Warning: Minor spoilers below.
Khan. Gul Dukat. The Klingons. The Star Trek universe isn't lacking for villains, but none are more terrifying and compelling than the Borg, human-machine hybrids that are part of a collective whose sole purpose is to expand and assimilate. You can't reason with them or forge an alliance. You can only hope to survive and escape the encounter.
But in, we may see a different side to the classic big bad Borg -- one in which they may not be so bad at all.
"There's a humanity, for the lack of a better word, that was taken away from them," Alex Kurtzman, co-creator and executive producer of Picard, said in an interview in LA earlier this montj. "There's a new perspective on the Borg."
The Borg figure to play a big role in Picard, which marks the return of Patrick Stewart in the namesake lead role. Notably, the show also includes appearances by Star Trek: Voyager's Seven of Nine (), a former Borg, and the disconnected Borg named Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco), who both tease a more sympathetic side to the cybernetically enhanced species.
The show, which premiered Jan. 23 on CBS All Access and Amazon Prime Video internationally, is set 20 years after Star Trek: Nemesis and finds Picard out of Starfleet and resigned to running his family's winery. But it's the mystery of a potential legacy left by Data (who sacrificed his life in Nemesis), that sets the story in motion. (Disclosure: CBS All Access and CNET are both owned by ViacomCBS.)
The exploration of so-called synthetics like Data mirror the real-world tech industry's insatiable need to invest in artificial intelligence, and with the show tackling this theme, it seems only natural that the Borg show up too.
A different Borg
Kurtzman's first instinct when coming up with Picard's adversary on the show was the Borg. Picard, after all, has had a colorful relationship with the cybernetic species over the years.
In the classic two-parter The Best of Both Worlds, the Borg assimilated Picard into the collective, turning him into Locutus of Borg. He's had to deal with that traumatic event in subsequent episodes, as well in Star Trek: First Contact. So positioning the Borg as the villains made a lot of sense.
But not to Stewart.
"Patrick, in his infinite wisdom, did not want to repeat the things he had played already," Kurtzman said. "He was really resistant to doing the Borg for a long time, and it ended up leading us to a new version of the Borg you haven't seen."
Stewart relished the idea of tackling a new take on the longtime villains. "Everything was different," he said.
Del Arco teases that the Borg that disconnected from the collective, as seen in the TNG two-parter Descent, have become more human over time, but noted that the broader Borg collective still remains a threat. Hugh has spent the last 20 years serving as a protector to the disconnected Borg, he added, and has had to make compromises to keep his people safe.
"But he's held on to that moral center that I think has always made the character really important to Star Trek," he said.
Picard, like previous Star Trek shows, will explore what it means to be human.
"Synthetics allow us the opportunity to explore that question in a way that may sneak up on some audiences," co-creator Akiva Goldsman said.
Michael Chabon, co-creator and executive producer, added, "The answer to that question has always been at the heart of Star Trek and it's at the heart of Picard too."
I asked about how the rise of AI in real life, including startups like Samsung-backed Neon touting "artificial humans" as a new species, informed this story, and both Goldsman and Chabon declined to comment, offering a hint to one potential direction.
But it's clear that one way or another, you'll be leaving Picard with a new appreciation for the Borg.
Originally published Jan. 14.