In the seventeenth episode of the third season of Voyager, Chakotay makes a disturbing discovery while Janeway and the rest of the crew makes one of their own. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For talk of consent, brief mentions of genocide.
See, this is why I like science fiction. How else could you ask this sort of question? Throughout Star Trek’s history, the writers have managed to tap into the potential of the genre by using this kind of fictional conceit to reflect on the real world. I’d argue that that’s the whole point of science fiction: we create and imagine in order to answer questions. Thus, we assume that “Unity” wants to ask whether or not power absolutely corrupts. Can we ever trust it? Can unity be truly achieved through the sacrifice of individuality, or are we forever doomed to be a species who cannot see past our differences, both imagined and real?
Even more boldly, “Unity” asks that question, and then only sort of answers it. At the heart of the conflict here are the remains of Borg assimilation, the victims of genocide and terror who were abandoned and cast free by random chance. (And if you wanna talk about unresolved stories, let’s just acknowledge how creepy it is that this episode suggests that an enemy worse than the Borg destroyed one of their cubes. THANKS FOR THAT.) While the Voyager crew is busy exploring a Borg cube full of Borg corpses, Chakotay responds to the distress call of a co-operative, one made up of stragglers. Strangers. The horrible victims of past raids by the Borg.
But the writers twist things just a bit. This isn’t just about a group of survivors waiting to be rescued. Instead, it’s much more complicated than that. The survivors of the Borg Cube’s destruction are from species spread far about the Gamma and Alpha Quadrants, and many of them were raised to be mortal enemies. Devoid of any development or chance for it, they’ve fallen into chaos. And that’s the disturbing thing: the Borg have nothing to do with the pervasive violence found on this planet. The survivors just simply could not get along. Far from home, with limited resources and no hope of ever returning from where they were stolen, they turned on one another.
Thus, we get our ethical dilemma, and OH LORD, is it a rough one. On the surface, the idea of re-activating the link to unify all the ex-Borg made a lot of sense, and after watching them heal Chakotay, I wasn’t sure there even was a problem here. Hell, I even convinced myself that the main problem was in activating the neural generator on the Borg cube. SURELY ALL THOSE BORG CORPSES WOULD BE REACTIVATED. In hindsight, however, that’s such a temporary concern. Indeed, there was a way they could have taken precautions beforehand. (Like… why didn’t they just take the time to flush out all the corpses so none of them would come back to life? Why leave them all behind?) The issue at hand is much bigger than that.
Can a Borg co-operative exist without becoming the same thing as before?
For me, this is a story about idealism and how it can become corrupted. At no point did I ever doubt that Riley and the rest of the co-operative wanted to create a new world and a new existence for themselves. However, how would they go about that? Was it ethical for them to invoke the Borg collective link without consulting everyone who’d be part of it? Janeway was right to question that! It’s creepy and unfair to force people to become part of a collective like that against their will, even if it is for a good end.
That’s not the only concern, and once Chakotay was forced into the co-operative (albeit briefly), I felt conflicted. And I’m supposed to! The whole point of this episode is that the co-op exploited their healing of Chakotay in order to get what they wanted. Yes, they were sorry for it, and they tried to justify their behavior as an act of desperation. But is that enough? Is it enough to feel bad after exhibiting your power over anther individual without their consent? Right from the start, this Borg co-operative was flawed, and that’s where “Unity” asks an uncomfortable question: Will they resist the temptations of power, or will this group turn back into who they once were?
My gods, it’s such a disturbing idea, and this episode ends before we see what the future of this new separatist group looks like. I enjoyed that, as I found it to be a poetic and haunting ending to the episode. Chakotay is left simmering in doubt and guilt, and Janeway is bewildered by the experience. I would love to see another update on these people, but in case I don’t get one, I still felt satisfied by what I’d seen. Sure, this was a challenge to watch, but that’s a real good thing. Bravo again, Voyager.
The video for “Unity” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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