I enjoyed this ending. It raises some continuity questions, yes, but it still works on a couple different levels. On level one is the conveyed sense of ominous dread when Archer gains this knowledge. On level two is the ironic humor; it made me laugh out loud because we have so much more information than the characters. The invasion Archer is worried about has essentially already happened — it happened 100 years ago and 200 years from now, basically simultaneously. He's worried about it, but we can simply laugh in retrospect.
To look at the facts, I presume this explains why the Borg became interested in our area of space to begin with. Of course, TNG's "Q Who" already had answered the question of why the Borg headed for Earth, but "Regeneration" might explain why the Borg were already on our doorstep in "Q Who" and why they were scooping up remote outposts along the Romulan neutral zone in "The Neutral Zone," as opposed to still being in the Delta Quadrant (their origin as established from Voyager's third season on). There's probably some fudging here, and I'm certain that not everyone watching is going to buy into this (I'm not sure even I do), but I found the attempts to tie things together here to be enjoyable.
What's important, though, is that the episode works on both levels — as an hour of action in its own right as well as something that assembles these various franchise fragments. That it does; "Regeneration" contains more pure entertainment than most of this season's episodes of Enterprise. My one qualm is the implied sense that the creators had to fall back on the franchise's most reliable villains in order to get there.
So, then, how to account for the fact that these unknown alien aggressors will still be unknown in the 24th century when they begin their invasion against the Federation? I have an explanation. It's quite simple, really: When the TNG crew first encountered the Borg in "Q Who," that was before they followed the Borg sphere back in time to Earth and destroyed it, a full century before its wreckage would be found in the Arctic Circle. So, you see, none of this had happened yet when the TNG crew first encountered the Borg. Of course they wouldn't have heard the stories of a possible invasion of cybernetic beings. Those stories didn't exist. Yet.
Smile, wink, nod.
Next week: Two episodes, one night — Enterprise's original intended captain (hmmm) and T'Pol in heat (hmph).