Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the trailers and teasers for Star Trek: Picard Season 2. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Next Generation, First Contact, Voyager, and Enterprise.
Today we’re going to take a look at Q, the immortal trickster who has tangled with Captains Picard, Sisko, and Janeway – and who will soon be returning to the Star Trek franchise! Q is an unusual character in many ways. He seems to have practically unlimited knowledge of the galaxy, and may have been alive for billions of years. Yet he has an impish, almost childish sense of humour that sees him tease and mess with Starfleet – and many other people too.
I wouldn’t call Q a “villain” in any of his appearances to date. In fact, I would argue very strongly that Q sees himself as a friend, an ally, and a guide to Captains Picard and Janeway in particular, having offered his services more than once. He’s certainly selfish – forcing Starfleet officers to undergo tests and trials of his own devising – but there’s usually more to his games than meets the eye.
On several occasions – going all the way back to his first appearance – Q has presented Starfleet with puzzles to solve. These puzzles can be dangerous, and more than once Q has gotten people killed. But even so, I wouldn’t characterise him as a typical “villain” for Captain Picard or Captain Janeway to “defeat.”
The puzzles Q has presented – especially to Captain Picard – have actually proven to be deeply satisfying, and arguably helped Picard and Starfleet grow. Recognising that life can take very different forms – as Q helped Picard to see in Encounter at Farpoint – is one such puzzle he presented. He also taught Picard how to view time in a non-linear fashion – understanding that events in the future could have a causal link to events in the past in All Good Things.
Even the teasers and trailers for the upcoming second season of Star Trek: Picard may not be all they seem. Picard says he blames Q for disrupting or changing the timeline, but I think we’ll have to see that story play out before we can assign all the blame to Q. Even if Q is responsible, the question of motivation comes up. Is it really just a game; a trick to mess with Picard? Or is there something bigger going on?
That’s one of my big Picard Season 2 theories! But I’ll save the full write-up for another day. Today we’re not looking ahead to future Star Trek, we’re going to look back at past iterations of the franchise and try to answer a deceptively simple question: did Q save the Federation?
Star Trek has made a mess of the early history of Borg-Federation contact. The Raven, from Voyager’s fourth season, told us that the Borg assimilated humans and a Federation vessel in the 2350s. Regeneration, from Enterprise Season 2, showed the Borg battling against Captain Archer and his crew – and sending a message to the Delta Quadrant that would be received in the 24th Century. So the question of how the Borg first became aware of the Federation is an open one. Did they receive a message from across the galaxy? Did they first discover humanity when they assimilated Seven of Nine and her family?
Either of these explanations could account for the Borg’s interest in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants in the mid-late 24th Century. Season 1 of The Next Generation first teased the Borg’s appearance with the episode The Neutral Zone, in which both Federation and Romulan colonies had gone missing – “carried off” the surface of their planets, as Romulan commander Tebok put it. The Borg’s responsibility for these attacks would be confirmed in The Best Of Both Worlds – though the connection is easily missed, in my opinion, as it doesn’t take up much screen time.
Regardless, one thing is certain: the Borg knew of the Federation’s existence well before the Federation knew of theirs. They had even begun to send scouting vessels relatively close to Federation space; system J-25, where the Enterprise-D first encountered a Borg Cube, was a mere two-and-a-half years away from Federation space at high warp, placing the Borg tens of thousands of light-years away from their Delta Quadrant home.
Were the Borg actively scouting for the Federation, or was it just a coincidence that one of their vessels was operating so far away from their own space? We may never know the answer to that, but someone almost certainly does: Q.
In brief, here’s my theory: the Borg and the Federation were already on a collision course, but the Federation didn’t know it. Whether it was because of the First Contact–Regeneration time travel loop, the assimilation of the USS Raven, the attacks along the Neutral Zone, or simply the Borg’s continued exploration of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, they had humanity and the Federation firmly in their sights long before Starfleet was aware that there was a problem.
Recognising this, and seeing potential in humanity thanks to his earlier run-ins with Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D, Q chose to intervene. He knew that if the Federation became aware of the threat the Borg posed, their ingenuity would lead to better defences and they’d be able to protect themselves, so he chose to deliberately introduce them to the Borg for that reason.
The events of The Next Generation Season 2 episode Q Who can be reinterpreted through this new lens. Rather than Q trying to frighten Picard for the sake of it or to prove his own superiority, he was – in his own twisted way – helping Picard and the Federation. The events of Q Who led the Federation to begin serious preparations for a Borg incursion, and without that tactical readiness it seems likely that the Borg would have been able to cruise to victory during the events of The Best of Both Worlds.
This fits with how Q operates. In stories like Encounter at Farpoint, Tapestry, and All Good Things, as well as Voyager’s The Q and the Grey, Q never explains everything he knows. Instead he obfuscates, talks around the issue, and forces Starfleet figure out what’s going on for themselves. Sometimes he pushes Picard or Janeway in a certain direction to get things moving, or even devises a puzzle or test of his own, like he did in Hide and Q. But what he never does is simply communicate – he doesn’t just sit down with Picard and tell him about Farpoint Station or the anti-time problem. He pushes Picard to figure those things out for himself.
And so it is with the Borg – according to this theory. Rather than contacting Picard and explaining what he knows about the Borg and their intention of targetting Earth, he sends the Enterprise-D to a location where he knows a Borg vessel will be and allows the crew to discover the threat for themselves. He does so knowing that the consequences will be Starfleet ramping up their defences in preparation of a Borg attack.
In All Good Things, Q told Picard that the Q Continuum saw potential in humanity – the potential to one day understand more about the universe than they ever thought possible. From Q’s point of view, perhaps he believed that seeing the Federation attacked and humanity assimilated would be a net loss to the galaxy because that potential would never be realised.
Q’s motivation for putting Picard and humanity “on trial” seems to be connected to this. In Encounter at Farpoint he accused humanity of being “a dangerous, savage, child race.” Yet even by the end of the episode, Q appeared to be impressed rather than disappointed that Picard and the crew could solve his puzzle. Rather than believing humanity to be dangerous and savage, as he asserted, Q almost certainly sees humanity as something more than that – and thus would feel humanity’s assimilation by the Borg would be a loss. His desire to avoid that fate could have motivated him in Q Who.
All of this could tie into Picard Season 2. Q may feel that Picard and the Federation are ungrateful for his “assistance” over the years, and he could cite the events of Q Who as one example of how his intervention saved the Federation from assimilation. While the latter part is up for debate, I definitely believe that Q feels underappreciated by Picard in particular, and sees his interactions with the former captain of the Enterprise-D as helpful rather than antagonistic.
So let’s recap! The Borg became aware of the existence of the Federation by the mid-24th Century. The Federation had technology and resources that the Borg considered valuable, and they began targetting outlying Federation colonies, including those near to the Romulan Neutral Zone. All the while, the Federation remained ignorant of the Borg’s existence – considering them to be little more than rumour.
Foreseeing disaster and either the total assimilation of humanity or the devastation of the Federation such that humanity could not achieve its full potential, either the Q Continuum or Q independently decided to intervene. Instead of simply contacting the Federation to share his knowledge, Q transported the Enterprise-D to the star system J-25, where they encountered the Borg. This encounter led to the Federation developing anti-Borg strategies and defences that would ultimately save them from assimilation.
Unusually, Q has never taken credit for this. However, it’s at least possible that he considered Picard and the Federation as a whole to be ungrateful for his help, and this could tie in somehow to the events of Picard Season 2 where Q will be making a return to the Star Trek franchise.
What I like about this theory is that everything feels like it fits together. This theory connects the message sent in Regeneration and the early assimilation of Seven of Nine’s family to the events of The Neutral Zone, giving the Borg a reason to be operating so far outside of their territory. It also fits in perfectly with the way Q behaves – never sharing everything he knows and presenting dangerous and often deadly puzzles to Picard and Starfleet.
Whether it’s true or not is open to interpretation! I would say that Q Who wasn’t written with any of this in mind, and a straight watch of the episode strongly suggests that Q’s motivation is simply to frighten Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D after his offer to join the crew was rejected. Q felt that Picard was arrogant in assuming that Starfleet could handle any threat the galaxy contained, and wanted to prove him wrong. While that explanation works in the context of the episode, it doesn’t preclude anything included in this theory from also being true; Q could still have been annoyed at Picard’s assertion that the Federation was prepared for anything while also intending to provide them with advance warning of the Borg.
So that’s it for this one! As with all fan theories, anything we see on screen in a future episode or film could render the whole thing invalid. But for now, I think it’s at least plausible that the events of Q Who represent Q trying – in his own unique and twisted way – to help Picard and the Federation. Q has always seen himself as a friend of Picard’s, and based on what we know of both Q and the history of Borg-Federation contact, it seems to me that everything arguably fits together!
The Star Trek franchise – including all episodes and other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: Picard Season 1, Lower Decks Season 2, First Contact, and The Next Generation.
While Star Trek: Discovery’s second season was running I wasn’t writing about the show; it wasn’t until November 2019 that I founded this website. Because of that I have a number of theories and ideas kicking around from the first two seasons of Discovery that I haven’t found time to talk about yet! On this occasion we’re going to look into one idea I had during Season 2 that has both in-universe and production-side elements to it – the “Borg origin story.”
I know for a fact that I’m not alone in having speculated that Discovery Season 2 was setting up an origin story for the Borg. Shortly after the season ended a friend of mine from way back was in the area for a visit, and we got talking about precisely this subject – yes, we’re both huge geeks! I’m also well aware that other fans have posited some variant or other of this theory online both during and after the season’s run, so please don’t interpret this article as me claiming to have independently and uniquely come up with this idea!
Here’s the theory in brief: the Control AI, which was the main adversary during the story of Season 2, was originally intended to be the progenitor of the Borg. Its use of nano-technology, its ability to “assimilate” organic beings, and its murderous quest for true sentience that, if left unchecked, would have wiped out all sentient life in the galaxy are all indicators of this. In addition, the inclusion of time travel and the Red Angel suits in the story could have teed up a situation where Control was able to travel backwards through time and far across the galaxy in order to become the originator of the Borg Collective.
