>The first two years of Next Generation were a stop-and-start attempt to create an adversary that would rival the Klingons on the original series. In case you don’t recall, the series tried to make the Ferengi a fearsome adversary, only to have that fall flat on its face the first time we saw them. (The Ferengi were later redeemed the superlative work of the writers and actors on Deep Space Nine).
Midway through the much derided (some deserved, most undeserved) second season, Next Generation hit upon their equivalent of the Klingons….the Borg.
I can vividly recall seeing “Q Who” for the first time back in season two. I’d been at a con the weekend “Q Who” first aired. I lived near Washington D.C. at the time and the con was abuzz with fans from Baltimore who’d seen this episode a day or two earlier. Word was spreading on how incredible this episode was and there were viewing parties planned to see it again or to watch it for the first time. After a full day of Trek overload, I went home and quickly rewound the tape on the episode and sat there….amazed.
And here all these years later, the episode still holds up incredibly well.
Q shows up, wanting to become part of the Enterprise crew. He wants to offer his services as a guide for all the unknowns still waiting for humanity. Picard says no thanks, that humanity will face whatever it has to face on its own terms. Q senses a challenge and flings the ship across the universe. Picard and company start to explore and figure out how to get back home when a huge cube-shaped ship shows up. A battle between the two ships develops with the Enterprise barely able to hold its own.
The new adversary is the Borg, a race that is built upon assimilating the technological and biological uniqueness of various races as its own. They operate on a collective mentality and just because you damage one area of their ship, that won’t necessarily disable them. They also have the ability to adapt on the fly, meaning that your defenses have to change in order to stop them…and it’s only a matter of time until they adapt.
At this point, the Borg are lethal, scary and virtually unstoppable. The tension in the episode is palatable as the crew faces a race against time to get home and not be assimiliated by the Borg. Sprinkle in doses of Q coming in and out, goading Picard about turning down his (Q’s) offers of help and you’ve got a heck of an episode. And it ends on a bleak note–after Picard says he needs Q help to take them back home and Q grants the request, Picard realizes that the Borg know of the Federation and will not be coming….
What’s to love about this episode? Just about everything. The direction is great–it’s dark and mysterious at times. Everyone is in fine form. Even Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan suddenly becomes interesting as we find out her race has some history with Q and the Borg. (Alas, we never fully find out the depths and reasons for the mistrust between Guinan and Q, which is about the only negative I can throw at this episode).
It’s easy now years later to forget how incredibly scary, unstoppable and just plain amazing the Borg were in their first two appearances in the Trek universe. This is before we humanized them with Hugh, got to know one with Seven of Nine and, generally, defanged them to the point that a single ship (Voyager) could easily take them out. The Borg were scary, dark and villainous..how could you not love them? Their first three episodes are things of beauty and some of the best episodes Next Generation did.
And, again, a top ten episode with Q….