Yes, "I Borg" (aka: "I, Borg" with a Comma). Obviously the title in and of itself is (or was) a contradiction in terms. Obviously, that's the point!
Taking a page from the great Isaac Asimov, writer René Echevarria (with an uncredited Jeri Taylor) constructed a script that explored the dichotomy between being an individual and being BORG... and the true meaning of both. What level of individuality remains (or is inherent to) Borg Drones, if any?
Has there ever been a nerdier paragraph than the above?
The world may never know the answers to these questions.
Actually, I'm wrong... the answer to that last question is... No. The crap about Trek's most famous Cyborgs... is answered during the events of "I BORG"!
The USS Enterprise NCC 1701-D is on one of those routine scouting missions... you know, cataloguing gaseous anomalies, meeting and sleeping with green chicks, gorging on Romulan Ale... Okay, no, I'm kidding, they're just charting star systems in the Argolis Cluster and crap. I mean, who hasn't done that, man?
So that the episode can break out of Stellar Cartography (man, THOSE episodes, sheesh, though the Chicks in Stellar Cartography ARE hot!), a strange distress-style beacon is detected and the illustrious Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick "Dad" Stewart) sends his most trusted crew members to check it the hell out. And what does that crazy Away Team discover? Well, good old Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) soon informs "Mon Capitan" that the beacon is originating from a Borg Scouting ship with four Dead Drones lying around it after a bender... and one live one!
Worf (Michael Dorn) makes a lot of sense when he starts saying "Kill 'im, Cap'n, Kill dat Borg, man! Shi-it! Show 'im what fer and Kill dat der cybernetic basterd, daddy! YEE-HAW!" (or the Stoic-ass Klingon alternative thereof). Unfortunately, Doc Bev-Mo Crusher (Gates McFadden) decides to poke around and start healing the damned thing, which turns a corner the Crew can't turn back from... Damn it, Beverly!
Short commentary... Once again, Stewart shows his acting abilities (as if he needs to). The second the word "Borg" is spoken, the look on Picard's face says more than any dialogue written truly could. Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) senses it too (though with Patrick's acting, her empathic powers are hardly needed) and reminds Picard (and the audience) all about how "the Borg kidnapped, assaulted, mutilated" him. Meanwhile the continuity of the episode is further enhanced with Crusher's humanitarian approach for caring for the adolescent cyborg. Perhaps she missed her son, ol' "Woosley" Crusher. Be it her Hippocratic Oath or her Maternal Instincts, the results are the same and soon the Young Borg, who identifies himself as Third of Five (and is well-played by Jonathan Del Arco) is on board the Flagship, being fed, healed and... studied as a potential weapon of mass destruction that could take out the entire cybernetic species on the whole!
I would say "Dick Move", but we're talking about The Borg here, man... They put the ASS in Assimilate!
Our beloved characters react differently to the enemy among them. Some see him as a tool, some as a lost boy, frightened and homesick. Picard can't see past using him as a weapon. Geordi (LeVar Burton) is devoted to the task at hand, but starts to feel sympathy and even friendship with this confused, slowly individualizing refugee who can't understand just why these strange humans resist when Resistance is Futile! Meanwhile Guinan (Whoopie Goldberg), whose people were all but destroyed by The Borg, is uncharacteristically hard-edged and single-minded about the concept that the "kid" is a monster. Unfortunately Data (Brent Spiner) is characteristically emotionless and never gets back to back with Worf to use "Tres de Cinco" as Target Practice. Look, I know that sounds dickish and all, but it looked so damned COOL in "The Best of Both Worlds", man! Don't worry, though... you'll get plenty of Data/ Borg action in "Descent" and First Contact!
The beauty of this episode is not the fact that it marks a change in The Borg (or, at least, some of them), it's the way this comes about. Like the gradual evolution of the Borg who now answers to Hugh, "I Borg" demonstrates the organic growth of each interested character from their initial certainty to their eventual destination perfectly. Most notable is Picard himself who has more than a vested interest in the destruction of the Borg but, as the only human to ever (to date) be assimilated, then de-assimilated, it's hard to miss that there is at least a tiny thread of identification with and sympathy for the evolving, individualizing Borg who was once Third of Five, but now says "I am Hugh!"
There are the swashbuckling, phaser-fire-rich Star Trek episodes, there are the action/ adventure Star Trek episodes, and then you've got episodes like "I Borg" which is cerebral, paced and character driven where not a single shot is fired and hardly any real "Action" takes place. It takes a great cast to pull off an episode like this and for the most part, they succeed. Del Arco is great as the mindless drone spouting off the only things he actually knows. He shows the confusion and fear of what is essentially a computer terminal with wetwired flesh ports suddenly finding itself shut off from the network and running its own programs and finding its own individuality. We see him go from a robotic cog in a very nefarious machine, slowly into a confused boy asking questions of "Why?" like any human toddler might.
The question is... does this really go slowly enough? The passage of time is necessarily very brief here, which works for the desperation and fast decisions that must be made, however the change in from Third of Five into Hugh is occasionally inconsistent and occasionally far too fast. Further, is the cast truly as engaged in this evolution as the script requires? Most often the answer is unquestionably "Yes" but occasionally the answer is less certain. Some of the time even Burton seems like he's wanting sit Hugh down for a Reading Rainbow session and occasionally he feels like he's reading from the script himself. McFadden similarly seems to play her part alternately enlightened and annoyed (or some strange combination of both). Both Stewart and Goldberg are fantastic in their exploration of their divided minds on this complicated subject, of course, but with very few other exceptions, the rest of the regular cast seems to play little more than extras in this important episode. This isn't a bad thing, however, because the best of Star Trek is about the ensemble. Time restraints are the real culprit here (though nitpickers will always find more fault than is warranted). Sure an second part of this tale might have allowed for greater exploration but the foretaste and the promise of "I Borg" is explored much deeper in later episodes and the fruition of this tale is pretty amazing!
This doesn't detract from the fact that, even separate from the "Collective" of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "I Borg" as an individual episode is fantastic, deep and interesting. Like the best self-contained episodes, "I Borg" asks more questions than it answers and can be watched over and over again and still be enjoyed. True, these questions are answered later on and the answers are pretty amazing in and of themselves, but taken for all with all, this is a great single episode, well worth your time to watch and well worth the Four Stars out of Five I'm giving it.
This episode and its followers didn't quite change Starfleet's Arch Enemy Army forever, but it did explore a great new path for The Borg and gave us new insight into them that has been built upon in subsequent episodes, including (and especially) those in Star Trek Voyager! "I Borg" expanded a lot of what we knew without destroying the Borg Mythos. In short, it earns its Four Stars out of Five without wrecking the concepts in Star Trek: First Contact! Assimilate you in the Next Reel!
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