Nutshell: The plot is a tad convenient at times, but the effect is quite good. Seven continues to be the capable center of the season.
It's so nice to see the Voyager writers, in what is clearly the best season of this series yet, unlock the potential of their characters—or, more specifically, their newest character, Seven of Nine.
I don't necessarily want to go on record saying that Seven of Nine is the best thing that has ever happened to Voyager, but I definitely think the character has been very good for the writing staff. Ever since her controversial introduction to the cast, the effective use of Seven has proven wrong the premature fears of skeptics (myself included). The writers seem to have so much control when writing her, and the shows always seem like they have direction when they pick up a story that explores the character's puzzling dilemmas. These days, my only skepticism is that all the other characters are sitting idly in the background because this one's getting so much spotlight attention.
This week's Seven story, "Retrospect," finally begins to analyze the character's emotions, something I've been long awaiting. It accomplishes this with a fairly standard plot device that benefits from an interesting twist: namely the fact that, for once, the Voyager crew is on the wrong side of a judgment call. Their intentions are good in rallying around Seven in her apparent hour of need, but they make some mistakes which leads to some ugly results.
Perhaps some background would be in order. Still inside Hirogen-traveled space, Voyager comes across a prosperous commerce world featuring This Week's Friendly Aliens (not to be confused with This Week's Evil Aliens). Voyager negotiates with a trader named Kovin (Michael Horton), a somewhat hot-headed and annoying man who deals in powerful weapons that would prove particularly useful in the dangerous areas that Voyager is traveling. Janeway has hammered out a barter deal, but the deal is complicated when Seven loses her cool and assaults Kovin in engineering, breaking his nose.
Naturally, there's more to this than what meets the eye. Seven is on-edge, tense, unusually emotional (in a Seven kind of way). When Doc tries to run scans she grows uneasy and claustrophobic. Doc attributes her uneasiness to memories that have been mysteriously blocked out. When he helps her bring these memories to the surface, she realizes that she was attacked by Kovin when analyzing his weapons stock on the planet surface. Apparently, he shot her with a phaser, confined her to a medical table, extracted Borg nanoprobes from her arm, and then used them to test on another subject—a clear violation of her rights of an individual, not to mention a theft of dangerous technology.
Well, ultimately, the whole point of "Retrospect" is that none of what Seven remembers actually happened. There was indeed an accident: Kovin's phaser had overloaded, stunning Seven—but that was all, according to Kovin's story. Seven must have imagined the rest. (Exactly how she inadvertently concocted the Kovin-specific flashbacks with such alarming detail based merely on "previously witnessing individuals being assimilated back when she was a Borg" is beyond me. I don't claim to be a psychologist.) The episode doesn't let us in on the truth until near the end of the story. In the meantime, there are some lengthy investigations into Kovin's affairs, as the Voyager crew tries to confirm Seven's story.
One question under scrutiny in this episode is just how "impartial" Janeway truly is when a member of her "family" is at stake. Tuvok is by definition impartial, but as "Retrospect" continues, it seems evident that Voyager's search for evidence seems to continue as long as it seems even the slightest bit possible that Kovin is guilty. As the plot would have it (which sometimes proves a little on the contrived side), every clue the investigation uncovers can be read two ways. Is Kovin a liar trying to cover up dangerous experiments? Or is he the innocent subject of people who are very protective of themselves when it comes to their individual rights?
Michael Horton as Kovin has more fire than most guest stars playing aliens, and for this role it's appropriate. Kovin vehemently professes his innocence from the outset, and he's completely appalled that Janeway believes he could've attacked one of her crew members. It's interesting to note that if Kovin had really been guilty, he probably would've been portrayed by the guest actor as a guilty-seeming persona. Here that's obviously not the case.
However, of more interest is the regular cast. Once again, the performances are what truly carries this show. Of honorable mention this week is Robert Picardo as Doc, who is supplied with the interesting role of helping—even prodding—Seven to acknowledge her feelings. He explains to her why it would be "healthy" to feel anger and resentment, and the more he talks, the more Seven understands. A pivotal moment in the story comes when Doc tells her, "When Kovin gets what he deserves, you're going to feel much better." But now knowing that Kovin was, in fact, innocent, Doc's course of action seems to me like traveling in dangerous territory, which I suspect is the story's point.
