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Two Families Show The Way... or Is It Just "Child's Play"? Summer 'Reviews Ex Deus' Continue!

Posted: 10:16:06 on August 17
By: Steve Krutzler
Dept: Reviews - Voyager

Reviews Ex Deus
Written by 'O. Deus' for TrekWeb.COM.

Compared to many competing SciFi shows, Star Trek has always excelled at doing is not simply showing weird aliens or giant alien battleships but instead focusing on relating those aliens to us on a very human level. We were introduced to the Cardassians, the enemy who would haunt and nearly take over DS9, not in an episode bristling with firepower but one that focused on Starfleet and Cardassian characters juxtaposed to each other leading to the revelation of the ultimate futility of the conflict. The first two TNG episodes that addressed the Romulan threat at full length, The Enemy and The Defector, also focused on individual Romulan characters driven by motives that hit very close to home.

In that tradition, Voyager's Child's Play is an episode that focuses on aliens doing horrific things for motives that are at once alien and human. Alien not because they're incomprehensible but because we'd rather not comprehend them or imagine ourselves in a situation where we might act as they do. On the surface Child's Play is yet another 7 of 9 character growth episode but in reality it is the story of Icheb and his parents, not only because of the amount of screen time they receive but because their acting and the issues on their end easily outweight the Voyager aspects of the story. In a way it's a shame because it indicates Voyager's difficulties in finding stories that deal with their regular cast of characters on the same level of intensity. But in another way it's a blessing because just as with the Romulan defector of The Defector or the Cardassian officer of The Wounded (played by Mark Alaimo who later went on to appear as a similar but far more prominent Cardassian, Gul Dukat) make the universe our characters explore a far more vivid place by populating it with disturbing characters who are at once human and yet not.

Falling between Ashes to Ashes and Good Shepherd, Child's Play on the surface continues the running theme of Voyager's crew straying from the fold. Unlike either of these two episodes where Voyager crew members must choose between being good Voyager officers or something else, Icheb really has no choiche in the matter. Seven's growth on Voyager has usually come down to Seven and Janeway struggling over some choice Seven wants to make. This is common enough for TV characters but what makes it different for Seven is that as a former Borg, coming from a system where the concept of individual choice was non-existant, making choices on her own was the way she reclaimed her humanity. The main emphasis of Child's Play is to point out just how little of a choice Icheb has in any matter.

Before it aired, TNG's Suddenly Human was rumored to address child abuse. In fact though, the actual episode glossed over the actual abuse in favor of a celebration of "cultural differences". Child's Play picks up where Suddenly Human failed and really does deal with abuse though - as is the habit of SF - in a slightly abstract form. Unlike Suddenly Human, Child's Play doesn't find its root in cultural differences but in motivations. Where Seven has had plenty of time to develop emotionally and intellectually before becoming entangled in any personal relationships, Icheb with only a short time of being free and independent of the Borg is torn between his real parents and his surrogate parent.

Ironically enough where Seven the Borg drone is motivated by emotional needs, Icheb's parents are driven by practical exploitative considerations. Seven really cares about Icheb, Icheb's parents love him but want to feed him to the Borg as poisoned bait. Icheb isn't capable of really making a decision one way or another. When he is emotionally manipulated by his parents, Icheb moves towards them but more out of instinct than any rational decision making process. To the credit of the writers, the episode doesn't end with Icheb making any final decision on the matter, but with confusion over the entire episode and a desire to explore his independence.

Still, despite Icheb's prominence in Child's Play, an episode built around him, it is not his character who really gets developed but 7 of 9 and his parents, whom we will likely never see again. Seven's character development in this episode is easily superior to that of most of the more obvious and obnoxious "Seven grows in her humanity" episodes which again demonstrates that the best way to develop a character rests in the little things and not in the big showy "Let's develop X this week." Still it is Icheb's parents who are brillantly acted, that provide some of the most disturbing moments. Interestingly enough Child's Play is an episode that works best on second viewing because the shocking nature of the interactions between Icheb and each other really doesn't sink in until you've seen them in their final scene discussing using Icheb as a human sacrifice. More like a play then an episode, the real impact of Child's Play lies in the conflicted tangle of motivations and emotions of Icheb's parents. Depicted as neither evil or good, they are just ordinary people in a society and circumstances that drives them to do terrible things, which they try to justify in their own minds.

Seven meanwhile displays some of the truest and most genuine feelings since Drone which was also another Seven\Motherhood episode, a subject that apparently reasonates with Jeri Ryan. This ties in with Voyager's general emphasis on Family, capital F, beginning with Janeway as Matriarch who mothered Seven and now it's Seven's turn. Voyager as a good family for Icheb is contrasted with the Brunali as a bad family for Icheb. Earlier on, the idea of Voyager as a family instead of a vessel of Starfleet professionals seemed obnoxious and insulting to the idea of a female Captain only being able to command in that way. Still, by now it's become Voyager's main theme, love it or leave it.

In the next episode Good Shepherd, Janeway pulls three crewmembers back into the family. In the previous epsiode Ashes to Ashes (which is strongly suggestive of TNG's Suddenly Human) she has to let one go. Still all these are crewmembers. Icheb is a child. The Next Generation which has served as the origin for all the succeeding Berman-era spinoffs so far placed an emphasis on children binding the crew together. DS9 followed that up with Nog and Jake. For quite a while Voyager avoided the children route (though you have to wonder if Beltran would be complaining as much or as loudly today if instead of being completely eliminated from the picture, Seska's baby would have been left for Chakotay to raise) but now for better or for worse Voyager has its own family.

In defense of his people's ejection of him while still unformed, Odo pointed out that a society can be judged by the way it treats children. Child's Play makes the same point quietly but subtly about Icheb's parents and the Brunali and by making it also applicable towards Voyager itself.

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