Because of Control’s similarities to the Borg in terms of its use of nanites, its single-mindedness, and its lack of care for the survival of organic individuals, this felt like a very real prospect right up until the final moments of the season finale. I really do wonder whether a Borg origin story was included in the original draft of Season 2, perhaps being modified later on once production had already commenced. What we saw on screen would thus contain the residual elements of that story, but with a different ending written – one which sent Burnham and the USS Discovery into the far future.
It’s this decision which I believe would be responsible for changing the story – if indeed such a change were mandated. Discovery had received criticism in Season 1 for its real or perceived “violations” of Star Trek’s internal canon, and it’s this reaction which surely contributed to sending the ship and crew far into the future. It could be that Season 2 was hastily re-written to include the time travel ending, dropping the Borg origin story in the process.
As a narrative concept, the idea that it was the Federation, through out-of-control technological and AI research, who inadvertently created the biggest threat to themselves and to the wider galaxy would be an incredibly impactful one, and something ripe for exploration in detail. The cyclical nature of such a story, with the Federation creating the Borg, then the Borg one day coming for the Federation, could be absolutely phenomenal if done well, and would highlight the morally questionable actions of senior Federation leaders and Starfleet admirals.
It would also be profoundly ironic that the Borg – almost universally acknowledged as the Federation’s biggest adversary – were ultimately a Federation creation. This revelation would have a huge impact on the Federation as a whole – and on our crew of Starfleet heroes when they discovered it – and could form the basis for a new Borg story that would surpass even the likes of The Best of Both Worlds and First Contact in its scope.
Had Discovery gone down this road in Season 2, it may not have fallen to Michael Burnham and the crew to be the ones to learn of the consequences of their battle to defeat Control. Picard Season 1 could have picked up this storyline, with information stored aboard the Artifact (the abandoned Borg Cube) finally revealing the Borg’s origins to the Federation more than a century later. This would have tied the two shows together in a very real and significant way – something I’ve argued on a number of occasions that Star Trek needs to be more adept at doing.
In canon, we don’t know much about the Borg’s early history. The Control AI could have been slotted into the bits and pieces that we do know in a way that didn’t overwrite anything we’ve seen or been told on screen, with every past Borg story being allowed to unfold exactly as we know they did.
In-universe, the Borg originated in the Delta Quadrant “thousands of centuries” before the 24th Century. There was an original Borg race – a race of purely organic beings – but they began using nanotechnology and augmenting themselves, and eventually hooked up every facet of themselves to the Hive Mind. As of the late 15th Century, the Borg had assimilated a number of neighbouring star systems, but weren’t anywhere near as large as they would come to be in the 24th Century. Nothing in the early history of the Borg precludes the involvement of an outside force – the Control AI. It could have been the Control AI’s arrival on the world populated by the Borg’s organic ancestors that led them down a path of assimilation and augmentation.
The Red Angel suits and time crystals present in Season 2 would have provided Control with a method of travelling backwards through time. And as Dr Gabrielle Burnham found to her cost, the Red Angel suits are imperfect and prone to malfunctioning. Based on these pieces of evidence, it would’ve been possible for Control to have seized a Red Angel suit with the intention of travelling either backwards or forwards in time to defeat Captain Pike and Discovery, only for something to go wrong – emerging on the far side of the galaxy millennia in the past.
We are now firmly in the realm of speculation! But had such a scenario come to pass, Control may have found itself alone in the vicinity of a planet populated by humanoids: the Borg’s organic ancestors. Control may have begun the process of assimilating them, injecting its nanotechnology into more and more individuals and bending them to its will.
Control had a forceful personality, but we don’t know what effect mass assimilations of individuals would have had on it. Would it have retained its own personality in the face of potentially thousands or millions of new “drones” – or would its own personality have begun to change, impacted by the personalities and desires of those it assimilated? Perhaps this is where the Borg’s quest for perfection comes from.
This could also explain why the Borg seemed not to recognise humanity or the Federation upon re-encountering them millennia later: Control had simply forgotten its origins, or whatever remained of Control within the Borg Collective was so small and insignificant that the knowledge of its creators had been lost. As the Borg continued to evolve and assimilated more and more beings, perhaps Control’s personality didn’t survive intact.
Alternatively, we could have learned that the Borg did retain all of Control’s memories and knowledge – but simply chose not to make the Federation aware of the connection during their encounters. This could be the Borg’s equivalent of “forbidden knowledge,” something kept secret and known only to the Borg Queen – who may be an embodiment of the evolved Control AI.
It would make sense from the Borg’s point of view not to allow Starfleet to find out about the connection to Control – perhaps out of fear that the Federation could use that information to find a weakness in the Borg’s core synthetic programming. It would only be when Starfleet had access to a derelict but intact Borg vessel – like the Artifact from Picard Season 1 – that they’d be able to hack into the Borg’s systems deeply enough to learn the truth.
So that’s the theory, along with a couple of different ways it could have panned out.
I wouldn’t say I was “100% convinced” that this was going to happen as Season 2 rolled on, but it certainly felt like a distinct possibility. When I later saw the Artifact featured in the trailers for Picard Season 1 I wondered if the reason this story didn’t come to pass was because Picard actually had a Borg origin story of its own in the works!
Had this theory made it to screen I think we could’ve seen one of the most interesting connections between Discovery and the wider Star Trek franchise. Borg stories could be seen through a wholly new lens, and the themes of rogue artificial intelligence that both Discovery and Picard examined in their respective storylines could have been elevated by this “creation wants to destroy its creator” angle. That isn’t something original in science fiction, but it would have been a uniquely “Star Trek” take on the concept.
Whether a Borg origin story was actually present in the original Season 2 pitch or not is something we may never know. However, the team behind Season 2 must have been aware of the similarities between the way Control operated and the way the Borg have always been depicted, and I can’t believe that it was a coincidence. Someone involved in the production of Season 2 must have at least raised the point that the story was going down a very Borg-esque road!
To me it feels like any attempt to tell a story of this nature was superseded by the decision to take Discovery out of the 23rd Century altogether. If there was only room for one time travel ending to the season, the one that was chosen was to send the ship and crew into the far future. Control was left behind in the 23rd Century and seemingly defeated by Captain Pike, so any chance of it having a role in the creation of the Borg now seems to be entirely off the table.
Perhaps all of this was simply misdirection; the writers and producers of the season putting out deliberate red herrings so that fans wouldn’t figure out the ultimate direction of the story! If that’s the case, they definitely got me! Even if that’s what happened, though, as a concept the idea that the Federation accidentally created the Borg is one that could have led to some absolutely fascinating stories. Perhaps we’ll see something like it one day!
Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and internationally. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the teaser trailer for Season 4. Further spoilers are present for the following: Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise.
Star Trek’s First Contact Day virtual event has given us an awful lot to digest! We got teasers for Picard Season 2, Lower Decks Season 2, Discovery Season 4, and more details about Prodigy. If you missed the event, I wrote up my impressions of everything we saw, and you can find that article by clicking or tapping here.
This time, I want to look at the teaser for Discovery’s impending fourth season in more depth, and in particular start making some guesses about what may be going on! The teaser was barely ninety seconds long, and with the show at least six months away it may be futile to speculate about pretty much anything! But that hasn’t stopped me in the past, so let’s jump in!
My usual disclaimer applies: I don’t have any “insider information.” I’m not offering up these suggestions saying any are unequivocally true. This is nothing more than speculation from a fan – and a chance to spend some more time talking about Star Trek, which I absolutely adore.
In the run-up to Season 3 last year, I spent a lot of time speculating about the event that ultimately turned out to be the Burn. When we first heard its name I put together a list theorising a number of possible connections to past iterations of Star Trek – but as you know by now, none came to pass!
Discovery has had an on-off relationship with Star Trek’s broader canon. Season 1 sidestepped a lot of things, redesigning the Klingons, visiting the Mirror Universe years before Kirk’s first crossing, and fighting a major war. Season 2 tied itself much closer to canon, bringing in Captain Pike, Spock, and revisiting Talos IV. Season 3 shot forward into the future, and told a story that touched on past iterations of the franchise at points, but had an overall narrative that stood on its own two feet.
In short, trying to guess whether Season 4’s main storyline will be related to something we’ve seen in the past or not is a crapshoot. Maybe it will be, maybe it won’t. Regardless, if it’s going to be something brand-new then naturally the details become impossible to predict! So in this list I’m going to look at eight possibilities from Star Trek’s past that could explain what we saw in the teaser.
First of all, let’s explain what exactly we saw! Stamets described a “gravitational anomaly” that’s at least five light-years in diameter. This anomaly appears to be incredibly destructive, and if Burnham is correct, it’s appearing and disappearing at random. As a result, it could potentially strike any Federation or non-Federation world or starship without warning.
Assuming that this anomaly is the main problem facing Captain Burnham and her crew in Season 4, I’ve got a few ideas for what it could be, or what it may be related to. I quite like the idea of Discovery sticking with the “natural disaster” concept from Season 3. It worked well last time, and presenting the crew with a puzzle, mystery, or challenge that’s more scientific in nature than military could be wonderful to see. As long as such a storyline manages to avoid feeling either repetitive or anticlimactic, I think it works in principle.
One final point of note is that, due to disruption caused by the pandemic, Discovery Season 4 began filming back in November, well before Season 3 had finished airing – and crucially, before the creative team had time to process any feedback they were getting about the season’s themes and storylines. As a result of that, it may be the case that Season 4 doesn’t make as many changes from Season 3 as some fans would have wanted to see. But once again, that’s speculation on my part!
So let’s consider this “gravitational anomaly,” then. What could it be? What have we seen in past iterations of Star Trek that could potentially be involved? Will there be any tie-ins to other ongoing series, such as Picard, or will the show set up something we’ll see return in a future project, such as Strange New Worlds? Let’s jump into the list and see if we can make some reasonable guesses!
Number 1: The Nexus
When I first saw the teaser, my mind immediately went to the Nexus, the energy ribbon seen in Star Trek: Generations. The Nexus was large, more than large enough to engulf an entire planet, and while it may not have been light-years in diameter when we saw it in that film, it’s possible it grew… somehow! The Nexus was incredibly destructive, causing the destruction of two transport ships and seriously damaging the Enterprise-B, not unlike some of the damage suffered by the USS Discovery in the teaser.
