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The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1

Review

Series : The Next Generation Rating : 5
Disc No : 3.6 Episode : 73
First Aired : 18 Jun 1990 Stardate : 43989.1
Director : Cliff Bole Year : 2366
Writers : Michael Piller Season : 3
Guest Cast :
Carl David Burks as Russell
Colm Meaney as Miles Edward O'Brien
Elizabeth Dennehy as Lieutenant Commander Shelby
George Murdock as Admiral J.P. Hanson
Moral :
Duty : Just because he's your friend doesn't mean you hold your fire
YATI : When Riker checks that their beam down co-ordinates are right during the trailer, O'Brien tells him he is in the 'centre of town'. Yet the away team is standing on the edge of the crater - so shouldn't more than half the town still be there behind them? Additionally, are we really supposed to believe that the Enterprise arrived and beamed down this away team without noticing that there was a huge crater where the colony used to be?
Great Moment : The scene where Riker orders Worf to fire on the Borg cube, with Picard still inside it. Perhaps the single greatest cliffhanger in Star Trek history.
Body Count : The New Providence colonists die - or are more likely assimilated - shortly before the episode; the crew of the USS Lalo is killed or assimilated off screen. The Enterprise loses "a lot" of people when the Borg damage the engineering section; at least 11, possibly as many as 19. Several Borg are killed and Picard is assimilated.
Factoid : In First Contact we see that Picard met the Borg Queen during this episode, though he would apparently have no memory of the meeting until then.

In an early draft of the story, Picard and Data would be combined into one Borg unit. When somebody asked why they would do such a thing, nobody could come up with an answer and it was dropped.

Michael Piller has said that Riker's wrestling with whether to leave the Enterprise-D or not was a reflection of his own thoughts about the possibility of leaving the show. Like Riker, Piller decided to stay.

Doctor Crusher was included in the away team to the Borg ship because actress Gates McFadden had asked if she could get the chance to fire a phaser on screen!

Wolf 359 is an actual star, located 7.8 light years from Earth - the fifth closest to our sun.

The Paulson Nebula is made with recycled images of the Mutara Nebula from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

"Locutus" is Latin for "he who has spoken."

George Murdock, who played Admiral Hanson in this episode, previously played "God" in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

Ron Moore would later recall that this episode marked the end of all the negative comparisons between TNG and the original series.

This episode is a nominee for the DITL "Best of Trek" award.


Plotline

The Enterprise-D arrives at Jouret IV, responding to a distress signal from the distant colony. The away team beams down to find the entire colony simply gone, leaving nothing but a gigantic crater in the surface. The damage appears identical to Borg activity, indicating that they have finally arrived at the Federation.

Some hours later another Starship has arrived, bringing Admiral Hanson and Lieutenant Commander Shelby of Starfleet Tactical to assist in the investigation. Hanson worries that they have not had enough time to prepare, and notes that Commander Shelby has been a great asset in getting Starfleet's response on track. He recommends her to Picard as a candidate for his new first officer, revealing that Riker has been offered a command of his own. As Riker has already turned down to previous offers of command to remain on the Enterprise, Hanson suggests that Picard force him out for his own good, fearing that his career will otherwise stagnate compared to up-and-coming officers like Shelby.

The Enterprise crew work with Shelby on the Borg problem. Shelby displays a very "take charge" attitude, much to Riker's annoyance as she seems to be usurping his authority. She openly tells him that she is after his job, innocently saying that she had heard he was moving on. That night Shelby joins the usual poker game. Although Riker is on course to win a big hand with a bluff, Shelby calls his hand and takes the pot for herself, beating Riker as his own game in a move that symoblises her threat to his position.

The following morning Riker arrives in the transporter room to find that Shelby has already beamed down to the planet without him. She tells Riker she saw a storm front moving in and decided to come early with Data before it could disrupt the investigation, and Riker makes his displeasure with her independent action clear. Shelby accepts this and points out that their scans have confirmed what everybody feared - the colony was indeed destroyed by the Borg.

Hanson takes his ship to organise a defence, leaving Shelby with the ship to help the crew prepare for their first encounter. Picard discusses Shelby with Riker, noting her similarity to himself when he became Picard's First Officer - young, smart, aggressive, confident. Picard wonders why Riker is remaining aboard the ship when it is hurting his career. Although he does not order him to accept the promotion, he does urge him to consider what is best for himself rather than remaining out of loyalty to the crew.

