In which the allegory deftly pivots around three different themes and Brannon Braga doesn’t ruin it with his stupid everything.
Voyager is responding to a distress call and offering aid to a ship suffering a radiation leak. They beam everyone aboard to the cargo bay except for the two injured, who go to sick bay. Tuvok’s security team finds that this is a prison transport, and one of the two in sick bay has already taken Seven hostage with a knife, or some sort of shim tool. The Doctor works on negotiating when the warden walks in to screw up the negotiations. Fortunately Seven is able to rescue herself, and then the prisoner tries to take the Doctor hostage, with pedictable results.
The warden thanks Janeway for her assistance – they couldn’t even use the escape pods for fear the prisoners would escape. Unfortunately, the prisoners are all due to be executed, which is going to grate a bit on Federation principles. Something I’d like to see is if they’re going to be executed for crimes that are heinous to the Starfleet mindset, or if it’s going to be for something like political dissidence against tyranny. I’d like to see just how strong this allegory has to get before it forces Janeway or some of the crew to action. In fact, all of them are murderers, some of them repeat offenders. On hearing this, it seems like Janeway is unwilling to go out of her way to help, but isn’t resisting them either.
The Doctor has a lot of faith in his skills as a hostage negotiator. Maybe it’s just sour grapes about being damaged by Tuvok’s phaser. Janeway comes down to check on Seven and gets threatened by the prisoner, which is just about the worst thing he could have done under the circumstances – but then that impulse is probably why he’s in prison. Janeway no longer feels as conflicted about beaming all the prisoners into some newly-constructed holding cells… all of which rely on active power to maintain force fields. While this construction is a marvel of Voyager‘s ability to fabricate at a moment’s notice, and while we know that force fields can be remarkably resilient, it’s still little substitute for a force field augmented by a door with a physical lock on it. The wardens will be given weapons in the cargo bay – until then they’ve been armed with Federation phasers. The Warden also wants to reject Neelix’s meal delivery, but Federation rules prohibit starvation. The first prisoner he feeds is very cordial for a murderer.
The good news is that they do have reconfigurable force fields – the controls permit an ovoid hole to be opened in the field so that they don’t have to shut the whole field off to feed the prisoners. That’s great news. Although I also wonder – force fields are generally depicted as a mere plane of barrier – if you open a hole in it, what’s the field effect at the edge like? I’m going to presume that in this case it’s not a blade of infinite sharpness, but it also seems like you’d have to try in order to make sure that didn’t happen. Which means I bet someone in the mirror universe at some point came up with force field swords.
The Doctor is not happy about handing prisoners over to be executed – Seven argues the pragmatics-in-a-vacuum (not including any costs that might incur from a legal system that tries hard not to execute innocent people) and also that ‘fairness’ might plausibly include killing murderers. She might just be playing devil’s advocate, though.
The one hostage-taker, Iko, seems to be the worst of the lot – the one who thanked Neelix (Joleg) seems downright civil and Egrid is not looking like he’s entirely compos mentis. Iko manages to goad the warden into lowering the force field for a beating, which brings security running and precipiates a dressing-down by Janeway. She has Tuvok take over guard duties, but the danger will more likely come from the Doctor treating Iko without any force fields up. The beating he got has him on death’s door, and the Doctor wants to use Seven’s nanoprobes to have his life from a lethal edema. Seven agrees, but makes it clear that she doesn’t see the point. The point is… ethics.
Neelix is back to feed the prisoners some more, and strikes up a conversation with Joleg. He admits to having killed someone, but it’s a function of who he is – his species, Benkarans is Known To Be Criminals by the Nygeans that make up the prison staff. SO when Joleg was found near a murder, he must have committed it. And suddenly the episode is about the prison-industrial complex instead of the ethics of capital punishment in a rather well-done combo punch.
Once healed, Iko shows some gratitude for having his life saved, and the Doctor has put up a force field. Iko is also coming to terms with the idea that there are people who don’t know about the cultural baggage that comes with being Benkaran in the society he’s used to. And on that note, Neelix has been reading up on Benkaran prison statistics, and gets an older-brother-noogie-type conversation from Tom. Meanwhile, the Doctor is treating Iko with more nanoprobes and it feels like there’s going to be a buildup to a reveal that they’re doing something further for him, personality-wise. However, he’s starting to exhibit some side effects – nausea as a symptom of sudden-onset guilt. He’s not happy about it, but this sort of suggests that he might have had psychological issues and be a credible argument for an insanity plea – if the Nygeans have such a thing.
The Doctor confirms that the nanoprobes are building new connections in his brain, restoring it to what might be healthy Benkaran brain patterns (implying that the nanoprobes can read his DNA and extrapolate the correct neural pathways to replace them) or what might be the nanoprobes trying to make his brain more human-like. It’s certainly made him more personable.
Neelix has been visiting with Joleg and reading up on the legal system for the sector. The Nygean system allows the family of the victim to set punishment, since they’re the only ones who can accurately value the loss. Wealthy victims tend to be able to buy themselves a restitution sentence instead of a punative one. Neelix offers to do whatever he can, which in this case is writing Joleg’s brother. In that theme, Seven has tried to get Iko something to occupy him, but he’s done some thinking and decided that the ethical framework he lives in means that the legal system is right to execute him. However, the Doctor is about to have a different idea – he confirms that Iko had brain damage that prevented him from filtering his violence or caring about the consequences of his actions – a straight-up physiological cause of sociopathy in the species, and a congenital defect. Since he’s now effectively physiologically rehabilitated, to the extent that he’s almost Clockwork Orange’d, there’s a question of whether he still deserves to die.
Seven is on board, but the Warden is not at all impressed by the new medical evidence. Janeway makes an appeal to the law – Iko has a chance to contact the family of the victim to see if he can go free. But Iko doesn’t want to skate free of his consequences. Seven explains her own perspective as an unwilling hand in the suffering of others, and the kind of guilt one can feel when one becomes self-actualized. And what’s really neat is you can see Seven wants him to accept this argument because it will help her legitimize her own desire to not Be Responsible for what Seven Of Nine Tertiary Adjunct To Unamatrix 01 did.
Unsurprisingly, the family of Iko’s victims are unwilling to review the appeal, and when Seven objects, she has a private talk with Janeway about why this is important. See the end of the previous paragraph. This is interrupted by Voyager taking fire by an alien ship, causing the power to flicker and causing the force fields in the makeshift brig to fail. There’s a prison break, and Iko is the only one who doesn’t participate in the general scrum – even our friendly Joleg starts punching security officers when freedom is on the line. The alien ship tries to beam all the Benkarans off Voyager, and when they’re disabled Joleg’s crew try to hijack a shuttle, then retreat into the cell block. Joleg seems ready to kill the warden when things become unlikely to break his way, but Iko stops him…this is a ruse to give the warden the phaser.
The Warden is now convinced to use his influence to let Iko make his appeal, and it turns out that Joleg’s note to his brother is what precipiated the attack on Voyager. Joleg’s behavior during the prison break has soured Neelix on him, and Iko gets to look at the stars while his appeal is pending. Seven offers to lobby Janeway to let him join the crew if his appeal is successful… but it isn’t.