Star Trek: Voyager – Season 7: “Human Error” – O. Deus and the Devil’s Advocate

– Four Badges out of Four – “Perhaps the most human thing of all is to sometimes find it impossible to heal fully from something.”

2021 UPDATE – Twenty years ago the forums used to have semi-official Star Trek reviews posted by a user who went by ‘O. Deus’  and had all his reviews posted by the site owner Steve Krutzler. I often had contrasting views to the official reviewer’s, especially since I felt he had a strong bias against Star Trek: Voyager and the character of Kathryn Janeway in particular. In a way, this forum and these reviews set the tone for the overall internet “consensus” for both the show and the character, for the first couple of decades of fan response on the internet.

Now that chatty internet Star Trek fans have a new generation of Star Trek to pick apart and freak out about, a new generation of people are looking back on Deep Space Nine and Voyager with new eyes, and googling the discussions of the episode only to find their new eyes provide less judgment and derision for those old Star Trek shows and characters. I’m here to continue to provide the “Devil’s Advocate” viewpoint in argument with Deus, sharing the fact that the negative opinion of Star Trek: Voyager and Kathryn Janeway was never unanimous… even among early internet-enabled Star Trek nerds!

They say history is written by the victor. Well, the Trekweb site went down pretty definitively around 2014, and the forums  themselves had degraded and lost significant segments of posts and data long before that. They say the internet never forgets, but I’m old enough to remember times when it actually has. But since I still happened to have saved and retained text versions of certain O.Deus reviews along with my responses, I guess history is written by me! I am the victor!

Human Error Title Card

HUMAN ERROR Takes Unconventional, Poetic Approach To The Human Experience

Posted: 06:36:20 on March 08
By: Steve Krutzler
Dept: Reviews – Voyager
Reviews Ex Deus
Written for TrekWeb by O. Deus

“Human Error”

Summary: Another sleazy UPN promo serves as a misleading introduction to a nice and poetic if not particularly outstanding episode. Seven goes Barclay and Chakotay gets more action as a hologram than he ever has as a human being.

The gap between who we want to be and who we are has always been an effective source of human drama. And Seven is a character inserted on Voyager with a progressive self-improvement arc that at times makes Voyager seem like a self-improvement tape. And indeed a lot of the Seven episodes have fit neatly into that package. At the start of the episode Seven demonstrates how close to the Borg and far from humanity she is, events happen during the episode which cause her to grow closer to some aspect of humanity and with Janeway’s guidance and pithy speeches, by the time the final 90 seconds come around, Seven is one step closer to being human. The problem with this approach is that of course it’s mechanical and crude as if becoming more human is an assembly line process and some machine attaches human qualities one by one as part of a drawn out process. It’s also meant that a good deal of the “Seven learns to be human” episodes have been dull, predictable and ultimately uninspired affairs. Even the better episodes like One and One Small Step, which deserve to be called classics by Voyager and perhaps even Star Trek standards, follow this same formula.

It’s all the more shocking then that Human Error actually dares to turn the entire formula on which the Seven development arc has been based from day one completely on its head. As we begin the episode Seven is running a holographic simulation in which she’s doing a good job of mimicking a human being and by the end of the episode she’s a Borg again having turned her back on her humanity. Instead of another mechanistic grinder in which Captain Janeway and Co. lecture Seven on what it means to be human, the entire crew ignore her altogether except for acting annoyed when she doesn’t perform up to Borg efficiency standards. Beyond making token attempts to invite her to parties, none of the crew cares very much about her exploration of humanity, they just want her to stay Borg, show up on time and solve everybody’s problems. And so the actual exploration is left to Seven, as it always should have been. Of course being a product of the most technological society conceivable, Seven explores an experiment in humanity through a holodeck simulation as the EMH himself suggested she do in “One”.

