Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Questionable Trek vol. 10

Probably the coolest thing Star Trek: TNG did was invent the Borg. They are truly one of the best villains of all time. But then they had to go and ruin it with "I Borg". At least, so says Andrew.

Question from Scott: “What's the problem with ‘I Borg’?”

Andrew’s Answer: Let me say up front that as episodes go, “I Borg” was entertaining. It was well-written and as a stand-alone episode, it was pretty good. BUT there are huge problems with this episode.

For one thing, the Borg is terrifying because it is a collective. Its members cannot be individually influenced and it lacks the motives that are common to normal individuals. Thus, you can’t “deal” with it. You must defeat it or die. Moreover, since being assimilated means being absorbed into the collective, this is a form of identity/soul death -- you cease to be forever. "I Borg" wipes that out. Suddenly, being assimilated into the Borg is no longer the death of the identity/soul, it is now simply being put to sleep until you die or can be freed. In other words, the Borg as originally presented represented a type of immortal death, but the “I Borg” version reduces this to just a life sentence with the possibility of parole. That reduces the terror factor significantly.

Further, "I Borg" changes the nature of the Borg itself. Rather than being a collective which desires to absorb all, it instead becomes an entity which suppresses its members. In real terms, this is like the difference between an army of devout Islamic terrorists v. a conscript army led by a dictator. The first is relentless because each part shares the goal and you can’t kill it by just killing the head. The second is a thing of pity because it only stays together under threat and it will fall apart once you undermine the key member.

"I Borg" also displays daffy liberalism. Liberals have always maintained that given the chance, everyone in the world would think like a liberal. So if someone is running around raping, pillaging and murdering, it must be because some horrible force has made them do it. Liberals simply cannot conceive of “true believers.” This idiocy is on display in “I Borg” (and with 7 of 9), because once these drones are released from the collective, they instantly accept Starfleet philosophy as true and go about becoming just like Picard and the crew. Even 7 of 9, who supposedly didn’t fit in, only had problems with the chain of command, not the fundamental beliefs.

If they wanted to do an episode like “I Borg” more honestly, then they should have acknowledged that these people likely would have very different views than those of Picard et al. and not all of them will be nice people. But they didn’t do that because the point to the episode was, “if we free people from evil political systems, they will become good liberals and it will be a great world.”

Finally, as an aside, the follow up to “I Borg” is rather stupid if you think about it. Supposedly, Hue brings back “knowledge of individuality” to the Borg like a virus and causes chaos. Really? How is it the Borg has no knowledge of this? They absorbed millions of people and none of them ever mentioned this? How can the collective be so fragile that one person enjoying freedom would catch the whole system by surprise and destroy it? That was nothing more than an attempt to hide Picard’s stupid decision in "I Borq" to let the Borg destroy trillions of lives rather than make Hue feel bad.

Scott’s Response: I definitely can't argue with your last point! Having said that, while I'm neither praising nor blaming any one person, from a TV writer's point of view, it's incredibly difficult to successful pull off an enemy of this nature. There is no one to relate with, no one person with whom to communicate, and Picard and Co. seem to have no trouble defeating the Borg. The more that happens, the more the Borg are diminished as a threat. "Don't worry. We beat them before, we'll just do it again." I agree it would've been nice to present different viewpoints, or at least explore the consequences of Picard's actions... but this is what happens when the writer who creates the alien race leaves the series, with other (newer) writers filling in the details later.

50 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

I think the "Borg" portrays the dangers of liberalism better than anything I can think of

Joel Farnham said...

I thought Picard did it because he didn't want to feel that he murdered an individual. Killing Borg is no more than killing a dangerous pest. Destroying the "Collective" really is exterminating a wild species that regularly wipes out other species. In his failure to introduce the algorithm in Hugh, Picard fails at protecting the Federation. Picard should be court-martialed for pusillanimous conduct in front of the enemy.

tryanmax said...

I'm ambivalent about "I Borg" because I always thought of the Borg as space-zombies. As zombie movies go, sometimes they find a cure, and sometimes they don't.

I do agree that there are fundamental ideological flaws in "I Borg" and the story lines it spawned, but the plot points are good. In other words, I like what was done, but I don't like why it was done. "Curing" Hue and reintroducing him to the collective as a "cure virus" could have been a good way to inject new life into a villain that had lost its edge, as Scott points out. But as Andrew points out, the writers squandered that with a liberal slant.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I do too. Whether they intended it or not, the Borg is what happens when people become dependent on the collective.

annoyedelephants said...

