Monday, April 18, 2016

The Next Generation 5x23 "I, Borg"

rating: ****

the story: The unexpectedly comes into possession of a Borg drone, and must determine what to do with it.

similar to: "The Abandoned" (Deep Space Nine), "Drone" (Voyager), "Stratagem" (Enterprise)

my thoughts: If the franchise hadn't done a number of similar episodes itself later, "I, Borg" would seem to be a peculiarly singular accomplishment: sympathy for the devil.  I mean, you can certainly find it elsewhere, but it's not the easiest story to do, and it seems all the less likely for having been done with the Borg, who in "The Best of Both Worlds" proved to be the iconic Next Generation villains.

Simply put, this is one of those impossible experiences that define the franchise at its best.  Although it led to somewhat questionable storytelling logic ("Descent, Part 2") later rectified (Star Trek: First Contact, Voyager), "I, Borg" features a nuanced follow-up for Picard as he confronts a representative of the Collective that nearly ruined his life, and deciding that instead of destroying it or using it (Starfleet can be pretty awful), he'll give an abandoned drone a second shot, now that it's been severed from the hive mind.  It'[s chilling and wonderfully human at the same time.

Later versions of this story feature threats from relatively more benign circumstances, but this is the episode that explores ramifications scarcely considered possible previously.  It's like "Devil in the Dark" in its naked complexity, and could only have been done in an era where serialized storytelling was in its nascent state.  The whole story would have been vastly different had Picard been hunting this opportunity (and thus the difference between, say Enterprise's "Stratagem").  Having stumbled into it and knowing exactly what's going on from the start, more or less (unlike, say, "The Abandoned" from Deep Space Nine or "Drone" from Voyager), it's a moment of cerebral meditation in the best tradition of the series.

Like "The Drumhead" before it, "I, Borg" is an oblique continuation of "The Best of Both Worlds," but an essential part of its story all the same.  For Picard, in all possible regards, this is the conflict of his life.  It's another classic.

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential (all criteria met)

notable guest-stars:
Whoopi Goldberg (Guinan)
Jonathan Del Arco

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