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[Retro Review] Best of Both Worlds

[Retro Review] Best of Both Worlds

The word ‘Legacy’ has been storming every corner of fan circles since the closing episode of Star Trek Picard which saw the former captains story with the Borg come full circle in more ways than one. While showrunner Terry Matalas has said there’s nothing confirmed with Paramount to his grand plan to continue the stage set by the finale, we’re digging into the Comms archive to look back at one of the touch stones of the seasons story arcs.

In one of the most dramatic moments of the show, Picard had to face an ugly truth when Titan’s Captain Liam Shaw reminded Picard where they’d met before: Wold 359. Shaw, an unseasoned junior officer at the time surviving by luck of the draw while Locutus, a shell of Picard himself, waged war against Earth and the Federation.

The following article first appeared in out Alan Van Spring Issue of Comms, released in May 2019. The issue is available to download in full PDF format for all SFCQ2 members.

Once upon a time Q zapped the Enterprise into the Delta Quadrant and shoved them in front of a cybernetic force of evil called the Borg. For… reasons. Who really knows why Q does anything. They were zapped back home after their excursion through fear, where Picard wrote a memo to Starfleet Command. Which I imagine said “there’s freaky robot people out there and I think I told them where we live. Soz. Tea anyone?”

After coming home, Picard and his crew went on their merry way dancing between the mad politics of the Klingons, sneaking about with Romulans and drinking enough Earl Grey to raise the question of where the bridge toilet is. Meanwhile Starfleet Command were in a bit of a tizzy and up hearing of the cybernetic murderbots, they began to prepare for them.

A season and a half after hearing nothing from the mysterious Borg, the Enterprise responds to a distress call at Jouret IV. By the time they arrive they find the whole colony had been ‘scooped’ off the face of the planet. Something that was becoming disturbingly common lately. Starfleet blames the Borg.

To confirm this Admiral Hanson brings his new Borg expert Commander Shelby. Who he confirms is the new Riker. Which is an interesting, if a little obvious, subplot and one of the ost aggressive signs of grumpy Riker.

Despite the seriousness of the mission, Hanson is also piggy backing his intentions to get Riker his own ship. It’s one of the eternal frustrations of the show; Riker is the next big thing, destined for command, but for some reason he always turns it down. Maybe because the Enterprise has comfy chairs and the other ships in the fleet have redressed bridges from the 23rd century and only appear as stock footage. Who knows.

Aside from being our resident Borg expert, Shelby is also the new Riker. He doesn’t like that idea. After all, the ideas ridiculous. She doesn’t have a beard. So he sulks, moans to Troi a bit, has to hear Picard tell him to grow up and stop wasting his time and of course, argues with the new girl. All the while NewRiker is down in engineering doing her job.

It’s an odd subplot, but keep that in mind for later.

The core of this episode though is that the Borg have arrived, and Shelby managed to find the cube thats been causing hassle and wrecking colonies. Hot footing it to the cube they try their new anti-Borg phasers. Anti Borg tactics, which work. For a time. But the Borg are one step ahead, continue their chase, board the ship and steal the Captain.

As Riker takes command, Shelby leads a team to the Borg cube to steal him right back. But they’re too late. Outnumbered by the unstoppable Borg who have the ability to adapt to all weapons, they discover Picard has already been implanted with Borg tech and is now one of them.

The first half of the Best of Both Worlds had it’s flaws. The emergence of sudden Grumpy Riker being one of them as they continue to offer no reason as to why he’d turn down his command so many times. The Enterprise isn’t that nice! It also gives us no reason to empathise with him as, to be honest, he’s just acting like a moody teenager who needs Bishop Brennan’d. It’s one of the worst traits of Riker that would pop up again over the years as it removes the likeability and charm he was introduced with and replaces it with him just being a bit of an arse.

Shelby is also a bit unlikeable as she’s too eager to advance and just becomes annoying in places. Also her big plan to split the ship in two pieces so the Borg would have to contest with two targets is a little bit frustrating as the saucer section really should have been used as a lifeboat to get the families and civilians out of harms way. No one ever thinks of the children.

Despite some glaring issues, the first part was a nice reintroduction to the Borg, and one that set some new ground rules from the vague hints we had back in Q Who. For one, there was no sight of a Borgified baby which at the time suggested they would breed and cyber-themselves up; something which wasn’t really addressed again until we saw assimilated children in Voyager. Of course the Borg would be redefined a few times, particularly with First Contact and the Voyager era and some parts introduced in Best of Both Worlds wouldn’t return. Such as the disappearing colonies.

The key though was ensuring that we know Starfleet have the fear, don’t quite know how to handle the situation and of course, the tension of them taking Picard – a revered Captain – into their collective which in itself led to the last scene of Part One; Riker in command, facing down a Borg Cube and the hive calling for a bit of a chinwag with their new Avatar: Locutus.

The final scene left us on Star Trek’s first big cliffhanger. Borg-Picard on one side, Riker on the other and the bearded grumpy one only giving one order: Fire.

