Content warning: This article discusses emotional and physical abuse.
Spoiler Alert: Star Trek: Voyager Season 3; Star Trek: Picard Season 2
Star Trek: Picard’s second season ends with an unprecedented twist: an alliance between the United Federation of Planets and one of its oldest enemies, the Borg Collective. Picard’s shipmate Agnes Jurati, after being assimilated and possessed by the Borg Queen, resists her captor long enough to make her question her policy of forced assimilation and try asking for consent instead. This is portrayed as a happy ending for Jurati, redemption for the Queen and a victory for Starfleet, but I would have preferred a different ending: one in which their new so-called ally shows her good faith by giving back the body she stole.
The story of two smart, lonely women fighting for control of the same body, then agreeing to share it for the sake of galactic peace, is a compelling one, and I understand why it would be popular among viewers. (As of today, there are 46 “Borgati” stories on Archive of Our Own.) I don’t mean to judge anyone for their creative choices. I realize that canon is a suggestion, not a rule, and that what we write about is not necessarily what we’d want to see in reality. However, some fans – like me – are just not good at this kind of detachment. We live through everything the characters do, so when that includes a relationship with all the signs of abuse, we feel the consequences.
ReachOut.com, a non-profit online resource for mental health, published a concise guide to recognizing the signs of an abusive relationship even if it doesn’t seem obvious. Leaving aside the question of whether there is a romantic or sexual side to their alliance (that’s up to the viewer), Agnes and the Queen both show these signs, as follows:
1. “They try to control where you go and who you see”
Arguably, after making a deal with the Borg Queen for her help, Jurati and the La Sirena crew do treat her more like a prisoner than an ally, keeping her immobile and only repairing her to get the information she holds. Still, it doesn’t get any more controlling than literally taking over someone’s body (s02e04, “The Watcher”). The Borg Queen speaks with Jurati’s voice, moves her limbs, reads her thoughts, and makes the normally shy woman behave in out-of-character ways, like wearing an eye-catching dress, singing in public and kissing her ex-boyfriend so the Queen can get an endorphin rush (s02e06, “Two of One”). Jurati tries to set boundaries – “You’re a house guest, we’re not sharing” – but the Queen doesn’t take no for an answer.
2. “They isolate you from family and friends”
The Queen notices from the moment they meet that Jurati feels “unbelonging” (s02e02 Penance), then does everything she can to make it worse. When Picard leaves Jurati in charge of La Sirena, because he trusts her to fix the damaged ship, the Queen taunts her about being “left behind again” (s02e04 “The Watcher”). After her assimilation, the Queen forces Jurati to abandon the crew while Picard is unconscious after a heart attack (s02e07 “Monsters”). Jurati loves Picard as a father figure (s02e03) and knows about his health because she helped design his android body (s01e10 “Et In Arcadia Ego Part II”). She would have wanted to be there for him. Instead, the Borg Queen has her doing a pub crawl.
3. “They say things like, ‘No one else will want you.’”
The Queen puts Jurati down a lot. Sometimes she does it directly, calling her “small” or “fragile teacup” and (s02e02, s02e04) and sometimes in the form of backhanded compliments. She compares Jurati to herself and implies that no one else appreciates her: “Doomed to be an afterthought (…) Not to me. You’re more than they realize: Smart, cunning, and remarkably more cruel than I would have predicted” (s02e04). Jurati is neither fragile nor cruel. She’s survived a forced mind-meld that compelled her to murder the man she loved and still has her conscience intact (s01e05 “Stardust City Rag”, s01e08 “Broken Pieces”). She’s protecting her crew and the multiverse, and only gets assimilated by trying to save an innocent policeman (s02e05 “Fly Me To The Moon”). But if you hear something often enough, you start to believe it, especially if your self-respect is low to begin with.
