It's Paramount's playground. They own the characters, the ships, species, planets, quadrants, and the dialog, plots, etc. My summaries and reviews are for the purpose of entertainment and analysis only. The reviews are full-spoiler, which means that it's as close as you can get to seeing the episode without actually seeing the episode. All that's missing are commercials and pictures. If you want to be surprised and haven't seen the episode yet, read no further. But if you've already seen it, or you don't mind finding out the details in advance, sit back and let Fatherly Uncle Jim spin the tale for you...Review Boy Style.
Tom gets the crew addicted to a 24th-century Rubik's cube, but Wesley doesn't save the ship. Seven of Nine contemplates a career change.
Jump straight to the Analysis
It would seem they've finally opened the Alien Wing of the famed Long Beach Aquarium.
A tall, slender blue male with black splotches and ratty hair, looking like Flotter after he'd been swimming a little too close to the New Carissa, examines a gigantic floating brain in a tall cylindrical tank. He circles the creature, giving the bulked-up Portuguese man-o-war a complete visual scan. He is alone in the room.
Then he's not. Another creature, maybe six feet tall with a face like a coral reef, dressed in pricey robes, roughly grabs Blue Guy's shoulder from behind. Blue guy gasps. It rumbles at him in some untranslatable tongue--it has no tongue that I can see.
Welcome to the Mos Eisley Cantina.
Blue Guy finally stops gasping and finds his own tongue. "I'm here to see Mr. Kurros. Could you...?" But the berobed coral reef simply chitters at him some more, turns around, and walks away.
Blue Guy follows--at least this creature is land-based--but he runs into some other weird creatures--a self-aware piece of technology that looks like a slimmed-down NOMAD, and a rumbling leviathan swimming about inside a very large aquatic-looking tank. When it talks, the floor shakes. Poor Blue Guy looks seriously spooked.
Then we hear words we understand. "Do not mind Bevvox. She can be...grouchy in the morning." A guy with a bumpy forehead, chubby cheeks, unkempt stringy hair and a smile that screams Hide Your Wallet, approaches, fingers steepled. He looks like an alien cleric, a Delta Quadrant Friar Tuck. "Welcome aboard."
Blue guy, grateful for a voice he can actually understand, offers a nervous thanks. Kurros offers another smile. "You seem tense," he says with his practiced soft singsong voice. No, Blue Guy tensely insists. "This is a time for celebration," Kurros reminds him. "The geo-stability of your world has been restored...your people saved...and all because you had the wisdom to accept our help." Blue Guy acknowledges that Kurros and his people (so to speak) "accomplished in days what our scientists failed to achieve in decades." But his gratitude is tempered by something else.
"That it not to say it was not a challenge," Kurros says, playing up the achievement. "Finding the precise harmonic for a planetary containment field did put my colleague here," he says, pointing to the creature in the small tank, "to the test. But in the end...she prevailed."
"We owe you our lives," Blue guy says. He's less enthusiastic about that than you'd expect.
Kurros smiles. "Solving problems is what we do. And seeing the look of gratitude in your eyes is almost reward enough." The serene countenance of the alien darkens just slightly. "Almost." His eyes, coal black with virtually no whites to speak of.
This may explain Blue Guy's nervousness. The bill has come due. He claims that the ore Kurros had asked for is now buried under gigatons of rock from one of the nastier quakes. But they do have this really cool rubidium geode they can offer--it's "the only one ever found on our planet."
Kurros takes it neutrally. "It is rare...but hardly unique. And it is not what we agreed upon." Disappointed, he hands it back. Apparently uniqueness matters to Kurros. Blue Guy says they don't have much more they can offer. But Kurros and his colleagues are smart enough to solve a planet-wide seismic conundrum. They're also smart enough to discover whether Blue Guy's people are telling the truth.
As it happens, they aren't. Kurros' voice takes on a dangerous edge. "You are lying. The mines collapsed, but before they did you transferred the ore to a shielded storage facility. Needless to say...we detected it." Gotcha. Blue Guy, knowing he's caught, begs for mercy on behalf of his people--without that ore, his people will starve.
Kurros, his whisper a voice of doom, points out that the alternative. "Get it to us, now...or I will deactivate the containment field. Have you ever experienced a level 12 seismic event? Most violent. Quite unnerving."
Yikes. No wonder Blue Guy was skittish. Team Kurros might do good work, but its collection department plays a nasty game of hardball.
Suddenly, starvation seems the lesser of two evils. Blue Guy sputters out an apology and assures Kurros that the ore will be right up. "This...this was all a misunderstanding."
Once his payment is assured, Kurros is back to his cordial self. The smile returns, the eyes regain some of their former color, the trill of pleasantness fills his voice. "Of course. It is already forgotten, my friend. Perhaps we will do business again someday. Show our friend back to his shuttle. I would hate for him to get lost in such an unfamiliar place." Coral Reef dude appears, chittering, and Blue Guy reluctantly follows, bowing repeatedly, trying not to scream when he accidentally runs into the cylindrical tank with the alien brain-based creature.
Kurros simply smiles. Doing well by doing good. Not a bad day's work.
* * *
In her ready room, Janeway frowns at a large dodecahedron with patterns of flashing lights. It chirps mockingly when she hits (I assume) the wrong buttons.
It's chirping a lot. If it had a neck, Janeway would probably strangle it.
When the door chirps, Janeway grumbles. Yes! She shouts, annoyed, not bothering to look up from the blinking conundrum. The door, recognizing the tone, opens sheepishly.
But nothing Seven of Nine does is sheepish. She strides in with trademark self-confidence. When she sees the captain with the Dodecahedron of Doom, Seven does her best to hide a smile. "Captain, long-range scans have detected--"
"One second," Janeway snaps, cutting her off. "I've wasted two hours on this thing and I'm no closer to solving it." Janeway moves the thing around on her desk with both hands, looking for the magic button that will validate her intelligence and make her the pinup of the month at the Q Continuum.
Seven shakes her head. "You can thank Ensign Paris for introducing the artifact to the ship." Figures.
"He was behind the last ship-wide craze, too--yo-yos," Janeway says off-handedly, focusing on the 24th-century puzzle. "Now it's Sheer Lunacy." Yet another in a long series of attempts to avoid responsibility… (Real Genius) But it's not hard to believe that even Voyager would be overtaken by the latest recycled fad. Maybe tribbles will make a comeback. "Another hour and I'll go insane," Janeway seethes.
Seven offers to help--in the worst possible way. "The solution is quite simple. If you align--"
Janeway tells her to Talk to the Hand. "I want to figure this out myself." Ready to test her wits, she pushes the Solve button. Some chirps…and a sputter. Janeway's shoulders sag.
Tetris, when the walls filled!
"You said something about long-range scans?" the captain asks, looking at Seven for the first time, giving Sheer Lunacy the cold shoulder.
Seven, happy to be back to business, says the scans have revealed a planetoid "with high concentrations of dilithium crystals." Mother's milk for a starship. You can never have too much of that stuff.
"Let's take a look," Janeway says, rising from her desk--but not before slapping the dodecahedron upside the diodes. She rolls her eyes as she walks away from the twelve-sided battery-powered time-sucking device of evil.
