First Glimpses of Monsters(S02:E16)

I’m examining the impact Star Trek: The Next Generation had on my formation. The introduction to this series can be seen here.

Q-Who?

To prove a point, Q transports the Enterprise 7000 light years away to force an encounter with a race they’ve never met before: the Borg.

The writers were feeling a great deal of pressure by this point to provide a new major villain — a year and a half into the show, with one giant flop of a villain (the Ferengi) and a few lukewarm attempts (some stirrings of a growing Romulan threat, as one example). Here we have a rather flimsy frame story to get the Enterprise out of its geographical comfort zone and positioned to meet a brand new race. This new contribution to Star Trek ethnography is widely regarded as a big giant home run, reverberating throughout the galaxy of shows.

The Borg present a unique challenge to the ship and the Federation: they have no interest in political maneuvering, in prideful posturing or alliances. They don’t have interest in communicating at all, really. They are interested only in consumption. They are not yet the fully realized zombies they would become, though. They are fresh off the drawing board, and don’t yet have a taste for consuming people, only technology. Humanity’s first communication received from the Borg does not have their eventual trademark reference to assimilation:

Borg collective: We have analyzed your defensive capabilities as being unable to withstand us. If you defend yourselves you will be punished.

The greatest threat they pose is not yet that the vanquished will be violated and turned into weapons and extensions of the conquerors. That comes later. The greatest threat here is in what makes them foreign: their collectiveness, and their lack of individuality. While they are plugged into each other as the parts of a computer are, they have no uniquenesses or relationship about them. Babies are stored in drawers; grown Borg rarely even interact with each other or humans in their presence. The ship they are a part of is generalized in design, with no bridge, command center, living quarters, or engineering section. It is perfectly square in shape. They are not interested in relationship or politics, so Picard’s diplomacy tools are useless. They are only a relentless consuming and destroying machine. And their weapons outstrip the Enterprise by an order of magnitude. Picard does not discover a way to find peace with them, or a way to win against them. He must turn to Q and ask that they be whisked back to their sector of space.

With the crew properly humbled, Q saves them and leaves. But he’s set a chain of events in motion; the Borg know about humans now, and will hunt them down. Picard echoes what must be floating through the writers’ minds as they manage criticism against them, when he characterizes the events of the episode as a “kick in our complacency”.

I easily fell in love with the show without any major villain, as white hats v. black hats stories hold little appeal for me. So, I didn’t care about all the uproar that the show was “dull” for lacking a big bad guy. But I acutely remember being chilled by this new race, and Picard’s inability to secure the safety of the ship from them. And, of course, the Borg would figure heavily into a later personal development in Picard’s life.

Today, as an anti-capitalist adult, my fondest wish is that they would have made more of a statement with the Borg about the evils of runaway consumerism. But hey, Star Trek’s got way too much merch to sell to say that.

Published in: on October 14, 2012 at 5:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

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