Riker discusses it with Deanna in Ten Forward. She notes that his lack of risk-taking and ambition in comparison to Shelby aren't necessarily a bad thing, as they could indicate that he has become a more mature, seasoned officer. She says that staying on the Enterprise-D is just as valid as accepting the promotion, and in the end the only question Riker has to ask himself is what does he truly want?

In Engineering the officers are working on ways to best attack a Borg cube. Shelby reveals that analysis of the previous encounter with one indicates that the systems on the cube are highly decentralised, allowing the vessel to keep functioning even if a large part of the ship was destroyed. With the hour growing late, Riker orders everybody to get some rest so they will not be overly fatigued - much to Shelby's annoyance.

The next day Hanson contacts the Enterprise-D to reveal that a Federation ship has sent a distress call, reporting themselves under attack from a "cube-shaped" vessel. The ship heads for the last recorded position at maximum warp, whilst Hanson assembles a fleet to respond to the incursion.

As they head for the location of the attack, the Enterprise-D finds the Borg cube intercepting them. The Borg hail Captain Picard, by name, and demand that he lower the ship's shields and transport aboard their vessel. He refuses, and the Borg use a tractor beam to begin to drain the shields. The Enterpise-D opens up with everything it has, but the weapons are completely ineffective. Shelby jumps in, ordering Data to target the source of the tractor beam with phaser fire on rapidly varying frequencies, not giving the Borg any chance to adapt to them. The tactic works, and the ship breaks free.

The ship heads off at high warp with the Borg in pursuit. Geordi reports that eleven crewmembers have been killed in the attack, and eight more are missing. Picard takes the ship into the Paulson Nebula, hiding from the Borg within. The cube takes up position outside the nebula, apparently content to wait for them.

Riker, Shelby, and the engineering team review the records of the battle. They find that a band of high frequency phaser fire caused a two percent drop in power on the Borg ship - small, but right across the entire cube. Geordi suggests that if they could use an energy discharge of the same frequency but on a far larger scale, it might have a big effect on the enemy. Wesley points out that the ship's main deflector could be used to fire the blast, and they set to work to prepare the ship.

Shelby repeatedly suggests that they consider separating the saucer section, but Riker declines. After the meeting he finds that Shelby has gone to Picard directly to suggest the plan. Whilst Picard agrees with Riker, he does order him to prepare to implement the separation as a fall-back plan. As Riker and Shelby leave the bridge, Riker halts the turbolift and confronts Shelby about her actions, informing her that if she undercuts him again he will "snap you back so hard, you'll think you're a first year cadet again." An unfazed Shelby tells Riker she is "in his way", since she wants his job. She accuses him of always playing things safe, noting that this is probably why he wants to stay on the Enterprise-D, "hiding" behind a great Captain like Picard. She accuses him of being unable to make the hard decisions, and suggests he make way for somebody who can.

Picard goes to Ten Forward and talks with Guinan. He suggests that the Borg may be invincible, that this might mark the final fall of the Federation - comparing it to the Roman Empire as the barbarians conquered it. Guinan reassures him that even if there is only a handful left afterwards, that will be enough to keep the spirit of the Federation alive and rebuild. As they talk massive explosions begin to happen outside as the Borg launch explosive charges into the nebula.

The explosions force the ship out of the nebula and they make a run for it. The Borg pursue, again using a tractor beam to drain their shields. Multiple drones beam onto the bridge, and despite the crew's best efforts, one of them is able to paralyse Captain Picard and beam him away. Riker orders a pursuit course on the Borg ship as it heads away at high warp, on a direct course for Sector 001 - and Earth.

Picard is confronted by the collective, who inform him that he has been selected to be a liaison between the Borg and Humanity, to facilitate their assimilation of the Federation. Picard refuses, but the Borg state that he will not be given any choice in the matter.

On the Enterprise-D, Geordi tells Riker that the deflector weapon is nearly ready, but that it will draw so much power that they will have to drop out of warp to use it - and make the Borg do likewise. Riker orders an away team to prepare to board the Borg ship in order to both rescue Picard and force the ship out of warp. He plans to lead the mission himself, but Deanna points out that as acting Captain during a time of war, his place in on the bridge. Riker agrees and orders Shelby to lead the team.

