3 November 2019

I, Borg

Episode: s5, ep 23

Can you transmit empathy? This episode weirdly doesn't contain the word genocide even once despite it being planned.

What Happens
The Enterprise investigates a mysterious signal while mapping a system. Riker, Crusher and Worf beam down to a moon and find a crashed Borg ship with a young survivor. Picard wants them to leave it, but Crusher wants to treat it. Worf wants to kill it and make it look like part of the accident. Picard reluctantly decides to bring it aboard under heavy security. Troi offers Picard her support, which he predictably refuses. Crusher treats the survivor in the brig. The Borg's damaged implants could kill it, but perhaps Geordi can make substitutes? Grim-faced Picard asks Geordi if he can make the new implants hold a virus that could take out the Borg collective. Crusher is understandably horrified that her boss and old freind is suggesting genocide. The Borg stumbles about, apparently unable to understand being alone. Crusher points out that it will need energy to feed on as apparently no one else considered how to look after a Borg. Guinan and Picard fence, Guinan's very angry about the Borg being on board.
Geordi and Crusher collaborate while working with the Borg. Geordi installed a food-energy port and tried to ignore the single-minded Borg talk, but got increasingly salty with his charge. He has to limited the food to make it comply with their tests and questions, but gets defensive when Crusher says he's treating it like a rat. Crusher is following orders, but makes it clear that she disapproves of this whole thing. Crusher and Geordi explain the difference between names and designations to the Borg, who Geordi calls Hugh. They try to explain that no one on the Enterprise wants to be assimilated, but Hugh hates how quiet and lonely it is. Neither want to answer when he asks what's going to happen to him. Geordi talks to Guinan about his conflicted feelings, and she's initially scornful until he says how out of character this attitude is for her. Guinan goes to see Hugh and explains that resistance isn't always futile. An approaching Borg cube is detected.
Hugh and Geordi talk more and Geordi tries to explain why the Federation don't practice assimilation to learn about others, what individuality is and why he'd rather die than lose his. Hugh again latches on to how lonely this sounds to him, so Geordi explains friends. Hugh decides they are friends. Geordi and Data report to Picard about how they're goint to use Hugh's visual interface to shut down the Borg collective. Picard is pleased until Geordi mentions his second thoughts about using Hugh. Picard angirly tells Geordi to unattach himself. Guinan discusses Hugh with Picard, and after that Picard has Hugh beamed to his office. Once they're alone Picard steps into the role of Locutus because Hugh recognises him as such. Picard acts very Borg-ish, rejecting Hugh's name and insisting on assimilation. Hugh gets upset at the idea of assimilating Geordi because he knows Geordi would rather die. Picard orders Hugh until he denies a direct order and uses a singular pornoun to identfy himself for the first time as Hugh, not Borg.
Picard holds another staff meeting to decide Hugh's fate. Picard wonders whether Hugh's memory of individuality and feriendship could spread through the Borg. When asked Hugh says he wants to stay with Geordi, but he knows the Borg will follow, so he asks to be returned to the Borg in order to help his friend. Geordi checks Hugh does want this, then beams down to the crashed ship with him. Since the Borg ignore individuals in favour of assimilating civilsations Geordi is safe from the investigating Borg who collect the dead and find Hugh.

Oh Captain, My Captain
Picard's hatred of the Borg is unsurprising, they did abduct, assault, violate and mutilate him. That this principled man is planning genocide and refusing to hear the concerns of trusted friends and colleagues is worrying. I mean he even says what he's planning is an awful thing, except in this case, which happens to involve his abusers. The plan to destory the Borg consumes Picard, and he shies away from anything that might derail it; Crusher's objections, Geordi's reservations or later Guinan's change of heart. Guinan, as a fellow survivor, has a massive influence on his mood, egging him on at first then encouraging him towards making an informed decision later. When Hugh recognises Picard as Locutus the Captain draws on that awful time to bring out the worst in Hugh, to prove to himself that the young Borg deserves destruction. When Hugh proves his willingness to resist and his individuality, Picard sees that he's doing something awful and has brought out the worse in himself. It's interesting that using technology to infect and destroy an entire civilisation is a very Borg thing, and it's good that Picard realises that he was about to behave in the way his abusers did.

