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TNG 4-01

TNG 4x01
"The Best of Both Worlds, Part II"

Original airdate: 9/24/1990
Rewatch date: 10/23/2011

The Enterprise must find a way to defeat Locutus and the Borg as they head directly for Earth following the devastating Federation defeat at Wolf 359.

Spoiler-free notes:

Is the comm channel still open during the opening scene? Can the Borg hear La Forge say that the weapon will discharge in six seconds, and do they hear Riker's incredulous "They couldn't have adapted that quickly"? Seems kind of irresponsible to let them hear all that.

Locutus calling Riker "Number One" is a nice touch.

Patrick Stewart is still in the credits. I guess Picard lives after all.

Though we saw an alternate reality in which the Enterprise is a warship (in "Yesterday's Enterprise"), seeing the Federation in an all-out war footing is definitely a new tone for Star Trek. (More in the spoiler section...)

Riker's reluctance to take command is put right back in the forefront with his field promotion to captain of the Enterprise and with his first mission, being to battle his predecessor. It's perfect narrative irony. That fourth pip is the heaviest one.

There is a lot of good stuff going on in the scene with Guinan and Riker in the captain's ready room. Riker is afraid of the chair--is afraid of replacing Picard--and Guinan barges in, slapping her butt down in the chair as if to reinforce to Riker that it's just a chair. She then delivers classic Guinan dialogue, giving Riker the wisdom he needs to face the threat in front of him. One bit of irony is that Riker decides that what he must do is get Picard back, rather than letting him go as Guinan suggests. It's a great scene on multiple levels. (More in the spoiler section...)

I don't understand why Riker's modified version of Shelby's plan works. The whole thing hinges on the idea that multiple targets will confuse the Borg and keep them on their toes long enough for Worf and Data to go in and retrieve Locutus. However, I find it incredibly unlikely, especially given what just happened at Wolf 359, that the Borg are incapable of simple multitasking.

So the writers of this episode (Michael Piller especially) succeed in coming up with a clever way to defeat the Borg that is entirely consistent, despite how apparently unbeatable they are. They use the Borg's defining characteristic, their interdependancy, against them to great effect. Not only does this episode continue the tradition of our characters finding creative solutions to seemingly impossible situations, but it also demonstrates that the writers are capable of doing it too. Piller's accomplishment here deserves some serious recognition.

The worry for Riker is best expressed by Commander Shelby in the first part, when she tells Riker that he is incapable of making tough choices, that he consistently plays it safe. However, in this episode, he nearly launches a suicidal kamikaze attack on the Borg cube without any hesitation, proving once and for all that he is capable.

I like that, at the end of the episode, there's still a lot of ambiguousness about the Borg in general. Even though you could suppose that the Borg cube in this episode is the only Borg in existence, it seems incredibly unlikely that we won't see the Borg again. The creepy tone and dark look that comes over Picard in that last shot is also appropriately eerie.

Though the main character thrust of this episode is Riker, it has far more ramifications for Picard, who can never be the same after his assimilation. The most disappointing aspect of the episode, I think, is that it doesn't actually do much for Riker, because at the end of the episode, he is in essentially the same place he was in at the start of the first part, with no real resolution to his problem. All he does is inform Picard and Shelby that his career choices are his business, and that's the last word on the matter. It's easy to read more into the episode, to try to explain Riker's ultimate decision to stay by citing what he endures while in command (see my earlier note about the near kamikaze attack), but there's nothing explicit to support such an explanation. Besides, with the fleet so unbelievably dessimated and with Riker no doubt recognized as a hero who saved the Earth from the Borg, it is even more unlikely that he wouldn't be pressured to take a new command.

Spoiler section:

It's extremely appropriate that, at Wolf 359, the story of Deep Space Nine is starting (even though the show didn't debut until 1993), as shown in the opening moments of "Emissary." The warlike tone of this episode is new and exciting, but we don't see much of it in TNG. In DS9, though, it is easily the dominant storytelling mode, especially in the last few seasons.

Crusher theorizes that nanites could be used against the Borg, which not only references "Evolution," but also foreshadows that the Borg use incredibly sophisticated nanotechnology in the assimilation process, as we will see in Star Trek: First Contact and ENT's "Regeneration." It bothers me, though, that we never see the Federation make an attempt to use nanites against the Borg. Crusher says it would take "two to three weeks" to breed the appropriate nanites, which precludes their use here, but shouldn't the Federation work on that solution for future Borg engagements?

As Guinan talks to Riker about letting go of Picard, she must know that Picard will somehow survive, because "Time's Arrow, Part II" hasn't happened yet. Though the writers probably didn't know that Picard would eventually travel back in time and meet Guinan in the past, it is still entirely consistent for Guinan to gloss over this point while talking to Riker. You can never take her advice at face value, because everything she says is designed to be delicately manipulative, not accurate. It is possible that, by pushing Riker to let go of Picard, she is helping him realize that he needs to retrieve the former captain.

If there is any lingering doubt that TNG stands apart from TOS, this episode quashes it once and for all. For one thing, the original series never made it to a fourth season. For another, no single TOS episode (including the sole two-parter, "The Menagerie") has as much impact for subsequent Star Trek than this episode of TNG. The entire universe is affected and altered by these events, and the repercussions echo far into the future of the overall franchise.

TNG 3x26
"The Best of Both Worlds"
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Copyright 2011 e. magill. All rights reserved.