Watchers: Mike & Erin
Today I sit down with my friend Erin to watch a very important episode of Star Trek TNG. “Q Who” introduced the Borg into the Star Trek universe– and it was never the same again. Let’s jump in!
The episode starts off by introducing a new character, Ensign Sonya Gomez who doesn’t seem to understand why it’s a bad idea to have hot chocolate on the Engineering deck. As Erin points out, “Why is there even a food replicator in Engineering?”. The answer is obvious– so that she can have something to spill on Captain Picard and make a hilarious first impression! According to Memory Alpha,
“This episode featured the first of two appearances of Sonya Gomez, initially intended to be a comedic recurring character, but dropped after “Samaritan Snare”. Gomez would later become the lead character in the non-canon Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers series of novels.”
I’m not sure why the ended up dropping her since a little more comic relief would have been great in this season! But alas, we don’t really get to know her before she vanishes. In “Q Who” her introduction basically serves as the B plot– and is ultimately pointless.
But enough of that, ENTER Q! Making good on his promise not to interfere with Picard’s ship- he kidnaps Picard and moves him to a shuttle craft “nowhere near your vessel” as he puts it. Oh, you clever omnipotent being, you! Meanwhile back on the Enterprise the crew handles the sudden disappearance of Picard with calm and quick response. The only people who seem to have an emotional reaction (and show that they are actually worried) are Troi and Guinan. I mean, even Wesley doesn’t seem to have any emotions here. Isn’t Picard his father figure?
Eventually Picard talks Q into taking him back to the Enterprise and they zap into 10 Forward where Guinan is waiting. She pops out from under the bar and we learn that she and Q have history– and they hate each other!
Erin: “Why was Guinan hiding under the bar in an empty 10 Forward?
Mike: Maybe she has a cot under there. We never do see her quarters.
Erin: Truth! She is a fascinating person. she could live in the bar. It’s got a great view.
Look at her! She has ninja skills! Picard is ready to hide behind her!”
We soon learn that Q is here to test our hereos (like he always does). He “is like a nasty genie. Don’t mess with him. Everything is a trick, everything mischief” as Erin puts it. Q says that Picard should turn the Enterprise around and go home because they are not ready for what’s out here. Picard insists that they are more than prepared and exploring “out here” is the whole point! So Q snaps his fingers and sends the Enterprise hurling across the galaxy into borg space– just to prove a point. Rude!
Now, I have to point that that this episode makes me think of Voyager. Because this is exactly what happens in the first episode, “The Caretaker”. The difference is Voyager doesn’t get home at the end of the episode- it’s left in the Delta Quadrant. I always liked that idea! What if Q had left the Enterprise out there? That would have made a good show, right? Anyway, I digress.
It’s not long before they encounter a borg cube. They try to say hello– basically it doesn’t go well. The borg beam over a drone to assess the Enterprise’s technology and see if they can use it. Guess what? They can!
I love the borg. I love the design of their ships too. They are 100% function and 0% style. I also love this version of the Borg. This is long before they introduce the Borg Queen. I think when they made Star Trek First Contact someone decided we needed a single person to be “the bad guy” of the film. But that really ruins the borg, in my opinion. In this episode it’s clearly stated that they don’t have a single leader. They have a collective consciousness– they are all one big unit, without any individualism. By the next time we see them, they have moved on from just assimilating our technology to assimilating us– making us Borg. They want to remove our humanity remove our freedom of choice, or imaginations, our faith. They are the ultimate enemy.
Erin: The Borg stress me out so much. They are amazing. I just cannot think of a better enemy for Picard. You can only defeat them by outsmarting them. You cannot outrun them or beat them through violence. Watching episodes with the Borg in them drive up my blood pressure.
Mike: The borg are such a Roddenberry creation. One of the main lessons Trek teaches us is not to let technology take over. It’s the main theme of so many episodes. The borg take that lesson and put it on legs and make it attack us.
Erin: Terrifying. Reflecting on the Borg, I think the fact that the technology had destroyed everything that makes individual cultures unique – religion, morality, ethics, philosophy, family. Everything falls away, and all that is left is this… hunger. This compassionless thirst to consume other life forms. To assimilate them into the collective. And nothing you can do to reason with them with have any effect because they are not capable of changing their minds on this. It simply is who they are. Like religious fanaticism. Nothing you can say or do will cause them to change course. Resistance is futile. Something about that, the complete lack of recourse of the humans/humanoids have, it made these episodes hard to watch (in a good way) for me.
In the end, the crew are not prepared to deal with the Borg. Picard ends up admitting to Q that he needs help. That’s all Q wanted to hear! A snap of the fingers and they are back safely where they started. I’m left asking– why? Why did Q do this?
Erin: What a jerk. And yet…. is this his way of warning them of what’s to come. Maybe this wasn’t vanity, but his way of preparing them for the enemies they would otherwise have been totally unprepared for. Q is a great nemesis.
Mike: But- why warn them of how scary the galaxy is?
Erin: I like to think that he is fond of humans, perhaps like pets, but fond of them. He likes to play with them, especially Picard….
I think he’s trying to preserve them, but he is too proud to help them directly. That’s not how the Q operate.
Mike: Teaching them a lesson– testing them in the hopes that they choose to be brave and adapt.
Erin: Ultimately, Q is putting the human race on trial over the course of the series. But, she teaches them lessons along the way to see what they do with them. This lesson is critical to their survival.
Mike: Right. But I think that the wants them to prove themselves not guilty. Or prove their worth rather– I think he’s rooting for them.
Erin: I agree, he’s definitely rooting for them. He just shows it in a strange way
So, we’re left asking the standard question. Does this episode hold up? I say, it get’s a “pass”. It’s kind of a strange one though– the B plot / comic relief with Sonya is really unnecessary but does add some humanity to the episode that balances the Borg nicely. As far as Q episodes go, it’s one of the weakest. But– it’s really essential viewing because it introduces the main villain of TNG. With out “Q Who” we’d have no “Best of Both Worlds.” Also, we’d really have no Star Trek Voyager!
I asked Erin the same question. Her response was “Well, I think that is tricky. The characters stand up, no question. Namely Picard, Q, the Borg, Sonya (kidding). Guinan, I love, but they basically just make her “mysterious” and let her background shift to fulfill whatever they need it to. They do that throughout the series. Whoopi is amazing in the role, and her warmth and energy make it work. But, as written, Guinan is not given much.
The storyline…. There’s not really a whole lot of story here. It’s an episode to introduce us to the character of the Borg. And, because it’s such a complicated villain, they really need the entire second act to let the audience know about who they are, just so they can reserve the right to bring them back in later episodes.”
I thin Erin is spot on! And Speaking Guinan, I’ve heard the argument that she fits the description of the “Magical Negro” trope – a black character who “will step forward to help a “normal” person, with their pure heart and folksy wisdom”. Which is really unfortunate because in Star Trek we’re supposed to have evolved beyond those kind of stereotypes. But she really is a textbook example. What do you think?