Revisiting Star Trek TNG: The Best Of Both Worlds Part II

Our weekly Star Trek: The Next Generation lookbacks return with an episode that comes as close to movie-quality action as TNG ever gets...

This review contains spoilers.

4.1 The Best Of Both Worlds Part II

Last time on Star Trek The Next Generation! As if you’d forget! Picard had been turned into a Borg and Riker had his finger on the trigger that’d destroy his former captain and his new Borg mates. Or, at least, he had his finger on Worf, who had his finger on the trigger. The last half ended with Riker giving the instruction to fire. This part began with Worf firing. And then nothing happens. Because Picard already knew what the plan was and the Borg adapted in advance. It’d be an utterly huge letdown if it didn’t made so much sense.

Anyway, the credits roll and the Borg use that opportunity to fly off leaving a broken Enterprise behind so that the producers can save money on effects shots. (Remember: tell, don’t show, because it’s much cheaper that way.) At a crisis meeting, Admiral Hanson informs the crew that they’re gathering a 40-strong fleet to mmm-bop the Borg at Wolf 359, and that the Enterprise should meet them there for the inevitable victory party. Then he promotes Riker to captain and signs out.

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As the crew repairs and adapts the ship to fight the Borg, the visiting Commander Shelby turns up to lobby Riker for newly-vacant First Officer position. Riker’s just telling her she’s effectively got the job when he’s interrupted by a transmission from Starfleet. It’s Admiral Hanson trying to tell Riker where to regroup because “the flight did not go well” but before he can say anything the transmission is cut off. He’s probably fine.

After “reluctantly” promoting Shelby on the basis that Worf’s the only guy who can operate tactical and Data’s the only guy who can operate whatever the thing he sits at is supposed to be, Riker retires to the Ready Room to have a chat with an empty chair. He’s interrupted by Guinan, who gives him some advice about letting Picard go which Riker will later explicitly ignore.

Their conversation ends when the Enterprise arrives at Wolf 359, but it’s too late. They’ve missed the fight. Everything is wrecked, most pointedly the ship Riker previously turned down command of (proving his decision-making instincts were correct!) Meanwhile thousands are dead and only the Enterprise remains to save Earth.

Returning to a previous plan to misdirect Locutus, the Enterprise engages the Borg, then separates the saucer section (for the final time until Star Trek: Generations). Knowing that they’ll ignore the saucer, it provides cover so Worf and Data can sneak on board using a shuttlecraft and abduct Robo-Picard. Once again the Borg decide to leave in the middle of the fight and resume course for Earth, while the Enterprise gives chase. Riker gets Data, Troi and Crusher – the ship’s 3 best minds – to prod their former captain and see what they can figure out.

With options running out and too worried to simply disconnect Picard from the collective, the decision is taken to get out a serial cable and link up Data and Picard so that he can figure out how the collective works. The Borg enters the Terran system and is completely unfazed by the Mars defences. Luckily, it becomes clear that they can use Picard to implant a command in the collective. Fighting through his Borg brainwashing, Picard suggests “Sleep” (I’d have gone with “deltree /Y C:*.*”) and so Data does indeed command the Borg to sleep, just in time to stop Riker crashing the ship into the Borg in a last-ditch attempt at stopping them (it has to be said that as commands go, that isn’t the most successful way to end your first day.)

The Borg cube ceases its attacks, and Riker dispatches Shelby to see what’s going on. The command worked! All the Borg are now in their regenerative state. And also about to explode for some reason. Although several crew members suggest they could stop the explosion and study their enemies, Riker decides to err on the side of caution and lets the cube explode. Picard complains of a headache and Crusher takes him off to get his implants out.

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The next day, everything has gone back how it was. Riker is de-promoted, Shelby is sent away, and Picard gets his ship back. Shelby suggests that Riker will have the pick of the fleet, but he politely tells everyone to stop speculating about his future career prospects. As the episode ends, Picard looks out at Earth, sips Earl Grey and wonders if he’ll ever be rid of his first officer.

TNG WTF: Oh, so much WTF in this episode. Riker shutting down discussion of his future is a big one, not least because with 40 ships destroyed, Starfleet’s going to need around 40 new captains when the fleet is back up to full strength “within a year”. Riker’s the hero of the hour! He rescued Picard and literally saved Earth! He should be captaining the biggest, shiniest replacement ship they can build!

Speaking of those 40 starship explosions, it’s a little galling that we didn’t get to see that battle at all. I get that it was a budgetry thing, and that we do get to see a little of it in Deep Space Nine a few years hence – but come on!

And finally, you have to wonder about Guinan. She claims her relationship with Picard is “beyond friends, beyond family” but like her mysterious Q-blocking powers, she never elaborates further. This rewatch is only now making me appreciate that they never got around to telling her story, which leaves some weird dangling threads everywhere.

TNG LOL: I was in utter stitches when Borgified Picard spent a scene wandering around the room telling everyone why they were useless and would be assimilated. Condescending Borg is a classic sitcom character waiting to happen. “Useless. Irrelevant. Futile.” And so on.

Similarly, you have to laugh at Crusher responding to Picard when he finally breaks through to suggest a course of action to Data. “Sleep.” Says Picard. “He’s exhausted!” says Crusher, missing the point completely. Unintentionally hilarious.

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Oh, and I don’t know if this belongs in WTF or LOL, but the bit where Picard’s getting extra augmentations and they stick a lightbulb in his ear then turn the colour down on his skin so he looks all pasty. I laughed a lot. That’s much less spooky an explanation than what I’d previously believed to be essentially dead biological matter being walked around by cybernetic parts.

Time Until Meeting: 11:33. And that includes the extended “Last time…” intro, so this is quite an early one. Riker might be in charge, but he clearly learned at the feet of the master. Meetings before anything else.

Captain’s Log: After a surprisingly Riker-centric opening, the resolution to this two-parter gives time to everyone in the crew, and feels a lot more like an action-packed finale than a character piece. It’s hard to appraise it as a season-opener because they make absolutely no attempt to present it as anything other than a continuation of last season’s events, even though the character through-line is dropped.

And given the changes that the cliffhanger promised – Picard lost, Riker in charge, Shelby joining the crew and the Federation invaded – it’s notable that the only thing that’s permanently changed when the credits roll is that 40 starships we’ve never seen have been destroyed. This is how TV worked back then: you could do almost anything you wanted, as long as the episode ended the exact same way it started.

That’s not to say it’s a bad episode, of course. This is as near to movie-quality action as TNG ever gets. Worf and Data’s 2-man rescue/abduction during a ship-to-ship firefight is a high-point for the series, and Data interfacing with Locutus to analyse the Borg’s infrastructure and getting into a fight with him mid-link is a great little moment in its own right. These are some of the most inventive set pieces TNG ever attempts.

But despite this, it’s a little disappointing that the episode doesn’t quite follow through on its promise. From the moment the super-weapon fails to destroy the Borg Cube, the tension of the previous episode is undone in a series of gentle (and occasionally not-so-gentle) letdowns. I’m not sure which is the bigger cop-out – the Borg cube unexpectedly exploding for no real reason (that was lucky!) or Riker’s uncertain future being resolved with a simple statement that “my career’s my own business”.

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Still, it’s not a bad way to start the season, and the final note of the episode – Picard staring out into space, knowing that there are more Borg out there – is a nice way to prevent the ending feeling too triumphant, given how pyrrhic a victory it arguably was for the Federation.

Read James’ lookback at the previous episode, The Best Of Both Worlds Part I, here.

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