Star Trek: The Next Generation: I Borg   Rewatch 
June 3, 2021 3:24 AM - Season 5, Episode 23 - Subscribe

After rescuing an injured drone, the Enterprise crew find themselves at odds with each other over a proposed operation to annihilate the Borg.

On Memory Alpha, we live with the thoughts of the others in our minds. Thousands of voices with us always:

• After the success of "The Best of Both Worlds", the writing staff had been trying to find a way to bring the Borg back but were facing the problem of how to follow up with an enemy that was only barely escaped once. Ronald D. Moore commented, "I think this is a real good way to bring the Borg back, because they're very limiting in the way they are. They're this huge collective with no voice to communicate to and you can't relate to these guys. We keep saying they're unstoppable and if we keep stopping them it undercuts how unstoppable they truly are."

• René Echevarria recalled, "I had this flash of inspiration: What if you reversed the way you look at the Borg? What if this was an intimate story about one of them? What would just one Borg be like – by himself?"

• The title of the episode is an allusion to Isaac Asimov's book I, Robot. This in turn was a reference to Robert Graves' book I, Claudius.

• Hugh uses the pronoun "I" much earlier in the episode, when he asks Crusher and La Forge "Do I have a name?". Exchevarria acknowledges this, much to his embarrassment, on the episode's audio commentary on the TNG Season 5 Blu-ray. By the time Echevarria had caught the error in the script and reported it to Taylor, the scene had already been filmed.

• The name "Hugh" is a pun, as it sounds like the English word "you," conveying the message of individuality. In the original German TV frame, this pun was only partially transferred, as he was consistently called "Du" ("You" in English). In repeated airings, as well as on the DVD, the name was changed to "Hugh." In the Italian version the pun was transferred: the Borg was called Thug, as it sounds similar the Italian word "tu" (you). In the Japanese version, the you/Hugh pun did not make sense and he is instead given the name "Blue." In the Czech version, the pun was transferred by calling him "Tim" which is very similar in pronunciation to the Czech word "ty" meaning "you". In the French version, Hugh is called "Lou".

• Jeri Taylor likened Hugh to the titular character of the film Edward Scissorhands, a characterization that influenced both casting and Robert Lederman's later direction. Almost thirty actors auditioned before Jonathan Del Arco won the part.

• Del Arco was a fan of The Original Series while growing up, and jumped at a chance to be on The Next Generation. He had auditioned for the role of Wesley Crusher, but when it was given to Wil Wheaton he was so disappointed that he refused to watch "The Next Generation" until he got the chance to guest star on it. He joked that prior to taking the assignment, a friend warned him that he would be asked about it for years afterwards, which indeed proved to be the case.

• During filming, Lederman worked with Del Arco to create a "Borg meter" to reflect where Hugh was in his personal evolution, with "one" being all Borg and "ten" being nearly Human. Lederman remembered, "In every scene, we had a numerable for where he was on the scale. During rehearsal, if I said, 'Jonathan, you're at six – we need you to be at eight,' he immediately knew what I meant."

• Rick Berman praised writer René Echevarria and director Robert Lederman. "The minute I saw the story I fell in love with it. The dramatic relationships are so vivid. Guinan, who comes from a people who were destroyed by the Borg, Picard who was brutalized and violated by the Borg – both are put in the position of being prejudiced. Geordi and Dr. Crusher are in the position of being open-minded and eventually sympathetic to this young man and the end result is a wonderful series of relationships and wonderful scenes between Guinan and the Borg […] The writing was wonderful and the acting great."

• Piller noted that not all fans were as enthused with the episode. "There were some people who really felt that 'I Borg' betrayed the vision of the Borg because it humanized them more than they wanted to see. But I just think every time you can understand your enemy, those stories have a huge impact."

