Having been caught with her hand in the cookie jar, Riley comes clean. She wasn’t kidnapped, at least, not in the way that she led Chakotay to believe. Rather, she was a science officer on the Roosevelt before she was assimilated at the Battle of Wolf 359. She arrived here along with the others – themselves ex-drones – when their cube (the one Voyager discovered) was damaged by an electrokinetic storm five years ago. The incident severed their link to the Collective, and the survivors took what they could use before transporting to the nearest habitable planet. Chakotay collapses, and Orum – the Cooperative’s Romulan medic – moves to help. Voyager, meanwhile, is en route, having detected the message buoy Chakotay left in orbit. During the course of his autopsy, the Doctor briefly reanimated the drone, or at least its mechanical components. Though the Doctor assures her the drone is well and truly dead, Torres realizes that they’d be in serious trouble if something similar happened to all the other dead drones aboard the cube. When Chakotay regains consciousness, Orum and Riley propose using a neural link – akin to a temporary, small scale version of the Borg’s collective consciousness – to help heal his injuries. He reacts about as well as you might expect but eventually consents to the procedure when he sees no other option. In addition to speeding the healing process, it proves to be an enlightening experience for Chakotay, as he hears the others’ thoughts and experiences their memories, particularly Riley’s.
Voyager arrives in orbit, but interference from the nearby nebula prevents them from contacting Chakotay. On the surface, Chakotay is assisting the Cooperative with repairs. He tells Riley that thanks to the link, he knows that the Cooperative wants more than simple security upgrades and that he’s intrigued by her ideas. Upon detecting Voyager’s presence, he brings Riley aboard to meet with Janeway. There, she tells the captain that the Cooperative believes the solution to their problem is to re-establish the neural link among the former Borg living on the planet. Riley sees this as taking the one positive thing to come out of their experience with the Borg and using it to help put aside their differences. This would, however, require Voyager’s crew to deactivate the neuroelectric generator aboard the damaged cube. Janeway naturally is not thrilled with the idea, telling Frazier that while she’s perfectly happy to provide medical supplies and to take any ex-Borg who are interested in returning to the Alpha Quadrant with them, she’ll have to give that rather audacious proposal some serious thought. Speaking privately to Chakotay, Janeway explains that she’s not prepared to accept the risks of helping to establish a new collective, and he relays the news to Riley. While taking a shirt back to Voyager, Chakotay begins to hear the Cooperative’s thoughts. He stuns Torres and takes the helm.
Chakotay changes course to approach the cube, and Voyager moves to intercept. He beams aboard the cube and, with an away team from Voyager in pursuit, follows the Cooperative’s directions to the neuroelectric generator, which he succeeds in activating before being stunned. Unfortunately (but not unsurprisingly) this also reactivates the dormant drones aboard the cube. Voyager is able to beam them back and warps out as the cube self-destructs. As Voyager leaves, they receive a message from “the new Borg Cooperative,” expressing their gratitude and apologizing for forcing Chakotay to assist them.
As a Borg episode, ‘Unity’ is kind of an odd one. Though to be fair, the same could be said of the Borg’s previous small screen appearance in the ‘Descent’ two-parter, which was really more of a Data story than a Borg story. But again, we come back to the question I (jokingly) posed earlier: “Is it good?”
To some extent, that’s going to depend on what you expect from the episode. As an hour of ‘Star Trek’? Yeah, it’s good. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the highlights of the third season. But as I implied, it’s not exactly a Borg episode in the sense of ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ or ‘Scorpion’. Instead, it functions more as an hour long tease for the “proper” introduction of the Borg which would come at the end of the season. And of course, the Borg would go on to be a bigger part of ‘Voyager’ than they ever were of ‘The Next Generation’.
In fact, of the ‘TNG’ Borg shows, ‘Unity’ probably has the most in common with ‘I, Borg’, in that both deal with drones that have been separated from the collective and the ways they go about dealing with their newly restored individuality. Though the particulars, of course, are vastly different. While ‘I, Borg’ saw Hugh establish his individuality from an almost totally blank slate, ‘Unity’ explores a group of ex-drones with memories of who they were before they were assimilated.
In more general terms, writer Ken Biller compared the Cooperatives desire to re-establish the Borg neural link and their idealization of that particular aspect of their lives as drones to the nostalgia for communism that had been manifesting in post-Soviet Russia at the time. But while Biller considered the Cooperative (and Riley in particular) to be noble if misguided, the episode’s other creative forces had other ideas. Namely, director Robert Duncan McNeill has said that to him the episode was essentially “about Chakotay being seduced by the Devil.” It’s an approach you can see reflected in many of the scenes between Riley and Chakotay, particularly the earlier ones, as she appeals for his help while also withholding the truth about herself and the other survivors.
In all, ‘Unity’ represents an interesting and in many ways more nuanced approach to the Borg than had been seen to that point. After all, ‘TNG’ largely portrayed them as a relentless, monolithic force, perhaps best epitomized by Q’s monologue in ‘Q Who’: “The Borg are the ultimate user. They’re unlike any threat your Federation has ever faced. They’re not interested in political conquest, wealth, or power as you know it. They’re simply interested in your ship, it’s technology. They’ve identified it as something they can consume.” And that may well be true, but as ‘Unity’ and other episodes like it make a point of reminding us, even the Devil can be viewed in shades of grey.
Do you share my esteem for ‘Unity’? How does it hold up next to other Borg episodes? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to check back in two weeks for the next installment of ‘Final Frontier Friday’!