I, Borg (Original airdate: May 10th, 1992)
Written by René Echevarria
Directed by Robert Lederman
With Jonathan Del Arco listed in the cast for the upcoming Picard, I suspect this episode will be of core importance to the events that go down in that series. No matter how important this episode proves to be, it is one of the best of TNG, once again focusing on questions about humanity and dignity. The Enterprise comes across a crashed Borg ship with a single survivor. This Borg drone is brought onboard the vessel and becomes disconnected from the Collective. A debate ensues about whether to load this being with a virus that could kill the species or allow him to develop autonomy.
We get a taste of the PTSD Picard is still coping with in the form of his simmering hatred upon seeing a Borg. Dr. Crusher argues that this drone is her patient, and like any person, she will protect and defend him. A friendship is forged between this Borg and Geordi, with the former eventually taking a name, Hugh. Hugh displays himself as very different from the speechless, automatons the Federation has previously encountered. It’s clear the Borg forcibly assimilate beings, so these people have the right to have their autonomy returned to themselves.
This episode came as a result of how high the stakes were raised by The Best of Both Worlds arc. The Borg were so unstoppable that it became hard to plausibly write any script where they don’t win. If you check, you’ll see the Enterprise would only encounter compromised Borg after that storyline until the event of Star Trek: First Contact. The shared loathing of the Borg by Picard and Guinan is central here, and so instead of a story about fighting this species, this episode is an exploration of how people can or cannot forgive those who victimized them. I, Borg, serves to forever change the conversation about the Borg in the Star Trek universe with a follow-up story in a later season and the ripples showing up in Star Trek: Voyager.
The Inner Light (Original airdate: June 1st, 1992)
Written by Morgan Gendel and Peter Allan Fields
Directed by Peter Lauritson
Inspired by the Tao Te Ching, this episode takes us out of the familiar and into a simple, very human setting. The Enterprise encounters an ancient probe that directs an energy beam into the ship and takes over Picard’s mind. He wakes in a simulation of the extinct civilization of Kataan. He inhabits the body of Kamin, an iron weaver who is married to Eline. It appears Picard will be stuck here for a while and ends up spending the rest of Kamin’s life in this artificial reality. While only 25 minutes pass on the Enterprise, the Captain experiences a lifetime of love and family.
The lines from the Tao Te Ching that led to the writing of this episode are, “Without going outside his door, one understands (all that takes place) under the sky; without looking out from his window, one sees the Tao of Heaven. The farther that one goes out (from himself), the less he knows. Therefore the sages got their knowledge without traveling, gave their (right) names to things without seeing them, and accomplished their ends without any purpose of doing so.”
The writers loved the idea of experiencing the existence of another through a futuristic form of a time capsule. The probe was a last-ditch effort of a dying world to make themselves known and remembered. Picard experiences the moments of this society, ignoring the warnings of environmental collapse and plays a role as Kamin creating the system that leads to the probe. Patrick Stewart has gone on record saying this is his personal favorite episode to have performed in.
Time’s Arrow Parts 1 & 2 (Original airdates: June 15th & September 21st, 1992)
Written by Joe Menosky, Michael Piller, & Jeri Taylor
Directed by Dennis McCarthy
What a fantastic cold open hook! The Enterprise is called back to Earth after evidence of aliens on the planet 500 years earlier is discovered. The most shocking artifact is Data’s own head, left behind in a cavern in the late 19th century. But how could this be? The trail leads to a shapeshifting race that travels through time and feeds on the life force of humans. Because they are out of phase with time, it allows them to prey on worlds before they are technologically advanced enough to detect them.
The time travel going on in this episode is an instance of causal order, showing that what has happened must still happen to avoid a paradox. Data has to leave his head behind in the cavern to ensure that the events of the timeline always carryout. The villains aren’t very interesting and feel like a lesser tier of antagonists from a Doctor Who episode.
The plot really serves as an excuse to deepen the friendship between Picard and Guinan, which feels like it exists on the fringes of something romantic that was never realized in the series. In this episode, it is Picard who has all the foreknowledge as he encounters a much younger Guinan who has never met him before. There is also the importance of real-life writer Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain. Clemens gets the fantastic opportunity of coming on board the Enterprise and marvels at a utopian future where all the worries of his time are erased.
This is one of the few season-ending/starting stories that feel more character-focused than on plot or world-building. The Picard-Guinan relationship really stuck out during my watch, and I am disappointed that it seemed to fizzle out in the final season and when the films were made. Gunian plays a vital role in Generations but is gone after that. I even suspect the Alfre Woodard character in First Contact was intended to be Guinan. I’m sure some novels explore Guinan’s character more, but I wish that could have happened on screen.