"Infect it? You make sound as if it's a disease."
"Quite right, Doctor. If all goes well… a terminal one."
- Dr. Crusher and Picard

"It comes down to this. We're faced with an enemy who are determined to destroy us, and we have no hope of negotiating a peace. Unless that changes, we are justified in doing anything we can to survive."
- Picard

Poster's Log:
I'd like to smack whoever thought it would be a good idea to use the Official Harry and the Hendersons Foundling Name Generation System here. I like Hugh a lot as a character but that name is just -_-

Apart from that, this is a solid TNG standout, particularly the scene where Picard tries invoking Locutus—as Berman said, well-written and well-acted, with all kinds of subtext. Del Arco manages to walk that oh-so-common Trek tightrope of being robotic without being boring. The lost narrative opportunities (addressed in the "I Borg" Greatest Gen) are unfortunate—imagine this as a feature film, maybe instead of First Contact—but Guinan being on hand compensates somewhat for that absence, IMO.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Del Arco returns as Hugh in one season seven episode of TNG and three season one episodes of PIC.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (24 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A really good episode, for a number of different reasons. First, though, I was surprised at seeing the title on this post, because, in maybe one of the purest examples of the Mandela Effect that I've ever experienced personally, I would have sworn that the title was "I, Borg", and didn't quite believe that it wasn't until I went to the MA entry and looked at the title card. Weird. (The title as is provides yet another pun, as the "I" of course means one; Hugh is just one Borg.)

So, this one is not just good but important. First, though, Jonathan Del Arco nails the part, and one of my favorite bits is when he's searching his cell for a way out; you get the impression that he'd do that for hours (and maybe had been at that point) just because he's so driven to get out and get back to the Collective. A lot of things that get set up here are expanded upon when Seven of Nine gets introduced in VOY, which makes the events of PIC S1 involving the two of them even more tragic. The performance that really sucked me in, though, was Whoopi Goldberg's, because this is about as scared and angry as we've seen Guinan so far, and it's such a remarkable--but still logical--change from her usual serene unflappability. She even seems to change her mind when she actually talks to Hugh.

And then there's the whole genocide thing. I'm trying to think of any other situation prior to this one (in Trek continuity) in which the Federation or Starfleet even contemplated something like that, and I'm drawing a blank, unless you count apparently unique sentient organisms that are killed because they pose a threat to the crew or others (i.e. Redjac in "Wolf in the Fold"). I don't think that that sort of thing was contemplated as a potential move against the Xindi in ENT. There will, of course, be storylines in DS9 and VOY set just after this in which genocide justified on a it's-us-or-them basis is not only considered but actually set in motion; there are also hints (mostly in VOY) that the seemingly irrevocable hegemonic paradigm of the Borg isn't so inevitable. And, of course, in the latest season of DIS, set several centuries later, the Borg haven't assimilated the galaxy, or even expanded significantly.

posted by Halloween Jack at 6:44 AM on June 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm trying to think of any other situation prior to this one (in Trek continuity) in which the Federation or Starfleet even contemplated something like that, and I'm drawing a blank

Not Starfleet, but the Douwd in The Survivors comes to mind. It's an interesting contrast, because whereas Picard was utterly horrified at his actions against a violent, murderous alien race, the shoe's on the other foot for Picard in this one. At least the Douwd has the defense of doing it almost automatically without even thinking about it. Picard, on the other hand, has time to mull it over and decide, "Yeah, I'm good. Let's do it."
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 8:11 AM on June 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

The first time round I had trouble getting into the moral-dilemmas aspect of the episode. I'd seen a lot of complaints about the Borg's alleged villain decay on Voyager episodes that I had enjoyed, but here was the Enterprise, years earlier and scarcely acquainted with them, thinking that a virus they cooked up in an afternoon would wipe out not just a cube or the transwarp infrastructure, but the entire collective?
posted by polytope subirb enby-of-piano-dice at 8:27 AM on June 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

I’m conflicted about this episode b/c the stance for pacifism was so passionate, so much in the spirit of Star Trek. However, I wasn’t sold on the logic of this. For one thing, I think back to that episode where we first met the Cardassians. I think in that episode as well as this, the point of view of the show is that we should forgive and forget. However, with the Cardassian episode, there’s a strong message that to forgive and forget is really hard. In this episode we learn that you just look into the enemy’s eyes, and voila!

