Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Best of Both Worlds [3.26]

As they finally arrive in Federation space, the Enterprise encounters the Borg, who have specifically targeted Picard to be their “spokesperson” to humanity prior to their assimilation.  Commander Riker clashes with Lt. Commander Shelby, who is spearheading Starfleet’s attempts to develop a response to the Borg.  The Enterprise manage to evade the Borg for a while but are eventually forced into an encounter, during which Picard is captured.  The Borg head to earth to assimilate its people and technology.  Shelby leads an away team to both rescue Picard and force the Borg out of warp so that a new weapon can be used against them.  They succeed in the latter, but Picard remains a prisoner.  Now assimilated as a Borg calling himself Locutus, Picard announces to the Enterprise that the entire Federation will now serve the Borg.  Riker orders their special weapon to be fired.

Written by Michael Piller. Directed by Cliff Bole.

Previous Episode: TransfigurationsNext Episode:  The Best of Both Worlds, Part 2

Comments:
Now this is a Star Trek episode!  After the relative disappointments of the last  couple of installments, the third season of Next Generation ends in unforgettable and spectacular fashion, with the strong return and forward development of the Borg, one of the best creations that the franchise has come up with.  The Borg are effective, chilling, threatening…everything you want out of classic villains.  It’s in this episode that a number of classic concepts of the Borg are first introduced, most notably the idea of them assimilating people (and not just technology).  Along with their hive mind and cube-shaped ship, this is probably the defining feature of the race.  Of course, here, that leads to one of the series’ most iconic moments – the image of Picard turned into a Borg, announcing to Riker and the Enterprise that their lives of autonomy are over.

What elevates this episode even above awesome into one of the best installments of the series ever is the way it moves Riker’s character forward.  Even with the return of the Borg, the overall sense of menace, the jaw-dropping cliff hanger with Picard…this story belongs to Riker and guest star Commander Shelby.  Their dynamic and the questions it raises about who Riker is and who he has become remain strongly tied in to the action-plot throughout, something that is not always easy to achieve.  Jonathan Frakes gives perhaps his best performance of the series so far, opening up Riker a bit to the audience and showing at once his strength and his fallibility.  Elizabeth Dennehy, who plays Commander Shelby, brings us one of the most memorable guest Starfleet officers that we’ve ever had, and someone who you can imagine being part of the show on an ongoing basis.  Too bad nothing ever came of that.

Michael Piller delivers one of the series’ most integrated scripts, with not a moment wasted.  He makes good use of the rest of the regular cast without interrupting the flow of the story to “give them their moments.”  Examples include how it’s Beverly who first sees Picard on the Borg ship, the way that Deanna is the sounding board for Riker related to his career decisions and what he’s “sacrificed”, the way that Geordi recognizes the tension between Riker and Shelby, and so on.  Even Picard’s commanding presence serves rather than dominates the story.  It’s an impressive piece of work.

And of course as good as it all is, the part that is really seared into memory is that ending.  The away team’s failure to rescue Picard, the disheartening and bleak image of Locutus declaring the end of civilization as we know it, and Riker’s commanding presence in those final moments, refusing to listen to the pleas of Shelby or Crusher to try again, all combine to form the perfect climax for both plot and character.

Picard :  I a Locutus of Borg.  Resistance is futile.  Your life as it has been is over.  From this time forward, you will service…us.
Riker:  Mr. Worf…fire.

The acting, the music, the camerawork, the direction, and the actual story all add up to an awesome cliff hanger and a very long Summer.

Shout Out to the Past:
There are a number of direct references to the events of Q Who, where the Borg were first directly encountered.

Setting up the Future:
Of course, this episode ends with the question mark hanging over our heads of “Will Picard survive?” and “Does Riker remain in command of the Enterprise?”  Also, there will be a lot of other appearances by the Borg in the future of the franchise.

Guest Cast:
George Murdock, who plays Admiral Hanson, played Lt. Scanlon in Barney Miller.  He was also Dr. Salik in a few episodes of the original Battlestar Galactica.  And most significantly for Star Trek, he played “God” in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

Observations:
• Pretty awesome opening with the crater

• Note the title.  There is no episode called The Best of Both Worlds part I.  It’s simply The Best of Both Worlds, which helps to keep the cliff hanger ending a surprise.

• Riker wrote up a report on Borg destruction patterns.  When did he do that?  In the Neutral Zone?  In Q Who?  I don’t remember any bit where he investigated a crater like this before, but maybe I’m mistaken.

• Last time it happened, it was Picard who told Riker about the offer of promotion, but this time they went to Riker directly

• Another poker game, this time featuring Riker, Troi, Geordi,  and Data, as well as first-timers Wesley and Shelby.  What do they actual bet with in our non-money coveting future?

• “Will, you’re ready to work without a net.  You’re ready to take command.”  Picard tells Riker where it’s at.

• Deanna rightly calls out Riker’s comment about being too comfortable.  What does mean, anyway?

•  The first appearance of the Borg is awesome, along with Picard’s line, “We have engaged the Borg.”  Ominous and foreboding.

• Seems like the Enterprise waits a long time to fire when they’re being dragged in by the tractor beam

• There is a reference to the Borg’s exclusive interest in technology.

• Geordi gets to do a dramatic but somewhat cliched dive under the lowering bulkhead

• Between 11 and 19 crew members die when the Borg cut into engineering.

• Up against a dangerous enemy?  Use the tried and true strategy of hiding in a nebula.  It worked against Khan.

• Why isn’t Picard actually at the meeting that Riker clashes with Shelby at?

You’re in my way.  Tough line from Shelby.

• Very meaningful and reflective conversation between Picard and Guinan.

• This episode highlights one of the problems of the bridge design, which is that the security officer has to vault over the back railing to get to the Captain.

• Sector 001, the Terran System.  Earth.  Riker clarifies things for anyone in the audience who is confused.

• This episode debuts the classic Borg diatribe:  “Resistance is futile….We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own.”

• “Commander Riker.  It is inappropriate for you to lead the away team.”  Good moment from Troi, basically rebuking Riker and reminding him of his responsibilities.

• I just realized that Dr. Crusher is the ranking member of the away team.  She’s a full commander, right?  It’s a good moment for her, thinking of a potential strategy to get the Borg to drop out or warp.  It’s cool to see her take out a Borg, as well.

• Troi offers to carry out the evacuation – a good little detail.

• The tension of the last act, the menace and foreboding, is incredible.

• Why don’t the away team try to have Picard beamed out when they see him?  It would be easy to explain why they couldn’t, but it’s a bit odd not to see them make the attempt.

Dialogue High Point
There are a number of moments that could vie for the best dialog, but my favorite line is one which best captures just how alien these Borg really are.  Picard argues that his people would rather die than serve the Borg.  The Borg reply

Death is irrelevant.

Man, as a friend of mine once pointed out, if death is irrelevant, what do we have talk about?  Nothing!

Previous Episode: TransfigurationsNext Episode:  The Best of Both Worlds, Part 2

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2 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Best of Both Worlds [3.26]

  1. Shelby was used by the ever-amazing Peter David in his New Frontier novels.

    And yeah, this was the episode that elevated TNG from a great sci-fi show to THE sci-fi show. Just amazing.

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