HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
“Vox” finally, finally shows us what’s up with Jack Crusher, but even more than that, it offers us an excellent example of nostalgia done well. It’s not quite the master class that is Strange New Worlds, but it does a great job of making that nostalgia relevant. It ties up a great deal of story threads that have been wafting in the breeze since episode one. It even does so very well, but I can’t quite shake a vague feeling I can’t quite describe that we’re dealing with the Borg once again. Yes, they were the enemy most personal to Captain Jean-Luc Picard, but last year put that to bed via the blending of Agnes Jurati and a Borg Queen. Bringing it up now in conjunction with an episode that attempts to establish the relevance of the TNG cast, even going so far as to use their age as a benefit rather than a drawback just seems to be undermining the message. This is not to say that I’m not excited about how nicely Star Trek: Picard’s third season’s ninth episode “Vox” not only ties in the earlier episodes in the season while leading us into what promises to be an explosive conclusion because I very much am. The callback even makes sense in context. I hope “The Last Generation” episode provides the pay-off “Vox” has promised.
Aboard the Titan, Deanna Troi and Jack Crusher prepare to open the Red Door in Jack’s mind. He reveals that the red vines are symbols of connection and union, even going so far as to describe the interconnectivity of the plants in an arboretum as being perfect. Troi walks toward the door and opens it before severing the connection to Jack. She staggers out of the counselor’s office and goes directly to Jack’s parents. She tells them that the voice in Jack’s head is the Borg Queen and points out that there are now protocols in play. Geordi explains that he and Data have identified what it is that the Changelings wanted with Picard’s body. Soong, in transferring Picard’s personality to the synthetic golem, discovered that the Borg had rewritten genetic code to create a sort of organic transponder in Picard’s brain that allow Jack to send and receive. The alteration of his neural architecture manifested like Irumodic Syndrome, which was misdiagnosed.
Jean-Luc Picard volunteers to tell Jack, explaining that Jack’s powers stem from that alteration. He also informs Jack that he should go to Keslovar on Vulcan for help to control his abilities. Jack refuses, calling Keslovar an institution and storms out. Picard tries to stop him, but Jack takes control of the security guards and uses them to facilitate his escape after promising his mother that he will track down the Borg Queen and show her who he really is. Picard and Dr. Crusher watch Jack warp away.
Geordi and Data have more bad news for Picard. The Changelings managed to extract the Borg genetic code from Picard’s body and have input it into the transporter systems. The systems use that code as a cheat sheet of sorts, to fill in blanks, so anyone who’s used a transporter using that code now has Borg code in their DNA. The Changelings therefore have used Starfleet’s own systems to facilitate the assimilation of its officers. The only saving grace is that the code only triggers in personnel younger than twenty five, neatly ensuring that Picard and the rest of the old Enterprise crew will not be affected. However, Sidney and Alandra La Forge will be. Picard recommends to Shaw that they head to the Sol System to warn the fleet of the coming assimilation apocalypse.
As expected, the entire fleet has turned out for Frontier Day, including the Enterprise-F under the command of one Admiral Elizabeth Shelby. She introduces the new technology debuting on Frontier Day, which is a system that will link the entire fleet together. This system, of course, plays right into the Borg’s plans as they activate the assimilation trigger now encoded in everyone’s DNA. Picard does try to interrupt Shelby’s broadcast to warn everyone, but all he manages to do is watch Shelby die. One of the Captains uses channel 99 to indicate that he’s retaken the Bridge, but the Borg destroy the ship, using the Starfleet ships as a weapon. Shaw suggests that everyone not assimilated head to a maintenance deck to find a maintenance shuttle.
The remaining non-Assimilated personnel do, but the Borg-officers move to intercept. One fires a lucky shot, killing Shaw. Seven of Nine refuses to leave him, and Raffi refuses to leave her. The maintenance shuttle departs, and Geordi suggests a destination of the Fleet Museum. There, he reveals that he’s been restoring the Enterprise-D to her former operability. He proudly announces that she is the last remaining functional ship in Starfleet. Picard asks his officers if they’re with him, and Riker explains to Picard that they are his family. Troi chimes in to add that Alandra, Sidney, and Jack are their family too, and the crew resolves to head into battle one last time to save their children and the world.
Jack, however, has found the Borg Queen by tapping into his Borg abilities, and he does try to resist her. However, she overpowers him and gives him the name “Vox” for he will be the voice of the Borg. The last we see of Jack is him standing before her, weeping, while cables attach themselves to him.
