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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Q Who? (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

Q Who? throws down the gauntlet for Star Trek: The Next Generation. It serves as a fitting reminder that Picard and his crew are still amateurs when it comes to space exploration. They don’t even win the day – they suffer “a bloody nose” before limping away from their strange new opponents to lick their wounds. For a crew that never seemed to sweat before, who never seemed like they were under pressure, this is a shocking development.

More interestingly, it’s something unknown in a universe that has become far too familiar. Three of the four episodes leading into Q Who? ended with the crew accepting that there were some things they’d never fully understand or comprehend, and – while it’s unlikely this was intentional – it seems like a nice bit of thematic foreshadowing rather than haphazard plotting. For the first season-and-a-half of the show, it seemed like the Enterprise was always dealing with the familiar, always in control of the situation.

With Q Who?, everything is put into perspective.

Borg to death...

Borg to death…

Indeed, Rob Bowman concedes on the commentary that the whole point of Q Who? was to catch the crew of the Enterprise off-guard:

The inspiration for the Borg was that Maurey – and probably Rick too, I can’t remember – had this notion that every time the crew of the Enterprise came upon something they’d never ever seen before, by the end of the episode they’d sort of figured out and conquered it. So the idea was to create a character or a society that we couldn’t figure out, that we couldn’t conquer.

It’s an attempt to shake things up.

Well, Q does seem to appreciate his quality alone time...

Well, Q does seem to appreciate his quality alone time…

Indeed, part of what’s fascinating about Q Who? is that the episode doesn’t really have an easy-to-pin-down story structure. Maurice Hurley was never great when it came to structuring his Star Trek scripts. For example, the teaser on Time Squared seemed to end too early, with the discovery of the shuttle rather than Picard. Q Who? seems similarly weak on structure. The teaser ends with the return of Q, rather than with a solid hook.

(While it would be too early for the Borg or for Q to fling the Enterprise to the Delta Quadrant, the teaser might be more compelling if it gave us some hint of Q’s status – maybe ending with Q seeking asylum. The next season’s Deja Q ends its teaser with the reveal of Q, but with a shocking reveal of his circumstances. “Q appears” really isn’t a gripping opening to an episode. “Q appears naked on the bridge” is much more effective.)

Claws for concern...

Claws for concern…

Still, Hurley’s weak structure works as an advantage here. Q Who? doesn’t really work as a stand-alone adventure. Q returns; he wants to join the crew; he sends the Enterprise to the Delta Quadrant; the Enterprise encounters the Borg; the Enterprise runs away as quickly as possible. That’s hardly the most compelling of narratives, and it’s difficult to transpose an act structure over. However, the fact that Q Who? isn’t anything like any Next Generation story to date works to its advantage.

Q Who? is unsettling, and decidedly so. It’s very clearly a collection of things that should not be happening on The Next Generation. It is also exactly what the show needed at this point in time. The last episode ended that the Enterprise crew using magic memory wipe technology to side-step an ethical issue. It’s important that the show demonstrate that these are still people who face problems and threats that they can’t conveniently defeat with technobabble.

Worf gets shot down, again...

Worf gets shot down, again…

Which brings us back to one of the primary difficulties that The Next Generation has had in trying to define its own identity. How does it prove itself a spiritual successor to Star Trek while adjusting to the fact that times have changed? The show has tried to introduce a stand-in for McCoy with Pulaski, it has tried to channel that “free love” spirit of the sixties with limited success. While it’s still struggling to figure out the balance, episodes like The Measure of a Man succeeded by drawing from the themes and core ideas of classic Star Trek, updating them for the eighties.

And so Q Who? feels like a spiritual successor to those early adventures of Kirk’s Enterprise, when it seemed like space was – to quote the JJ Abrams reboot – “disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.” Even though Picard has encountered strange phenomena and alien entities before, this seems like the first time that the Lovecraftian horror of the cosmos has been hammered home to him, in the same way that the first season of Star Trek touched on quite frequently.

Collective consciousness...

Collective consciousness…

It makes space wondrous and terrifying again – it’s full of new and horrifying things that test the limits of humanity’s capacity to comprehend. The Enterprise is no longer invulnerable, but that means that it can also be surprised and amazed. “If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed,” Q suggests. “It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross, but it’s not for the timid.”

