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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.


  1. K. Jones
    December 29, 2014 @ 12:42 pm

    Guinan is on-guard against magical incursions. At this point in the show, we don't know if that presupposes precognition … or "arcane knowledge". And de Lancie's impish chuckle (watched this episode a day after playing The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask – the laugh is the same!) still creeps me out. We've gone from a Destiny of the Chosen One testing character (YOU, chosen ones, must represent all of humanity! What are the odds?) to Mr. Mxyzptlk now to something maybe more unsettling.

    "I knew it was you," followed by Q's "YOU!" Guinan hasn't just had dealings with the Q, she's had dealings with this omni-individual himself. She's a traveler, long-lived, with a sixth-sense for magic so this shouldn't be too hard to believe. She's been out past where the map ends. But her hands are raised, poised with wards and enchantments. She's on the defensive. Because she is a witch, bartending potions as a disguise.

    "If you have half the sense you pretend to have you would get her off your ship immediately." Q is not a liar. He speaks literally so that he can use the inherent duality of words. It's possible that Guinan is trouble, fugitive from dangerous powers. After all, he keeps coming back and she was onboard the first few times. "Where she goes trouble follows"

    "This creature is not what she appears to be. She is an imp." “You're speaking for yourself, Q.” I used to think this was irony. Essentially, this is what Stewart says and basically plants this wrong notion in our heads. But what is an imp? Next of kin to a goblin, of the otherworldly, fairy-sort. Something from the deep woods or caves humans desire to and fear to explore. Familiars to practitioners of witchcraft.

    The enemy is not arrogance, it is ignorance.

    "This ship is already home to the indigent, the unwanted, the unworthy." These are addressing Guinan. We later learn lost her home because of the Borg. Did they fail their I, Q test? "Some are almost respectable." By whose standards? She's tailoring 'respectable' to mean what these two human males think it means but she's also reaffirming Picard's skepticism by intimating Q has ulterior motives. The detour to the Delta Quadrant could be reaction to her territoriality. The message? A point to be proven to Guinan, not to Picard, for her benefit.

    "Next of kin to chaos," but to date Q hasn't done any damage other than judgment and temptation – classical Devil-schtick. If hell is full of lawyers, Q is a litigator. "Asked to leave the Q continuum." – disbarred, for failing to recruit Riker into the cosmic trickster firm. "A big mistake that you didn't accept my offer." Riker's soulful nature and the twinkle in his eye suggest he's got that instinct for magic. "I will renounce my powers,” says Q. He's not lying.

    "Where's your adventurous spirit, your imagination." Imagination is a key word. If you can imagine the Borg you can't be caught unawares – imagination is an enchantment, a device, a ward against ignorance. Worst case scenarios are limited by "what you know" versus "what you don't", and if you're going to venture out into the Cosmic Scale you need to get a proportionate imagination. Of course "get a better imagination" is also an overt challenge to writers, artists, and essentially the viewers. To imagine constructs so we can understand our flaws and overcome them in advance.

    Q and Guinan's debate is whether or not humans are developing "fast enough". "They're moving faster than expected" – by whom? A conspiracy is afoot. "By whose calculations?" asks Picard and Q deflects the question.


  2. K. Jones
    December 29, 2014 @ 12:47 pm

    Part 2:

    At this point it starts to feel like Doctor Who, because instead of being limited by a hard sci-fi warp drive with a pseudo-realistic "range", Q, like The Doctor and TARDIS has all of timespace available to him. Of course that takes the trekking out of Trek, but we can't help notice that the trekking, and the traditions associated with it – nautical, expansionist, imperialist, are what's holding us back as much as the self-imposed speed limits. But are they? More on that at the end.

    The Cube is a pretty on-the-nose satire of an actual "Military-Industrial Complex", a great metaphor for modularity. Modular construction is unnatural (and moreover, unspiritual), and one imagines that the Borg Collective is comprises of stacks and stacks of these cubes (when we later see it, big lost opportunity). Computer stacks … shelves at big chain stores … industrial city planning … artless life. Life without magic. It's telling that magical beings like Q and Guinan would see this as ultimate enemy and ultimate expression of what is antithetical to humanity's virtue – stripped of everything that makes us special, disconnected from the spirit world. Guinan uses the word "swarm" to describe how they hit her system, which is a fun nod to the insectoid origins. They should have let themselves be overt in describing it as a Hive-Mind instead of a Collective. The hive stuff should have always been more explicit, not just because insectoid body horror speaks to instinctual human fears but because of how disturbingly human behavior resembles that of insects rather than fellow mammals – who tend to be free-spirited. Somewhere out there is a brilliant Borg zombie survival horror episode.

    Beaming over to the Borg Cube is where it feels the most Doctor Who for me – I can almost imagine seeing a Blue Box parked around the corner. The rampant curiosity, but also just the set – exploring, walking around in a scary overpowered enemy stronghold, led by Riker (who basically passed up an offer to be The Doctor).