Requiescat in Pace, Liam Shaw, we hardly had enough time with you, which is a sentence I never expected to type. It’s amazing how, over the course of nine episodes, I’ve gone from being willing to sacrifice this character on the altar of Roddenberry to genuinely grieving the end of his arc. While he’s not great about accepting Seven for all that she is, at the very end at least, he’s able to call her by her real name. He gets a type of redemption in that, and it works for his character.
The episode also brings in so many other threads beautifully. We knew from the first episode that having the ships talk to each other was a terrible idea, but “Vox” shows us exactly how truly dangerous an idea it really is. Vadic refused to use the transporters on the Titan, and now we know that it was because she didn’t want the system to encode the assimilation code into her own DNA. We saw a mysterious hangar at the Fleet Museum and speculated as to what lived in that bay, and now we know.
All of that brings me to Jack and how poorly this episode treats him. First, Deanna gets to open the Big Red Door that’s been the focus of Jack’s nightmares, not Jack. There’s a key loss of agency in that moment. Yes, Jack was struggling to reach the door, but he still deserves to open it on his own. Troi, however, not only takes that action from him, she doesn’t even tell him what’s in his head. She first goes to her former commanding officer and Jack’s mother. Doesn’t Troi have a responsibility to her patient?
Then, Picard, someone whom he doesn’t know well, goes to break the news to him. Again, there’s a hint of logic here; Picard was Locutus. He has the pertinent knowledge and did pass the Borg technology on to Jack. However, Beverly should have gone. She’s his mother and the one real constant he’s had in his life, to the extent that he has been hearing the Borg Queen’s voice as his mother’s. Then, they conclude, without Jack’s input, to bundle him off to Keslovar and go so far as to deploy security guards.
Jack is a threat to humanity as he is somehow still part of the Borg’s plan for assimilation, so I do understand that they want to take precautions. I even understand wanting to uphold Starfleet protocols, but I do not understand this impulse in a situation where they’re working so far off-book that they’re fugitives. I similarly fail to comprehend why they’d send him to Vulcan when they have a friendly Borg conclave out there who have literally hundreds of years of experience dodging the regular Borg. Wouldn’t they be a better choice to help Jack figure out how to be a new version of the Borg, without quite the emphasis on cybernetic authoritarianism?
Moreover, no one ever acknowledges that Jack has agency. They make decisions for him without taking into account Jack’s own opinions, and that’s the heart of the betrayal of which Jack accuses Picard. Picard and everyone else has determined that Jack poses a threat to humanity. He is without doubt dangerous, but he has also demonstrated a profound bravery and compassion. Picard at one point reminds him that while he is Borg, Borg isn’t all he is. He’s had a lifetime of experience working with his mother to help where no help was expected. Where is the faith in Jack’s inherent goodness? Where is the faith in Beverly’s parenting, not that she’s demonstrated much of it this season? It’s no wonder that Jack rebels and chooses an incredibly self-destructive path to do it.
The Borg themselves represent an interesting villain. On the one hand, Trek is all about collective action, but the Borg represent what happens when that cooperation becomes subsummation. The Borg take away individual choice, which is also incredibly important in Trek, and it’s not accidental that everyone under the age of 25 loses that choice. There’s a bit of a metaphor here, juxtaposing the wisdom of age with the susceptibility of youth, and I have to say that I’m wondering how that’s going to play out in the final episode, especially considering the theme gets muddled as Picard and his cohort haven’t always demonstrated great wisdom.
Beyond the question of choice, the Borg are also the biggest villain for Picard personally, and it makes sense that they’d figure prominently in the conclusion of his story. However, I find that it feels a bit like a retread of some of the issues we saw last season. I very much want to know what happens to Jack because he’s inheriting his father’s issues, despite being blameless. I’d rather not see Jack become a proxy through which Picard continues to work through his issues with the Borg.
Regardless of the foregoing, getting to see the characters I’ve watched for thirty-odd years back on the bridge of the Enterprise-D was the greatest payoff we’ve yet had. I hope the finale has even better things in store for us. Hopefully, some of my questions will even be answered.
Three and a half cups of Earl Grey Tea
Stray Thoughts From the Couch
- I appreciated the reference to Sector 001.
- There’s a USS Pulaski! That’s an interesting move.
- Shelby was a great cameo.
- I’ve always thought the Changelings and Borg would make for interesting bedfellows, and apparently, I was right.
- Dr. Crusher finally gets to acknowledge her loss of Wesley. That hit home.
- I kind of love pessimist Data, and the moment he puts his hand on Picard’s shoulder. Fantastic.