More to the point “Human Error” spends less time talking about what being human means and spends more time showing the impact and feeling of being human. It’s all very well for Janeway to deliver another nauseating lecture on what being human means according to the Federation charter but instead Human Error shows Seven actually trying to bridge the gap between who she is and who she could be. And it’s the transitions from the potential to the reality that causes the viewer to care about whether she does choose humanity or not. For these past years when we’ve seen Seven we’ve seen a two-dimensional neurotic superhuman being who seemed to be stuck that way, in Human Error’s holodeck simulations we see an interesting character who combines both the human and inhuman qualities of Seven in a more complex and three dimensional way and that character was far more interesting than the version 1.0 of Seven we’ve been stuck with for several years now. A character who could interact with the rest of the crew on a more complex level than preset roles like Student, Teacher, Efficiency Expert or Rude Outsider. And so for the first time in Seven’s Pilgrim Progress something is actually at risk and finally at stake. And when Human Error dares to let Seven lose and disposes of that character, it finally brings the element of risk and suspense to the “Seven learns to be human” arc that should have been there all along.

In “One” Seven was faced with the bleak reality of isolation. In “Human Error”, Seven is faced with actually choosing her future. She can remain an exotic Ex-Borg and maintain the level of contact she has with people or try and actually become human removing the entire Ex-Borg thing from the table altogether. She runs a simulation to decide choosing to oscillate like the metronome of the simulated piano (standing in as a lovely metaphor for the Borg aspect of her nature) between Ex-Borg and human. But experiencing doses of humanity makes the metronome oscillate unpredictably and out of step with the order of her life. And it turns out that her Borg implants have their own built in metronome swinging back and forth insider her head. A metronome that will allow her to be the Ex-Borg Seven of Nine who lives by routines, avoids most social contact and is an outsider looking in at humanity. It won’t however allow her to be Annika Hansen, human being who can have deep complex feelings, intimate relationships and act out of accord with the things that are rationally correct. But ultimately Seven still has the final choice to remove the metronome or keep it, choosing between being fully human or ex-Borg.

By using musical expression as a metaphor for human expression, “Human Error” hints at the richer and deeper aspects of being human that no television program or pithy Janeway speech could actually convey. Instead of delivering its ideas about humanity merely as character speeches, the episode uses metaphor and imagery to convey humanity. By rejecting her humanity, she’s rejecting not merely the music but the ability to create the music. She’ll always be able to listen to the music as an outsider but without any real understanding of it beyond the mechanical. She can even perform pieces in that same polished and perfect but completely soulless way. As in the early parts of her simulation she may in time perfect her mimicry of human beings to the point where she can actually pass for one, but it will remain an inhuman performance in which she can mime humanity but never feel it. On the other hand, she can commit to imperfection and humanity and actually live life as a human being from the inside.

A subplot in which Voyager stumbles unprepared into an alien equivalent of an artillery testing range provides a somewhat original and plausible crisis to lend intensity to her choice as well as reinforcing the underlying themes of the Seven story. Also, after “Shattered”, “Workforce” parts 1 and 2 and now “Human Error” Robert Beltran gets plenty of material. He even gets to participate in one of Voyager’s more plausible relationships, albeit as a hologram. A while back Barclay was still struggling between real humanity and simulated humanity. Where Barclay always ended an episode supposedly improving but never really improving because by the time the next episode came around he still seemed to be suffering from the same exact problems. On the other hand, by raising the idea of removing her Borg implants and by having Seven reject her humanity, “Human Error” suggests that this matter will indeed be resolved. Paradoxically when an episode ends on a negative note, this makes it far more likely that it will be followed up and significant changes will follow than one that ends on a positive note. And this material is worth following up, too bad it wasn’t followed up a year or two ago.

Next week: Reruns return again with Flesh and Blood.


You know…
By steveleenow ( at
0:10:52 on March 09

I was thinking – UPN Marketing once again has screwed up as always – By cancelling the Voyager retrospective they missed an invaluable opportunity for giving a special sneak peak introduction to Series V that starts this fall, supposedly on UPN. They could have interviewed the key production and writing figures who could have talked about Voyager and then told us briefly what the new series would be about…

By Imbarkus at
14:18:49 on March 09

It’s interesting to see the context people use when they discuss their views of an episode like this. Most of you, being Star Trek fans, are using past Trek frameworks to examine what this story was about–comparing the choice to those made for Data or Spock and looking at things in terms of what it means to be human.

