Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Best of Both Worlds, Part II   Rewatch 
December 18, 2020 5:04 AM - Season 4, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Newly-promoted Captain Riker—and newly-assimilated Jean-"Locutus" Picard—adjust to their new roles as an unstoppable Borg cube warps toward Earth.

The knowledge and experience of the wiki, Memory Alpha, is part of us now:

• Anticipation for this episode was so great among Star Trek's fans during the three-month summer hiatus that someone even concocted a fake version of the script that ended up in the possession of some fans and brought Picard back by revealing that his "assimilation" had merely been a prank by the Q.

• The real plot for this episode had a difficult birth. Rick Berman later admitted, "When we finished the first half, we had no idea what the second half would be."

• Michael Piller initially struggled to come up with a solution to resolve the previous installment's cliffhanger. Piller recounted, "I had created an unsolvable problem. And to be honest with you, as I started writing the second part of the cliffhanger – that was supposed to resolve the story – I just didn't know what it was going to be, that was ultimately going to beat them." Brannon Braga joined the writing team of TNG while Piller was struggling with this aspect. "I walked into the Hart building [on the Paramount lot] in the morning and Michael was rewriting 'Best of Both Worlds, Part II'," Braga remembered. "He introduced himself and said 'I'm trying to figure out how to beat the Borg. I have no idea how to do it.'"

• Piller preferred that the Borg would be defeated not by sheer strength but by ingenuity from Picard's Human insight. Like Picard, Piller sought to defeat the group of formidable villains by determining an unexpected and subtle weakness, ultimately settling on the solution of putting the Borg to "sleep". The notion of using the Borg's interdependence as their vulnerability suddenly occurred to Piller a mere two days before filming on the episode was scheduled to start.

• The scene wherein Locutus insists to Worf that the Borg will raise the quality of life for all species by assimilating them into the Borg Collective was an effort by Michael Piller to help explain the Borg's motivation for attempting galactic conquest. Piller also tried, by suggesting that the Borg believed they were motivated by a greater good, to help make the Borg more believable villains and accentuate their coldblooded evilness.

• Explaining Picard's disturbed reflection on his ordeal at the conclusion of this episode, Michael Piller stated, "It was my intention to wrap up the two parter with the feeling that although everything is solved, life isn't so smooth and a man does not walk away from something like that and go back to work without having a little extra flashback nightmare. It's just that little uncertainty, the moment of discomfort that I wanted to leave the audience with."

• The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion notes that the two female main characters play important roles in saving Humanity; it is Dr. Crusher who determines the Borg's fatal flaw, and Troi who realizes that Picard is attempting to fight through his Borg programming. Michael Piller was intent on servicing even the lesser-used members of TNG's ensemble, including Troi, from the beginning of the fourth season onwards. As such, he had Troi "make some critical contributions to the solutions or problems." [sic; Memory Alpha error or Piller's intent? You decide --ed.]

• As part of the attempt to maintain anticipation for this episode, production staffers were kept apprised of the episode's progress strictly on a "need-to-know" basis. Everyone who participated in the episode's production was admonished not to discuss the episode with anyone, not even with friends or family.

• When the filming of this episode began, actor LeVar Burton was in hospital for emergency surgery. Consequently, his scenes as La Forge were carefully filmed after the majority of production was concluded; this is why he only appears in close-ups and not in shots with any of the other main performers. Several of his major lines were rewritten for Colm Meaney, which is why Chief O'Brien is one of the main characters who works to restore Captain Picard.

• On one evening during post-production for this episode, Michael Okuda was in the TNG art department, and was adding some battle damage to one of the models of the wrecked spaceships for the battlefield scene, when Patrick Stewart – wearing his Borg costume – walked into the department to use its Xerox machine. In response to a puzzled Stewart asking Okuda what he was doing, Okuda held up the ship and jokingly said to the Locutus actor, "Look what you did!"

