“The Best of Both Worlds” (Part 1)
Written by Michael Piller
Directed by Cliff Bole
Season 3, Episode 26
Production episode 40273-174
Original air date: June 18, 1990
Captain’s Log: The New Providence colony on Jouret IV is one of the Federation’s outermost colonies. The Enterprise responds to a distress signal from the world, but arrive to discover no life signs, no communications, and no colony. Every indication is that the colony was destroyed by the Borg, as it matches the damage done to the Neutral Zone outposts and to the planets in System J25.
The ship is soon joined by Admiral J.P. Hanson and the head of Borg Tactical, Lt. Commander Shelby. Shelby is a bright, ambitious young officer, whom Hanson credits with cutting through the crap at Borg Tactical and getting them on track — having said that, they’re still months away from being properly ready to defend themselves against the Borg. New weapons designs are still on the drawing board. They thought they’d have more time given the distance from their first encounter, but the Borg appear to be faster than expected.
Shelby wishes to inspect the colony, but it’s night there, so they schedule an away team for dawn. Riker invites Hanson to the weekly poker game, but he declines, suggesting Shelby go instead.
As Riker shows Shelby to her quarters, she tells him that she’s going to convince Picard that she’s the right person for the job. When Riker quizzically asks which job, she blithely says, “Yours, of course!”
It turns out that Riker has been offered the captaincy of the Melbourne, but hasn’t yet accepted it. Hanson tells Picard that, after turning down the commands of both the Drake and the Aries, Riker really needs to accept this post. Riker himself tells Picard that he does not wish to pursue that posting at this time, which disappoints both Shelby (who wants his job) and Picard (who wants him to think of his career). Riker declares that the Enterprise needs him, especially now, and Picard counters that Starfleet needs good captains, especially now, and pointedly tells him that the ship will manage just fine without him, thanks.
Shelby beams down with Data an hour early when she sees a weather front coming in, concerned that it would taint the soil samples. However, she did so without informing Riker, who is rather pissed when he and La Forge beam down on time to find her and Data already present. However, she does confirm that New Providence was destroyed by the Borg. Hanson returns to Starfleet Command, the entire fleet goes on yellow alert, and everyone is quaking in their boots.
Riker is unsure why he is remaining on board the Enterprise, and has a bit of a crisis of faith that Troi talks him through. Meanwhile, Shelby, Data, La Forge, and Wes have been unable to come up with ways to improve their weapons and shielding efficiency. The best they can do is change shield nutation and re-tuning the phasers to a higher EM frequency.
Hanson reports that the Lalo encountered a cube-shaped ship, and then was not heard from again. The Enterprise heads to their coordinates, and meets a Borg ship on the way. They get their butts kicked, but when the Borg hits them with a tractor beam, a random rotation of phaser frequencies enables them to eventually destroy the beam’s source long enough to make a run for it.
What’s odd is that the Borg hailed Picard by name. Where they previously were interested only in technology, now they’re interested in Picard specifically.
Picard takes the ship into the Paulson Nebula to hide and make repairs — the Borg cut open the hull at the engineering section, costing nineteen crew members their lives — and the Borg continue to pursue them in the nebula, meaning they won’t hurt anyone else.
The phaser frequency that destroyed the tractor beam had a system-wide effect on the Borg ship, albeit only for a moment. If they hit the Borg with something huge at that frequency, it might take them out: the deflector dish can put out that kind of power, so they start modifying it to fire. Shelby recommends that all phasers, even the hand units, be re-tuned to that frequency.
Shelby also recommends they separate the saucer, give the Borg two targets. Riker thinks that’s a bad idea, as they might need the saucer’s power, but Shelby goes over his head to take the plan to Picard. The captain agrees with Riker that it’s a bad idea, but that they should hold it in reserve as a backup plan. (Riker has a few terse words to a wholly unrepentent Shelby about doing an end run around him, and she tells him that if he can’t make the big decisions, he needs to make way for someone who will. Shelby did ask for permision to speak freely before telling him this, which is the only reason why Riker didn’t throw her in the brig, though the look on his face indicates that it’s a near thing.)
Eventually the Enterprise starts getting hit with charged particles while inside the nebula and is unable to remain inside it. They leave at warp 9, the Borg cube pursuing. Three drones beam on board — the first is shot and killed by Worf, but the next two are immune to phaser fire, having adapted to the new frequency already — and kidnap Picard before buggering off.
Now the Enterprise has no captain and is pursuing the Borg instead of the other way around. Worf reports that the Borg are now on course for Sector 001: Earth. Hanson’s leading a fleet that will intercept them at Wolf 359.
On the cube, the Borg inform Picard that they will be adding the Federation’s biological and technological distinctiveness to their own, as part of their eternal quest to improve themselves. Because archaic cultures are authority driven, they have chosen Picard to speak for them in all communications. Every argument Picard makes is countered with the Borg dismissing his words as “irrelevant.” Even “We would rather die” is met with: “Death is irrelevant.” They’re fun conversationalists, aren’t they?
