Archive for February, 2010

You Will Be Assimilated 4—I, Borg

February 19, 2010

The Borg are cool, and really captured the imagination of a lot of Sci-Fi nerds out there, but the writers had a challenge.  How do you present a compelling follow-up story about an enemy that is all but unstoppable, but make it plausible, and entertaining that your heroes keep stopping them?

Okay, I'll give you a hint

Most compelling storytelling comes when you flip expectations on its head.  Indeed, the Borg themselves were compelling because they challenged, and indeed looked like destroyed, the central tenet of Trek’s ethos.  So the good writers led by Ronald Moore (of the new Battlestar Galactica flipped the script.  Rather than focusing on another major confrontation between the Federation and the collective, they turned it into a personal story, aptly titled “I, Borg.”  Nerd prize to the person who can name the allusion of the title.

Taken in abstract, I, Borg might be a little slow and chatty for a lot of kids, but the wonderful thing about the age of DVRs and DVDs is that you can show it right on the heels of the more action-packed Best of Both Worlds.  The pain that Picard went through is still raw, and very well played here.  Whoopie Goldberg is a bit over-the-top (big surprise) but her role as the genocide survivor with everything to gain from the downfall of the Borg also contributes very well.

The setup is simple.  The Enterprise finds a crashed Borg scout ship with one survivor, a young male Borg seemingly in his late teens.  They are able to put a field around the ship so he (or “it” as Picard calls him at first) to cut this individual off from the collective.  Everyone is full of loathing for this creature, and Picard sends his chief engineer Geordi along with the android Data to find a way, if possible, to use this lone Borg to their advantage.

Those teens and their crazy outfits

As Geordi studies this Borg, he converses with him, and, slowly but surely, uncovers the fact that there is indeed an individual inside the machinery, one that, until exposed to humanity, was completely unaware that there was any good justification to resist the Borg.  Slowly, the Borg discovers his own individuality, and even a name—Hugh—and begins a friendship with Geordi.

However, Geordi and Data come up with a way to use Hugh’s cybernetic implants to create a virus that, if introduced into the collective, could well bring the entire Borg operating system down.  And a very interesting debate on where the line is for what can be done to an enemy in a time of war ensues.  Picard intransigently insists that the Borg will not stop until stopped, and that even if Hugh has found individuality, innocents are often sacrificed in times of war.

The evolution of the plot, and of Picard’s attitude toward Hue is really well scripted and Patrick Stewart does a particularly fine job making his transformation believable.  I won’t go into the plot in detail, you have the link for that, but in the end, Picard decides that, with Hugh’s agreement, he would be reintroduced into the collective virus-free.  Well, almost, as Hue’s newfound individualism would be introduced into the Borg, and that understanding of humanity could change them forever.

There are a number of other Star Trek episodes, and a feature film, that involved the Borg, but these four episodes are really the arc worth watching, and to me is the template for how entertaining storytelling can have all the action and conflict you could ever hope for, but still be “non-violent” entertainment.  Indeed, it was only by challenging the peace-first philosophy of Trek that they could return to the important, yet familiar themes of prejudice, genocide, and the rights of the individual, no matter who (or what) that individual might be, so very successfully.

If you’re just dying to watch them now that I’ve piqued your curiosity, all these episodes and a bunch more are available in the “Fan Collective–Borg” DVD collection (Amazon has the set used for as little as $15).  For those with DVRs, WGN, which is available through most cable systems, plays it every night—just record and look out for the episode titles.

I tried to get him to shave his head for the Picard look, but no dice

So there you have it.  Give ‘em a try and you, too can have a kid rockin’ the Red and Black spandex!  Oh, and have a good time while learning an important…well, you know the drill.

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You Will Be Assimilated 2 and 3—Best of Both Worlds

February 19, 2010

I have this on in the background as I write this.  Many consider these two episodes the seminal TNG experience, and I’d agree.  The Best of Both Worlds, the Season 3 finale and Season 4 premiere did a few new things for the Trek franchise.  First, it was the first in-depth experience of a building story line—Star Trek until this was really more focused on the single-hour serial model.  It also did the first season-ending cliffhanger in Trek history, and I believe created the model for Sci-Fi season-ending suspense that many other series have followed.

