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

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Aww, poor lonely Borg.

Original air date: May 11, 1992

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 (Jonathan Del Arco) 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, La Forge 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.

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

The Borg boy continues to improve, and Crusher and La Forge 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, La Forge 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. La Forge challenges her to go visit Hugh for herself. Complicating matters, another Borg scout ship is approaching, presumably to retrieve survivors/scavenge the wrecked ship.

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 he is also lonely. Guinan is, to say the least, speechless at this unexpected acknowledgment of emotion from the Borg. Guinan goes to Picard with her new misgivings, only to find him as fiercely defiant as she herself had been. 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 La Forge) 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 probably 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)" and Star Trek: Picard.

Notable Tropes in this episode:

  • Ambiguously Human: Hugh's race is never specified but he appears physically human, which makes the crew's impulse to dehumanize him especially harsh.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Hugh gets several of these throughout the episode.
    • When Geordi first explains the concept of friendship to Hugh, the latter immediately declares "Like Hugh and Geordi!", proving that he's formed a genuine bond with LaForge and complicating the engineer's feelings about the genocidal plan.
    • Guinan talks to Hugh and vents her anger at the Borg to him, remarking that they assimilated her people and left the few survivors who resisted scattered around the galaxy. Hugh ponders a moment and remarks "What you are saying is that you are lonely." Guinan is visibly stunned by that reaction, as she can't believe that her sworn enemy can understand how she's feeling.
    • When Picard pretends to be Locutus of Borg and tells Hugh that he must help him forcibly assimilate the Enterprise crew, Hugh vehemently protests "I will not assist you," asserting his individuality for the first time and convincing Picard that Hugh is more than just a drone.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: It's implied in this episode that the Borg simply ignore any defeats or failures they suffer; Hugh initially believes that "resistance is futile", only to be informed of Guinan's people successfully (if only barely) resisting assimilation, and he still sees Picard as Locutus despite Picard being removed from the Borg's Hive Mind, both facts that the Borg should be well aware of. He also voices a belief that "no Borg leaves the Collective" while speaking with Picard, who has done exactly that.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: At the meeting to discuss the Logic Bomb, everyone brings up valid points opposing and supporting its use. Crusher hammers the point that using it would tantamount to genocide, while Riker responds that the Borg are such a huge, existential threat that it would be justifiable. Picard also notes that "genocide" is a rather meaningless term when applied to the Borg, which is essentially a single organism.
  • The Bus Came Back: The Borg return to TNG after a nearly two year hiatus following "The Best of Both Worlds".
  • 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.
    • Hugh is basically a kid separated from the totalitarian cult that raised him, and is pretty unclear on the mere concept of thinking for himself or deciding who he is or what he wants to do beyond what he's been told.
    • Hugh forms an extremely close bond with Geordi: he cites him as someone he cares about, initially protests Picard-as-Locutus by fearfully asking "Geordi must be assimilated?", and, when given the choice between remaining on the Enterprise and returning to the Collective, remarks "I would choose to stay with Geordi." It's easy to read his attachment as queer love (as noted under the Trivia tab, there's also a healthy dose of real-world subtext involved, as Jonathan Del Arco, Hugh's actor, is openly gay and had lost his long-term partner to AIDS just a year before).
  • 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).
    • Hugh states that the Borg assimilate civilizations, not individuals (which is apparently why they ignored away teams on their ships in prior episodes, and why the two who come to retrieve him at the end ignore Geordi). Starting from Star Trek: First Contact, this would be abandoned altogether, with the Borg regularly opportunistically assimilating anyone they could get their tubules on. The Collective would frequently be shown to include members of still very-much-extant races, including humans, Klingons, Romulans and Cardassians.
  • Eye Scream: When Dr. Crusher asks to examine Hugh's eyepiece, he simply removes it and hands it to her — exposing the circuitry where his eye should be. Crusher and La Forge are visibly unnerved by this.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Hugh instantly recognizes Picard as Locutus of Borg and believes that Picard is still Locutus despite the very obvious lack of any Borg attire or implants on the Captain. After their meeting, however, Hugh comes to accept Picard as himself, rather than Locutus.