As Seven and the captain enter the bridge, we hear someone else playing the game--Harry Kim. "Got it!" we hear him cry. All eyes turn to Ops Boy. A few, jealously.
But though each side has only three lights left, the chirping-to-stuttering tells us he don't got it. Only one of the lights goes away. His face falls. "False alarm." Lucky for him--figure that puppy out before the captain, and you'll be an Ensign until doomsday.
Ensign Paris laughs with savage glee. "Keep at it, Harry."
Back to business. They see the lifeless planetoid on screen, and initial scans proclaim it the dilithium mother lode. They'll be in all-you-can-drink coffee mode for months.
But when is it ever so easy?
After a full sensor sweep, the planetoid starts to resonate. She's breaking up, Captain.
"Right after we ran our scans...that can't be a coincidence. Back us off, Tom."
But before they can put too much distance between themselves and the planetoid, it goes Boom, engulfing Voyager in a cloud of highly flammable metreon gas. Naturally, their warp and impulse engines are disabled.
And naturally, we can guess what comes next. Tuvok provides the bad news. "A heavily armed vessel just dropped out of warp off the port bow."
Seven happens to know the species, and fills us in. "It's Hazari. Species 4228. Technologically advanced, extremely violent. They make excellent tactical drones." Cool.
Harry wonders what they want with Voyager. Seven explains. "The Hazari are hired to capture and deliver alien vessels." Bounty hunters, Tom mutters; yes, Seven confirms. "So who hired them?" Harry wonders. Chakotay tosses off a couple of names: The Malon, the Devore. "We've made our share of enemies here."
Harry reports that they're hailing, and Janeway orders it onscreen. The alien looks formidable--tall, reptilian, too many teeth, and a perpetual sneer. "Surrender. No one need be hurt. My client would prefer your vessel intact."
Janeway rises from her chair, stares straight at the Hazari. "Who hired you?" she asks pleasantly. None of your business, the Hazari snaps. "I'm only asking because I'm curious how much they're paying. Maybe we can do better," she offers, smooth as silk.
Doubtful, the Hazari replies--gruff but not totally disrespectful. Someone cared enough about obtaining the small white ship with the small white redhead with the enormous attitude to hire the very best.
"We're far from defenseless. Why don't you save yourself some trouble," Janeway offers casually.
"It's no trouble."
Janeway frowns. "Charge phaser banks to full power," she says, continuing to stare at the Hazari.
"Fire and you'll ignite the gas cloud. You'll be destroyed!" the Hazari says, astonished.
"You've left me no choice. I suggest you back off if you want to save your own ship. End transmission."
Calamity Janeway, come on down…
Inexplicably, the Hazari thinks she's bluffing. The alien ship approaches and locks Voyager in a tractor beam. "Looks like they're calling your bluff, Captain," Ensign Paris says. Then he looks over his shoulder, worried. "It was a bluff, wasn't it?"
Janeway looks to Seven. "Do we still have warp power?" Seven flinches. "Yes, but it's useless while we remain in the gas cloud." Janeway just smiles. "Maybe not. Reroute every spare gigawatt to the shields. Prepare to fire phasers."
Tuvok rolls his eyes, knowing better than to argue. "Our target?" What else? "The gas cloud," Janeway says.
"Do you believe the impact will throw us clear?" Seven asks, dubious. "If our shields hold," Janeway says. "That's a big if," Paris notes. But Action Kate is a firm believer in Big Ifs. "Go to warp one on my command. Fire."
Boom. The cloud erupts, and Voyager's warp-enhanced shields kick in as the ship is tossed aside.
But it works. Within seconds, they're out of the cloud and Janeway orders Tom to kick them into Warp.
"No sign of pursuit," Tuvok reports a moment later.
This surprises the captain. "They weren't that heavily damaged. Why aren't they following us?"
Astrometrics. The big screen shows the current spatial grid. We see the You Are Here for Voyager.
Then we see the clusters of Hazari ships on all sides of her. Dozens of them.
"There's the reason they didn't come after us. They've got reinforcements throughout the sector," Chakotay says, interpreting what we see on the Big Screen. Twenty-three ships, Harry adds, and Chakotay throws in that even more are on the way.
"Must be one hell of a reward," Harry says. But Tuvok disagrees. "The size of the bounty is immaterial. According to Seven of Nine, the Hazari pride themselves on honoring their agreements." Harry snorts his discouragement. "Great. Bounty hunters with a work ethic." (Snicker--I like that line.)
"There's got to be a way out--something they haven't anticipated," Chakotay says hopefully. "Download the data for the Captain. She wants to see what she can come up with on her own."
In the mess hall, it's just Janeway, poring over a laptop display, and Neelix, arriving with yet another pot of coffee.
"Should I have the Doctor prepare a hypospray?" Neelix asks. Janeway looks up from her display. "Excuse me?"
Neelix waves the coffeepot. "So you can absorb the caffeine more directly. Save time." Janeway smirks. "Point well taken. I'll make this my last cup." Of course, she waves a duranium mug the size of a wading pool. Her right biceps ripples; Janeway's mug-hand is developed enough to have made her the shipwide arm wrestling champion. If she gives you an empathetic pat on the shoulder, it's an instant ticket to Sickbay for a date with the bone-knitter.
Neelix offers to be a sounding board. "Oh, you don't want that job," she tells him. Try me, Neelix insists.
Janeway rubs her temples. "It's these Hazari. They're like jackals! Circling...feinting to draw us out while they cut off every route of escape."
"You make them sound worse than the Borg," Neelix says, clucking his tongue.
"At least the Borg come straight at you. The Hazari wait, invite you to make mistakes." She says it with a small measure of admiration. "They've anticipated almost every move we can make, and the few things they seem to have missed I'm convinced are traps." She smiles apologetically. "You still glad you volunteered?"
Neelix gives her his best Morale Officer smile. His voice oozes confidence in his captain. "We've faced tough odds before. You'll get us through." They bid each other Good Night.
Janeway returns to her laptop. She reaches for the coffee, but decides she's had her fill (What? Never!) The captain gets out of her seat and walks over to the window. She leans against the bulkhead for a good stretch, arching her back, working out the kinks in her neck. She stares pensively at the stars beyond. Projecting her will into the star-lit expanse, commanding the galaxy to provide her with the solution she needs.
A new voice catches her attention. She looks over to a previously empty table, where Kurros now sits. He smiles like a Cheshire cat--in the darkness, from a distance, his smile is one of the few distinct features. "There is nothing like a good problem to spark the synapses, is there? To open the mind to new possibilities...new ways of seeing things. Of course, one must always confront self-doubt and fear but that is a small price to pay for the exhilaration of finding the perfect solution."
Ooh, the fiend--appealing to Janeway's love for problem solving.
But her suspicions come first. "Who are you and what do you want?" She asks in a low, deadly voice, bearing down on the intruder.
Kurros merely smiles. "You have a problem, Captain. I am the solution."
* * *
Janeway signals for an Intruder Alert, but Kurros, waving his hand over her data terminal, tells her the communications device is now down. "But do not worry. I am not an intruder. In fact, I am not really here." A hologram, Janeway whispers. Kurros smiles condescendingly. "Nothing so crude. An isomorphic projection." This means, apparently, that Kurros can interact physically with his environment. To prove it, he takes a swig of Janeway's coffee. He makes a face. "You actually enjoy this?"