Q Who? is quite candid in calling out the arrogance of the crew. Even the introductory sequence with Sonya Gomez is designed to suggest that being the best isn’t always good enough. Gomex is a technical genius, because she wants to work on a crew of technical geniuses. “I had to be the best because only the best get to be here,” she explains, reinforcing the idea that the Enterprise is staffed by the very best and brightest. However, sometimes that isn’t enough. Still, it could be worse. While Picard’s arrogance leads to the death of eighteen crewmembers, Gomez’ absent-mindedness only ruins the captain’s tunic.

Piecing it together...

Piecing it together…

The whole point of Q Who? is to put the crew out of their depth. When Picard smugly rejects Q’s petition to join the crew, the entity informs him, bluntly, “You’re not prepared for what awaits you.” Picard arrogantly plays semantics. “How can we be prepared for that which we do not know?” he demands. “But I do know that we are ready to encounter it.” Q finds this all quite amusing. “Oh, the arrogance. They don’t have a clue as to what’s out here.”

And so, appropriately enough, Q Who? ends with Picard embracing humility. Far from arrogantly dismissing Q in Ten Forward, Picard is force to beg for Q’s mercy and assistance. “You wanted to frighten us. We’re frightened. You wanted to show us that we were inadequate. For the moment, I grant that. You wanted me to say I need you. I need you!” That’s the big life lesson of the episode, right there. That’s the moral of the story.

A slice of the action...

A slice of the action…

The Borg are nice additional element to heap on top, a fascinating (and essential) addition to the Star Trek canon. However, for the purposes of the story of Q Who?, such as it exists, the Borg are merely window-dressing. They are merely a tool to humble the Enterprise. “Another man would have been humiliated to say those words,” Q observes. “Another man would have rather died than ask for help.” This episode is very much about putting the crew of the Enterprise in their place.

And that is undoubtedly a good thing, a necessary part of The Next Generation growing up. While Q Who? ends with a tease that leads directly to The Best of Both Worlds, it also heralds a bolder new direction for the show. It reaffirms that the Enterprise is a ship that is exploring the unknown, and that there’s an element of risk involved. Granted, the show won’t be in any position to follow up on this before the third season. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that Q Who? would have worked a lot better as a second season finalé. But it is what it is.

Denting the ship's ego...

Denting the ship’s ego…

Before delving into the Borg, it’s worth considering how Q Who? shifts the characterisation of Q. John DeLancie is, as ever, brilliant in the role. However, Q Who? really represents a shift away from the portrayal of the character as seen in Encounter at Farpoint and Hide and Q. It really defines his characterisation for the rest of the series. While Q is still an alien with limitless power and god-like capabilities, he’s defined more as a trouble-maker than a direct threat. When he describes Guinan as an “imp”, Picard turns the insult back on him.

More than that, though, there’s a sense that Q is fascinated with humanity and with Picard in particular. In Encounter at Farpoint, it seemed like he picked the Enterprise by chance. In Hide and Q, Riker is the focus of his attention. In Q Who?, Q focuses quite heavily on Picard. It’s a nice way of allowing John DeLancie and Patrick Stewart to play off one another, but it also does a lot to develop Q as a character in his own right, rather than simply presenting him as an all-powerful meddler.

"Well, there weren't any free seats..."

“Well, there weren’t any free seats…”

Asked why he chose to seek asylum on the Enterprise, he admits that the ship holds a particular fascination for him. “I remembered all the good times I had with you,” he explains. In Deja Q, he goes one step further and calls Picard the closest thing in the universe that he has to a friend. While his decision to retreat to the Enterprise is pragmatic, it’s still based on the fact that he does have a special relationship with the ship and its commanding officer.

It’s possible to construe his actions in Q Who? in a number of ways, but they generally suggest a strange fondness for the crew. Given that the made their presence known to the Alpha Quadrant in The Neutral Zone, Q’s decision to force a direct encounter with the Enterprise may have been intended to assist the ship – to give it a fighting chance against the (at this stage) inevitable Borg invasion. Such a motivation suggests that Q has a fondness for Picard, and the Enterprise, and humanity.

He'll be brief(ing)...

He’ll be brief(ing)…

Of course, it’s entirely possible we’re ascribing to Q motivations entirely too noble. Reflecting on the encounter with Guinan, Picard seems unwilling to attribute any such motivations to the god-like entity. “Maybe Q did the right thing for the wrong reason,” he observes, accepting the importance of the lesson taught. Maybe Q threw the Enterprise into that situation just to force Picard’s hand, just to make Picard say the words “I need you!”

