On the Enterprise Picard's absence is noted, along with the missing shuttle. This ship conducts a search, only to call it off when both Picard and Q appear in ten forward. Guinan appears to know Q, and he her, though neither one reveals any details. Q makes his pitch to the Captain - he is here to join the crew and explore with them. Picard is somewhat tempted by the prospect of learning about the mysterious Q, but ultimately rejects his request. When Q objects that Humans need his help as they are not ready for what awaits in space, Picard pridefully claims that they are ready to encounter anything. Q responds by throwing the Enterprise over seven thousand light years through space to system J-25 and then vanishes. Knowing that Guinan is from this part of space Picard asks her what might lie here, but she just tells him he should leave the area at once.
Nevertheless, Picard decides to explore a little before setting course for home. In a nearby system they find a formerly inhabited planet, but no sign of cities - just great rips in the ground where they had once been. They realise that the damage is identical to that done to the Federation starbases along the Romulan Neutral Zone a year before, just as sensors register an incoming ship. The vessel is strange in design - a gigantic cube with no apparent crew. A being from the ship beams aboard in the engineering room, inspecting a computer panel and interfering with it. They shoot the cybernetic creature, killing it - but another appears, and this time it is protected by a forcefield which their weapons cannot penetrate. After completing the inspection, the creature beams out and the dead body disintegrates.
Guinan tells Picard that the creatures are known as the Borg. Their whole race are cyborgs, using large numbers of implants. They have a group mind, connecting their brains through subspace to form a single collective consciousness. This is why the sensors don't recognise them onboard the ship, because there are no individual lifesigns. The Borg ship locks a tractor beam on the Enterprise, bringing down the shields, and cuts a section out of the primary hull. Eighteen people are killed in the section, which is taken into the Borg ship. Picard orders Worf to return fire, and the Borg ship is easily disabled.
Picard decides to send an away team to the ship. Riker investigates and finds many Borg aboard, but they are either dormant in support alcoves or simply going about their business, oblivious of the Enterprise personnel since they are not presenting a threat. It seems that the Borg are interested only in the technology they can steal and use, whilst anything else is irrelevant. Exploring further they find a nursery where babies lie in cribs with cybernetic implants already in place. They realise that the Borg are using their collective strength to repair the damage to the ship, and quickly beam back to the Enterprise. Picard orders them to retreat at high warp, but the Borg ship quickly follows. As with the individuals, whilst their first attack was successful the second time their phasers and torpedoes have no effect at all, and the Borg fire weapons designed to bring down their shields. Q appears again, taunting Picard - the Borg are relentless, he says. The Enterprise cannot outrun them or defeat them, and they will never stop until they get what they want. Sooner or later, they will lose. The Borg ship takes out their warp drive and closes rapidly. Picard caves in and begs Q for his help, admitting that this is a threat they cannot win against. With a snap of his fingers Q returns the ship to Federation space and vanishes.
Afterwards, Picard and Guinan discuss the incident. Picard notes that perhaps Q's visit gave their complacency a well deserved shaking. Guinan points out that whilst they might be able to establish some form of relationship with the Borg in time, for now it is hopeless, before adding the chilling warning that for now they truly are relentless, and so will be on their way to the Federation.
Most everything is handled well. The mood is lighthearted at first, with Gomez's slapstick routine. She's a great character who really differentiates herself from the average "yes sir" background character by getting a few opinions and attitudes of her own - I love she says "please" and "thank you" to replicators!
Then Q shows up, and this time he's a good deal more gritty, more sinister. He's always been played to high camp before, and whilst his powers obviously make him dangerous, he's never really felt all that dangerous to me because he comes across as a buffoon. This time, he doesn't feel that way. He's serious, threatening, dangerous, and it helps the episode immensely.
Meeting the Borg is great, too. Their ship is unique, with an industrial, menacing look and feel to it. The encounter with the drones is great - the first one is killed and you think "well that was easy", but then the next one arrives with shields and it's "oh...." And the way they act, totally disinterested in the people, as if they were... well, irrelevant.
You get the same thing with the ship. At first, it seems easy to defeat. A few phaser strikes, done. Then, we find that it's repairing itself... and this time, weapons do nothing. Q's summation of the Borg is chilling indeed, as is his obvious glee at what is about to happen. What's especially great is that there's no last minute technobabble, no sudden escape through a wormhole or whatever... Picard simply admits defeat and begs for help.
To cap it all, the ending, with Guinan's warning that even Q's intervention is only a reprieve, that the Borg are still coming... spooky. TNG dropped a few things like this into the mix and never followed up on some of them, but you certainly can't say they didn't capitalise on the Borg!
On to the bad, then. Mostly it centers on Guinan. First off, they arrive there in an area she knows is Borg infested... she is specifically asked what might be around and her only comment is "if I were you I would head back now." Huh?! How about "well there's a massively powerful race of cybernetic psychopaths here, so run like hell!" But noooo, she waits until after they have run into them and Borg have come aboard before giving them any detail. Thanks a lot, Guinan.
Second nit, Worf is a terrible shot. Picard orders him to target the tractor beam, and on a ship that is (at least according to a later episode) two miles wide, his first hit misses it by literally a mile. His second misses it by about half a mile. His third manages to hit the source of the beam itself, knocking it out. Nice one. What's interesting is that if they had fired, oh, maybe ten more shots at that point, there wouldn't have been a whole lot left of that Borg cube. Not really a complaint, as it is in line with the Federation's "minimum force" ethos, but they had already seen what happened with the drones after all, one might suggest that it was foreseeable that it would happen with the ship.
Still and all, a great episode.
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