Regeneration

From: tlynch@alumnae.caltech.edu (Timothy W. Lynch)
Newsgroups: rec.arts.startrek.reviews,rec.arts.startrek.current,rec.arts.sf.tv
Subject: [ENT] Lynch's Spoiler Review: "Regeneration"
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Date: Mon, 7 Jul 2003 22:45:07 +0000 (UTC)
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Keywords: ENT, Borg, horror-film
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WARNING: If even one spoiler for ENT's "Regeneration" gets past this warning, it will begin replicating and everything will ... well, just be a big mess, really.

In brief: Mostly a collection of horror-movie cliches. Good moments, but that's all.

"Regeneration"
Enterprise Season 2, Episode 23
Written by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong
Directed by David Livingston

Brief summary: The discovery of a crashed ship in the Arctic leads to humans' first ever encounter with the Borg.

When doing a prequel series such as "Enterprise," a real complication is that you generally can't get away with using villains and worlds that everyone "only just discovered" a century or two later.

Or at least, you shouldn't try to do so very often. At this point, the series has really tried this three times in two years, and that's a huge reach.

"Acquisition" worked last year, for the most part -- at least, if you found the humor funny, which I generally did. One reason it worked, though, is that ... well, frankly, the Ferengi as shown there aren't much of a threat, so there's not that much reason why people should be all that worried. We also never saw what happened when the Federation first "officially" met the Ferengi, and the details are sufficiently fuzzy that I didn't see the events of "Acquisition" as much of a problem.

"Minefield" played the coy game with the Romulans, and again did okay, at least mostly. "Regeneration," though, doesn't follow the good-things-come-in-threes rule: if anything, I think it showed the dangers of overreaching. Part of that is continuity-based, but a lot of it is that the story itself wasn't engaging enough to make all the continuity contortions worth going through.

I should remind people by way of preamble that I saw very, very little of the second half of "Voyager." As a result, what I know of the Borg comes primarily from their TNG appearances. (I did see the Voyager finale -- and found it more or less incomprehensible, to be honest. But that's neither here nor there at the moment.)

The episode starts out with a reasonable enough premise -- a research team up in the Arctic finds the crashed remains of the Borg sphere from "First Contact." There's no real reason I can see why a piece of the sphere would naturally wind up in the Arctic, but it was in high enough orbit when blown to pieces that I could see a few pieces winding up there. Regardless, a few fragments are located ... as are two Borg which, although dead, appear relatively intact.

The first act was your standard horror-movie setup through and through. A small number of people in an isolated incident while a sleeping monster heals in the lab. Given the Arctic setting, the monster could have been anything from the original Frankenstein's monster to the alien from John Carpenter's version of "The Thing" ... but this time it's a couple of Borg. As with any typical horror movie, there's no shortage of "no, you fool!" moments -- in this case, there's one researcher who decides that putting the Borg back in cold storage could get in the way of the work. Naturally, before too long the two Borg fully revive and all the researchers are quickly assimilated.

In another "No, you fool!" moment, what happens as soon as Admiral Forrest hears that the research team hasn't been heard from in three days? He hops into a shuttle and heads up there himself, of course! Apart from giving Vaughn Armstrong an extra line or two and letting the Admiral out of his office, I fail to see what was accomplished by that scene that couldn't have been done by many other means.

In any event, Archer and company get involved shortly thereafter. The research team has been abducted, and its transport is heading out in Enterprise's general direction at warp 4 or so. They're under orders to intercept the transport and save the team if at all possible. With that, the hunt commences.

A couple of continuity-related points come up at this juncture. The first, nitpicky one is this: all the other Borg that headed back to 21st- century Earth died when the Queen was destroyed. What's so special about these two that they didn't?

More seriously, I think this episodes demonstrates the basic problem inherent in building up the Borg too much. As much as I enjoyed "First Contact," I think the change to having them assimilate by touch makes them entirely too "magical" a foe in some respects. Back in the time of "The Best of Both Worlds," I'd certainly agree that having two Borg back 200 years earlier could be a problem, but not in the way these two were. Given that they can create more by touch and almost magically alter their surroundings (vis. what they do to the transport, and almost instantly to Enterprise later), they're suddenly so huge a problem that frankly, Archer and company shouldn't have lasted half an hour. In some ways, I felt very much like the Borg's abilities had been artificially inflated so much in the past that this time they had to be artificially weakened in order to be a beatable foe. I think that's poor planning.

