Episode #123: I Borg

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Episode #123: I Borg

Post  BoG on Thu Jul 29, 2010 5:59 pm

I  BORG (5th season; episode #123)
Directed by Robert Lederman; written by Rene Echevarria

This was the follow-up to the 2-parter The Best of Both Worlds, the one in which the Borg almost succeeded in assimilating Earth. This episode is much more smaller in scale, focusing on one lone Borg... drone. The theme, of course, is individuality. The Borg represent anti-individuality.  The Borg are a hive-mind, a collective. The story presents the possibilities surfacing when a single Borg is separated from the rest, from the collective. The crew come upon a small wrecked Borg scout ship; there are 5 Borg casualties - but one is still alive (third of 5, btw, is his designation); Dr. Crusher insists that the drone (Jonathan del Arco) be attended to - this is her duty - despite the reservations of the others (Worf even states that the survivor should be killed).
The attitudes of the Starfleet officers are different from their usual approach towards other species; in my experience, even when another species is hostile, the officers are governed by understanding and compassion. But, in this case, Picard and his crew devise a plan to implant a computer virus into the surviving drone, so that when the drone is recovered by the collective, the virus will spread and eventually destroy the hive. Their goals, in the 1st half of the episode, are geared around the destruction of a species. This also results in a couple of atypical scenes of the crew interrelating - between Guinan & La Forge and Guinan visiting Picard in his quarters. Even Guinan, usually the epitome of kindness & understanding, is unusually hostile towards the 'guest' (her people were wiped out by the Borg). But, something happens as the story progresses, as the crew, notably La Forge, get to know this guest - they can no longer regard the Borg as simply an instrument of their... revenge; the Borg becomes a person. La Forge gives him a name - Hugh.
This episode probably works best with viewers when they first watch it; when I first viewed this episode, the Borg were still a mysterious, perhaps unknowable kind of alien race. I was fascinated by their structure, by how they functioned as a hive mind and was interested in learning more about them. This was an opportunity to study the Borg up close; when the drone first wakes up and examines his cell, I found myself looking closely at his every move, wondering what he'd do next. The newly-christened Hugh then begins to develop his individuality. The Borg hive-mind represents safety for him at first; he has no need to make individual decisions as part of the collective - it's a peaceful 'state of mind' so to speak. As an individual, however, one can have friends, family and so forth, but ultimately all your choices and their repercussions rest with you, the singular entity, and your fate is decided by yourself. It should be a frightening prospect and yet Hugh seems to embrace it near the conclusion, asserting himself almost vigorously.
There was a downside to all this, in the overall Trek universe. Around  the time following this episode first airing and through to the film Star Trek First Contact (1996), many fans complained that the Trekmakers were just not letting the Borg be the Borg. The film introduced a Borg queen, for example, who seemed very individualistic & emotional. This appeared as antithetical to the whole premise of the Borg, the collective. It occurred to me, after re-watching this episode, that the Borg queen's existence may have resulted from the re-introduction of Hugh into the collective, by which the concept of individualism was subtly inserted into their programming. Now, in Star Trek First Contact, the queen mentions being around during the events of The Best of Both Worlds, so that seems to negate my theory, unless the Queen was in a different state before.

The rapidity by which Hugh changes and the convenient circumstances by which he is 'saved' by Starfleet and then returned to the collective also reflects the limitations of such short TV episodes. Shouldn't an advanced race such as the Borg have safeguards in place to prevent the separation of their members (Borg drones disintegrate or disappear, for example, when downed and gizmos are removed from their bodies).  

However, there is a moment at the very end of this episode which again demonstrates why this show (and Trek as a whole) is superior to most others. At the end, La Forge beams down with Hugh to the site of the scout ship's crash and a couple of Borg drones collect Hugh. Hugh seems to be absorbed back into the collective but, as he is in the middle of transporting away, he glances at La Forge for just a moment; La Forge registers great surprise. The makers could have blown this, such as have another scene of La Forge back on the ship explaining what happened, but it ends right there. It's a great, memorable moment - so brief and subtle, yet stunning in its impact and suggestion of forthcoming events. BoG's Score: 7.5 out of 10

TNG Trivia: Hugh would return in the 2nd part of the  2-part episode Descent. Though known and written about as "I, BORG" - with a comma - in the episode itself the title is displayed as "I BORG" - without the comma.
The title is an obvious allusion to the famous short story collection "I, ROBOT" by Isaac Asimov.
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