Q Who? The Borg, That’s Who!

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.

That’s right, everyone, it’s the first Borg episode! Much like “Measure of a Man,” “Q Who,” is one of those season two installments that always features on the list of must see episodes from season two. I vacillated as to whether to revisit it because, well, so much has been said about it, but ultimately, “Q Who” is simply just too good to skip.

The episode opens with an awkward exchange between LaForge and a brand new ensign, Sonya Gomez who is so nervous that she jabbers uncontrollably at LaForge and then dumps her hot cocoa all over Picard when he wanders down to Engineering for no apparent reason. I’m also not sure why Gomez thinks she can have her hot cocoa on one side of the set as opposed to the other; she says she realizes she shouldn’t have it in Engineering, so she wanders off, sort of, and manages to overshoot the door by a great deal. I suppose she exists to give Picard a reason to break away from the crew so that he can be kidnapped by Q, who transports Picard so far away the ship won’t be able to find him. At least Q magics the hot cocoa away. Q secures Picard’s promise to listen to his request in exchange for returning Picard to the ship. The request is…bizarre. Apparently, Q has been banished from the Continuum, so he wants to secure a place aboard the Enterprise.

Picard, sensibly, says no, so Q throws a tantrum and tosses the Enterprise directly into the path of a brand new and Very Serious Threat. No one but Guinan knows who they are, and even though Picard acknowledges that Guinan is the only person on the ship familiar with this sector of space, he completely disregards her warning to turn around and go home. Well done, Picard. They encounter several planets whose civilizations have been strangely gutted, not unlike what’s been happening at the edge of the Neutral Zone, but rather than heed the warning, our intrepid crew continues to investigate, until they encounter what is now an iconic cube-shaped vessel. Guinan warns Picard that this is the species that nearly wiped out her entire species, and again, Picard’s curiosity wins out over her common sense. It’s a red-letter day for Picard’s leadership.

When the Borg appear on the Enterprise, the drones investigate the ship, and Picard tries the “we come in peace” routine only to have Q appear to inform him that Picard’s motivations are completely irrelevant to the Borg. When the drone attempts to interfere with ship operations, Worf shoots the drone, killing it. Another appears, prompting Worf to fire on it, but the iconic shield appears, allowing the drone to confiscate the information from its dead compatriot and beam away, leaving the dead drone’s body to vanish.

Heading over to the Borg ship, the away team discovers that the Borg as a group do not care about the presence of the team members on their ship, which will recur as a story element, and they get their first glimmer of the Borg’s collective mind. Eventually, the Borg determine that they wish to assimilate the Enterprise and its crew and threaten punishment if the Starfleet personnel do not acquiesce. Honestly, I would like to know if that warning ever, in the history of assimilation, worked. It certainly doesn’t for the ship, and they flee. Unfortunately, the cube is both faster and more powerful than the Enterprise, so Picard must beg Q to send them back. Q does so, but the episode ends on the ominous note that the Borg will be coming.

I realize that this is one of TNG’s seminal episodes, but elements of it seem peculiar. While “Time Squared” demonstrated Picard’s resolve to protect his ship at all costs, “Q Who” shows that he’s equally willing to place it in danger in the name of exploration. Certainly, exploration constitutes a significant part of the franchise ethos, but what occurs here is not exploration in the face of the unknown. He has Guinan’s very real experience on hand; we know he trusts Guinan’s judgment from his discussion with her, so it seems odd that he would disregard her lived experience so casually. Still, Sir Patrick Stewart carries Picard’s certainty in every line of his posture, and it’s wonderful.

In addition, the episode simply drops Q’s request to join the crew. Granted, the request may or may not have served as a pretext for Q’s real goal, which might be to frighten the naughty humans. Later, Q will claim to have provided the Federation with an early warning “Death Wish.” Of course, we know that due to events in First Contact, the Borg actually are cognizant of Earth’s and by extension, the Federation’s existence. While obviously, canon is canon, I find all of this a bit too pat. I’m much more interested in Q’s actual motives, and as is typical for the character, those motivations are layered and difficult to discern.

The Borg themselves are a great enemy in this episode. Star Trek frequently suffers from a dearth of good enemies, no doubt because the franchise tends to rehabilitate them. As you likely already know, that is exactly what happens in “I Borg” and the “Descent” two parter. However, rewatching this episode gifted me with the opportunity to relish their implacability and sheer menace, which I loved.

Rating: Five cups of earl grey tea. This is, without doubt, a must see episode of TNG.

Stray Thoughts from the Couch

  1. Sonya Gomez is…ridiculously awkward. I realize the show meant for her to remain onboard as a comic relief character, but I am somewhat glad they thought better of it. If you liked her, she comes into her own as a major character in some of the novels.
  2. De Lancie is at his best as Q in this episode. He displays an incredible range—from vaguely creepy to menacing, and coupled with the performance by Whoopi Goldberg, this is one of the best hours of the entire series.
  3. I love the Borg design. I love every bit of how completely they disregard the humans on board. Even with 30 years’ remove, the Borg still gave me chills.

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