• Although the Battle of Wolf 359 is unseen (except for its aftermath) in this episode due to budgetary reasons, portions of the battle were recreated, two-and-a-half years later, for the pilot episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Emissary", which – with the bigger budget of a feature-length pilot, and more advanced effects technology – was able to show the battle. In that same episode, the USS Saratoga is established as one of the ships lost at the Battle of Wolf 359, from which Benjamin Sisko makes a lucky escape with his son but loses his wife, who is killed when the ship is dealt a death blow by the Borg cube.

• Worf and Miles O'Brien recall the events of this episode in DS9's own fourth season premiere, "The Way of the Warrior". O'Brien tells Worf that he thought they would all end up assimilated, like Picard, while Worf claims that he never doubted that they would succeed.

• In VOY: "Death Wish", it is revealed that, during the final battle, the Enterprise-D truly was the Federation's last line of defense, as Q explicitly states that had Quinn not saved an ancestor of Riker's during the American Civil War, Commander Riker wouldn't have been around to devise his brilliantly unique strategy. As a result, the Borg would've surely assimilated the Federation.

• While several science fiction publications have voted "The Best of Both Worlds" Star Trek's finest piece and even in some cases one of science-fiction television's finest pieces, Michael Piller and Cliff Bole have both stated that they felt Part II was a letdown after the strong buildup of Part I.

• This episode won two Emmy Awards. Only four other episodes of Star Trek have won this many. It was nominated for four, a distinction it shares with only three other episodes.


"What would you do?"
- Riker, to Picard's empty ready room chair

"Worf, Klingon species; a warrior race. You too will be assimilated."
"The Klingon Empire will never yield!"
"Why do you resist? We only wish to raise the quality of life for all species."
"I like my species the way it is!"
- Locutus and Worf

"The android, Data; primitive artificial organism. You will be obsolete in the new order."
- Locutus, regarding Data

"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."
- Guinan, to Riker regarding Picard

"I will continue aboard this ship to speak for the Borg while they continue, without further diversion, to Sector 001 where they will force your unconditional surrender."
- Locutus


Poster's Log:
Previously on FanFare, I remarked that Admiral Hansen has, in this episode, "a moment that, while not villainous, doesn't reflect well upon him." What I was getting at is his inability to comprehend what's happened to Picard, which I always felt Riker should've pushed back on harder but I get why he felt he couldn't. I guess over the previous year-plus Hansen was too busy ogling Shelby to get around to actually reading her Borg reports.

The biggest mystery of this episode is how those Borg beams managed to give the Enterprise crew those nice new suntans ;)

The second-biggest is, is there such a thing as a field demotion? Because this is Riker's last (actual) moment as a captain until I guess Nemesis. I call once again upon our posters with military experience.

One Borg topic that Mrs. CoB and I discussed on this rewatch is the nature of person-assimilation. It seems to be different, as used here upon Picard, than in First Contact and Voyager, wherein it's achieved internally (and much more quickly) with nanoprobes rather than scary mechanized physical surgery. Here's a disquieting thought: maybe the Borg developed nanoprobes as a result of acquiring Picard's knowledge about nanites. Way to go, Wes.

Anyway, a worthy follow-up, and stronger than a bunch of "And Now the Conclusion" episodes, if a bit less striking than Part I. Great persevering-through-grief acting from the ensemble. (And I love Riker's impatience with Guinan when she shows up in the ready room: a rare moment of DS9-ish "workplace" realism.)

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Guinan's characterization of her relationship with Picard has not been fully explained in canon (though perhaps in PIC season 2…?) but we get a morsel of additional relevant info in the season 5-ending two-parter "Time's Arrow." More germanely, I like the headcanon (not sure if this is original to me or not) that Guinan's remark here refers to the possibility that her wacky pan-temporal, pan-universal senses interacted somehow with their "time" together in the Nexus; due to her species, it might have impacted Guinan much more than it did Picard (as far as he's consciously aware, at least). Just because Nexus-Guinan characterizes herself as an "echo" of real-Guinan (or words to that effect) doesn't mean that real-Guinan has no memory of that moment. Alternately, since we're well into speculation mode now, maybe her connection with Picard predates the Nexus and is in fact the entire reason why she was able to "meet" with him inside the Nexus (and to "send" Picard to meet Kirk within it, I guess? Bahhh, dang frickin' confusing Nexus).

