“Vox” is Beginning’s End for ‘Star Trek: Picard’
All good things must come to an end. And this is the end of Star Trek: Picard. Well, almost. First “Vox” reintroduces TNG‘s deadliest enemy.
Vadic is dead. Data is alive. And somewhere inside Jack Crusher’s mind, the voice of someone else is alive, too. Last week’s episode left us with red door balls for the second time in a row, but “Vox” is a different beast altogether. And after eight episodes of questions, it’s time to finally get some answers.
Why do the changelings need Picard’s body? Why do they need Jack? What does all this have to do with Frontier Day? And how do Picard and Jack’s Irumodic Syndrome play into all this?
The good news is that we get answers to all those questions. The bad news is the shape those answers take. Alert Starfleet Command, we have engaged… exactly who we always knew we’d be engaging.
To Boldly Recap “Vox”
Troi goes inside Jack’s mind. And after a little preamble, she opens that big, red door–and sees the Borg. Rushing to sickbay, Troi informs Picard and Crusher of her discovery. They piece together the basics. The Irumodic Syndrome must be some kind of biological Borg element. Picard wants to tell Jack the bad news. Troi warns him, though–Jack is the changeling’s weapon and a danger to all life in the Federation. Protocols must be followed.
Picard lays it all out to a very angry Jack. But Jack is more than angry, he’s also curious. In a way, he’s always wanted to end suffering and bigotry by bringing all voices into harmony. The difference between Jack and the Borg is that Jack cares.
But Jack does not care enough to be taken to Vulcan for study. Instead, he mind-controls some ensigns and escapes in a shuttle pod. Jack promises Beverly that he’s going to get answers from the Borg Queen and then show her who he really is.
Long story short? Jack is not smart. He finds his way to a transwarp conduit and eventually to the Borg Queen herself. And of course, he cannot kill her! The Borg Queen programmed Jack before he was even born. And so instead she draws Jack in and brings him into the Collective under his new name: Vox.
A Silent Assimilation
We know what’s behind the red door. Now let’s see what’s behind door number two, Jeanny! Uh oh, it’s the reason the changelings stole Picard’s old body. It turns out the Irumodic Syndrome was a symptom of unseen changes the Borg made to Picard’s DNA. For Picard, these changes are largely meaningless, beyond his being able to still hear the Borg’s collective voice.
However, for Jack the DNA passed on makes him able to send a signal out to anyone else with that same genetic marker and control them. He’s a transceiver. And guess where the changelings put Picard’s Borg DNA? In the base code of every transporter in the fleet. In other words, everyone who uses transporters in Starfleet ships is stealth assimilated and doesn’t even know it yet.
The good news is that the DNA won’t activate for anyone over 25 years old. The bad news is that most of the ensigns in Starfleet are younger than 25. So, when the Borg sends out a signal to the fleet on Frontier Day, it turns all those kids into Borg drones instantly.
Worse, the fleet has a recent upgrade–one that combines them under a common code. Basically, Starfleet Borged themselves.
To sum up: Starfleet is in deep trouble. Every ship in the fleet is under Borg control and that includes the Titan. Geordi’s two daughters are Borg. And as the ship’s senior staff attempts to escape via the maintenance shuttle, Captain Shaw dies. The entire former Enterprise crew splits, but Seven and Raffi stay behind to retake the Titan. With his dying breath, Shaw places Seven in charge.
Meanwhile, Geordi has a plan and it involves the tallest order of nostalgia in Starfleet history. Geordi says they need a ship that is not connected to the rest of the fleet. And that leaves only one ship: a restored Enterprise D Geordi’s been working on for the last 20 years at the Fleet Museum.
Picard, Riker, Data, Worf, Geordi, Crusher, and Troi walk onto the bridge of their old ship for the first time since it was destroyed on Veridian III. Picard asks them to risk the impossible. Riker says they are a family and that family includes Jack and Geordi’s daughters.
They have to go back to Earth where the Borg reign. The Enterprise D activates and acknowledges Picard as its “captain”. They set a course toward an unknown future. Roll credits.
Before We Boldly Review “Vox”
“Vox” is one of those episodes you can be all in for but still find yourself spending the entire duration picking nits. As someone who both reviews narratives for a living and is an enormous Star Trek dweeb, I’ve got to tell you–I’m not sure a lot of this makes sense. So forgive me a moment, I’m going to pick those nits so I can say I did it and move on to the good stuff.
If the Borg Queen is able to genetically alter people on a biological level and stealth assimilate on this grand a scale, why didn’t she do it until now? Admiral Shelby (who we have not seen since she was a commander in the TNG two-parter “The Best of Both Worlds”) seems to be the coordinator of this very Borg-like version of Starfleet. Shouldn’t she know better?
In fact, there are lots of reasons not to connect all the ships in Starfleet this way just in this era of Star Trek alone. On Lower Decks, the AI Texas Class ships nearly destroy Starfleet. And on Prodigy, a virus uses Starfleet’s own code against it to spread across the fleet so it will destroy itself. Borg aside, both those shows take place in the continuity before Picard. So why turn the fleet into a kind of collective?
