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Geek Fights - Worst episode of Star Trek

Star Trek Voyager - Dark Frontier

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 looked great in that skin-tight unitard. Yeah, sure, she and the Doctor are probably the best and most interesting characters in the entire series. And I will defend Jeri Ryan's acting performance to the last -- she totally nailed the part! And yeah the Doctor is Voyager's equivalent of TNG's Data (arguably that show's most popular character). And Robert Picardo probably provides the second-best acting performance on the series. 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, the spirit of discovery, self-betterment, compassion, friendship, loyalty, and so on.

Star Trek The Next Generation - Best of Both Worlds part II

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!

Picard's tear

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.

This would go on 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.

Star Trek First Contact poster

First Contact was hailed as one of the best Star Trek movies that had been released. Some 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 and space zombies. It had explosions. Picard goes nuts and kills Borg with a tommy gun!

But, that's just the thing. Star Trek: First Contact really doesn't feel like Star Trek when you stop and think about it. It ignores and contradicts what had already been established in previous episodes of TNG. It completely ignores the fundamental personality of all the characters, and of the show itself! And it starts cements a trend of TNG-based movies completely disregarding the seven years' worth of character development that was established by the series -- a trend started when Generations  abandoned seven years of character development for Data by making him suddenly want to install the emotion chip.

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!

Star Trek The Next Generation - I, Borg

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 season 6/7 cliff-hanger "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.

What would have made First Contact better?

Star Trek Deep Space 9 - Wolf 359

The writers should have brought in the character of Sisko from Deep Space Nine. They included the Defiant. They used it as an excuse to bring back Worf just 'cuz. But apparently saving the planet earth from the Borg wasn't important enough for the rest of the crew of the Defiant (and Deep Space Nine), even though the Defiant was specifically designed to fight the Borg. So they sent Worf and the B-Team to handle that.

This is 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 a huge chip on his shoulder. His wife was killed in a Borg attack -- by Locutus (Picard's Borg alter-ego) no less. He also never received the guilt-trip from his senior staff about how murdering innocent cyborg teenagers is bad mojo. So Sisko still hates the Borg. Maybe having Sisko commanding the Defiant (a ship specifically designed to fight the Borg) would have given Starfleet an excuse to keep Picard away -- because his presence may have compromised Sikso's ability to rationally command, and Sisko is the one commanding the dedicated anti-Borg strike ship!

Having the Enterprise beam aboard the survivors of the Defiant would have brought Picard and Sisko into contact. The whole movie could then have been about Sisko and Picard in-fighting over how best to handle the Borg, dealing with their own personal baggage (and Sisko's hatred of Picard), while at the same time trying to deal with the Borg themselves. 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. Suddenly this dumb action movie would have a lot more character and depth to it.

Well, so much for missed opportunities...

Picard-FACEPALM: Because expressing how dumb that was in words just doesn't work.

But as if butchering the beloved character of Picard wasn't bad enough ...

The Queen ruins the Borg!

Borg Queen

The Queen gave the Borg a human face, a personality, passion, and human fallibility. The Borg became more organic and alive because of her. Their costume designs shifted 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 the Queen 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 turns 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 who has 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?

Borg force field

The Borg 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 holographic tommy guns, slice them open with swords, and snap their necks to their hearts' content.

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. It even went so far as to giving the Queen a personal vendetta against Janeway and Voyager that persists throughout the rest of the series! 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!

Machines don't indulge in personal vendettas!

With the crew of Voyager now actively goading 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 give Jeri Ryan as much screentime 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"). The frequent re-use of the Borg almost single-handedly ruined the last 3 or 4 seasons of Voyager for me.

That is why despite all the criticism that modern fans give for the old-style Borg being "lame" or "stupid-looking", they were a much more compelling villain than post-First Contact Borg. It's 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, I guess. And "Unity" is actually pretty good as far as Voyager episodes go.

Comments (16) -

05/03/2011 09:29:20 #

Reading that and knowing some of the festering anger I myself had to bite down while we were recording that episode a couple of weeks ago, I am suprised that episode didn't end up three hours long.

