Oh god, now I feel dirty. I think I need to take a bath. That said, I was recently watching Collective, and while the episode may have it’s own issues, I couldn’t help but to be left to ponder something about the nature of the Borg. For those not sure, Collective isn’t actually that bad an episode. That is not to say it’s a great episode, but it certainly has some strong points. I have to admit that the poker game during the teaser was amusing and hearkened back to the TNG days of the crew sitting around enjoying a good game of cards. When the Borg cube snuck up on the Delta Flyer the script actually addressed how they managed to do so, with notions of technobabble obscuring their approach.
I have to admit I also liked the fact that there was a moral debate between using a weapon to commit a form of Borg Genocide (again hearkening back to TNG’s use of Hugh in order to destroy the collective). To me it was an overall acceptable episode without to many real plot holes that managed to introduce a bit of character into how the Borg deal with their young. Many; however, see the episode as yet another stab at the Borg, making them weaker and less powerful. Reading the debates online about how stupid it made the Borg to have them do X or Y it hit me like a Borg Cube so to speak.
When you talk among the fans, you’ll get various different opinions on exactly when it was that the Borg began to go downhill. For some, it was the moment that Jean Luc Picard was assimilated as a precursor to Wolf 359, making the Borg less a force of nature and more interested in biological aspects. Yet more still at the introduction of Hugh, with each progressive episode about the Borg tapering off until you have this culmination of hatred at Voyager’s last episode, in which the Borg are dealt a massive blow.
I thought about this for a very long time, as I’ve always been happy to defend the Borg in one way or another throughout the Star Trek franchise. I suppose being an apologist for Berman and Braga is just my own little way of getting by in the day. I’ve even gone so far as to say that the Exact moment Voyager became a disappointment to me was Scorpion’s introductory scene. The thing is that as I think about it more and more, the thing I was angry about with regards to the Borg was not making them a weaker enemy, but instead making them a more complete race with it’s own flaws and issues.
You see, in Q Who, the Borg had been presented not as a race, but as a force of nature. They were portrayed as this entity that wonders the universe and gobbles up technology. They were unstoppable and uncontrollable. What Star Trek did over the years was morph that unstoppable force into not a force of nature but a true hive-mind. They made the Borg into some incredibly advanced Wasp.
And when you re frame the Borg as a really big, advanced Wasp colony, their actions across the board becomes far more understandable. If you frame them as a force of nature, then yes almost every episode after Q Who is going to be an insult to their very existence. But when you start looking at their behavior as more like that of an insect, they become approachable in the sense of what happens to them.
Yes they still have that bit about assimilating and having incredibly powerful ships, but you start looking at the strange things. For instance, why did that Borg Cube sneak up on the Delta Flyer in Collective rather then just blow it up outright, or if the Borg have had that capability, why didn’t they use it all the time? The answer is of course simple, they’ve never needed to sneak up on their enemy before. In the past they could simply use sheer force of will to overwhelm the opponent, so there was no need to hide and play games with their prey. You don’t need to hide in the grass if you have more stamina and can easily outrun your opponent. But the cube in Collective was damaged and piloted by only a few drones. They couldn’t take their opponents on in a fair fight, so they needed to even the odds.
Or take for instance the commentary about the Borg only sending a single vessel to fight the Federation on it’s home soil. Again, if you frame this as a wasp colony that is simply scouting out prey it makes a great deal more sense. The first cube got a whiff of the Enterprise and was intrigued, so they followed her home only to discover a culture with a wealth of technology, but still with the capability to destroy their scout. So just to check things, you send another scout to find out exactly what their capabilities are, investigating and poking to determine the strengths and weaknesses.
This of course brings up the issue of why didn’t they just travel back in time and assimilate humanity, and I think the answer there is that unlike what seems be general consensus, going back in time was never a plan, it was a panicked response to being suddenly overwhelmed. I mean if you look at the fleet in comparison to the cube, it was still doing quite well on it’s own accord. Then all of the sudden, someone shows up and knows how to cut off your head with surgical precision and you have to think of something…
In the case of the Borg, the easiest place to hide would be in the past, where they could lick their wounds. Of course the Borg aren’t simply mindless beast, why not turn a crushing defeat into a victory. So they think about it, and they decide that if they’re going to be forced to go back in time, they might as well kill two birds with one stone. I mean realistically there were plenty of points in human history where they could have gone back and met minimal resistance. In fact the original script called for the Borg to head back to the feudal age to fight with Knights. The idea was thankfully scrapped in favor of the First Contact storyline.
I like to think that Voyager and the subsequent Borg episodes expanded the race, not diminished it. It was fascinating to get a peak into the monster. To take a fundamental human unknown, a force of nature, and to explore it to discover that perhaps the great beast isn’t so inhuman after all. It has it’s own flaws, it’s own enemies, and it’s own issues to deal with. It anthropomorphizes the borg into an actual culture.
It is certainly understandable why someone might find this change to the Borg to be disagreeable but I think it may actually speak more to Gene’s vision of the future. The notion that there is no true evil in the universe, there are simply things that Humanity doesn’t understand and the Borg are one of them. That is not to say what the Borg are doing isn’t fundamentally wrong, but much like Arturis in Hope and Fear noting that he did not blame the Borg, they were just doing what it is that Borg do, I think that it should be noted that they are at the very least not Choatic Evil.
They are an alien race with slightly different methods of procreation (assimilation in their case), making them not to unlike the often parasitic wasp. They have a queen, a hierarchical but hive oriented structure, and they suffer from a serious case of Galaxy wide OCD. I would like to think that the Borg would have eventually discovered a way to deal with Species 8472, but like a wasp colony facing a bit of bug spray, they were panicked and looking for answers. So when a Federation ship comes wondering into your field of view and tells you the thought of the answer you are bound to think about the consequences of trying to kill them.
I’ve heard criticism about how strange it was that the entire collective didn’t come up with the same idea as a Hologram who represented all of humanity’s medical knowledge, and I think there is a key point about innovation here. It’s not that the Borg aren’t innovative, we know from other scripts they like to run experiments of their own all the time. I think they may have genuinely just not thought of the the solution the Doctor proposed. It’s not about lacking imagination, it’s about not imaging the same thing. The Borg were approaching them like an invading empire, Voyager approached them like individuals. That is to say, in trying to cure Harry Kim (something the Borg weren’t really all about, looking after their fallen isn’t a priority). The Borg didn’t think of a medical approach to destroying species 8472 because it was never really an alleyway they decided to chase or dig at.
I’m sure there are still instances where the Borg do in fact get written in a poor manner, but I am hoping that my re-framing the Borg as a big Wasp Nest rather then techno zombies might better make their actions seem more in character in the later episodes then perhaps they were previously viewed.
As always leave your commentary, I love nerdy discussion.