Another point: the captain seems really optimistic that when Hugh is reabsorbed into the hive mind, his experience of individuality will start to change the hive mind’s mind. Sounds good Captain, except shouldn’t that then have happened when you were absorbed into the hive mind not so long ago?

I think the bottom line here is that peaceful co-existence is the right goal if the other party is capable of it, but the evidence we have so far is that the Borg doesn’t play that way. I mean, I could make some fable about the lamb convincing the lion to make peace, and that works well for a metaphor about relations between humans, but the odds are really poor for it working out between an actual lion and lamb. The show previously really sold us on the idea that the Borg has the same interest in making peace as smallpox, and I wouldn’t feel more remorse for destroying the Borg than I would for smallpox.

Also, this ambitious plan to send Hugh back to the colony as a Trojan Horse to destroy the Borg—shouldn’t we be consulting with Star Fleet command about something like this? I mean, I know that every time they whip up a bleeding-edge technological solution to a problem, it works first time with no testing required. But still, just maaaaaybe this could backfire. Maybe you should consult with others first?

My 10-year-old daughter’s conclusion right after watching the show: they should have infected the Borg with a virus that doesn’t destroy them but instead makes them stop attacking others. I like that, and I’ll add that maybe Hugh would have volunteered for such a role. Maybe it’s possible to kill or neutralize “The Borg” without killing individual Borg members. I guess that’s another thing that could have been brewed up if they’d taken more time and consulted with others.
posted by polecat at 9:00 AM on June 3, 2021 [4 favorites]

This was such an exciting episode the first time I saw it. I remember speculation that there just wasn't going to be any further Borg episodes, that the canon would be that there was only one ship, and the Enterprise beat it. There was nothing written yet about transwarp, or queens, or any of those layers added on, for better or worse. So having the Borg show up at all was cool, and then seeing them have a scout ship was also interesting (does it make a tremendous amount of sense? well, anyway, it was interesting).

I had pretty much the same reaction regarding the ethical calculus of this episode, polecat. I mean, I don't really want to watch an episode of TNG where the crew thinks it through and decides they have morally defensible grounds to launch a genocidal attack on a sentient species and then does so. However, they in point of fact do have morally defensible grounds to launch a genocidal attack on a sentient species, so they kind of have to pretend they don't. It's only because they live in a tv universe that they are presented with such a perfect villain, but even in a tv universe it's not a good idea to calmly and rationally arrive at the conclusion to commit genocide.

Jonathan Del Arco's performance here was really compelling, he was great in his follow-up in Descent, too.

Oh, and the episode is definitely called I, Borg, I don't know what kind of trickery is going on with that.
posted by skewed at 9:13 AM on June 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm trying to think of any other situation prior to this one (in Trek continuity) in which the Federation or Starfleet even contemplated something like that, and I'm drawing a blank

How many times did Kirk threaten a planet with General Order 24?
posted by Fukiyama at 9:24 AM on June 3, 2021

I remember watching this as a kid and thinking it was hilariously corny that simply love turned robots into humans. Me and my brother each had our own jokes on this topic, mine was BORG - LEARN - LOVE and his was "Love!-I am hu-man-a-gain". It's this kind of thing that makes me love TNG because of course love would turn the robot human.
posted by bleep at 9:26 AM on June 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

As others have said, in stronger terms, this is not really a bad episode. Hugh, Picard, and Guinan are all effectively written and acted. But for me, this is the kind of episode that sets Trek apart into its own weird sub-genre of sci fi where you have to take it at face value or not at all. For instance, at face value, the Borg is an existential threat to the Federation. Period. But what exactly is the state of affairs between the United Federation of Planets and the Borg Collective? Has Starfleet Command issued regulations governing contact? What about the Federation Council? Is there a state of war? Those are questions that shouldn't be asked. This is BermanTrek, so it's up to Picard to decide. Period.
posted by Stuka at 10:16 AM on June 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

How many times did Kirk threaten a planet with General Order 24?

