The Borg Queen as Victim: Hostage to Bio-Technological Terror
This post is part II of the #VacuumOfTrauma series exploring how trauma informs and shapes key plot development and character traits in Star Trek.
What separates the Borg queen from Michael Burnham? On the surface the Borg queen is composed of an archetype of an matriarch repeatedly referred to as the greatest evil Starfleet has encountered. Before Captain Janeway intentionally locates the Borg in “Scorpion,” (1997) she research previous Captain’s logs,
JANEWAY: I’ve been looking through the personal log entries of all the Starfleet Captains who encountered the Borg. I’ve gone over every engagement, from the moment Q flung the Enterprise into the path of that first Cube to the massacre at Wolf 359. Every battle, every skirmish. anything that might give me an insight into the mind of the Collective.
JANEWAY: In the words of Jean-Luc Picard. ‘In their Collective state, the Borg are utterly without mercy, driven by one will alone: the will to conquer. They are beyond redemption, beyond reason.’ And then there’s Captain Amasov of the Endeavour. ‘It is my opinion that the Borg are as close to pure evil as any race we’ve ever encountered.’
Though, out of “Scorpion” came the liberation of Seven of Nine. We see the adamant trials of her trauma later, in “Raven,” (1997) as she retraces and recovers the location of her assimilation on the USS Raven now abandoned on a moon B’omar space. Captain Picard still suffers from nightmares six years after his assimilation in Star Trek: First Contact (1996). In the Voyager episode, “Unimatrix Zero” (2000) a select few of the Borg surface into an interconnected reality during regeneration cycles that functions as a space of free thought and coherent identity; a lived subconscious cycle of reality formation without the horrors and pains of group-possession and cybernetic oppression. The Borg queen serves as guide and witness of the collective, as an instrument of territorialization over selfhood and autonomy. Again, what separates the Borg queen from Michael Burnham?
Consider this: Captain Lorca is the collective. His true identity more closely resembles the ruthlessness of the Borg compared to Prime, Federation citizens, yes, but that is not the point being sought. Lorca, when we meet him in Star Trek: Discovery season one, without any hint of masquerade captures Burnham, separates her from her planned destiny, and forces her to serve. She is without rank or formal post, she is without a territory of her own. Even if Burnham were to be in prison, it would be the natural cycle of events from her own choices, her free will. Under Lorca that free will is severed as she must perform as a stand in, imbuing her talents for the good of the group; Burnham’s resourcefulness is assimilated by Lorca and her uniqueness is made to be for the benefit of others. It is only through the generosity and kindness of those on board Discovery, still possessors of free will and coherent identity, the offer light for her stern composure.
Perhaps now, these differences between us do not seem to offer such a wide gaze? Federation citizens are much closer to the Borg than what lies in their programmed actions, their malfeasance of seemingly willful course and unilateral direction. The Borg are another mirror universe offered inside our own. What stands in the way of our own destiny but ourselves, we are taught. That sentiment holds no meaning under complete and uncooperative assimilation. The terror of forced denial of self is a symbol of the ages of what we all absorb in small fractions, some more than others, along the pathway of our life’s work, our busy-ness, what we hold true and how much of that comes from the core of the inner self and what is absorbed from without.
However, the Borg are hostages of bio-technological terror. A precise prescient warning of technology’s advances, impressive even for Star Trek. If even Michael Burnham can be captured by Mirror Lorca and forced to commit to his will, what more can the rest of us find ourselves subject to? That fear and reality of descent is the Borg. The Borg queen is equally a victim. She has no precise matrix of informed identity remaining. What was once a sentient being has been so overwritten by code and sequence that even with her elevated status of independence, nothing remains but formulated posture of the firm and concrete identity that selfless possession is group possession in the absolute and radical reverse of Emmanuel Levinas taught.
The Borg are a circus mirror to sainthood, but beneath those glowing expenditures are the true saints, deeply withdrawn as we see in the Star Trek: Picard episode, “The End is the Beginning” (2020). The Romulans are practicing, in their own cautious and classified manner, a liberal form of Borg liberation not unlike how Picard was treated after he was no longer Locutus of Borg. He was not seen as responsible for his actions. Still with substandard medical practices, the Romulans are not having the success that Dr. Crusher had with Picard or that Janeway and the Doctor had with Seven of Nine. The Romulan, former Borg drones are kept in isolation where Hugh permits Soji. There is an immediate threat. There appears to be a great lack of state of the art rehabilitation occurring here. What is clear is the trauma. The naked, undiluted trauma of having once been only to un-become and maybe not even possess the inner hope to find oneself out of the cognitive isolation of a recovered drone.
The Borg queen would think nothing of the sight of the Romulan former drones. They would only be targets for re-assimilation. She is a programmed despot without any free will of her own. In Dr. Judith Herman’s illustrative text, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, she summarizes the all-serving formidability of the service desired by those in power:
The desire for total control over another person is the common denominator of all forms of tyranny. Totalitarian governments demand confession and political conversion of their victims. Slaveholders demand gratitude from their slaves. Religious cults demand ritualized sacrifices as a sign of submission to the divine will of the leader. Perpetrators of domestic battery demand that their victims prove complete obedience and loyalty by sacrificing all other relationships. (2015, 76)
The Borg queen, having been a witness to the entirety of the Borg race’s assimilation, destruction, and consequential forceful and aggressively violent performance of further conquest is the victim of circumstances. Whether she was ever an individual or created by Borg indexes, she is the resulting expectation of taught tyranny. Her programmed guide was enlisted, a forced collaboration of merciless militant endeavors. She is the most in need of saving. As such it can be seen, to save one would be to save an entire civilization.