Star Trek The Next Generation: I Borg

“Resistance… is not futile?”

After nearly two seasons of waiting, the Borg are back in a much more intimate story than would be expected from the series' biggest threat.

I can totally understand the challenge the producers faced when tasked with bringing back the Borg. How do you do them properly, where they can be defeated without diminishing them as a proper danger to the Federation? Well, in a wonderfully Star Trekian fashion we get I Borg, an episode that explored humanity through the lens of a being with no initial understanding of humanity.

The Borg are not just aliens, they are more than just the other. They aren’t just creepy, they are downright scary. Not mindless automatons, but a single collective machine with no idea of its true malevolence. The Borg don’t understand the difference between carefully studying a culture to understand it, and absorbing that culture (and by consequence utterly erasing it from existence). To them, it is fundamentally the same thing and that’s a pretty frightening concept. That kind of menace is pure horror, born of darkness and nightmare.

“It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear! And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead!” Or assimilated.

Yet, this isn't about the collective, it's about a lost, disconnected and solitary member of the Borg. Third of Five, aka Hugh, has a very quick arc, but his journey to individuality is still organic to the story. He wasn’t a fully integrated individual capable of understanding the complexity of human interactions immediately. In many ways he was a child, innocent and curious but also thoughtful and kind.

What made the episode special is the way each character interacted with Hugh, and through those interactions they brought out that glimmer of humanity in him. Beverly was the first, her compassion giving a injured Borg a second chance, despite the dangers to the ship. Next was Geordi and his way of asserting his feelings by explaining them patiently. His ability to let people in, perhaps because his best friend is an android, became the most important relationship for Hugh.

Next was Guinan, and her understandable anger towards the Borg since her people were nearly wiped out by them. Yet when she found herself face to face with Hugh, she found a being she didn’t expect, a being she could reason with, and understand. It wasn’t a single mouth of a giant collective anymore, but a boy trying to understand a strange new environment. He learned from her the idea that resistance isn’t futile.

Finally there was Picard, a man whose hatred of the Borg was extremely personal. He had no intention of even meeting the Borg, since it would make using him as weapon of war a lot easier. Yet when he finally did meet him, that interaction showed him how far Hugh had come, from a Borg whose identity was defined by ‘We’, to a boy who wanted nothing more than to ensure that his new friend Geordi didn’t become assimilated.

Spock: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
Kirk: “Or the one.”

In the end Hugh's story is somewhat tragic. He understands the value of individual freedom, and sacrifices himself so that his new friends could continue to enjoy that freedom. Although the final resolution was sad, it was also appropriate. Hugh wasn’t a character that could continue, not without devoting a significant portion of the series to his transformation into a person. While that could have been a lovely story arc for both the series and the characters on the Enterprise, it would have diminished the emotional impact of the episode, and ultimately the point, that the crew inspired individuality to such a degree that it could in turn affect the whole Borg collective.

Bits:

I kept wondering if their plan would even work, because every assimilated Borg was once an individual. But Hugh is unique in that he has already gone through assimilation and is already a part of the collective, as I imagine that part of the mind is overridden during assimilation.

Hugh does say “I” before his conversation with Picard, when he asked Geordi and Beverly if he has a name.

The title is a nod to the classic Issac Asimov story I, Robot. The shooting script even kept the comma, but it was removed before production was finished.

I loved the fencing scenes between Guinan and Picard. It was one of the few times their friendship was shown.

Quotes:

Hugh: “You will be assimilated.”
Geordi: “Yes, but before that happens, could we ask you a few questions?”

Guinan: “If you're gonna use this person…”
Picard: “It's not a person, dammit, it's a Borg!”
Guinan: “If you are going to use this person to destroy his race, you should at least look him in the eye once, before you do it. Because I am not sure he is still a Borg.”

Picard: “We must know what you want.”
Hugh: “You are many. I am one. What I want is not important.”

Fourth of Four.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

1 comment:

Billie Doux said...

Excellent review of a lovely episode, J.D. I just rewatched it and it was better than I remembered.