"It's an acquired taste," Janeway retorts, glaring. Don't disrespect the bean, interloper. Kurros backtracks a tad. "It bears a resemblance to an Alchean confection we acquired several years ago."
" 'We'?" Janeway asks, filing away every tidbit of information, clearly not trusting this guy at all.
Kurros smiles with smarmy serenity. "I am a member of a small group--explorers like you, but we seek out challenges. Problems to be solved--technological, biological, social . . . even artistic."
Janeway's eyes light up in spite of her suspicion. "A think tank," she whispers, intrigued.
Kurros absorbs the term, then grins. "I like that. It's very...apt." He gestures to the window. "Our 'think tank' is nearby. A modest vessel. I have come to offer our help with your Hazari paradox." Paradox? Janeway asks. "That is right. Is it an escape route or is it a trap? Do they know that you know that they know? It is the best kind of puzzle--pure tactics, psychology." Yup, Janeway lives for this stuff.
But, she's also learned from five years in the Delta Quadrant. "Something tells me your help comes with a price tag." If he says no, she'll turn him down on the spot. But he plays into her expectations, and adds an intriguing twist. "Whatever your culture has to offer that is--unique. Technology perhaps, or maybe something you would not even think to value. I would need a closer look at your database." It's probably too much to mention that the database itself is a fairly critical bit of tactical information, and to show it to an intruder--however helpful he claims to be--is a questionable decision. This guy's clearly got the means to peruse the database himself, and knows quite a bit about Voyager's situation already.
It's good that she's suspicious. It's troubling that she's not more so.
Janeway voices an obvious concern. "And how do I know you aren't an Hazari trap? Maybe they're trying to lure us into an ambush like before." Kurros praises her suspicions, and as an opening gesture, shows her what he's done to her terminal--given her an analysis of some of the more likely ambushes. Janeway takes a look, and is impressed. "All right. You've got my attention," she says. "But I want to meet you. Face-to-face--and the rest of your crew." Kurros agrees. "Naturally. Our coordinates are in here, too. But we have our own security concerns, Captain. Please bring only one Crewman and no scanning equipment."
Janeway nods. "Fair enough." (Of course, she doesn't add, she has a crewman with built-in scanning equipment…) Kurros, steepling his fingers, bows. "Then, I look forward to meeting you--in person."
A short time later, they arrive at the coordinates. They find nothing there, but after a few seconds of speculation a subspace flux announces the arrival (or appearance) of the Think Tank ship.
Tuvok looks darn near amazed. "The vessel's hull is composed of a neutronium-based alloy." Neither Starfleet nor the Borg have managed to accomplish such a feat--for them, it's barely more than a theoretical dream metal. Seven looks impressed by her first glimpse of Think Tank Tech.
There are two logical choices for this away mission--Tuvok and Seven. Janeway chooses Seven.
Personally, I'd have taken Tuvok. But Seven does have some nice built-in scanning devices. And the collected intelligence of thousands of species.
Janeway and Seven beam into the main room. They meet the full cast of characters--the floating brain, Coral Reef Man, Satan's Robot, Free Willy. Unlike Blue Guy, Janeway and Seven aren't at all nervous, just curious. They speculate why the Translator doesn't kick in for Coral Reef Man, but they don't worry too much about it. They notice the thing in the tank and guess that the Think Tank is studying it.
"Actually, she is studying you," Kurros says, voice light with amusement. He makes a formal introduction. "Our resident expert in temporal physics," he says of the thing in the tank. "Perhaps the most gifted member of our group. She finds you--interesting." Before Janeway can introduce her to Kurros, Seven of Nine is already asking her first question--how does this diverse group of thinkers communicate?
Kurros regards Seven with keen interest. "Bionetic implants...neural transceivers...a Borg? I've never seen one outside the Collective."
"I am an individual now," Seven says stiffly. "You may address your comments to me." Kurros begs her forgiveness. He introduces himself, and gestures to Coral Reef Man. "This is Fennim. In answer to your earlier question, this device--" he says, pointing to a glowing dome in the center of the room, "--allows the members of our group to communicate telepathically." Seven is impressed.
The thing in the Big Tank moans to grab Kurros' attention. "Sounds as if another member of our crew is anxious to meet you," Kurros says, and leads them over.
"A bioplasmic life-form," Seven says. "His name is Bevvox. He prefers a variable-gravity environment," Kurros explains. What's his specialty, Janeway asks. "At the moment, exo-sociology and quantum mechanics. But his interests vary from time to time. Bevvox founded our group more than 100 years ago after wandering the galaxy on his own for a few millennia." Seven asks how old "this creature" is; the room begins to shake. Kurros gives a pained look. "If you please, that is a sensitive topic with him." Umm…yeah.
Kurros introduces Seven and Janeway to the final member of their group--the Nomad-looking device. "An artificial intelligence," Seven observes. Kurros elaborates. "The mind of mathematician and the soul of an artist. I'm afraid he'd much rather be modeling a fractal sculpture than analyzing the data of our latest astronomical scan."
Kurros looks at his guests. "And now you have met us all. A small group of minds, but we have helped hundreds of clients. We turned the tide in the war between the Bara Plenum and the Motali Empire. Re-ignited the red giants of the Zai Cluster. Just recently, we found a cure for the Vidiian phage."
That last one catches Janeway's attention. "The Vidiians?" As a reminder--we haven't seen them since late in season two--the Vidiians are at least 40,000 light years away, on the far end of the Delta Quadrant. Voyager had seen the last of them before they'd made any of their big jumps. If this is true, the Think Tank has some impressive mobility.
"You would hardly recognize them now," Kurros says. (Doc might--he still has fond memories of Denara Pel.) "Just last month we helped retrieve a Lyridian child's runaway pet--a subspace mesomorph, I might add. We had to invent a whole new scanning technology just to find it." Oh, now he's just showing off.
Janeway gets the point. "And what did you ask for as compensation?" Kurros smiles--of course, he's almost always smiling. Serenity Now. "One of their transgalactic star charts--the best map of the known galaxy ever created." Now that could be useful. "When we helped the citizens of Rivos Five resist the Borg, all we asked for was the recipe for their famous zoth-nut soup." He looks at Seven. "Care for a taste?" Another time, perhaps, Seven answers.
Okay, so the Think Tank certainly capable and their prices have been reasonable for some. But we've seen that they can also drive a hard bargain. Not everyone gets away as cheaply as parting with zoth-nut soup recipes. Some have to give away their sole source of energy or risk having their problem handed back to them with a vengeance.
But there's another item to consider. Getting out of the Hazari Paradox is just one of Voyager's problems; the Think Tank might be equally up to the task of getting Voyager home, or helping them get themselves home by perfecting one of their notoriously unusable drive technologies. Or maybe by getting directions for a shortcut home from that incredibly useful transgalactic star chart.
Surprisingly, this never comes up.
Janeway has a nagging question, and lets it hang out. "Tell me, is there any job you won't do?" Kurros asks what she means. She explains the Prime Directive--some lines, she won't cross. Where does the Think Tank draw that line?
