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The Best of Both Worlds, Part Two

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at October 24, 2008 - 11:42 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Best of Both Worlds, Part Two' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Riker orders Worf to fire on the Borg cube where Captain Picard has been transformed into Locutus of Borg. But because Picard was briefed on the plan to use the deflector dish to amplify the Enterprise's weapons, the Borg are ready for the attack. Locutus informs Riker that the Borg now possess all of Picard's knowledge. After Admiral Hanson declares Picard dead, gives Riker a field commission as captain, and explains Starfleet's plan to intercept the Borg before they reach Earth, Riker asks Shelby to serve as his first officer. While the Borg continue the process of assimilating Locutus, the new captain orders the Enterprise to rendezvous with the Starfleet attack force, but it is too late: dozens of ships are floating lifeless near Wolf 359. The cube resumed course for Earth and the Enterprise pursues, but it is clear that they cannot overtake the Borg. Reminded by Guinan that he must throw away the rule book if Picard knew its rules, Riker goes ahead with the plan to separate the Enterprise's saucer section, assuming that the Borg will ignore it and fight the drive section long enough to send Worf and Data to return Picard to the Enterprise. The mission is successful, though Dr. Crusher reports that Picard is too deeply assimilated for her to remove the implants. Data attempts to wire himself into the Borg's neural network through Locutus but is unsuccessful at accessing the weapons or defense commands until Picard breaks through and suggests that Data tell the Borg to sleep. While Riker prepares for a collision course that will destroy the Enterprise as well as the Borg cube, Data successfully puts the Borg into regeneration mode. The shift in power that halts the Borg weapons creates an overload that causes the cube to explode. Crusher is able to remove the Borg alterations to Picard, and Riker remains on the Enterprise as first officer, while Shelby departs to help rebuilt the fleet.

Analysis: If "The Best of Both Worlds, Part One" is a near-perfect cliffhanger, its successor is a near-perfect sequel that ties up the necessary ends from the first half without making everything too neat or implausible. The story is entirely character-driven, which is the key to its success: too often the later Star Trek shows seemed to believe that special effects and spectacular battles were what made the franchise interesting. With the exception of the brief, horrifying glimpse of the blasted starships at the Battle of Wolf 359, the force of the Borg is suggested rather than portrayed onscreen. The Borg are so powerful that they can't be bothered to destroy the Enterprise or assimilate its crew after the Enterprise attacks them, nor do they stop to assimilate anything from the wreckage of the battle. They head directly to Earth, confident from the knowledge they've taken from Picard that humans are no match for them. It ought to seem like hubris - after all, Earth had already survived both V'ger and the deadly probe looking for humpback whales - but it's horrifying when that cube takes off at warp speed, just as it's horrifying to see the single tear Picard sheds while his prosthetics are enhanced, even though we're not shown the initial violation and modification. And while Picard is agonizing at having his humanity stripped away, Riker is agonizing at having had to sentence a friend to certain death, plus the understanding that his entire crew is likely to follow.

The tension is sustained through the entire episode, with the only moment approaching lightness being Worf's declaration that the Borg have neither honor nor courage, which is Starfleet's greatest advantage; unfortunately, Riker is correct in his fear that that won't be sufficient. As Riker wonders, how do you defeat an enemy who knows you better than you know yourself? There are no sweet scenes here of Troi trying to comfort Riker like there were in the prequel. Instead he gets tough talk from Guinan, who reveals, to Riker's surprise that she and Picard were intimate, but she has let the captain go. She all but orders Riker to do the same: don't think about what he would do, don't wonder if you could have saved him, but move on with the understanding that his knowledge and ingenuity are now working for the enemy. And just as he did when he had to make Starfleet's case against Data's humanity in "The Measure of a Man," Riker buckles down and does something he really loathes: he comes up with a plan to use the inhumanity of Locutus against him, even though Locutus is also Picard. If the only way to save the crew is to manipulate Picard's mind just as the Borg have done, so be it.

What makes it all work, dramatically as well as in a practical sense, is that even the Borg don't see it coming, because Picard thinks his "Number One" has retrieved him for nostalgic reasons instead of logical ones. Locutus calls it a tactical error for Riker to have risked the Enterprise to save one man, particularly since that man no longer exists, being part of the Borg collective. While it's obvious that the crew, particularly Crusher and Troi, are hoping they can reach Picard beneath the Borg modifications, it's also clear that Riker's top priority is using Locutus to find a way to stop the Borg. Riker's not willing to let Crusher study Locutus before demanding that he be awakened, and no one in the lab discusses whether Picard's agitation means that he's feeling pain when Data establishes the neural link. (We know, as the crew cannot, that Picard does feel pain, having seen his face when the Borg scanned his brain and modified his arm.) Guinan tells Riker that she's let Picard go, but she doesn't have to talk to the thing wearing Picard's face, sharing his memories. Riker and the rest have to put it into practice. It's a happy accident that the same explosion that destroys the cube frees Picard, something none of the crew could have known in advance; as Crusher warned at one point, cutting the Borg link to Locutus could have been fatal to the captain.

It's interesting that, on the worst day we've seen the Enterprise face, the writers choose to have Riker in charge, and it's Riker's ingenuity that saves not just the ship but the planet. If we needed any refutation to Shelby's accusations that Riker isn't ready for the big chair, we get them amply, and at the same time we see why he's so reluctant to leave this team whose loyalty to the ship and to one another are just as essential as their leader. There's no grumbling when Riker picks Shelby to be his first officer; it makes sense to everyone that Riker needs LaForge in engineering, Worf at tactical and Data leading their scientific teams. In the lab, Crusher monitors Picard and O'Brien monitors Data during the neural link, and Troi has finally learned not to interrupt to talk about how people are feeling unless it's of crucial importance. Even assuming Starfleet would swiftly offer another command to replace the Melbourne, why would Riker want to take himself out of a situation where so many people are working together and learning from each other without the crushing life-or-death responsibilities that surely isolate Picard as much as his more reserved personality?

The directing of the episode is pitch-perfect, with the action moving from set to set so that even the ship scenes never feel stagnant, the music used for subtle effect, the horror of the battle reflected in its aftermath as a stunned Shelby reads out some of the names of the shattered ships. There are beautiful shots of the ships passing Saturn and, as always, terrific visuals on the Borg ship and its external weapons. Yet what makes "The Best of Both Worlds" a classic - even beyond introducing plot elements that will recur for more than ten years in the Star Trek universe - is the fact that it's a quintessential Next Gen character story.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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