There are two crucial points which made me think of the Nexus, though. The first is that the energy ribbon was said to contain a “gravimetric field,” which sounds an awful lot like Stamets’ “gravitational anomaly.” Both seem to be connected to gravity, and as we saw in the teaser, the USS Discovery appears to lose its artificial gravity at one point.
The second point I consider key to the Nexus being a possibility is that we already know it’s something that recurs. The Nexus returns to the Milky Way galaxy every 39.1 years (according to Data in Generations) and unless something major happened in the intervening centuries, this force of nature should still be present, periodically crossing through the galaxy.
At a couple of points in the teaser we saw members of Discovery’s crew looking dazed and confused, not unlike how Soran and Guinan appeared after being transported out of the Nexus by the crew of the Enterprise-B. Perhaps we can infer from their demeanours that they’re not quite sure where they are or what just happened – maybe that means they’ve just spent time inside the Nexus’ paradise-like realm.
Though the stated size of the anomaly relative to what we saw in Generations may count against it, I like the idea of revisiting the Nexus. Would Discovery bring aboard a Soran-like villain, someone hell-bent on getting to “paradise?” Maybe!
Number 2: The super-synths from Picard Season 1
It’s absolutely true that I also suggested the super-synths could’ve been the cause of last season’s disaster! But that doesn’t mean I’m done suggesting ways for this unnamed faction to reappear in Star Trek, especially considering that the teaser for Picard Season 2 suggested that series is moving away from them.
At the end of Picard Season 1, we learned that there is a race of super-synths that exist somewhere out in deep space – perhaps many thousands of light-years away from the Milky Way galaxy. They offered to come to the aid of any synths that ask for their help, though whether this offer was genuine or not was not clear – as indeed was very little about the faction!
Soji and Sutra, two of the synths from Coppelius, attempted to make contact with the super-synths, but despite opening a beacon and a portal to their base, Soji was ultimately convinced to shut it down and cut off her attempt to communicate. We thus learned precious little about who the super-synths are or what their objectives may be. They seemed menacing, and may harbour an anti-organic hatred that could make them diametrically opposed to the Federation.
We know that, in principle, this faction can open portals in space to allow for travel far faster than warp drive. Perhaps getting too close to one of their portals causes the kind of damage seen to the USS Discovery, and their portals may appear to be “gravitational anomalies” when detected on sensors. The super-synths clearly have a powerful understanding of gravity, such that they were literally able to move stars and create a stable eight-star octonary system. It’s thus at least possible that they use gravity or gravitational anomalies as some kind of weapon.
One thing that Picard Season 1 left unresolved was the fate of the super-synths. Having been contacted, were they now aware of the Milky Way and the Federation? Might they be hell-bent on attacking the Federation? If their offer of help wasn’t genuine, might they arrive to attack the synths who live in the Milky Way? There are a lot of unknowns, but it’s at least plausible that they could be involved. As I’ve said numerous times, finding a way for Picard and Discovery to work together, using similar themes, factions, or even characters would be fantastic and something truly worth doing. This may not be the way it happens… but it could be!
Number 3: A graviton ellipse
The Voyager Season 6 episode One Small Step introduced the graviton ellipse, a fast-moving anomaly that can travel through subspace, normal space, and even other dimensions. The ellipse was drawn to electromagnetic energy – such as that emitted by spacecraft! One ellipse appeared in the Sol system in 2032, during an early manned mission to Mars, and “swallowed” the Ares IV ship. It later attempted to do the same to the USS Voyager.
The graviton ellipse was smaller than five light-years across, so again we have to contend with size. But there are points in its favour! Firstly, the ellipse was specifically drawn to spacecraft and other future technology. Though we didn’t see it attempt to “eat” anything on a planet’s surface, it stands to reason that similar technologies used in power generation may emit the same kind of electromagnetic radiation that an ellipse would be drawn to.
Secondly, the ellipse moved essentially at random, disappearing into subspace to reappear many thousands of light-years away. One single ellipse was known to have visited both the Alpha and Delta Quadrants. This seems to fit with what we know of Discovery’s “gravitational anomaly” – specifically the part Captain Burnham told us about its random, unpredictable appearances.
Finally, the graviton ellipse was known to cause damage to spacecraft, draining their power, as well as gravity-related disturbances in space. An encounter with an ellipse may not have destroyed Ares IV or the Delta Flyer, but they were known to be very difficult to escape from.
The drawbacks of this option are that graviton ellipses were relatively well-understood as early as the 24th Century, and with Discovery Season 4 set over 800 years later, it stands to reason that the Federation would be well-equipped to at least know what they’re up against if an ellipse seemed to be in the vicinity. Secondly, there was no indication that the ellipse would stay in one area, causing widespread damage in the way Discovery’s fourth season teaser suggested. Despite those negative points, however, I think it’s at least a possibility. Perhaps post-Burn technology has drawn an ellipse to Federation space, or it’s even possible that someone has found a way to weaponise one to attack the Federation.
Number 4: The Sphere-Builders from Enterprise
Discovery’s third season had a couple of interesting references to Enterprise, specifically the “Temporal Cold War” arc. One faction involved in the Temporal Cold War were the so-called Sphere-Builders: extradimensional beings who were attempting to convert part of the Milky Way galaxy to match their native realm so they could colonise it.
Though the time-travelling agent Daniels told Captain Archer that the Sphere-Builders were definitively defeated in the 26th Century, Daniels was from a time period before Discovery Season 4 is set, so he may not have been aware of any future involvement they had in galactic affairs!
The Sphere-Builders, as their name implies, built spheres. These moon-sized objects were spread throughout a region of space known as the Delphic Expanse, and emitted huge amounts of gravimetric energy, causing the entire region to become unstable and peppered with anomalies.
The spheres were also able to cloak, concealing them from 22nd Century human and Vulcan ships. The region of space a single sphere could affect was huge, and in the mid-22nd Century there was a large network of them, perhaps consisting of over 75 individual spheres. A hidden anomaly-generating piece of technology with a connection to the Temporal Wars? That sounds like something that could cause the problems afflicting Captain Burnham’s ship as seen in the teaser!
If a rogue sphere were on the loose, if the Sphere-Builders were returning, or if a single sphere had been left in the Milky Way, forgotten about since the 22nd or 26th Centuries, it stands to reason based on what we know of them that it could be the cause of the “gravitational anomaly.” This concept is potentially interesting; a leftover “doomsday weapon” unattended for centuries could make for a fun story. It would also be great to see a tie-in with Enterprise!
Number 5: Tyken’s Rift
A Tyken’s Rift was mentioned in the Picard Season 1 episode Nepenthe, but before that one had been seen in more detail in The Next Generation fourth season episode Night Terrors. It was described as a rare spatial anomaly, one capable of encompassing entire star systems.
Unlike some of the other entries on this list, size isn’t a problem for a Tyken’s Rift! If a whole binary star system (i.e. a system with two stars) was able to fit inside, it’s more than possible such an anomaly could be five light-years in diameter!
The Enterprise-D wasn’t badly damaged by its encounter with the rift, but it was trapped inside and unable to escape. The Tyken’s Rift was also said to drain power, trapping ships inside. Perhaps the damage to the USS Discovery was not caused by the anomaly itself, but by pushing the ship past its limits trying to escape?
The drawback to a Tyken’s Rift being the cause of Discovery’s anomaly is twofold. Firstly, aside from a slow but steady power drain it didn’t seem to be harmful, and we saw nothing in Night Terrors to suggest this anomaly could or would cause catastrophic damage to a ship. And secondly, the Tyken’s Rift that the Enterprise-D encountered appeared to be stationary. It was even included on stellar maps, so it would be easily avoided.
I don’t think either of these points totally rule it out, and as one of the relatively few named anomalies in Star Trek that are massive enough, it seems fair to still include a Tyken’s Rift as a possibility.
Number 6: Species 8472 and Fluidic Space
One of Voyager’s most interesting adversaries was Species 8472, known only by their Borg designation! This powerful extradimensional faction were able to outwit even the Borg, fighting a very successful war against them for a time.
Species 8472 were native to a realm filled with an organic compound. Voyager’s crew named this region “fluidic space,” and it seemed as though Species 8472 based much of their technology on this organic material, including their spacecraft.
The Borg became aware of fluidic space some time in the mid-late 24th Century, and attempted to travel there and assimilate it. But Species 8472 proved resistant to assimilation, and waged a war on the Borg, eventually travelling through to normal space to continue the fight. The intervention of the USS Voyager gave the Borg an advantage, but it seemed shortly thereafter as though the war ground to a stalemate.
Species 8472 made one further incursion, but after an agreement with the USS Voyager, agreed to return to their own dimension, content that the Federation proved no threat. However, that was 800 years ago! A lot can change, and perhaps Species 8472 have decided to make a return.
This would change the “natural disaster” concept, making it perhaps a precursor to invasion. Whether that would be good or not depends on how well it was executed – as well as your personal preferences for storylines! Given what we know of Species 8472 and their technology, I think it’s at least possible they could be the cause. Perhaps Stamets’ anomaly is some kind of gateway to fluidic space.
Number 7: The Borg
On the other side of the war with Species 8472 were the Borg! I also suggested Star Trek’s iconic cybernetic villains as a possible cause of the Burn last season, and despite seeing some ex-Borg in Picard Season 1, we haven’t really seen the faction proper in Star Trek since Enterprise Season 2 in 2003. Perhaps now is the right time?
Borg technology outpaced the Federation in the 24th Century by a considerable margin, and I’ve seen nothing to suggest that wouldn’t continue to be the case. The anomaly Stamets and Burnham discussed in the teaser may well be a natural phenomenon, but if it turns out to be a weapon, I can think of few other factions capable of creating and wielding one so massively powerful. Other Borg technology, such as their transwarp network, was known to have gravitational effects as well, so perhaps that’s another sliver of evidence.
This doesn’t really fit with the Borg’s usual modus operandi, and that is certainly a mark against it! But then again, the Borg are very adaptable, and travelling back in time several centuries is not exactly standard procedure for assimilating a planet either, yet that’s what they tried to do in First Contact! The gravitational anomaly could be the opening salvo of an attack; the artillery barrage to soften up the Federation before the Borg drones rush in to assimilate the survivors. The Borg certainly seem capable of doing something like this, and with the Federation having been on the back foot for more than a century as a result of the Burn, the Borg may have been using that time to build up and prepare for a large-scale invasion attempt.
