The Best of Both Worlds
Story 174 & 175
Written by Michael Piller
Transmitted June 18, 1990 and September 24, 1990
In the 24th Century, humanity is still exploring the vast unknown of space, seeking out new chapters of the human adventure. Unfortunately, some of those chapters are unpleasant and bloody. Such is The Best of Both Worlds, an award-winning story that remains a high point for the entire Star Trek franchise.
A two part thriller, The Best of Both Worlds was re-released as a feature-length story with a limited theatrical release nation-wide just last month. It was also released in Blu-ray for the home video market. As I have been revisiting classic Star Trek, I have begun to look more deeply into Star Trek: The Next Generation as well. It doesn’t hold the same level of appeal as I had watched Star Trek: The Next Generation on VHS several times over, built and sold phasers and communicators at shows and even (Grodd help me) wrote Next Gen fan fiction. So my life experiences are very intertwined with Next Gen, making any reviewing a step back in my own personal time. I think I have been putting it off for that reason, but finally feel that I can view it as its own program and am very intrigued to delve more deeply into this beloved revival of the Star Trek mythology that turned a once successful TV series into a full-blooded franchise.
The Borg, a gestalt entity that encountered the Enterprise far earlier than it should have (thanks to the intervention of the being known as Q), has found its way to the Federation’s sector of space. Its ultimate target is Earth, but first it has another imperative, Captain Picard. The story of The Best of Both Worlds is very well told with plenty of sign posts that this will be a tale that marks the end of an era. Commander Riker, a once hopeful and ambitious officer, is being scrutinized for his lack of career growth. This echoes back to the initial concept of the character as the action hero that would take on the bulk of each story while the elder statesman Picard presided from the bridge. Of course this changed when it became clear that Patrick Stewart was such a commanding actor that he demanded more attention. But nothing lasts forever…
However, the full impact of the Borg weighed heavily on Picard’s shoulders throughout the first chapter. In one scene he seeks wisdom from the sagely Guinan and his only reassurance is that humanity will survive, even if its only a handful. That, my friend… is cold comfort. It began to look that Picard could very well be on his way out, a tragic loss as the program saw progress. Likewise, a new feisty officer Lt. Commander Shelby had joined the cast and was actively poised to take Riker’s old job, forcing him off the ship or into the Captain’s chair. Additionally, the previous encounter with the Borg was a close call to say the least. An incredibly advanced life form, their very way of life was wholly contrary to the progressive culture of humanity. The Borg was hardly evil, more of a force of nature, a hive minded creature devouring all in its path. What could stop such a thing?
With the stage set for a major confrontation and a few hints at casting changes in the air, Star Trek: The Next Generation screened its first season cliffhanger (something that would later become traditional) and it was a doozy. Despite all the preparation and research from the best and brightest of Star Fleet, the Borg easily gain access to the bridge and abduct the Captain. A desperate rescue mission is a predestined failure as the Borg adapt far too quickly to any attack. When he is next seen, Picard is no longer… he has become absorbed into the Borg consciousness. With no other recourse, the rescue party retreats back to the Enterprise for an all out attack that will definitely kill their beloved friend and mentor.
As a teenager I was the target audience of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Even so, I came into it in the second year (y’know, the one hardly anyone watched). I was actively attending the Boston Creation Conventions with my dad who silently watched me sift through piles of dusty toys and crinkled magazines, no doubt wondering where he went wrong. I had gleaned some knowledge of the classic Star Trek from reruns and the occasional screening at conventions. However, I really had very little attachment to Star Trek beyond the feature films. As a child of suburbia, I was an easy mark for something *anything* to draw in my imagination. As the second season ran on Saturday evenings, I caught up on reruns of the first season. By the time the third year began, I had a small collection of toys, space craft and posters in my wall. I was a fully fledged ‘Next Gen’ Trekkie.
Just in time for Star Trek: The Next Generation to reach its stride. The third series of STTNG saw everything improve from the scripts to the effects and even costumes. It was better in every way and the finale was the cherry on the top. As viewers started to tune in to see what was so great about this new series, a thrilling game-changing event arrived. At the time, Patrick Stewart was unsure if he was coming back for another year, so his ‘death scene’ at the hands of the Borg along with the possibility that Riker would finally take up the mantle of Captain was especially poignant.
As a villain, the Borg was very impressive and up until that point there really had been no great impact of any other aliens that could meet the same water mark as the Klingons or Romulans of the classic program. These races had become humanized and in gaining a more fleshed out culture, lost their edge. For a teenage boy, the Borg was the equivalent of a Doctor Who monster, a boogie man that came for you in the night. No surprise there as the Borg and Cybermen are so very similar… but never mind that. Up until this point STTNG lacked any real threat (aside from the outstanding ‘Conspiracy’). Fans wanted new aliens and we got the Ferengi.
As a feature film, The Best of Both Worlds certainly doesn’t hold up that well. It still feels like what it is, a two-parter of a weekly TV program. However, as a lapsed fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, it awakened the long lingering adoration, excitement and comfort that I got out of this series. In particular, I enjoyed the clever thinking of Riker, Worf, Geordi and Data in getting Picard back from the Borg and it reminded me what that kind of writing was like… and why I missed it so much (I am looking coldly at you, Steven Moffat). I adore tech heads and clever thinkers, so I was traditionally drawn towards Data and Geordi (with Worf a distant third… as most to all of his decisions were immediately shot down) who both excel here.
Of course the real tragedy here is that nothing did change after The Best of Both Worlds. The status quot remained constant, Riker remained the perpetual first officer, Picard remained in command. The repercussions of The Best of Both Worlds are best seen in the spin-off Deep Space Nine, a program far more interested in developing characters rather than presenting them as static creations.
Star Trek: The Next Generation did progress as a series from this point on (for the most part) and its popularity exploded. This was when science fiction became a popular thing, when just anyone would freely admit to watching Star Trek rather than pulling a sour face and calling it lame. It wasa polished and respected TV series. The lack of development of the main cast is debatable, I suppose, but much like the cream-colored bridge and comfy command chairs, it is another part of the comfort found in a weekly TV program, and a reason to come back to it.
I had planned a new series of Star Trek reviews, mainly focusing on the classic series, so I am as surprised as anyone to be starting here, but if you have any feedback I would love to hear it, be it a difference of opinion or some fond memories of the series.
Make it so (and post comments).