Speaking of poor planning, some characters' poor planning is in evidence not long after this, when Enterprise intercepts a distress call from a freighter that's under attack. It manages to fight off the Borg transport, but stays to assist the freighter. The two remaining Tarkaleans on board have both been "infected" -- and given that Phlox wants to keep them in sickbay for treatment (in another "no, you fool!" moment), it isn't long before they manage to break free, infect Phlox, and head off into a Jefferies tube to mess with the ship.

Guys, you already have strong circumstantial evidence that these people (at least the "original" two Borg) can be dangerous, and you can tell with your own eyes that these people are gradually being changed into Borg in a way that could easily spread. That escape should never have been allowed to happen -- and the fact that it did doesn't really speak well to anyone's forethought on board.

It also makes it clear just how much weakening is going to be necessary to make these Borg work as a 22nd-century foe. To the best of my knowledge, no one in the 24th-century who gets assimilated has broken free, except Hugh. For Phlox to come up with a magical radiation cure so quickly, that works with no apparent or lingering side effects (he claims there'll be some, but it's not like we get any details or get to see them) frankly cheapens that particular aspect of the Borg. But hey, given that Reed's already invented the force-field and the Red Alert, why not let someone else get a chance at glory?

As much as I'm disenchanted with the implications of the Phlox subplot, it makes for a couple of very good scenes. Phlox deals with what's likely a death sentence with the mixture of dignity and determination that one might come to expect from him given the last two years, and it's good stuff -- not the strongest Phlox material of the year by any means, but something with real emotion attached. I particularly like the matter-of-fact way he gives Archer the means to kill him if the treatment doesn't work. When Archer asks, he simply says that "I have no intention of turning into one of those cybernetic creatures." Grim, but very effective. Phlox also has a nice scene with Hoshi, where she wants to repay all the times he's helped her and he's determined not to let her put herself in harm's way. Good work.

Once the Tarkalean-Borg are loose on board, the problem becomes twofold: find and disable the people currently putting your ship at risk, and track down the transport again before it becomes a further problem. The Borg on board are dealt with fairly quickly -- once they're located and it's clear they can't be hurt by hand weapons, Archer orders that area sealed off and then opens the hatch to space, blowing the Borg out. (Personally, I'd have suggested shooting them afterwards to make sure they can't pose a further threat, but maybe they haven't assimilated far enough to be a problem there.) Archer is nicely grim-faced here as well -- he's more than willing to do what he has to in order to protect the ship, but that doesn't stop him from the occasional guilt pang afterwards.

Once the ship finds the transport, all is unfortunately not well. The transport sends out a signal activating the circuitry the Tarkalean- Borg left behind, and Enterprise abruptly loses power in most of its primary systems. Since the transporter is still working, Archer and Reed head over in an attempt to locate and blow up the small thermal exhaust p... oh, sorry, the EPS manifold that appears to be the transport's primary weakness. As Enterprise is boarded, hull plating runs out, and the Borg begin to carve up the ship, the pair are successful, and the transport is heavily damaged just as Trip gets main power back on line. With evidence that the transport is regenerating, Archer orders it destroyed.

As a set of action pieces goes, "Regeneration" works fairly well -- there's some decent atmosphere here and there, and I especially liked some of Brian Tyler's score (especially when the Enterprise first approaches the transport). The more I think about it in a broader context, however, the more things I'm finding that don't quite sit well with me.

Primarily, I really think the only way Archer and company were victorious was due to writer fiat and artificially weakening the Borg. What sort of "artificial weakening" do I mean? Well, the Borg's two basic strengths as shown here are their adaptability to weapons fire and their ability to assimilate (i.e. the nanoprobes). Both caused a 24th-century Enterprise no end of problems, starting with "Q Who" and extending on quite a few years. As I mentioned earlier, Phlox finds a cure in a relatively short amount of time, and Reed solves the Borg shielding problem in about two hours -- well, perhaps "solves" is the wrong word, but he gets at least as far here as Geordi did in an awful lot more time two hundred years later. The implication is either that these Borg are much weaker than usual, that the Enterprise-D is composed of a bunch of utter morons -- or that the rules are being rewritten here in order to give Our Guys a chance to face off against a villain that should be picking Archer scraps out of its metaphorical teeth by now. I'm not enchanted with that.