We don’t know for sure if the Borg are still around in the 32nd Century, or if they still hope to one day conquer and assimilate the Federation. After more than 800 years, anything could have happened to them! However, it’s plausible that they still exist in similar form to how we last saw them.
The anomaly seemingly “attacking” both Federation and non-Federation targets could be indicative of an intelligence at work behind it. Space is huge after all, and the chances of it hitting a target as small as a starship, starbase, or planet regularly seems unlikely without some kind of explanation. Is it a force of nature drawn to energy, like the graviton ellipse mentioned above? Or is it a Borg weapon deliberately targeting Starfleet? The latter may seem unlikely, but it’s not impossible!
Number 8: The Burn
I certainly hope that Discovery Season 4 doesn’t just drop the Burn and proceed as though it never happened. After the cataclysm caused huge disruption to the Federation and the wider galaxy for over a century, I think we need to see a lot more of the consequences of that event before we even consider a “reset” of the Federation!
Perhaps what this anomaly will be is some kind of “mini-Burn,” affecting a smaller area. It could be a ripple effect of the original event, or otherwise connected to it in some way. Hopefully it won’t be caused by poor Su’Kal, who’s been through enough over the last 125 years! Though the Burn was presented as a unique event, perhaps it had lingering effects that are only just becoming known.
Season 4 needs to walk a line between acknowledging the events of Season 3 without dwelling on them the whole time. I understand that the writers and producers have other stories to tell in the 32nd Century beyond the Burn, but given how catastrophic it was I feel strongly that we need to see at least some of its lingering impact. Connecting the Burn to this new problem would create a degree of separation, allowing the season to go in new directions but without dropping the massive event entirely.
The Burn was a disaster which “caused dilithium to become inert,” and which caused active warp cores to explode. It wasn’t known to have gravitational effects, instead being some kind of shockwave that travelled through subspace. That could certainly count against it!
However, if this event were connected to the Burn in some other way, rather than being a direct result of Su’Kal’s outburst, perhaps it could be explained. I couldn’t even guess how such a connection could be made; it would be some kind of technobabble connecting the anomaly to dilithium and/or subspace. But it could be done, and it could be made to fit!
So that’s it. Eight very early theories about Discovery Season 4 and the mysterious “gravitational anomaly!”
As mentioned at the beginning, I quite like the idea of the series going down a “natural disaster” route, allowing the crew to solve a puzzle and unravel a mystery, rather than simply pitting them against a Federation-threatening adversary. Perhaps that will be what ultimately happens, but I think it’s at least possible we’re seeing some kind of attack or weapon as well. Time will tell!
The teaser was action-packed, and the new season looks to be in great shape. I think that there are possible downsides to another “huge galactic disaster” storyline so soon after resolving the Burn, in that it risks feeling tacked-on, derivative, or even anticlimactic if it’s an event smaller in scale. But despite that, if this anomaly is going to be one of the main storylines in Season 4, there’s a huge amount of potential.
Star Trek’s past didn’t provide the key to understanding the Burn last season. Will something we’ve seen before come into play in Season 4? Maybe!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will debut on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, sometime later this year. Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery, including the two Season 3 trailers and the ending of Season 2. There are also spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and other iterations of the franchise.
The most recent trailer for Star Trek: Discovery’s imminent third season dropped a bombshell: the Federation has mostly collapsed! In my breakdown of the trailer I covered my thoughts on that story premise, so we won’t get into the ins and outs of it again today. Instead, we’re going to look at the event that triggered this collapse and postulate a few theories as to what it could be! As always with any fan theories (mine or someone else’s) please take all of this with a grain of salt. No fan theory is worth getting worked up over!
All we really know for certain is that the event in question is called “the Burn.” Booker, the new character who’s native to this time period, tells Michael Burnham that the event was when “the galaxy took a hard left.” And that’s all the explanation the trailer gave us. However, some images and scenes from the trailer add context to this, so we should run through some of them briefly.
Firstly, we had one very short scene of an explosion aboard a starship or space station that appeared to blow a number of people out into space. This could be a flashback to the Burn, but as I noted when I looked at the trailer, it could also be something happening after Discovery’s arrival in the future. Even if it is taking place during the Burn, however, all we can gleam from this scene is that it was a violent event – which may mean it took place over a relatively short span of time.
Next we have two glimmers of hope: a futuristic starship, space station, or facility which Saru and Burnham visit at some point, and a black-uniformed woman who I suspect may be a Starfleet officer.
The woman’s uniform was at least a little reminiscent of the uniforms used to depict 29th Century Starfleet seen in the Voyager fifth season episode Relativity. The texture and pattern used for the dark upper part of her uniform reminded me of that episode, and I’m sure that must have been intentional!
If this woman in Starfleet, it lends credence to the idea that the facility mentioned above could be a Federation vessel or even a Starbase. Add into the mix Booker’s line that the Federation “mostly” collapsed following the Burn, and I think we can make a solid case for Starfleet being around in some form; last time I called this remaining faction “rump Starfleet.”
The final thing to look at from the trailer are the scenes set in its aftermath. Away from the woman in uniform and the futuristic facility we see what could be a shanty town or post-apocalyptic markeplace as an Orion or other green-skinned alien guides Burnham. One possible implication from this scene is that we’re seeing how the majority of people in the collapsed Federation live. In the aftermath of the cataclysm, they may all be reduced to this kind of hand-to-mouth existence.
On the flip side, we have seen settings like this in other iterations of Star Trek, even on human-populated worlds. One that springs to mind is Turkana IV, the birthplace of Tasha Yar in The Next Generation. Described as a “failed Earth colony”, the planet was in a state of disarray in the 24th Century. In short, the existence of a shanty town like the one depicted above may not mean that everyone in the 32nd Century lives that way.
The reason I brought up Turkana IV and the like is to demonstrate that the Federation, even in the eras we’re familiar with, wasn’t always perfect and wasn’t one homogeneous bloc. Just as there seems to be a great contrast between the sleek facility and the shanty town in the 32nd Century, so too is there a contrast between different locations in the 23rd and 24th Centuries. I wonder if Discovery plans to use this dichotomy to make a point about wealth inequality.
One final point of note is that, when discussing the Burn, Booker referred to it as when “the galaxy” took a hard left. Let’s be clear about that – the galaxy as a whole, not merely the Federation. That was a deliberate choice of words, and I think what we can infer is that the effects of the Burn extend far beyond the borders of the Federation.
It’s possible that the Burn didn’t affect literally the entire galaxy; some regions and worlds may have escaped. Booker may have used the word “galaxy” in this context to mean something that impacted more than just one region and that went beyond the Federation’s borders. Even if that’s the case, we’re still dealing with what is arguably the biggest disaster we’ve ever seen in Star Trek.
That’s all we know from the trailer. It’s unclear how many people survived the Burn. Some disasters destroy infrastructure and technology, but leave organic lives intact, whereas others cause massive loss of life. There are clearly some survivors of the Burn, but how many is simply unknown right now. It’s highly likely that in the aftermath of such a catastrophe, more lives would be lost due to things like disease and starvation – especially if the Burn triggered the kind of collapse we seem to be seeing. The scene in the shanty town or junkyard seemed to show people barely surviving, living a hand-to-mouth existence without much of the familiar technology we’re used to in Star Trek. Such a loss of technology could cause even more deaths in the months and years following the Burn than the event itself.
We’ve seen at least one anti-Starfleet faction, which in the first trailer appeared to comprise of Andorians, Lurians, Cardassians, and humans. We also met a character in the second trailer who could be the leader of a faction or perhaps a warlord. I think this shows how, in the aftermath of the Burn, the survivors banded together into smaller groups. As with the number of survivors, we don’t know how many of these groups exist or what their relationships are with one another.
We also don’t know for sure whether faster-than-light travel, warp speed, and time travel are still possible in this era, or whether the Burn caused such a catastrophic collapse in the Federation – possibly combined with damage to the galaxy and spacetime and/or subspace in general – that such things are no longer possible. We saw in the second trailer the USS Discovery using its spore drive, so at least travel via the mycelial network remains viable. But everything else is unclear, and if it were to be the case that warp speed and faster-than-light travel are impossible, the fractured Federation will be very difficult to bring back together.
There’s also the question of timing. When did the Burn take place? We’ve already made one assumption – that it was a relatively fast event, perhaps taking place over less than a year – but when it happened relative to Burnham and the USS Discovery’s arrival in the year 3188 is not known. I wrote last time that the furthest forward in time Star Trek has previously gone in canon is the 31st Century. However, in both stories which took place in that era the dating was very vague, and we only have terms like “years” and “centuries” to go on rather than something more precise. As a result, Discovery’s third season could be anywhere from 90 years ahead of what we saw in Enterprise and Voyager all the way to 180 years ahead of those stories. Picking a halfway point, and saying that Discovery takes place 130-140 years further on from anything we’ve ever seen still gives a huge amount of time for the Burn to have taken place.
Based on the warlord/faction leader seen above, and the scene set in the shanty town/junkyard, I’m assuming it wasn’t recent. It certainly didn’t look like something that had only just happened in those scenes; the faction leader in particular seems confident in his position. Booker also didn’t appear to be speaking about something very recent when discussing the Burn; he almost seemed to be recalling history. I also noted something from the Star Trek Day panel: showrunner Michelle Paradise stated that characters like Booker had been “born” into this new future. While she could have meant simply that Booker was born in the 32nd Century, in the context of a discussion about the new season’s setting it could also mean that the Burn took place decades previously; before Booker was even born.
So it’s clear that at this stage we’re missing a lot of information! We don’t know when the Burn happened. We don’t know what effect it had other than the near collapse of the Federation. We don’t know how many casualties were directly and indirectly caused, or how many survivors remain.
Perhaps most importantly, we don’t know what the Burn is or what caused it. Fixing a problem requires understanding what the problem is and why it happened, so it will be absolutely essential for Burnham and the crew to figure this out. Even though we have practically no evidence to go on, I do have a few ideas! Let’s look at them in turn.
Possible cause #1: The super-synths from Star Trek: Picard
I’ve already written up this theory in more detail, and you can find that article by clicking or tapping here. But now that we know a little more about the Burn thanks to the new trailer, I was pleased in a way that it hasn’t been debunked already! Star Trek: Picard introduced us to an unnamed race of super-synths that I nicknamed the “Mass Effect Reapers” due to their similarities to that video game faction.
