Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II”

bestofbothworldstwo104“The Best of Both Worlds, Part II”
Written by Michael Piller
Directed by Cliff Bole

Season 4, Episode 1
Original air date: September 24, 1990
Star date: 44001.4

Mission summary

RIKER: Mr. Worf… Fire.

Mr. Worf fires… And not a heck of a lot happens. That’s embarrassing, but it can happen to anyone. In fact, they don’t even scratch the Borg cube, but Enterprise sustains damage from the massive power drain; Locutus’ knowledge of Picard’s former ship and crew has prepared the Borg to deal with them. Deeming the crippled Enterprise unworthy of further attention, the Borg vessel resumes its course for Sector 001 — Earth.

As the Starfleet armada gathers at Wolf 359 for a showdown with the Borg, Admiral Hanson debriefs Enterprise on their scuffle with the Borg, pronounces Picard a “casualty of war,” and gives Riker a field commission to captain. The crew hurries through repairs and tries to come up with new tools to use against the Borg. Meanwhile, Locutus receives some upgrades of his own, including a Swiss Army attachment for his right hand. A single tear drifts down his cheek, a hint that Picard is still in there somewhere, and all too aware of what is being done to him.

A quick, scrambled message from Hanson at Wolf 359 tells Captain Riker that the battle is not going well. He takes care of a little housekeeping — selecting Commander Shelby to serve as his first officer — then solicits suggestions on how to defeat the Borg when they arrive at the battlefield. For the moment, all they have are phasers that automatically cycle their frequencies to prevent the Borg from adapting to them.

Riker’s having trouble adapting to Picard’s absence, until Guinan makes a rare appearance in the captain’s ready room to deliver her keen insight, whether he wants to hear it or not.

GUINAN: You’re going have to do something you don’t want to do. You have to let go of Picard.
RIKER: Maybe you haven’t heard. I tried to kill him yesterday.
GUINAN: You tried to kill whatever that is on the Borg ship. Not Picard. Picard is still here with us in this room. If he had died, it would be easier. But he didn’t. They took him from us a piece at a time. Did he ever tell you why we’re so close?
RIKER: No.
GUINAN: Well, then let me just our relationship is beyond friendship, beyond family. And I will let him go. And you must do the same. There can only be one captain.
RIKER: It’s not that simple. This was his crew. He wrote the book on this ship.
GUINAN: And the Borg know everything he knows. It’s time to throw that book away. You must let him go, Riker. It’s the only way to beat him. The only way to save him. And that is now your chair. Captain.

Riker sits at Picard’s desk, but he can’t enjoy the executive chair for long because they’ve arrived at Wolf 359… And it’s a graveyard. Every ship that engaged the Borg there has been destroyed. Enterprise is on her own.

Fortunately, Riker is ready to take decisive action. They pick up the Borg’s trail and pursue it to Earth and implement a plan that hopefully Locutus won’t be able to anticipate. It isn’t long before they implement a two-phase attack: They separate the saucer section and attack with the drive section. Though Locutus, familiar with this abandoned attack plan, initially ignores the saucer, it launches what looks like harmless fireworks (an antimatter spread) to mask an approaching shuttle, with Data and Word aboard. Undetected, they slip past the Borg’s electromagnetic field and beam onto the cube, where they re-kidnap their Borgified captain. They beam back to the shuttle, slip out of range of the field, and are transported back to Enterprise just as the Borg destroy their shuttle.

The Borg bug out again, on their way to Earth, leaving their new spokesman behind. Dr. Crusher assesses the modifications to his body, but Riker hopes that Picard can tell them as much about the Borg as he’s told them about Enterprise. He doesn’t seem willing to cooperate though.

PICARD: A futile maneuver. Incorrect strategy, Number One. To risk your ship and crew to retrieve only one man. Picard would never have approved. You underestimate us if you believe this abduction is any concern. There is no need for apprehension. I intend no harm. No harm. I will continue, aboard this ship, to speak for the Borg, while they continue without further diversion to Sector zero zero one, where they will force your unconditional surrender.

Data detects signals passing between Locutus and the Borg ship, his link to their collective. They’re reluctant to block the signals to sever his connection, worried that it will kill him instantly, so Data suggests another approach: He will try to connect to the Borg operating system using his positronic brain.

The Borg ship forges ahead toward Earth, a seemingly unstoppable force, while Data successfully hacks into their systems. He determines that their consciousness is divided into subsystems that correspond to functions such as defense and navigation. If he can get root access to one of them, he can send a new command to them, such as “deactivate your weapons.”

Troi realizes that Captain Picard is regaining some mental control, as the Borg try and fail to disconnect him from the collective. Data fails to subvert that connection to gain access to their high level systems, but Picard reaches out and makes contact, with one simple word: “Sleep.” Data correctly identifies this not as a wish, but a suggestion, and works on accessing the Borg regeneration subcommands.

Riker is prepared to ram the ship into the Borg cube as a last ditch effort to save Earth, but Data comes through at the last minute and the Borg disengages its assault. They’ve gone to sleep, and the malfunction prompts a feedback loop that results in the cube blowing itself up.

Free of his link to the Borg, Picard slowly starts to return to himself.

CRUSHER: Life signs are stable. The DNA around the microcircuit fibre implants is returning to normal.
TROI: How do you feel?
PICARD: Almost human. With just a bit of a headache.
CRUSHER: We’ll get you to Sickbay. We won’t have any trouble getting these implants out now.
RIKER: How much do you remember?
PICARD: Everything. Including some brilliantly unorthodox strategy from a former first officer of mine.