  • Fantastic Racism: In this case, even our heroes see lumping an entire group into a single category as perfectly reasonable. After "The Best of Both Worlds" it seems only logical to see all Borg as malicious and dangerous, particularly for Picard. Once they get to know Hugh, however, the crew start to question their own assumptions.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: Although never referenced by name, the episode hinges on this trope, with Crusher arguing to provide mercy for a wounded Borg, while the rest of the crew consider kindness to an inherently evil creature to be self-destructive. It turns out that the "viper" in this case can actually change when given the opportunity.
  • 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 / Genocide Dilemma: Given the unique threat presented by the Borg and apparent lack of other options, most of the crew is fully in favor of destroying them completely, with only Dr. Crusher opposing the plan. As the rest of the crew comes to see Hugh as an individual, they begin to develop doubts, and ultimately abandon the idea.
  • Happiness in Mind Control: Hugh, thanks to Borg indoctrination, sees assimilation as both normal and positive, and is genuinely unable to understand why the Enterprise crew is so opposed to it. Gradually, he comes to understand their point of view.
  • Heel Realization:
    • Hugh realizing that the Borg basically wiped out Guinan's people.
    • After speaking with Hugh and hearing him assert his individuality, Picard reconsiders his plan to use Hugh to destroy the Borg, seeing that doing so would make him no better than the Borg themselves.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Hugh volunteers to rejoin the Collective to save the ship.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The Enterprise crew originally plans to use Hugh as a living Logic Bomb to destroy the Borg. However, as each member of the team meets and talks to him, they are challenged by Hugh's paradoxical nature and gradually become "infected" with compassion and understanding for him.
  • Hyde Plays Jekyll: Inverted. When Picard first meets with Hugh, the latter identifies him as Locutus (despite the very obvious fact that Picard is no longer Borg). Picard plays along with this, claiming he is there to facilitate humanity's assimilation, and ordering Hugh to assist in assimilating the Enterprise. He's utterly thrown when Hugh insists "I will not!"
  • I, Noun: A particularly striking episode title considering this is The Borg we're talking about.
  • Innocuously Important Episode: This is the first episode in the franchise which humanizes the Borg (or more precisely, the drones who have been severed from the Collective). Hugh's introduction would eventually to lead to the characters of Seven of Nine and Icheb on Star Trek: Voyager. Hugh, Seven of Nine and Icheb would later also guest star in Star Trek: Picard.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Everyone in the crew shows their sympathy for Hugh or lack thereof by referring to him as either "he" or "it." Picard is the last holdout.
    Picard: It's not a person, damn it, it's a Borg!
  • Line-of-Sight Name: A purely verbal version, when Crusher and La Forge go from "you" to "Hugh".
  • Little "No": When "Locutus" informs Hugh that Geordi will die if he is not assimilated, Hugh utters a horrified "no".
    Hugh: He would rather die than be assimilated.
    "Locutus": Then he will die.
    Hugh: No... Geordi must not die. Geordi is a friend.
  • Logic Bomb: Picard's plan is to introduce an unsolvable math problem (an anomalous geometric figure, which every attempt to analyze produces further contradictory anomalous figures) into the Borg Hive Mind by letting Hugh look at it and returning him to the Collective. Data and La Forge calculate that it will shut down the entire Collective in a matter of months.
  • The McCoy: Doctor Crusher first begins treating a fatally injured Borg, and objects to the Logic Bomb plan as soon as it's proposed.
  • The Needs of the Many: Hugh, still grappling with his individuality, struggles to wrap his mind around this not being the case, being offered the choice of staying aboard the Enterprise even with the certainty of Borg pursuit. However, he ultimately plays it straight, choosing to return to the Borg to protect his new friends and the rest of the Enterprise crew.
  • "Not So Different" Remark:
    • When Geordi is analyzing Hugh to learn more about him, Hugh helpfully points out that the Borg do the exact same thing with the species they assimilate, and so expects Geordi to like the idea. It's subverted when Geordi explains how the Borg's tactic of forcible absorption differs from consensual curiosity.
    • Played straighter when Guinan visits Hugh in his cell and talks to him, angrily remarking that the Borg assimilated most of her people and left the few remnants scattered across the galaxy:
      Hugh: What you are that you are lonely.
      Guinan: ...what?
      Hugh: You have no others. You have no home.