Kate Mulgrew is typically good as simply "the captain," trying to take control of the messy situation as it unfolds. And Jeri Ryan, who was wonderful in "Prey" last week, again proves adept at conveying confused emotion in a new and interesting way. Some of this material seemed a bit on the familiar side, particularly when Seven finally found her buried emotions beginning to surface. Lines like "I believe I am feeling anger" seem like they came straight out of Data's experience in Generations, but I think "Retrospect" handled this situation much more effectively and subtly overall, rather than going over the top into comic anarchy like Generations did. Besides, this had to happen eventually given the fact that Seven is inherently human, and I'm glad the writers were restrained and plausible in handling it—it made the sentiment much stronger.
Subsequently, when the investigation falls apart (but not before driving Kovin to a panic), Doc realizes he made a serious mistake in his prejudgment, which only leaves Seven more confused. Evidence suggests that Kovin was telling the truth, but by this time Seven has become so emotionally involved in the matter that she doesn't want Kovin to be innocent. She just wants to feel better when Kovin is finally punished. Seven's irrational emotional reaction makes sense because, like she said herself, resentment is not objective or structured. Now she's learning the hard way.
Salvador's direction over the scene in sickbay where Doc has to inform Seven of Kovin's innocence uses an effective subtext: It places Janeway, Doc, and Tuvok all on one side of the room looking across at Seven, who suddenly realizes she is alone. Janeway says that no one is abandoning her, but it certainly must not feel that way to Seven. The visual placement gives the moment a nice touch.
Not quite everything with "Retrospect," however, comes off quite as naturally as it could have. Some of the story's concluding passages are a bit overwrought. As the possible evidence mounts against Kovin, he becomes frustrated and trapped—which I can understand. But that he becomes so desperate that he panics and flees his own world in a ship didn't strike me as completely believable; it struck me more as a convenient turn in the plot used to lead the episode to its culmination in disaster. Likewise, when Voyager tries to contact Kovin and explain how they were wrong, he opens fire on them, disbelieving their promises that they now know the truth. He's killed when his weapons overload and blow up his own ship. Speaking in plot terms, it's awfully extreme.
However, when looking at the outcome of this series of events, it makes sense in the big picture, especially considering that this episode's payoff is about the emotional aftermath that the Voyager crew must deal with. There's some good stuff in here, including Janeway realizing that rallying around a member of the Voyager family can cloud objectivity—something we've all seen Janeway do but seldom acknowledge afterward.
Meanwhile, Seven realizing that she is feeling remorse in this "single being's" death is framed in a nice context. On the surface you can just barely tell she's being affected by her feelings—and "barely" is a perfectly fascinating level of change. The ending also seems to draw an interesting connection between Doc and Seven. Both are relatively new to reacting to emotions. Doc claims to be an "expert" at times, but he knows he really isn't, and in the final scene he goes before the captain and asks to be "reset" to his original program, missing the whole point of why people learn from their mistakes. Keeping in terms with the maternal figure that she has represented through much of this season, Janeway explains the point to him. It's an obvious point, admittedly, but in terms of who Doc is, it's also a sincere one.
I just hope the writers continue to challenge themselves with logical character evolution. "Retrospect" is a good example of the potential, especially considering all the untapped humanity still within Seven. If there's one thing that Seven cannot exhibit, it's a static personality. I hope that if Voyager continues for another two or three seasons I can look back and see that Seven has changed and grown immensely. An episode like "Retrospect" definitely proves that such an evolution is possible within the context of the stories. Let's just hope the writers take the subsequent steps.
Rating-wise, I'm electing to go with three stars; like with DS9 this week, that's on a particularly high end of the three-star range. Quite good, but not quite enough to be standout.
In any case, whether you agree or disagree with me, you can consider me a member of the Seven of Nine fan club. Her character has sparked a lot of compelling stories this season. But I still want to see some of the other characters doing interesting things.
Next week: Poor relations with the Hirogen reach their breaking point with some deadly holodeck games.