A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of participating in a podcast called Geek Fights, and the topic was "Worst episode of Star Trek". During that debate, I railed pretty heavily against a particular episode of Star Trek Voyager called "Dark Frontier", and alleged that that episode (and Voyager in general) ruined the Borg - one of Star Trek's most compelling villains. Although, I don't think I was as hard on "Dark Frontier" as Allen was on Republicans...
But, due to time constraints, I tried to restrain myself, and I mentioned that I would go into more detail on my blog.
Well, Geek Fights fans, the podcast was recently released, and so here is that blog!
First of all, the podcast itself is included in the embedded player below, or you can listen to it from its original source at Geek Fights.
The story arc from "Dark Frontier" is a representation of the 2 things that I most hate about the last few seasons of Voyager. The first being that they were too heavily focused on Seven of Nine and the Doctor. Yeah, she's hot in that skin-tight unitard, and yeah the Doctor is Voyager's equivalent of TNG's Data (arguably that show's most popular character). But there are like 7 other major characters on the show, make an episode about one of them for a change...
The other problem I had with Voyager was the Borg. The Borg were probably the best, most perfect villain for Roddenberry's Star Trek because Star Trek was supposed to be a "human voyage". The Borg were antithetical to everything that the show was about: the human spirit, free will, compassion, friendship, loyalty, and so on.
The Borg had none of that.
They were mindless, infallible automatons with a collective will, who single-mindedly sought out technology and mercilessly destroyed anything and anyone that got in their way.
They were a representation of technology gone amok.
They had NO humanity.
But that's not even the worst of it!
If the Borg killed you, you were one of the lucky ones!
If they capture you, they take everything away from you that they possibly can. They strip away your individuality. They strip away your free will. They force the voices of billions or trillions of people into your mind, constantly telling you what to do, and you can't say "no". They use you to impose that same punishment on other people. And there is nothing you can do about it.
For the rest of your life. Maybe even longer. Who knows what the expected lifespan of a Borg drone is after he or she has been assimilated...
That was what made them threatening. That was what made them scary. And the fear of them brought out the worst in humanity, as evidenced in the TNG episode "I, Borg", in which the crew of the Enterprise plan to use a perfectly likeable teenage boy as an instrument of genocide against his entire race.
The Federation, an organization dedicated to peaceful exploration and diplomatic tolerance, authorized the indiscriminate murder of any Borg that they came across. They were considered that dangerous.
. . .
And then First Contact came along.
It was hailed as one of the best Star Trek movies that had been released. Some people even argued that it was the best. Better than The Wrath of Kahn. Better than The Undiscovered Country. Better than The Voyage Home. It was emotionally-charged. It had action. It had explosions. Picard goes nuts and kills Borg with a tommy gun! It had space zombies!
It was Star Trek. And it was cool! Go figure.
But, that's just the thing. Star Trek: First Contact really isn't Star Trek when you stop and think about it. It ignores and contradicts what had already been established in previous episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It completely ignores the fundamental personality all the characters from TNG and of the show itself! And it starts a trend of future TNG-based movies completely disregarding the seven years' worth of character development that was established by the series. Generations is a horrible movie. But believe it or not, from the perspective of a Star Trek movie/sequel, it is actually the most true to what we had seen in the television series (except for Data).
Star Trek: First Contact is like a totally different franchise. The characters are almost unrecognizeable.
In the series, Picard is a peaceful, intellectual leader who is exceptional at delegating tasks. He will avoid conflict whenever possible and tries to find diplomatic and peaceful solutions. To him, every life is precious, and he will defend the life of any one crewman even at the cost of his own life.
But in First Contact, he's like space-Rambo with a Jedi-like ability to sense disturbances in the Force and a complete disregard for the well-being of his crew. He even fires an energy rifle single-handed in a sleeveless top. Oh wait, sorry. That was actually Insurrection. In First Contact, he still has his shirt on, and he uses two hands. Regardless, the only thing he's missing is an incomprehensible speech impediment and bandana.
Now, I know what you're gonna say: "But it makes sense because the Borg assimilated and violated him, and he hated them, and now he is getting revenge because he's human, and he's falling victim to human emotion. That's what Star Trek is all about."
And if this movie had taken place sometime in the fourth or fifth season of TNG, that would be true!
But late in season 5, Picard goes through a major character development step in the episode "I, Borg". In that episode, he realizes that by commiting genocide, he would be no better than the enemy he sought to destroy. Starfleet command even challenges him on this! They threaten to strip away his command because he didn't commit genocide. And this is the man who had been abducted and forced to lead an assault that destroyed an entire fleet of Starfleet ships! If anybody is going to pull the "destroy the Borg" trigger, it would have been Picard.
But he doesn't.
All that is apparently forgotten by the time First Contact comes around.
First Contact also begins with an unecessary scene in which Picard describes that Starfleet doesn't trust him to fight against the Borg. Which flies in stark contrast to the 2-part episode "Descent", in which Starfleet specifically appoints Picard the head of an anti-Borg task force because his experience makes him "best suited" to deal with them.
