When a landing party encounters a badly injured Borg drone, Picard is perfectly willing to let “it” die, but Crusher has other ideas.
The Borg, a cyborg race that assimilates whole civilizations and builds a hive mind via cybernetic implants, are a terrifying sci-fi enemy; the music, the costumes and the iconic greeble-bedecked Borg ships pound away at our primal fears.
On my first watch, I was totally on-board with Picard when he asks LaForge to infect this drone with an “invasive programming sequence” that will spread and disable the entire Borg collective. To do so, LaForge will have to work closely with the drone. Cut off from the collective, the drone putters around his holding cell looking for a power coupling, looking kind of pathetic, while repeating “You will be assimilated” and “Resistance is futile.”
In a scene that seems like it should have come before Picard gives the order to plant the virus, Guinan registers her displeasure that the Enterprise-D is harboring a Borg guest. She feigns a fencing injury; when Picard drops his guard to ask if she’s okay, she attacks, scoring the point. “You felt sorry for me. Look what it got you,” she says. (Guinan’s scolding serves no dramatic purpose if it comes after Picard has already given the oder to exterminate the entire Borg civilization, so I’m guessing this scene was rearranged at the editing stage.)
Because Guinan is often the moral center of an episode, it’s very effective to see her steeling Picard’s anti-Borg resolve; meanwhile, we see scenes in which Crusher gives the drone the name “Hugh” (a pun on the pronoun “you”), and Hugh starts bonding with LaForge. There’s even some pronoun-related humor:
CRUSHER: I’m Beverly.
LAFORGE: I’m Geordi.
HUGH: We are Hugh.
This is not exactly laugh-out-loud funny, but it presents Hugh as a lonely goth kid eager to join a new collective, while also calling attention to the importance of pronouns.
This scene marks LaForge’s conversion to Dr. Crusher’s humanitarian values. When LaForge confesses to Guinan that he’s having moral qualms about using Hugh to infect the Borg Collective, Guinan is horrified; but LaForge challenges her to meet Hugh.
During that meeting, Guinan is shocked by Hugh’s capacity for empathy. Clearly moved, she in turn challenges Picard.
That climactic meeting is powerful Trek. His crew has done such a good job isolating a drone from its collective, that he has become, for the first time, an independent being with free will. Rarely do we see Picard’s moral convictions so shaken.
The final stroke in this episode is a silent glance that gives us much to think about. After a brief run of mediocre episodes, it was a real pleasure to see one so strong.