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Recap / Star Trek: The Next Generation S5E23 "I Borg"

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Aww, poor lonely Borg.
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The Star Trek episode that dares to ask, "What Measure Is A Borg?"

Answering what they think to be a distress signal, the Enterprise comes across a crashed Borg scout ship. All its crew are dead, save one. Clearly against his better judgment, Picard allows the injured Borg to be brought to the ship for medical treatment, though it is placed inside a force field which interrupts its connection to the Collective. Despite Counsellor Troi's misgivings, Picard insists he's fine with the situation.

As part of its medical treatment, LaForge prepares to repair/replace certain of the Borg's cybernetic implants, but Picard takes the suggestion one step further: why not reprogram an implant to introduce a Logic Bomb through this drone into the entire Borg Collective, causing them all to shut down? At a meeting to discuss this plan, Dr. Crusher alone objects, pointing out that this would be tantamount to genocide. Unfortunately for her, everyone else is fine with it, having accepted the non-declared, unofficial state of war between the Borg and, well, anyone they want to assimilate. Unfortunately for them, Crusher's apparent sympathy for the Borg drone only grows as his physical condition improves; she notes that he seems to be frightened and lonely, severed from contact with the other Borg. Meanwhile, Guinan hands Picard a sort of Dark Side version of her usual Whoopi Epiphany Speech, when she fakes an injury during a fencing duel and then defeats Picard as he moves to help.

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Guinan: You felt sorry for me; look what it got you.

The Borg boy continues to improve, and Crusher and LaForge work on testing him out to see how best to implement the Logic Bomb plot. They converse with him and introduce themselves, to which the Borg wonders if he has a name (he only knows the Borg designation "Third Of Five"). Trying to sound out a pet name for him, they settle upon "Hugh", sort of a pun on "you...". Now that Hugh has an actual name, LaForge too begins to develop an attachment to him and is having second thoughts about the whole plan. He talks to Guinan about this, but she is uncharacteristically unsympathetic. LaForge challenges her to go visit Hugh for herself. Complicating matters, another Borg scout ship is approaching, presumably to retrieve survivors/scavenge the wrecked ship.

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Guinan does eventually go visit Hugh, and she maintains her harsh facade until she lets it slip that her people had been very nearly obliterated by the Borg. Hugh notes that she is lonely, being so far away from any of her kind, and that "we [sic, referring to himself; hold that thought] are lonely too". Guinan is, to say the least, speechless at this unexpected acknowledgment of emotion from the Borg. And so the Logic Bomb plot is working, only in reverse; one by one, the Enterprise crew are growing attached to Hugh and subsequently reluctant to initiate genocide through him. Guinan goes to Picard with her new misgivings, only to find him as fiercely defiant as she herself had been. And I really mean "fiercely"; at one point Picard roars "IT'S NOT A PERSON, DAMMIT; IT'S A BORG!!" Guinan is having none of it, though, and insists that Picard too must at least look Hugh in the eye before turning him into a Tyke Bomb.

Finally Picard agrees and has Hugh beamed into his Captain's Office. Hugh, for his part, recognizes Locutus Of Borg, and Picard takes advantage and speaks to him as Locutus. After forcing Hugh to renounce his human name and reiterate his Borg designation, he announces that the Enterprise and her crew will be assimilated, even against their will, or they will die. Hugh doesn't cotton to this idea, having grown attached to his human friends (especially LaForge) but "Locutus" is adamant, culminating in this exchange:

Picard: They will be assimilated. You will assist us.
Hugh: I will not.
Picard: What did you say?... You said "I"; but you are Borg!
Hugh: No... I am Hugh.

Now Picard realizes that, with Hugh's newfound individuality, it really would be morally wrong to use him as a Tyke Bomb, and the option is floated that Hugh could be offered asylum from reintegration with the Borg. When told this, though, Hugh realizes that the Borg would simply hunt him down and harm the people he now sees as friends, and he voluntarily returns to the crash site where the other Borg will re-assimilate him. As a final note, it is suggested that the Borg will erase Hugh's memory of these events but, in the brief time before they do so, they will be subject to Hugh's experiences as an individual... "and that may be the most pernicious program of all!"

