Written by Rene Echevarria
Directed by Robert Lederman
When talking about favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, one that always seems to come up in discussions is the episode I, Borg. It has quite a bit going for it, but most of all, the story itself is excellent.
The Enterprise is scouting a system for possible colonization when it receives a distress call. Upon investigation, they find a downed ship with a single surviving male Borg (portrayed by Jonathan Del Arco). Captain Picard’s (Patrick Stewart) first instinct is to abandon the survivor to certain death, but Dr. Crusher’s (Gates McFadden) medical ethics persuade him to allow the survivor to be beamed on board the ship and treated in a detention cell designed to prevent him from contacting other Borg.
The Borg were first seen in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but their race was not explored more deeply until The Best of Both Worlds at the end of the third season. They are a race that is a combination of humanoid beings and cybernetic modules.
Picard comes up with the idea of using this survivor to bring back a sort of computer virus to the rest of the Borg Collective. This would wipe out the entire race. The crew debates the ethics of this between each other, trying to decide if they are justified in essentially wiping out the entire race. Even Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), normally the voice of reason and compassion has misgivings about even allowing the being on the ship. (Her race was almost entirely wiped out by the Borg).
As Dr. Crusher and Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) test the programming to see where a virus can be introduced, the being begins evolving. When he asks about their designation (his is three of five), he learns what a name is and christens himself “Hugh”. Hugh also begins expressing feelings of loneliness and becomes different to them rather than just the means to an end.
Another Borg scout ship is detected, heading in the direction of the Enterprise. This puts pressure on the crew to resolve the situation before the ship arrives at the crash site and can detect the presence of the Enterprise.
At Geordi’s urging, Guinan talks to Hugh. Her perspective changes as she sees a sentient race, rather than something so hated that it needs to be wiped out. Hugh is like a lost child trying to understand; always asking “Why?” Both now have misgivings about using him this way. Guinan confronts Picard about his feelings and biases, urging him to talk with Hugh once before he uses him as the instrument of his race’s destruction.
Hugh immediately recognizes Picard at Locutus from The Best of Both Worlds Part II. They talk as if Picard is still Borg and still Locutus. Picard is testing Hugh to see if he is still truly Borg. He comes to the conclusion that Hugh is now more of an individual. The crew decides to send Hugh back to the Borg with that sense of individuality, hoping that will wreak havoc on the collective.
“To use him in this manner… we would be no better than the enemy we seek to destroy…”
Hugh chooses to return. He has enough reasoning capabilities now to understand that his staying with his new friend will be devastating for those he has developed friendships with. He has the capability of self-sacrifice now. It’s interesting to see him evolve into an almost Spock-like reasoning where “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – or the one.”
This is such a well-written episode on so many fronts. The dialogue between the characters is in-character and at the same time thought-provoking. As the debate is raging on whether it is within their rights to destroy an entire race, even one that is an enemy of the Federation, the situation is looked at in so many different ways. Picard states, “They have declared war on our way of life” while this debate rages on. Does that sound familiar? Keep in mind, that this was filmed in 1992.
This all made me look at the Borg in a different way. They are a race that by their nature assumes that their way of living is superior and everyone should want to live – and be – the same way they are. If a race doesn’t want to be assimilated by the Borg, it’s just because they don’t understand how truly wonderful their way of living is yet. It’s sort of like those who are wishing to push on others their version of a “New World Order”, and those who don’t accept it feel that way only because they haven’t experienced how wonderful living under that way of life is just yet.
There is some terrific acting in this episode as well. Particularly notable is Jonathan Del Arco, the actor portraying Hugh. For a guest star, he really seemed to integrate himself with the rest of the cast well. The conversation between Hugh & Picard is one of the great acting bits from the series and gives Patrick Stewart a terrific scene to draw on Picard’s history with the Borg.
LeVar Burton and Gates McFadden also do a tremendous job in the acting department, creating the dynamic in which Hugh grows and evolves. Whoopi Goldberg shows us here that Guinan is not quite as infallible as I’d previously thought. She is subject to irrational hate against someone (or something) she does not know.
All in all, this is a terrific episode for any Star Trek fan. Casual viewers of the series may miss out on some of the history of the Borg race in the series, so I’d recommend viewing The Best of Both Worlds and The Best of Both Worlds Part II before viewing this one.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Imaginary Friend
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Next Phase