WARNING: Although this post, like all the other reviews, contains spoilers for the latest TNG episode (in this case "I, Borg"), spoiler warnings are irrelevant. Well, now, that's a nice change of pace... You betcha. It's not *quite* perfect, but it was definitely compelling. More, as usual, after the synop.
As the Enterprise begins exploring a system that is a possible site for colonization, it comes across a signal of unknown origins. Reasoning that it might be a distress call, and seeing that it comes from a habitable moon, Picard sends an away team down, consisting of Riker, Dr. Crusher, and Worf. They find a crashed ship, and under the debris: an alive, but still functioning, Borg.
Riker informs Picard of the situation, who stiffens and prepares to bring the team back at once. Bev, however, demurs; the Borg is badly injured, and would not survive to rejoin its superiors if left untended. Although the danger would be great, and Worf quickly suggests simply killing it at once, Picard agrees to bring it on board for a short time. A detention cell is prepared and a subspace damping field placed around it (to prevent the Borg from sending any signals out to its fellows). As the team and the Borg are transported up, Picard retires to his ready room. Troi follows, concerned that Picard is reliving old feelings from his capture by the Borg, but Picard reassures her that he's doing just fine, and that he is perfectly comfortable with the decision he's made.
Back in the cell, Beverly tends to the unconscious Borg. Some of the implants in his brain are damaged, but Geordi says he'll be able to replace them without major difficulties. Picard asks Geordi if he might be able to access the root commands of the Borg with the new implants; if so, then they could introduce an invasive program that would act as a slow-acting virus, killing the entire Borg collective from within. "Infect it? You sound like it's a disease," queries Bev. "Quite right, doctor," answers Picard. "If all goes well...a terminal one."
Studies show that it would only be a matter of months from the introduction of the program to the complete destruction of the Borg race. Bev is very unsettled by this, though, as it appears to be pure genocide. Picard agrees that normally it would be unacceptable, but claims that the Borg have left them no other options, and that they must do whatever is necessary to survive the Borg "war". Shortly thereafter, the Borg regains consciousness and explores its small cell. It searches for a terminal with which to access the collective, but cannot--and Beverly also theorizes that it's hungry for energy. As Geordi begins preparations to provide it with a power conduit to feed from, Bev observes that the Borg almost seems *scared* to be so alone.
Picard and Guinan fence, both physically and verbally. While Picard rationalizes that having the Borg on board is not too great a risk, Guinan suggests the danger is greater than he knows; and when Picard refers to humanitarian reasons, Guinan demonstrates the danger in that by suckering Picard into an easy defeat.
Worf and Geordi enter the cell and provide the Borg with the power conduit. The Borg (designated "Third of Five"), however, shows no real gratitude or humanity whatsoever, merely repeating over and over that they will all be assimilated and that "resistance is futile." Geordi and Worf finish their work and leave the Borg to its aloneness.
Some time later, Geordi and Beverly are preparing for the perception tests they'll be giving the Borg, but Beverly still voices a great dislike for the proceedings. The Borg is beamed directly into their lab and introduced to Beverly. After a brief discussion of how and why she saved its life, and a mention of the upcoming tests, the conversation turns to names. Beverly explains that she and Geordi have names, not designations; and when the Borg asks if it has a name, Bev and Geordi eventually settle on "Hugh".
Hugh passes the spatial relations portion of the test with ease, and Geordi realizes the prosthetic eye has a great deal to do with it. Hugh quite placidly hands over the prosthetic for examination, and listens to Beverly explain that humanity doesn't *want* to be assimilated. Hugh is puzzled, because here he no longer hears the "voices" of the other Borg that permeate his existence under normal circumstances. Bev explains that he's lonely, and Geordi tells him that after the tests are done, Hugh can be returned to the collective--a statement that seems almost to make him pleased.
Geordi begins to have second thoughts about their plan, and voices them to Guinan. Unlike most occasions, however, Guinan is closed to him; she merely warns him of what the other Borg would do and dismisses his soul-searching. When Geordi suggests she go talk to Hugh, she refuses. "Then just listen; that is what you do best, isn't it?" Meanwhile, long-range sensors pick up a Borg scoutship about 31 hours away...