Exactly once, in "A Taste of Armageddon", which is a really weird episode even for the often-wildly-uneven TOS; it starts with a Federation ambassador insisting making first contact with a civilization "at any cost" even though they've already received a message from them telling them to go away; it ends with Kirk making the above threat if the two planets didn't drop their war and begin negotiations with each other. (Kirk, of course, is famous for bluffing his way out of a situation, as with "The Corbomite Maneuver".) The message of the ep is solid--that there's a real danger in making war too tidy, as with the Eminiar-Vendikar War--but it's just such a bizarre execution of it. The other example listed is that of Garth of Izar, who threatened annihilation of the species who taught him how to shape-shift, and his crew simply 5150ed him.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:43 AM on June 3, 2021

An MA tidbit I left out:
"While no comma was used when the title appeared on screen, the title was given with a comma in the script, as well as in a number of reference works including the Star Trek Encyclopedia, the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, and on"
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:51 AM on June 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Exactly once

Wow, I could have sworn it was more than that, even if it was just Kirk bluffing. I thought there was at least one instance where he was deadly serious. Oh well. And that episode, I know it well. It is one of my favorites of TOS.

"Sir, if we didn't have our screens up, we'd be totally disrupted by now."
posted by Fukiyama at 11:07 AM on June 3, 2021

In Star Trek Online, Hugh later becomes a member of the Cooperative, a collection of several different liberated Borg groups from this episode and some of Voyager's. It's an interesting idea, but the developers haven't done much with it lately.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 12:00 PM on June 3, 2021

Jonathan Del Arco just makes this episode--he imbues the right amount of Borginess, curiosity, confusion, and friendliness, and that had to be a really tough role to take on at the point in the series, and especially under such an asshat as Berman and some of the other higher ups. And Whoopi Goldberg elevates things even more; then you've got Patrick Stewart running the gamut of what he can do with meaty dialog and character continuity...and it all just works so well. The episode is just all about great acting for me, I'm not even interested in picking apart the logic flaws and plot holes for once, because the A games are on throughout the Enterprise and it's just great.

Even if that lack of a comma (whyyyy do series never hire even just competent professional proofreaders at the basic level) is making my copyeditor/proofreader eye spasm. I refuse to acknowledge their stupid and ungrammatical errors. That flaw, at least, should be acknowledged and corrected.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:26 PM on June 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

You better believe there are cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:
Hugh is a potent card which takes its image from this episode, but builds in effects from his later appearance, making him a counter for both the massive threat of a Borg Ship or Rogue Borg as well. Certainly one you would see.

By the time this episode was used again in the game, the Borg affiliation was fully rolled out; Six of Thirteen and Third of Five appear supplementally. 3 of 5 mainly improves the capabilities of some of your ships, while Old Sixy is built to be sent to sap dilemmas off planet missions, one by one. (Because the Borg were too special to follow the normal mechanics followed by other factions for some reason? One of my favorite things about Second Edition is that this went away. Digression over.) Relatedly, Decipher made a CGI Borg Scout Vessel with clear inspiration from the wreckage seen in this episode. I've always liked the look of it over the Borg Probe seen on Voyager.

When the Borg affiliation appeared in Second Edition they received Severed Link as a fairly ordinary draw-filtering tool. Salvage Borg Ship has requirements that aren't too hard for its 35 points, I wouldn't call it 'popular' so much as 'a standard choice'. Finally, Expand the Collective expands the range of missions a Borg player can attempt and standardizes their requirements, not a bad selection.
posted by StarkRoads at 1:55 PM on June 3, 2021

I think this is straight-up the best Borg episode, period. The writers loved to complain about how the Borg are hard to write for, being a monolithic faceless menace, but I think this is more to do with their lack of creativity than any failing on the Borg's part. Star Trek is about encountering and overcoming forces of nature all the time, and I think the Borg make a great TV villain: You may be able to beat a single cube, barely, but you know such a victory is meaningless to the Borg. They'll always be back, and your last tactic won't work again.

