Memory Alpha Entry
Star Trek: The Next Generation had a lot of misfires during it's first season. One of the most notorious examples was when they tried to create a new antagonist race that would be to TNG what the Klingons were to TOS. Gene Roddenberry decided that the best way to create a worthy adversary for the TNG crew was to take all the elements he didn't like about humanity such as greed, imperialistic attitudes, unrefined behaviors, uncaring morals and sexist views (.....starting to sound like Gene actually) and dial it up to 11. The end result was the Ferengi, a race so ridiculous that their premier episode was hated by everyone involved. After only two episodes, it would be decided that the Ferengi would no longer be treated as a galactic threat and were therefore treated as the goofy comic relief characters that they are. Something else had to be done.
Enter Maurice Hurley, Gene Roddenberry's drinking buddy who was probably more unfriendly to the female cast than the Ferengi were in character. While I do think that Maurice Hurley was one of the worst human beings ever involved with Star Trek, this is the episode where he managed to achieve something that Gene Roddenberry himself failed miserably at. Introduce Star Trek to an enemy that would go down in history as one of the most iconic villains not only to Star Trek, but also to Science Fiction in general. The Borg.
"Q Who" also does a lot of things differently by giving Guinan a much bigger role in the story rather than being restricted to the person who only talks wisdom to others. We get to learn more about her character, discover that she knew Q and her people's history with the Borg. Whoopie Goldberg really sells every scene she's in including the ones where all she does is look out into space. With Ron Jones' music playing as she observes outside of Ten Forward's windows, it really makes this one of the most interesting scenes so far in TNG's run.
On a personal level, this episode also takes Roddenberry's "Utopia" view of a perfect humanity and completely turns it over it's head. For a whole season and a half, we have had to put up with Picard's arrogance and self-glorifying preachiness about how humanity is not only awesome but may one day become more powerful than the Q continuum. That moment was so face palmingly stupid that even Q threw the big book of Shakespeare at him. Where as previous episodes would play that as Picard's strength, here it's played out literally as a flaw. When Q decides to test Picard's arrogant resolve by hurdling the Enterprise across space, you're kind of left feeling that maybe Picard should have been such a pill to Q.
So with the Enterprise now far away from home, we get the second of many instances where Picard chooses to do something that will only serve to make things worse. When Guinan warns Picard that they should start heading back home right now, Picard decides to explore the sector of space they're in before heading back. If you could put your finger on instance that would change the galaxy forever, it would be Picard ignoring Guinan's warning. Picard, even after the Enterprise has been sent to J25 still hasn't come into contact with the Borg, so if he had only headed Guinan's warning, thing could have been different. While exploring, they discover a planet that bears the same kind destruction that occurred to the outposts in the episode "The Neutral Zone" and this.....
Ron Jones, you couldn't have made a more perfect score to this moment.... oh, wait. You already have.
This truly is a puzzling situation for both the crew and the audience since this ship is not only huge but also simple in shape yet complex in texture. It has no life signs or any distinguishable areas that would give the impression that it was a ship at all. Yet there is one thing that's clear. It knows the Enterprise is there, and it moves towards her. It's when Picard asks for Guinan's input that we get to the scene in the whole episode, and arguably all of Season Two.
Picard: Are you familiar with this life form?
Guinan: Yes. My people encountered them a century ago. They destroyed our cities. Scattered my people throughout the galaxy. They're called the Borg. Protect yourself Captain or they will destroy you.
*Picard turns towards Riker*
Riker: Shields up.
Worf: Aye, sir.
Riker: All decks, stand by.
*Something appears in engineering*
LaForge: Security, report to main engineering. We have an intruder.
Holy $&!#, we are in serious trouble. Before I move on, there is one little nitpick I have with this scene. did Maurice Hurley not understand that Ten Forward was literally located at the front of the Enterprise? It feels really awkward seeing Guinan standing by the window where the Borg ship is clearly visible, only to go into her office to see the same bloody image of the Borg Cube on her view screen. Not a big deal, but why not have the scene play out while she's sitting by the window?
As I mentioned earlier, Picard is not at his best here for reasons that go beyond his intended flaws. His ship has just been invaded, his crew physically attacked, and after the Enterprise survives an attack from the Borg Cube that leaves it with 18 crew members dead, Picard doesn't high tail it out of there. In fact, he actually orders an away team to beam aboard the Borg Cube just out of curiosity! This just goes beyond incompetence. What would have made this whole situation play out better is if the Borg, while in engineering, steal a valuable component that renders the Enterprise helpless. After surviving their first attack yet still unable to go anywhere, Picard has to order an away team to board the Cube and retrieve the component needed to get the Enterprise operational again. You could still have Riker and Data report their findings on the Borg while still trying to locate the component. Having Picard not take a hint once is one thing, but to have him make these stupid mistakes really does prevent this episode from getting a perfect grade in my book.
So after finding out how the Borg make babies and learning why the Borg didn't take note of their presence because they're using their combined power to repair their ship (Should have stayed that way), Picard finally realizes that hanging around a big cube of death was not a good idea and finally decides to high tail it out of there. Despite Geordi's best efforts in giving the Enterprise more power, the Borg manage to outrun the Enterprise all the while Q gloats about how Picard's arrogance got them in this situation. It's not until all hope is lost that Picard gives Q what he wants.
Picard: You wanted to frighten us, we're frightened. You wanted to show us that we were inadequate? For the moment, I grant that. You wanted me to say I need you? I NEED YOU!
*Q smiles and snaps his fingers*
Wesley: Zero seven zero, mark six three, sir. Back where we started.
Q: That was a difficult admission. Another man would have been humiliated to say those words. Another man would have rather died than ask for help.
Picard: I understand what you've done here, Q, but I think the lesson could have been learned without the loss of eighteen members of my crew.
Q: If you can't take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It's not safe out here. It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross, but it's not for the timid.
Great stuff. And with that, our episode ends with Picard and Guinan playing a game of 3D chess pondering over the potential future that lies before them. And unlike that promising ending to "Conspiracy" that didn't go anywhere, the story of the Borg has just begun.
What can I say? This is essential Next Generation. Everything about the Borg works wonderfully, introducing us to a potentially invincible foe that the crew of the Enterprise could not deal with without the help of a god like being. The score by Ron Jones is some of TNG's best in the whole series and by the time we get to the next Borg episode, he will actually top his own work. The only thing that prevents this episode from earning a perfect score is Picard's numerous acts of incompetence that could have easily been written differently and still yield the same intended results. Over all, it's a must watch episode that serves to foreshadow one of the most galaxy changing events ever to occur in the entire franchise.