Star Trek: Discovery needs to make its Borg connection canon
Spoiler warning: major plot reveals from season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery ahead.
While the Klingon War and the Mirror Universe dominated Star Trek: Discovery’s first season, the second season — which concluded on April 18th — set off on a different path. The Federation starship Discovery spent the season tracking seven mysterious red signals, each of which led toward some greater purpose. A powerful being the protagonists dubbed the Red Angel also appeared alongside these signals, but its nature and its intentions were unclear. So much was unknown, but it was clear the Angel had a mission.
As the season progressed, Discovery learned new tidbits about the Red Angel. The ship’s crew joined forces with Section 31, the covert arm of Starfleet, to unmask the truth behind the signals. Along the way, the crew learned the nature of the Red Angel. But it wasn’t until protagonist Michael Burnham found her brother, Star Trek series stalwart Spock, that the season’s real threat became clear. The Red Angel was trying to stop a devastating future that would see the end of all organic sentient life. The real enemy was the head of Section 31, an AI called Control.
The Discovery writers have threaded many hints and fostered quite a bit of speculation on what Control might be — or specifically what it might become. It seemed as though Discovery was giving us the origin story of the Borg through this story of a rogue AI. Through post-season interviews, writers and producers have said this isn’t their intention. (Though this may be a smoke screen. Remember when executive producer Akiva Goldsman definitively told us Spock would not be appearing on Discovery?)
However, even if it wasn’t planned, this is a golden opportunity to rewrite the Borg’s history in a more relevant, satisfying way. The writers have already laid the groundwork by drawing on the Borg’s tropes and characteristics. Filling in the rest of the blanks would give Discovery a chance to leave a lasting impact on Star Trek canon — and would make the Borg more resonant as a story tool.
A new, more specific Borg origin story would highlight the conflict at the crux of the entire Star Trek franchise: the fight between our principles, our best selves, and the hubris of humanity’s darker side, which is what created Control in the first place. Like all Star Trek crews, Discovery’s characters are standing up to fight against the results of humanity’s worst insecurities, and the possible Borg connection is a major part of that narrative. Discovery won the battle in season 2, but the war against human nature can never be won, and it’s a source of endlessly relatable, relevant conflict for Trek shows in particular.
For those familiar with the Borg’s history, it’s easy to notice the similarities between Control and the Borg. The Borg are a collective machine intelligence that assimilate organic life to add to their knowledge. The organism / machine hybrids are called “drones,” and when sentient people become drones, their individual will is completely overwhelmed by the collective mind. The sheer numbers of the Borg, and their ability to adapt to any weapons or ploys used against them, make them terrifying villains. The Federation has been able to thwart them thus far, in the series The Next Generation and Voyager, and the movie First Contact. But its victories have often been due to ingenuity, skill, and sheer luck.
There are just too many links between Control and the Borg to be a coincidence. Control was originally a threat-assessment system housed at Section 31 headquarters. Starfleet admirals relied on it to make decisions during the Klingon War. After the war was over, Section 31 began accelerating development of the artificial intelligence so it could prevent future wars.
Naturally, giving an unshackled AI that much power backfired. Control began to seek out greater control over its human creators, and greater sources of knowledge to fulfill its mission. It set its sights on Discovery because the ship now holds a vast amount of data collected from a dying alien sphere that spent 100,000 years roaming the galaxy, collecting information. With the history stored in Discovery’s data banks, Control could achieve sentience.
This event was what the Red Angel, traveling back from the future, sought to prevent. If Control acquired that vast knowledge, it would eventually decide that all organic sentient life in the galaxy was a threat and wipe it out.
The bulk of the second half of the season was focused on keeping this data from the artificial intelligence. Control became increasingly desperate to acquire it. To achieve its goals, the AI assimilated Captain Leland, the head of the Section 31 ship assigned to the Discovery, in a scene hauntingly reminiscent of Captain Picard’s transformation to Locutus of Borg on Next Generation. The effect of Control’s takeover of Leland, seen in an unguarded moment, looks eerily familiar to longtime Star Trek fans.
The language Control uses is also familiar. At one point the AI, in a holographic Leland shell, says “Struggle is pointless,” a cousin to the Borg catchphrase “Resistance is futile.” The Discovery crew also references nanobots and drones that Control employs to force machines and creatures to do its bidding.
According to the movie Star Trek: First Contact, the Borg evolved on a distant planet, presumably in the Delta Quadrant, which is the center of their collective. But Discovery’s new origin story is the one that should be canon. Through the second-season finale, the writers neatly addressed all the criticisms that the show doesn’t respect canon; it’s been virtually erased from its original timeline, thanks to Starfleet’s orders to erase all records of the ship and its crew from data banks. But allowing Star Trek: Discovery to rewrite the Borg origin story will give the show a lasting impact on the franchise, and a clearer reason to exist — a significant stake in the larger Trek narrative.
At the end of the season, Control has about half the sphere data. The rest is safe, as Discovery shepherds it into season 3. That might be enough to avoid or at least slow the devastation the Red Angel is trying to prevent, to stop Control from evolving into a sentient intelligence intent on genocide. Perhaps it just means Control will instead evolve into an AI that wants to use organic life to further its own purposes, instead of destroying it altogether. The Borg’s origins are vague; it would be easy enough, after the events of the end of season 2, for whatever is left of Control to retreat and evolve in a different way.
Either way, it’s naïve to assume that the epic battle that closed out Discovery season 2 was the end of Control, even if Starfleet is claiming it was. The computer program housed itself inside Section 31 headquarters, Airiam (the augmented human officer aboard Discovery), Discovery’s own computer systems, a Discovery probe, and every Section 31 ship it could find. Of course, there are pieces of it that weren’t destroyed. Control will be able to rebuild itself. Perhaps it will flee to the Delta Quadrant to do so.
It’s not just that this new origin story makes sense, given the clues Discovery has given us. This retooled origin story needs to be confirmed in the third season and beyond. Star Trek is often thought of as a utopia, but even in the future, humans will be humans. We will fall prey to our worst impulses and sow the seeds of our own destruction. Turning Star: Trek Discovery into a larger story, a meditation on human nature, rather than just the tale of a rogue AI, would be a more profound statement, and would open countless new doors for storytelling in the Star Trek universe surrounding the Borg, arguably the best villains of the franchise.
Discovery excels when it shows both the best and worst of us. It would make sense, then, that in trying to prevent humanity’s utter destruction by the Klingons, the Federation would have inadvertently created its own worst enemy. This is a constant conflict throughout the Star Trek franchise, the internal and external struggle between our worst selves and our best selves. Making the Borg a physical manifestation of humanity’s impulse to act rashly from a place of fear would be both a poetic turn of events and the kind of incredible, daring storytelling that this franchise has shown itself capable of over and over again.