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?
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.
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.
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.