In the sixteenth episode of the second season of The Next Generation, FUCK THIS EPISODE, IT’S TOO GOOD. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For mention of genocide.
I wasn’t fucking ready.
To say that this is the best written and best acted episode of this show thusfar doesn’t quite communicate why I loved this so much. I actually enjoy that The Next Generation hesitates to use violence or dramatic sweeps of tension and melancholy. It’s slow, prodding, thoughtful, and often quite philosophically challenging. It’s certainly unlike any other show I’ve ever written about before for Mark Watches.
Which is precisely why this episode works so well. This show does not do existential horror. It’s not part of the overarching narrative, especially since so much of Star Trek’s ethos concerns optimism, hope, and adventure. A thriller based entirely around the failure of humanity to stop their impending extinction is not exactly par for the course in The Next Generation. And yet, the writers bring back Q for an episode that isn’t even about him so that they can introduce the most terrifying villain this show has ever had to date:
From the surrealist nature of the Borg’s ship – a messy and yet intricately organized metallic cube covered in a nonsensical pattern of pipes and plates – to the collective nature of the Borg’s existence, this is the kind of shit to cause nightmares forever. Why? Because by design, the Borg is impossible to beat.
No, not “million-to-one-odds” impossible to beat, but literally impossible. There’s no weakness to the Borg because the Borg is a massive living organism made up of smaller, humanoid organisms. Kill one? There are thousands upon thousands more waiting to take their place. Destroy part of their ship? They’ll be able to hone their collective willpower long enough to HEAL THEIR SHIP. They don’t speak, they don’t react to anything, and they don’t give a shit about anything at all. That apathy is disarming because, as multiple characters point out, that means that the Borg don’t view any of the Enterprise crew as a legitimate threat. Their silence and disinterest is the ultimate insult, one leveled at the crew constantly.
It’s all a means for Q to make a point: humanity is not ready to explore the galaxy. Oh, sure, the parts that the Federation has already mapped are easily controlled and regulated down to the last degree, but where Q takes the Enterprise? That’s where the mere idea of peace and negotiation has no meaning. How can you negotiate with a being whose only interest in anything is to acquire technology they believe they can use. It’s cultural appropriation on a massive, violent scale. It’s theft. And in the case of the 18 crew members who happened to be in the section of the Enterprise that was “acquired,” it’s also murder. But the Borg are uncaring. Unflappable. Immutable. The loss of life is meaningless because it holds no value to their constant pursuit of new technology. Everything else is a obstacle to be defeated or ignored.
Amidst this, the writers don’t ignore how this new being affects the crew. From the general sense of horror and foreboding exhibited by the crew, we’ve got Sonya Gomez. WHO MAGICALLY SURVIVES THE EPIOSDE. I was convinced she was going to die. But what better opportunity to introduce a character so overflowing with energy and optimism! Yes, let’s CRUSH HER SPIRIT. Thankfully, I don’t think that actually happens here, though she gets a healthy dose of realism in the process. But “Q Who” is most vital in what it does with Guinan. Like… I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t, y’all. I love so dearly that this show not only gives us a huge chunk of her past, but that they’ve now got a canonical Diaspora within this universe. I suppose some of the other past characters might apply under this label, but Guinan specifically references it when discussing her people’s past with Q and the Borg.
I just LOVE the reveal that she knows Q. IT’S SO GOOD. It’s so powerful, and I think that’s largely because it’s not just a plot twist. This episode is not the same without Guinan’s fear of the Borg. Have we ever seen her behave like this? Ever? No, and I think that informs our own reaction. If the woman who never shies away from conflict or fear is suddenly terrified, then you better believe I’m going to be scared shitless. Her fear, though, isn’t some baseless inclusion meant for the audience. She’s terrified of what the Borg did to her people. As far as I’m concerned, the Borg regularly practice genocide in order to get what they want, you know?
I don’t know what’s more haunting about this episode. The 18 nameless people who die? Whoopi Goldberg’s performance? The first appearance of the Borg? The fact that at the end of all of this, the crew has exactly zero ways to stop the Borg? THE BORG NURSERY???? (Actually, that was pretty cute.) How about the ending, which shows us that the Enterprise crew really were hopeless without Q? That there really are things out in the universe they’re not ready for at all?
It’s such a bleak, disturbing ending, and yet it fits perfectly within The Next Generation’s greater story. What a fantastic episode, y’all. I WANT ANOTHER BORG EPISODE RIGHT NOW.
The video for “Q Who” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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