Doctor Doctor
As usual Crusher is the voice of reason, the humanitarian of the senior crew. Her instinct to act for the welfare of her patient never wavers and she's not intimidated by disagreement from others. She helps an injured young man and advocates for his care early on. Later she's disgusted that genocide is being suggested, let alone planned. She doesn't let anyone hide from the implications of what they're discussing. She's the first one to assign an emotional motive to Hugh's actions and the main person to consider his care before Geordi gets to know him. When she's overruled she follows orders, but is ready to express her distaste. I think it might have been more powerful if she'd refused to be involved, or even insisted that Picard's mental health is assessed, but since Troi doesn't agree with her I guess that's not possible. Crusher's insistence that this plan is wrong spreads gradually from person to person in different ways, just as they think memories of individuality might spread through the Borg.

Blind Engineering
At first Geordi is irritated by the usual Borg dialogue about assimilation and futile resistance, which loses its threat when spoken in isolation. Geordi attempts to correct the Borg, which has little effect at first. Geordi is the one who controls the food-energy to force compliance, and it's not explored but it's likely that the young Borg sees him as a provider. Crusher's the one who explains names to him, but Geordi is the one who comes up with Hugh. Once dialogue increases Geordi shows curiosity and empathy towards Hugh, key Star Fleet values. He takes on board what Hugh says about the quiet, lonely ship devoid of the voices he's had in his head his whole life. Geordi is able to explain the Federation viewpoint, the importance of individuality and the strength of his feeling against assimilation. It's Hugh who decides they're friends, which is sweet but sad. I think it might've been nicer if the friendship had some fun to it, but that isn't the focus of the episode. As Geordi affects Hugh, so Hugh affects Geordi and leads him to doubt his orders. Geordi even ends up being the wiser one in a conversation with Guinan! It ends with Hugh willing to deny his programming and put himself in danger to save his friend.

Guinan's Hat:
Silvery Headscarf under Fencing Helmet
While fencing Guinan asks Picard about the Borg on board. Picard says the rescue was humanitarian and Crusher's decision, distancing himself from human values; the kind of thing he usually speeches in favour of. Guinan warns him of the danger, then feigns injury so that Picard lets his guard down. She takes his foil and scores a point against him. "You felt sorry for me. Look what it got you," she says without compromise. This was pretty shocking to me, because Guinan's whole thing is compassion, empathy and insight. Then I remembered her people were refugees because of the Borg and I guess I get it. Still, these are two of the most moral characters descending into blind hatred.
Purple Hat
Geordi tells Guinan that he didn't have a problem with the plan at first, but now he's named Hugh and is empathising with him, as though he's a lost child. Guinan finds this freaky. Geordi's starting to feel bad about turning him into a weapon. Guinan points out how awful the Borg are and says they woldn't do any of the soul searching Geordi's doing (apparently she fails to see that she's advocating Borg-like behaviour). Geordi, used to understanding rather than accusation from this quarter, suggests she goes speak to Hugh. He reminds her that her skill is supposed to be listening. It is a sick burn, but how mixed up are things that Geordi is the insightful one in this conversation?
Blue Hat
Guinan goes to see Hugh, intially challenging and expecting Borg dialogue. When he says resistance is futile she angrily contradicts him, points out that resistance is why she's there. She blames him for the massive loss and scattering of her people. Hugh immediately identifies that she is lonely, which she wasn't expecting at all. He empathises with her; loss of home and others of your kind is all he has known since he came to the Enterprise, he is lonely too. She is rattled.
Guinan visits Picard, who is wearing his dressing gown. She's still rattled and asks Picard if the Borg surprised him. She says she wasn't going to visit depsite what Geordi said, but she got curious. She asks Picard if he's sure he's doing the right thing, because she's the one that needs convincing now. Picard is surprised by this reversal and reminds her of the dramatic foil snatching two days* before. Picard says he's never talked to the Borg and Guinan is surprised. She calls the Borg a person, and Picard yells that it isn't. Guinan, back to the calm wisdom that usually defines her, points out that Picard plans to "use this person to destroy his race". After Crusher this is the second time someone's come close to saying genocide. Guinan says she thinks Hugh isn't really Borg anymore. Picard, understandably angry to again be judged by a fellow survivor who recently mocked him for even showing sympathy, gets angry and refers to Hugh as Geordi's pet. Guinan finishes it by pointing out that Picard should talk to Hugh to avoid major regrets later. Of course Guinan's the main person on board who gets where Picard is coming from, so it's hard to ignore this coming from her. It feels like her conversation with Geordi kinda foreshadowed this one, and this is foreshadowing for Picard's encounter with Hugh later.