Me I have a less objective view of this episode. Maybe because in some ways I owe it some thanks for helping to break some recent ice between my wife and I, or to the forces of Synchronicity for bringing it about when we needed it.

To me this episode was about trauma survivors, and more specifically survivors of sexual trauma–people who find their intimacy “short-circuited” by what they have survived and how they have rebuilt themselves. Any lack of logic in the way this “cortical node” is referred to and why it suddenly has its effects now is simply explained if you look through to the metaphor they are drawing with. A rape or sexual abuse survivor may lose all their feelings for a time, or they may find themselves feeling completely recovered until they are threatened by sexual intimacy and feelings. The Borg make the perfect metaphor for the horror, the violation of intimacy, the loss of sense of self-control and self-ownership. The way Seven has slowly developed, from at first even denying she was victimized at all by the borg, to eventually admitting what was done to her, to feeling the desire to be free of their influence–fantasizing about being fully “human again.” All these behaviors fit very well with the metaphor. And for those with the misfortune of direct experience with the subject of the metaphor, the episode was very deft and powerful in what it showed.

I know because my wife is also a survivor. Her first sexual experience was a rape in a hotel room at a Star Trek convention, when she was just sixteen. The additional trauma of hiding that (worst idea ever, please any survivors tell someone you can trust), and the condemnation of the one (apparantly horribly evil) person she did tell before me, has wounded her more than the Borg ever could Seven of Nine. As the years have stretched on, even with efforts in counseling, etc., the repurcusions have also done a lot to wound the intimacy of our marriage.

The moment when Seven kisses Chakotay, and there is that (well-chosen) sound effect, the sound of her emotions literally “shorting out,” and later when it shut her down when holo-Chakotay pressed, hit both of us quite hard.

And the ending, when she decides not to risk the surgery and go back to her isolation, also hit us hard. Not in a smiley, happy way that made us smile, but I think in a way that gave my wife a chill, and maybe motivated her to once again try the hard work of opening up, at a time when we were both turning away from each other in frustration and disappointment. I think it was the right choice, but, again due to lack of objectivity, I really hope Seven goes through with the procedure.

And I owe this episode some thanks, not only for seemingly motivating my wife but for reminding me of what it feels like for her, when out of hurt and anger I find myself simply wanting to blame her for the intimacy we’re not sharing.

Can Star Trek help people? Change lives? I suppose any drama can. Trek has such a marvelous opportunity, though, to mask things in just enough sci-fi metaphor that you can say things and be heard when, if you said those things more directly, you might just inspire someone to refuse to listen. Star Trek has been such a big part of my life, and my relationship with my wife. It started when we started dating and she loved to snuggle up with me and watch the TNG episodes I had on tape. Before I even found out about her past trauma, before the intimacy grew to threatening proportions, we would smile and say “resistance is futile” led one another off to the bedroom. Given all that, I was stunned to see an episode that used an ex-borg to speak directly to many of the issues we’ve been struggling with.

My wife deserves all my bravos for finding the bravery to try again. Otherwise I would have some to spare to give to this excellent episode.

RE: ‘Survivor’ by Officer Barbrady @ 9 Mar – 17:35:38 EDT
That was a very insightful observation by Archangel @ 9 Mar – 17:18:02 EDT
It is a fair review but …
By Greggo () at 13:05:53 on March 09

The review of “Human Error” is a well written analysis of the episode. However as a viable, entertaining, story offering the viewer any real sci-fi escapism, Human Error doesn’t deliver. While watching the episode, I felt cheated. I was being treated to a sub-standard Harlequin romance novel set in space. There is no real depth to this story no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise. Besides, the script writers tried a similar theme with Kes in Elogium. It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now.

I agree with the reviewer that Seven’s emotional development has come too late in the series. However, Seven is what she is, the latest in a series of Barbarella clones. I find the character overused and boring. I am becoming more and more detached from her character.