The Enterprise is pounding away at warp 9.6 just to keep up with the Borg, which they can only do for another two hours and forty minutes. In order to fire the super-duper deflector dish, they need to bring the Borg cube out of warp, since they need the power from the warp engines to make the weapon work. Riker plans to lead an away team to bring Picard back and take the ship out of warp. Shelby thinks she should lead the team, but Riker slaps her down. Then Troi points out — as Riker has historically pointed out both to Picard and to his previous CO, Captain DeSoto — that it’s inappropriate for the captain (which Riker is as long as Picard’s missing) to lead the away team, especially in a time of war.
To his credit, Riker immediately assigns Shelby to lead the team, which includes Worf, Data, and Crusher. As with the last time, the Borg ignore the team when they first beam over. Crusher and Data notice distribution nodes, which allow them to work collectively. There’s too many of them to take out, but Crusher suggests they approach it from the mosquito’s perspective: bite them in a tender spot, they might pause to scratch.
They don’t find Picard (though they find his uniform and combadge), and they’re running out of time, so they start firing on the nodes. Sure enough, the Borg drop out of warp. Several drones go after the away team, and are destroyed by the modified phasers — for a bit. Just as the Borg adapt, Crusher sees Picard —
— but with half his face and his body now covered in Borg technology. With the now-immune-to-phaser-fire drones bearing down on them, Shelby has to order a beam-out.
Picard is alive, but there isn’t time to get him back. They only have a few minutes before the Borg go back into warp, so they have to take their shot now.
And then the Borg hail the Enterprise. They all see Picard covered in Borg technology, speaking in a low, mechanical monotone.
“I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile. Your life as it has been is over. From this time forward, you will service us.”
Riker’s response: “Mr. Worf — fire.”
And fade to black.
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: The Borg are apparently vulnerable to higher EM frequencies. Of course, this being the Borg, this is for very small values of “vulnerable.”
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi whups Riker upside the head when he starts worrying about his sudden loss of ambition. I particularly like when he says, “Maybe I’m too comfortable,” and Troi rightly dismisses the phrase as meaningless, pointing out that Riker’s happier than she’s ever known him to be.
She later gives Riker a similar whup when he tries to lead the away team himself.
If I Only Had a Brain…: Data is confused by the phrase “the early bird gets the worm,” even though he was right there when the Minos weapons advertisement used the same phrase in “The Arsenal of Freedom.”
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf gets to shoot plenty of Borg, and he nicely cuts through the crap at the end. Shelby’s all mealy mouthed about him being “altered,” but Worf just comes out and says it: “He is a Borg!”
The Boy!?: Wes joins the poker game for the first time, and gets his ass handed to him by both Shelby and Riker, as Riker bluffs him into folding with three of a kind, only to discover that Riker has nothing, and Shelby only has two pair, so he would’ve won. Dumb kid....
No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: “Data was available, I took him, we came.” Yes, Shelby really said that. Wah-HEY!
Syntheholics Anonymous: Picard and Guinan talk on the eve of the battle with the Borg, citing a couple of human historical precedents: Nelson touring the Victory on the eve of Trafalgar (Nelson died, but the battle was won, an obvious bit of foreshadowing), and Picard musing if Emperor Honorius knew that, when the Visigoths were coming over the hill, that the Roman Empire was about to fall. Guinan also assures Picard that, even if they lose against the Borg, as long as some of the human race survives, they will prevail — just as Guinan’s own people did when the Borg destroyed her homeworld.
I Believe I Said That: “Resistance is futile.”
A phrase that will live in infamy.
Welcome Aboard: Elizabeth Dennehy, daughter of Brian, kicks ass and takes names as Shelby, while George Murdock — last seen in the franchise as “God” in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, but who will always be Lieutenant Scanlon of Internal Affairs on Barney Miller to me — mostly comes across the tiresome stereotypical old-white-guy admiral. Both of them will be back at the top of next season for Part 2.
Trivial Matters: This episode serves as the sequel to the Borg’s first appearance in “Q Who,” firmly establishing them as recurring villains.
It’s only the second two-parter in Trek history (after “The Menagerie” — while “Encounter at Farpoint” was split into two parts for rerunning purposes, it was originally aired as a single two-hour episode), and the first to span seasons, and also the first (though far from the last) season-ending cliffhanger. Trek will use the Borg for a season-spanning cliffhanger three more times: once more on TNG with “Descent,” and twice on Voyager: “Scorpion” and “Unimatrix Zero.”
Michael Piller was coming to the end of a one-year contract when he wrote this episode, and Riker’s dilemma about staying or going mirrored his own conflicted feelings about whether or not to stay on as co-executive producer of the show. He also wrote Part 1 while having no idea how it would be resolved in Part 2. (Of course, if he didn’t re-up his contract, it would be someone else’s problem...)
Riker won’t be offered another command for another decade or so, finally accepting the Titan some time prior to Star Trek Nemesis.
This episode sees Crusher both on an away team (which was rare) and firing a weapon (which had only happened once before, in “Conspiracy”). This was apparently due to Gates McFadden requesting that the good doctor actually see some action for a change.