The “Mass Effect Reapers” left behind a beacon on the planet of Aia, explaining that synthetic life is under threat from organic life, and promising to come to the aid of any synths who ask for their help. The Zhat Vash – a secretive Romulan faction – found the beacon and interpreted it as something apocalyptic; they believed that if synthetic life were ever created, the “Mass Effect Reapers” would exterminate all organic life in the galaxy.
During the events of the season finale, Soji and Sutra constructed a beacon to contact the “Mass Effect Reapers”, and opened a portal to the location in deep space where they reside. After being convinced by Picard – and the timely arrival of a Starfleet armada led by Riker – Soji closed the portal and shut down the beacon. The “Mass Effect Reapers” never arrived – but they are now aware of a race of synths in the Milky Way galaxy, as well as being aware of the existence of the Romulans and the Federation.
From the point of view of this race of super-synths, here’s what they saw: a race of synths who found their beacon called on them for help, and when the portal was opened they saw a handful of synths on a planet with two massive fleets of starships populated by organics. Then, with no explanation, the portal was closed. If I were them, I would have major concerns!
We know hardly anything about the “Mass Effect Reapers” – which in itself makes them a good candidate for Discovery’s writers to play with – including how far away from the Federation they are. If they decided that they needed to intervene on behalf of the Coppelius synths, it could have taken them centuries to travel to the Milky Way from wherever they’re based.
When they finally did arrive, they would have likely found Coppelius abandoned, as I feel certain the safest thing to do for the synths who live there would be to relocate them to a new home where the Romulans can’t touch them. Again, from the “Mass Effect Reapers” perspective, the last thing they saw was two massive fleets in orbit of this planet that asked for their help, and when they arrived, the synths who asked for that help were gone. Put two and two together and it’s not hard to imagine they would assume the organics wiped out the synths. If they were minded toward revenge, they could go on the rampage, using their superior technology to destroy the Federation and Romulans in an event that would become known as the Burn.
From the production side of things, this theory brings together the two live-action series currently in production, which is something that hasn’t happened yet. I’ve written many times that modern Star Trek shows being split up in this way isn’t a good idea, and finding ways to bring them together will be important to the franchise going forward. Having this faction from Picard also be important in Discovery – as well as the events of one series directly leading to events in the other – would bind the two shows together and strengthen the franchise.
Possible cause #2: Michael and/or Gabrielle Burnham
I can’t be the only one who noticed that the “Burn” happens to be three letters different from “Burnham”, can I? While it may seem absolutely preposterous to assume that Burnham or her mother somehow caused this galaxy-wide calamity, there are some points we could argue are in its favour.
Gabrielle Burnham, Michael’s mother, was the original Red Angel in Discovery Season 2. At several points in the story she intervened, including to save Burnham’s life and Spock’s life in their youth, as well as ensuring that the USS Discovery would be on hand to save the data from the “Sphere” – the planetoid-sized lifeform whose data was vital to the Control AI. Gabrielle Burnham was tied to a point in the future around the same time as Season 3 is set and returned there after her many visits to the 23rd Century. But in both of the trailers we’ve seen, she’s nowhere to be found. Why is she missing, and could her absence have something to do with the Burn?
Discovery has been a series that places Michael Burnham at the centre of its stories. Burnham was the Red Angel. Burnham was the one who led the ship and crew home from the Mirror Universe and ended the Klingon War. Every story so far has been a Burnham-centric one, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn she has some involvement with the Burn – an event which shares part of her name.
How could this work? There are a few possibilities, but I would say that all of them have to do with the Red Angel suit and its time travel abilities. The suit was very powerful, capable of detonating powerful “red bursts” that Starfleet could detect from thousands of light-years away. It was also capable of moving the Sphere, so the idea that it could – intentionally or otherwise – be used as a weapon or cause a natural disaster is not beyond the realm of possibility.
When Burnham arrived in the future, she took off the suit. But in scenes that seem to be set around the same time, she doesn’t appear to bring it with her. It’s possible she abandoned the suit at her crash site, in which case anyone could stumble upon it. It’s also possible that the suit was stolen. And finally, it’s possible that some other faction who was aware of changes to the timeline could have been waiting for Burnham’s arrival and took that opportunity to take possession of the suit.
I don’t believe Burnham or her mother would voluntarily cause the Burn. In fact I’d argue that both would go out of their way to avoid it – even putting their lives on the line to prevent it ever happening. But it could have been accidental, such as a by-product of the suit’s time travel abilities. Or they could have done something while under duress – perhaps it was the least bad option if they were given a choice between the Burn and something far worse.
One thing is for sure, though. If it was Burnham’s fault, calling the event “the Burn” sounds way better than calling it “the Ham!”
Possible cause #3: The Borg
We haven’t had a Borg story in Star Trek since Enterprise’s second season way back in 2003. For a time it seemed as if Discovery’s second season was setting up a Borg origin story with the Control AI, but for whatever reason that didn’t pan out. We could still see the Borg in Discovery, though, if they turn out to be the nefarious villains who caused the Burn.
Booker said that the Burn affected the whole galaxy, and if that’s literally true perhaps it impacted the Borg as well. But it could be that the Borg either are the Burn or are the cause of it, striking out in all directions from their Delta Quadrant home and attacking multiple areas of the galaxy simultaneously.
Though it was implied, perhaps, that the Burn was a relatively short event, it could be that it was a war. Even a year-long conflict against the Borg on all fronts could have seen the Federation on the verge of collapse, and we could be looking at the aftermath of a Pyrrhic victory, one in which the Federation and their allies were only able to defeat the Borg at a catastrophic cost to themselves.
How exactly this would work is unclear, but perhaps the Federation used a weapon of last resort that not only destroyed the Borg but also crippled themselves in the process. We’ve seen this kind of story in science fiction before, and the idea that the Federation’s collapse is in part the Federation’s fault is an interesting one. Alex Kurtzman said that the Federation’s collapse wasn’t due to infighting but was something external – and a Borg invasion is definitely an external threat.
When considering an event that has the potential to impact not only planets and star systems but Starbases and fleets of ships, a large-scale war is one of the few possibilities that I can think of. We’re talking about devastation across not only the whole Federation but far beyond its borders too, meaning the Burn has to be something immense in scope. A massive invasion could be such an event, and I can’t think of any known faction in Star Trek able to pull off something like that other than the Borg.
By their later appearances in Voyager, I think it’s not unfair to say that the Borg were becoming stale. Having seen our heroes prevail against them time and again, they definitely needed a rest. Enterprise, while it added an extra complication to the history of Borg-human contact, managed to tell an exciting and tense story, but I think it’s to the franchise’s overall benefit that the faction then took a break. However, seventeen years is a decent length of time for such a break, so could we be on the verge of seeing the Borg make a comeback?
Possible cause #4: Time travel and the Temporal Cold War
Star Trek stories that took place in the 29th Century and beyond depicted time travel as something the Federation routinely engages in, despite it seemingly being prohibited by the 24th Century. Preserving the timeline intact is something Starfleet of this era seems to have been concerned with, but there were other factions opposed to the Federation who made attempts to use time as a weapon.
In Enterprise we saw a Temporal Cold War play out, with several different factions all vying for control of the timeline. The mechanics of this were vague – deliberately – but by the 31st Century, which is the home era of temporal agent Daniels, the Temporal Cold War was a major issue.
As I mentioned when I looked at the trailer, one issue I can see coming up if Discovery goes headfirst into another time travel story is the question of why the Federation didn’t see the Burn coming. If they explore the timeline in the same way that the 24th Century Starfleet explore space, surely they look at the future timeline too, not just the past. If they do, they should have foreseen the Burn, right?
The problem with that assumption is that time travel muddies the waters. Even in a perfect world where Star Trek had always been consistent in its depiction of the rules and laws governing time travel (which it hasn’t been at all), the concept itself still generates all manner of possibilities, loops, and paradoxes. Part of the Temporal Cold War story arc involved factions travelling to the past to attempt to undermine their adversaries before they could even develop time travel – knocking them out of the war entirely. If someone were able to travel to a point in the timeline that the Federation could not observe, or were able to operate outside of normal spacetime, the Burn could have been triggered before the Federation even knew it was coming.
I’d like to pick one more hole in a time travel story. If the cause of the Burn is related to time travel, it’s arguable from the perspective of Starfleet that the timeline in which it occurred is not the “real” timeline. Logically they’d want to work to undo it, and if successful it would remove this timeline – and thus Discovery Season 3 – from existence. We have seen stories in Star Trek that “never happened” for reasons of time travel, but they were single episodes, not entire seasons, and I would make the case that having an entire season’s story arc being effectively wiped out of existence wouldn’t be the best way to go.
Possible cause #5: Something related to coronal mass ejections and stars
One frame of the trailer showed Tilly, Stamets, and Reno with the woman shown above who may be a 32nd Century Starfleet officer. On the display at the console where Tilly and Stamets were standing, it was possible to make out the words “CME Detected” and “coronal mass ejection [something] magnitude.”
A coronal mass ejection, or CME, is a real-world phenomenon. I’m not a scientist, but as I understand it, a CME is where a small portion of a star’s plasma is shot into space. The phenomenon is associated with sunspots and solar flares, and can cause damage to technology like phone and power lines.
There is no known way to trigger a CME or for them to occur naturally on a galaxy-wide scale. But as we leave the real world behind and head into the realm of science fiction, either of those possibilities could exist.
“The Burn” is a very evocative name, drawing on a primal fear of fire. But it could be more than just a moniker adopted by survivors of the event: it could describe the event itself, and when a star undergoes a CME it’s literally shooting burning plasma into space – space fire. The Burn could be the very literal burning of spacecraft, planets, and even whole solar systems by some kind of massive wave of coronal mass ejections.
The interesting prospect this raises is that the Burn wouldn’t require an evil villain; it could be an entirely natural occurrence. How and why millions of stars all suffered the same fate is unclear, but it would change the dynamic of the story from one that requires the crew to defeat an adversary to one which requires scientific investigation – something which is arguably at the heart of Starfleet.
Equally, even if the Burn refers to a tsunami of CMEs, there could be a cause. It could even be one of the four we’ve already listed: the Borg, the Burnhams, a time travelling faction, or the super-synths from Picard. Any of these could have intentionally or accidentally triggered some event that led to millions of stars all undergoing CMEs.
