The third appearance of the mischevious Q Entity, and the debut of the Borg, arguably the most famous adversarial race introduced post-Original Series.
Overeager young Ensign Sonya Gomez, a recent Academy graduate just assigned to the Enterprise,
is carrying on a rambling conversation with Lt. La Forge in engineering, while carrying a mug of hot chocolate in her hands. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
When Geordi politely remonstrates her that it's not a good idea to be carrying that mug around sensitive electronic equipment, Gomez turns to leave Engineering and plows right into Captain Picard
Picard leaves Engineering to get a change of uniform and exits the turbolift without looking— and suddenly he's on a shuttlecraft piloted by Q. Picard angrily reminds Q that after their last encounter
, he'd promised never to trouble the Enterprise
again, and Q says he always keeps his word: The shuttlecraft is in the middle of nowhere
Back on the Enterprise,
La Forge and Gomez are pedeconferencing
, with Geordi assuring her that he wouldn't have requested her if she wasn't the best at what she does. (It probably doesn't hurt that she's kinda cute). He says they'll go to Ten-Forward to sit and relax, and help teach her how to slow down. When Gomez demurs, La Forge says she's awfully young to be so driven.
Gomez: Whatever is out here, we're gonna be the first humans to see it, and I wanna be part of that, I wanna understand it.
La Forge: Sonya, relax... you're here, you've made it, but you won't last long banging into walls. It'll be there for you, believe me.
In Ten-Forward, Guinan realizes something is terribly wrong, and she contacts the bridge, asking Riker if there's anything unusual happening. Worf checks his station quickly, and shakes his head; Riker replies there's nothing out of the ordinary. "Why do you ask?" "I'm not sure... just a feeling."
Back on the shuttlecraft, Picard tries a locator beam and subspace communication to reach the Enterprise,
to no avail. Q tells him to save his energy— he and Picard have things to discuss.
Picard: Keeping me a prisoner here will not compell me to discuss anything with you.
Q [leaning right into Picard's ear]: It will in time.
In Ten-Forward, Geordi realizes something's bothering Guinan, and he and Sonya decide to go check out Engineering just in case.
Picard's absence doesn't go unnoticed for long: Troi comes onto the bridge asking where the captain is. An attempt to reach him in his quarters fails, and the computer confirms he's not on the ship. Worf realizes a shuttlecraft is missing and Riker immediately calls for an all-stop, setting the Enterprise
to the task of looking for Picard. Six hours of intensive searching pass with no success.
Back in the shuttle, Q taunts the uncommunicative Picard that he can stay out here forever: "I'm ageless, Picard— you
are not." Picard is firm that he won't discuss anything with Q while being held hostage, but agrees that he'll give Q's request a fair hearing if he returns him to the Enterprise.
They immediately appear in Ten-Forward, and Q's manaical chuckling causes Guinan to pop out from behind the bar. Worf's station immediately shows the shuttle back in its bay, and the computer gives Picard's location. Riker gives a somewhat amused Here We Go Again
smile as he leaves the bridge.
Guinan angrily confronts Q, and it turns out they had "some dealings
" 200 years ago. "This creature is not what she appears to be. She's an imp, and where she goes, trouble always follows." Picard retorts, "You're speaking of yourself, Q, not Guinan," and insists that Q state his business.
Q: I agree, Captain. Enough about this creature. She's diverting us from the purpose of my being here.
Riker [as he and Worf enter]: Which is?
Q: Oh, the reboutable Commander Riker! And micro-brain! Growl for me, let me know you still care.
Q says that he wishes to join the Enterprise
as a member of the crew, admitting that he was kicked out of the Q Continuum. Picard says that to learn about Q would be provocative, "but you're next-of-kin to chaos". Q insists that he doesn't want or need special treatment, and if necessary, he'd even renounce his powers, "and become as weak and as incompetent as all of you."
"No," Picard replies. When it comes down to it, the crew doesn't trust Q. Q counters that they may not trust him, but they do need
him. The Federation's moving farther out than expected, faster than they should, and is about to enter some wondrous, but dangerous, areas of the galaxy. The "pitiful adversaries" the Federation has already encountered, like the Romulans and the Klingons, are nothing compared to what's waiting.
Riker: We'll just have to do the best we can without you.
Q: What justifies that smugness?
Picard: Not smugness. Not arrogance. But we are resolute, we are determined... and your help is not required.
Q: We'll just have to see how ready you are!
With a snap and a flash, the Enterprise
is propelled 7,000 light years in a matter of seconds, ending up near System J-25, putting them 2 1/2 years (at maximum warp) from the nearest starbase.
Q: "Why?" Why, to give you a taste of your future. A preview of things to come. Con permiso, Capitan. The hall is rented, the orchestra engaged. It's now time to see if you can dance.
Picard and Riker ask Guinan for advice on this area of space, because her people have been here before. "If I were you, I'd start back now,"
she portentiously recommends.
But Picard decides to go exploring first
, and they come across an M-class planet that's now completely lifeless, with great rends in the surface where the cities should be. It's exactly what happened to the outposts in the Neutral Zone
in the Season 1 finale. Worf detects that the Enterprise
is being probed, and locates the source as an approaching ship. Picard puts the ship on yellow alert.
