Category Archives: 2368

“I, Borg”

“When I return to the collective, I will rename Fourth of Five and Fifth of Five ‘Dew’ and ‘Lou’.”

The Enterprise finds a single Borg (Jonathan Del Arco) at a crash site, and Crusher insists on nursing it back to health. The crew is cautious, given their last encounters with the Borg, and comes up with a plan to use the injured Borg as a weapon to wipe out the entire collective. But the injured Borg, cut off from the hive mind, becomes an individual, and La Forge names him “Hugh”. After meeting Hugh, Picard eventually decides against using an individual as a weapon of mass destruction and decides against sending Hugh back with an invasive program. The crew sends Hugh back to the Borg — but with his new-found individuality.

“So, Mr. La Forge … the Borg can assimilate entire worlds, but they can be beaten by a weird shape? Maybe you need to call in Dr. Brahms on this one …”

Why it’s important

Hugh, upon returning to the Borg, destabilizes a subset of the collective with his individuality. The subset is later found by Lore — Data’s evil twin brother introduced in “Datalore” — who leads them on attacks against the Federation in the upcoming “Descent” two-parter, which begins in the sixth-season finale. That partly paves the way for Data to recover his emotion chip from Lore — which Lore stole from Data in “Brothers”. The emotion chip becomes a major focus point of “Star Trek: Generations” as we’ll discuss later.

But this episode might be more important for what it says about 24th-century humanity (at least, the TNG version of it).

In the first part of the episode, the only cast member speaking out against using Hugh as a weapon is Crusher. Even Troi and Data — characters who might object for various reasons — are pretty much behind the plan. But as the episode progresses, and as the characters get to know Hugh and see that he’s not a mindless killing machine, they realize that they can’t use him as such. It’s a core Trek message about morality, as it dismisses the caustic, security-first message we might have seen in later Trek (and in the beginning of this episode). It’s interesting to wonder what captains Kirk, Sisko, Janeway or Archer would have done in Picard’s situation. Given the actions by each of them — and given that Picard changes his mind despite the events of “The Best of Both Worlds” — I think Picard is the only captain (certainly, the only second-generation captain) who certainly would have not sent the invasive program along with Hugh. More on that in a moment.

I’m glad this captain doesn’t want to get ‘that fish out of the ready room’.

What doesn’t hold up

The invasive program — essentially, an unsolvable shape, or something — sure doesn’t seem like it should be a big threat to the Borg. I also find it odd that Data, the ship’s foremost expert on artificial intelligence who interfaced with the collective in “The Best of Both Worlds”, isn’t more involved with Hugh. I get that La Forge’s presence is needed for the emotional connection. But maybe Data could have subbed for Crusher and supplanted cold machine reasoning with Crusher’s humanism? Maybe not …

One real problem is the idea that the Borg couldn’t handle the infusion of individuality. The collective has assimilated billions, perhaps trillions of people. Didn’t they have individuality when they became drones? Or, is the idea that the Borg block the individuality of newly assimilated people but didn’t know to block Hugh’s?

Lastly, I still don’t understand exactly where the Borg are in relation to the Federation. In “Q Who?”, we’re told they’re thousands of light years away, but that they most likely destroyed several Federation and Romulan outposts in “The Neutral Zone”, about a year earlier. Here, Hugh’s ship and the one that comes to recover it are in an area of space the Federation is considering for colonization — which means it can’t be too far away from more settled areas. But we don’t see the Borg (in their collective state) again for like four years — when they have a battle in the Terran system in “Star Trek: First Contact”. That’s despite the fact that they’re a relative stone’s throw (especially with Borg technology we see in Voyager) from the Federation and that they’ve been around the Neutral Zone, which was established when the Federation was newer and presumably much smaller.

I suppose you could argue that the Borg are encountering other Federation ships and planets in events that didn’t involve the Enterprise (or, later, DS9). But that doesn’t seem to mesh with the foreboding surrounding the Borg return in “Descent” or in “Star Trek: First Contact”. Each time, the idea is that the Borg “HAVE RETURNED”. But what were they doing in the interim? Keep in mind that only a part of the collective is affected by Hugh after this episode.