Good argument and I do agree with the bulk of your it, especially the inclusion of The Sisko, I didn't mind the Cochrane stuff because it was quite likely that meeting the Vulcans and all that followed for him would have matured him.

Not to mention; the mere presense of Picard, the Borg and company would have changed events drastically, continuing the degradation of the timeline that the crews of each series had been bashing with a hammer every time they travel into the past.  Which is why I argued that JJ Trek had to happen the way it did for in-Universe reason as well as RL reasons.

Anyway, it was good fighting with you cause I doubt Damon will pair us Jasons again too much in the future.

05/04/2011 06:00:17 #

Hey other Jason, thanks for the comment! It was a good fight, and I'm pretty satisfied with the result. Although, if Damon is correct, and response to that episode was split pretty evenly along gender lines, we may have to revisit that topic and try to get a girl or two into the discussion.

The Cochrane stuff was just minor nitpicking, which is why I glossed over it the way I did, and it is very likely that interactions with the crew of the Enterprise and the Borg may have fundamentally changed him. As an addendum to this blog: after the Enterprise episode "Regeneration", I started to assume that all the events of Enterprise did in fact take place in a parallel continuity that began with the incursion in First Contact. For a time, I also thought that the influence of the Borg attack, and the paranoia of Cochrane could have also been considered a catalyst for creating the Mirror Universe Terran Empire. But I revised that idea during season four (after the Xindi arc), only to have it kind of shattered by the episode "In a Mirror, Darkly" (but that episode was pretty fun, so I can't really complain too much). But I don't want to go into too much detail with those ideas. Maybe I'll save those for a future blog!

Thanks for reading! I look forward to debating with you again.

Other Jason
Other Jason
05/04/2011 07:07:09 #

I can't remember which one, but I think one of the Shatner books implies that the Mirror Universe may have started as a reaction to Cochrane learning of the Borg.

05/04/2011 09:43:53 #

Really? I didn't read that one. I do remember that in his book The Return, he describes that V'Ger was repaired by the Borg (the machine planet described in the film being the Borg homeworld) and sent to earth. According to the Wikipedia article, he also pitched that idea to Paramount as the plot for the eighth Trek film (which became First Contact).

That book actually made me think that it would be cool if the union between Decker, Ilia, and V'Ger had been the origin of the Borg. That after the merger, the unified cyborg V'ger returned to the machine planet that had repaired it, and assumed control of it, establishing the Borg Collective. The fact that V'Ger's origins are from earth could also have been used as an explanation for the Borg being so adamant about assimilating humanity. It would tie things together nicely, and would create an interesting irony: Captain Kirk (one of the most celebrated heroes of the Federation) had essentially created the Borg!

Even though I hate the Queen, it would have been neat if Paramount had run with that idea and cast Peris Khambatta as Ilia in the form of a personification of the Borg Queen instead of Alice Krige!

Other Jason
Other Jason
05/04/2011 11:37:08 #

Unfortunately, Persis died in the 80s.

As far as I'm concerned TMP was the closest any of the original run of Trek Movies came to actually being Trek.  The other five were all something with Star Trek rubbed on it to varying degrees of success.  That's not a slam, four out the five are good movies and I feel good Trek but TMP was pure undiluted Trek. (Which is why people felt it was slow.)

So as much as I'd like them to finally acknowledge that TMP happened, I just don't know if linking the combined V'Ger with the Borg is the way to do it.  I actually think that the V'ger incident might have been what brought Humanity to Q's (DeLancie-Q specifically, not the Q in general of course) attention, and after taking a long hard look at humanity he finally stepped literally into their path with the Farpoint incident.

06/07/2013 19:14:53 #

first contact was the best so you shut it

"And he piled upon the whales white hump, the sum of all the rage and hate felt by his whole reace.. If his chest had been a cannon, he would of shot his heart upon it"

"and i will make them pay for what they've done"

picard was fricken awesome in that movie.. great movie!

