Star Trek The Next Generation: Q Who?

"The Borg are the ultimate user. They're unlike any threat your Federation has ever faced. They're not interested in political conquest, wealth, or power as you know it. They're simply interested in your ship, its technology. They've identified it as something they can consume."

For me 'Q Who?' is one of only two diamonds in a season that mostly consists of gravel (the other is 'The Measure of a Man').

At first it looked like this was going to be a typical "Q pesters the crew" episode. The omnipotent one has been kicked out of the Q Continuum and decides the best thing for him to do is join the crew of the Enterprise. To do this he abducts Picard and takes him to...a shuttle in the middle of nowhere. That's a bit undramatic, isn't it? A shuttle? Q is an all powerful space god who could take Picard anywhere in the universe. Any when! And he selects a shuttle? There's a budget saving move if ever I saw one.

Mind you, I could honestly watch an entire episode of Picard just bickering with Q in a shuttle because of how well Patrick Stewart and John de Lancie play off each other and how the quality of the dialogue seems to go up a notch whenever these two share a scene. Q as part of the crew would certainly be entertaining, but it would suck all the drama out of the series as he could deal with any threat with just a click of his fingers. Which is exactly what he offers to do for the crew. With him at their side they would be perfectly safe, ready to deal with whatever the universe could throw at them. At this point Picard makes the mistake of mouthing off about how they are ready to face whatever is out there. Never one to pass up the opportunity to teach some arrogant mortals a lesson, Q zaps the ship 7,000 light years into uncharted space, to give them "a preview of things to come".

Enter the Borg stage left.

From the very start, Next Generation struggled to escape the shadow of the Original Series and forge its own independent identity. The series' first attempt at creating its own recurring alien antagonist, the Ferengi, was an unmitigated disaster, forcing the writers to fall back on previously established foes like the Romulans and the Klingons. Even Q, who threatened to wipe out the entire human race in the first episode, isn't really much of a threat. He's more like an annoying relative who shows up unannounced, throws a party without asking, invites a load of people you are pretty sure they don't know and then (-and) skedaddles before you can get them to clean anything up.

What is it about the Borg that makes them so memorable? Why did they succeed when the Ferengi failed? Well, for starters, they don't look ridiculous. Even at this early stage, when the make up and costumes are a little basic, the Borg still have a very memorable look, one that only gets better and better over time. It is said that the design was inspired by the bio-mechanism art of H.R. Giger, but I suspect the designers spent a little too much time at Michael Jackson's bizarre Captain EO attraction at Disneyland (which was directed by Francis Ford Coppola). Does this mean the secret to defeating the Borg is exceptional dance moves? Guys, it's time to dance, and shout (shout) and shake your body down to the ground.

Resistance (to boogie) is futile
The first glimpse we get of them is their ship, a single featureless cube more than twenty times the size of the Enterprise. Simple, imposing and instantly iconic, this design alone (or lack of) tells us almost everything we need to know about the Borg. They are a race with no sense of ascetics or style. They are purely symmetrical creatures.

The original plan was for the Borg to be a race of insectoids. The parasite creatures from 'Conspiracy' were intended to be revealed as agents of the Borg. Those plans were ultimately scrapped when the producers realised that cyborgs are more practical (i.e. cheaper) than insects. This was probably all for the best. I don't think the Borg would've been as effective if they had been insects. By making them cyborgs the writers were able to tap into our innate suspicion of technology and the fear that it will ultimately dehumanise us. The Borg are humanoids who have been so overwhelmed by technological augmentation that it has stripped them of all individuality, leaving them nothing more than mindless drones who exist solely to serve the greater collective. I'm sure right wing commentators would argue that they are the ultimate representation of the communist ideal. Then they'd backtrack, do some mental gymnastics and somehow blame everything on Obama.

Obama's initials are B.O. Borg is spelt with a B and an O. Coincidence? I think not.
The Borg's unity is what makes them such a relentless and terrifying foe. They can't be bargained with. They can't be reasoned with. They don't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And they absolutely will not stop, ever, until they have assimilated you and your technology. The Borg are more like a force of nature. You can't fight them, all you can do is run. And even then, you can't run that far because they will catch you. No clever piece of technical wizardry is going to save them this time. They have finally come face to facial implant with a foe they are totally ill-equipped to deal with. Without Q's help there is no way the Enterprise would've survived this encounter. Of course, without Q, they probably never would've been in this situation in the first place.