The big thing, I guess, is that the series could have turned into All Borg, All the Time, and that the creators didn’t want that.

Final thoughts

As noted above, this episode is about as idealistic as they come in Trek. It matches some of the most Roddenberry moments from TOS (like “The Corbomite Maneuver”) in rendering aid to a fallen adversary, refusing to follow through with an approach that could only be rationalized by the ends justifying the means. Of course, in “The Corbomite Maneuver”, Kirk really holds all the cards and only risks his life and the lives of two others by helping his adversary. In this case, Picard must do what he thinks is right with a LOT more at stake. It’s also interesting that in “Descent”, Picard is excoriated by an admiral for not “ridding the Federation of a mortal foe.”

Sisko — who did some pretty dirty stuff in the latter years of DS9 and whose wife was killed by the Borg — would have likely sent Hugh back with the invasive program, with Bashir or possibly Dax questioning the decision. Janeway is tougher to pinpoint, as her character was more erratically written. But her near-obsession with getting her crew home would have likely prevailed — though it’s unlikely the Voyager creators would have forced her to make the hard choice, as that series was always about finding cheats for the hard questions. Same goes for Kirk really — though I think Kirk would have talked the talk more before finding a way to work around the problem.

Archer, of course, was the one captain who was partly written after the events of 9/11. Given his actions during the third season Xindi arc — torture, piracy, etc. — I think he would have ultimately gone with the ends over the means. But he likely would have been torn up about it.

Anyway, this is a great TNG episode because it’s one that only really would have worked on TNG. It was Trek’s most idealistic crew and series and was the best about “doing the right thing” — at least, until the movies (more on THAT later). The episode also is well served by Patrick Stewart, who displays Picard’s anguish perfectly. The whole episode is about his high-sounding ideals fighting the awfulness he went through and the fear that the Borg could do it somewhere else. As Picard and TNG are wont to do, they pick the moral option.

Coming next week …



A big moment. Too bad it likely inspired “Flashback” on Voyager.

Part I: Starfleet learns Spock is chillin’ on Romulus, and no one knows why. Hoping for some answers, Picard visits Spock’s dad, Sarek (Mark Lenard) who’s dying and whom Picard mind-melded with a year earlier to help Sarek fulfill his last mission as an ambassador (in “Sarek”). Sarek points Picard in the direction of Pardek (Malachi Throne) a Romulan senator Spock has known for years, and Picard and Data, masquerading as Romulans, head to Romulus on a cloaked Klingon ship. Meanwhile, Riker leads an investigation about some parts of a stolen Vulcan ship or something. Shortly after arriving on Romulus, Picard and Data meet Spock — and Trekkers’ pants everywhere got a little tighter.

Part II: Spock tells Picard he is on Romulus to try to reunify the Vulcan and Romulan peoples, as they share common ancestry (see “Balance of Terror”). Picard is skeptical, but Pardek is apparently making some inroads for Spock with Neral (Norman Large) the new Romulan procounsel. We then learn that Neral is working with Sela (Denise Crosby, reprising her role from “Redemption”) on some sort of nefarious plan (thunderclap). Their idea is to send an alleged peace delegation to Vulcan that really is an invasion force. Picard, Data and Spock foil the plan and a warbird destroys three stolen Vulcan ships — one of which was the one Riker was trying to find — carrying the invasion force in front of the Enterprise. Despite the setback, Spock stays on Romulus to continue the reunification efforts — but not before mind-melding with Picard to share Picard’s connection with Sarek.

“That’s right, Captain Picard. I’m in this episode, too. I’m not sure why — but I am.”

