Q returns and asks to join the Enterprise crew. Turns out he’s been kicked out of the Q Continuum and figures his services can be of use to his Starfleet buds. When Picard refuses — citing his lack of trust in Q and confidence that humanity is ready for what’s ahead — Q sends the Enterprise to an uncharted area of space. Despite Guinan’s warnings — her people were from this region — Picard decides to do some exploring before heading back and finds planets attacked in the same manner as the outposts in “The Neutral Zone”. Then, a cube-shaped vessel appears and attacks the Enterprise. Guinan identifies them as the Borg, a race with a collective consciousness bent on assimilating useful technology. With the Borg about to overtake and/or destroy the Enterprise, Picard pleads with Q to send the Enterprise back to Federation space. Q, impressed with Picard’s ability to suppress his pride for the sake of his ship, acquiesces. But Picard and Guinan end the episode discussing the quiet realization that the Borg, now that they know of the Federation, will be coming.
Why it’s important
The second classic episode of TNG is also the series’ most consequential. The Borg become the major nemesis for Picard and Co., showing up again in the series’ best episodes, “The Best of Both Worlds”, a few other times and, of course, in TNG’s best film, “Star Trek: First Contact”. The Borg also become the main bad guys starting in the middle seasons of Voyager, and the loss of Benjamin Sisko’s wife, Jennifer, in the Borg attack at Wolf 359 (the aftermath of which is seen in “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II”) becomes a major background element for DS9 .
Oh, Dr. Tolian Soran (an el-Aurian like Guinan and the main bad guy in “Star Trek: Generations”) is so motivated to return to his family (killed by the Borg) that he’s cool with killing the population of a pre-warp civilization as a way to bring the time-traveling Nexus to him. That, of course, is the major premise behind the film and it leads to the destruction of the Enterprise-D and the death of James T. Kirk.
I could keep going, of course. It’s actually hard to imagine Star Trek in the 1990s without the Borg. Hell, they even made an appearance in “Star Trek: Enterprise” in 2003.
What doesn’t hold up
There really isn’t much in this episode that doesn’t work. It’s a little strange that we don’t learn more about Guinan’s earlier encounter with Q and why he calls her “an imp” who isn’t what she appears to be. But whatever.
The biggest problem is that dialog in this episode seems to indicate that the Borg have already been in Federation space and, in fact, attacked Starfleet’s outposts last season along the Neutral Zone (in “The Neutral Zone”). If true, then Picard’s sense of urgency at the end of the episode should have been even greater. It’s not just that the Borg “are coming.” It’s that they’re already there — or, that they could get there by some method very quickly.
TNG’s second season really wasn’t that great, but this episode, “The Measure of a Man” and “Peak Performance” and “Contagion” were outings that showed the series’ potential. Of course, the second season was affected by a writers’ strike and was just 22 episodes long (the shortest in TNG’s run).
Although this episode has a lot of great moments, the scene with Picard, Riker, Q and Guinan in Ten-Forward is my favorite. No other Star Trek captain, not even Kirk, would have considered letting Q join his or her crew. But Picard, ever the explorer, does kick around the idea — as he sees that learning more about Q would be “frankly provocative” and part of his mission. It’s a telling moment for Picard, as he’s most willing among the Star Trek captains to risk his ship in the pursuit of knowledge. There’s no way Sisko, Janeway or Archer would have even talked through the idea with Q. Kirk is arguably the only other commanding officer who would have thought through the proposal, but the fact that Q wasn’t an attractive female would have likely killed his chances.
Coming next week …
As our friend Worf would say (with trademark disdain): “Romulans”.