"Scorpion, Part One"

Season Three, Episode 26
Written by Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky
Directed by David Livingston
Main Cast:
Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway
Robert Beltran as Chakotay
Roxann Dawson as B'Elanna Torres
Jennifer Lien as Kes
Robert Duncan McNeill as Tom Paris
Ethan Phillips as Neelix
Robert Picardo as The Doctor
Tim Russ as Tuvok
Garrett Wang as Harry Kim

Guest Cast:
John Rhys-Davies as "Leonardo da Vinci" 


As Voyager approaches the heart of Borg territory they encounter a graveyard of Borg ships that have been decimated by an outside force. An away team investigates an unidentified bio-ship which seems to be responsible for the destruction of the Borg fleet. They are attacked by it's occupant which infects Harry Kim with an alien virus which proceeds to "eat him alive". Kes finds herself able to pick up the thoughts of this new race, known to the Borg as Species 8472, and it becomes clear that it's not the Borg they should be worried about, it's them. The Doctor has found a way to adapt Borg nanoprobes to try and eradicate the alien virus. Janeway decides that she must form an alliance with the Borg, offering to share their nanoprobe research in exchange for safe passage through Borg space. As she opens negotiations with the Collective, they are again ambushed by the deadly Species 8472...


Wow. This is easily the best episode of Voyager to date. It's a sizzling, action-packed sci-fi adventure -- and on that level it's almost flawless (almost). Perhaps the best thing about this episode is that for once the Delta Quadrant seems like a fresh, interesting place. I'll argue that one of the main reasons that Voyager has failed to live up to its potential is the way it has made the Delta Quadrant -- which was filled with infinite promise for exciting, bold new storylines -- such a boring, dull place. With very few exceptions, none of the aliens we've encountered thus far have been particularly interesting, in fact all too often they're quite the contrary. Whilst the Voyager creative team can't take credit for creating the Borg, they have tailored an excellent story which utilises them well and incorporates another, more powerful (though not, thus far, as interesting or effective a) race in Species 8472.

I suspect the Borg will always be Trek's best villains. They're not as complex and intriguing as the Dominion and you could perhaps even say they are one-note villains (which, let's face it, they are). But no other alien race I've seen on Trek has the ability to send a shiver down my spine the way the Borg do. Thanks to the show's excellent production values (and the fact these are First Contact-style Borg) they look terrifyingly menacing and the very concept of assimilation is just spine-chilling. Most villains threaten to kill you but the Borg do far worse than that -- they assimilate you. They possess and mutilate your body whilst destroying your very soul. They are the vampires of the Nineties, doubly terrifying.

Of course, the writers know very well that it's difficult to actually use the Borg because they're a faceless enemy. You need to carefully structure your story so it somehow incorporates the Borg into the plot by using an intermediary. Otherwise you just have the Borg chasing you, assimilating you -- which is impersonal and not really much of a story. Back when they were introduced, Q was the intermediary, then Picard/Locutus was in "The Best of Both Worlds" and Lore in "Descent". In First Contact, the writers came up with the Borg Queen as the "face" of the Borg. And here, to involve the Borg in the actual storyline, the writers have come up with the super-powerful Species 8472, answering the question that if we fear the Borg, who do the Borg fear?

So far we haven't really seen that much of Species 8472, merely evidence of their might and what they are capable of doing. Full marks to the creative team for trying to design a race of aliens that are mercifully far-removed from the alien-of-the-week-with-the-bumpy-
forehead that we all know and loathe. They actually look quite similar to Babylon
5's Shadows. Coincidental? Well, it could have been had their ships not bore an equally striking resemblance to B5's Vorlon ships. What's going on there, guys? The special effects also reminded me of B5, although they were admittedly better. They are quite spectacular and yet I still can't shake the feeling that whilst the CGI is very nifty, it doesn't bear the same weight as good model work. I still think that DS9 has better special effects than Voyager, which is odd because I always assumed the effects were done by the same people. Still, I'm certainly not complaining 'bout what we got here, I just feel it could have been even better.

One of the best things about "Scorpion" is the impact the events of the plot has on the characters -- particularly Janeway and Chakotay. For once Voyager's "stranded in the Delta Quadrant" premise (a vast mine of untapped, wasted potential) is put to good use. The path ahead of them is obviously a very dangerous one because they face not only the Borg, but 8472. Janeway realises that decision time is looming on the horizon -- does she blindly follow a potentially deadly path to get the crew home (and fulfil what is essentially a personal obssession of hers) or opt to settle in the Delta Quadrant. For once she experiences the loneliness and the tremendous pressure of making such a huge decision on her own. This is something we should have seen long, long ago and it lends a certain depth to the character. Of course, Janeway finds a loop-hole -- they make a deal with the devil. Help the Borg defeat 8472 in exchange for safe passage throught their territory. A reasonable, if risky idea. I don't have a problem with that but I do have a problem with the way she went about it.

First of all, despite assuring Chakotay that they will "make the decision together" she doesn't tell him about it until she briefs the rest of the senior staff -- and by that point it's clear that she's made her mind up. All good and well, but when Chakotay disagrees with her she acts like a petty fool. He makes a very good case but she refuses to listen to him. She's already decided that she's right and she doesn't want to hear what anyone else thinks. I was annoyed at the way she snubbed Chakotay, who was only doing his job, then turned it into a personal issue by questioning whether he trusts her. That is downright manipulative and she ought to have shown him the respect he deserved.

Don't get me wrong, I did like the scene. The dialogue was well-scripted and both Mulgrew and Beltran did a great job, resulting in a tense, dramatic confrontation. It added a lot to the story. I just didn't like the way it portrayed Janeway. She was pig-headed, arrogant, manipulative and way out-of-line and the thing that scares me is I'm not sure whether it was intentional. This isn't the first time I've questioned Janeway's attitude and I doubt it will be the last. Just as I was starting to recover from the whole Tuvix trauma, the writers go and muddy the waters again -- oh, it's nowhere near as bad this time, but I just didn't like her attitude at all. She may well have made the right decision, but she went about it very badly, reflecting poorly on her abilities as a Captain. The more I think about this, the more I get peeved, but thankfully it's just a minor niggle that doesn't detract too much from things.

While we're on the subject of Janeway, a quick word about her new holodeck pursuit -- "Leonardo da Vinci". I can see what they were aiming for; a kind of mentor for Janeway to bounce ideas off. But once again the use of the holodeck seems to defy all logic. Just how real is a holographic representation of someone? Even with a ton of reference material programmed in, I still have a hard time accepting that a Holodeck can so accurately recreate someone. At the end of the day it's just a computer representation and Janeway looked slightly silly to be taking this representation of Leonardo da Vinci so seriously. It's not real, Kaff! I must say, however, that John Rhys-Davies seems perfectly cast as The Man. He does a splendid job.

The Janeway stuff aside, "Scorpion" plays out smashingly, remaining completely engrossing from start to finish. The story was involving, and executed with a striking degree of confidence and finesse. The technobabble was mercifully light and the production values were just superb -- the interiors of the Borg and 8472 ships were beautifully constructed, as were the aliens themselves. David Livingston does some terrific, visually-stunning directorial work and even Jay Chattaway's music is nicely bombastic. This is just an excellent episode and whilst you may well bat an eyelid at Janeway's attitude problem I can guarantee you won't be disappointed by this.

Rating: 10

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