Kurros loses some of his pervasive aura of all-consuming beneficence. "As you know, there is no shortage of conflict in what you call the Delta Quadrant. Many of our clients are at war. To be frank, we will assist in the neutralization of fleets, starbases, even planets" (Hmmm) "But we will not participate in the decimation of an entire species. Nor will we design weapons of mass destruction." Janeway files that away without comment.
Kurros hears the beeping Nomad, and addresses Janeway. "My colleague here wishes to speak to Seven of Nine about her bionetic technology." He turns to Seven. "May he interface with you?" Seven consents; Janeway doesn't object. Seven stands in front of the self-aware piece of high tech, and lets the telepathic dome work its magic.
"I am in direct telepathic communication with this...individual. It is requesting information about integrating organic components into its technology." Janeway smirks. "Feel free to give him some pointers," she says, waving the hand that bears a PADD, grandly. Seven stands silently, her face changing its expression a few times. Then she nods with a touch of surprise. "You're welcome."
Kurros smiles broadly. "To business, Captain. I believe we can solve the Hazari paradox without firing a single weapon." Janeway's eyes light up. "That's just what I'm looking for."
"Then there is only the matter of payment," Kurros says. Janeway hands Kurros the PADD. "Voyager's schematics and an overview of its database. Specify what you want and I'll see what I can do. I recommend the replicators," she says with a twinkle in her eye. "They're very popular this year."
Don't call us, Kurros says; "I'll contact you with our requests."
They don't have long to wait. A short time later, Janeway is in her ready room (staring at the Hazari Paradox on her terminal, rather than banging her head against the Sheer Lunacy game--who needs a diversionary puzzle when you've got one where your very survival is at stake?) when Tuvok comes knocking. "You have a visitor. Mr. Kurros has returned--in isomorphic form." Send him in, Janeway says.
"Welcome back," she tells Kurros, who hands her back the PADD. "Captain, we have compiled a short list of items we would like. It was not easy. Voyager has a great deal to offer." Aw, shucks.
Janeway goes over the list. "Quantum slipstream technology. I should warn you. We never got that to work reliably," she smirks. "It is still intriguing, theoretically," Kurros assures her.
Janeway hits the next item and her jaw drops. "Neelix's recipe for chadre'kab?" Kurros assures her he's serious. I think the phrase "it's your funeral" might apply here. Well, maybe they've found alternative uses for it, like filling black holes or something.
"An ancient Olmec figurine. Hmmm. I guess Commander Chakotay could be persuaded to part with it," she says, figuring it might be a tough sell, but maybe not--it beats death. (Olmec, eh?) Kurros is pleased to hear it.
But then they reach Item Four.
"You can't be serious," Janeway says, voice cold as liquid helium.
Kurros lets some of his own inner steel show. "I realize the next item may seem--unorthodox. But I believe it can be beneficial to both of us."
"You never mentioned anything about bartering my crew members," Janeway says, voice a bare whisper.
I think you can guess which crewmember. If it's Item Four, it must be Seven. Some things just go together, like shoo-wop-a-doop-a-doop and ramma-lamma-ding-dong.
"She will have an extraordinary opportunity to explore the galaxy as one of us," Kurros points out. And according to his sales brochure, they go around the galaxy solving problems. They do well by doing good. Simple human ego dictates that a human be a part of such an enterprise. Heck, Janeway's ex-fiancée belonged to one of the Federation's premiere think tanks (Mosaic).
Janeway turns him down cold. Kurros, though, seems to know more than he lets on. "I understand your feelings, Captain, but...have you thought to ask Seven of Nine herself?"
Of course not. This is Janeway we're talking about. If she wants someone's opinion, she'll give them one.
* * *
In Janeway's ready room, she lays the situation out for Seven of Nine.
"There is a genuine opportunity for exploration. It could be the chance of a lifetime."
Seven looks a bit confused. "You're saying I should go?"
"I don't want you to go, but it's not my right to tell you what to do." Oh? That's a first. "Until now, I've kept a close eye on your progress, helped you with decisions--but I think you've learned enough as an individual to make this decision yourself. Would you like to join them?"
"I am intrigued," Seven admits. "They are an unusual collective with a compelling mission. But I require more data." Attagirl. "That's why I want you to talk to Kurros yourself," Janeway says. "See if he can answer your questions." Seven nods.
"Captain," Seven adds, hesitantly. "I appreciate your giving me this choice."
Janeway gives her a look of motherly pride. "You've earned it. And remember--if you do choose to go...make sure it's what you want...not what you think is best for Voyager. We're getting out of this...with or without the Think Tank's help."
The personal interview takes place in Cargo Bay Two.
"Why me?" Seven asks.
"I admire your humility," says Kurros. "The collective knowledge of the Borg contained within a single mind." That might be overstating it a bit, but it's true enough to count. He also praises her natural intelligence and the unique enhancements provided by her of her Borg implants. He tells her she is their first recruit in 17 years.
She asks when they decided to offer her the spot. During your…interview, Kurros tells her. She remembers her hookup with the artificial intelligence, which Kurros says was a nicely efficient evaluation of her abilities. "I am sure you can appreciate that," he tells her. She asks how much they know about her--enough, he says, to know that her talents are wasted on Voyager. Chuckling, He points to one of her recent duties as an example. "You were adjusting the deflector array to improve shield harmonics. Do you find such duties…challenging?" Seven admits they are not.
Kurros goes in for the hard sell. "Without problems that test the limits of your abilities, you cannot expand them. Perfection will always be beyond your reach." He seems to know enough to know that this is a priority in her life. "Seven of Nine, you could become one of the greatest intellects in the galaxy--but that will not happen here among these limited life-forms."
Hey, those are her friends you're talking about! Seven takes umbrage. "The crew of Voyager has accepted me...integrated me into their collective," Seven says proudly.
Kurros backs off a bit. "They are your family," he acknowledges. "It was hard for me to leave my family, too...and I was only a child...not much older than you when you were first assimilated." She asks why he left. To help them, he says, and his world, to "solve a cataclysmic problem." He was the Think Tank's payment. "At first I didn't realize it--I was too young--but they gave me a remarkable opportunity. And now I am offering the same to you."
Seven of Nine seems to accept the Why Me explanation. But that's the easy part. Now come the ethical issues. "Your group can assist many collectives. And yet you often use that ability as a means of coercion to obtain what you want. How many have suffered because they were unwilling to agree to your conditions?"
At least one . . .
Kurros drops some the shiny-happy-people routine and shows her a little of what the working environment might be like. "We have a singular mission--to perfect our knowledge. Perfection sometimes necessitates selfishness." Yeesh, now there's a mission statement.
But it is one Kurros doesn't mind standing by. Kinda like the "Greed is Good" slogan from WALL STREET. "It is your life...Not Voyager's, not Captain Janeway's or anyone else's. It is up to you to achieve the goals you have set for yourself."
"I agree," says Seven after some thought.
"But I can do that here."
Kurros stops smiling. "Please, take more time to think about this. We will remain nearby in case you change your mind." He doesn't know her very well after all…"I doubt that will happen," Seven tells him, just in case.
The red alert kicks in, and a second later Tuvok summons Seven to the bridge. Kurros asks to tag along, and Seven doesn't object.
