Hello and welcome back to ‘Final Frontier Friday‘! Spring has finally sprung (at least in theory), and with it comes one early April tradition that stands above all others. No, it’s not Easter, it’s watching ‘Star Trek: First Contact’ on First Contact Day (April 5th). That… is not what I covered for this week’s column, though I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t given it some serious thought. Instead, this week we’ll be looking at the episode ‘Unity’ from the third season of ‘Star Trek: Voyager’.
Of course, ‘Unity’ isn’t completely divorced from ‘First Contact’. Airing three months after the film’s release, ‘Unity’ marked the introduction of the Borg into ‘Star Trek: Voyager’, a development teased in the film itself (with Dr. Crusher noting that “in the twenty-first century, the Borg are still in the Delta Quadrant”). However, the full implications of that development wouldn’t be realized until the broadcast of ‘Scorpion’ (the season-ending cliffhanger that would introduce Seven of Nine in its latter half) later that year. As the first time the Borg were featured on an ongoing ‘Trek’ series since the end of ‘The Next Generation’, ‘Unity’ also marked the first televised appearance of the new Borg suits and makeup that had been introduced in ‘First Contact’. Suffice to say it’s a big step up from chalk-white face paint and a black bodysuit with odd chunks of machinery stuck to it. Feature film budgets really can work wonders for creature designs.
So it’s an important episode. Perhaps somewhat moreso than anyone working on it realized at the time. That’s great. But is it a good one? Well, what are you asking me for? Oh, right. Let’s cut to the chase then.
Chakotay and Ensign Kaplan are returning to Voyager after a scouting mission when their shuttle picks up a Federation hailing beacon and sets an intercept course. Assuming the beacon is from Voyager (because how many other Federation starships are cruising around this neck of the woods?), they instead find a planetary settlement transmitting a garbled distress call. They land to investigate and are met by a group of aliens.
The aliens open fire. During the firefight, Kaplan is shot and Chakotay is left injured when a third party intervenes to chase off their attackers. Chakotay wakes up in the company of a human woman. She introduces herself as Riley Frazier and explains that she sent the distress call and that Kaplan is dead. Asked how she ended up in the Delta Quadrant, Riley tells Chakotay that she was serving on a Starfleet vessel when it was attacked and overpowered by aliens. The survivors were placed in stasis and eventually woke up here. In addition to a handful of other humans, these settlers – for want of a better word – count among their number Klingons, Romulans, and Cardassians, among others, all with similar stories. Some of these survivor groups, she explains, descended into infighting. Hers established a cooperative, sharing work and resources. Back on Voyager, Tuvok detects an unidentified ship on sensors. The vessel isn’t responding to hails, and upon entering visual range they find a Borg cube.
To the crew’s relief, the cube appears to be dormant, with scans registering neither life signs nor active power signatures. Tuvok advises caution, reminding Janeway that the Borg are known to retrieve damaged drones and equipment. Janeway resolves to board the cube and retrieve anything that might be of use against a fully operational Borg ship. On the planet, Chakotay continues to learn about Riley and the Cooperative and is surprised to hear that she has no interest in returning home. She asks for Chakotay’s help in the form of security upgrades, medical supplies, maybe even weapons. While she has no interest in returning to the Federation, she’s also not about to surrender those values just because of some hostile neighbors. When he offers to help her with her work on the communications array, however, she abruptly refuses, telling him he’s still too weak to defend himself if they’re attacked. Meanwhile, Voyager has sent Tuvok and Torres to board the abandoned cube. The estimate it has been abandoned for five years, hypothesizing that it may have been attacked and overwhelmed by some unknown force. While Torres attempts to access the cube’s data systems, Tuvok comes across a dead drone. Searching for Riley, that self-same commander gets his first good look at the Cooperative and finds individuals with implants reminiscent of Borg technology. He eventually finds Riley – now sans hair – sporting Borg cranial implants. (Continued on next page)