If that’s the case, it still suggests a strange attachment to Picard. Q is a god-like entity. To suggest that he needs Picard’s validation or approval is absurd. However, going to those lengths – and relenting when that approval is offered – suggests that Q places considerable worth in Picard’s opinion of him. If that was the entire point of the exercise, it suggests that Q does respect Picard a great deal. As such, it paves the way for his characterisation in later episodes.

Hold steady...

Hold steady…

And so, we reach the Borg. With no offence to the Ferengi, the Borg stand as perhaps the most significant single contribution made to the Star Trek mythos by The Next Generation. There’s a reason that they are one of the few “second generation” concepts that have been frequently teased and mooted for JJ Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek film series. They were the logical choice of villains for the first truly stand-alone Next Generation feature film, Star Trek: First Contact.

The first season of The Next Generation had attempted to introduce a recurring foe for the crew of the Enterprise with the Ferengi. However, that didn’t quite work out. As timely as a bunch of crazy capitalist consumers might have been in the late eighties (with The Last Outpost airing two months before the release of Wall Street), they were simply too comical and simplistic to work as a recurring foe for the Enterprise. Defined as short and stupid, more concerned with profit than warfare, it was hard to take them seriously.

Guinan got a square deal...

Guinan got a square deal…

There’s an argument to be made that the Borg manage to capture many of the same fears, just more effectively. When discussing the Borg with Picard, Q defines them as hungry consumers. “The Borg is the ultimate user,” Q informs us. “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.”

While their lack of interest in “wealth or power” might lead the viewer to reject the Borg as a criticism of unchecked capitalism, the species is defined as beings that will devour and exploit everything available to them. Here, they are interested in the material value of the Enterprise, rather than the people who inhabit the ship. (Rather tellingly, they take a sample from the hull, consigning eighteen innocents to the vacuum.) At the end of the episode, Guinan describes the Federation as “nothing but raw material to them.”

Recovery operations...

Recovery operations…

Then again, part of the beauty of the Borg is that they are an adaptable concept. It’s possible to describe them as metaphors for any number of objects, often in conflicting terms. Right-wing analysis of The Next Generation tends to read the Borg as a fear or rejection of collectivism, arguing that the Borg are just The Next Generation‘s convenient stand-in for the threat of communism, a spiritual successor to the portrayal of the Klingons or the Romulans in the original Star Trek.

It’s tempting to look at in that light. After all, The Next Generation did premiere towards the end of the Cold War. It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t informed by the fears that had been bubbling away beneath the surface for so many years. Patrick Thaddeus Jackson and Daniel H. Nexon advance such an argument in Representation is Futile? American Anti-Collectivism and the Borg, contending that The Next Generation was the product of a country that had grown up with the ideology of the Cold War drilled into their heads.

It is a big universe out there...

It is a big universe out there…

As Bob Wallace contends in I Write What I See, the parallels are obvious:

The Borg are the ultimate collectivists. Commies in a Great Big Cube. Everyone has a place, and is taken care of from birth to death. There are a few unpleasant catches: the Borg have absolutely no freedom, and they are engaged in eternal war – perpetual war for perpetual peace – to annihilate their enemies through absorption. It’s not the case of One-World Government; it’s One-Galaxy Government. Whether you want it or not.

Indeed, you could arguably construct a convincing argument that the Borg are simply giving form to the right-wing New World Order conspiracy theories that became increasingly popular in the late eighties and into the nineties.

Hot stuff...

Hot stuff…

However, when it comes to the Borg as a metaphor for communism, others have noted that the timing of the Borg’s first appearance seems a little strange for them to be such a simplistic anti-communist message:

It’s actually rather unconvincing to describe the Borg as collectivist monsters in the Soviet sense.  Apart from anything else, they appear at the precise moment when the Soviet Union had never looked less collectivist or less threatening.  They arose in the immediate post-Cold War era, making their first appearance just before the demolition of the Berlin Wall.  The Borg appeared just as communism was crumbling. Glasnost, perestroika, decay, strife, queues for cabbage, branches of McDonalds opening in Moscow. Walls were about to fall. The Enemy had never looked more wobbly and vulnerable.  The Borg, by contrast, are monolithic, powerful, undefeatable in their first appearance. So, in short, they weren’t Russians in 1989.