Readers who really wanted more Sad Captain Riker may wish to jump ahead to season 7 episode 11, "Parallels."

Now that I'm fully acculturated (assimilated?) to expect serialized storytelling in the TV I consume, I'm going to be looking for indications—subtle or not, intended or not—of Picard's post-Borg trauma in every subsequent episode. Well, except for the very next episode, in which that's the A-plot.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (28 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Presumably Riker's appointment was an acting promotion, and he reverted to his substantive rank afterwards.
posted by Major Clanger at 6:10 AM on December 18, 2020 [1 favorite]


The last ten seconds, beginning when Picard is alone and picking up his tea, then puts it down, are extraordinary, Stewart's performance gives me chills. He is not fine, not fine at all.

Unfortunately, the rest of the episode is a pretty big let down, as almost all cliffhangers are.

Field promotions or "battlefield promotions" are real promotions, not temporary. But space field promotions? Who knows. My explanation is that now that Starfleet has lost 40 ships (which is almost x percent of the whole fleet!), there's nowhere for him to be captain, and anyway, maybe they should keep someone close by Locut--I mean, Picard.

Piller's attempt to give the Borg a "high-minded" purpose was lame and really detracts from them as villains. But as has been noted, they've really never known what to do with the Borg.

Also, I have never understood the title "Best of Both Worlds". Any insight?
posted by skewed at 6:46 AM on December 18, 2020 [1 favorite]


I've always interpreted it as, Locutus is the best of both worlds from the Borg's POV. An individual with a personality and a connection to humanity, but also "of the Borg."
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 6:49 AM on December 18, 2020


I was surprised to learn that the episode was not only not plotted out from the start with the first part, but that they were still working on it a couple of days from the start of shooting; on the other hand, there's a nice bit of symmetry there with the plot of the episode, with the crew frantically improvising and workshopping a solution to the problem almost right up to the very end. And I think that we possibly got a better episode as a result. The ep is still somewhat Riker-centered, but instead of him squaring off against an ambitious Shelby, he's more opposed to the spectre of his assimilated captain; Locutus combines the general brusque dismissiveness of the Borg with Picard's own occasionally chilly demeanor to create an air of contempt that isn't so much icy as it is the near-absolute-zero temperature of interstellar space. Locutus is obviously not there to negotiate, he's there to prove that, if Picard could be turned so quickly and completely, then resistance really must be futile. That, and the fleet getting steamrollered at Wolf 359, are intended to demoralize the population of Earth into submission.

But Riker has Guinan, and his own inner resources, to draw on. Future appearances of the Borg will be criticized for Villain Decay [TVTropes], but this ep suggests that they might have an intrinsic weakness baked in: they don't seem to be actually very creative in the truest sense. Yes, they can and do adapt to threats, especially when they're directly attacked by them, but they seem to just be brute-forcing a solution; that would be part of their impetus to assimilate more and more civilizations and "add [their] biological and technological distinctiveness to [their] own"... because they're incapable of being genuinely creative themselves. Moreover, they don't seem to really understand creativity; Picard must know by that point how creative Riker is and can be, but that knowledge doesn't seem to translate into understanding that Riker is capable of reflecting on his own behavior and altering it accordingly. That's a classic villain paradigm: the arrogance of going "mwah ha ha, you're so predictable" and then not being able to cope when the hero switches things up. And that includes Riker bringing in the rest of the crew to finish the job: Crusher, Troi, and Data's debut as a l33t h4xx0r. And, to a less obvious and direct extent, Shelby, his erstwhile rival; in the first ep, Shelby is constantly recruiting members of the crew to assist her, and Riker does that a lot more in this ep. Which, ultimately, proves that breaking up this crew really would be a tragedy: if Riker had taken the big chair on the Melbourne, he might have been at Wolf 359 and the Federation would have been assimilated; ditto if Data had been laying on Bruce Maddox's workbench in pieces.

