the story: Seven simulates a romance with Chakotay.
what it's all about: The idea of the holodeck was a staple throughout Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager. It was such a staple of this era that fans actually grew to hate it. If "Ferengi episodes" was a distinctly Deep Space Nine epitaph, then "holograph episode" surely was one across all three series. But I think most of them justify their existence thematically, even when concepts overlap. One of the early distinctive holodeck adventures was Reg Barclay's introduction in Next Generation's "Hollow Pursuits," in which he tries to compensate poor social skills with a lively holodeck life. Voyager later saw The Doctor create a whole holodeck family in "Real Life." Both were about creating a fake existence outside of the real world that only damaged ability to judge experiences with objective clarity. "Human Error" is that same kind of experience.
However, it's not particularly an episode that has stood out for fans. One of the reasons is that the idea of Seven and Chakotay in a relationship seems to be dropped at the end of the episode, only to be picked up again, randomly, in "Endgame," the series finale. This was likely viewed as one of Voyager's many creative sins. Fans thought the series did this all the time. Very few of them seemed willing to give Voyager the benefit of the doubt in how it reached decisions like this. It looked like Worf and Troi, finally, in a romantic relationship in Next Generation's series finale, "All Good Things...," and because there had been an episode where Seven considered the possibility but rejected it, this one, it just felt all the more random, barely justified.
And, no doubt, fans still clung to "Someone to Watch Over Me." This is a fifth season episode that's been routinely cited as one of Voyager's best. On the surface it's a similar story to "Human Error." Seven experiments with social interaction and romance with The Doctor. It's actually more of a Doctor episode than a Seven episode, as it ends with him realizing that he's probably not winning her heart despite all his efforts to be there for her. She remains completely oblivious to his feelings. The effect is heartbreaking. For me, it's not even one of my favorite Doctor episodes, although it's certainly a worthy character study and a notable bonding experience for someone who often yearned for such things.
"Human Error" is different, as it is Seven actively exploring social life and romance. She's reached a point in the series where her personal growth is an inward journey rather than something she's struggling against, which is where it began in the fourth season. Where The Doctor from the day he was first activated was complaining about his limitations, Seven complained about her newfound possibilities, so that where The Doctor always found room for growth and welcomed it, sometimes with too much enthusiasm, Seven always struggled. Hers was an internal experience. Seven was always an introvert, The Doctor an extrovert. Perception of Seven usually begins and ends with her physical attributes, and yet she was never treated as a mere object of sexual desire. She was the perfect embodiment of Gene Roddenberry's two greatest interests, humanity and sexuality. Fans might have soured on sexuality as a defining feature in Star Trek, but humanity remained, and remains, its truest, deepest focus, and Seven was an ideal instrument to explore it.
Putting all that together, Seven's experiments in the holodeck are more akin to Data yearning to be more human, and yet his mechanics constantly getting in the way. Often when he'd attempt a breakthrough it'd backfire with unexpected consequences. While Seven's daydreaming in "Human Error" isn't nearly as literal as Data's in "Phantasms," it also feels more organic, and all the more troubling that a creature of habit has allowed her usual extreme professionalism to be compromised.
All of which is to say, "Human Error" is about as important a Seven episode as there ever was, and it speaks to a lot of franchise lore and experience. It's a classic.
- franchise - A deceptively key holodeck experience.
- series - The episodic/serialized nature of Voyager can be unlocked by an experience like this.
- character - Seven's journey of discovery reaches a climax.
- essential - It's the point where she finally rediscovers her humanity.
Manu Intiraymi (Icheb)