If they weren’t the Russians in 1989, then what were they?

Q does always look (Ten) Forward to their little chats...

Q does always look (Ten) Forward to their little chats…

You could make a convincing argument that they are intended as a very cynical take on the United States’ model of liberal democracy and foreign policy – an attempt to assimilate other cultures into one gigantic hegemony. After all, the beauty of the Big Mac is that it is exactly the same whether you eat it in Los Angeles or Dehli. Indeed, it even looks the same if you leave it for fourteen years.

What are the Borg, but an expansion of that concept to its logical extreme? The ability to make everything exactly the same, all over the galaxy? Their ships are perfectly cubic, and their drones are perfectly interchangeable. They are an entity with the power and willingness to ensure that absolutely everything will be identical no matter where everybody is. Everything will conform to a single unifying view of what the universe should be.

The Enterprise blows chunks in this scenario...

The Enterprise blows chunks in this scenario…

After all, one of the benefits of transhumanism is the idea that it will allow mankind to transcend differences. As Donna Haraway argued in her thought-provoking A Manifesto for Cyborgs in 1985, transformation into cyborgs would make all differences moot:

From the perspective of cyborgs, freed of the need to ground politics in ‘our’ privileged position of the oppression that incorporates all other dominations, the innocence of the merely violated, the ground of those closer to nature, we can see powerful possibilities.

Incidentally, this is part of the reason why the introduction of the Queen in First Contact feels like such a step backwards for the franchise. The Queen is a much more recognisable figurehead, there’s something a lot less unnerving and unknowable about dealing with a technological monarchy than there is negotiating with a swarm.

Baby Borg!

Baby Borg!

In way, though, this hints at why the Borg work so effectively. They are a dark mirror to the Federation, in any number of ways. Robert H. Chaires and Bradley Stewart Chilton hint towards this in Star Trek Visions of Law and Justice:

It took the Borg to bring Star Trek visions of utopia and dystopia into focus. The Borg represent the ultimate interactive command structure, the ultimate rejection of all the values of the Federation and Starfleet – of the Prime Directive. They did not conquer; they did not desire political or social dominance; they did not even exterminate in the sense of genocide – they “assimilated.” Beyond all the obvious metaphors of communism and totalitarian government and fears about dehumanising technology in general, the Borg were just plain nasty. They did not eat, drink, recreate or consume beyond their immediate need to do their job; worst of all, they did not excrete or bathe. If the Klingons, Romulans, and Cardassians were cultural and politically “different”, they were at least understandable – convertible. The Borg were the ultimate dystopian future, a fate worse than death – a fate that was death in the minds of individuals and societies that value choice, but often do not think critically about what that word really means.

That’s an intriguing argument – that the Borg represent a stark contrast to Federation ideals. However, it’s also possible to argue that the Borg represent a chilling counterpart to what the Federation actually is, as depicted in these early episodes of The Next Generation.

"Michael Fassbender's got nothing on my hand-waving abilities..."

“Michael Fassbender’s got nothing on my hand-waving abilities…”

Indeed, within the narrative of Star Trek itself, the traitor Michael Eddington makes this explicit in his lecture to Sisko in For the Cause. The Borg are just a grotesque distortion of Federation ideals and values, as espoused in The Next Generation. They are a bunch of people who assume that their view of the universe is entirely correct and all other views are inferior and irrelevant. Everybody should conform to one set of values.

It’s a small step from the “human values are superior” attitude of Lonely Among Us and The Last Outpost to wide-spread assimilation. After all, the early seasons of The Next Generation saw the cast and crew ready and willing to dismiss other value systems as inferior, acting as if joining the Federation is the logical aspiration of just about about an civilised species. The Borg don’t have a choice, but they also don’t dissent or disagree.

Squaring off against the Borg...

Squaring off against the Borg…

In a way, the perfectly-formed collective without free will or differences seems uncannily like Gene Roddenberry’s view of 24th century mankind, writ large. The best episode of the season is The Measure of a Man, which hinges on Data asserting his own free will and refusing to sacrifice his own autonomy for what Starfleet and the Federation have deemed the greater good. And it’s worth noting that Roddenberry was vocally opposed to that plot. He expected Data to readily volunteer himself.