Couple of other stray bits: the way that the Battle of Wolf 359 was framed--the ship being late to a battle, and therefore avoiding the meat grinder that the whole rest of the fleet went through--was so effective that J.J. Abrams stole it for the Star Trek reboot. Also, WRT the title, I wonder if this song was on anyone's mind or playlist when they were writing it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:00 AM on December 18, 2020 [4 favorites]


Part 2 contains a less spectacular list of cards in the Star Trek CCG than Part 1, but there are gems:

The first set offers Nutational Shields (handy when facing a Borg Ship) and embellishes the plot of this episode with Secret Salvage(later Secret Salvage II), suggesting that other forces could put the Federation wreckage from Wolf 559 to some nefarious use.

Alternate Universe contained the space battle defense Anti-Matter Spread. Okay for a defense card, better retrieved for free by First Contact RIker.

The Borg as a playable affiliation wouldn't come until after the First Contact film premiered and provided lots of drones to use as common personnel, around that time the Fajo Collection provided Locutus of Borg, with his laser-sensor-thingie shooting right out of the frame. In Blaze of Glory, Locutus got his own ship.

Second Edition offered Borg cards starting in the third set, Call to Arms. So we get the 2E Locutus, Voice of the Borg with a verrry nice bonus point function. There was also another take on Locutus' Borg Cube. As their faction developed, this episode was the source for the Borg support card Foresight and a new Wolf 559 mission, this time allowing Borg players to assimilate their opponent's crew.
posted by StarkRoads at 9:24 AM on December 18, 2020


Also, I have never understood the title "Best of Both Worlds". Any insight?


I always took it as a commentary of Riker not taking the promotion and that him staying in the first officer spot on the Enterprise was him trying to have his cake and eat it too (staying on the flagship but without the responsibilities of captain). But now that I try to explain that I don't think it makes sense and maybe 14 year old me wasn't as clever as he thought he was. (I mean we know this to be true in like 1,000,000 other examples, so why not this?)

Speaking of things I was a little wrong about, I think the cliffhanger resolution, though sort of disappointing at the time, has aged better. Or maybe I'm just more chill because I've been let down worse by so many other cliffhangers in the last 30 years.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:26 AM on December 18, 2020


Also, I have never understood the title "Best of Both Worlds". Any insight?

I assumed that the title referred to Locutus.from the Borg's point of view, but maybe that's not rock solid.
posted by StarkRoads at 9:30 AM on December 18, 2020


Count me in Camp “Best of Both Worlds” is “Picard-as-Locutus is the best of both worlds according to the Borg.”

This was less impressive than I remember, but still good!
posted by Alterscape at 11:20 AM on December 18, 2020


Everyone has done a great job of talking about this one and why, while it is a good second part and all, is less than the first part. One of the biggest problems this one has that /always/ takes me out of it a bit is the start of the episode.

First part ends with, "Mr. Worf: FIRE."

Second part stars with: Worf starts a countdown to firing.

Whoa whoa whoa! No one ever said anything about a countdown! And the way it gets put in there so that Riker orders Worf to fire and then the release of the ratcheted up tension in part two is an anticlimactic countdown just takes the air out of the balloon for me.
posted by Fukiyama at 12:01 PM on December 18, 2020


Seasons One, Two, and Three were a Year of Living Dangerously for TNG. I chalk that up to TNG being a new show; not only being a new show, but a new show of the late 80s; and a result of the unsettledness behind the scenes. That said, I consider BoBW II to be the watershed moment when TNG (and Berman Trek in general) matured into the polished product it will be for the next four seasons.
posted by Stuka at 12:37 PM on December 18, 2020 [1 favorite]


Patrick Stewart – wearing his Borg costume – walked into the department to use its Xerox machine.

I can't stop laughing at this image (in addition to Okuda's quip).
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 1:36 PM on December 18, 2020 [2 favorites]


Someone in last episode's discussion mentioned Picard's de-assimilation, and my take is that Doctor Crusher is one of the best doctors in the fleet, and she has at her disposal one of the most well-appointed medical suites in the Federation. She's extremely good at her job and it'd be her goal to restore Picard with no trace of her handiwork. She also had the resources of Earth and Starfleet Command, as seen in the next episode.

