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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
The Borg were, arguably, Star Trek: The Next Generation’s most memorable villains. Taking the concept of a cyborg and giving it a hive-like personality, the Borg were menacing and terrifying as they sought out to assimilate other species and technology into their collective. While their goals somewhat changed during the first few appearances, when these cybernetic beings popped up, you knew they meant business.
Somewhat always meant to be TNG’s “big-bad” (with early seeds of the species laid during the first season), rumors suggest that the original idea behind the Borg was to invade the Federation which would cause our heroes to put aside differences with their other enemies, the Klingons and Romulans, to thwart the attack as a way to conclude the series at the end of the third season (the show’s popularity altered these supposed events). I’m not sure how much of that is true, but that general idea is the same one behind the classic “The Best of Both Worlds” (what all other summer cliffhangers aspire to). The point is that the Borg were a big deal.
The Borg only appeared six episodes of The Next Generation, but were popular enough to be the featured villain in 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact. First Contact added a new, somewhat controversial, element to the Borg in that of a Queen. While the Borg were to be of a hive mind, the Queen seemed to be an individual (though, what her deal was was left intentionally vague). It made the species a bit less scary as it gave them a leader, but it made sense in terms of a movie.
Then, we started to run into some problems with the Borg. Star Trek: Voyager came along and also used them as their “big-bad” during the latter half of their series appearing in over twenty episodes. The show even had a former Borg main character in the form of Seven-of-Nine (Jeri Ryan). Because of a continuing presence, the Borg lost a lot of their mystery (especially with the Queen now playing a much larger role). Not helping matters was that Voyager found ways to defeat the Borg time and again. Before, they were a nearly impossible foe to beat, and now they felt like little more than a nuisance. I am not trying to be critical of the Voyager episodes themselves (some of they were quite good), but it was clear the Borg lost their edge.
Surprisingly, the ship was righted when the Borg appeared on Enterprise. I remember the message boards at the time. The heads of Trekkies exploded! How could the Borg appear on the show if it takes place before the Borg chronologically first appeared in-universe? The episode, “Regeneration”, made it work. It picked up from the events of First Contact with a few Borg drones surviving the incident via arctic crash, being unfrozen, and taking off to rejoin the collective.
The Borg became scary again mostly due to the audience knowing exactly what these creatures are about while the characters don’t. That’s dramatic irony. Horror films do it a lot, and “Regeneration” was meant to have that element of horror. I feel this episode really went a ways to reestablish how relentless and threatening the Borg are.
“Regeneration” also solved some lingering continuity issues that cropped up with the Borg made during Star Trek: Voyager. “Q Who?” was the Borg’s first appearance in Star Trek lore and it was clearly established the first time the Federation had any contact with them. However, in Voyager, it was established in multiple episodes that the Federation (or some within the Federation) knew about the Borg a good ten years before “Q Who?”. Having the Borg appear on Enterprise allows viewers to create the idea that the Federation knew about the Borg (given the events of “Regeneration”), but it was kept quiet and only a need-to-know sort of thing until Picard’s crew encountered them big-time some 200 years later. Not only does this explain why the Enterprise-D crew were completely unfamiliar with them, but also why Seven-of-Nine’s parents were searching for the Borg ten years earlier.
Sorry about the tangent. I’m a nerd. Deal with it.
Back on point: the Borg were great villains when they first appeared on the show. They arguably peaked early with “The Best of Both Worlds”, but continued to maintain that threatening vibe. However, like anything cool, too much of anything is not usually a good thing. With too many dips into the well, the Borg somewhat became played out by the end. Does that take away anything from those earlier appearances? Absolutely not. They were terrific villains and deserve their place in some sort of bad guy Hall of Fame. Even though they were not associated with the original Star Trek series, I would be shocked if they do not work themselves into the JJ Abrams rebooted film series. And, if that does happen, that creepy, menacing, impossible to defeat fear needs to be maintained. In my opinion, that’s what makes them great.