The bridge is tense when Seven and Kurros arrive. Janeway stares but says nothing when she notices Kurros.
"Do you have a problem, Captain?" Kurros asks. Janeway tells him that two Hazari ships are on their way in.
"I have declined their offer," Seven tells the captain. "Our first offer," Kurros amends. But Janeway takes it as a good sign; she gives Seven a warm smile. "Glad you're sticking around. Take your station."
We never see the battle, just its effects on the bridge as the crew discusses the turn of events. Two ships come in. One with its devastating weapons blazing. The other holds back.
Return fire has no effect. They can't outrun the smaller, more maneuverable ship. Ensign Kim reports that the ship is starting to lose hull integrity.
Kurros offers a tip. "Captain, when the Hazari strike in pairs one ship always remains behind to reinforce the shields of the attacking vessel."
"So we should target the support ship." Janeway gives him a hard look. "How much is this tip going to cost me?"
"This one is free." (The first one is always free…) But Janeway takes it; they fire photon torpedoes (once a luxury item, the crew has since found an unlimited supply, thanks to the good folks at Shuttles Unlimited) and soon both vessels, taking the hint, break away. When the coast is clear, she tells Tom to take off at maximum warp.
"Thanks for the help," Janeway tells Kurros. "Consider it a friendly gesture of good will in the hope that Seven will change her mind," Kurros responds pleasantly. "I have not," Seven says.
Kurros gets nasty. "You are making a fatal mistake." This is usually Janeway's clue that she's on the right track. "We have already analyzed hundreds of scenarios. Voyager will not survive without our help."
"Your scenarios, not mine," Janeway points out.
"Your confidence is unfounded, Captain. Reconsider. Order Seven of Nine to join us." Oh, gee--he was all for free will before…
Janeway gets one of those looks on her face. She bats her eyes. Her words are sugar coated. But the eyes are steely and the tone is frigid. "We have an old expression, Kurros-- 'Don't call us. We'll call you.' " She nods to Tuvok. "Re-modulate the shields to a phase-variant frequency," she says.
It has the desired effect--the shield remodulation plays hell on isomorphic projections. Kurros goes bye-bye.
The Think Tank vessel disappears soon afterward, as Tuvok reports.
"I get the distinct feeling they won't take no for an answer," Chakotay says. "Same here," Janeway agrees. "Looks like we're facing two threats now--the Hazari...and our would-be saviors."
Let's take a look inside the mind of the Think Tank, shall we? Kurros reports to his comrades at Braniac Central.
"Our offer was denied. How shall we proceed?"
We are already proceeding, says Coral Reef man.
Our offer was refused. We must let the scenario continue says the feminine voice of the Floating Brain.
Our calculations indicate a 96% chance the Borg will still be ours, says the artificial intelligence.
"Then it is decided," Kurros says with an unpleasant smile. "We will wait...and let our problem...solve itself."
* * *
A--excuse me, an--Hazari vessel flies into a field of debris that bears a striking resemblance to Voyager, if it were in pieces.
The two Hazari inside chew each other out. "We were supposed to disable their ship, not destroy it!"
Never fear, bounty hunter dudes. Voyager is alive and well, and sneaky as heck. Tuvok reports that the Hazari have taken the bait. Janeway gives the order--hose 'em.
The debris field begins to explode. Chunks of floating, seemingly harmless stuff becomes shrapnel, and the Hazari vessel is geek-slapped into helplessness.
Janeway reels the Hazari in. The ship is dragged into the shuttle bay, and the two Hazari are beamed into a transporter room where they are met by a bevy of burly, heavily-armed security guards.
Janeway and Chakotay go over the interior of the Hazari vessel with a fine-toothed comb, looking for clues. Who hired them? How much do they know? That sorta thing.
Tuvok arrives a few seconds later. From the look on his face, Janeway knows he has no news. "Let me guess. They're the strong but silent types." Very silent, Tuvok confirms. Chakotay asks about mind melds, but Tuvok says that went nowhere: "They're unusually resistant."
Janeway is in a surprisingly good mood. "Well, hold off on the torture till we see what we can dig up here." Tuvok signals his team: put away the Leroy Neiman paintings and Monica's Story. For now.
Chakotay announces the first breakthrough. "I found something. A series of encoded transmissions."
Janeway takes a look. "They've been discussing Voyager--our coordinates, our defenses . . ." Tuvok speculates that whoever hired them knew a lot about the ship and crew. Janeway orders a search of the sensor logs. Chakotay finds some scrambled bio-readings.
Sounds like this is right up Doc's alley.
In Sickbay, Doc's ready to unveil the identity of their hunters' employer. "Brace yourselves," Doc says.
The holoprojection is unmistakable. Amazingly, the bio-readings also account for clothing. But who'd want to see a naked species? Particularly this one.
"Malon," Janeway grumbles. "Hmm. They must really hold a grudge. We haven't run into them for months." To be precise, it's been about 30,000 light years ago, in "extreme risk." Before "Timeless." Before "Dark Frontier." There are a lot of miles represented by those months. But since the Think Tank recently contacted the Vidiians, who are even farther away, it's not inconceivable that the Malon could have hired them. What Voyager accomplishes by mere luck, the Think Tank does routinely.
Even so… "I'm sorry, Doctor. Something doesn't feel right," Janeway says. The Malon don't seem an obvious enemy. Tuvok agrees. "The Malon are economically motivated." Janeway picks up on that. "And there's no profit in revenge."
Janeway shows Tuvok the readings on the panel. "Take a look at this. Isomorphic signatures embedded in the bio-readings. This was no Malon. It was only a projection."
Doc, who until a moment ago was quite proud of himself, looks confused. "You mean that's a hologram...of a hologram?" Tuvok nods. "In a manner of speaking. I believe I can restore the original bio-signal parameters. Brace yourself," he adds with heavy irony.
The image of the Malon is replaced with another hologram. This one looks even more familiar.
Janeway frowns, her mind working furiously. "Well, it appears our Hazari Paradox is more complex than we thought."
Janeway greets her captives in the conference room. She has one hand on hip, while the other leans against the high-backed chairs with the lumbar support. She hands the leader a PADD with Kurros' picture on it. She drawls out her words, a whispered I've-got-a-secret delivery that the Hazari stiffly endures.
"I believe we're both being manipulated by the same person. Recognize him?" The Hazari does not. "His name is Kurros," Janeway continues. "The Malon you met with was nothing more than a projection." The Hazari sniffs that he'd have detected a mere hologram, but Janeway shrugs him off. It's easy for her to be confident. The security guys have broken out the Big Guns for backup, trained on the Hazari's backside. One false move and the reptilian hunter will be barbecued iguana.
"Not this one. Kurros is a member of a...think-tank. They solve problems for a price." The Hazari's disgusted reaction is hard to miss. "Oh, you have heard of them," Janeway notes. "They're notorious in this sector," the Hazari says. "They've made quite a few enemies."
Janeway smiles deviously. "Enemies who might be willing to pay a hell of a bounty." But the Hazari backs away a bit, his passion ceding to practicality. "Their technology is very advanced. It makes them difficult to track."
"Not if we work together," Janeway counters. "You're the best hunters in the quadrant--and we have the perfect lure. All we have to do now is...outthink the think tank."