Watching this again, I must admit it starts out a little slow, and some of the internal power struggle stuff is lost on a viewer that doesn’t know these characters.  But it is small potatoes as the plotline races forward toward engagement with the Borg.  There s a great small scene between Picard and the ship’s bartender (yes, Whoopie Goldberg) where he talks about the potential for this to be the end of human history, with a historical analogy to the end of Rome.

Yes, they knighted this guy

Part one has some nice effects, but most of all, the nearly final reveal that Picard has been assimilated by the Borg, and the only choice Riker has to destroy the Borg ship is to take his own Captain with it, is just great theater.

When episode 2 picks, up, Picard’s knowledge thwarts the attempt to destroy the Borg ship, and it tears through Federation defenses and heads toward Earth.  The Borg do not destroy the Enterprise, seeing it as no threat, giving now Captain Riker another shot at saving the day.  In a really fun scene that, perhaps for the first and last time in the show, makes Riker seem like more than just Bill Shatner light, they are able to “kidnap” Picard (now Locutus of Borg), hoping to gain some information that might give them a last chance of stopping this seeming irresistible force.

In classic Trek fashion, the victory comes not with who has the biggest gun, but who has the most clever idea.  As they “find” Picard buried deep within the Borg technology.  Though weakened, he is able to give them a back door to stopping them, a simple command into the collective mind, telling all of them it is time to go to sleep.  Again a very clever way to find a resolution without removing the menacing nature of a great antagonist.

I’m not going to go into too much more detail on these episodes, because much has been written on them and they can be enjoyed on their own as just great television.  On their own, they could also be seen as proof positive that Star Trek’s vision of an evolved humanity where peaceful means cannot win against an implacable foe was left behind in the ‘60s.  It is only with the far less-heralded 4th episode in the saga that we see what great storytelling can say about how we approach our most intractable enemies.

You Will Be Assimilated #1—Q Who?…

February 19, 2010

Gus was trying to assimilate me via snowball while I shoveled

Okay, then, with our little “Blizzard Break” behind us, as Gus called it, I finally have some time to jump back into SHYB, thank goodness.  And I thought I’d get it going by finally getting to my “Borg Quadrilogy” that I’ve been promising.  You can really see these four episodes as one big story arc, and I’d suggest watching these in sequence with the kiddies to help really impress the lessons of the story.

We begin with a cross section of the two most beloved antagonists of TNG—Q and the Borg.  The Episode “Q Who?”  As I noted earlier, one of the things that made TNG finally break out was when they confronted obstacles they couldn’t simply talk their way out of.  Q, a nearly omnipotent (and quite acerbic, as wonderfully played by John de Lancie) being that put humanity on trial for its barbarity in the very first episode of the new show, shows up in this one.  Don’t worry, though, you don’t need to have seen other Q episodes to get into this one.  Here Q offers his help, asking to be made part of the crew.  Captain Picard rebuffs him haughtily, and Q then seeks out to teach Picard a lesson in humility, showing him that the foes he has gone up against before are nothing compared to what humanity has yet to discover.

When the crew goes to the Borg ship, it really gets fun and creepy

He whisks the Enterprise into the far-flung reaches of space, years away from home.  It is there they encounter the Borg.  The Borg are essentially what Glenn Beck believes will happen to America if we follow Obama’s socialist scheme.  They are a collective, devoid of any individuality interconnected into a group mind bent on one thing, continually improving the collective.  Because individuality and choice are completely irrelevant to this species, they simply take what they believe will service them, and ignore the rest.

Rubick's Revenge

Even with the fairly primitive special effects of the day (yes, they were still using physical models at this point, poor souls—one interesting fact is that to simulate the Borg ship repairing itself, they melted a model with a blow torch and then played it backwards), the size and truly alien nature of the ship, plus the truly alien nature of the Borg itself, really made for a compelling show.  Unlike most of the episodes before this one, people really died—there were real consequences—and, in reality, the bad guys win.  The Borg are indeed too powerful for the Enterprise, and Picard is forced to swallow his pride and beg Q to help them escape.

In all a very compelling piece of television, some good lessons on the arrogance of presumption, and a very chilling ending that now that the Borg has discovered humanity—“they’ll be coming.”  I know Gus’ first question is “does the Borg find them?”  And, oh yes, they do.