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The Best of Both Worlds, Part One

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at October 18, 2008 - 4:06 PM GMT

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

Plot Summary: Upon losing contact with a Federation colony, Starfleet sends the Enterprise to determine whether the Borg are responsible, assigning the ambitious Commander Shelby to the ship because of her expertise on the Borg. Shelby has learned that Starfleet offered Riker command of the USS Melbourne and is hoping to be chosen to be his replacement as first officer, though Riker is reluctant to accept the promotion, though Picard encourages him to do so for the sake of his career. The demolished colony shows evidence of a Borg attack, and when a starship disappears nearby, the Enterprise investigates, encountering and engaging a Borg cube. After the Borg seriously damage the ship, Picard hides the Enterprise in a nebula and puts Shelby in charge of figuring out a way to fight the Borg while Starfleet puts together an attack fleet. Shelby has discovered a resonance frequency to which Borg technology appears vulnerable, but it may destroy the Enterprise to fire a concentrated burst. Wesley Crusher suggests using the deflector dish and Shelby recommends separating the saucer section, but when Riker says he'll take it under advisement, Shelby goes to Picard herself. Once the Enterprise is forced out of the nebula, the Borg pursue and beam aboard agents who abduct Picard to their ship. Then the Borg set a course for Earth. Riker wants to lead an away team to recover Picard, but Shelby points out that he is now in command, needed on the bridge, and Troi agrees with Shelby. On the cube, Shelby's team disables some systems and locates Picard but are unable to retrieve him once they discover that the Borg have made him one of them. Shelby requests permission to try again, but Riker, taking advice from the engineering team, believes the Enterprise has only one chance to destroy the cube, and orders Worf to fire.

Analysis: "The Best of Both Worlds, Part One" is the standard by which all other Star Trek cliffhangers are judged, and none has lived up to it...personally, I don't believe any has come close. Not only is this a superb action storyline with a powerful emotional hook - a species that can take sentient beings and turn them into mindless drones, who have the strength to subject most of the human race to such a fate, just as they did to Guinan's race - but there's brilliant character work going on as well, with Riker facing the fact that he's not the aggressive young officer who arrived on the Enterprise three years ago, whom he now sees reflected in Shelby. It's a perfectly structured hour of television with the character's dilemma seamlessly integrated into the rising drama. If ever a Star Trek episode deserved an Emmy, it was this one.

The Borg have lost some of their terror in the current era of Star Trek, having been tamed on The Next Generation and particularly on Voyager where they were routinely defeated and characters were regularly brought back from the brink of assimilation. But at this point in Star Trek history when "Best of Both Worlds" aired, they were the scariest villains ever -- much more horrible than any Klingon, Romulan, or would-be-God. Our brief introduction to them in Q Who made clear that there would be no negotiating, no effective reasoning or subterfuge; not only were the Borg immensely powerful, but could adapt almost immediately to a new enemy and assimilate that enemy's strategy and technology. This time the Borg appear to have learned more from their brief encounter with humans than the humans learned in return, since Shelby's the regional expert on the Borg, yet is astonished to see that they acknowledge individual officers and individual worlds as significant. Naturally, the Borg come gunning first for Picard, then for Earth.

Against that background, we have people being...well, people. Admiral Hanson brings Shelby aboard with the admission that he has "an old man's fantasies" about her. At the same time, he makes sure Picard knows that Riker has been offered a captaincy...and that Starfleet won't keep pulling out the big chair for Riker if he doesn't want it. Shelby seems less worried about the Borg threat than determined to make the most of this opportunity to impress Starfleet and particularly Picard, whose blessing will be necessary if she is to become first officer of the flagship. First she tries enthusiasm and charm on Riker, then aggression and initiative, and when neither of those impresses him, she gets more direct, telling him that he's in her way and moreover that if he's not smart enough to take promotion when it's offered, he has no business blocking her. Shelby's not precisely likeable, but she's wonderful: intelligent, driven, adaptable, confident, a lot like Captain Kirk, and if she's too caught up in her own interests, she's young enough to have plenty of time to learn to broaden her focus. By the end of the episode, even Riker is listening.

Really, "The Best of Both Worlds, Part One" is Riker's story. He's already turned down command of the Drake and the Aries, and now Starfleet is offering the Melbourne, an Excelsior-class ship...not quite the Enterprise, but, as Picard points out, a fine vessel in her own right. Even Riker can't explain now why he's hesitating. When he asks Troi what's keeping him there, she has a fairly simple explanation: he's really happy on the Enterprise. In some ways, Riker's accepting that answer demonstrates just as big a breakthrough in gender roles of the future as any woman we've seen on the Enterprise. Though I think Shelby's completely wrong about Riker when she accuses him of wanting to hide in a great man's shadow, she's right that his ambitions have changed in focus from the glory he once wanted. Just as he refused to take a command to impress his father, he isn't going to leave the Enterprise because a bunch of admirals have asked him to; being satisfied with what he's doing matters more to him than the documented advancement. Riker won't leave the Enterprise for good until it's as completely on his own terms as anything ever can be in a service like Starfleet; he'll wait until the time feels right to him, the ship feels right to him, and the woman he's always wanted is as ready to commit to him as he finally is to her.

The other character who gets a bit of illumination is Picard, who finds himself more unsettled than before any previous battle we've witnessed, knowing how much is at stake. Instead of talking to a fellow Starfleet officer, he confides in Guinan. We know already that she has a history with the Borg, but we're not often reminded of the cheerful bartender's horrific past. She and Picard discuss the near-genocide of her people, with her trying to assure him that as long as there are even a handful of humans who remember what it is to be human, then the Borg can't win. But that's very cold comfort while Picard is imagining himself as a Roman general watching the Visigoths descending on the ancient city, facing the end of a civilization.

Survival, Picard knows, is more important than his own life - Nelson died at Trafalgar, but he won the battle. Even the Borg have managed to understand that a humanoid crew is as strong as its leader: when they break through the Enterprise's defenses, they do so not to blow up the ship but to assimilate the captain. And Riker finds himself forced to follow Vulcan philosophy, putting the needs of millions above the needs of the one, rejecting a rescue attempt so that he can try to blow up the Borg cube and save Earth.

Nearly everyone has a moment to shine in this episode: Wesley's the one who comes up with the idea of turning the deflector dish into a weapon, Beverly takes a phaser and goes to fight for Picard alongside three officers with far more combat experience, LaForge evacuates engineering before saving himself, Data uses his super-human speed to keep changing the frequencies of the ship's weapons until one of Worf's phaser blasts damages the Borg cube. And visually, it's a gorgeous episode, from the journey into the nebula reminiscent of Kirk's escape from The Wrath of Khan to the mindless movements of the Borg drones, who part to reveal Picard as one of them. I've watched this episode easily a dozen times since it first aired, and there's not a single moment of it that's gotten old.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for TrekToday. An archive of her reviews can be found at The Little Review.

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