Notes and Quotes

--It is implied that the Borg were responsible for the destruction of the colonies along the Neutral Zone. Head writer Maurice Hurley had meant for the opening episode of this season to further explore what happened to those colonies, introducing the Borg and including a possible alliance between the Federation and the Romulans to counter the new threat. However, the Writer's Guild strike got in the way and the Borg's introduction was delayed until this episode.

--One particularly creepy aspect of the Borg, one that is pretty much ditched after this episode, is that they have a nursery on their ships for Borg babies.

--This episode establishes that Guinan and Q have a history and that her home planet was destroyed by the Borg.

--The voice of Borg Collective was synthesized from the voices of Maurice Hurley, director Rob Bowman and Bowman's assistant.

--As much as I enjoyed Q in this episode, I do wonder if he was really needed. Once the Borg enter the scene, he kinda becomes irrelevant to the plot until the very end, where he functions as a get out of jail free card. Before then he mostly just pops in to big up the Borg and emphasize how dangerous they are. Which isn't really necessary. When it comes to the Borg, actions speak a lot louder than words.

--If you were wondering why the annoying Sonya Gomez seems to have such a large role despite adding nothing to the plot, that's because she was originally intended to be a comedic recurring character, before the writers thankfully saw sense.

Q: "You can't outrun them. You can't destroy them. They are relentless."

Picard: "The chance to study you is, frankly, provocative, but you are next of kin to chaos."

Q: "Picard, you are about to move into areas of the galaxy filled with wonders you cannot possibly imagine. And terrors to freeze your soul!"

Picard: "Q... end this."
Q: "Moi? What makes you think I'm either inclined or capable to terminate this encounter?"
Picard: "If we all die here, now, you will not be able to gloat. You wanted to frighten us. We're frightened. You wanted to show us we were inadequate. For the moment, I grant that. You wanted me to say 'I need you'? I need you!"

Borg: "We have analysed your defensive capabilities as being unable to withstand us. If you defend yourselves, you will be punished."

Four out of four bizarre Michael Jackson attractions at Disneyland.

5 comments:

Billie Doux said...

What a terrific review, Mark. :) Absolutely on point and laugh out loud funny.

This episode was a game changer. I remember when I first saw it, the idea that there was something out there so creepy, so powerful, so utterly unbeatable was unsettling. It was a big step up for Next Gen.

And I could watch Patrick Stewart and John deLancie all day, too. They're like a way fun acting class. :)

Juliette said...

To quote Comic Book Guy, Best. Episode. Ever. Well, nearly. The top choice also involves the Borg :)

tricksterson said...

Long thought that this episode was actually an elaborate gambit by Q to warn Picard and by extention the Federation about the Borg. Being Q of course he can't just come out and say it, besides they'd never trust him.

Michael Sierra said...

The story I heard from someone who spent a small amount of tinme in the writer's room at TNG was that this episode was originally meant to be a two-part episode with Time Squared. The original concept was that Q was responsible for sending Picard and the shuttle back in time in that episode, and Q bringing Picard to the shuttle was leftover from the original draft -- specifically to point out how much Picard needed Q -- thus launching into a further demonstration -- i.e., the Borg.

Great PurpleRobe said...

IMHO, the point in TNG when the stuff got real. Q might have been a pest, but the Borg were no joke.

Best intro of a long-time foe ever!

Even the "get out of jail free card' of Picard apologizing to Q was well-played. Q has, thus far, earned nothing but scorn from the Enterprise crew, and Picard finally realized just how dangerous the pest can really be. To save his crew, Picard had to man up and give some props to the Q.

The setup of the Borg was, alas, too perfect. The way in which they were portrayed and described in Q Who makes them out to be absolutely unstoppable. This group of people would demolish the Federation, if they knew a quick way to get to the Alpha Quadrant (quantum slipstream, anyone?). Sadly, by the time we get to the First Contact movie, we have a Borg Queen, and thus a weakness in what should have been an unstoppable force.

BTW, the actress who played Sonja Gomez was immortalized as the 3-breasted hooker from Mars in Arnold's version of Total Recall. That's why she was in the episode. --JB