“The Borg will return, but not in a way you expect.”
Those are the words of Star Trek: Picard creator/executive producer Alex Kurtzman to reporters about the reappearance on the series of one of the Federation’s most dangerous enemies, the civilization-absorbing cyborg collective known as the Borg. And while the first episode of Picard only hints at how the Borg are coming back, it’s been known ever since the unveiling of the show’s first trailer at Comic-Con last year that two former members of the collective — Star Trek: Voyager’s Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) and Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco), from the Next Generation episode “I, Borg” — are key characters on Picard, with the actors making their first appearances in the parts since 2001 and 1993 respectively.
Ryan and Del Arco meet with those same reporters at the recent press day for Picard in Pasadena, California, where Ryan tells Den of Geek and other outlets that she was hesitant about bringing Seven back after being approached about appearing in the last Next Generation movie, 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis, right after Voyager ended its run.
“There has to be a reason to bring her back,” Ryan says. “She’d never interacted with (the Next Generation cast. There’s no reason for her to suddenly be in this crew. It just made no sense.” But Picard, she continues, is a different matter. “Story-wise and character-wise, the way they’ve done this makes absolute sense. I can’t tell you what it is. You’ll have to wait. I love why she’s introduced. And it makes perfect sense for her and Patrick (Stewart) to have their paths to cross and interact because they have the shared Borg history as does, of course, John’s character.” (Stewart’s Captain Picard was assimilated by the Borg in the classic “The Best of Both Worlds” episode of The Next Generation).
Del Arco, whose humanized Borg was last seen leading a resistance in the TNG episode “Descent, Part 2,” says that the Borg have been through profound changes both on an individual and collective level. “The last time you saw the Borg that were with me, we had disconnected from the collective,” he explains. “When you saw Jeri’s character, she was in Starfleet. So it’s kind of an obvious progress. If you disconnect them from the collective, what then becomes of them? Now, I’m not going to answer what happened to the collective. If it’s still there or not, if it’s still a threat…that’s to be revealed. But in terms of our characters, we’re already on the path to change, because we had already disconnected.”
Despite being disconnected from the Borg, however, Del Arco hints at former members of the collective being “marginalized,” a turn of events that may dovetail with the sudden influx of displaced Romulans into the Federation after their star goes supernova — an event that took place in the 2009 film Star Trek but which has major implications for the storyline of Star Trek: Picard. As the show opens, Jean-Luc Picard is now 92 years old and long retired from Starfleet — with his exit perhaps occurring under less than amiable circumstances stemming from the Romulan crisis.
For Del Arco, who was born in Uruguay, Star Trek’s innate ability to connect to events in today’s world hits close to home. “It means a lot to me, actually, because I am an immigrant, and the things that are happening worldwide, certainly at our border, are really personal to me,” says the actor. “The show has themes in it that touch on that. Later in the season when more stuff is revealed about what’s happened to my character, I’ll be able to talk about how, as a gay man who lived through the AIDS epidemic and has seen a lot of hell, I was able to use a lot of my personal experiences to put into the work. And I feel grateful that I’m old enough and still alive and confident enough to be able to share that in my work.”
Now that she is back, Ryan says she’s “honored” to become the first Star Trek: Voyager character seen on the screen since Kate Mulgrew cameoed as Kathryn Janeway in Nemesis. “It’s very surreal still, after we’ve completed the first season and now we’re doing press for it and it’s about to premiere,” says the actress. “But I think this character from a story perspective makes a lot of sense in terms of bringing those worlds together.”
One major difference from the Voyager days, however, is Ryan’s costume, as she no longer has to pour herself into the skintight catsuit that Seven wore for four years on that show. “It’s really good,” she says of Seven’s new look. “And it’s what it should be. I mean, it makes perfect sense for what the character is and has become over the last 20 years and what she’s gone through and what she’s been doing with her life. When the costume designer came and showed me what they were thinking, I was so excited.”
Del Arco has had the same experience on Picard, jettisoning the cumbersome full Borg gear for something more accommodating: “I think when you’re in your 20s you’re willing to put up with a lot more shit than when you’re in your 50s,” he jokes. “In terms of, like, creature comforts and, you know, the need to go to the bathroom more (laughs). So I was like, thank you for taking care of that for me.”
But even though their wardrobe may not be what fans remember from Voyager and “I, Borg,” both Ryan and Del Arco says that Star Trek: Picard will touch upon both characters’ tortured pasts and, in the case of Seven of Nine, even call back to her time on Voyager. “There are (references to Voyager),” teases Ryan. “Can’t tell you what it is… there’s a lot of quite emotional stuff that ties into her life on Voyager as well. I wish I could tell you guys!” She adds about both Seven and Hugh, “They’ve seen some dark shit. They’ve gone through some dark stuff in the last 20 years. And it has certainly, for both characters, colored who they are now. And it’s pretty cool.”
Star Trek: Picard premieres next Thursday (January 23) on CBS All Access.
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Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, RollingStone.com and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye