You Talking Trek to Me? – “Regeneration”

“Regeneration”
Star Trek: Enterprise – Season 2, Episode 23

Enterprise shamelessly cribbing from previous Star Trek series (and movies) is one of its core attributes/flaws. And here they’re at it again! Much in the same way that it heavily referenced the awesome Undiscovered Country for a prequel/sequel, the series used the also awesome First Contact as a springboard for a prequel (but also a sequel? Time travel is weird) adventure featuring none other than… the Borg. Unlike the underbaked and mostly pointless “Judgment,” “Regeneration” manages to be a decently entertaining, if logically flawed adventure.

Admittedly, there’s a bit of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” contradiction to prequel series in general. If it spends too much time covering material that the progenitor series originated, it can be stale and repetitive. But if it focuses on too much new stuff, then it can feel disconnected from the larger continuity. Enterprise seemed to focus an inordinate amount of time on original aliens and big events that would oddly never be mentioned again while at the same time not devoting enough time to foundational aspects of the Trek mythos that hadn’t been explored yet.

“Aww, they’re all out of chocolate and vanilla! The only flavor they have left is pralines and cyborg!”
“We’ll let these rapidly self-repairing robot men thaw out a little bit more. If they try to kill us, we’ll just explain that’s a no-no. But be prepared with that rolled-up newspaper just in case.”

“Regeneration” is a story that didn’t really need to be told, and in terms of continuity creates more problems than it attempts to solve. But judged on its own merits, it’s a decent and tense story utilizing one of Star Trek’s most noteworthy and lethal foes to good effect. As I mentioned in the First Contact write-up, the Borg are a nicely self-contained dramatic package that easily veers into horror. You could pretty much just drop them into any episode and it would make for an interesting time.

Speaking of dropping? Turns out that the Borg sphere the Enterprise-E quickly destroyed in orbit of 21st century Earth crash landed somewhere in the arctic – or at least a significant amount of its debris did. And it eventually gets found by an expedition in the 22nd century, the time that Enterprise takes place in.

“OhHhHh! Watch where you’re probing, human.”

So right off the bat, the story is equally silly and clever. Instead of being obliterated (as one could easily assume while watching First Contact), enough of the sphere remains intact and crash lands on Earth. It’s a clever way of incorporating the Borg into the Enterprise series, but also a needless retcon that confuses the history of humanity and the Borg even more. In its “Dark Frontier” two-parter, Voyager introduced its own retcon that pushed back first contact with the Borg about 20 years prior to The Next Generation to explain Seven of Nine’s origin. And Enterprise ups that ante by a couple centuries, even. Sure. Why not.

Because nothing good ever gets discovered by scientists in the arctic, “Regeneration” quickly turns into a horror story with a nice nod to The Thing (one of my favorite movies). Some human researchers unearth two Borg corpses that have been sitting preserved in the frigid ice for about a century. There’s an immediate tension and anxiety because these scientists have absolutely no idea what a horrific find this is and the danger that they’re in (not to mention all of Earth, also a la The Thing), but we the audience do. One of them even suspects that these are probably not friendlies and suggests re-freezing them, but is overruled by another. All of this occurs as they observe the Borg’s microscopic nanoprobes repairing the corpses’ organic tissue and technology.

Before long, one of the Borg has reawakened and quickly overwhelms the entire team. Good work, fellas. Bang-up job. *slow clap*

Starfleet informs Archer of the incident and that the scientists’ transport left Earth at warp 3.9, way above their ship’s normal upper limit of 1.4. There’s an effective tension to the episode that’s propelled by the Borg’s basic nature of improving and adapting to its circumstances. In only a little bit of time they’ve gone from two seemingly dead corpses to commandeering a ship and boosting its performance to an impressive degree. But to what end?

“Hey, I’m cuttin’ hea’!”

Conveniently, the Borg ship will pass closely enough to Enterprise for them to intercept, so they head towards them. They receive a distress signal from a Tarkalean freighter that’s being attacked. Approaching, Enterprise finds them being carved up by the assimilated research ship, now bristling with fearsome new additions to its hull. The score in the episode is good, and presents an appropriately foreboding musical theme for the Borg. Enterprise fires on it, and it promptly ceases its attack and warps away. They bring two of the Tarkalean survivors aboard, and find their bodies undergoing a strange cybernetic transformation. Ohhhh boy.

You can see where this is going, and the episode unfolds as a fairly by-the-numbers classic zombie story with a technological twist. True to that (and repeating the fatal mistake of the scientists from the beginning), the crew critically underestimates the threat at hand, especially Dr. Phlox. It’s not long before the Tarkaleans succumb to their Borg implants and programming, and one of them injects Phlox with some of those tasty nanoprobes and escapes sickbay. Awesome sauce, boss!

“Hey, I’m assimilatin’, hea!”

“Hey, I’m floatin’ around out hea’!” OK, I’ll stop.

T’Pol has located the Borg ship on sensors, and it’s now doubled its warp speed to approach Enterprise’s maximum – if it gets any faster, they won’t be able to catch it. Reed and his security officers find partially assimilated computer consoles on the ship and track down the Tarkaleans. Now Borg, they prove impervious to their weapons and Archer opens a hatch to blow them out into open space (TM Chakotay). There’s some requisite hemming and hawing from Archer about wanting to recover and save the people that have been turned into Borg, but T’Pol is (wisely) in the camp of “fucking kill ’em, bro” (direct quote, I swear).

Meanwhile, Phlox is getting worse. He devises a way to stop the nanoprobes by killing them all with omicron particles (???), which won’t be fun for him at all. But even more less fun is his backup plan, and he also devises a hypospray that will just kill him if the omicron enema doesn’t work. Tough but fair, mon frère.

“You don’t stand a chance, humans. Our powers and ability to do vaguely offensive regional accents have doubled since we last met!”
“Only a concentrated playlist of the worst Trek episodes can cure me! Sub Rosa, Spock’s Brain, bring it on! Wait, what’s Threshold about?” *dies*

Reed modifies their phasers so that they can penetrate the Borg’s personal shields (???) as Enterprise approaches their ship. Barely able to keep up with the Borg now, Enterprise pushes its engines to the limits and is able to attack them and get them to drop out of warp. The Borg ship activates the tech its drones installed on Enterprise earlier to fuck with its main power, and cheerfully informs them that they will be assimilated. The Borg ship blasts the Enterprise with its upgraded weapons and disables them. Archer and Reed beam aboard the Borg ship to destroy its reactor from within. Meanwhile, Phlox puts himself through his excruciating treatment. Also, several drones beam aboard Enterprise and are barely slowed down by the crew’s defenses. All good in the hood!

“Resistance is futile. Your all-you-can-eat buffets will adapt to service… *burp* us.

Archer and Reed are able to plant the charges on the Borg ship’s reactor and escape. They activate them, causing massive damage to the Borg ship and prompting the invading drones to return to their ship. But the ship immediately begins regenerating and starts to charge weapons. Not taking any chances this time (and realizing there is no salvation for the assimilated people), Archer orders a full attack which manages to destroy the Borg ship.

Phlox’s treatment was miraculously successful, but he is disturbed by his experience. He heard the Borg’s collective consciousness, and senses that they were trying to send a message somewhere. He conveniently remembers the coordinates, and Archer deduces that they were aimed at the Delta Quadrant. The dialogue helpfully connects the dots for us that it will take the message 200 years to reach its destination, and that we might be hearing from these mechanized monstrosities sometime in the… 24TH CENTURYYYYYYY.

Fin.

“So if my calculations are correct, we’ve only delayed another ill-advised prequel series until… the late 2010s?”

So now you finally see, dear reader. The true enemy all along was… the Borg.

No wait.

I mean, yeah of course.

BUT! The whole reason why the Borg were ever curious about humanity – enough to destroy their colonies along the Neutral Zone (back in season 1 of TNG) – was because of the events of this episode! One could even extrapolate that they transmit their knowledge to the Borg of the past – including info about Picard/Locutus. And perhaps that could be why the Borg seem fixated on him enough to assimilate and elect him as a representative? As retcons go, it’s not bad. The entire Borg saga as we knew it up to this point basically becomes a time-spanning closed causality loop stretching across the various series and decades between season 1 of Next Generation and season 2 of Enterprise. Interesting!

“My god, they’ve assimilated the worst accents throughout the galaxy. Klingon valley girl, Vulcan Bostonian… Shoot to kill, Mr. Reed.”

Exceeeeeept…

In making what seems like a neat little package, this episode just creates SO MUCH of an additional mess in terms of Borg-centric continuity. Namely because there’s all this goddamn evidence left laying around at the end of it – Borg tech, sensor readings, fucking Borg corpses, etc. All of this stuff that Starfleet could start studying for the next 200 years in order to be ready for their next encounter…

But doesn’t, because Starfleet will be caught entirely flat-footed when the Borg come knocking on Earth’s door twice (three times, including Voyager’s finale). In a minimally clever detail, the name “Borg” is never mentioned in the episode, which I guess is meant to absolve all of this fuckery. Enterprise also pulled the exact same trick in another episode when it also contradicted TNG’s first contact with the Ferengi. Sigh.