Why it’s important

Interestingly, the effects of this episode don’t really show up again aside from one other episode (“Face of the Enemy”) until the rebooted “Star Trek” in 2009. Spock’s actions to bring peace to Romulus led to the planet’s destruction, which causes renegade Romulan Nero to alter history in that film. But you could argue that Spock’s actions here pretty much negate everything we saw on TOS, the movies, TNG, DS9 and Voyager (and this site). Only Enterprise and the two JJ movies would not be erased.

This episode is important as it (sort of) explains the Vulcan/Romulan backstory. Some of it really doesn’t make sense, as we’ll discuss. But some of it does — and we at least understand more of the differences between the two races. We also see more of the Federation-Klingon-Romulan triangle here. Interestingly, Spock references his role in the peace treaty with the Klingons — something that Trek viewers didn’t know about yet. These two episodes premiered in early November 1991, while “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” — which details the peace process — premiered in early December of that year. That didn’t tip things about the Federation being at peace with the Klingons — we’d known that since at least season one of TNG — but it was a small reveal about what the final TOS movie would cover.

Probably most importantly, though, is the fact that this episode is really the first big-time crossover between different Trek franchises — and it spurred many, many others.

Between fall 1987 and fall 1991, the only real crossover between TOS and TNG was DeForest Kelley’s appearance in “Encounter at Farpoint”. No other episode, or “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”, which came out in 1989, was a crossover — and only a few episodes featured any connections between the two series, other than the basic premise that underlies Star Trek. Maybe, after “The Naked Now” was such a dud, the creators were gunshy?

But that all changed after this episode (and, to a point, in “Sarek”). Michael Dorn shows up in “Star Trek VI”, playing his grandfather (and Kirk and McCoy’s lawyer during their trial). The first episode of DS9, which aired about 14 months after “Unification”, involves a handoff from TNG, and the first episode of Voyager in early 1995 involved a handoff from DS9. DS9 had episodes about the mirror universe, first seen in “Mirror, Mirror” and even visited the original Enterprise in “Trials and Tribble-ations”. Voyager featured a flashback episode to the events of “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” and on and on.

In other words, this episode was most important as a creative launching point than within the Star Trek universe — which is amazing considering what it actually covered in the Star Trek universe.

“I’m on an urgent mission from the Federation. Where can we find a Romulan female to lick the paint off Commander Data’s ears?”

What doesn’t hold up

Part I is mostly fine. It’s hard to believe that if it’s so easy to get into Romulan space, that the Klingons wouldn’t just send a cloaked armada in and start destroying everything. There are later mentions of how groups of cloaked ships can be somewhat detectable — and how there are listening posts that might detect cloaked vessels or something — but I think the whole thing is just sloppy writing. And I’ll avoid the whole Universal Translator discussion.

Part II is really the problem.

The subplot with the Enterprise was honestly pointless. The business with Riker and Worf at the bar and dealing with the Zakdorn bureaucrat, etc., was needless filler. The Enterprise’s awareness of the stolen Vulcan ship really didn’t advance the story. But whatever — maybe they needed padding because Nimoy didn’t have time to be in more scenes.

The stuff on Romulus while more significant, was pretty implausible. Here’s a quick list of the problems:

1) Why did Picard and Data remove their Romulan disguises when they knew they’d likely return to the surface? Still looking like Romulans could have really been helpful.

2) How did Spock, after his first meeting with Neral, just walk out of the procounsel’s office without an escort? It seems like he’s just planning to stroll through the government offices — despite the fact that he’s on enemy soil! Spock wouldn’t have had ill intentions, but some out-of-the-loop guards have thought he might.

3) Why did Sela (in typical, bad-villain style) explain the entire plot to Picard, Data and Spock — and why didn’t she kill them (or incapacitate them) when Spock refused to cooperate? Why did Sela even leave an accessible computer in the procounsel’s office?

4) Why did the Romulans send the stolen Vulcan ships through the Neutral Zone at Warp 1? They might have made it to Vulcan in about five years at that speed — unless the Neutral Zone is really, really small, which would seem to defeat its purpose.

