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.
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.
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 maniacal 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.
Riker: [as he and Worf enter] Which is?
Q: Oh, the redoubtable 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.
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 portentously 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.
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. Completely ignoring La Forge and the other engineers, the scout commences an examination of the warp drive and control surfaces. 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:
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 portentously 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. Worf fires and misses, hitting another portion of the Borg cube with little visible effect.
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. Increasing power, 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.
Q: [coldly] Oh, please.
Again 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.
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.
Picard: Q. End this.
Q: Moi? What makes you think I'm either inclined or capable to terminate this encounter?
Picard: 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. The galaxy is not safe. It's wondrous and dangerous, and it's not for the timid. With that lesson, Q leaves and the Enterprise heads for the nearest starbase for repairs.
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:
- Absentee Actor: Pulaski doesn't appear in this episode. Since Diana Muldaur declined to be credited as a main cast member, this makes her a non-entity.
- Admiring the Abomination: Picard admits that the chance to study Q would actually be quite intriguing.
Q: Interesting, isn't it? Not a he, not a she, not like anything you've ever seen before. An enhanced humanoid.
- Q's descriptions of the Borg. Unlike humanity, he seems to genuinely admire them;
- Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Picard during his Patrick Stewart Speech at the end.
- Badass Fingersnap: This marks the first time Q uses his powers by snapping his fingers.
- 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 (in fact, they likely knew of them already), and they will be coming. 18 crewmen are dead from this incident. And the once confident crew, especially Picard, are shaken to their core.
- Blatant Lies:Q: Sir, do you mock me?
Picard: Not at all; that's the last thing I would do.
- Brig Ball Bouncing: A version done by Q as he is waiting for Picard to agree to listen to him in the shuttle craft.
- Creator Cameo: Writer (and showrunner) Maurice Hurley and director Rob Bowman provide two of the voices that go into the Borg's message to the Enterprise.
- Cruel to Be Kind: Q's actions could be considered this; he isn'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 give the Federation an advance warning about who the Borg are, even if people die as a result. This canon is 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 were captured and assimilated. Which means that the Borg already possessed knowledge of the existence of humans and the Federation. What is new to them is the Galaxy-class starship Enterprise, hence their interest in assimilating it.
- Cute Clumsy Girl: Sonia Gomez establishes herself as this by running into Picard and spilling her hot chocolate on him. First impressions, indeed.
- David vs. 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.
- Delegation Relay: When the first Borg drone beams into Engineering, Picard orders Worf to deal with it. Worf then orders a Red Shirt to deal with it; said Red Shirt gets knocked on his ass.
- Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: Picard learns the harsh lesson that Q really isn't someone to try and flip off.
- 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. [...] 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: Unsurprisingly, there's quite a bit concerning the Borg, given that they were still brand new in this episode, the writing team was sussing out how both to make them threatening and how exactly their "assimilation" worked.
- The Borg's shield-draining weapon is never used again after this episode, though Borg tractor beams would pick up similar properties.
- This is the only episode in which the Borg seem completely uninterested in assimilating humanoid lifeforms - in any other episode, especially starting with the First Contact movie, that security officer would've probe-injected on the spot. In this take on the Borg, they are exclusively interested in acquiring technology.
- The Borg continue to "scoop up" technological elements from a planet and just leave them, suggesting they are entirely space-based as a civilization; while "Best of Both Worlds" would continue this conceit, later works (most prominently starting with First Contact) would instead begin to suggest that the Borg do in fact perform surface assimilation and will assimilate and build up technology on planets.
- While the idea of "Borg children" comes up in later works (one of Voyager's stronger narrative thrusts involved exploring this concept), this episode implies that the Borg breed children to be drones. While it's not impossible that they do this, later works don't reference this idea at all and generally suggest that the Borg are simply indiscriminate in who they assimilate, and this includes children, who are then "matured" to the point where they are useful.
- Naturally, at this point the Borg appear to be a complete Hive Mind with absolutely no form of centralized decision-making. The idea of the Borg Queen would be nearly a decade off.
- Borg use of nanotechnology isn't referenced at all in this episode; at the time the episode was written, nanotech wasn't even widely known about as a concept. Their regeneration and whatnot simply "happens" somehow (including in a rather infamous effects shot).
- Ensign Newbie: Sonya Gomez, who is just so eager to be out exploring the galaxy aboard the Enterprise.
- Gratuitous Spanish: Q. Con permiso, of course.
- Gut Feeling: Guinan gets a funny feeling after Picard disappears from the Enterprise, but suggests that It's Probably Nothing. Of course, it's not nothing.
- Hollywood Hacking: The Borg do this on the Enterprise's computer by jamming an electronic arm into a display screen. Apparently, Starfleet computers are designed to be accessible that way.
- 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.
- 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!
- Incoming Ham: After kidnapping Picard, Q interrupts him without looking at him, then turns and mugs for the camera.Picard: Crewmember, what is going o—
Q: Welcome, Captain Picard, to Shuttlecraft 6!
- Loophole Abuse: Picard reminds Q of their agreement that he would never trouble his ship again. Q joyfully points out that they're nowhere near his ship.
- Motor Mouth: Sonia Gomez admits to this, especially when she's excited.
- Noodle Incident: Whatever "dealings" Q and Guinan had 200 years earlier.
- Once the Borg cube adapts to the Enterprise's weapons, a volley of photon torpedoes doesn'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.
- No, You: Q describes Guinan as an imp that trouble follows wherever she goes. Picard is not impressed.Picard: You're speaking of yourself, Q.
- Oh, Crap!: Sonia Gomez's reaction to spilling hot chocolate on Picard.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Overall, this episode is the one time we see Q get genuinely angry and it's bone chilling. In particular, when Q explains the nature of the Borg to the senior staff, he's quiet, calm, and very direct, which is at odds with his Large Ham trickster persona. It's part of what makes his 'oh, please' line so memorable.
- Outside-Context Problem: 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.
- Riddle for the Ages: Upon meeting Guinan aboard the Enterprise for the first time, Q expresses what appears to be genuine alarm and unease, calling her a 'creature' whose danger Picard does not and cannot understand. When he threatens to remove her from the ship, raising his hands to work his 'magic', Guinan similarly raises her hands in what appears to be a defensive posture, implying that she has some ability to combat or thwart Q's powers. Unfortunately, Picard manages to defuse the situation before it comes to blows, and the viewer is left to wonder whether or not Guinan possesses such powers against the Q or not.
- 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.
- Self-Recovery Surprise: It's not a good sign for our heroes when the damaged cube starts repairing itself, and can still chase them down at warp.
- Shout-Out: To The Great Escape—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? [...] 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.
- Tempting Fate: Picard does this one too many times, and he winds up with 18 crewmen dead. You should've listened to Guinan, Jean-Luc.
- This Is Reality: After 18 crewmen die, Picard asks if this is just another illusion. Q responds, "This is as real as your so-called life gets."
- Villain Has a Point: Q's reason for all of this is purely egotistical, but he's right about the Federation not being prepared for the danger that awaits.
- 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.
- Wham Episode: The Borg are introduced in full—making this one of the most important episodes of the series and franchise as a whole.
- Wham Line: "Oh, please." With those two words the audience knows Q isn't fucking around anymore. All the more impressive as the line was an ad-lib by John de Lancie, who thought it fit Q's ruthless, devil-may-care attitude.
- The Worf Effect: Oddly subverted. When Picard orders Worf to stop the Borg drone in Engineering, Worf orders an Ensign to try to stop him. The Borg drone forcefully pushes the Ensign away. Worf wouldn't go one-on-one against the Borg until "The Best of Both Worlds: Part I", with predictable results.
- "You!" Exclamation: Q's reaction to seeing Guinan on the Enterprise.