The next part of this gets very deep into lore, so it’s perhaps less likely, but I like to include these things because c’mon… we’re Trekkies. It’s what we do!
Whether the Burn is natural or artificial in origin, if it’s something which causes stars to undergo massive CMEs it could also be something which triggers supernovae. And there has been one recent supernova that had a massive impact on the Star Trek galaxy: the Romulan supernova. First shown in 2009’s Star Trek, the supernova appeared to move faster-than-light and destroyed the Romulan homeworld. Spock was able to stop it by using Red Matter, but the supernova would have a lasting impact, part of which was seen earlier this year in Picard.
Though it may seem a long-shot, tying the Burn to the Romulan supernova would bring together several different Star Trek stories in a very neat way, which is important for reasons I’ve already outlined. If the Burn is natural in origin, the Romulan supernova may have been a precursor to it. And if it’s artificial in origin, the Romulan supernova may have been a preliminary test of whatever weapon caused the Burn.
So that’s it. A look at what the Burn could be as well as some possible triggers and causes. Though the existence of the Burn poses a big challenge for Discovery – as it fundamentally changes the underlying premise of Star Trek’s optimistic future – I’m absolutely fascinated by it. What is it? What caused it? When did it happen? Why did no one intervene to stop it? There are so many questions rattling around in my head, and this article has barely scratched the surface!
I am at least a little concerned about Star Trek: Discovery choosing a post-apocalyptic setting. But at the same time the series has been great so far, especially in Season 2, and I would love to see it build on what was accomplished last year to tell a fascinating and engaging story. The Burn is going to be part of that. Figuring it out and perhaps even working to stop it could be important story elements, and I’m absolutely fascinated to learn whether any of these ideas even come close!
As I mentioned at the beginning, these are just fan theories and speculation. I don’t have any insider information – and if I did I wouldn’t share it! Several recent shows and films have suffered backlash from fans who got a little too attached to certain pet theories, and as fun as theory-crafting is, I don’t want that to be the case here. This is a bit of fun and a chance to spend more time thinking about Star Trek, and that’s all. I want to know what happens, and if it’s something I didn’t expect then that’s fantastic!
When Discovery Season 3 kicks off in mid-October, I hope you’ll join me for episode reviews and perhaps even more theory-crafting!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 premieres on the 15th of October on CBS All Access in the United States, and on the 16th of October on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other titles mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers for various Star Trek series, including the most recent season of Star Trek: Discovery and the first three episodes of Star Trek: Picard.
As part of a series of articles I wrote leading up to the release of Star Trek: Picard, I covered the Borg from an in-universe perspective, as well as looking at some possible options for their role in the new series. You can read that article by clicking or tapping here. While Star Trek: Picard remains a mysterious show even now that we’re three episodes in, the Borg’s role has been somewhat on the sidelines so far, as we’ve really only seen a few former Borg and the disabled Borg cube used as a setting.
For a while I’ve been wanting to look at the Borg from a storytelling perspective, because I think they’re one of Star Trek’s most interesting villains. Not only that, but they have an analogue outside of the franchise which we can compare them to – zombies. Both the Borg and zombies fill a similar role in the stories they appear in, and both can fall victim to the same storytelling pitfalls.
Let’s start with the most obvious comparison – and why both the Borg and zombies are a frightening adversary for any heroes to be pitted against. With the exception of the Borg’s first appearance in The Next Generation’s second season episode Q Who, the Borg’s sole purpose has been assimilation. By forcibly injecting their nano-technology into both machines and living organisms, practically anything they touch can become part of the Borg Collective in a matter of moments. Zombies are a low-tech, biological version – in almost every zombie story, the zombie infection spreads through biting. Thus both Borg and zombies don’t just kill, they turn everyone the heroes lose into another enemy to fight. And the infection or invasion can never be truly over until every last individual is defeated, because if even one Borg drone or one zombie remains, there’s the possibility for them to attack others and start all over again.
This one factor – that every friend lost doesn’t just reduce the numbers on the heroes’ side, but increases the number of enemies to fight – is huge. It means that a story featuring a Borg or zombie attack is completely different in tone and scope from any other war or invasion or battle that we might see in science fiction. And it’s a frightening prospect, seeing allies quite literally turned into enemies before the very eyes of the heroes. In fact, it’s arguable that the Borg’s appearances are as close as Star Trek as come to crossing over into the horror genre. The underlying premise, certainly, would be at home there. And if ViacomCBS ever chose to go down that route, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine a Borg-themed horror film or series.
One of the great things about entertainment and storytelling is that it’s subjective. The audience can interpret themes and points in a story in different ways, and anyone who’s ever taken a literature class can attest that! When I was in school and in the few literature classes I took at university, my teachers were always talking about analogies and themes and metaphors. And when it comes to the Borg, there are different interpretations as to a real-world analogue.
One of the most obvious is communism. Despite what’s often been said, Star Trek doesn’t really depict a “communist utopia”. The economy of the 23rd and 24th Centuries has always been deliberately ambiguous, and really I think it’s fairer to describe it as a post-scarcity economy, thanks in large part to technologies like food replicators and interstellar travel. Humans in Star Trek can still, for example, own and inherit property – like we see Joseph Sisko and the Picard family do – something which indicates that we’re not looking at communism. But that’s rather beside the point. The Borg, to get back on topic, with their lack of individuality and aggressively expansionist mindset, are arguably a metaphor for Western fears of communist states during the latter part of the Cold War. The history of Star Trek is littered with Cold War metaphors, and at the time the Borg were created and debuted on screen in 1989, the Berlin Wall hadn’t yet fallen and the Soviet Union was still the world’s “other” superpower.
Since the concept of the “walking dead” came to mainstream attention in the 1960s, critics have said the same thing about zombies, too – that they’re a metaphor for America’s communist adversaries. The comparison plays on a crude stereotype – that all people in a communist state are brainwashed and forced to do the state’s bidding. However, my intention isn’t to critique the concept, merely to acknowledge its existence. In a very real sense, part of what makes zombies and the Borg so frightening is the idea of losing oneself, and suffering “a fate worse than death”. For many in the Cold War era, ideas like communist infiltrators and brainwashed citizens returning from overseas – including former prisoners of war – were genuine concerns, if somewhat overstated and exaggerated.
It’s those underlying real-world fears that give power to the Borg when they appear. They wouldn’t be so scary if it weren’t for a shared fear we have of losing our identity – stoked by fears from the Cold War era, perhaps, but just as relevant today in the age of radicalisation via social media. How many young men – and it is almost always young men – have been involved in mass shootings or terrorist attacks after being radicalised online? The concept of brainwashing – and our collective fear of it – is still very much alive in society today. The emphasis has shifted from the state to individuals, perhaps, but the basic fear remains the same. And it continues to make villains like the Borg intimidating.
When it comes to turning that into an exciting, heart-stopping story, though, it’s all too easy to fall flat. What we’ve seen in Star Trek, especially in Star Trek: Voyager, is the overuse of the Borg. The same thing has happened to the zombies in The Walking Dead, and can happen to other villains in other series too – the Daleks from Doctor Who come to mind as another example of overuse. The fundamental problem with having the heroes outsmart and defeat the same villain too many times is that they simply lose their fear factor – no matter how powerful it may once have been and what underlying social factors are propping it up.
Every victory over the same opponent adds to a feeling that victory for the heroes is inevitable. And in many cases, we know that. Even in a series like Game of Thrones, which could be utterly unpredictable, nobody was genuinely expecting that the Night King would be victorious – we all knew that somehow, some of the heroes would survive and find a way to win. That didn’t make the story any less exciting, and nor is Star Trek: First Contact any less exciting for first-time viewers who expect Picard and his crew to find a way to defeat the Borg. The tension and drama comes on a moment-to-moment basis, and also, as in many stories, part of the enjoyment comes from the journey even if the overall destination – victory, in this case – is known.
But when the same scenario plays out over and over again – a scrappy Starfleet crew faces off against impossible odds and beats the Borg, for example – it gets less and less tense and less and less dramatic with each new revision. When we see the Borg lose to Janeway for the fourth or fifth time having already seen them bested twice by Picard, they become stale, and the stories in which they appear become uninteresting.
The addition of the Borg Queen is symptomatic of this. After several prior Borg stories, and with their first big-screen appearance looming, there must have been some discussion about how to make the Borg intimidating again. It wasn’t enough to have this faceless mass any more, the Borg needed something new in order to fit the bill as big-screen villains. Part of that stems from the need to keep the story cinematic; to have those moments where Picard is traumatised by his memories of the Borg Queen, to have Data tempted and taunted by her in a way a nameless drone couldn’t, and to be able to have dialogue between heroes and villains which is often a tense yet satisfying part of storytelling in and of itself. But a significant part of the Borg Queen’s role in First Contact and subsequently has been to rejuvenate the Borg as a faction from a storytelling perspective.
Telling unique and different Borg stories has become as much of a problem for Star Trek as making the zombies scary again is for The Walking Dead. Unlike that series – which I’d absolutely argue had a natural lifespan (forgive the pun) of about four seasons and should have ended at that point – Star Trek has a much richer galaxy to explore and plenty of other villains to play with. The Borg are not essential to Star Trek in the way that zombies are to zombie stories – and that’s definitely been a saving grace.
With the exception of the Star Trek: Enterprise episode Regeneration in 2003, there hadn’t been any Borg stories in Star Trek since Voyager’s finale in 2001 – and none which were set further forward in the Star Trek timeline. After an absence of close to two decades, then, there’s an argument to be made that enough time has passed for a renewed look at the Borg. For new fans and younger fans who didn’t see every single appearance in order, and for more casual viewers who may not have seen any Star Trek episode or film since the turn of the millennium, that’s probably a fair point. But even then, because the Borg are essentially “space zombies”, in an era where zombie stories have become a television and cinematic genre in their own right with dozens of examples, perhaps we’re still burnt out.