Counsellor Pointless
I don't understand why Picard has Troi sit on the Bridge when he refuses to use her services. (In fact, does anyone on the Bridge even need/accept counselling?) He's unexpectedly having to deal with his former abusers, so of course she privately offers her professional help. He tells her he's comfortable, whilst looking strained as all hell, and you don't need empathic powers to see he's repressing like anything. Of course Troi can't force counselling on him (or can she? I assume she would have to coordinate with Crusher and declare it a health emergency) Once he starts planning the destruction of a whole people I feel like an intervention is needed, but disappointingly Troi argues for genocide.

Staff Meetings: 3
1. Discussing Picard's idea to use the survivor to wipe out the Borg. Geordi explains technical issues. Crusher wants them to define precisely that they're talking about annihilating an entire race. Picard concedes that usually it would be unconsciousable, but has decided it's fine in this case - so that's OK. Riker points out they're at war. Crusher points out war has never formally been declared. Troi counters that Borg actions have only ever been hostile. Crusher points out rules of war include not killing civilians. Riker says the Borg don't have civilians (remember that time Riker found a Borg baby in drawer?) and they're a single being. Crusher reckons the single being thing is a convenient argument, she points out that the youg man is her patient and that's all she sees. Picard says they're justified in doing anything to survive because there's no hope of peace in this case.
2. Geordi and Data explain the plan to Picard, they will use the image of a paradoxical shape in Hugh's imaging apparatus to destroy the Borg. Picard is pleased and tells them to do it as soon as possible. After Data leaves Geordi tells Picard that he has second thoughts about using Hugh. Picard firmly says that in the past scientists who grew attached to lab animals had trouble killing them, so Geordi needs to unattach.
3. After listening to Guinan and talking to Hugh, Picard admits he avoided meeting Hugh because he didn't want anything (like his conscience) to get in the way of the plan. He asks Riker, Crusher and Geordi for an alternative plan because he knows he can't use an individual the same way the Borg does. Riker suggests wiping Hugh's memory, but Geordi and Crusher don't want to destroy who he's become. As they discuss Hugh's fate, Picard wonders whether Hugh's memory of being an individual will spread through the Borg collective before the Borg reset him to factory settings. Crusher asks what if Hugh doesn't want to go back.

Girl Talk
After the excellent showing on the last episode, which was filled with women and girls, this is a big letdown. I mean it's good that Crusher is fairly prominent, but that feeling like a novelty is an ongoing issue. Guinan gets some pretty meaty scenes and although her role feels like it wraps around Picard's arc it doesn't feel like it's about him over her. I don't think this episode passes the Bechdel-Wallace test. Crusher addresses a meeting to make a humanitarian point and Troi (the only other woman in the room) responds against it. Since they're talking about the Borg and -at this point in Trek continuity- every Borg has been identified as male or ungendered, I don't think this even scrapes a pass. Let us not forget that the point of the test is not to scrape by on a technicality, but to highlight a lack of representation by presenting a pretty low bar to clear.

The End
Hugh says goodbye to Geordi before the Borg arrive. Then Geordi watches, entirely ignored, as the Borg from the Cube collect devices from the dead before the bodies are beamed away. He's alone as the Enterprise is hiding from the Cube's sensors near a sun. When they find Hugh the other Borg plug into him, which either erases or shares his memories, or both. Just before the Borg beam away Hugh makes eye contact with Geordi

It's kinda sad, but I think we're supposed to be hopeful that Picard's idea about Hugh's memories affecting the collective will work.

*Is it really 2 days. I never know how long anything takes on the Enterprise, but just as in the last episode 2 days doesn't feel right here either. Is everythng just 2 days?