I hope this goes over better than when she tried to out-Ferengi the Ferengi . . .
In the mess hall, the senior staff and the Hazari are gathered. Janeway reveals her plan.
"We've got a puzzle and we're not leaving this room until we solve it." (Got Snickers?) "The Think Tank is out there somewhere, hiding in subspace. How do we find them? And even if we can, their ship's hull is neutronium-based alloy, impervious to our weapons. How do we capture them?"
While you're at it, how about tackling that whole Meaning of Life thing? There's a whole fifteen minutes of episode to fill . . .
Harry starts off, suggesting a multispatial probe to flush the Think Tank out. Torres says that would take weeks of scanning, which nobody--particularly the Hazari--has the patience to consider. Tuvok suggests something a bit more aggressive--subspatial charges to force them into the open. But Chakotay says they need to know where to drop them--back to square one.
"Maybe we're going about this the wrong way," Janeway says. "A direct assault seems unlikely to succeed." She remembers something Kurros said to her on their first encounter. " 'Pure tactics, psychology...' That's how they solve problems. That's what we have to do!"
Janeway looks around the table, eyes afire. "They've created this paradox to manipulate us into giving them Seven of Nine. How do we manipulate them? Think."
And think they do. For the next several, silent scenes, as the Jeopardy! Theme wafts over the airwaves, the assembled Think Tank II breaks into small discussion groups. Seven and Tuvok. Chakotay and Kim and Doc. Paris and Neelix. Torres and Janeway. The Hazari is standoffish, arms folded, scowling, and not talking to anyone, just observing his prey.
Time marches on.
By the time we hear voices again, they all look haggard, and they're spread out all over the room.
Neelix, whose vest comes the closest to carrying on the tradition of the Year of the T-shirt (but who thankfully has a long-sleeved shirt on underneath), timidly, speaks up. "I thought we were onto something with B'Elanna's plan to--"
"Forget it," B'Elanna snaps. "I was wrong."
"Let him talk!" Tom says, exhaustion adding more edge to his words than intended.
"We're talking in circles," Doc grouses. The Hazari agrees, bellowing, "Enough! Three hours, no progress."
Janeway, who has returned her attentions to the insidious Sheer Lunacy game, cradles it like an imminent metaphor. "Maybe we can't outthink them." This shocks the room, and earns the captain their undivided attention. "We have to assume they've planned for every contingency--including anything we could come up with to undermine their plan--"
Janeway looks at the Sheer lunacy game. "This thing has been driving me crazy," she whispers, patience gone. She carries the thing over to the table, across from Seven of Nine. "You said you knew the solution. Prove it."
Seven takes the device with dancing eyes. She pushes the buttons, beep, click, chirp, with the confidence of someone who knows exactly what to do. When she sets it down four point seven seconds later, she hits a final series of commands--and all the lights go out. No sputtering, no victory cheer, just blessed silence.
She also seems to have turned off everyone's speech centers. Tom and Janeway, in particular, let their jaws drop.
Shaking her head as though to clear it, Janeway asks, "Seven, how'd you do that?" it's almost an accusation.
Seven responds, deadpan. "I scanned the device. Its mechanism operates on a simple fractal regression."
Outrage from Tom Paris. "You scanned it? That's cheating!" Janeway bites her lip, not knowing whether to laugh or make Seven eat the thing.
"Cheating is often more efficient," Seven says simply. Hey, it worked for Captain Kirk . . .
DING DING DING DING
Janeway's eyes light up with sudden insight. "If you can't solve a puzzle, cheat." More insight. "If you can't outthink a Think Tank, don't try." She smiles.
But the rest of the room is a little slow on the uptake. "Are you suggesting we give up?" Neelix asks.
"Not at all," the captain says. She turns to Seven. "When you were in contact with the artificial intelligence you were linked through their internal communications array." For several seconds, Seven confirms. Janeway's eyes glow. "If you were to link with them again, we might be able to disrupt those systems. If they can't communicate they can't function as a think tank. They'd be vulnerable."
Nobody objects to the idea, but Doc does bring them back to their original problem. "How do we find them?"
Knowing how you want the game to end often makes it easier to know how to start. In this case, the change of one variable turns the impossible into the simple. Instead of fighting to keep Seven of Nine, they need to make sure she joins the Think Tank, willingly. Which was the goal of the Hazari and the Think Tank in the first place.
The only trick now becomes, convincing Team Smartypants that the change of heart isn't a trick. Which of course it is.
"They won't believe her," the party-pooping Hazari growls.
"We'll have to make them believe," Janeway drawls, not looking too worried. "Pull up a chair. We've got some more work to do."
On the Think Tank ship, the artificial intelligence reports. "An Hazari vessel is sending hails into subspace. It's trying to contact us."
Kurros seems surprised. "Put them through."
On the Hazari vessel, Thing Two tells Thing One, "They're responding."
Kurros looks at them. "Hazari vessel, we have received your hails. Can we be of assistance?"
"You deceived us," the Hazari growls.
Kurros plays dumb. "I do not believe we have met."
"Stop the pretense! You wanted us to deliver Voyager. Very well, but, only if you triple our bounty!"
Kurros stiffens, though the lilt in his voice doesn't appreciably change. "My friend, regardless of the circumstances we have a contract." But the Hazari leans in close. "Pay us, or we let Voyager go."
Kurros turns his head to the side, discussing the situation with his telepathic partners in crime. A moment later, he glares at the screen. His voice loses all its measured pleasantry. Hard and a bit gravelly now, Kurros bores into the Hazari with his obsidian eyes. "All right. We will triple the bounty. But you must deliver them to us...now." The Hazari agree. "We'll contact the rest of our ships. We'll seize Voyager as planned."
Why, you double-crossing snake!
* * *
Life is back to normal on Voyager. It's under Red Alert, taking a pounding, and running for its life. A trio of Hazari ships fires on it, in hot pursuit.
The bridge, as usual, is on fire. Shields at 30%, Tuvok shouts. Janeway orders return fire, but another shot causes more stuff to spark and smoke. Harry reports that shield generators and phasers just got hosed, and Tuvok adds that life support is failing on all decks.
Kurros picks the perfect moment to appear. "Let us be honest, Captain. Things do not seem to be going your way." Janeway hangs onto her seat as another shot lands hard, then grumbles, "Don't count us out just yet."
"I admit you have been clever," says Kurros with the disarmingly gentle voice of triumph. "You uncovered our subterfuge--but you failed to factor in all the variables. The greed of the Hazari, for example."
Janeway ignores him, asks Tuvok if they still have Photon torpedoes. Some, Tuvok says. But Kurros isn't impressed. "A few torpedoes will not alter the outcome. If you do not convince Seven of Nine to join us now, the destruction of your ship is 99.8% certain." Use 'em, Janeway orders.
Eat hot death, you Hazari devils! One ship disabled, Tuvok reports a moment later. Kurros mocks them. "Clinging to that .2 percentage? Hazari reinforcements should be here any minute." Paris confirms this--another six Hazari are hauling scales their way.