The away team beams over to the cube, finding themselves ignored by the drones as they explore. They find various nodes linking the Borg ship's systems together, and Dr. Crusher notes that if they destroyed a few of them with their phasers the effect might be akin to an insect stinging a human - they may "stop for a moment to scratch". They find Captain Picard's uniform and combadge abandoned, leaving them with little chance to find the Captain. They destroy several of the Borg system nodes, and the ship does indeed drop out of warp. The Enterprise-D prepares to use their deflector weapon on the cube, Troi evacuating the parts of the ship that will be flooded by radiation.

On the cubes, the drones respond to the attack on their systems by coming for the away team. They are able to shoot some of them down but they quickly adapt. As the drones close in they see Picard in the distance - but as he turns, they see that he has been converted into a Borg. They are unable to reach him, and have to beam out back to the Enterprise.

Shelby reports the situation to Riker. She asks permission to return to the cube with another team to try and retrieve the Captain, but Riker points out that they don't have the time - the cube is repairing their systems rapidly and will soon go back to warp speed. Having already overtaxed their engines to keep up, they will not be able to pursue the Borg again. Worse, they will lose any chance to use their deflector weapon. Shelby tries to contact Admiral Hanson for orders but Riker cuts her off, noting that they don't have any time. The Borg hail them - and Picard appears on the screen, declaring himself to be "Locutus of Borg." He informs them that all resistance is futile, and "Your life as it has been is over. From this time forward, you will service us."

With no other option, Commander Riker orders Worf to fire on the cube.

Analysis

What an awesome episode!

Almost everything about this episode is superbly done. The setup is excellent, with the ominous discovery of the complete destruction of the New Providence colony. Yes, as the YATI above notes, it's weird that they didn't see the destruction when they arrived in orbit, and it's weird that they were on the edge of the crater when they beamed into the "centre of town". But it's still a great image, seeing them beam down to find nothing left - no bodies, no buildings, no wreckage, not even the land itself. Everything, simply scooped up and gone.

Then we get Hanson and Shelby arrive. Usually in Trek, the arrival of any kind of superior officer or outsider is a Bad Thing. Often they're outirght incompetent - Kozinsky springs to mind - but incompetent or not, they're almost always an impediment.

Hanson and Shelby subvert this completely. Hanson is a reasonable authority figure; he is supportive of Picard, realistic about the situation, and gives the crew nothing but reasonable orders throughout. He's "threatening" to Riker in the sense of telling Picard he should push him into leaving the ship, but this comes across as perfectly reasonable because he's obviously saying it for Riker's own good - and he's right, Riker is being ridiculous in staying on the Enterprise this long. Most present day military forces have an "up or out" policy; if you spend more than a certain amount of time in a given rank or position, you are automatically retired. Doesn't matter how good you are at your job, doesn't matter how much you love the people you're working with - you either work to advance, or your career ends. The idea is to prevent people from stagnating in the way Riker has - and incidentally to stop them from sabotaging the careers of juniors who would otherwise be a threat to their own position.

And speaking of juniors threatening your position, we come to Shelby. What a great character she is! For all their claims of being super-progressive, Star Trek so often struggles with finding things to do with female characters. Often they'll fall back on making them "the alien", or "the one with powers" - Deanna, Kira, B'Elanna, Kes, Seven of Nine - because this gives them a "thing to write about". And when they don't, they often struggle to do anything much with them at all - Uhura, Beverly.

But Shelby isn't any of that. She's young, ambitious as hell, smart as hell, determined, willing to take risks, borderline insubordinate at times. As is often the case with outsiders, she is something of a threat to Riker. But uniquely, the threat she represents doesn't come from her stupidity or incompetence threatening the mission, but rather from her competence threatening Riker personally. Yes, she's kind of rude and insubordinate to him, but the episode is also careful to paint her as being at least potentially right in each case. Yes, it was rude to beam down before Riker was ready - but she had the presence of the Borg confirmed before he even showed up. Yes, getting some rest was a reasonable order - but they really weren't ready to fight the Borg, and if she'd been able to spend a few more hours working on it perhaps they would have done a little better in their encounters.

We often see that Riker will issue orders on his own initiative in combat situations, anticipating what Picard will want. When they face the Borg, though, Riker is left just kind of standing there whilst Shelby jumps into that role, coming up with a way to break the ship free. She's openly usurping his usual position on the ship, and it's working. Frankly, Riker looks a bit useless in comparison.