So did the writers of First Contact even watch the last 3 seasons of TNG?
And I'm not even going to bother going into the supidity of the time travel plot and why the Borg would even bother using such technology, how the characters completely mess up how first contact was supposed to happen, that everyone will conveniently forget that the launch site for the most influential scientific endeavor in the history of mankind was sabotaged by space robot zombies from the future, how Zeframe Cochrane doesn't seem anything like the character that we saw in the Original Series episode "Metamorphosis", and that when the crew of the Enterprise return home, everything seems to be exactly as they left it. Minus a few crew members and part of Data's face.
You want to know what would have made First Contact better?
If they would have brought in the character of Sisko from Deep Space Nine. They included the Defiant. They used it as an excuse to bring back the character of Worf just 'cuz. But apparently saving the planet earth wasn't important enough for the rest of the crew of Deep Space Nine. So they sent Worf and the B-Team to handle that.
And it's unfortunate because the movie probably would have worked so much better if they would have brought in Avery Brooks as Captain Sisko. Heck, the portrayal of Picard is the character of Sisko! Sisko is a more action-oriented leader with an attitude. His wife was killed in a Borg attack. By Locutus (Picard's Borg alter-ego). And he never got the guilt-trip from his senior staff about how murdering innocent cyborg teenagers is bad mojo. So Sisko still hates the Borg.
Having the Enterprise beam aboard the survivors of the Defiant would have given them an excuse to include Sisko. The whole movie could then have been about Sisko and Picard infighting over how best to handle the Borg, while at the same time trying to deal with the Borg. All the gung-ho action movie hero stuff that Picard does in that movie could have been done by Sisko! It actually fits with Sisko's character.
Well, so much for missed opportunities...
But as if butchering the beloved character of Picard wasn't bad enough,
First Contact ruined the Borg by introducing the character of the Borg Queen.
She gave the Borg a human face, a personality, passion, and human fallibility. The Borg became more organic and alive because of her. Their costume design even shifting from robotic and artificial to a more organic combination of H.R. Giger's xenomorph design from Alien and simple decaying zombie face.
Some people thought this was an improvement. So did I when I first saw the movie. But then again, I thought a lot of stupid stuff was cool back when I was 11 years old.
Anyway the costume change for the Borg is a different topic, so I'll get back to the point: The Queen.
Adding her into the movie was no doubt the idea of some big-wig studio execs who thought that not having a singular, central villain would be too abstract and difficult for the casual (read: "stupid") movie-goer. So the Borg needed to be given a "leader".
The existence of the Borg Queen trivialized the Borg. She turned them into just another one of Star Trek's rogue's gallery of alien villains. They stopped being the antithetical absolutely anti-human evil that they were set up and intended to be. They became just a bunch of space zombies in big spaceships with a sexually frustrated leader with nothing better to do than hatch an elaborate plot to make sure that her old boyfriend who rejected her (Picard) can see her with her new boyfriend (Data) so that he'll get jealous and she can break his heart by spurning him for the aforementioned new boyfriend.
Wait, was this a science fiction movie, or a Britney Spears song?
They even forgot how to use force fields to stop someone from physically assaulting them, which is something they did in every episode of TNG that they appeared in. So now, when the phasers stop working, the crew can just hack at them with the hilt of their phaser rifles, shoot them with tommy guns, slice them open with swords, and snap their necks to their hearts' content.
And where First Contact left off, Voyager picked back up with "Dark Frontier". Bringing back the Borg and the Queen every chance they got. Making the Queen more human, more imperfect, more fallible. Making the Borg even more and more like pathetic space zombies.
Even going so far as to giving the Queen a personal vendetta against Janeway and Voyager that persists throughout the rest of the series!
Machines don't indulge in personal vendettas!
The Borg started making deals, negotiating, lying, cheating, and scamming. The Queen made everything so personal, to the point that Janeway and the crew of Voyager started using her mindless desire for revenge at any cost to bait her into falling for traps!
With the crew of Voyager now actively seeking out the Borg instead of running and cowering from them in fear - partly due to Seven of Nine's presence as a "consultant" - the Borg lost the sense of raw terror that permeated their appearances in The Next Generation. Borg episodes became nothing but television-budget CGI special effects showcases and excuses to put Jeri Ryan in as many frames of film as possible. Everything that made the Borg interesting as a concept was lost. Every Borg episode after "Scorpion Part II" became unwatchably bad (including and especially the finale, "Endgame"), and almost single-handedly ruined the last 3 or 4 seasons of Voyager for me.
And that is why despite all the criticism that modern fans give for the old-style Borg being "lame", they were a much more compelling villain than post-First Contact Borg, and why episodes like "Q Who?", "Best of Both Worlds", and "I, Borg", are the best Borg episodes and First Contact and everything in Voyager is crap.
"Scorpion" parts I and II are decent.