After all, the Borg turn the Federation’s greatest strength back on themselves. When Q protests that humanity can’t possibly be ready for what awaits them, Guinan responds, “But they will learn, adapt. That is their greatest advantage.” We discover over the course of Q Who? that the Borg share that advantage. They adapt to Worf’s hand phaser, and they adapt to the weapons deployed by the Enterprise during the high-speed chase.

"My celebrity guest star sense is tingling..."

“My celebrity guest star sense is tingling…”

Indeed, it’s hard not to take the notion of what Troi describes as “the combined whole” as a none-too-subtle jab at Picard’s leadership style. In contrast to Kirk’s gung-ho approach to leadership, Picard is more willing to listen to the opinions of the group. In Pen Pals, he even holds a little senior staff conference in his quarters. Q Who? calls attention to this by having Picard constantly calling “conference” when faced by the Borg. The crew have two meetings in the space of as many hours about this new threat. Maybe the Enterprise isn’t that far from a group mind.

It’s interesting that Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (and arguably Star Trek: Enterprise) really found their feet when they introduced mirror counterparts to the Federation. Each grounded in concerns particular to the show in question. Here, the Borg seek to impose hegemony on a chaotic universe. In Deep Space Nine, the Dominion is built on a rigid class structure, with one species’ values paramount. In Enterprise, the Xindi are a bunch of squabbling species with no guiding principle.

Collective concerns?

Collective concerns?

Then again, it’s possible that the Borg simply play on more basic fears. As Dan Curry argues on the commentary, the Borg have actually become more relevant in the years since Q Who? originally broadcast:

I think the Borg are a particularly disturbing species for us because in a way it darkly foreshadows what we could become. Because they’re in human form and we’re sort of borg-fiying ourselves now. We get implants, body part replacements. I’ve a friend with two titanium knees and a titanium shoulder. And so, it’s the dark side of communications technology. We could be implanted with chips and we could have our iPhones implanted in our skulls and not have to carry them. It’s the dark side of where humanity could drive our own evolution based on our own technological capabilities.

Indeed, these dependence and reliance on technology has grown so significantly that David Cronenberg has expanded his technological body horror beyond the movie screen and into viral campaigns.

Too hot to handle?

Too hot to handle?

Still, the Borg are very clearly a product of the late eighties, a recognisable off-shoot of the cyberpunk movement. The existence of a race of cyborgs, a shared collective consciousness and even the black leather outfits all feel like they are intended to evoke that particular offshoot of science-fiction that was rapidly gaining traction in popular culture. Indeed, William Gibson, the father of cyberpunk, has acknowledged the acceptance of the Borg by popular culture, describing current social media as a sort of  “benign Borg absorption.”

Of course, this being Star Trek, there’s a palpable unease around the concept of transhumanism. Though nowhere near the outright revulsion demonstrated in Up the Long Ladder, there’s a clear sense that the crew are disgusted that the Borg have (presumably) done this to themselves. They have made themselves inhuman, and they continue to do so. Q Who? makes no reference to the process of assimilating individuals, instead suggesting that the Borg somehow procreate. They are born organic and then graft the cybernetic parts on later.

Just when you think it's gonna be a Geordi romantic comedy episode... bam!

Just when you think it’s gonna be a Geordi romantic comedy episode… bam!

As such, the Borg are presented as walking body horrors, akin to zombies possessed by some sort of ethereal Lovecraftian collective consciousness – something that’s almost too monstrous to comprehend. Again, this is perfectly in keeping with the franchise’s attitudes towards meddling with mankind. It’s most obvious in the way that the original Star Trek presented the genetically-modified Khan as inherently monstrous, but it’s also played out in Unnatural Selection earlier this season. For a show about embracing the unknown and infinite possibilities, Star Trek sure is skittish around the idea of anything beyond human.

Incidentally, it’s interesting how Guinan seems to suggest that the Delta Quadrant is a terrifying place. Even before the Borg arrive, Guinan urges the crew to retreat. “What can you tell us?” Riker asks. Guinan replies, “Only that if I were you, I’d start back now.” Given the way that Q talks about “wonders”, it suggests that the Borg are just one horrifyingly alien concept lurking in the dark space out here. It suggests that the Delta Quadrant is packed with truly alien creatures and lifeforms. So it was a bit of a disappointment when Star Trek: Voyager arrived there and it was really just more of the same.