Other, more nitpicky issues have to do with individual moments. For one, the transporter's only been used for more than one person once before, and under vastly more controlled conditions than here -- I'm surprised it worked without problems, and more to the point that nobody *worried* it might cause problems. I also think that there was little to no reason for the four Borg on the Enterprise to abruptly vanish and head back to home right after the transport was damaged. It was damaged, not destroyed, and if "First Contact" is any indication this is a group that's pretty willing to make do with its current situation if it can put it to good use.

And then there's the ending, where we find that the Borg have in fact sent a signal home telling the Borg how to find Earth. As it'll take at least two hundred years to reach the Delta Quadrant, Archer says that all they've done is postponed the invasion "until what, the 24th century?" To quote famed Spinal Tap members Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins, "there's a fine line between stupid and..." "And clever, yeah." I think this is an idea that's right on the border. I'll give credit for ambition here, but I'm not especially thrilled with it for two reasons.

The small reason: the last line was sledgehammer dialogue. Yeah, guys, we *get* it.

The big reason: the Borg already *had* a perfectly good reason to be interested in Earth and the Federation, namely the events of "Q Who", where they saw the Enterprise appear, cause some problems, and then disappear at speeds no one could match. There's little reason for them to be hailing Picard by name a year later if he's not central to their interests -- so again, saying that the real interest comes from two hundred years earlier seems to be revising history a bit.

(A plus, however, is that this creates a nifty little time paradox, as the Borg's initial interest is due to their later interest. I do find that somewhat amusing.)

The one other grave concern I have about the ending is that Picard should scream bloody murder as soon as he meets the Borg in "Q Who." If Archer knows that these guys were a big, big problem, and that they sent a signal which could bring them to Earth a few centuries later, then by the mid-24th century Starfleet should be in an extremely watchful state of mind -- and everyone should be concerned about them the instant they show up. Everything we've seen before suggests that "Q Who" is truly the first meeting, and I think slipping them under the radar causes real problems for the 24th-century stories. "Acquisition" could work because the Ferengi weren't a huge deal; the Borg are, and I can't think of any coy explanation that's going to make this work.

Other observations and musings:

-- Reed mentions that the research team was "heavily armed." Um ... why? Yes, I know one of them joked about polar bears, and many such teams are armed now for that reason ... but not heavily.

-- When Phlox and Reed talk about technology, Phlox mentions having encountered the Bynars. Cool.

-- Reed adjusting phasers: "increase power 5 megajoules." Sigh. Joules aren't units of power, as any student of mine over the age of 14 could've told them. (Lost cause, I know -- but this is just not something that's that hard to get right.)

-- It's been a while, but I notice that "hull plating" is now clearly back to being the functional equivalent of shields. "Hull plating down to 23 percent," indeed. Y'know, guys, y'ain't the Borg -- that there hull platin' isn't something you just get to regenerate. When it's gone (as it is by the end of the episode), it should be gone. Period. Done. End of story. Work on that.

-- I think having Archer pull up a Cochrane speech dealing with the Borg on fairly short notice strikes me as highly silly, and for the most part unnecessary. It felt to me like flashing a neon sign saying, "hey! these are the guys from First Contact! Remember that?" when one really wasn't needed.

-- One of the researchers theorizes that the ship they found pieces of "must have been a perfect sphere." Well, having rewatched that particular bit of the film ... actually it's a damned lumpy sphere, but have it your way. :-)

-- I'm curious why the only two guests who got front credits were Vaughn Armstrong and Jim Fitzpatrick (Cmrd. Williams), both of whom had a line or two each, when the researchers all had far larger parts. Odd.

That should cover it. More than anything, "Regeneration" felt like a show that came from a one-line concept: "Let's have those First Contact Borg regenerate and cause trouble." Taken completely out of the broader Trek context, it's a decent enough action/horror piece -- but taken in a broader Trek context, I really think it's causing a lot more problems than whatever entertainment it provides is worth.

Wrapping up:

OVERALL: Maybe a 6.5 for potential, but no more. This was a disappointment in many ways.

NEXT WEEK: The Man Who Would Be Captain.

Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
tlynch@alumni.caltech.edu	<*>
"No, you fool!"
		-- an apropos line from the audience so many times...
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Hans-Wolfgang Loidl <hwloidl@dcs.glasgow.ac.uk>
Last modified: Sun Aug 26 21:35:15 1996 Stardate: [-31]8019.28