This post contains spoilers about Star Trek: Picard, especially episode 1.06 “The Impossible Box” as well as from Star Trek: The Next Generation, specifically episodes 3.22 and 4.01, “The Best of Both Worlds” and “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II”, and the movie Star Trek: First Contact. If you don’t want to know anything about one or any of these incarnations of Trek , read no further.
I have quite a few friends who are really into Star Trek. We all don’t always agree in our views on it, or one or more incarnations of it, and that’s fine. It’s something that Trek fans do, and I don’t really believe any one person is right or wrong in their assessment of many aspects of it.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard, a main character, has a rather personal history with a group called the Borg starting in Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the episode “The Best of Both Worlds”, which takes place late in the year 2366, the Borg (a group of cyborg beings from various species across the galaxy, taken against their will and transformed into mindless drones communicating in a hive mind) kidnap Picard and assimilate him — the process of changing a free-willed person into an automated drone — so he can act as a sort of Borg spokesperson to ease the assimilation of the human race.
The allegory is similar to rape, or being held hostage, or any multitude of horrible situations where a person is forced to perform acts against his or her will, or something terrible happens to that person that is out of their control (a natural disaster, for example). In this case, Picard is abducted, transformed — he loses part of his arm, and he wears a large implant on his face and head — and forced to help destroy many starships filled with people he was sworn to protect and serve alongside, killing around 11,000 people in the process, before heading to Earth. Luckily, his crewmates aboard the USS Enterprise-D manage to stop him, kidnap him back, and help him stop the Borg from assimilating every living being on Earth. But he lives with that trauma every day after that.
He has a few more run-ins with the Borg throughout The Next Generation‘s run. In one episode in particular, Picard must decide to follow orders — destroy the Borg by introducing a virus via a stranded assimilated Borg teenager / young man broken off from the Borg who is showing signs of individuality — or follow his conscience, which tells him this is not the way to deal with the Borg. His conscience wins, but with dire consequences later.
In the second movie spurred from the series, called Star Trek: First Contact, he is forced to deal with the Borg again. In 2373, seven years after his abduction and transformation, the Borg attack Earth again. Picard and his Starfleet comrades are prepared this time, destroying the ship attacking them, but a smaller craft emerges and travels back in time. Picard and his Enterprise-E (long story) crewmates detect a change in Earth — it has been assimilated completely by the time-travelling Borg — and are able to follow them back to 2063, a dark time in Earth’s history in the Star Trek universe.
Long story short, Picard is pissed off at what they did to him, and he nearly turns into Captain Ahab in order to defeat the Borg at all costs. The trauma of his assimilation makes him rampage against them in a losing battle until someone points out it’s not the way to win. Of course, the good guys prevail, the Borg are defeated, history continues as recorded, and Picard and his Enterprise buddies find their way back to the 24th century.
In the latest episode of Star Trek: Picard, Picard is 95 years old, which is not super-old for a human in Star Trek of this time period, but it is getting up there. Now in the year 2399, a full 33 years after being assimilated, he is trying to save a girl who is a scientist on a derelict Borg ship. He manages to beam aboard, and the experience on the ship overwhelms him. Flashbacks, vertigo, falling over, mind going berserk: the whole nine yards. It is the first time he has set foot on a Borg ship in 33 years, and even though he believes he’s “mostly” healed from his experience in 2366, he’s not, and it shows.
One of my good friends, who is very analytical about a great many things, and that’s a compliment not a dig at him, felt that this treated Picard as if his arc of vengeance-turned-dominance over the Borg in Star Trek: First Contact was pushed out of the way to put a new act into the story in this latest instalment of Star Trek: Picard. I understand where he coming from, but from my own personal experience with the Christchurch earthquakes and the trauma it brought, I feel I have some insight into what the writers are getting at with Picard in this latest journey.
The trauma is always there. A person may come to terms with it, or never come to terms with it, or they may think they are fine, healed, that chapter is done and dusted, but the second they come into contact with a reminder, a trigger, something as brief as a sliver of memory or as long as another encounter, it can all come flooding back like yesterday is today.
This has happened to me, even recently. Our subwoofer goes off when we are watching something, and my body assumes it is an earthquake. My muscles tense, my adrenaline fires, and I’m ready to drop into some safe position if the earth starts to shunt back and forth again.
I’ll never recover from that, and I don’t think I’ll ever act any differently ever again. Pessimistic, sure, but instinct is a powerful thing, and no matter how hard someone tries, that hard-wired response is sure hard to beat.
This trauma is something Picard will carry to his grave. He will never fully get over it. And that’s what the writers intended. It is realistic, even for a fictional hero, and it is the way it should be. Picard will never fully recover from being kidnapped, transformed, and forced to act against his will. Neither time nor distance from those events will ever make him forget that experience.