While I don't advocate draining the entire Enterprise's computer system, I can imagine typing's a pain for this guy.

While I don’t advocate draining the entire Enterprise’s computer system, I can imagine typing’s a pain for this guy.

Q Who? represents a massive step forward for The Next Generation, pushing it one step closer to emerging from the shadow of its illustrious predecessor. Unfortunately, the second season goes into something of a holding pattern for the rest of the year, as if exhausted by this last dramatic push. Still, it’s nice to know what The Next Generation can do when it sets its mind to it. The only problem is getting the show to do it more consistently.

Read our reviews of the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation:

23 Responses

  1. Amazing essay! I love this episode. It is indeed a benchmark entry like you mentioned. Your observation about Guinan and the Delta Quadrant was spot on. Good job on this post! I’ll be sure to share it. 🙂

  2. An absolutely splendid breakdown for this seminal episode, Darren. Well done.

  3. Oh good, it’s not just me… The first time I saw the Borg episodes, I thought they and the Federation were both supposed to be stand-ins for globalization, representing the most pessimistic and optimistic views of it respectively. Wasn’t until I went online that I found out that people saw socialist metaphors there too.

    • I think that’s one of the strange things about The Next Generation. It’s both a socialist utopia (thank you, The Neutral Zone) and also a metaphor for America’s global influence (peace-keepers, diplomats, aid-givers, well-wishers, first responders) at the same time. It’s hard to really make that hang together very well, particularly given lingering Cold War anxieties – I mean, look at how “socialist” is still used as a dirty word in debates over healthcare – but somehow The Next Generation does it. (Mainly by never drawing attention to both aspects at the same time.)

      So I think it makes sense that the Borg are a dark mirror to both aspects of the Federation equally. When reading commentaries on the Borg, it’s interesting to not how very few tend to make the connection between the Borg and the Federation. Right-wing commentators arguing the Borg are a representation of collectivism are unlikely to argue that the Federation is a working socialist economy. Similarly, left-wing commentators arguing the Borg represent the worst aspect of globalisation are unlikely to discuss the use of the Federation as an optimistic metaphor for American foreign policy in the nineties.

      • As a socialist myself, Id be okay with a socialist America that resembled the Federation 😛

  4. A fascinating review!

    I do perhaps have to quibble with your view of the Borg Queen however; while I didn’t particularly care for her I did think something like her was neccessary to keep the Borg as villains. As fascinating an idea as the Borg are a completely faceless, interchangable horde has limited dramatic storytelling opportunities. In fact the original Borg concept seems to have already vanished by ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ when we got Locutus as a ‘face’ for the collective. The very next Borg episode (‘I Borg’) was about individualising the Borg. ‘Descent’ turns them into muscle for Lore. ‘First Contact’ works entirely because of Picard’s personal history with them – as villains they might as well have been Cardassians.

    Ultimately I think the Borg probably worked best as a philosophical concept, an anti-Federation. As a one episode wonder they are great; as a reccurring foe they don’t quite work because of their limitations in the dramatic medium, which is why as fascinating as they are in the abstract I much prefer the Cardassians .

    • That’s a very valid point, and I’m sympathetic to the narrative constraints imposed by a collective consciousness. As you note, the show begins individualising the Borg in their second proper appearance and never looks back. The Queen is just the end point of that particular narrative logic.

      And I think there’s something to be said for the variety in how the show did individualise them. Locutus was a great hook, because he’s the show’s lead, stripped of his individuality to give voice to a collective. Hugh is great because he’s forced into individuality, cut off from the hive. I’m struggling to justify Descent, which might have been interesting if it were the last Borg story ever told, or a gateway into further “end of the Collective” tales. Instead, as you note, they are just muscle for Lore. Scorpion works well because it gives us a miniature collective enclosed within Voyager, with Seven of Nine as the voice.

      However, the Borg Queen just feels like narrative convenience, and becomes a much less unsettling adversary than a billions of voices speaking as one. In First Contact and Voyager, her scenes with the other actors feel like clichéd hero-villain stand-offs from Bond films. I think First Contact gets away with it, being her first appearance and because the film moves like a rocket. The Voyager episodes (particularly Unimatrix Zero and Endgame) work less well, although I don’t mind Dark Frontier too much.