    … Ostensibly this episode is about two magical creatures having a worried debate about whether or not the rate of expansion of humankind will lead them toward magic or away from it toward Borg-dom, and two guys – one from a transitional generation and one from the new generation proving them both right and illustrating humanity's (and the show's) flexibility when faced with the limitations of the time and space in which we occupy. How do we avoid falling to a Military-Industrial reflection of ourselves? Ask a magical spirit creature for help.

    Last it's nice to see O'Brien spotlighted in another key episode. It's always such a weird "hard sci-fi leftover" thing for me that they have to have a specific transporter room, that he couldn't just be on the Bridge, but I don't want to shoot myself in the foot here – the nature of the nautical/naval vessel structure is what allows for things like exploring junior officers and lower decks later and that's some of my favorite stuff. But his role is interesting in that he's essentially a link between "Mission Control" and "Extraction Team". If this was contemporary he'd be the chopper pilot or getaway man, which fits with his competency as a grease-monkey and mechanic. It's sheer scope or scale logistics of Starships that allows for he and Geordi to coexist without being redundant, since Scotty functioned in both roles just fine. "This Starship is bigger, and has more crew for more functions" is the same reason why we have an X.O. now, where Spock served as both X.O. and Science Officer. It's not terribly efficient (Doctor Who typically functions with one learner/observer, and one multi-talented cosmic tour-guide) but I think it is one of the strengths of Star Trek: TNG – that it goes from a quartet to a full ensemble that even includes support team spotlight episodes for that broader glimpse at human POVs.


  3. Ross
    December 29, 2014 @ 1:16 pm

    I doubt I was actively aware of it even years later, but the in-person introduction of the Borg, the move from "Something mysterious infiltrated starfleet and carved colonies out of the ground" to "It's these cyborgs we got on the cheap from the leftover props now that Captain Power got cancelled (Seriously, Lord Dread is so obviously a Borg Darth Vader that I'm sure the only reason Gary Goddard didn't sue Gene Roddenberry is out of fear that George Lucas would read about it and sue him in return)" is, for me, when TNG started transitioning into somethign that was less "wonderful" and more actually "good". The show would rarely be this weird again, and it'd be even rarer to do it without a tacit apology in there.


  4. Froborr
    December 30, 2014 @ 7:16 am

    Yes, it's always baffling to me when the Borg are lumped in with the Cold War "evil commies" aliens like TOS' Klingons, because to me they've ALWAYS clearly been corporatists. They live in cubicles in a featureless black cube, it's basically an office building in space. Their determination to consume and assimilate, to add the distinctiveness of others to their own, isn't just imperialism, but very specifically the capitalist imperialism of the United States, which wants to conquer and colonize your country with McDonalds while opening chain "Americanized" versions of your own foodways in American cities.

    My favorite thing about the Borg is their total lack of self-awareness regarding the fact that no matter how much of the "distinctiveness" or others they absorb, the Borg themselves are always the same, unchangingly static.


  5. Froborr
    December 30, 2014 @ 7:17 am

    And I forgot to click "notify me" so I'm doing it now.


  6. Robert Ciccotosto
    December 30, 2014 @ 3:16 pm

    I may be committing blasphemy, but I've always felt that this was the best Borg story. The critique of capitalistic imperialism is spot-on and complete in this one episode. All the following Borg shows (and film) seem to be dilutions of the great source material. And, nostalgically-speaking, I remember how much this episode wowed me on its initial broadcast.


  7. Froborr
    December 30, 2014 @ 6:13 pm

    Let us be blasphemous together, because I feel this is the third-best Borg episode… because "Family" and "Emissary" are better.


  8. Robert Ciccotosto
    December 30, 2014 @ 6:28 pm

    Actually, you're right. "Family" is extraordinary.


  9. elvwood
    December 31, 2014 @ 1:52 am

    I love the way this post slides up a down the levels (there's probably a literary term for that, but everything I know about the analysis of text is just stuff I picked up whie reading the TARDIS Eruditorum): meta one moment, diagetic the next Good stuff.

    I've not seen the episode since the 90s, but it really stood out at the time and I still remember some of the details. I've had almost no time for watching lately (the sum total of my viewing over the Christmas period has been Last Christmas and Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!), but I really want to watch this one again now…


  10. Daru
    January 8, 2015 @ 9:07 pm

    Great time of year around christmas Josh to have the Borg essay appear – as I agree with the whole corporatist vision of who they are (thanks Froborr).

    K.Jones: ""Where's your adventurous spirit, your imagination." Imagination is a key word. If you can imagine the Borg you can't be caught unawares – imagination is an enchantment, a device, a ward against ignorance. Worst case scenarios are limited by "what you know" versus "what you don't", and if you're going to venture out into the Cosmic Scale you need to get a proportionate imagination."

    This makes me think that as Starfleet mainly seems to imagine themselves as inviolate and still works within an outdated model of military hierarchy, they certainly could not imagine the Borg and in this case I think it's the Enterprise crew who have the cosmic imagination, which is why I think they are the emissaries of the story of the Borg, as collectively they can conceive the full potential of their threat. The Enterprise crew then take the tale of the Borg back to Starfleet to eventually undercut the Federation's arrogance.


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