I, Borg is a blip in TNG canon. It helps set up the whole "Descent" arc and it helps to introduce another techno-ethics issue similar to the much-superior "Measure of a Man" back in Season 2.

On the other hand, this, along with Descent, takes the teeth out of the Borg collective. They're no longer the great enemy of the Federation... they're just like us, except a little different.

Ah, for the days when Jim Kirk would've punched the Borg in the chin and then slept with the queen...

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, In the real world, Picard would be stripped of command at least for failing to use the weapon they had. Seriously, how do you think the real world would react:

"I had a chance to kill this thing which is trying to destroy the universe and has killed millions of our own people already, but Hue was so cute in a puppy like way that I felt bad about using him. So I didn't. I am morally superior."

A-hole.

What's funny is that he wouldn't think twice about killing Hue if he was an enemy ship attacking him. But now that he got a chance to see him, he can't harm him.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I agree. This isn't a bad episode, it just goes ideologically wrong and does harm to the concept. It would have been better if they had "freed" Hue and discovered that he is indeed nothing or that the original person is completely gone, and then used him as a weapon with unknown consequences.

darski said...

I always thought that Hugh was a twit of the first order... well maybe 2nd order right after Picard. I'm surprised that 'command' did not question Locutus about his loyalties.

My further cause for concern is that stupid "Descent" two-parter. I don't care what they wanted to accomplish, I do NOT want to see Data as first torturer ever - no way; no how.

And it is of course a far, far better thing for a liberal to allow the death or worse of billions upon billions of people/species than to take decisive action. Ask a liberal if he would rather have his daughter raped or act against the attacker...

I'll be back... ;D

AndrewPrice said...

annoyedelephants, That's the problem I see. While there is nothing wrong with the story itself and it does lead to another enjoyable episode, it changes the nature of the Borg and strips them of their uniqueness.

Doc Whoa said...

Andrew, I concur. While I like the episode immensely, it certainly feels like it makes the Borg much less terrifying. and then queen ruins it entirely by turning the Borg into this sex-craved thing.

AndrewPrice said...

darksi, Well put. Liberals would happily sacrifice millions to save one guilty man... unless they don't like the guilty man or unless the crime is against them. You can bet that if Hue had killed Troi, this episode would have been very different.

In real life, I think Picard would have been assigned to the other side of the galaxy, away from the Borg. Starfleet never would have trusted him to deal with the Borg again.

And yeah, I think Data turning evil didn't make much sense.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, Don't get me started on the sex-queen. Talk about shark jumping!

Doc Whoa said...

darski, You're right. If the Borg had hurt people Picard cared about, he would have destroyed them. But since they were all faceless to him, he didn't care.

ScottDS said...

I believe the studio asked the writers to add a "Borg queen" character for the film in order to give the characters someone to talk to. I can't completely disagree with that logic and if it had been a one-time thing, maybe it'd be okay. But then Voyager had to go overuse the Borg and the Queen character.

As for "I Borg," this is one of several TNG episodes that make me ask, "How would the show do it today?" They didn't really do arc-based storytelling back then and if the show was being produced now, would Picard's actions come back to bite him in the ass later?

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I think they would have done a lot differently today because the way people tell stories has changed a lot. I think the show would try to be hipper, it would have more mystery, and it would have more twists and story arcs.

How that would change the Borg, I'm not sure.

I think the problem with the Queen is that she's over-sexed. I think that was the wrong direction to take the character. She should have been created by the hive as a representative and should have been simply relentless.

rlaWTX said...

They had Q who kept coming back. I think if the writers had been intellectually honest about their creation, they should have had Picard's decision eat him whole. But since he was the "hero" and his decision was progressively correct, that couldn't happen.

I remember liking the look into the Borg, but not really liking the "hurt puppy" they brought home with them.

ellenB said...

I like the episode. This one didn't bother me as much as the movie, with the Queen. That was where they went wrong in my book.

ScottDS said...

I totally forgot about this but I think some folks might like this.

Over at the sci-fi/fantasy website tor.com, novelist (and Trek veteran) Keith DeCandido is reviewing every TNG episode. He's in the middle of season 4 right now and many of his observations are spot on.

Click here.

Commander Max said...

This episode is a personification of what I couldn't stand in STNG.

They created the best villain in sci-fi, the writers didn't have what it took to create situations around such a villain. Writing wise it would be very simple, but the trick is how to display humanity in the face of such an enemy. Something that a mind influenced by modern liberal idealism is ill equipped to present. Hugh Borg is what they came up with, it's better to dumb down a antagonist than to bring up the hero. After all we can't have hero's, or individuals, we must have the collective after all we are all the same. Which is an ironic point.