Don't make me assimilate you so that you agree! Lol

06/07/2013 19:15:33 #


01/30/2014 09:13:38 #

Good thoughts honestly I never thought of that before. There was another option. William Shatner wrote a book (can't think of it off the top of my head). It spring-boarded off of Generations (which I agree was the worst movie of the series). The premise of the book was someone was trained in the fighting of every alien race and was giving each member of TNG a run for their money. It tied the very first Star Trek Movie in with it and yes it involved the Borg.

Side note while in the Air Force I served in Montana as a Security Forces Missile Cop. When First Contact came out one of my coworkers and I sat in the front office of the Missile Alert Facility and tried to figure out which Silo contained the space craft. Ignoring the fact the Zefram Cochran was, according to the original series, elsewhere.

Bo Zimmerman
Bo Zimmerman
09/10/2014 02:27:16 #

I agree with one of the main points here so hard it hurt a little.

In the Voyager episode called "The Raven", Annika's father tells her that (paraphrasing) "The Borg have a queen.  Like the queen in an insect colony, she directs the activities of the colony."  In a science fiction show of all places, that statement is nuts.  The Queen in an insect colony directs Nothing, but acts as a baby factory, and is little more than the uterus of the colony.  Each insect is directed by a set of instincts which cause Order to emerge between them in the colony, making it appear that they are being directed by a single purpose.  

The thing that so fascinated me about the Borg was that they (the writers) were speculating on what would emerge from a group of humanoids if they were forced to share a consciousness.  The introduction of a "central planner" in the person of a Queen destroyed this brilliant premise.

John R. McCommas
John R. McCommas
12/20/2014 23:23:05 #

Well if they were going to do anything with the storyline of the Borg than they had to make choices.  I like the way they went even though you have some points.  I enjoyed First Contact but the best was Wraith of Kahn.

I loved Voyager.  I thought it was the best of the franchise.  My favorite line "Time to take out the garbage" -- just before Janeway blew up a scavenger ship.

Its just TV.  Try to enjoy it.    

12/21/2014 07:47:19 #

@John R McCommas:

I did find plenty of enjoyment in televised Star Trek, including Voyager. Episodes like Deadlock, Real Life, Tinker, Tailor, Doctor, Spy, Mortal Coil, Critical Care, and Worst Case Scenario are some of my favorite episodes of the franchise (behind the really good TNG episodes, of course). But it's entirely possible to like something and still be critical of it.

Voyager had the misfortune of being behind the times a bit. It's scripts and characters were fairly bland, it's production was too "clean cut", and the show failed to innovate in the ways that TNG and DS9 did. It had its moments, but was pretty weak overall - especially if you look at shows like the Sci Fi network's Battlestar Galactica or Fox's Firefly. TV was getting darker and edgier, and Voyager's old-school simplicity and hard resets between episodes made it feel quaint and campy by comparison. As bad as Enterprise was, I do have to give the producers and writers a bit of credit for taking more chances, even if most of those chances failed to pay off.

Can you honestly tell me that Voyager would not have benefited from some of the edginess of Battlestar, especially in the way that Galactica and its crew suffered persistent attrition? The concept of Voyager was just begging for scripts more akin to what we saw in BSG! (Full disclosure: I loved the first 2 seasons of BSG, but hate the last season or 2). And a villain as conceptual and nuanced as the Borg deserved to be treated with a little bit more respect than being treated as space-zombie-honeybees.

Jason Biginton
Jason Biginton
01/01/2015 10:25:18 #

Completely 100% agree. Your theory about studio execs needing a leader for the villain was actually confirmed at the time. Voyager milked it because of course that swan diving pile of shit did; it had to to keep people interested somehow and thought this would be "cool". The character stuff I can forgive but the addition of the Queen was the killing blow for the Borg.

Tom England
Tom England
09/28/2016 06:39:53 #

Just FYI....

I, Borg created Hugh. Picard then failed to use Hugh to kill the borg. Starfleet was like "WTF PICARD!"