      That said, I’d argue that Scorpion does quite well with the collective, even if it’s only really for the first part. Janeway’s attempts at negotiations are wonderfully unnerving in the way they wouldn’t be with Alice Krige or Susanne Thompson.

      • I admittedly like the Borg Queen, at least in First Contact. I do think the Borg were cooler without a queen, though I recognize leaving them an unstoppable faceless ubervillain would have been a narrative dead end, though I think they could have handled the idea of the queen to be more in line with their hive mind/collective consciousness. Like have the queen clearly be just the embodiment of the collective and not some individual, or have the collective talk more manipulatively and personable in First Contact and Voyager, without a queen. That’s just me though.

  5. With the Queen, it’s not so much she’s a figurehead, it’s that she’s a character in her own right.
    If they had a voice effect so she had a similar “thousands of voices as one” sound and was just as replaceable, say they kill her, before the body hits the floor there’s another, that’d be interesting.
    A Borg Queen who wants to have sex with Data and Picard and is an actual individual who acts as the end boss not so much.

    Another little thought I’ve had, is are Q episodes necessarily in order from his point of view? His character is a bit inconsistent from appearance to appearance, sometimes he’s like a child, other times agent of the continuum, I like to think that since he can go anywhere any time, he’d randomly show up and that explains the changes.

    • I think somebody suggested that idea to me before, that Q is jumping around the timeline. It’s certainly an interesting case that explains a lot. (I’d imagine, for example, that the Q in True Q comes from earlier in his personal timeline than the one from Tapestry. If the latter actually exists.)

      But I think there’s a clear thread that runs from Hide & Q into Q Who into Deja Q into Q-Pid that suggests at least that sequence of adventures happened in sequence for the character.

  6. You know, the more I hear about Roddenbery’s edicts, I can’t help wonder that the inception of the Borg came about as a mean-spirited jab at Roddenbery’s optimistic future from the writer’s room.
    “Oh, we’ll show Gene his true, pure and true vision of the Federation. There is no conflict among the crew on a Borg vessel, they are clearly more evolved then everyone else, and will clearly let everyone know it. All individuals among the Borg have a voice, but there are no dissenting opinions, they are of one mind, they know all the answers and what is right and wrong. (Season 1 and 2 about no conflict among the crew) The Borg seek to better themselves, and to better those around them (First Contact), they have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions, they have grown out of their infancy. (Neutral Zone) They do not mourn the loss of a single drone, death is accepted as a natural part of life. (The Bonding). The individual drone would happily sacrifice their own existence if it meant the betterment of the whole, and have eliminated the need for lawyers. (The Measure of a Man). The Borg have no silly attachments to their children, when alien invaders board there vessel, they’re free to examine them and take them if they wish, it is of no concern. (When the Bough Breaks, Q Who, Best of Both Worlds).

    Isn’t this beautiful vision of Utopia grand?
    *cue image of life on a Borg Cube*

    • It’s also quite telling that Data’s suggestion in The Measure of a Man that all in Starfleet should be required to have cybernetics implants if they truly believed in the serving the greater whole.

    • That’s an interesting notion, actually. In Roddenberry’s novelisation of The Motion Picture, I believe he hints at some sort of cybernetic union of human consciousness as an example of how Earth was a utopia. (Kirk is written as something of a throwback, in contrast.)

  7. Funny how people rag so much on the first two seasons (I do it too!) yet they contains one of the best episodes of the franchise, well two (the other being Measure of a Man). This episode would have made a better pilot than Encounter at Farpoint

    • As for the Delta Quadrant, I believe the Borg were originally supposed to come from the Gamma Quadrant, since they were the original planned villains for DS9.

      • I heard that Gamma Quadrant speculation before.

        As it stands, I’m glad DS9 got the Dominion to make their own.

      • Agreed. Also, I don’t believe its speculation, as the DS9 writers are on record stating they originally planned the Borg to be the big bads, hence their appearance in Emissary.

    • Definitely.

      To be fair, the second season represents a big step up from the first, with episodes like A Matter of Honour and The Emissary. Heck, I even like The Royale a lot.

      “When this train comes in, everybody rides.”

  8. Q only threw them 7,000 light years away – that can by no means be the Delta Quadrant. And the Borg had been near Federation space before (attacks on outposts in the Neutral Zone). Okay, that is quite nerdy, but where else is the place?

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