In our never-ending quest to reduce the absurd, we offer the following Point/Counterpoint discussion: Who is the better evil insidious race, the Borg, or the Aliens?
The Borg—by Eric Schlelein
I vividly remember the first time I saw the episode Q Who, because I vividly remember being startled and unnerved by the cold, unfeeling juggernaut that was the Borg. Here was a Star Trek enemy that had no political discourse, had no social mores. They were only interested in conquering cultures and civilizations by assimilating them. That is: forcibly absorbing all information and technology by scooping the cities off your planet and consuming them.
And in what is arguably the best episode of the entire run of The Next Generation (for sure the best two-parter), Best of Both Worlds amply fulfilled the promise of Q Who by not only showing us a disastrous Borg incursion into the Federation, but by taking our favorite bald captain and using him as a mouthpiece to convince the Federation to just give in to the Borg, because resistance, as we all know, is futile.
Oh, boy. If there’s anyone out there who doesn’t get chills thinking about the end of the first part of that episode, where the camera zooms slowly in on a Commander Riker who thinks he’s about to kill his captain squinting and then growling, “Fire,” I don’t want to know them.
Now, keep in mind when you read this, I happen to think that Aliens was perhaps one of the best crafted movies in cinema history, and is firmly in my top three favorites. I loved Alien, and I’m one of a small number of people who can offer a convincing defense of Alien 3. The Alien is terrifying in its alien-ness, and one of the few movie monsters that still gives me shivers even in my advanced age. But, for me, the thing that makes the Borg scarier is that they’re not just out to kill you like the Aliens are. They exist to assimilate. To take your memories and experiences and fold them into the collective, to reduce your uniqueness as a sentient being into some tiny amount of data that can be digested and pondered over later.
And there isn’t any evidence that the Aliens actually eat. Isn’t one of the hallmark definitions of life something having to do with an organism ingesting food and metabolizing it into energy? In the first movie, Ian Holm’s character Ash admires the Alien for its purity, its perfection. How can an organism that doesn’t eat be considered perfect? Or even successful?
Yes, I suppose that makes the Aliens even more Alien, but it doesn’t make them terribly multi-dimensional or believable from a scientific aspect. Most animals kill for the purpose of eating, or of bettering their societies, but these things just seem to kill for the sheer joy of killing. You don’t see that a lot in nature until you get up to, say, homo-sapiens.
The Borg require no food, they reproduce by assimilation. They do not seek conquest, glory, money or power. They exist solely to assimilate.
So, in open dispute of science officer Ash, I propose that the Borg are the perfect organism. At least the first two times we saw them. Allow me to elucidate.
The first time we saw the Borg, the crew of the Enterprise had to be saved by Q, after some humiliating begging. The second time, Earth escaped assimilation by only the barest of margins thanks to one particularly industrious artificial life-form. But unfortunately, every subsequent appearance of the Borg after Best of Both Worlds pretty handily defanged one of the greatest bad-guys Star Trek (or science fiction as a whole) had ever conceived of. First came Hugh, Geordi LaForge’s pet Borg; then came Lore, who enslaved the Borg and turned them into his own army of guerilla warriors. And let’s just skip over the idea put forth in the movie First Contact, that the Borg are controlled by a Queen, like a hive of common bees or ants. And let’s not delve into the Voyager, which took place largely in Borg space, and missed plenty of opportunities for contact with the Borg, including the obvious opportunity for assimilating Captain Janeway and ridding the universe once and for all of her obnoxious voice.
But here’s the thing. The people who created the Borg made them so invasive, so insidious, so ruthless and unfeeling that our heroes in the Federation pose no realistic threat to them. In fact, there probably isn’t a single one of Star Trek’s myriad races who could even put up the tiniest amount of resistance to the Borg. They are so driven, so single-minded, and so powerful that the producers of TNG must have realized that they’d written themselves into a corner. Either somehow humanize the Borg and by doing so make them an enemy that can be defeated, or stand idly by while the Federation is handily and quite easily taken over and completely assimilated. The Borg were so excellently conceived and constructed that the creators of the very show they lived in had to change their nature in order to make them defeatable.