When it rains, it pours. Chakotay tells Janeway that an unauthorized shuttle launch just occurred. "It's Seven of Nine." Janeway bolts out of her chair. "What the hell is she doing?" Kurros smiles. "I believe she's saving your ship." Harry tracks Seven's movements. "She's not answering hails . . . Her shuttle's being pulled into subspace . . . She's gone."
Kurros is annoying in victory. "Have a safe journey home...Captain." His isomorphic projection ends, leaving a lasting impression of his Cheshire grin and the twin abysses of his eyes.
Janeway looks at the empty air where Kurros stood.
Kurros welcomes Seven of Nine warmly. "Your hospitality is irrelevant," Seven says brusquely. "I am here because you left me no choice." Kurros just smiles. "You gave into your human instincts to save your crew as we knew you would. Just another factor in our equation," he says, rubbing it in.
"If Voyager is destroyed, I will not cooperate." That's her price. She's learning to think like the Think Tank already. No pay, no play.
"Do not worry," Kurros says. "The solution to the Hazari Paradox is quite simple." He calls the Hazari. "We have what we want. Call off your attack." But the Hazari demands their compensation as well. Fine, Kurros agrees, but stop attacking first. Pay us first, the Hazari demands.
Kurros suspects something. He cuts off the transmission. He glares at Seven. "Why is he in such a hurry?"
"Comply!" Seven says, voice cracking with intensity.
But Kurros smells a problem. He starts thinking aloud. "If we decloak, we would be vulnerable. The Hazari could make quite a bounty on us...far more than we are paying them." Seven points out that the think Tank's technology is superior, that the Hazari wouldn't have a chance of succeeding with a direct attack. But Kurros is not so sure. "I think this is a trap--a new Paradox your Captain has created for us." Why that devious redhead! "If we call their bluff the Hazari might destroy Voyager and we would lose you. If we reveal ourselves, we could be destroyed." He almost seems to enjoy the conundrum.
Seven chips in. "You told me, 'without problems to test the limits of your ability, you can never expand them.' " The Think Tank did give Janeway a reason to outdo herself, after all.
Kurros' jaw sets. "There is one very simple way to narrow the odds. We simply link you to our communications system--allow our artificial intelligence to probe your mind as it did before. And Captain Janeway's plans will be revealed, like a jewel in a bed of fog."
Yeah. That'll teach her. Take that, Captain.
Seven stiffens as the communications link is established, and she joins her new collective against her will.
The moment Seven is linked, Doc is notified in Sickbay. Her ocular implant monitor goes wild.
"Sickbay to bridge. Seven's neural transceiver has been activated."
On the bridge, Janeway nods. "Acknowledged." She turns to Tuvok. "Do it."
"I'm transmitting the carrier wave," Tuvok says.
Seven's metallic eyebrow sparks. A second later, the telepathic internet dome goes down.
Too late, Kurros realizes what's happening. "Voyager is sending an interference signal into our systems using her cortical implants as a relay!" He turns to Coral Reef Man. "Disconnect the link."
Coral Reef man chirps, grunts and growls at him.
"Disconnect the link!" Kurros repeats.
Seven smiles unkindly. "They can't understand you."
So this is what the Tower of Babel was like . . .
Janeway hails the Hazari vessels. "Their systems are down. Fire the spatial charges."
The Think Tank vessel rocks.
"We seem to be experiencing some turbulence," Seven says, with her hint of a Borg smirk.
Kurros snorts. "Primitive spatial charges." He begins entering commands into an interface tablet. "I will have the dome back on-line before they can do any damage."
Good luck, dude.
Oops--time's up. "We're being pulled out of subspace," Kurros says, looking worried.
The moment the Think Tank ship appears, The Hazari turn on it like wolves to a fresh kill. They pepper it with energy charges.
Voyager has other priorities. Harry grabs Seven in a transporter lock, and Seven is soon back on board. Janeway has Tom setting a course; their work is done here.
Kurros appears. "I urge you to reconsider, Captain," he says. No light tone now. No smug superiority.
Janeway wags her finger at him playfully, not bothering to get out of her seat. "A good guest knows when he's outstayed his welcome," she scolds, eyes dancing.
"We can still negotiate a peaceful solution," Kurros urges. "Do not destroy my faith in diplomacy." His tone carries a definite threat.
"Your diplomacy could use some polishing," Janeway says with a smirk.
Kurros turns to Seven of Nine. "You know you will never be satisfied here among these people. Is this what you really want?"
Seven just looks at him. "Acquiring knowledge is a worthy objective. But its pursuit has obviously not elevated you." Ooh, ouch.
Kurros' isomorphic projection begins to fade. He struggles to remain in place. He reminds me of Friendly Angel turning ugly and powerless in the face of the tears of the children on Kirk's bridge.
Janeway gets out of her chair. She walks over, her face a mask of false sympathy. "Looks like your ship's having difficulties." Ensign Seinfeld turns around. "Eh, that's a shame," he says, offhandedly. A minor problem, Kurros insists, but the fading in and out, the distortion of his projection, continue to worsen.
Janeway stands close. She regards her would-be superior. "Oh, I'm sure you'll find a solution. Just give it some..." oh, what's the word? "Thought." She turns her head sideways, mocking him, then lets a slow smile spread.
Kurros turns his own head to the side, listening for the voices of his Think Tank comrades.
But if he hears, he cannot understand.
With a final flicker, Kurros disappears.
Voyager warps out, leaving the Think Tank to take on an ever-increasing number of attacking Hazari vessels.
Catchya later, brainy dudes.
From the initial reaction, I think I might be in the minority on this one. I thought it was potentially pretty interesting, but the execution didn't do much for me.
I had the same problem with this that I had with "Bliss." The teaser killed the suspense for me. We learned at the outset what the Think Tank is capable of, so when Kurros came to Janeway knowing as much as he did about the Hazari Paradox, my first suspicion was that Kurros had hired the Hazari. Nothing in the interim caused me to question that, and nothing prompted me to feel any better about Kurros or his motley band of traveling problem-solvers. All in all, I found the episode interesting, but I had virtually no emotional connection with it.
To borrow an obvious phrase, this episode was "a show about nothing." And that's a shame, because there was potential for good strong character moments. Instead, it surfed through the ethical and character issues, never really gave us a sense of danger, and focused instead on the superficial "puzzle." It's interesting, maybe even intriguing at times, but all the same it's superficial.
Contrast this with "Counterpoint." In both episodes, you have an alien that you know is capable of good and evil. Both offer a form of candor, but do not show all their cards. Ultimately the subterfuge is revealed, and ultimately Janeway one-ups the bad guy by unveiling some subterfuge of her own.
But what people begged for and didn't get in "Counterpoint," we got here--a smart mouth, a parting zinger, an evil grin from Janeway as the bad guy retreats in a world of hurt. Triumphant, and darn pleased with herself. Well, we got that in spades in "Think Tank." Janeway resolves the paradox, out-thinks the think tank, and does the superiority dance on the bridge.