C’moooooon, you guys. There are tons of established Trek aliens you could be futzing around with, why do you have to pick out ones that were explicitly not introduced until hundreds of years later?

Similar to the First Contact film, “Regeneration” makes some even more head-scratching retcons to established continuity. In this case, they’re not nearly as successful and cause more issues than they solve. But also like First Contact, if you judge the work on its own independent merits, it mostly succeeds as a tense and propulsive sci-fi horror tale by using an effective villain and not shying away from its inherent danger and terror. Just try not to think about it too much.


Stray Observations:

  • So I guess Picard and company didn’t bother to clean up any Borg debris before they left for their own time at the end of First Contact? In addition to the several Borg corpses that were shot into space (RIP Lt. Hawk), they apparently didn’t bother to scan Earth for any crashed debris to avoid altering the timeline? Oops. So this episode retroactively makes the Enterprise crew look kinda sloppy.
  • Apparently Cochrane even blabbed about cybernetic aliens from the future in his lifetime, which Archer remembers and even looks up (T’Pol dismisses Cochrane as eccentric and frequently drunk). Again, it just totally obliterates any reasonable amount of ignorance Starfleet could have had where the existence of the Borg are concerned. o___o
  • Phlox being able to devise a “cure” to assimilation (in its early stages) is pretty ridiculous. You’d think radiation that is strong enough to destroy the nanoprobes would just completely liquefy the body along with it. And of course, this knowledge would apparently be completely lost in time, and no one else able to come up with the same technique (not even Voyager’s Doctor).
  • So the way Borg work vis a vis their connection to the Collective has been portrayed inconsistently over their appearances. We’ve seen drones freed (Picard, Seven, etc.) by first severing their connection to the Collective, and then removing the cybernetic implants (or some of them, anyway). In one episode of Voyager, we even saw Seven’s original Borg group mentally revert back to their old selves when stranded on a planet and cut off from the Collective. Likewise, Hugh became an individual after spending several days separated from the Borg. And yet the Borg here (and in First Contact) seem to work fine independently without any connection to the hive mind – which is on the other side of the galaxy at this point (and yet Phlox can hear the Collective that’s out of range)? It was definitively stated in First Contact that the Borg on the Enterprise had no connection to the Collective – hence their attempted construction of the beacon on the deflector dish.

    Essentially, in some cases the Borg’s behavior is derived from a connection to the Collective (a top down approach), and in others it comes from the technology infesting their bodies and its native programming (a bottom up approach). I appreciate both from a dramatic standpoint, but logically it seems like you can’t have it both ways. Conceivably, a small group of Borg would possibly have their own mini-Collective and could thus function as emotionless drones that way. But just one or two? And that’s contradicted by Seven and her Borg groups’ behavior. So I dunno.

    Perhaps each vessel has its own server that keeps all of its drones in line with instructions? Which would explain how the time-traveling sphere could still function normally in First Contact. But if that’s the case, after that ship was destroyed the Borg would start to revert to individuals again, so the movie shouldn’t have happened as it did. Of course, the Queen’s involvement muddies that (as it does to many things concerning the Borg).

    I think the episode that provides the best resolution for this inconsistency would be “Drone.” In that episode, One is created from Seven’s nanoprobes mixing with the Doctor’s mobile emitter to create an advanced, futuristic drone. This is consistent with the pre-programmed, self-replicating nature of Borg nanotechnology. But at the same time, One is able to develop as an individual because he has no connection to the Collective (and the whole tension of the plot is the crew trying to prevent that for a multitude of reasons). So he’s physically a Borg, but not quite mentally. They control your body with cybernetic implants, and your mind through a continuous connection.

    Therefore, the Borg in this episode should not have behaved as Borg, but individuals separated from the Collective. And even if they assimilated others, those people should still have been able to be their own separate selves, much as One was. As much as I like the idea of the Borg as a techno-zombie virus that takes over the mind as well as the body independently, it’s mostly inconsistent with the way they’ve been portrayed throughout Star Trek. So it’s yet another continuity issue that this episode gets wrong (as well as First Contact too, kinda).

    Thanks for coming to my TED talk!