I thought they jumped the shark with the Borg on Best of Both Worlds. Why would you need someone to tell you we are coming to get you(Locutus). Wouldn't they just do it?

The Borg as first presented were more of a force of nature(does a tornado need a spokesman or have feelings?). The Borg were the biggest lost opportunity, right after the bugs that were taking over Star Fleet.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, A hurt puppy is a good way to describe it. I agree, if they had been intellectually honest, Picard would have been truly upset at all the people who would now die because of him and I think he would have become obsessed with fixing his mistake.

AndrewPrice said...

Ellen, I enjoy the episode, except for the damage it does. As a stand alone episode, I thought it was well-written. I despise the Borg Queen though.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Thanks! I'll have to check that out!

AndrewPrice said...

Max, I agree with you. The Borg is like a natural force, like a tornado or a shark. And they should have realized this and run with it by focusing on the heroes and how they handled it. As you put it, they needed to write excellent situations for Picard et al. to address and through their actions show us something about them. Instead, they turned the Borg into a puppy and said, "isn't he cute?"

I like "Best of Both Worlds" a lot because of the friction between Riker and the woman (can't think of her name -- Shelby?), but I agree that it's kind of a silly idea. There's no reason for the Borg to try to communicate, nor is there any reason really for Riker to be so obsessed about getting one man back. It's like everyone got stupid suddenly.

It's also funny how the lives of the crew and the Federation itself are worth losing to save one captain, but somehow it's not worth making one captain feel bad to keep the Borg from killing billions? Their math is really messed up.

Mike K. said...

I just recently got around to watching DS9, and their Dominion and Jem'Hadar (however you spell it) explores some of the same themes as the Borg while still allowing for individuals to interact with. I thought it was very well done.

ScottDS said...

I think the great move they made with the Dominion was dividing them into three separate races: the Jem'Hadar, the Changelings, and the Vorta. If you didn't like one, there were always two others! Not to mention the casting: I thought they brought in great actors to play these roles, especially Jeffrey Combs as the Vorta clone Weyoun. (Iggy Pop showed up in an episode to play one, too!)

AndrewPrice said...

Mike, I thought the whole Dominion/Jem Hadar thing was excellent. It was really well done. And you're right, it did touch upon many of the same issues as the Borg.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I agree, that was a good move. It gave them a lot of leeway in terms of how they wanted to write each episode because they could just switch which group was involved. That's a very smart choice as far as writing goes.

I agree about Combs -- he was great. He was particularly slimy, but also strangely honorable.

Outlaw13 said...

When the Borg first appeared, I thought that was the best thing ever. It was actually kind of frightning. And then they went and screwed it up.

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, I agree. And when I see the first Borg episode now, all I can think of it Hue and the Queen and how what they show the first time isn't what the Borg turns out to be.

Commander Max said...

The Borg was an excellent vehicle for drama, given to the writers of Trek on a silver plate. After all libs are always talking about people, and love to ask, "...and how did that make you feel?". Of course with the emphasis on human suffering. I would consider it one of the biggest lost opportunities in sci-fi, instead they went low brow, George Lucas anyone?

Hugh "isn't he cute?" Puppy Borg

I did like the first episode of "Best of Both Worlds". It's just the second part looked more like they either ran out of ideas or wanted to go home early. Regardless the second part lost the intense rhythm of the first. Having so much time to wait for the second part, I'm sure built up expectations. Thus resulting in an episode that would never live up to the first.

For ST's continued praise of logic. They sure acted like they had no idea what it is.

In reality Picard would have been retired had he survived, even then he would had a seat next to Lord Garth. Riker's first mission would have been to preserve human life, one man isn't worth that. Since Picard was completely compromised, there isn't anyone left worth saving. I think it might have made a better story with Riker killing Picard, to save the Federation and the E.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, I agree. The Borg was a great setup for a lot of drama, but they never exploited it. They could have put the characters into all kinds of fascinating dilemmas, but they really didn't.

I agree about "Best of Both Worlds". The first episode was really great. Even the first part of the second was good. But then they just ran out of ideas for how to solve the problem and they did one of their patented -- "just make everything turn out ok for no valid reason" conclusions.

The problem with their logic is that they use contradictory bumperstickers thoughts which don't work in practice. Rather than having a set of principles they worked with, they just tossed out whatever the thought of the day was and ran with it, without ever wondering if they weren't contradicting something they'd already done. That's how minor offenses got turned into outraged while things like genocide got ignored, why some cultures got respected and why others didn't -- because there was never any consistency.