Compare that to Seven of Nine, who was de-assimilated by a hologram in a warship sick bay designed for 150 people, or the XBs from Picard, who were de-assimilated by romulans who don't really give a shit beyond stripping them to the bare minimum of their implant requirements. I believe any borg drone, if given over to Beverly Crusher on the Enterprise D, could be restored to their original organic appearance with a mix of tissue regeneration and unobtrusive cybernetic implants.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 1:57 PM on December 18, 2020 [7 favorites]


Hmm, dunno about that. I think that there were some implications that Seven's lingering implants were due in part to the length of her assimilation; simply put, she couldn't survive without them even if there were corresponding organic bits that could be transplanted or vat-grown. There's some mention in this ep that Picard's genes are actually being altered in the tissue around the implants (which quickly reverts after he's deassimilated), and possibly Seven is still not able to survive without them, and that less-obtrusive non-Borg cybernetics aren't an adequate substitute. (Alternatively, that the Federation should live up to their own high ideals and not be bigoted against people with body mods, voluntary or otherwise.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:28 PM on December 18, 2020 [8 favorites]


The veneration of these episodes has always baffled me a bit; I think they're fine, but they've never done it for me the way they seem to for pretty much everyone else. Part of that is that I intensely disliked the Shelby character (not super fond of the actress, either, with her overreliance on smirking) because she's the embodiment of an ambitious woman written by men. You can almost hear the guys in the writer's room (who for some reason sound like Edward G. Robinson impersonations in my head): "Yeah, she's a real ball-buster, see!" "She'll try to emasculate Riker, yeeeaahh." It bothered me back then, and it bothers me even more now because it's 30 years later and we have made so little progress, and I'm filled with despair and anger at it. In this episode, at least, they toned some of the smugness and the cliches about how ambitious women behave, so it bothers me slightly less than the first part.

I've often pondered whether it's the cliffhangeriness of it that makes it seem so good to many people--they were shocked at the "Fire" command, and the wait amped up the tension. Regardless, I never thought anything but that they would find Picard and rescue him somehow.

Also, we have some real action happening, and some consequences, so there are other things for the writing to focus on, which improves things a lot. I liked the clever approach to rescuing Picard, and the scene where they finally get to Wolf 359. Worf's "I like my species the way it is" is one of my all-time fave Worf lines (and for me so much better than "Assimilate this!" in First Contact). The scene with Guinan is stellar. I still laugh at the entirely over the top emoting of Dr. Crusher on "He's exhausted" as a way to set up Data figuring out the "sleep" command, when I think any intelligent person could understand Picard was telling them something important. And I mean, pat yourselves on the back, I guess, my dudes, but the more important stuff for the women to do here was only slightly better than a normal episode...

I like the little note at the end, but I always wanted it to be more; it felt unresolved, like lip service to PTSD. Not one of the guys I watched this with at the time understood that Picard was that deeply affected, that he was severely traumatized. They didn't seem to get it until the next episode when he finally breaks down. Part of it might have been the scene where he first talks again as Jean-Luc Picard after the Borg go to sleep; it's a little bit light for something of such substance and might make people feel like there were fewer psychological consequences.

The title has always bothered me, as well--I never understood it, either.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 3:04 PM on December 18, 2020 [5 favorites]


I intensely disliked the Shelby character (not super fond of the actress, either, with her overreliance on smirking)

I see what you're saying here, but I also kind of feel smirking is Riker's only character trait, so seeing it on another up-and-coming commander doesn't feel to strange to me.
posted by hanov3r at 3:46 PM on December 18, 2020


I like the little note at the end, but I always wanted it to be more; it felt unresolved, like lip service to PTSD. Not one of the guys I watched this with at the time understood that Picard was that deeply affected, that he was severely traumatized.

I think that moment is fantastic as I mentioned above, but my reaction at the time was definitely not appreciation of Stewart subtly conveying a deeply disturbed man struggling to maintain an appearance of control. It was more like "huh, are they trying to say he's still under the borg's control?"