Captain’s Log,
By Jean-Luc ( at
21:49:24 on March 08

Stardate 10103.8 By order of Starfleet Command, 7 of 9’s new uniform will now be a breast-hugging red dress!

-Picard Out

The trouble is…
By R.I.P.T. () at 21:30:55 on March 08

The whole problem with Seven’s Borg-to-human character development arc is that, even acting 90% like a Borg, she’s just as human as anybody else on the show. Hell, She’s positively delightful compared to Katherine “The Iron Maiden” Janeway, but then so was the Borg Queen.

I mean, what’s the difference between the way Seven acts and the way everybody else acts? Is she not invited to social engagements? The trouble is, we’ve never seen anybody else on the ship participating in a social engagement. A few black-tie dinners perhaps, in which everybody walks around stiffly (i.e. just like usual).

The only room for improvement in her personality might be to make her slightly less abrasive (the captain has the monopoly on that). But if that’s all there is to be gained, what’s the difference?

Is she supposed to learn to be happy? Sad? Forlorn? Loving? I’ve never seen anyone else on the show pull off any of those emotions with even a hint of believability.

Maybe it never occured to the creative staff that all their characters act not like humans, but like Federation Drones, and the difference between them and Seven is so small as to be indistinguishable. Sort of like expecting people to care if you teach an IBM to act like an Apple.

On a side note, we should give credit to the staff for saving the ship 1/2 second before destruction. They one-upped Galaxy Quest. I guess having Bellana’s cobbled together technobabble in Void save the ship three seconds before destruction left them feeling…I don’t know, as if they hadn’t parodied themselves sufficiently.

An episode before its time
By UsD () at 20:56:27 on March 08

I don’t usually post here; in fact this is my first time. But I have to say that I totally agree with the reviewer on all accounts. In my opinion, this episode brings out the most realistic, if not so optimistic, quality of humanity.

But I think that, like most good television, it was very much before its time. Many of the subtle details in this episode were probably misunderstood, or mistaken for old cliches; and I think that some of the people misunderstood the point.

That ís my 2 cents

What was wrong with Torres?
By frizzymaster ( at
16:13:20 on March 08

The little shoes Seven gave B’Ellana were cute (“They will protect your infants feet even if the external temperature reaches -40 degrees Celsisus”), and when B’Ellana got them, she was like “Yeah, uh huh, whatever…” B’Ellana might as well have tossed them over her shoulder. She acted like a jerk! I think that was bad scripting on the writers’ part.

This was a good episode
By Inspector Clouseau () at 15:52:00 on March 08

I was not looking forward to see this one but I really enjoyed it. The net geeks will not like it but I thought it was a well written and well executed episode.

By Officer Barbrady () at 14:27:19 on March 08

Where should I start? Well, for starters, beauty tips in main engineering? Oh, I’m sorry, B’Elanna, I did’nt know that was grease in your hair. I thought it was some of Berman’s good ol’ fashioned oral diahrrea…it has a bad habit of getting all over the place.

The Doctor’s line of “I’m sorry, I did’nt know you had a personal life”…how gratifying. I could’nt wait for this episode to end & for South Park to start…it was horrible. I kept channel-surfing about every other minute. Bye-bye Voyager.

The ending…
By jetjaguar15 () at 13:18:01 on March 08

I REALLY didn’t care for the way this episode ended. I personally really liked 7 becoming more and more human, and was kinda hoping that the initial scenes were not just holodeck fantasies, but that the Doctor had been able to find some way to remove more of 7’s borg implants. I agree with someo fhte other posts.. When I found out what was going on, I immediatly thought “7 has Barcley syndrome!”.

I think it’s kinda cruel for the writers to build up the character as much as they have, only to suddenly in one episode throw a lot of that development and potential for development away. And the whole plot point about borg implants having built in safe-guards.. If it were true, I think that the problem would have surfaced before now.

Overall, I was really disappointed in the way the episode panned out.