      (Guinan stares at Hugh in shock)
      Hugh: We are also lonely...
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Hugh's innocent questions about Crusher and La Forge's tests make both officers feel very guilty about their ulterior motives.
  • Obliviously Evil: It's a complete surprise to Hugh that most consider assimilation by the Borg to be a Fate Worse than Death and that contrary to the Collective's oft-heard refrain, resistance is not futile.
  • 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, the 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 seriously considers doing so before reluctantly deciding to show the drone mercy.
    • Guinan is uncharacteristically hostile and close-minded when faced with the question of Hugh, owing to the fact that the Borg wiped out nearly all of her species. It's one of the few episodes where she actually has an arc.
    • In the initial conference, Deanna is the most militant she's ever been by far, rejecting Beverly's claim that they're not "formally" at war by pointing out the Borg have attacked the Federation at every encounter.
  • Resistance Is Futile: Discussed; Hugh starts out parroting the Borg's typical refrain, but when he meets Guinan, he learns that she and some of her people survived and escaped from the Borg's destruction of her homeworld.
    Guinan: My people resisted when the Borg came to assimilate us. Some of us survived.
    Hugh: Resistance... is not futile?
  • Rogue Drone: Hugh is separated from the Borg Hive Mind, is given a name, and slowly develops a sense of identity and individuality, finally culminating in use of the singular pronoun "I".
  • Sarcasm-Blind: While confronting Hugh, Guinan is initially snarky and dismissive, only to find that the childlike Hugh can neither understand nor appreciate her attitude.
    Guinan: Aren't you going to tell me you have to assimilate me?
    Hugh: You wish to be assimilated?
    Guinan: No, but that's what you... things do, isn't it?
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Dr. Crusher remarks that, war or no war, Hugh is an injured sentient being, and thus she's going to treat him regardless of whether or not it's allowed.
  • Shout-Out: The title is a play on the classic science fiction story I, Robot.
  • 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.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Dr. Crusher ends up doing this when she's outvoted among the Enterprise officers and forced to help with their genocidal plan. She throws up protests the whole way, at one point outright saying "I'm here to help, but I don't have to like it."
  • Two Roads Before You: Hugh has the choice of staying with the Enterprise crew or returning to the Borg Collective. He chooses the latter to protect our heroes.
  • Vocal Evolution: When Hugh first awakens on the Enterprise as Third of Five, his voice is cold and robotic, barely rising above a monotone. Throughout the episode, as the crew members teach him about individuality, his tone changes in kind, gradually filling with inflections, emotions, and humanity.
  • What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: It's revealed that the Borg have no words for or even concept of emotion beyond the desire to assimilate. As such, Hugh has to learn all about the ideas of loneliness, friendship, kindness, and love; each member of the crew that teaches him about them comes to recognize his humanity.
  • 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: This episode may very well be the Trope Codifier, since there are so many great examples throughout the episode, including some with Guinan being on the receiving end.
    • First, a subversion, when Picard and Guinan are fencing one another. The normally wise and introspective Guinan is surprisingly ruthless, combined with a Wounded Gazelle Gambit in their fencing match, to highlight the dangers of keeping a Borg drone, even one seemingly disconnected from the Collective, on board.
      Guinan: You felt sorry for me. Look what it got you.
    • A series of inversions come in the middle of the episode. Guinan is actually on the receiving end of such a speech, from Geordi.
      Guinan: Let me tell you something, when this kid's big brothers come looking for him, they're not gonna stop until they find him. And they'll come looking for us, and they will destroy us. And they will not do any of the soul-searching that you're doing now.
      Geordi: So why don't you go and talk to him? It might not be so clear-cut then.
      Guinan: Because I wouldn't have anything to say.
      Geordi: Then why don't you just listen? That is what you do best, isn't it?
    • Guinan does indeed talk to Hugh after this, leading to her own change of heart on this situation.
      Guinan: Thanks to you, there are very few of us left. We're scattered throughout the galaxy. We don't even have a home anymore.
      Hugh: What you are saying, is that you are lonely.
      Guinan: What?
      Hugh: You have no others, you have no home. We are also lonely.
    • This leads to Guinan reversing her previous stance with Picard in a more Played Straight example of the trope:
      Guinan: If you're going to use this person-
      Guinan: 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...