In brief: A nicely done allegory on terminal illness, though the Borg crutch and irrelevant action scenes are growing tiresome.
"Imperfection" is said to have grown out of a story pitch based on a true experience involving a kidney transplant — from both the donating and receiving ends. I can believe that, because this episode has a ring of truth to it. The story concept is a fairly simple one, but the predicament that arises is emotional and difficult, ultimately leading to a seemingly impossible choice.
At the same time, Seven of Nine stories are getting a bit repetitive (doesn't she essentially learn the same lessons every time, unable to later apply them to similar situations?), and it seems like the production teams are breaking out the Borg sets every other week. When familiar elements are utilized this well I'm hardly in a position to complain, but do we really need three episodes of Voyager in a row about the Borg and Seven of Nine? Seven is a good character, but probably mostly because half the rest of the cast is ignored.
Still, if you're going to do a terminal illness story, Seven seems like a good choice. She's probably the character we generally think of as the least "mortal," with the possible exception of the Doctor. And, after all, since this is science fiction, a terminal illness with a sci-fi twist seems to lend itself particularly well to Seven's Borg inner-workings.
In this case, Seven begins showing symptoms of a severe problem when her cortical node — which is responsible for regulating her vital Borg implants — begins to malfunction. It cannot be repaired because it is too complex. In theory its Borg adaptability should lead it to repair itself, but it doesn't. After a brief display of believable denial, Seven realizes that it's very possible she could soon be dead.
Some options for treatment are considered. The most hopeful method is simply replacing the cortical node with a module from another drone. (Although, I wonder — in something as complex as a cortical node, I would expect there would be issues of compatibility from drone to drone; after all, you don't just get a heart transplant from anybody, let alone something that controls your important biological systems.)
This leads Janeway to track down a destroyed Borg ship nearby (how convenient!), from which they might find a dead drone with an undamaged cortical node that can serve as a replacement. Just how many times has Voyager chased after the Borg, anyway? Funny how Chakotay says, "It's not every day we go looking for the Borg." Could've fooled me.
Though competently executed, I could've done without this week's Voyager Action Insert, the gratuitous sequence that serves as an argument that no episode of Voyager is demographic-friendly without some sort of exchange of weapons and/or chase through a debris field. While aboard the damaged Borg vessel we don't run into any Borg drones looking to assimilate our crew members, but instead the stock Hard-Headed Aliens of the Week, who will not listen to two words of reason. "This is my debris field," and out come the weapons. How tired I am of this scene.
The ensuing ship chase then takes place through the Borg debris field, with the hard-headed aliens chasing the Delta Flyer. The recently destroyed Delta Flyer, you ask? Why, yes. Oh sure, there's a single-line acknowledgement that it was destroyed in "Unimatrix Zero" ("The last time you took the Delta Flyer to confront the Borg, it ended up in a couple thousand pieces," Paris says helpfully), but it's so cavalierly tossed at us and hopelessly transparent — I don't buy it. What's particularly laughable is that the line as delivered seems to imply that the Delta Flyer was salvaged rather than replaced after being blown to smithereens. (Break out the super glue and prepare for an all-nighter of reassembly, I guess.)
As usual, I find that I can take this show seriously on its given episodic standalone terms (the terminal illness story is top-drawer), but the credibility of the series as a whole is reduced to a pathetic joke. Voyager and its crew are indestructible; it can be blown up and they assimilated by Borg, and it's always just another day at the office. At least when the Defiant was destroyed on DS9 the writers waited a few episodes before replacing it, and acted as if it were actually a different ship.
But back to the main idea here (to which the episode, fortunately, is wise enough to quickly return after straying for the Action Insert). The core is a genuinely good story. It certainly has more of a heart than "Unimatrix Zero," which was essentially a wind-up action toy. There's some nicely portrayed character work in "Imperfection" that makes a lot of sense. After the initial plan to replace the node fails (any dead drone's node will prove useless, Doc learns), we get scenes where Seven's death becomes a looming possibility for the characters to consider. As I said, I liked Seven's brief bit of denial and the fact that it was kept relatively brief (Seven is the type to consider the data and then act upon the hard facts at hand); shortly afterward comes the anger, frustration, and ultimately acceptance. The idea of the usually in-control Seven not wanting others to see her in a state of vulnerability is particularly believable, and her desire to break out of sickbay I can completely understand.
What's nice in addition to the terminal illness issue is that this story manages to tackle Seven's character from a couple different perspectives. She occupies an interesting position in between Janeway, her mentor, and Icheb, her protege. The fact that Seven might be dying is good for exploring the dialog scenes. A highlight includes Seven wondering if she has lived up to the captain's hopes of becoming an individual, and an apt moment where she points out dead Voyager crew members who were individuals when she was still linked to the hive mind. Another highlight is the issue of Icheb's dependency on Seven, which cuts both ways, as the episode demonstrates that Seven is independent to a fault.
Ryan, Picardo, and Mulgrew put in their typically good performances, but the surprise here is Manu Intiraymi as Icheb, who comes up with a risky plan that might be able to save Seven — donating his own cortical node, which his research indicates he can probably survive without. The risks bring out the hard choices; Seven will not hear of Icheb risking his life, so Icheb simply forces the issue in an urgently played scene. Intiraymi adequately carries a meatier role here than he has to date, including in last season's "Child's Play." (Icheb as of now is also the last of the Borg children; at the episode's outset the three other children have said their goodbyes, having been given a new home with a passerby family.)
I also was impressed with the sincere dialog between Seven and Torres about the question of belief in an afterlife. These two characters really share a good moment here ... although the episode misses a key opportunity when it seems to completely forget B'Elanna's near-death experience a year ago in "Barge of the Dead." (A real shame, too, because this scene was perfectly appropriate for such a reference. But such references are apparently illegal on the studio lot.) There's some compelling talk of Seven fearing her death will result in total oblivion: In the collective her memories would live on through the hive mind, but that's of course no longer possible.
"Imperfection" is a solid story with some well-sold emotions and a situation that can be recognized to some degree as real life, even if not necessarily yours or mine. What "Imperfection" is not is particularly unexpected. We've been to similar places with Seven (indeed, we've been probably everywhere with Seven), and even though a Seven/Janeway or Seven/Icheb scene can still be very good, it also feels like an iteration of a Voyager staple.
Next week: Get on your marks — it's the Indy 5 Billion!
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