So they beam Hugh back to the crash site; shortly thereafter, the other Borg arrive and quickly reintegrate Hugh as a drone. But, just before they depart, Hugh gives a clandestine nod to Geordi, indicating his yet-intact individuality.

Note: Hugh will return in "Descent (Part 2)".

Notable Tropes in this episode:

  • Blatant Lies: Picard is okay with beaming an injured Borg to the Enterprise for medical treatment.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: At the meeting to discuss the Logic Bomb, both Crusher and Riker bring up legitimate points in opposing and supporting its use. Crusher hammers the point that using it would tantamount to genocide, while Riker notes that the Borg are such a huge, existential threat that it would be justifiable.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The things that Troi says to Picard regarding the after-effects of his assimilation further drive home the rape metaphor.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: A very late example regarding the Borg. This is the first time Borg drones are given numerical designations, and use ordinal numbers (Third of Five). Later appearances would use cardinal numbers (Seven of Nine).
  • Fantastic Racism. Picard, which after "The Best Of Both Worlds", it's a bit understandable. Guinan as well, until she actually talks to Hugh.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Geordi explains to Hugh how being assimilated, losing his sense of individuality in the process, in many ways seems worse than death.
  • Final Solution: Oddly, it's the heroes who consider doing this. It is still treated as Jumping Off the Slippery Slope.
  • Genocide Dilemma: Mostly Crusher, but it spreads eventually to the other characters as well.
  • Heel Realization: Hugh realizing that the Borg basically wiped out Guinan's people.
  • I, Noun: A particularly striking episode title considering this is The Borg we're talking about.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Inverted. Guinan is perturbed by the fact that Third of Five has gotten nicknamed Hugh by the crew.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: A purely verbal version, when Crusher and LaForge go from "you" to "Hugh".
  • Logic Bomb: Inverted, as noted in the recap.
  • The McCoy: Doctor Crusher first begins treating a fatally-injured Borg, and objects to the Logic Bomb plan as soon as it's proposed.
  • Oh, Crap!: Pretty much everyone's reaction to discovering that the wreckage they're investigating is that of a Borg ship... and there's a survivor.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: When the away team discovers the surviving Borg drone, honor obsessed, Proud Warrior Race Guy Worf recommends killing it, making it look like an accident, and running like hell. The compassionate, unflappable Captain Picard clearly thinks that this is a pretty good idea.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Hugh volunteers for the job.
  • Shout-Out: The title is a play on the classic science fiction story "I Robot", although modern audiences might think it a play on products like the iPod and iPad.
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: A dark version when Hugh recognizes Picard as Locutus. After a moment of shock, Picard decides to roll with it.
  • Two Roads Before You: Hugh has the choice of staying with the Enterprise crew or returning to the Borg Collective.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: See Final Solution.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Crusher calls out Picard for considering genocide.
  • Wham Line: One of the most memorable of the series.
    Picard: You are Borg. You will assist us.
    Hugh: I will not.
    Picard: ...What did you say?
    Hugh: I will not assist you.
    Picard: "I...?"
    Hugh: Geordi must not be assimilated.
    Picard: But you are Borg.
    Hugh: No ... I am Hugh.
  • Whoopi Epiphany Speech: Takes a decidedly dark turn early on, as Guinan discusses with Picard how the Borg are inherently untrustworthy. Geordi gives one to Guinan herself defending Hugh, which leads to a straight example: "If you're going to use this person to destroy his entire species, you should at least look him in the eye. Otherwise, you might find that decision much harder to live with than you realize."
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Guinan pulls one while fencing with Picard to teach him a lesson about sympathy for the Borg.
  • You Will Be Assimilated: Well, not if Hugh has anything to say about it...
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