Lord Garth -- excellent reference! :) That's one of my favorite episodes actually.

ScottDS said...

"The Best of Both Worlds Part II" had a lot to live up to and, compared to the first part, it is a bit of a let down but taken together, they're a lot of fun.

The Borg were created by a writer/producer named Maurice Hurley who left after the end of the second season, along with most of the other writers who had been on the show. The baton was then passed to newer writers like Michael Piller and, in the case of "I Borg," René Echevarria.

I still maintain the "unbeatable" nature of the Borg, at least as they were originally conceived, made things difficult for the writers. If they had been the villains of a Trek film, that would've been fine. But on a TV show, where they would come back again and again, only to be beaten again and again?

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, It's all about understanding what you have and being creative. There are many things they could have done with the Borg long before they neutered them. For example, you have the first two episodes -- the intro and then the attack in "Best of Both Worlds." You could have had a mission into Borg space. You could have had the crew on the ground when the Borg came somewhere. You could have had the Enterprise come across the remains of an assimilated Federation starship.

And in each episode, you could have pitted people with different views against each other -- run, fight, kill them all, save ourselves, sacrifice ourselves, etc.

Instead, they wrote two episodes about "understanding" the Borg and then the film, which was just a mess.

Commander Max said...

"Instead, they wrote two episodes about "understanding" the Borg and then the film, which was just a mess."

It is a serious mess when you consider the Borg used to only look at you as something to consume.

It's like the, "I hate you and I'm going to kill you right now", argument. How do you consider that, well you don't have time to understand. Much less discuss anything, you either defend yourself, run or die.

Just rotate the shield frequency that will fix them. They can't get you then, yea right. Out of all of the races the Borg assimilated, nobody had a power supply more powerful than matter anti-matter? But the Cube could over take the D?

AndrewPrice said...

Max, It is a mess because it completely changes the motivation of the Borg. Instead of trying to assimilate, they are now nothing more than workers for the horny queen.

It made sense to me when the Borg first showed up that they were much more powerful than the Enterprise. But by the later episodes, they seemed to be on a par with the Federation.

As for overtaking the Enterprise, I'd say Geordi may not be the quality engineer we've been led to believe? ;)

Su Wei said...

The Borg were the ultimate villain when created. But they were too powerful. I never saw "I, Borg" although I did see "First Contact". The Borg Queen was inserted into the movie so Picard would have a way to win in the end. Still, I will never be a fan of the queen concept. The writers could have been more innovative instead of giving the captain such an easy way out.

I'm not really up to speed on TNG but it was always my understanding that part one of "Best of Both Worlds" was a season finale, written in such a way that if a disgruntled Patrick Stewart decided not to return to the role of Picard in the following season then he could be written out as being assimilated by the Borg. Maybe sometime in the future the actor might change his mind and the writers could bring him back. As it was, they didn't need to. They did it in part of two of "Best". And the simplistic way they did it (remove the prosthetics and diddle a little with his mind) still makes me cringe. And I don't remember anyone commenting on the fact that everything that was formerly in Picard's head was now common knowledge among the Borg. What were these writers thinking??

Jason said...

Actually, Riker's getting Picard back was to try and get any intel he might have on the Borg, just as the Borg learned all Picard knew when they assimilated him.

Thinking back to ST:First Contact, it's amazing Starfleet didn't put Picard in the fight with the Borg because they thought he shouldn't go near them, yet they put Picard and the Enterprise on guard duty in "Descent." It's also weird Picard's Ahab-like obsession with the Borg didn't materialize itself in either "I Borg" or "Descent."

I would recommend Peter David's novel "Vendetta" for a better Borg story. It's a look at what happens when one of the victims of a Borg attack tries to use an even greater force against the Borg. Plus it explains the origins of the doomsday machine Kirk and company encountered way back when.

AndrewPrice said...

Su Wei, That's possible. I hadn't heard that, but I do know that there was constantly talk of Stewart wanting to leave because he thought the role was beneath him. It wouldn't surprise me if that's why they wrote the season finales the way they did.

I suspect the Borg queen was just written to give the Borg some new aspect for the film. Writers also seem to think that when a television series gets made into a movie, they need to reveal some new big secret never seen before on the show.

AndrewPrice said...

Jason, Contradictions are a TNG specialty. Thanks for the info on the novel. The Kirk doomsday episode was a great one. Sounds like it's an interesting connection.

Su Wei said...