But in Counterpoint, we actually had some tension. Call it romantic, call it chemical, call it platonic but intense, there was a bond of sorts between Janeway and Kashyk. They had moments where they were able to smile, flirt, share small details of their lives, dance around each other, mash lips. Every bit of it was calculated, but there was enough intimacy, enough room for hope, that the ultimate betrayals and counterbetrayals are not only interesting, but poignant. We got the wisecracking Janeway for the audience, but we also got the sad private goodbyes between two evenly-matched adversaries who could find some room for regret that their encounter wasn't under different circumstances. You got the feeling that there was a tragic side to Kashyk, one that makes him more sympathetic, but which also makes him less likeable. The agony is in knowing what he could be, and CARING that he's gone over to the Dark Side. He started out a leering, superficial guy. By episode's end, he was still a big creep, but he was a creep who had shown enough of himself to know what he could have been had he allowed himself to believe his own cover story.
Think Tank had none of that. But it should have.
We had the final resolution (maybe--I've probably said this a half dozen times now) of the questions posed in The Gift, when Seven asks if she'll be free to choose her fate. Janeway finally gives her that choice this week. In the past, all the chances to escape Voyager were opportunities to run back to the Borg. But that's no longer a likely scenario. Seven has burned those bridges. But leaving for other reasons, for other assignments or challenges or interests--this wouldn't have been the first time. McCoy did it for love, and because he had only a few months to live, in "For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky." Wesley did it when he left for the Academy, and later when he left the Academy to study with the Travelers. Worf left the Enterprise to join Gowron, not expecting to return. Jadzia Dax was on a hair-trigger for opportunities to turn in her combadge and run off for some adventure, some relationship, or another. Kes was on the verge of leaving in "The Darkling" because she'd met an adventuresome soul, and later did leave (much to Janeway's regret) in "The Gift" because she was undergoing too many changes for Voyager to bear.
So when the "opportunity" does arise for Seven to leave, voluntarily, for what could at first be seen as the chance of a lifetime, you'd expect there to be more emotional resonance. You want there to be some uncertainty--is Seven tempted? Is anyone (other than Torres) encouraging her to take the job? Does she chafe against the lack of challenge in her assignments? Does she yearn for more? Kurros speaks the words we would expect to have some impact, trying to tempt Seven into his Collective, but I didn't see any genuine temptation there. We already knew Kurros was a jerk deep (or not so deep) down, and it was hard to imagine Seven spending a new career in such company.
Seven was skeptical throughout. Because of this, it was never really an issue. We knew she'd never go willingly, and if she did, we'd know why--it's a "cheat." Janeway's "my little girl has grown up" speech should have been an event, but it was wasted on what's effectively a non-decision. Free will doesn't really apply in a case of coersion. Hobson's choice is no choice at all. Janeway's big moment, telling Seven that it's her decision, is wasted on an episode where the choice is pretty clear-cut. Seven never ended an interview with Kurros giving him or the audience any question that she might be thinking about what to do. Each scene had a finality to it. Had Seven actually been tempted, I might have been more interested.
The Sheer Lunacy game was the metaphor. It's irritating when you can't figure it out, and if you know how it works even solving it isn't all that satisfying. Seven got no joy whatsoever out of solving in seconds what had consumed the Voyager crew's attention for days. Her only modicum of amusement came in watching the reactions of those around her.
I was in high school when the Rubik's Cube craze hit. I knew folks who could solve them in a minute or less without breaking a sweat. I was insanely jealous. I couldn't solve it on my own; I had to buy one of those cheat books that gave step-by-step instructions. I eventually got to the point that I was pretty good at it; I was pretty proud of myself. It was a learned skill.
But ultimately, not one I put on my college applications. To borrow a phrase from Seven, acquiring knowledge is a worthy objective, but the pursuit of knowledge is not in itself enough to elevate you. Being learned doesn't by itself make you wise. There are a whole lot of very foolish people with a whole lot of letters after their names and with I.Q.'s that look like SAT scores. You might be able to clean up on Jeopardy, but a thumbs-up from Alex Trebek is not sufficient to validate your existence as a human being. Or whatever species Kurros is.
Put another way: Vessini was a genius, but the Dread Pirate Roberts still beat him with the Iocane Challenge. Common sense, insight, wisdom, people skills, conscience, whatever you want to call them--they are also aspects of competence that can work together nicely with intelligence, but are not automatically aspects of it. Kurros might have been a bright dude, but seeing everything as a problem to be solved didn't prepare him for every contingency. In fact, it became a liability, a muscle exercised to the exclusion of too much else.
I don't mean to be too harsh. Some of the performances I quite liked. There were some great lines, and the scenes generally worked as pieces for me, though the whole itself did not.
Like Demon, this episode had all the potential elements of danger, but you never really felt that the ship or crew was truly imperiled. You never expected Seven to leave the ship, and stay gone. You never expected Voyager to get hijacked, and stay that way. You never expected the Hazari to succeed in its mission. The Sheer Lunacy device kept the tone light through most of the episode. Kurros and his colleagues were darn near twirling invisible mustaches; they had evil written all over them. They wanted Seven for obvious reasons--she's brilliant, is a phenomenal repository of knowledge, and she's got attitude to burn. But how did the Think Tank learn of her, and why did they feel they had to bring her into the collective? Was there some underlying danger that they couldn't figure out, and hoped the Borg would be able to? Was there any reason to like them, root for them, feel sorry for them?
Another question. Was it satisfying to see Voyager give the Think Tank the bird and the boot and skedaddle out of Dodge just as they had their hands full from massive incoming fire from the very people they'd tried to co-opt for their purposes? It was a cool visual, but is it the Starfleet way to say, "so sorry; it's your problem. See ya," and then take off to let the locals smash them to bits? It was yet another example of Janeway personifying the slogan, Payback is a Bytch. Cross her, and you might as well make your peace with your next of kin.
It was, in the end, just too low-key. Jason Alexander's delivery as Kurros was auditory anaesthesia, and the words themselves were rarely that compelling. Interesting, but not compelling. My favorite of his was, "you actually enjoy this?" after his first taste of coffee. It's not that it was bad; it wasn't. It just didn't grab me. I got the sense that he was trying too hard not to be George Costanza. But Alexander, a fine, well-rounded performer of stage, screen and McDonalds commercials, could have done so much more than he was given, with fingers crazy-glued to each other, movement-obscuring robes, and head prostheses.
Jason Alexander could have made a credible member of the Q Continuum. Remember the manic energy John de Lancie brought to his Q role. He could have been any of a number of temperamental gods, brilliant, talented, quirky. Watching Kurros just lose it, ranting in a corner, would have been worth the watch.
Mulgrew's Janeway looked like she had a lot of fun this week. She got to wear the Action, Mama, Captain, Professor and other hats. She had a truly challenging puzzle to solve, stayed well caffeinated throughout, and she got off some nice parting shots against Kurros. She didn't exactly walk into a trap blindfolded. But everyone got something to do--even though Torres got pretty much shut out this time around. Harry had some great lines. I liked the idea of the shipboard crazes like Yo Yos (snicker) and Sheer Lunacy. It also makes sense that Tom Paris would be the initiator; in his own way, Tom is a bit of a morale officer.
The puzzle was intricate, and though they didn’t give EVERYTHING away, they did give away too much--they explained too much to us, leaving little to the imagination.
There is fun to be had here. But I would have enjoyed this more with more suspense, and with a little more emotional impact.
On the 4 star scale, call it (* * 1/2). I didn't hate it, but I was disappointed.
Next week: Repeat of Infinite Regress.