Hugh created the events of Descent. Picard was sent DESPITE I, Borg and because of Best of Both Worlds. At the end of Descent Starfleet is like "FUCK Picard, this is all YOUR fault."

So it makes sense they wouldn't send him straight away, because as events had proven Picard WAS sympathetic to the Borg.

As to his rage issues... doesn't upset me at all, PTSD isn't something that goes away despite intellectual awareness.

That said... you are right in two regards. Sisko WOULD have made a terrific counterpoint to Picard, and the two fighting over how to deal with a) the Borg, and b) impacting the past (I see Sisko would want to save people, where Picard doesn't want to interfere) would have precluded the necessity for a straight up villain (similar to Captain America's Civil War "villain") - though I can't imagine a studio accepting that.

The missed opportunities with Sisko and Picard... ouch. (But honestly TNG/movie viewers wouldn't understand it... so a lot would be lost on them. Simply put DS9 was not as popular in it's heyday as it is NOW)

Finally... the whole Data/Queen/Picard fest was off... but I didn't and don't pick up the same romantic overtones.

As to Voyager. Yes, we are all aware of how bad Voyager is. The only people who like it are those who willingly shut off their brain. (It's the most simple and bland Star Trek bar none)

Rudi Kramp
Rudi Kramp
12/24/2016 15:28:58 #

I wouldn't want to be so judgemental about these.
Aliens in science fiction invariably represent aspects of human nature. An example with the Borg is the threat to the Borg Collective must be assimilated or destroyed, resistance is futile. That's so typical of human nature.
The Star Trek universe gives one a good idea of the real universe. Also, the Star Trek universe being symbolic of inner space, and the real universe symbolic of outer space. The Borg trying to prevent first contact can symbolise the paranoid nature of many people reckoning that that in the real universe would mean the extraterrestrials enslaving humanity. It can also symbolise the negative ones on earth trying to prevent that, in order to enslave humanity.
01/03/2017 07:30:52 #

It has been ages since I read this article, and each year I feel myself agreeing with it more and more as I grow older and start to understand the nuances of Star Trek, science fiction, big idea thinking, and "the other" in stories.

Back then I did not understand the Borg that well when episodes like "Q Who" and "Best of both worlds" aired as they concepts and ideas they depicted had not come yet to my still forming mind (I was more into action sci-fi and space fantasy such as Star Wars). Only later I started to understand what the Borg represented and what made them so fearful.

I really liked First Contact when it was in the theater and when the species appeared on Voyager as most of the previous antagonists the crew faced weren't that memorable or threatening.
Along with BOBW Scorpion 1&2 were some of my favorite Borg episodes, and Dark Frontier was also high on my "Favorite Star Trek episodes ever" list until I also started comprehend why the Borg work best in small doses when they became more and more exposed in Seasons 6 and 7. (especially the humanizing of the Queen made me realize that this was no longer the "other", the strange thing that desires our civilization for its technology and our bodies)

I still loved them in Enterprise "Regeneration", but more because it was the Borg again, but for the rest it is a pretty forgettable and pointless episode really. (I still want a toy of the Assimilated Transport though)

To be honest, I am not even sure if it is wise to bring the Borg back in any new movie or Star Trek series. Not because I hate them, but they are overexposed, to watered down, and it would just be done again for the sake of nostalgia.
Just like how all other Star Trek stuff keeps being used over and over again instead of ever continuing onward.

02/21/2020 18:17:40 #

Meh, the Doctor and Seven are easily my favourite Star Trek characters outside of Picard, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy (which is basically who took up all the time in the original series), I don't really see "there are 7 other characters" as a valid complaint. It's a nonsensical complaint, like saying, "Deep Space 9 was bad because they only used the 9th Deep Space station."

The truth is that Voyager began as an ensemble, and it clearly wasn't working as well as it should have. They made changes, and the show improved.

So, I probably won't agree with your post based on your opening bit, so I'll end it here.

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