Based on the weakness of the second half, I don't think that the episode as a whole is in the top ten of TNG's best, but the first episode is quite memorable.

I also remember thinking that the impact of Guinan's speech to Riker (let Picard go!) is undercut by the fact that Riker's entire strategy is to recapture Picard.

There's also no way that Riker doesn't come out of this as being thought of as the Galaxy's Greatest Hero, so it is weird to think of him settling in to his field demotion and then later being passed up as next captain of the Enterprise in just a couple of years in Chain of Command.
posted by skewed at 3:55 PM on December 18, 2020


I expect a lot of the reaction to the episode is based on the high concept, which is kinda great: we'll take this cool scene-stealing bad guy the audience has seen once before and they'll take over the star of the show and give him sick robo-abs. Whether the actual episodes are good or not, that's pretty memorable.

After this, they keep trying the cliffhanger season enders and the results seem to be similar, in the sense of failing to stick the landing on the 2nd part. I suspect they write their way up to a cool open-ended cliffhanger to part one and end up kinda making up a shaggy dog ending after the season break.
posted by StarkRoads at 4:08 PM on December 18, 2020 [1 favorite]


Regarding women in these two, I do have to hand one thing to the writers, Beverly got some good confirmed kills in. I was counting the number of dead Borg on the floor in front of her. There were at least three by the time they adapted to her phaser. Contrast this with the Robin Hood episode where Beverly and Troi were the only two of the crew who weren't given weapons at all.
posted by Fukiyama at 4:26 PM on December 18, 2020 [3 favorites]


Regarding women in these two, I do have to hand one thing to the writers, Beverly got some good confirmed kills in.

I just wish they hadn't given Beverly that stupid "He must be exhausted" line, I'm pretty sure I laughed out loud at the dumbness of that line back on original broadcast, and it hasn't gotten any less cringetastic all these decades later.
posted by oh yeah! at 5:52 PM on December 18, 2020 [5 favorites]


Going off my comment about BoBW I, Wolf 359 is a great sci-fi battle. Again, they did an excellent job of making things feel big. The interrupted communication between Hansen and the Enterprise, showing only the aftermath of the battle, knowing the Federation was able to round up only several dozen starships, it all really works for me. It's a great example of "less is more."
posted by Stuka at 7:53 PM on December 18, 2020 [2 favorites]


While rewatching I did notice that O'Brien had the Geordi role for most of the episode, so it's good to get a reason for that beyond the lip-servicy explanation that the Borg communication is similar to a transporter beam.
posted by ckape at 9:50 PM on December 18, 2020


I always kinda thought the title was referring to Picard setting foot in the Borg world (and coming back), and also to Riker having his own command while staying on the Enterprise.

Now, I think that it could also mean Picard himself is maybe the “best” of both the Federation and Borg worlds. That might be a stretch.

I like titles like that, that are open to many parallel interpretations.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 12:01 AM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]


I'm in a human suit
I'm in a robot suit
I'm in a combination human suit and robot suit
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:50 AM on December 19, 2020 [3 favorites]


One of my earliest memories is waiting all summer for this arc to conclude. I would have been 5.
posted by potrzebie at 10:01 AM on December 19, 2020


Picard, more or less, served as the champion of both the Federation and the Borg, so put me down as another vote that he is the best the title refers to.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:53 PM on December 19, 2020


Can you imagine the sheer seat-of-their-pants chaos of trying to run this show? Script not figured out, major cast member unavailable, time running out? Maybe not the greatest resolution to the setup, but in hindsight it's impressive that it wasn't much, much worse.
posted by rikschell at 10:32 AM on December 21, 2020


Patrick Stewart – wearing his Borg costume – walked into the department to use its Xerox machine.

To add its technological distinctiveness to his own...

(And now I'm stuck on imagining the Borg trying to kitbash something together out of late 80s office technology. Lots of clunky plastic cases, toner cartridges, rolls of thermal fax paper, floppy disc drives.)
posted by Naberius at 6:19 AM on December 22, 2020 [1 favorite]


Guinan headwear watch: The rare purple hexagon.
posted by Kyol at 6:34 PM on January 28


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