For the sidetracking with some really odd character work that just didn’t seem to go anywhere worthwhile in that hour, the underlying tension followed by the last ten minutes made up for it. Jean Luc Picard was now the enemy; an enemy that Riker had no choice but to fire upon. Fade to black, see ya next year!

Another notable thing was how that happened, which was quite a visual treat as we watched Picard be informed, then transformed as his skin was bleached out, hs body chopped up and mechanical doodads installed all over; including replacing his arm with a big chunky claw. Which was actually quite horrifying in the beige filled Next Generation era.

After a long, long wait the show came back and changes were made. The stand off against Picard fizzled out, but the threat was still there. And so was Admiral Hanson who bumped Rikr up to Captain, giving some finality to his unwillingness to leave the Enterprise, but his desire to still be captain. And Shelby became first officer, just as she wanted. Everybody wins! Well, apart from Picard who was a Borg now. And Starfleet who still had to face the fact that one of their most knowledgable tacticians was now informing the enemies hive mind and they still had no way to stop them at all.

Despite my grumbling over “Comfortable Grumpy Riker” there is the feeling that everyones pressuring him towards an exit. But by the end of the first episode, it’s Picard who’s out of the picture, so Riker getting his promotion after questioning himself and his future is a nice touch. After counselling Picard in the first half, Guinan shows up in the second to again give her words of wisdom, which lets us know this is a proper handover. Riker’s the skipper now and she reminds him of that; and that he needs to let go of Picard and take hold of his command.

When the second part opens and he starts to take command – and in turn suddenly learns how to not treat Shelby like a Pakled handyman – we learn that Picard’s knowledge of his former crew and of Starfleet in general had him prepare in advance. So radical thinkings in order.

Of course radical thinking doesn’t happen on an Admiralty level, and instead Hanson just throws as many ships as he can gather at Picards cube, which is determined to assimilate the entire population of Earth. Did anyone think that would work? Apparently so as there’s shock and surprise that we only see the aftermath of the battle and the forty ships that were just as ineffective against the Borg as the Enterprise was.

In a classic race against time, and because this time there might actually be a logical reason why the Enterprise is the only ship in the quadrant, it’s up to Captain Beardly, and there’s no time to grump his way through this one. Revisiting a plan they formed with Picard – to separate the saucer as a distraction (which is seriously still an issue unless they moved the civilians off ship) – Riker does the old bait and switch. Lotucus/Picard obviously ignores it, but wait! Data and Worf are on board the saucer and since it’s being ignored, the Borg don’t see them beaming over and finally stealing their Captain back! That advice Guinan gave Riker got ignored real fast!

Now with Picard in their possession, we get to see Data android it up and plug himself into the Artist Formely Known As Picard, helping the Captain to fight against his assimilation. Picard resists, helps Data hack into the Borg Cube and give them the order to ‘sleep’; with the threat neutralised, Riker lets the cube explode to ensure it’s eliminated as Picard is taken down to sickbay to be downgraded back to an average human.

The second half isn’t as good as the first. It does pay off several threads from the first half, such as Riker’s loss of direction, which becomes restored with his Captaincy; Picards capture, which is explored further as he still fights against his assimilation and with the little details such as Shelby’s decoy plan paying off in the end (with a few tweaks). We also see more of the Borg’s capabilities through the wreckage of the fleet and the panic Starfleet has over them.

It also has some really dodgy dialogue and unintentionally silly moments. In contrast to that, Worf and Data’s rescue mission in the middle of a firefight was an exciting little mission that was very nicely put together, ad the Data-Picard mind link gave for some nice moments, despite their easy solution to silencing the Borg.

But it was disappointing that a lot of the character work didn’t really matter. When alls said and done, the Borg are gone because they mysteriously exploded and Picards make-under see’s him back in his ready room with a cup of tea. In the background the devastation was there, the fleet needed captains to make up for their losses and we’re left with the reminder that Riker’s career prospects as a heroic Captain who saved Earth are now incredible. Yet by the next episode, he’s back by Picards side and Shelby gets a new job off screen.

As a single story though, it works incredibly well. The first half sets up incredible tension with each moment slowly building to it’s climax. The second, while getting off to a understandable anticlimactic start, turns the desperation to defeat the Borg into an opportunity to save the captain while still keeping that tension level high.

As a reintroduction to the Borg it’s a brilliant two parter. Some elements of the Borg legacy were adapted and extended later on, but here the building blocks of what was to come were laid very nicely and would become a key part of the Next Generation era for years to come…

Our latest issue of Comms takes a look at the last year of Star Trek, sci fi, superheropes and more!! With the usual features including What If, Fistful Of Data and more, the “All Good Things” issue of Comms is available as part of SFCQ2’s free membership! To find out more visit our Comms preview or Enlist Today!

ADM JT Marczynka, DoFA
Creator of things, writer of words, caffeine addict. Director of Communications for Starfleet Command Quadrant 2.

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