Making this episode about a single drone is great. Del Arco is fantastic, and you get to explore an aspect of the Borg without them being a direct menace. It's silly that the Power of Love frees Hugh, silly how optimistic the Enterprise crew are about their virus plan, and sillier still that the Power of Love goes on to destroy (some of) the Borg. But seeing a drone experience individuality again, and experience a different kind of cooperation, makes up for the silliness. I also appreciate this for where they take this story next, which I think is some of the best Star Trek we ever got.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:09 PM on June 3, 2021 [4 favorites]

Del Arco returns as Hugh in one season seven episode of TNG and three season one episodes of PIC.

I stopped and furrowed my brow at this because it didn't seem right, but a moment's thought revealed that Icheb and Maddox get recast but alone among the series non-regulars, Hugh returns with his original actor.

I've a feeling this will be a Star Trek trivia question someday.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:54 PM on June 3, 2021

I was a grown-ass adult before it occurred to me that Borg=cyborg. So embarrassing.

I feel the same way as a lot of you guys: this episode is really good but I find I can’t really agree with the underlying logic. I mean, it’s arguable that the Borg are not really a distinct race at all - you could just as easily describe “Borgism” as a mechanical virus that infects various races and turns them into techno-zombies.

Another point: the captain seems really optimistic that when Hugh is reabsorbed into the hive mind, his experience of individuality will start to change the hive mind’s mind. Sounds good Captain, except shouldn’t that then have happened when you were absorbed into the hive mind not so long ago?

This, I have no problem with. The Borg presumably have ways to prevent the individuality of the people they assimilate from infecting them, because they do that all the time. But they’d have no reason to assume that an existing Borg member would pose the same problem, so why guard against it?
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:01 AM on June 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

I was a grown-ass adult before it occurred to me that Borg=cyborg

...oh yeah
posted by obfuscation at 10:29 AM on June 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

I thought the title was a reference to the bit where Hugh gives Geordi his eye. You know. Eye: Borg.

And let's face it, this is how the episode should have ended:

[GEORDI beams down with HUGH]
GEORDI: Pssst. Hugh. Hugh. Hugh!
HUGH: What?
GEORDI: Trade?
HUGH: ... sure.
[HUGH and GEORDI trade prosthetic eyepieces]
posted by phooky at 11:59 AM on June 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

I think the idea of Hugh having any influence on the collective would be like expecting a single neuron to influence you. And who's to say it doesn't? How do you measure the influence of a single neuron among 100 billion? how do you measure the influence of a single drone in a hive mind of trillions of drones? In any case, it's probably pretty small.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:42 PM on June 4, 2021

There's the kindling model for seizures - local (focal) low intensity stimulation can induce increasingly strong and increasingly global seizure activity.

The idea is that you can disrupt network feedback-derived homeostasis and tip the network towards unregulated/ dis-regulated runaway activity.
posted by porpoise at 1:06 PM on June 4, 2021

Something I'd love to see--and yet, it's probably never going to happen within the world of Star Trek proper--is what a "real" technologically assisted hive mind would actually look like. The Borg are heavily influenced by zombie films and earlier robot movies: they move slowly and stiffly, and considering they are "drones" within a "collective", they don't really act in a coherent fashion. It even seems like their local on-board intelligence has ... kind of disappeared? Admittedly this is a little bit more how like social insects function in real life; they aren't actually a connected hive mind, but the stacking complexity of their actions allows them to take on very complicated tasks and we can think of them as single organisms.

But what if we had a Borg-like species that was a single consciousness, but retained the capabilities of its individual members? I'm not talking about the rabid mob of fast zombie films, but the five or nine members of a scout ship operating in perfect union and syncronicity. Not twitching robots, but the fingers of a skilled pianist playing an fugue?
posted by thecaddy at 1:23 PM on June 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

Not twitching robots, but the fingers of a skilled pianist playing an fugue?

I am Orz. I am one with many *fingers*.

My *fingers* reach through into *heavy space* and you *see* *Orz bubbles* but it is really *fingers*.
posted by hanov3r at 3:16 PM on June 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

One of the best, specifically for when Hugh realizes
then... resistance is NOT futile!
Right On and you better believe it! Never give up! Never Surrender! All who feel like featureless drones, toiling away at your jobs -- remember this! The revolution starts with YOU, Hugh!
posted by Rash at 12:41 PM on June 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

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