It wasn’t a bad epsidoe, but I don’t think it was great either.
By Archangel () at 13:01:52 on March 08

I appreciated the metronome metaphor greatly, and the other moments others have pointed out here. But this epsiode didn’t really draw me in, that’s all. Maybe it’s becasue this feels like the sort of story they should have done a long time ago, or maybe it’s the fact that she has experienced strong emotions before; but the Doctor did say the implants only started causing trouble recently, perhaps the prolonged “stimulation” she was getting in the holodeck finally set them off–also most of her emotional moments have been sad ones, not the kind to make you feel happy as an individual.

At any rate, not bad, but not stellar either, though better than mediocre. I rate it a B. Maybe I’ll like it better the next time I watch it.

–“The Weak and cowardly have no place in shuffleboard.” – Phil Hartman (“Worf,” SNL)

Not bad….
By prometheus59650 () at 11:55:52 on March 08

An above average Seven episode that actually takes her somewhere in her exploration of humanity. You’re correct that her exploration should’ve been her alone in that all along because she has always been an outsider looking in on humanity. Instead we consistently have Janeway telling her how best to mold herself into a human being. As with a child your parents mold you as best they can but ultimately it’s up to them to decide what kind of person to be.

At least Beltran had something signifficant to do here and the scene with him, Seven and the piano worked very well.

And I thought the crew’s attitude toward was very telling as well. No matter what the crew tells her they’d like her to be they don’t really care one way or another. In fact, when push comes to shove, they PREFER the cold, efficient ex-Borg.

At any rate, LIGHT YEARS above Andromeda.

This wasn’t a bad episode
By Jason ‘Odo’ Boxman ( at
11:22:08 on March 08

and I rather enjoyed the piano scene.

I do agree that the UPN promo was rather sleazy.

Truly one of the forgettables…
By Strategerie ( at 11:07:23 on March 08

This was a totally predictable episode… and the chemistry was absent as well… Put this one in the circular dustbin…

Seven IS Barclay Here
By Edzo () at 11:05:36 on March 08

Jdara is absolutely right. I was thinking the same thing this morning on the way in to work. Seven gets bitten by holoaddiction, allowing it to interfere with her duties just as it did to Barclay in TNG’s “Hollow Pursuits.” In her simulation, Seven’s personality lightens up, just as Barclay’s did in his, and she carries on more personal relationships with members of Voyager’s crew, just as Barclay did on the Enterprise-D.

Unlike other posters, however, I liked the Seven/Chakotay chemistry. It’s nice to see Chakotay doing something different for a change. However, I don’t think the A and B stories meshed too well. Voyager is caught in an alien firing range, but a true sense of peril never quite gels, despite such grave pronouncements as “Voyager was almost destroyed” or “Voyager suffered heavy damage.” These realities are not convincingly conveyed.

In all, “Human Error” is left wanting something more for the sake of clarity. Why did Seven choose Chakotay and not the Doctor? Why has it taken Seven so long since “Unimatrix Zero” to pursue her “research” into romance? It’s a fair episode … definitely not living up to the hype, unfortunately, but it’s always nice (for me) to see Seven in a leading role.

Even though I’ve never been big on character…
By Steve Krutzler ( at
06:50:10 on March 08

development for its own sake instead of being drawn out of a larger, story-focused episode, I have to admit Human Error was the exception to the usual such installment like Nightingale or Prophecy. Jeri actually got to act in a way different than usual and Brannon returned to write a teleplay (with Bryan Fuller? or someone else, I forget) that, as the review points out, takes an unconventional route to its exploration of humanity through metaphor and quiescence. I also liked how the crew ignored her, making her experience that much more intimate: it didn’t turn into a Doctor-or-Janeway giving her tips on dinner conversation while she was running the program.

The Void is still the best of the season, though, IMO, since it was plot-focused and drew its drama from the story; Human Error, though, is definitely a Seven story that should’ve come a long time ago and makes you wish they could do eps for the other characters with as much care as they seem to for Seven.

-Steve Krutzler
==V/-/== Rocks.

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