Here’s where the Borg’s trump card comes into play – they aren’t just a metaphor for our fears of communism or brainwashing. Because of their technological nature, they can absolutely be an analogy for our overreliance on technology and for our fears of the evolution of technology in the future. This is what Star Trek: Discovery’s second season did, very successfully in my opinion, with the Control AI. Now I’m absolutely convinced that Control was meant to tie in somehow to the Borg and their origins when the story was originally written. Why that angle was scrapped (if indeed it has been wholly scrapped) is unclear, but it could be related to the Borg being an integral part of the story of Star Trek: Picard. That’s my current theory on that, at any rate.
The whole point of the Control storyline in Discovery was that artificial intelligence might not be a good thing to pursue. When an AI surpasses humanity in its abilities, it becomes inherently unpredictable. It can overwrite its own programming and could turn on us. This isn’t just a science fiction story trope – scientists like Stephen Hawking have expressed genuine concern that an AI could ultimately be harmful. Technological progress has advanced so rapidly from even when The Next Generation was first on the air and computers were basically glorified calculators and typewriters to the modern day where everyone has an internet-enabled super-smart camera-and-microphone connected-to-everything always-on computer-phone about their person 24/7. Those changes have, thus far at least, been a net positive for humanity. In Africa, for example, the rise of mobile phones has meant many of the world’s poorest citizens have access to the internet and information, as well as the ability to send and receive money securely without relying on banking. But with change comes fear, or at least a sense of uncertainty. Discovery played on those fears and concerns about the pace of technological change quite expertly.
The decision to have Control be an invention of Section 31 was another masterstroke. Since Edward Snowden and Julian Assange (and many others, of course) have demonstrated to the world that major governmental organisations run hidden technological surveillance on, well, everyone, mistrust of technology and technological communication has only grown. The idea that we’re all being watched all the time by “big brother” in the various three-letter agencies, and their international equivalents, has caused a lot of people to be incredibly uneasy about technology in general. Once again, Discovery tapped into this to great effect.
To get back to the Borg, regardless of whether or not Control was meant to be related to them in some way, the same principle is at work. The relentless march of technology could see us literally plugging ourselves into some giant network of machines, or augmenting our bodies with technological upgrades. In a sense, we already do. Our phones and computers are arguably an extension of ourselves, we’re almost constantly networked to billions of others via the internet, with all of their experiences and information only a few keystrokes away, and as medical science advances we’re able to replace defective body parts – like hips, for example – with synthetic replacements. The Borg are simply a few steps further along from we currently are in their embrace of technology.
For many people, the unstoppable march of technology is something they find intimidating. It means that the future is always changing – and people in general have an inbuilt mistrust or fear of change. Thus the Borg stand out in stories that feature them as a kind of nightmarish vision of a future gone wrong.
By playing on these two deep-rooted, almost instinctive fears, the Borg are truly a frightening opponent for the heroes in Star Trek stories to face.
Keeping that fear alive is a task for the new creators of Star Trek. In Discovery, Control hit the reset button by showing us at least a potential precursor to the Borg we’ve seen before. Enterprise threw 24th Century Borg against a 22nd Century crew – not that it was always apparent, but that was part of the goal of that episode. And finally, in Picard we have the Borg absent from their own setting – a derelict cube being slowly picked apart and studied. There’s an inherent creepiness to the aesthetic of the cube – a kind of cold, inhuman feel, amplified by the lack of windows and endless maze of identical rooms and corridors. If the showrunners wanted to play up that aspect they absolutely could, and it will be interesting to see where Picard takes this angle.
What has to be avoided, however, is the trap that ensnared Voyager’s Borg episodes. Repetition leads to a loss of that fear factor, and without it the Borg become stale and boring – it would be better to see the faction utterly defeated in a climactic battle than to have them crop up again and again in random episodes over several seasons. The serialised nature of current Star Trek storytelling, which has replaced the episodic, “monster-of-the-week” format, means that we’re less likely to see individual Borg-centric episodes any more. And that’s probably a good thing overall – despite my personal preference for episodic storytelling in Star Trek.
At the end of the day, the question for the Star Trek franchise and its new creative team is what to do with the Borg in future. We saw what I’m certain was an abortive attempt to show some kind of origin story in Discovery’s second season, and now in Picard we have the creepy abandoned cube as a setting, as well as the return of Seven of Nine and Hugh as liberated ex-Borg. Both of these approaches are different, and that’s good. As great as The Best of Both Worlds and First Contact were, those stories were lightning in a bottle – not something that can be recaptured or repeated, at least not to the same effect. And the way stories approach and treat the Borg will have to change if they’re to be as intimidating as we want them to be. That doesn’t mean the Borg have to change in their core outlook or philosophy; doing so would mean they’re no longer the villain we remember, after all. But it does mean they have to be written in a different way and that their inclusion in future Star Trek stories has to be very carefully considered.
In a sense, the Borg’s greatest and most frightening aspect – their relentlessness and faceless nature – is also part of their undoing when considering their inclusion from a storytelling point of view. Because of their philosophy and the way they approach their assimilation targets, the Borg are very much a one-trick pony. They show up, either en masse or on a single vessel, overwhelm their opponents, forcibly assimilate them, and move on. They have one unwavering goal, and essentially only one method of achieving it. There are no Borg spies, no Borg generals to be outwitted, no Borg personalities to provide personal drama and conflict in a story. With the exception of the Borg Queen – who isn’t even really an exception as she is simply the face of the Borg, not a leader – the Borg operate as one entity with one goal and one approach.
The Voyager two-part episode Scorpion, which introduced Seven of Nine, took one of the most interesting looks at how the Borg’s single-mindedness can be their undoing. By presenting them with an opponent in Species 8472 who could not be assimilated, the Borg were on the back foot as the only method they had of information-gathering and conquest – they use assimilation for both purposes – did not work. This was a unique take on the Borg in Star Trek, but it had the unintended consequence of making them less intimidating as a result. As previously mentioned, any time we see a supposedly imposing villain failing in their objective, beaten and in retreat, it lessens the fear factor. As the audience, we know that they can be beaten – changing how we perceive stories. It stops being a question of “will the heroes prevail?” and instead becomes “when and/or how will they prevail?”
We need only look to Doctor Who for a case in point. Since its 2005 reboot, Doctor Who has seen its main villains, the Daleks, so thoroughly overused that they long ago became completely dull and unexciting. And two other villains, the Cybermen and Weeping Angels, have suffered from overuse too. As a result, since the latter half of Matt Smith’s tenure as the Eleventh Doctor, the show has limped along feeling played out. New villains and storylines have fallen flat – a consequence of mediocre writing – and the show is absolutely ready to go back on hiatus as there are no good ideas. It’s a lesson for Star Trek to learn, especially as production ramps up and there are multiple shows (and at least one film) all in various stages of development. Sometimes less is more. And also, when a storyline has run its course, and when a villain has done all they can reasonably do, unless there’s a new way to approach that story it’s time to put an end to it and move on.
The Borg haven’t yet reached that point. There is still space in Star Trek for new and exciting Borg stories, but they will have to be properly planned, not simply thrown in at the last minute. Like Doctor Who’s Daleks, the Borg are an iconic villain, emblematic of the franchise that spawned them. But they aren’t an infallible storytelling device that guarantees a successful film, season, or episode. And mishandled or overused, all the threat, tension, and drama they can bring will melt away leaving a bland, uninspiring film or episode behind.
Between the zombies in The Walking Dead and the Daleks in Doctor Who, we have two great examples of how to mishandle and overuse villains like the Borg. Star Trek is fortunate to have such a rich history of alien races to draw on, and can hopefully avoid those pitfalls as we move into what will hopefully be the franchise’s second “golden age”.
The Borg are a frightening and compelling faction in the Star Trek universe, and there is still scope to learn more about them and see them return – in both big and small ways – in future episodes and films. And I’m looking forward to that, as well as to seeing what Picard has in store for this absolutely iconic faction. As I’ve said many times already, it’s a fantastic time to be a Star Trek fan right now. There’s just so much going on, and so much more to come. Discovery has had hits and misses, but in my opinion at least, Picard has been outstanding so far, and I’m interested to see what will come next. Surely, after the success the franchise has experienced over the last few weeks, this won’t be our last look at the 24th and early 25th Centuries – and unless something major happens to the Borg by the end of Picard’s first season, I’m sure that sooner or later we can expect to see them back once again.
The Star Trek franchise, including all films, episodes, and series mentioned above, is the copyright of ViacomCBS and Paramount Pictures. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Star Trek, including the most recent season of Star Trek: Discovery, as well as the trailers for Star Trek: Picard.
As Star Trek: Picard gets closer, I’m continuing the series I began last time, looking at some of the factions we seem certain to encounter in the new series. We’ve already looked at the Romulans, as Star Trek: Picard will feature the franchise’s first ever Romulan main character. And today, it’s the turn of the Borg to be under the microscope!
There’s still a part of me that wonders if the AI named Control, featured in Star Trek: Discovery’s second season, will ultimately turn out to be connected in some way to the origins of the Borg, which thus far are shrouded in mystery. It definitely seemed for a while that the story was going to go that way, but for now we’ll have to treat it as unconfirmed at best.
The Borg originated in the Delta Quadrant – the area of the galaxy farthest from Federation space. Due to the distances involved, the Borg had relatively few encounters with the humanity and the Federation prior to the 24th Century.
The Borg Queen claimed that the collective was developed over “thousands of centuries”, and began as any other organic humanoid species. The addition of their cybernetics came later. By the 15th Century, the Borg were known to other Delta Quadrant races, but they had only a few systems under their control. It’s implied that their technology was also much more limited, comparable to other factions at the time, though they were capable of faster-than-light travel.
Here’s where it gets a little messy – thanks to time travel.
In the 24th Century, as part of a plan to conquer the Federation, the Borg travelled back in time and attempted to assimilate Earth in the past: specifically in the year 2063, the year humans made first contact with the Vulcans. Though this attack was able to be thwarted thanks to the efforts of Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E, several Borg drones, as well as wreckage from their vessel, crashed on Earth, north of the Arctic Circle.
These Borg were uncovered over ninety years later by scientists, who inadvertently awakened the drones – and were promptly assimilated. This marked the second “first contact” between the Borg Collective and humanity. Because the drones were few in number, and only had access to a sub-light shuttle, they were ultimately defeated by the crew of the NX-01 Enterprise: but not before they sent a message to the rest of the Collective. In this time period, the Collective was still in the Delta Quadrant, and the message would take over two centuries to reach them – coinciding with the Borg’s later appearances in the 24th Century. Whether this forms a kind of “time loop” paradox, or whether the Borg would always have been interested in the Alpha Quadrant by the 24th Century is unknown.