5) Why did the Romulans think that a few thousand Romulan troops would have conquered a planet with (presumably) billions of inhabitants? Couldn’t a ship in orbit have keyed in on all Romulan life signs and beamed them into holding cells?

6) Why did the Romulans steal the Vulcan ships at all? It’s not as if doing so disguised the fact that the ships were coming from Romulus. As far as I can tell, the Vulcan ships are part of the story just to give the Enterprise something to do while Picard and Data go to Romulus.

7) For a society as paranoid as the Romulans, how did Picard and Data avoid being scanned and detected while on the planet? And how did Spock walk around for weeks (maybe longer) without the normal Romulan forehead ridges? How did the Klingon ship use its transporters while cloaked when the Defiant (later, on DS9) never could?

Probably my biggest gripe, though, is the idea that Spock would have enough interest in and knowledge about unifying the Vulcans and Romulans considering that the Federation isn’t supposed to know much at all about the Romulans. How would he have the basic understanding to determine whether reunification was possible — or even worthwhile? Even if you throw out “The Neutral Zone” and all its talk about the Romulans being absent for decades — which the creators basically threw out after that episode — the idea that Spock could have much of a relationship with the Romulans (through Pardek) is laughable. We’re talking about an empire blocked for more than two centuries from the Federation by a large area of neutral space. And by all indications, the Romulans left Vulcan hundreds of years earlier. So, it’s unlikely that Spock would have records of anything to form the basis of reunification or a desire to reunify. Did he just figure it was a good idea? Doesn’t seem very logical.

Final thoughts

If it sounds like I’m being harsh about a couple episodes that are sort of cornerstones of TNG and some of Trek’s most celebrated moments, it’s because I think they’re so deeply flawed (especially part II) and, most importantly, that they didn’t need to be. A few lines of dialog about Spock’s thinking (which could have easily taken the place of the filler with the Enterprise’s investigation) and better writing regarding the Romulans’ plan (maybe Sela wouldn’t have known about the Klingon ship, and Picard, Data and Spock could have beamed there and tapped into the recorded Spock message?) and this episode would have been great BEYOND the nice crossover moments.

As it is, this episode only really gets by on those moments.

Coming later this week …

Those Swedish guys return.

“Ensign Ro”

“My name is Guinan. I tend bar, I co-host ‘The View’ and I listen.”

After an attack on a Federation colony, the Enterprise is asked to track down the alleged perpetrators, Bajoran terrorists. The Bajorans are (ahem) a race of refugees, forced from their homeworld (ahem) decades earlier by the Cardassians (whom we met in “The Wounded”). Admiral Kennelly (Cliff Potts) comes on board and tells Picard he must take on a Bajoran officer, the disgraced Ensign Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes). Ro has spent some time in prison after her actions resulted in the death of some officers, and her assimilation into the crew is difficult as several crew members (Riker and Geordi, notably) make it clear they object to her very presence. She helps Picard find the terrorist cell but then works separately, with direction from the admiral, to undermine the mission. Guinan befriends Ro and gets her to come clean to Picard. With Ro’s help, he uncovers a plot between the admiral and the Cardassians to flush out the Bajorans and end the terrorist threat. Picard then tells the admiral that the Cardassians used him — that the Bajorans couldn’t have attacked the Federation colony, as they don’t have the ability to travel far or fast enough to have carried it out. Picard then welcomes Ro to the crew.

Ro, Picard and Data in in a world of blankets.

Why it’s important

Ro becomes a quasi-regular over the next season-plus and shows up again in the seventh season (eight episodes in all). She was a nice addition to the cast that, too often, had no conflict and could be kinda dull. But, really, the setup here between the Cardassians and the Bajorans is key — despite the rough edges we’ve come to expect with the TNG/DS9 handoffs.

The Cardassian look is still off here — we see the weird uniforms from “The Wounded” again — but this episode kept the Cardassians from being one-off baddies that we never see again. So, good on that.