Guinan reluctantly visits Hugh, now back in his cell, and angrily informs him that resistance is *not* futile. She describes her people's struggle against the Borg onslaught, and bitterly recounts how there are now very few of them left. "What you are saying," responds Hugh haltingly, "is that you are lonely. So is Hugh." Guinan, for one of the first times in her life, is left speechless.
Later, Geordi continues to examine Hugh, who is now curious as to why all the examinations are being done. He responds to Geordi's explanation (that they want to learn about other species) by pointing out that assimilation allows the Borg to learn *everything* about a species. When he becomes confused about why humans don't wish to be assimilated, Geordi talks of individuality, and of a sense of self. Even now, he points out, Hugh always refers to himself as "we", never "I". When Geordi responds to the issue of loneliness by bringing up and defining friends, Hugh responds to the definition with "Like Geordi...and Hugh."
Geordi and Data present the invasive program to Picard, who is impressed. As Data continues work on it, Geordi voices doubt to Picard about their plans. He tells Picard that Hugh doesn't seem...well...very Borglike any more, and that it doesn't feel right to use him as an instrument of genocide. Picard, however, will have none of it; he likens Geordi's attitude to that of twentieth-century scientists growing attached to laboratory animals, and tells Geordi to "unattach" himself from Hugh.
That evening, Guinan visits Picard in his quarters. After some small talk, she brings up Hugh. After her visit, she has doubts about the rightness of Picard's plan, and wants him to convince her. She suggests that at the very least, Picard should talk to him before committing to this. "If you're gonna use this person--" "It's not a PERSON, damn it, it's a Borg!" "If you are gonna use this *person* to destroy his race, you should at least look him in the eye once before you do it...because I am not sure it *is* still a Borg."
Picard is apparently unmoved, but later has Worf and Hugh beam to his ready room. Worf leaves, and Hugh addresses Picard--as Locutus. Picard plays along as Locutus, attempting to bring out Hugh's full Borglike nature. However, this attempt fails, and actually brings out Hugh's full individuality instead. Picard's reference to Geordi causes Hugh to *personally* refuse to help. "I will not assist you." "You said 'I'. But you are Borg." "No. I am Hugh."
Picard is shocked, and hastily calls a conference to get other options. Riker suggests returning him with his memory wiped, but both Geordi and Bev demur at that. Picard eventually comes to the hopeful conclusion that although the Borg would almost certainly erase Hugh's memory of these events, there might be a short time in which Hugh's "singularity" would impact on the entire Borg collective consciousness, perhaps altering them forever. However, Bev quickly asks what happens if Hugh doesn't _want_ to leave.
Picard and Geordi give Hugh the choice, which confuses Hugh. He decides that he truly *wishes* to stay, but that it's too dangerous for him to do; he asks to be taken back. As the Borg ship nears the system, Hugh is beamed down--but so is Geordi, who asked to be allowed to go down to the planet and who rightly expects to be ignored. As the Enterprise hides in the system's star's chromosphere, the Borg ship arrives and two Borg beam down to the moon. As Geordi watches, they link up to Hugh and are briefed. The three quickly reclaim the circuits of their dead comrades and return to their ship; but as the beam whisks them away, Hugh ever so slightly turns his head to nod a farewell to Geordi...
Whew. Okay, so it was a bit longer than usual, but I have a hunch everyone was expecting that. :-) Now, onwards to commentary.
On the whole, I quite liked this! There were a couple of things I'd have liked to change, but certainly there was nothing to scream "this is awful!" at me the way much of "Imaginary Friend", the beginning of "The Perfect Mate", or ninety-five percent of "Cost of Living" did.