There was no contact between the Borg and humanity after this incident, and records of it seem to have been lost – or deliberately kept hidden – by the next time humans encountered the Borg in the 24th Century. However, sometime in the 23rd Century, the El-Aurians (Guinan’s species) were attacked by the Borg, and several hundred El-Aurian refugees came to Earth – bringing with them stories of what happened to their homeworld. It was at this time that Starfleet officially began researching the Borg – though no connection was made between the El-Aurian’s conquerors and the Arctic Circle incident.
By the mid-24th Century, some in Starfleet considered the Borg to be a myth, but two exobiologists, a married couple named Magnus and Erin Hansen, took a small exploration vessel to try to track them down. Taking their young daughter, Annika, with them, they would eventually be successful in finding the Borg, and ultimately followed them all the way to the Delta Quadrant, collecting a huge amount of information. Unfortunately they were discovered and assimilated after approximately two years. Annika Hansen would later be better known as Seven of Nine after being liberated from the Collective by Captain Janeway and the crew of the USS Voyager.
Because of the distance between the Delta Quadrant and Federation space, the Hansens’ research and knowledge of the Borg was not communicated to Starfleet. Instead, the Federation’s first “official” encounter with the Borg came when Q used his powers to deliberately throw the Enterprise-D into the path of a Borg cube – some 7,000 light-years from Federation space in System J-25. Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D attempted to make contact, and soon found themselves horribly outmatched in a fight with the Borg vessel. Q, after being begged by Picard, saved the Enterprise-D by returning it to Federation space before the Borg could assimilate the ship, but this incident prompted Starfleet to finally take the Borg threat seriously, and a task force was formed to tackle a likely Borg attack.
The incursion the Federation feared came within a year of the J-25 incident, leaving them little time to prepare. A single Borg vessel was dispatched by the Collective, and after assimilating Captain Picard, used his tactical knowledge against the Federation, destroying almost forty ships and assimilating or killing over 11,000 people – including civilians. With such a large part of Starfleet destroyed, Earth was effectively defenceless, but after the assimilated Picard – now called Locutus of Borg – was liberated by the crew of the Enterprise-D, Data was able to use his link to the Collective’s hive mind to force all the drones aboard the vessel to regenerate – or “sleep” – which ultimately led to the vessel’s destruction.
A year or so later, Third of Five was encountered by the Federation, the sole survivor of a Borg scouting mission near Federation space. Captain Picard wanted to use him as a weapon to send a virus back to the Collective, but as his individuality reasserted itself, the drone, now named Hugh, returned to the collective voluntarily. His newfound identity, however, proved difficult for the collective to handle and Hugh, along with several other rogue Borg, would leave the Collective soon after.
There was then a lull in the Borg-Federation conflict lasting several years, before the Collective again sent a single cube to attempt to assimilate Earth. This ship, commanded by the Borg Queen herself, was the one which travelled back in time to 2063, possibly setting in motion the chain of events which led humanity and the Borg to encounter one another in the first place as part of a “temporal loop” paradox.
A battle took place near to Earth before this cube deployed a smaller spherical ship to travel through time, and several ships, including the Enterprise-E and the USS Defiant – which would normally be stationed at Deep Space Nine – took part in the battle. This was the Borg’s most recent attempt to directly attack Earth.
After the Battle of Sector 001, the only encounters between the Federation and the Borg took place in the Delta Quadrant, where the USS Voyager was making its way home. The Borg were engaged in a losing war with a race known only by their Borg designation – Species 8472. Under the command of Captain Janeway, Voyager and her crew came to the Borg’s aid, trading their tactical knowledge of Species 8472 for safe passage through Borg space. The Collective dispatched Seven of Nine to be their representative aboard Voyager, and the crew would liberate her from the Borg when they broke the alliance.
The Species 8472 war proved incredibly costly to the Borg, and arguably set back any plans they may have had for further expansion at that time. Their space was at least 9,000 light-years across, extending beyond the range of Voyager’s sensors, and even extended to near the Beta Quadrant.
On one occasion the Borg attempted to recapture Seven of Nine, hoping to use her new knowledge of humanity as part of a third invasion/assimilation attempt, but this was thwarted by Voyager, who managed to again liberate Seven from the Collective. Voyager was able to use part of the Borg’s extensive transwarp network to get significantly closer to home.
This feat would be overshadowed, however, thanks to the actions of a time-travelling Admiral Janeway. In her timeline, Voyager had managed to make it back to Earth, but it had taken a long time. By travelling back to a point around seven years into Voyager’s trip through the Delta Quadrant, future Janeway was able to simultaneously get Voyager home much sooner, as well as deal a significant blow to the Collective.
By outfitting Voyager with technology from the early 25th Century, the ship was easily able to overpower a number of Borg vessels, and future Janeway allowed herself to be assimilated in order to infect the Borg – and the Borg Queen herself – with a devastating virus she hoped would spread throughout the Collective.
Voyager was able to use the transwarp network to return to Earth, around 25 years before the era of Star Trek: Picard. It’s unclear what happened to the Collective after this point.
For a long time, the Borg were assumed to be leaderless. The nature of their “hive mind” – a mechanical-telepathic link that all Borg are connected to – implied that there was no one individual leader, and that the Borg made decisions as one Collective, operating with one mind.
While this is true in some respects, the Borg Queen acts as the Collective’s leader, and is the only individual Borg – outside of those liberated by Starfleet or otherwise disconnected from the Collective – who appears to have any semblance of individuality or personality. The Queen describes herself as simply “the Borg” – and the question of whether she is truly a leader in the sense that we would understand, or whether she is in fact a personification of the Collective, is up for debate.
At least two Borg Queens have died – and it is likely that when the physical form of a Borg Queen is destroyed, a new one is created. The loss of a single Queen does not seem to significantly hamper the Collective’s efforts – so it’s at least possible that there may be multiple Queens in existence at any one time.
The Borg have assimilated thousands of species in full or in part. Their attacks seem to begin with outer colonies – as happened to the Federation – before a significant effort is launched against the homeworld of that race. While Borg efforts to attack Earth have been limited to a single vessel each time – albeit a very large vessel with thousands of drones aboard – assimilation of other races, such as those on the periphery of Borg space in the Delta Quadrant, seem to proceed with multiple ships and millions of drones.
As a result of their conquests and assimilations, the Borg have gained knowledge and technological advancements which – as of the late 24th Century – outmatched and outgunned the Alpha Quadrant powers. Federation successes against the Borg came as a result of Captain Picard’s unique knowledge as someone who had spent time as part of the Collective. Voyager’s successes similarly came from Seven of Nine.
When the Borg assimilated an individual, the sum total of that person’s knowledge would be disseminated across the entire Collective. The same applied to the assimilation of starships – and presumably other technology as well. In practice this meant that if the Borg assimilated an individual with tactical knowledge – such as Picard prior to the Battle of Wolf 359 – they could use that knowledge to adapt.
Adaptations were quickly sent out to all Borg. Once they had encountered a weapon setting more than a couple of times, it would have to be altered to remain effective, and the same applied to deflectors and shields. Remodulating phasers and shields became a key tactic of the Federation during Borg engagements.
Borg communications were still limited by subspace technology, as it was noted by the crew of the NX-01 Enterprise that a message sent by Borg near Earth to their home in the Delta Quadrant would take two centuries to arrive – though this may have been related to their use of 22nd Century technology.
Society and Culture
The Borg operate as a single mind – with the aforementioned exception of the Borg Queen. As such, they don’t have what could really be termed a “culture”.
The basic tenet of Borg philosophy is that assimilation of other races brings both the Borg and the assimilated race closer to “perfection”. By merging biological and technological together, they hope to achieve their goal of “perfection”. This seems to be the basic driving force behind the Borg’s activities.
In a sense, an individual assimilated by the Borg can never die, as every memory and experience they had, both before and after assimilation, is stored permanently by the Collective. However, that individual loses all sense of individuality in the process, and exists only as part of the single “hive mind” of the Borg.
The Borg will assimilate anyone they perceive as useful and attack anyone they perceive as a threat. However, they will often ignore the presence of intruders if they are busy or if they don’t consider them a threat. They will assimilate children as well as adults, and the children will be placed in “maturation chambers” until they have grown enough to serve as useful drones. The Borg will also opt not to assimilate a species they perceive as useless or that they feel would detract from the “perfection” they are trying to create.
As of the mid-late 24th Century, the Borg occupied a vast expanse of the Delta Quadrant, and operated an extensive transwarp network which allowed their vessels to be present in at least the Alpha, Beta, and Delta Quadrants. No Borg activity was noted in the Gamma Quadrant, but explorations of that region of space were limited by the Dominion War. There may have been trillions or quadrillions of individual Borg drones at that time – perhaps even more than that.
Because of the events of the Star Trek: Voyager finale, Endgame, it’s hard to know what state the Collective is in. Admiral Janeway, travelling back in time, brought the crew of Voyager technological advantages which the Borg struggled to fight against, but more significantly she infected the Borg Queen with a virus. This virus was disseminated to other ships in the Collective. In addition, the Borg Queen’s entire complex, as well as a significant part of the Borg transwarp network and a number of Borg vessels, were destroyed by Voyager before they arrived back in the Alpha Quadrant.
As a result of these actions, as with the Romulans we simply don’t know how badly affected the Borg may have been, and how long it will have taken them to recover. Assuming they could recover from the virus, we’ve seen the Borg able to repair and rebuild their ships and technology incredibly rapidly, so in theory they could have rebuilt the entire complex and replaced the lost ships without too much hassle.
I would assume that the Borg survived what future Janeway tried to do. Two reasons for this: in-universe, the Borg are so adaptable, numerous, and widespread that the losses Voyager inflicted should be survivable, and on the production side, I think that Star Trek needs the Borg to still be around and be a threat, even if their role in Star Trek: Picard Season 1 is limited.
We’ve seen a Borg cube seemingly under Romulan control in the trailers for Star Trek: Picard, and we know ex-Borg Seven of Nine and Hugh will have roles to play in the story. Hopefully the information above will you some background information on this faction, regardless of how significant their presence is on the story of the new series.
The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.