Unlike one of the later iterations, such as Star Trek: Voyager, The Next Generation never delved too deeply into Borg mythology. This less-is-more approach enhanced the mystery and dangerous nature of the Borg. When they appeared, the Borg brought a thrilling and existential threat to our main crew. Anything after “The Best of Both Worlds” meant a personal story for Picard, as well.
So it is with “I, Borg”. The Enterprise responds to a distress call. The away team encounters a wrecked ship on the planet. They soon discover the ship is Borg. Several are dead, and one lone drone survives by the smallest margin.
Dr. Crusher wants to beam the drone aboard to save it, in the name of humanity. Worf & Riker discuss killing the drone to make it appear as if it died in the crash, so as not to alert the Borg that the Enterprise ever encountered the wreckage.
Back on the ship, Picard is unsure of what to do. You can see he is considering both routes. Surprisingly, he consents to having the Borg drone brought onboard so it can be treated.
So it seems.
As it turns out, Picard is considering a secret plan. From his experience with the Borg, Picard has a unique perspective on how the Borg work. He plans to heal the Borg, send it back to the collective armed with a subroutine that would wipe out the collective itself.
Picard’s crew have different responses. Many consider this an appropriate response to an enemy who plans to annihilate humanity without any hope of peace treaty. Others, such as Dr. Crusher, consider this a borderline act of genocide.
Picard is undeterred. Is our heroic captain, a man of resolve and reason, really about to consider the extermination of an entire species with a seemingly reasoned demeanor? It appears so. That is, until Dr. Crusher and Commander LaForge interact with the Borg during their research.
Crusher and LaForge begin to see the underlying humanity in the drone. Moving past the Borg designation of Third of Five, the name the Borg Hugh, and start to see a sensitive, scared individual. They tell Picard of their experience. And after some time, he visits Hugh for himself. Through this interaction, he is unable to see past a singular person, despite Hugh’s confusion about being a singular cog in the larger collective. He abandons his plan, returns Hugh to the crash site with a sense of individuality.
It’s here that we see a continuation of Picard’s process through his own traumatic experience with the Borg. It really does seem as though he compartmentalizes his trauma (more on this in the segment on Star Trek: First Contact). Some of this may be due to the episodic nature of The Next Generation. Yet I think that even if the show had a different structure, we’d see Picard try and push his experience to the darkest parts of his mind, determined to not deal with his experience as much as possible. The Borg represent Picard’s weakness, not because of what happened to him, per se, but because he refuses to do the hard work with the longevity it deserves. Does he admit to his struggle, as we looked at in “Family”? Yes, surely. But between these moments of catharsis, he buries his trauma, seemingly to move forward without any issue. In “I, Borg”, we see Picard want to avenge himself and the Federation for the crimes in which the Borg have committed against them. Yet when Picard looks at this individual drone, who thanks to his crew now has a name, he’s unable to see past Hugh’s eyes and face. He sees a person, not an enemy. There’s mercy, there’s grace, and there may even be the hint of forgiveness.
The shift in Picard is one from destruction and revenge to preservation and compassion. And ultimately, the latter is the true reflection of who Picard is, a decorated military official who is guided by a conscience and principled resolve that will keep even his most deepest wounds in check.