The assimilation of Earth was averted, but there are still a lot of pieces to pick up. Shelby departs Enterprise to head up a task force to rebuild the fleet. Riker finally lets everyone know that whether or not he takes his own command is no one’s business but his own. And Enterprise is due for a refit at Earth Station McKinley.

Alone in his ready room, Picard becomes caught up in recollections of his traumatic ordeal. Clearly troubled, he stares out the window… Some of his wounds will take more than bandages to heal.

bestofbothworldstwo555

Analysis

“The Best of Both Worlds” is a tough act to follow, particularly after several months of speculation, anticipation, and hype. On its own, Part II doesn’t quite hold up, but how could it, really? After practically writing themselves into a corner at the end of season 3, the fourth season picks up right where they left off—but the immediate conclusion to the cliffhanger is rather disappointing. They fire on the Borg, and Picard, but nothing happens.

The preceding episode was grounded in Riker’s angst over his career and his conflict with the ambitious Shelby, but now circumstances force them to play nice, and they actually work well together. There is so much going on in this episode, and time is so short, the crew’s responses to the almost certain loss of their captain is limited to brief, glum expressions. There isn’t even any debate that they should try to launch another rescue, though that’s essentially what they end up doing.

The episode is overtly about moving on, as expressed through Guinan’s recommendation to Riker that he “let go.” The message seems to be that he has to give up on Picard, only he does the opposite by recovering the captain. Is this the first time Guinan has been wrong about something? Or is she applying some clever reverse psychology that she learned in bartending school?

She may have just been trying to give Riker the motivation and the encouragement to act on his own, without second guessing himself or trying to live up to the captain’s high standards. Note that she boldly sits in Picard’s chair, perhaps to show that it’s no big deal, or to symbolically answer Riker’s question to the empty seat a moment before: “What would you do?” As the person arguably closest to Picard (for vague, mysterious, and slightly suggestive reasons!), and the person he goes to for advice, it’s as if she’s speaking for him.

Perhaps by telling Riker to let go, she’s offering some career advice as well, suggesting that Riker is holding on to Enterprise and his relationships there too much? Well, he doesn’t listen to that either.

The idea of giving up their captain for dead really needs more time for each of the characters to struggle with, but the relentless pacing affords few moments for them to reflect on the death of their own. Besides, it turns out that they need to use Picard to win the day, and it’s clear they never really have given up the hope that they can get him back, mind and body.

However, Riker does undergo a remarkable transformation following Guinan’s pep talk. He sits in Picard’s chair in his ready room—only for a few seconds—but when he stands up, he straightens his uniform shirt like Picard would and walks onto that Bridge with a plan. In fact, Jonathan Frakes seems to make a point of performing this famed “Picard maneuver” repeatedly thereafter, whether the shirt needs a decisive tug or not.

I really love the idea that they’re fighting the “life experience” of Picard, which makes the Borg far more terrifying than they were before. Hearing Locutus address Riker as “Number One” in such a calculated, unfriendly way is chilling. Similarly, his persuasive arguments for assimilation are creepy: “Why do you resist? We only wish to raise quality of life for all species.” It’s a testament to Patrick Stewart’s acting ability that he managed to convey all of Picard’s haunting despair only in his eyes while maintaining an emotionless face.

But overall, this episode was a little less satisfying to me this time around because it is so rushed, with so much packed in, that there’s very little characterization and a high amount of technobabble. It takes shortcuts in logic or plot points, such as the adapted phasers, and they’re often forced to explain why their plan is working (or not) while they’re implementing it to make sure we buy it. The episode feels rather handwavey to me (or at least hand-attachment-wavey, as it were), but I was relieved that this rather convenient and surprisingly simple hack into the Borg BIOS can really only be done once, by utilizing their advantage of Locutus’ unique link to the collective. Plus, you can bet the Borg will be adapting to that little trick.

Putting the Borg to sleep so they blow their own ship up feels anticlimactic, which is just about how I would sum up this episode. Viewed together with the first part, I think it might feel more balanced and fulfilling, but really, the two episodes need to be viewed with the following episode, “Family,” for full impact.

Torie/Eugene’s Rating: Warp 5 (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread Alert: You just have to admire the strategic placement of the remnants of Picard’s Borg getup here, which it appears it was necessary to remove for a neural interface. It almost seems like they look for ways to show as much of Patrick Stewart’s skin as they can get away with, even pasty white with tubes sticking out of him. One wonders why we don’t see more Locutus cosplayers in this outfit…

Best Line: TROI: How do you feel?
PICARD: Almost human. With just a bit of a headache.

Trivia/Other Notes: Returning from the summer hiatus, writer Michael Piller had no idea how to resolve the previous episode’s cliffhanger, and the solution to defeating Locutus and saving Picard didn’t occur to him until two days before filming.

Information about this episode was tightly controlled, with specially-marked scripts to prevent them leaking to the public and production crew told not to talk about it with anyone, not even their families. In the absence of true spoilers, rumors and fake script pages made the rounds among fans, including one that claimed Picard’s assimilation was another trick of Q’s.

At the beginning of filming, LeVar Burton was in the hospital for an emergency surgery, so he filmed his scenes alone and was shown mostly in close-ups.

This was the first episode in which all the visual composites and special effects were done digitally, aside from filming with models. The transporter effect was also modified to remove the blue tinge.

A deleted scene shows Troi helping Riker deal with his promotion and his attempt to kill Picard. It includes a shot of Riker looking out the window of the ready room that mirrors the final shot of Picard.

 


Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 26 – “The Best of Both Worlds, Part I.”

Next episode: Season 4, Episode 2 – “Family.”

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About Eugene Myers

Eugene has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young adult fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is available now from Pyr. His website is at http://ecmyers.net.