Thoughts on “Breakdown”

Written by  on March 20, 2000 

Thoughts by Thomas Lee

By Thomas Lee

For some time now, those of us who had followed Jeffrey’s tales of the starship Voyager wondered how "The Disease" would fit into his timeline, if at all (Jeffrey told me that "Someone to Watch Over Me" simply didn’t happen in the "Parallel Voyage" timeline). Now, in his latest installment of his "Parallel Voyage" series, Jeffrey gives us a retelling of "The Disease" that not only answers that question, but also provides fans of the K/7 relationship a version of "The Disease" that they, Harry Kim, and Seven of Nine deserved as well.

One of the more notable failings of "The Disease" is that, even though it took place just after "Dark Frontier," Seven was utterly unaffected by the momentous events and revelations of the latter episode (to be fair, this is hardly a rare shortcoming of episodes that follow a Seven-focused story). In contrast, the opening scene of "Breakdown" establishes that not only were the events of "Dark Frontier" not forgotten, they had affected Seven deeply. The death of her father, and her grief over it, provides an unspoken explanation as to why she did not follow through on her declaration to the Borg Queen that she was "…Annika Hansen, human!"—the identity would be a painful reminder of her late father. Indeed, the trauma Seven suffered in "Dark Frontier" would fundamentally change how she approached her relationship with Harry.

Until recently, Seven has been casually secure in her relationship with Harry. However, during Voyager‘s Q-sponsored visit to Earth in "Quentin," Seven witnessed a… less than enthusiastic reaction by Libby and Harry’s parents to her as Harry’s girlfriend. Given how important Harry’s parents are to him, and how close Libby was to him, this couldn’t have been a good omen for Seven. Furthermore, during "Dark Frontier," Seven has been brutally reminded of the loved ones she has lost. Her parents were assimilated by the Borg, the advanced drone ‘One’ died to save Voyager from the Borg, and, recently, the drone that was once her father was killed. Seven is now acutely aware that the only ‘loved one’ she has left is Harry—and as such, she is particularly sensitive to anything that might conceivably pose a threat to that relationship. Indeed, Seven was still reeling from the death of her father when Voyager encountered and lent aid to the Varro ship. As a result, Harry’s interaction with Tal came at a time when Seven was particularly vulnerable emotionally.

One of the more interesting aspects about "Breakdown" is how similar its "A" and "B" plots are—the title itself is an apt description for what happened in both plots. Both involved a "breakdown" in communication that resulted from one party’s refusal to seriously address the strongly-held concerns of the other, and the consequences of those failures in communication.

As Tal indirectly pointed out during her interrogation, the existence of the dissident group was not exactly news to the Varro leadership. It seems fairly certain that the Varro government had been aware for quite some time that there were a substantial number of Varro who were unhappy with their isolation from the rest of the galaxy. Unfortunately, the response of the Varro government was to disregard the minority’s wishes and enforce a facade of unity, as they feared that letting any Varro leave would be the proverbial start down the slippery slope towards the dissolution of Varro society. The end result was that the dissidents eventually took action that could not be "swept under the rug"—the destruction of the Varro ship and the resulting forced disintegration of Varro society. That most of the Varro desired to stay together emphasizes how needless the destruction of the Varro ship could have been, had the Varro government allowed those who wished to leave to do so.

Similarly, when Harry realized that his reaction to Tal’s advances was not completely impassive, his reaction was to try to conceal it—and his shame over it—from Seven. I think that Harry was afraid that, if he admitted to anything that indicated that his love for her was anything less than perfect, Seven would ‘terminate their affiliation.’ However, Harry was never good at being anything less than completely honest, and when Seven inquired about his activities with Tal, he tried to evade the issue by making light of her concerns. As a result, Seven assumed that Harry was trying to hide something that was far worse that the actual offense, and thus Harry nearly brought about the breakup that he was trying to avoid. In retrospect, it’s clear that Harry’s coverup ended up being much more painful for Seven than if he had been completely open about Tal from the beginning (Seven was understandably hurt by Harry’s implied lack of faith in her love for him).

However, what spared Harry from the fate suffered by the Varro was that he did not persist in ignoring the warning signs for long, and he eventually addressed Seven’s concerns about his interaction with Tal with the candor that they deserved. Granted, if Harry had been open with Seven about Tal from the start, a lot of heartache on Seven’s part might have been avoided. But the events of "Breakdown" were ultimately beneficial for their relationship—Harry finally realized that Seven did indeed care for him as much as he cared for her (and vice versa), and some weaknesses in their relationship came to light that, at the end of "Breakdown," they set out to correct.

One of the advertisements for "The Disease" described it as "Lust in Space." However, in "Breakdown," as powerful as Harry’s raw attraction to Tal was, mere lust was not strong enough to overcome Harry’s love for Seven. As "Breakdown" makes clear, Harry is devoted to Seven as a romantic partner—he will not leave her for another woman, regardless of how beautiful that "other woman" is or the effect she has on his hormones (Whether or not Seven will feel secure about her relationship with Harry in the future, however, is a very different matter).

As for Jeffrey’s use of his own stardate system—given how seriously he takes the subject of temporal physics, I suppose that it was inevitable that he would devise a stardate system that actually makes mathematical sense (myself, I have a few opinions as to what the warp speed formula ought to be). The stardate system was originally devised so that the writers would not have to specify exactly when the series took place or give much thought to the exact passage of time within their story or between stories—simply advancing the stardate by some small, random number within the episode, and by a larger, random number between the episodes, would be sufficient (though without a basis in a real calendar, the latter was thwarted by a network’s tendency to air the episodes out of order).

Although Garrett Wang was, and still is, quite fond of "The Disease," reading "Breakdown" leaves one with the impression that "The Disease" had the potential to be so much more. Granted, in "Breakdown," we didn’t get to see Harry Kim facing down Captain Janeway. But, in return, we saw him involved in a long-term romantic relationship with Seven that just survived its first (and hopefully last) significant challenge, and it drew upon the events of "Drone" and "Dark Frontier" to make those Seven-focused episodes truly meaningful. IMHO, "Breakdown" was the story that "The Disease" could—and should—have been.

Memorable Non-"The Disease" Quotes from "Breakdown":

  • "Speaking of bad experiences, what happened to Tal?"
    —Tom to Harry after Tal’s failed propositioning
  • "Expecting the universe to treat you fairly because you’re a good person is like expecting a bull not to charge you because you’re a vegetarian."
    —Seven, quoting the late Magnus Hansen to Harry
  • "It is a truth in my life that I lose everyone I care for. My parents were taken from me by the Borg. I was taken from the Borg by Voyager. One was killed saving Voyager from the Borg. I do not wish to lose you, too."
    —Seven to Harry
  • "Seven, you’re not going to lose me."

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