Lastly, this is one of the clearest examples — though not really the first — of the Federation bending overly backwards to make a connection with a former foe (or, to generally avoid conflict). We saw a bit of this in “The Wounded”, when Picard is told to avoid a war at all cost because Starfleet isn’t in the position to deal with the conflict, a possible allusion to the aftermath of losing 40 ships to the Borg.

But, going forward, the Federation really does some odd things to appease the Cardassians. In finalizing the treaty, they agree to put a bunch of Federation colonies in Cardassian space and a bunch of Cardassian colonies in Federation space, which was a pretty clear tactical fail. And it spurred the terrorist Maquis into action.

I’m glad that it’s always made clear that the Federation doesn’t attack first, as it really does fit with Roddenberry’s vision in the best possible way. But does the Federation have to be so appeasing that it does dumb things — like conspiring with Cardassians in this episode to kill some fairly harmless Bajorans?

Mr. Mott, the best barber in Starfleet, makes one of his few on-screen appearances.

What doesn’t hold up

Well, put simply, the Bajoran back story is pretty much completely redone for DS9, much like our buddies, the Trill. The look of the Bajorans stays and the Cardassian occupation is still a key point. But the result of the occupation totally changes.

In “Ensign Ro”, Bajorans — or “the Bajora” as they’re called here — are essentially gypsies. They’ve been forced to relocate to worlds all over the quadrant because the Cardassians annexed their homeworld. That, of course, makes this episode possible, because the Bajoran refugees aren’t  in Cardassian space, where Picard and Co. couldn’t reach them. The Bajorans here are apparently just around Cardassian territory — and their proximity (presumably) allows them to carry out terrorist actions.

But in DS9, the back story is VERY different. We don’t really hear about Bajoran refugees. It’s possible they existed, but given the Bajoran-heavy storylines in early DS9, there’s no indication that Bajorans returned to Bajor en masse — as they don’t appear to have really left at all. Instead, we hear about Bajorans who were essentially slaves to the Cardassians in the Bajoran system. The resistance fighters were terrorists (like those we see here), but they weren’t operating on far-flung moons in other systems. They were (as far as we ever see) restricted to Bajor and its moons.

Couldn’t the terrorists have gone back and forth between Bajor and other systems? Well, the information that proved the Bajora’s innocence here (that they couldn’t travel at warp speed to get to the colony that was destroyed) and information to that effect in DS9 (Bajoran ships that we see are all impulse-powered, though they know about warp drive) would indicate that the Bajoran terrorists would have been restricted to one system, be it Bajor or elsewhere.

Now, an obvious question remains: If the Bajorans that we see in this episode aren’t capable of traveling at warp, why would the Cardassians see them as a threat? At least on DS9, you could see how the Bajorans could travel the system and actually cause problems for a nearby occupying force. But if the Bajorans are spread out among several systems and are limited to impulse speeds, the Cardassians shouldn’t be at all bothered by them. It would take YEARS for a Bajoran terrorist ship to get close to Cardassian targets (presuming that Bajorans aren’t gypsies on Cardassian planets). And if other Bajoran terrorist than the ones we see in this episode could travel at warp, why are the Cardassians busy going after the cell we see in this episode? Wouldn’t they have other hasperat to fry?

Final thoughts

It’s not a huge thing, but apparently Worf and Ro attended Starfleet Academy at the same time, with Worf graduating in 2361 and Ro graduating in 2362. Given both their personalities, it’s not hard to imagine that they weren’t social types who wouldn’t have associated with other students, let alone each other — and we have no real idea how many students attend the academy at the same time. However, it would have been interesting had the connection been made in the episode, with a line of dialog from either character. FWIW, Riker and Geordi both graduated in 2357 (making Riker’s officiousness to Geordi in “Encounter at Farpoint” strange in retrospect) a year before Worf and Ro started at the Academy.

Coming next week …

Riker intimidates a Ferengi, Troi flirts with a Zakdorn and Worf sings Klingon opera in a bar. Oh, and Picard meets Spock or something.