4. “They deliberately break things that you value”
When Jurati mind-links with a half-dead Queen to revive her and find out a critical piece of intelligence she is withholding, they both try to break through each other’s defenses. Picard warns Jurati that she might be left with “no sense of [her] own existence” (s02e03) and this nearly comes true as the Queen manipulates each of her emotions. In return, Jurati hacks the Queen’s memories and steals the information they need, taunting her afterward: “It’s in the file labeled ‘Shit I stole from the Borg Queen’” (s02e03). The Queen is impressed, but even her praise comes in the form of a threat: “You’ve done a vastly more dangerous thing than you realize” (s02e03).
5. “They harm you (…) or your family”
The Queen makes Jurati eat car batteries to get the metal she needs to complete the assimilation process. When Raffi Musiker and Seven of Nine try to stop her, the Queen uses Jurati’s body to attack them. She might have strangled Musiker – Jurati’s friend and honorary aunt (s01e08) – if Jurati hadn’t taken back control at the last second (s02e08 “Mercy”). Later, the Queen sends assimilated soldiers after the crew, and stabs Seven in the gut with a metal tentacle (s02e09 “Hide and Seek”). It’s only through intense negotiation that Jurati and the crew convince the Queen to call off the fight and restore Seven’s lost nanoprobes (s02e10 “Farewell”). Saving a life does not negate almost taking it.
Jurati’s justification for letting the Queen stay in her body is that they are both lonely and can keep each other company. Also, Jurati believes, and convinces Starfleet, that after losing her Collective and being defeated in the alternate timeline, the Queen has gone through a paradigm shift and is ready to change. The problem is that many people in the real world believe this about their abusers too. People can and do change for the better, but the Borg hive mind is already established as an addiction almost impossible to break. In Star Trek: Voyager s03e17 “Unity”, another scientist starts out leading a free-will Borg Cooperative with the best intentions, only to end up forcing the link just like the Queen does. With centuries of habit and Jurati as a victim within reach, can we really expect the Queen’s redemption to last?
With all the creativity in the writing room, they could have come up with another solution. The Queen’s former body could have been rebuilt, or even a new synthetic body, since Jurati is the expert in that field. I still hope that, since it is Queen Jurati who alerts Starfleet to the mysterious threat they face in Picard Season 3, that means she might be part of the story and eventually free herself. However, since actress Allison Pill said she won’t be returning (ScreenRant.com), it’s unlikely. Making peace with former enemies might be one of Star Trek’s most cherished ideals, but not at the cost of Jurati’s and potentially untold others’ freedom.
So let me preface this by saying that I appreciate your opinion. But I’m also a survivor of an abusive relationship, I also tend to process fiction in terms of real character dynamics, and I freaking *loved* Borgati.
[TW for suicide]
I think that where we differ is that I processed it as a trans narrative. Jurati, as a human, is depicted as being lonely, depressed to the point of suicidiality, and capable only of forming meaningful relationships with computers; and then, by the end if the season…she basically *is* a computer, and she frankly seems a whole lot happier about it. And yes, the Borg Queen is playing to her insecurities, but I think that what she offers is something that Agnes honestly really wants and needs without even knowing that she wants it; not just companionship, but *transition*. And so I would have been disappointed if she’d gone back to being human, because I think that that existence would be miserable for her. I also think that the idea that Jurati is a victim within reach of the Queen is a misreading of the situation; Jurati *is* the Queen. The two of them no longer exist as separate entities.
Finally, on a personal note, this arc actually helped me process some feelings that I was extreme difficulty with. Because I strongly identified with Agnes, and like her, I was wrestling with suicidal feelings. But seeing Agnes go this kind of changed the way that I saw myself: not as a failed person, but as an organic machine that’s just doing its best with the inputs that it has available. Agnes’s arc helped me realise how much of myself was artificial, how much of myself was beyond my control, how many of my behaviour was basically mechanical, and finally to take delight in that.
So yes; while I certainly think that your reading is valid, I will never not love this ship.