Okay. Alright. I’m done. Now we can do the thing.
To Boldly (Actually) Review “Vox”
Let’s get the obvious out of the way–this episode rules. “Vox” does exactly what it needs to do: it takes us exactly where we all knew we were heading but does it in a way no one sees coming without it feeling like a bait and switch. A lot of people think the Borg are too obvious. I’m here to tell you that just because you figure something out does not make it bad.
Of course, it’s the Borg! The Borg are THE TNG bad guys. Everything about Jack’s behavior tracks with the Borg. His mind control is just biological assimilation. Shaw brings up Locutus. The Borg get a namedrop early on as being nebulously out there. So duh. The Borg. And, actually, the idea that the Changelings, who also have a group dynamic thing going, would team up with the Borg to take down the Federation makes a lot of sense.
And nitpicking aside, let’s be honest about the Borg Queen. That lady loves coming at people sideways. She turns Picard into Locutus before coming for Earth. She sends a Borg sphere back in time to prevent First Contact. And she chases Voyager mostly because she’s pissed that Seven of Nine broke up with her for Janeway.
So as silly and unnecessarily elaborate as this plan is, does it fit with the Borg Queen’s twisted M.O.? Yes, it absolutely does. And it’s clever of Terry Matalas to use this biological concept both because it’s very original and because it means not having to spend money on making everyone look like evil robots.
The Tragedy and the Ecstasy of Cruel Fate
Captain Liam Shaw. We hardly knew ye. If there’s one thing I’m sure of before “Vox” even airs it is that Shaw’s death will be a contentious one. He’s a great character! Sometimes great characters die because that gives the story weight. Also, let’s be real–there’s always a chance he comes out the other side of this. After all, Seven of Nine brought Neelix back from the dead with Borg nanoprobes that one time. I’m just saying.
But equally weighty is the fate of our crew’s kids. The moment Jack sets foot on that Borg cube we know the game is up. And it’s even more up when you hear Alice Krige’s voice–the once and future Borg Queen, baby! The OG! Jack didn’t stand a chance against her. But Jack did tell his mother he would show the Queen who he really is after he lulls her into a false sense of security. So maybe he’s still got something up his sleeve. There are interesting layers there is what I’m saying.
I’ll tell you who really sells losing his kids to the Borg–Levar Burton. Holy cow does it hurt when Sidney and Alandra get assimilated! It’s upsetting! Poor Geordi! And similarly, Data sharing a quiet moment with Picard to comfort him is also really well done. In the middle of all the action, that quiet moment speaks volumes.
Honestly, my only complaint on the stakes of character deaths/assimilations is Shelby. They sure brought back that character just to kill her off. That felt a little cheap.
Okay, we’ve ignored the elephant in the room long enough. The Enterprise D is back! Again, we all kind of knew this was coming, but, I mean, COME ON. For a lot of us, this is THE Enterprise. Seeing that ship and its wonderfully brightly lit bridge stirs up some potent feelings. Although, I’m going to put it out there: when Picard quips about the carpet I thought “Jesus H, Jean-Luc, people have died!”
But is it cool seeing that crew reunited on that bridge? Yes. Absolutely. This is Star Trek: Picard giving the people what they want.
Although, and again forgive me these stray thoughts–this is a weird time in our real, human history to tell a story where it’s the young people ensnared by malignant groupthink and the old folks who have to save the day. If you’re reading this review in the far-flung future, take my word–in 2023 it’s unquestionably the youth who are thinking for themselves and trying to save the world from the previous generation’s bad programming.
All that said, this is a wonderful twist on First Contact. Back then the Borg Queen tries to destroy the Federation’s past. This time she’s trying to destroy its future through Picard and the company’s children. There’s a great symmetry to that.
Questions, Queries, Quibbles
For me, the biggest question isn’t “how are they going to pull this off” so much as it is “who else is going to help them pull this off”. Something I’ve noticed throughout this season of Star Trek: Picard is that they’ve been very careful with their budget. A lot of standing sets get used and reused. Now I am assuming that money was saved for the final episode, but that doesn’t necessarily just mean special effects. It could mean money for more cast cameos, too.
Thanks to “Vox” We know that this Borg stealth assimilation only impacts the young. We also know that people not on starships likely remain unaffected. That is likely also true for space stations. For Pete’s sake, if Ro Laren and Shelby came back, there’s no way Barclay and O’Brien don’t turn up, too, right? And, frankly, considering the changelings and Borg are in the mix, there’s no reason for cast members from Deep Space Nine and Voyager not to show up, too.
On the Borg end of things, will we see Alice Krige as the Borg Queen? We’ve only heard her so far. And will Jack get a full Borg makeover as Vox? It makes sense to have these biological Borg to save money for the most part, but we need some real, accept-no-subsitutes, cyborg zombies, too.
All in all, “Vox” is very intense and very fun. But it’s a set-up episode. And everything now hinges upon next week’s finale “The Last Generation”. We’ll see you then!