The ship in question is a massive cube-shaped hunk of metal, oddly genericized in its design. There's no bridge, engineering section, living quarters, or even life signs. Picard wisely calls down to Guinan for identification.
Picard: You're familiar with this life form?
Guinan: Yes. My people encountered them a century ago. They destroyed our cities; scattered my people throughout the galaxy. They're called the Borg. Protect yourself, Captain, or they'll destroy you.
Riker orders the shields raised, but a Borg scout almost immediately beams through the shields, into Main Engineering. Geordi calls an intruder alert, and is soon joined by Picard, Worf and two security guards. Q appears to comment on the situation, suggesting that the Borg may attempt to take control of the ship. When the scout tries to do exactly that, Picard orders him stopped. The Borg throws a security officer
across the room, but is felled with the second shot of Worf's phaser. A replacement beams in, protected by a force field; after continuing the scout's work for a few moments, he peels some equipment off the fallen Borg and disappears, while the dead Borg turns to ash.
In the conference room, the senior staff and Guinan have a meeting. Guinan says that the first encounter was reconnaissance only, and when they decide to come, they're gonna come in force
. And they won't be reasoned with. The Borg hail the Enterprise:
Borg: We have analyzed your defensive capabilities as being unable to withstand us. If you defend yourselves, you will be punished.
Troi realizes that the Borg are acting together as a single mind; there's no one leader who can make mistakes. Q appears on the viewscreen and portentiously asks Picard if he's sure
he doesn't want him as a member of the crew. Almost instantly, the Borg lock a tractor beam on the Enterprise.
The senior staff returns to the bridge, and Picard orders the ship to warp out of there, but the tractor beam's holding them in place— and draining their shields. Picard orders Worf to locate the tractor beam's source and fire phasers.
That horrible shooting costs them: The Borg uses a cutting beam to slice into the saucer and "carve them up like a roast", forcibly removing nine sections worth of the ship, killing 18 people. Picard again orders the tractor beam terminated with whatever force is necessary. Worf hits the target on the fourth overall shot.
Three large chunks have been taken out of the Borg ship, and it's been immobilized. Rather than take the opportunity to get the hell out of there, Picard orders a conference, which Q barges in on.
Riker: You brought us here, you exposed us to them, and you cost us the lives of our shipmates!'
Q [coldly]: Oh, please.
ignoring Guinan's advice, Picard has Riker assemble an Away Team (himself, Data and Worf) to visit the Borg ship.
Despite the Enterprise's
sensors not detecting any life signs, there are thousands— possibly hundreds of thousands— of Borg drones aboard, most of them plugged into slots on the wall. One of them approaches the crew and Worf raises his phaser, but Riker holds him off; the drone walks right in between the Away Team
, fiddles with something, and returns to her previous position. Data surmises that the Borg don't register as individuals while they're in their slots.
The Away Team finds a Borg nursery, in which newborn humanoids are given their first cybernetic implants. The team's explorations are cut short when they realize the Borg are rapidly repairing the ship.
The Away Team's transported directly to the bridge, and finally
Picard gives the order to get the hell out of there. The Borg pursue, while continuing to regenerate their ship. Picard orders maximum speed and another attack; two photon torpedoes are completely ineffective. Even at warp 9.65, the Enterprise
is losing ground.
Q: They will follow this ship until you exhaust your fuel. They will wear down your defenses. Then you will be theirs. Admit it, Picard, you're out of your league. You should have stayed where you belong.
The Borg fire an energy-draining weapon twice, draining the Enterprise's
shields. Another spread of photon torpedoes does nothing. Two subsequent shots of the energy-draining weapon knock out first the shields and then the warp drive, and the Borg re-establish their tractor beam. Picard orders another torpedo volley, but Data warns that a torpedo detonation at this range with no shields will likely destroy the ship. Nevertheless, Riker prepares to give the order.
Q [swapping places with Data in a flash]: I'll be leaving now. You thought you could handle it. So handle it.
Picard: Q. End this.
Q: Moi? What makes you think I'm either inclined or capable to terminate this encounter?
If we all die... here, now... you will not be able to gloat! You wanted to frighten us. We're frightened. You wanted to show us that we are inadequate. For the moment... I grant that. You wanted me to say I need you? I! NEED! YOU!
With a smirk, Q flashes the Enterprise
' back to where they started, and tells Picard he was impressed— a lesser man would have been humiliated to say those words, and would rather have died than ask for help. Picard points out that giving the Enterprise
a healthy dose of humility could have been accomplished without 18 people dying, but Q likens it to a little bloody nose;
if Picard can't deal with it, he should go home and crawl under his bed.
In Ten-Forward, over chess with Guinan, Picard muses that Q may have done the right thing for the wrong reason. Now that the Federation knows about the Borg, they can prepare for their next encounter. But you can bet the Borg will be coming for them now.
This episode contains examples of:
- Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Picard during his Patrick Stewart Speech at the end.