Wolf 359 is an actual star, a red dwarf about 7.8 light-years from Earth.
The Paulson Nebula was created using footage of the Mutara Nebula from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Your humble rewatcher showed this episode from the engineers’ perspective (including giving names to the nineteen who died when the hull was breached) in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers story Many Splendors (collected in the anthology What’s Past). The story included a line from one of La Forge’s engineers complaining about Shelby being on board as a Borg “expert”: “Never mind that we’re the only ones who actually saw the damn things, but hey, she’s the expert.”
While Shelby won’t appear again on screen after this two-parter, she appears quite a bit in the tie-in fiction, most notably in Peter David’s New Frontier novel series, which starts with her as first officer of the U.S.S. Excalibur under Captain Mackenzie Calhoun, and eventually sees her being promoted to captain and later admiral. In that series, she’s given the full name of Elizabeth Paula Shelby. She also appears in David’s novels Vendetta and Triangle: Imzadi II and his short story “Pain Management” in Tales from the Captain’s Table, my novel Q & A, David Mack’s Destiny: Mere Mortals, and The Return by William Shatner and Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens. Ronald D. Moore also threw in a reference to a Captain Shelby that was meant to be a nod to this character in the Deep Space Nine episode “You Are Cordially Invited...” but since that took place at the same time as her time as first officer on the Excalibur in New Frontier, David (with Moore’s blessing) established that as being a different person named Shelby in Starfleet.
Shelby’s time at Borg Tactical prior to this episode was chronicled in “All that Glisters...” by Loren L. Coleman in the New Frontier anthology No Limits. (Shelby also appears in the stories “Making a Difference” by Mary Scott-Wiecek and “A Little Getaway” by David in that anthology.)
David’s Vendetta has the Borg attempting to use a Ferengi as their spokesperson in much the same manner as Picard in this episode; the Borg renamed him Vastator.
Make it So: “We have engaged the Borg.” Twenty years later, it’s easy to forget just what a big deal this episode was. I still clearly remember sitting in my living room with my then-fiancée and several of my closest friends in June 1990 to watch the season finale that we’d been anticipating — well, since “Q Who” a year and a half earlier, to be honest.
Keep in mind: in 1990, the season-ending cliffhanger was extremely rare. It wasn’t completely unheard of — notably, the British series Blake’s 7 had a nearly identical cliffhanger to end its second season (devastating foe, fate of lead in doubt, second-banana character giving the order to fire before fading to black) — but still, it wasn’t anywhere near as commonplace as it’s become in the two decades since.
On top of that, there were vague rumors (remember, this is basically pre-internet, so vague was all we had) that Sir Patrick Stewart wouldn’t be back for the fourth season. So this cliffhanger was pretty much genuine, because there was a distinct possibility that Locutus’s speech would be the last time we’d see Picard.
So when Riker said, “Mr. Worf — fire,” and they faded to a “TO BE CONTINUED...” card, we all screamed. Seriously, we did. We were stunned.
Because of all this, I was worried about rewatching this episode in full again. I’d watched bits of it in recent times for research for various bits of Trek fiction, most notably Many Splendors. But I hadn’t watched it in full in ages.
I needn’t have worried. No, the ending didn’t have anything like the impact it did on that fateful summer day in 1990, but the episode remained powerful, suspenseful, dramatic, and intense. Normally when I do this, I take notes as I watch the episode, but I had to constantly pause it so my notes could catch up to where I was because the episode had my absolute full attention.
There’s not a false note to be found — one can even say that literally, as Ron Jones’s score here is magnificent, from the two-note fanfare when the Borg cube first appears on the Enterprise screen to the brilliant use of the classic theme as a leitmotif when the away team find Picard on the Borg ship. Shelby’s presence shakes things up nicely, everyone gets a moment in the sun, and they top it all off with a simply brutal ending that we all had to wait three months for a follow-up to. (Luckily, you guys only have to wait a week.)
The lasting image from this episode is Picard as Locutus intoning the Borg mantra in a mechanical monotone — and Stewart more than sells it — but this episode really belongs to William T. Riker. Jonathan Frakes does a fine job with Riker’s indecision, his frustration with his own stalled ambition in the wake of Shelby plowing through the Enterprise like a freight train — and very much like Riker himself when he first reported on board. In an episode fraught with tension and action, it’s Riker’s personal conflict that reminds us — as Star Trek at its best always does — of the human struggle.
Television in general and Star Trek in particular would dip into the season-ending cliffhanger so often going forward that it almost became expected. There are a few that would approach the level of intensity of this one, but it has yet to be surpassed. Just a stellar piece of work.
Warp factor rating: 10
Keith R.A. DeCandido has never written the Borg, despite the metric buttload of Star Trek fiction he’s written. Go fig’. He did get to write Shelby, though, in Q & A. Go to his web site and order his fiction, especially his newest novels Unicorn Precinct, SCPD: The Case of the Claw, and Guilt in Innocence: A Tale of the Scattered Earth. You’ll be glad you did.