The Borg Collective

The wrath of Khan. The search for Spock. The death of James T. Kirk. We’re talking major events here, the kind that separate Star Trek movies from Star Trek TV episodes. Big-bang special effects aren’t enough; the stories have to be big too. Like any movie adapted from a TV series, Star Trek needs that larger scale to give people a reason to pay for an entertainment experience they’re used to getting for free. Perhaps with that in mind, Star Trek: First Contact revives some outsize villains from Star Trek: The Next Generation: The dreaded Borg are back, and as Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) says, ”This time there may be no stopping them.”

You don’t have to be a hardcore Trekker to know that the Borg are the most relentless race of conquerers the next generation has ever encountered. Having first appeared in 1989, the series’ second season, they reemerged on three other occasions, each time evolving into a more irresistible, indestructible menace. For their latest assault, these cybernetic humanoids look scarier than they ever did on TV, newly redesigned to sport a more repulsively organic synthesis of metal and flesh. Darned if these Borg aren’t smarter, too. They’ve figured out that if they time-warp back 300 years, they can conquer Earth before a scientist named Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) becomes the first human to achieve ”warp speed,” leading to ”first contact” with other worlds. This means that once again the future must be saved by Picard and his starship Enterprise crewmates, who’ve zapped back in time right behind the Borg, to make sure that Cochrane keeps his date with destiny.

Depending on your Borg limit, you might choose to precede this event by screening the four Borg TV episodes (out of the six that were made) that are available on tape. For your convenience, they’re packaged together in a boxed set called The Borg Collective, representing the Enterprise’s first three close encounters. In ”Q Who?” (1989), the omnipotent imp Q (himself a recurring nemesis, played by John deLancie) puckishly places the Enterprise in the Borg’s path. In ”The Best of Both Worlds,” a two-part cliff-hanger that aired in June and September 1990, Picard (against his will) becomes one of the Borg. And in ”I, Borg” (1992) we get a classic Star Trek philosophy lesson when a Borg prisoner (Jonathan Del Arco) learns the meaning of self, forcing Picard to acknowledge that even a Borg automaton can have a soul.

But these episodes offer more than just a buildup to a grand finale. They also remind us that, for all their amazing exploits, our Enterprise heroes are people too. Unfolding at a measured pace the Trek movies never have time for, the TV shows often pause for character development, with scenes consisting mainly of good old-fashioned conversation. These scenes can be as whimsical as the officers’ regular poker game or as portentous as the confession by Riker (Frakes) that he may not have the stuff to be a starship commander. Either way, they’re the life-size moments that humanize these warp-driven guardians of the distant future, revealing the quirks and flaws that add warmth and wit, even to the android Data (Brent Spiner). The fact that Star Trek characters seem like old friends is what makes all the big bangs matter. It’s what keeps us coming back — even if we have to pay for the privilege. B

The Borg Collective
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