The bits I'd change, since that's probably the most important part? Well, I just think bits of it were too *easy*, that's all. Specifically, while I could certainly grant Hugh *gradually* becoming more individualized and Guinan *eventually* working through her prejudice, I think both happened too fast. Ideally, I think Hugh should have been on board for at least another couple of weeks for both to really work, and perhaps expanding this to a nice, quiet two-parter would have done nicely. (Of course, the problem *does* arise there about how you'd keep the other Borg away that long, but it'd probably be solvable.) That would make things feel a little more natural. As it is, it's not that anything felt *wrong*; things just could've felt a weensy bit more *right*, that's all.
But within the framework they *did* use, everything was really nice. The plot was very tight, mostly because it was very...well, "small" is the word I want to use, but it sounds disparaging and it's not meant. I suppose it was a very quiet plot, really; very internal, very basic, nothing sweeping. Given that two of Rene Echevarria's other TNG credits are "The Offspring" and "Transfigurations" [which, if nothing else, had a lot of good "quiet" elements, I think], though, that's not surprising.
I think the plot was basically incidental, though; we knew (or at least, I was pretty sure from the start) that the planned Borg genocide wouldn't come off, after all. What this did much more of, I think, was two things that desperately needed to be done in any Borg story. First and foremost, it did a lot more to address what feelings Picard still had bubbling beneath the surface after the whole Locutus affair; and second, it opened the possibility of changing the Borg, which is really essential if they're going to come back. Completely static villains are boring, because you can pigeonhole them so well. (A third element was to address how GUINAN felt about the effect the Borg had on her people, and that's something that had never really been addressed at all.) As such, this mostly came down to three performances: that of Patrick Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jonathan Del Arco (Hugh). All three were wonderful.
There was absolutely *no* trace of the preachy, false-moralizing Picard we had at the end of "Imaginary Friend"; what we had back was the man at war with his own ideals and *desperately* trying to rationalize what he really knows is a rotten way to do business, even with an enemy. Whether he consciously knows at the outset just how much rage at the Borg he's got left doesn't matter; but we certainly know. But as long as he can put it in terms of the ship and the crew (such as his conversation with Deanna, when he talks of a justified risk to the ship and being comfortable with his decision so far as that is concerned) without a single touch on his own situation, he's fine. And his Locutus impression to provoke Hugh; oh, my stars. I don't think I ever actually believed he really *had* gone back to that personality, but to say I had worms of doubt and worry there is to understate the point incredibly. This is easily up in the list of Stewart's best TNG performances, no question.
(I also quite deliberately didn't include *Picard's* coming around to the reality of the situation as one of the things that went too fast. Picard's a steady and solid enough man, I think, that he really knew at the beginning that his plans were wrong; and when you're in that situation, it very well might not take much to snap you to consciously realizing it.)
As for Guinan...well, what can I say? Although I do think her conversion was a little quick, I have to hasten to add that if they had to do it this fast, this is about the only way to go. Her eventually going to visit Hugh was no surprise, from either a plot or a character standpoint. From a plot standpoint, you knew she had to to keep things going; but from a character standpoint, Guinan has *never* struck me as someone who doubts her own rightness, and to absolutely refuse to see him invites speculation that you're hiding. She'd have to go to prove it to herself, if nothing else. And Hugh's quick picking-up of "What you are saying...is that you are lonely" was just about THE perfect way to get her attention quickly. (It was also nice to see Guinan actually *have* some imperfections, and this is both a big one and a very understandable one.)
BTW, Guinan's little stunt during the fencing match was *very* in character, and extremely vicious. God, but I've missed her all season. :-)
And then, there's Hugh. It can't be easy to play a character who goes from very machinelike to very human in such a short period; that requires a fairly quick shift of range. Del Arco managed it, definitely. Of course, I realize the "echo" built into the voice helped build the initial machineness, but his whole style of speaking changed over the course of his experiences. There was real evolution at work, which he captured quite well. (It's interesting to note that one of Echevarria's other shows, "The Offspring", covers many of the same bases in a very different form.) In particular, his lines about the voices, his "lonely" line to Guinan, and his entire confrontation with Picard shone very brightly. (And if we want to get off the voice characterization, that tiny turn to Geordi at the end was about the right level.) Nice.