Well, I'll be fair. When "Best of Both Worlds" was written it was many years until the studio would build on that with "First Contact". I saw them in reverse order. It was easy for me to assume that once assimilated by "the family" there really was no way back. At least not as easy as "Best of" made it look. But I have to remind myself how quickly the cure worked for the aging disease in TOS' "Deadly Years" as well. Back then it was just the way many TV shows were produced. Wrap it up and start something new next week.

AndrewPrice said...

Su Wei, That has always been a problem with these kinds of science fiction shows. You can get a virus/whatever which turns you into anything, destroys your body and mind, and all they need to do is give you the antidote and then suddenly you're totally normal again. That's believable once or twice, but after that it's just laughable.

RPD said...

Forgiving mass murderers seem to be a trait among liberal writers. As many have mentioned here Picard didn't use the weapon at hand to prevent the deaths of billions. This also occurs in the TNG episode "The Survivors" where an entity has exterminated a sentient race and Picard's reaction that 'oh he feels bad, good enough.
I'd parallel that with some Doctor Who episodes "Genesis of the Daleks" is which the Doctor decides not to spare trillions of beings because he "hasn't the right" to prevent their coming into existence or more recently in "The Christmas Invasion" in which a group tires to kill half the earths pooulation, and enslave the rest. In spite of ample evidence that they had done this to dozens of civilization and would continue to do so after being driven from earth, the PM of the UK is the bad guy for killing them?

I could go on for several series. I guess it's a hobbyhorse of mine deploring the ethical vacuity of so many writers.

AndrewPrice said...

RPD, "Survivors" is particularly galling to me because Picard has no basis for his decision except that he would feel bad punishing the alien -- just like here, he would feel bad "using" Hue. At least in "Genesis of the Daleks" the Doctor suggests that enough good comes from their evil that it is worth leaving the future as it is, i.e. the positives outweigh the negatives. He's not just squishy about killing them. And even then, if I remember correctly, he gets stopped before he actually makes a final decision.

In any event, you are right that liberals love this idea that somehow it's wrong for the good guys to kill any bad guy no matter how many innocent lives will be saved.

It's a fake moral dilemma.

Shawn said...

Didn't care for the episode. Picard's decision not to infect Hue was epically stupid and I would have either court-martialled him or stripped him of some rank.

Just one look at my wife, girls and most of the women I know, and their addiction to cellphones, texting and facebook is all I need to know that women will certainly lead us to Borgdom.

Anonymous said...

TNG never said that being assimilated means that you "cease to be forever." We didn't even learn that the Borg assimilate people until "The Best of Both Worlds," and Picard recovers his humanity in Part 2. The terrifying thing about assimilation (at least to me) was always that it was a kind of living death. You didn't cease to exist, you ceased to be you. Otherwise it's no different than being killed by a Klingon or Romulan.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Solid analysis Andrew!
Funny too, LOL!

The Borg Queen: Yeah, when they did this I was once again incredulous.
Really, you want Queen Nymphomaniac leading what used to be the biggest threat to life in the universe?

I concur that the Borg, originally represented the end result of collectivism.

I also think the Reavers in Firefly and Serenity represented the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists very well.

Both are quite scary. Especially since we can see the archtypes in our present day world.

It wouldn't make sense for villains like that to suddenly want a porn star queen. Which makes the idea itself funny, but not as funny (and pathetic) as the actual implementation of that idiotic idea.

Yes, might as well make a mockery of everything they built, as if the idea of not stopping the destruction of billion to trillions of folks so that Picard could feel sanctimonious and morally righteous and superior wasn't enough.

"I can't kill these soul murdering scum or I'll be no better than they are."

Imbeciles. Total, complete, 100% drooling idiots without one iota of good sense.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I think that would have been what really happened to him. I can't image Starfleet would say, "oh, ok, no biggie."

The Borg is coming, little by little as we hook ourselves up to the net.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, It's implied. What makes you an individual is stripped away and you are made into someone else. It's the concept of identity death.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, Thanks! That's the problem with so much of TNG -- they go for sanctimonious rather than philosophically correct.

I thought the Borg queen was horrible on so many levels. For one thing, why do they need a queen? That means they aren't a collective, they are just slaves. For another, why the over-sexed queen? Why is it that liberals whine about sexism but then only allow women on screen as sex objects? Seriously, if you needed a queen, why wouldn't she be more like the HAL 9000?

You're right about the Reavers, they are very similar to an army of fundamentalists, who see all others as animals. Scary stuff.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff! I love all your Star Trek posts.

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