“Best of Both Worlds” will always be a special TNG story for me. I know, it’s a two-parter that ended the series’ third season on a dramatic cliffhanger and started off the fourth with a bang, and multitudes of Trekkies hold these episodes in high regard. I’m not saying I’m special.
But, “Both Worlds” is special to me because these were the episodes that made me begin watching the series.
I know I’ve mentioned before that I conducted my own personal boycott of TNG when it first started. I was a fan of the original series and wasn’t interested in anything that, in my opinion, was trying to ride the coat-tails of the Star Trek Holy Trinity that was Kirk, Spock and McCoy. It didn’t help that the scuttlebutt at the time was that William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy weren’t happy that a new Trek show was being made without them. I was demonstrating solidarity in my boycott.
Plus, I was working all the time and didn’t have time to watch much television.
Then, fast-forward to the summer of 1990. I had been married about a year to my first wife, and I was a manager for a retail store called Rose’s, which was a discount store that was growing by leaps and bounds on the east coast for a time, until it suddenly wasn’t. (The company still exists, sort of, but it’s not the same: When I moved on they were padlocking the doors on 25 stores a year.) My senior assistant manager at the store, in a rural North Carolina town, was a Texan named Scott who, like me, was in his mid-20’s, and who, also like me, was an aspiring writer. He was also an aspiring comic book artist (something I gave up in my teens), and was proudly a nerd before being a nerd was cool. Among his many fandoms was the Legion of Super-Heroes, and he was involved in some sort of fanzine for that DC property, if I’m remembering correctly. And, of course, he was an enthusiastic fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
I heard about the cliffhanger third-season finale long before I ever saw it. Scott had described it with such eloquence and fanboy passion that I had second-thoughts about my boycotting principles. I decided that I needed to give the program a chance.
I know I began watching the episodes on television when the series returned that fall. I also joined the Columbia House VHS club where I was receiving about a tape a month, each typically containing two episodes, which allowed me to fill in some of the blanks from the early seasons. These didn’t include all of the episodes, and seemed to be in no particular order, but they got the point across. I think I quit the club about twenty tapes in, and they are now long-gone.
A few of the gaps in my TNG education didn’t get filled until I began my Boldly Going project to watch every episode of Trek ever produced, which is still on-going.
So, in a roundabout way, it was this two-parter that began my own personal love of TNG, that would carry over to the licensed novels, the Playmates action figures (still in their original packaging, mostly), the movies, and, eventually, the other Trek shows.
Now you know why these episodes are special to me. Let’s talk about why they are special period.
These are the programs where the Borg finally come into their own. They were introduced in Season 2’s “Q Who?” but only as a vague sort of future threat. In “Best of Both Worlds,” they become a genuine threat. It’s not that they are boisterous and evil-acting. As a connected hive-mind, they are devoid of personality and emotion. I would go as far as to say that they are monotonous in their sameness, each individual member as expendable as a single skin cell in humans. Something about this hyper-efficient banality is truly scary to me, as if the Borg Cube were filled with accountants and tax auditors.
I apologize if you are an accountant or a tax auditor. Or a Borg. I’m sure you’re all very nice people.
The first episode ends, famously, with Capt. Jean-Luc Picard being kidnapped by the Borg and assimilated to be their spokesperson as they attempt to take over the Earth. Picard’s Borg-name is Locutus. The final scene, with Picard’s little eye laser causing the lens flare, is iconic now, and was a terrific cliffhanger at the time.
There’s a definite B-plot in the two-parter (in fact, it may be the A-plot: What do I know?). Riker has been offered the command of another ship, and a Starfleet Borg-specialist, Lt. Commander Shelby, is angling for his first officer position on the Enterprise. She is ambitious and a highly capable officer, and at one point suggests that Riker “get out of the way” of officers willing to make the big decisions. Of course, by the end of the second episode, they each have gained respect for the other, and then, although Shelby is the first really strong, assertive female Starfleet officer we’ve met by this point, we never see her again. At least, I don’t think we do. I’ll let you know.
Part 2 includes both the Battle at Wolf 359, another iconic moment in Star Trek history, and Riker’s heroic rescue of Picard from the Borg. Incidentally, Wolf 359 is where Benjamin Sisko became a widower as well. Picard’s short tenure as Locutus will continue to have a ripple effect that carries over to the NextGen movies.
I should add that I also have the Locutus action figure somewhere around here.
If you know any diehard Trek nerds, trust me when I say that you can’t say “Wolf 359” or “Locutus” without evoking memories of these episodes. I believe this is also when the series begins to have more serialized aspects to its storytelling, which continues to make it better.