As for the rest of the characters, all were up to the task at hand. Riker, Worf and Data didn't have much to do, but were certainly fine. Bev was the outlet for really all the initial pro-Hugh opinions, and she was definitely the right choice; as has been pointed out a lot recently, Bev has a long history of putting individual rights and her own morals ahead of almost any long-range plan or sweeping guideline, from at least as far back as "Symbiosis" to as recent as "The Perfect Mate". And as for Geordi...it's about time LeVar Burton had something meaty to play with. Kudos to him for putting a lot of emotion into scenes where he had to work double-time. (In other words...well, Hugh wasn't exactly going to get the emotions flowing quickly.)
My one regret as far as Geordi's concerned is that Hugh didn't remark on his VISOR. After all, it's a prosthetic, and it separates him from the other humans around him; and being a prosthetic, it's almost a link between humanity and Borgness. I think a lot of mileage could have been made from that. (You remember the end of "Return of the Jedi", when Luke is just standing there and *staring* at his mechanical hand for a little while? Something like that.)
The directing was quite nice; not Bowman or Frakes, no, but good. Robert Lederman is a rookie to TNG; I hope he does a bit more. (The scene that particularly struck me was one of the Picard/Guinan scenes; I believe the one in his quarters. In the closing shot of that scene, the shadows fall so as to nearly split Picard's face right down the middle. That's a very subtle reminder of Picard once *being* a Borg, I think; and I can't believe it was unintentional. It also helped set up the "Locutus" scene nicely; it introduced just enough uncertainty to keep you off balance.)
I'm not entirely sure what else to say here. The plot was very simple, and very tight, so there's not much to go into, and I've been frothing at the mouth over the writing and acting of all the characters for quite a while now. :-) So, some short takes:
--Jay Chattaway's coming back up to some of his old habits. I thought the music playing over Guinan's talk of resistance almost called up a little bit of African harmonies...not that I know from music, mind you. :-) That was nice, and there was at least one time when I remember hearing a theme that reminded me a lot of the music on board the Borg ship in BOBW1-2.
--One really *does* wonder if Picard's Locutus rendition was 100% act...but not for too long. Brr.
--The line about animal experimentation seemed slightly out of place, and awfully extreme; but I suspect that was deliberate. Picard was putting himself in an extreme position throughout most of the show, and I think this was meant to play up just how little of a mood he was in to compromise. I'd be wary of calling this TNG's pronouncement on the animal rights issue, myself. (And it certainly worked in context: "unattach yourself, Mr. LaForge." Ow.)
--"Then just listen; that is what you do best, isn't it?" Okay, was this *intentionally* meant to call up a similar line from "Star Wars", or is that just me?
--I'm sorry we didn't get to see just *one* viewscreen shot when the Enterprise was hiding in the chromosphere, but I suspect budgetary constraints had something to do with it.
Well, that ought to do it. I wholeheartedly enjoyed this; it's nice to be able to say that, since I haven't been able to since "The First Duty". Let's hope the momentum carries through to the last three shows!
So, the numbers, maestro, if you please:
Plot: 10. Very tight, very smooth. Plot Handling: 8. A little bit *too* easy for both Hugh's humanity and Guinan's conversion. Characterization/Acting: 10. As if I'd give it any less for something this superb.
TOTAL: 9.5, rounding up for music. Very nice indeed.
NEXT WEEK: Geordi the friendly ghost, and Ro the not-so-friendly ghost. Bummer. :-)
Tim Lynch (Cornell's first Astronomy B.A.; one of many Caltech grad students) BITNET: tlynch@citjuliet INTERNET: firstname.lastname@example.org UUCP: ...!email@example.com "You are all individuals!" "WE ARE ALL INDIVIDUALS!!!!!" "I'm not!" --Monty Python's "The Life of Brian" Copyright 1992, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.
Hans-Wolfgang Loidl <firstname.lastname@example.org> Last modified: Sat Aug 19 17:15:44 1995 Stardate: [-31]6158.38