The great thing about the Borg, what made them so diabolical and terrifying, was that they didn’t have a human side. Things that drive normal beings like sex and honor and politics mean nothing to the Borg, and in that way they’re so very alien, so very wrong to us simple humans. They are driven by the need to assimilate technology, and in doing so improve their own existence. There are so many of them and they replicate themselves so easily that it’s easy to see why they believe resistance so futile. It’s a shame we had only such a short time to know the real Borg, but if they hadn’t changed them, The Next Generation would have ended pretty swiftly, and the next Star Trek series would have been Star Trek: Cube 50365. Which, come to think of it, might be worth watching.
The Alien—by Elizabeth Rappe
This is a difficult one to argue because both alien invaders share such similarities! I have to take a moment, and agree that Best of Both Worlds is one of the best two-parters of television history. Utterly unnerving.
But as chilling as the Borg were, they were undone even earlier than Hugh. They were defanged with one weak line: “Data…sleep!” The Borg are corrupting and eerie, but like all cyborg societies, they can ultimately be defeated by one good virus or command string. Any villain that can be disarmed by a well-placed Trojan horse isn’t one to keep me up at night. But there’s one extraterrestrial that can: the Alien.
On pure design alone, the Alien Xenomorph is a diabolical nightmare. It’s Death incarnate. Sleek, bladed, multi-jawed, and eyeless, there is nothing relatable or recognizable about it. It isn’t just inhuman. It is unrecognizable and unsympathetic as a lifeform, and not just because it’s a predator. One can feel a kinship and respect for something stronger than oneself – a Great White shark, an African lion, even a poisonous snake – and recognize the beauty in its hunger or defense mechanisms. The Xenomorph just fills one with terror and insignificance. One look tells you it will kill you. The Borgs just don’t have that kind of presence. They’re spooky, but you know you stand a chance.
There’s no eat or be eaten, circle of life, live and let live stuff with this demon. A lion or a shark will only kill you for defense or feeding. The Xenomorph might choose you for incubation, thus giving some method to its madness, but 9 times out of 10 it will simply gut you. And as Lambert will tell you, the Xenomorph has a cruel curiosity. This isn’t a jaguar with one proven method of dispatch. When Alien encounters a new species, it plays around with the most painful way to slaughter it. Even if you manage to get a shot off, it can still take you down with it because it’s packed full of acid blood. Again, Borgs can be undone by a bit of computer tampering. Aliens can be taken down by what, thermonuclear device? That’s reassuring!
There’s just nothing about them that isn’t repulsive and horrifying. Its eggs are slimy and composed of their own saliva. Facehuggers project out of them and into your throat. They keep you alive and comfortable while it lays Version 2 in your chest, where it will burst forth, letting you enjoy the sensations of your own ribs and heart ripping open. In a few hours, you have a diabolical menace who is divided between keeping you for reproduction or just shredding you because it felt like it. Borg assimilation seems almost like a spa-day in comparison.
The alien learns, adapts, taking on the aspects of whatever poor lifeform it burst out of. It will sacrifice its nestmates to survive. It’s a walking evolution, yet it remains a basic parasite, determined to propagate even if that means wiping out all life in the galaxy. You can’t reason with it, whereas the Borg are reason. As sentient computers, they work on logic, which can be circumvented. You can’t defeat singlemindlessness.
Unfortunately, like the Borg, the alien has been weakened over time and crappy sequels. It never really stopped being bloodcurdling, but subsequent installments overused them. They became boring, silly, and childishly sexualized. As with the Borg, once you create an indestructible enemy, you have to try and find ways to neuter it. That way was Alien Versus Predator, where the Aliens became dimwitted sport.
But I’ll give the aliens this – they remain immutable and mysterious. We don’t really know what they are or where they came from. There’s no way to make them kinky or cuddly, as they managed to do with the Borg. (There will never be a Seven of Nine Xenomorph, and even the Newborn of Alien: Resurrection wasn’t as cute as Hugh. It remained gross enough to root against.) One good script can restore their horror. I fear the Borg were undone by that one command – and a really nice set of boobs. Aliens? They’re still alive and spitting.
– originally published 10/3/2011