- Beware the Silly Ones: Q, after instantly flashing the Enterprise halfway across the galaxy on a whim and bringing them into a confrontation with The Borg, reinforces this with two words:
- Bittersweet Ending: The Enterprise escapes and is safe, for now. But the Borg now know the Federation exists, and they will be coming.
- Blatant Lies:
Q: Sir, do you mock me?
Picard: Not at all; that's the last thing I would do.
- Cruel to Be Kind: Q's actions could be considered this; he wasn't responsible for the Borg coming after the Federation later, because the attacks in "The Neutral Zone" are implied to be the result of the Borg, so they were on their way anyway. His actions actually gave the Federation an advance warning about who the Borg were, even if people died as a result.
- This canon was later reinforced in Star Trek: Voyager, where it is revealed that Seven of Nine's parents were Federation scientists investigating the then unknown Borg almost a decade before this episode. The whole family and their small ship was captured and assimilated. Which means that the Borg already possessed knowledge of the existence of humans and the Federation. What would have been new to them was the Galaxy Class starship Enterprise, hence their interest in assimilating it.
- David Versus Goliath: The Enterprise versus a Borg cube. Picard and crew get a few good shots in at first, due to the Borg being unfamiliar with their weaponry... and then the Borg become immune to it.
- Deadpan Snarker: Q, of course, is an endless stream of sarcastic comments and witty remarks as the Enterprise rebuffs his attempts to join them and then during the struggle with the Borg.
- The Dreaded: Q's description of what lies waiting for humanity as they continue out into the galaxy. The Borg are his immediate example.
Q: Picard, you are about to move into areas of the galaxy containing wonders more incredible than you can possibly imagine - and terrors to freeze your soul.
Q: You judge yourselves against the pitiful adversaries you've encountered so far. The Romulans, the Klingons; they're nothing compared to what's waiting.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The Borg's shield-draining weapon is never used again after this episode, though their tractor beam would have similar properties. And this is the only episode in which the Borg aren't interested in assimilating humanoid lifeforms.
- Ensign Newbie: Sonya Gomez, who is just so eager to be out exploring the galaxy aboard the Enterprise.
- Idiot Ball: All there in his Captain's Log - 'Despite Guinan's warnings, I have decided to explore this sector of space a bit before heading back'.
- Ignored Expert:
- Picard ignores Guinan's advice to start back immediately and decides to explore the sector first, which causes 18 Enterprise crew members to be killed and the ship to almost be destroyed. They also ignore her advice not to beam an Away Team to the ship. All of this is after directly asking Guinan to monitor the bridge screen because 'we might need your input.'
- Arrogant as he is, Q's warnings are also ignored until Picard has to literally beg for his help.
- Noodle Incident: Whatever "dealings" Q and Guinan had 200 years earlier.
- No Sell:
- Once the Borg cube adapts to the Enterprise's weapons, a volley of photon torpedoes don't even scratch it.
- Similarly, the first drone that is shot in Engineering falls to the floor dead. The second one that appears has a defense shield that absorbs phaser fire.
- Outside-Context Villain: The Borg, perhaps the greatest example of this Trope in the Trek 'Verse, are introduced here. The situation is deliberately set up by Q to prove to Picard just how unprepared the Federation is for something like them.
- Patrick Stewart Speech: One of the most brilliant of the series, when Picard tells Q he needs him.
- Implacable Man: The Borg.
Q: They will follow this ship until you exhaust your fuel. They will wear down your defenses. Then you will be theirs.
: You can't outrun them; you can't destroy them. If you damage them, the essence of what they are remains. They regenerate and keep coming
. Eventually you will weaken, your reserves will be gone. They are relentless!
- Run or Die: When Riker informs Picard that the Borg cube is healing itself at an alarming rate, running like hell looks like the only possible chance the Enterprise crew has to survive the encounter. It is defied when the Borg are shown to be capable of running just a little faster and slowing the Enterprise down.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Averted. Trying to find a small shuttlecraft that Q could literally have put anywhere in the universe is just as impossible as it should be.
- Shout-Out: Q passes the time on the shuttle by throwing a ball against the wall.
- Shut Up, Kirk!: When Riker chews Q out for exposing them to the Borg and costing the lives of a dozen shipmates, all Q responds with is "oh, please". This was an ad-lib by de Lancie, and a considerable improvement on the Large Ham line in the script. Then there's Q's parting words.
Q: If you can't take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It's not safe out here. It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires, both subtle and gross. But it's not for the timid.
- Surrounded by Idiots: Q's real opinion of the Enterprise crew, explicitly stated when he tries to get Picard to let him join. (Which is a strange thing to do during a job interview.)
Q: This ship is already home for the indigent, the unwanted, the unworthy; why not for a homeless entity?
Q: And if necessary, though I can't imagine why, I will renounce my powers, and become as weak and as incompetent as all of you.
- Voice of the Legion: The Borg's method of communicating.
- We Have Become Complacent: The point that Q was trying to get across by introducing the Enterprise to the Borg, and a statement which Picard ultimately admits is not without merit.