Then we see her go behind his back to Picard about the saucer separation. Picard backs Riker, as would be expected, but he also orders him to be ready to implement Shelby's plan. It's expected that Picard would back his first officer, of course, but in also backing Shelby he's making the point that she's very possibly right about the plan, something Riker has dismissed out of hand. It's a subtle way of having Picard at least partially back Shelby over Riker, which discomforts him and reinforces to the audience that she really is showing him up in this episode.

This leads to their confrontation in the turbolift, where Riker puts his foot down. And notably, she isn't cowed by this in the slightest. Rather she comes back at him twice as hard, openly challenging him and stating that she intends to have his job. Yes, she's being arrogant - but the episode has carefully built her character up to the point where really, the arrogance is obviously pretty well justified. Coming after the earlier conversations where Hanson, Picard, and even Riker himself have openly wondered why the hell he's even still on the ship when so many commands have been offered to him (and remember, we've been told that getting a Starship command was the thing Riker wanted most in life, so badly that he dumped Troi to concentrate on his career), we're left thinking that Shelby is right. He should be moving on and making space for her, or somebody like her.

Of course the Borg themselves are the external threat, and what a great one they are. We see a major shift in their nature in this episode, and that's one I'm really in two minds about. As introduced by Q, the Borg were "the ultimate user... they're not interested in political conquest, wealth or power as you know it. They're simply interested in your ship, its technology. They've identified it as something they can consume." Yet in this episode they want Picard as a kind of "Borg Ambassador", there to help facilitate their assimilation of the Federation. Clearly they don't want to just take our technology any more, they want us, personally. This marks the start of the Borg as a kind of techno-zombie, assimilating people and turning them into drones rather than, as we previously saw, reproducing on their own. On the one hand, I kind of liked the Borg as they originally were - the impersonal menace that just didn't care about us at all, but would bulldoze through us to get to our technology. Then again, the idea that the Borg can take you and turn you into one of them is also a scary one. But either way, I think Picard as Locutus was a bit of a misstep. I get that the writers wanted to personalise the Borg, give them a singular voice the crew could interact with. But it's just a bit of a disappointment to me that this vast impersonal force is reduced to a single person. That said, though, using Picard to be that voice is a great choice since it does twist the knife on the remaining crew and set up the Riker/Picard conflict for the next episode.

One of the great things about the episode is how the external threat of the Borg and the internal threat of Shelby tie together. I've talked about how Shelby is a threat to Riker, and a really good one; she's pushing him to move on and up, so she can take his place. Picard more or less does the same, suggesting he take a command. Now at the climax of the episode the Borg have kidnapped Picard, and Riker HAS to take command. And what happens? We immediately see that Shelby's summation of him as hiding behind Picard and playing it safe because he can't make the big decisions, had in fact misjudged him. Because we immediately see Riker having to make a huge decision - and notice that it's Shelby who wants to get orders from Starfleet, whilst it's Riker who takes the decisive action. It's a nice twist on all that has gone before, showing us that whilst she might have been right about his career, she was dead wrong about the kind of person he is.

And of course, this leads us to the greatest cliffhanger in Star Trek history, with those three simple words : "Mister Worf... fire."

It's hard to get across just how big that was. Trek had never even done a cliffhanger before, never done a two part episode covering a season break. In fact, it was only the second two part episode Trek had ever done at all - the first one being back in season one of the original series! These days such season-ending cliffhangers are common in Trek, but back then audiences had never seen anything like it. And what a note to end on! Fans were screaming to know what would happen next season! This is especially true because you have to keep in mind, Picard was actually not all that popular a character back them. Early Picard was a bit more grumpy, a bit more of a cold fish, a bit more cold. There was serious talk amongst fans (and apparently some discussion amongst the show runners) that they might genuinely kill Picard off and leave Riker in command of the Enerprise-D, with Shelby as his permanent first officer.

So to my mind, this is still the best cliffhanger Trek has ever done, and one of the best anybody has ever done.

Other things to mention; the music, which is always good and great when it's doing the choral "Borg theme". The scene with Guinan, where Picard is genuinely wondering whether the Borg will actually win. The first time we ever see a deflector dish used as a plot point! The first use of "Resistance is Futile" from the Borg. The first assimilation!

So much good stuff!

Special Edition

The remastered version has the usual improved image quality.
Copyright Graham Kennedy Page views : 10,206 Last updated : 12 Sep 2016