Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 4: Best of Both Worlds, Part 2

The Next Generation, Season 4
"Best of Both Worlds, Part 2"
Airdate: September 24, 1990
74 of 176 produced
74 of 176 aired


Did you all have a good summer? Was it relaxing? I hope so, because the tension levels are still through the roof here on the Enterprise. Last we saw our crew, Riker reluctantly, but firmly gave the order to fire on the Borg cube, hoping to destroy them but sacrificing Captain Picard in the process. Since the episode is more than 3 minutes long, I think it's not a spoiler to say, it doesn't go as planned, and the Borg continue their march toward Sector 001. Will the armada Starfleet is amassing be able to stop them? Will the crew rescue Picard? Will Batman and Robin escap--- sorry, sorry. Wrong serial. Anyway, on with the review...

Pants are irrelevant. You will service... us.


Kevin: Michael Piller wrote Part 1 on his way out the door, and purposely created an unsolvable problem. Then Gene Rodenberry convinced him to stay on, and now he had to solve it. I find the solution to be at least okay, maybe a little more than okay, but still not as stellar as the set up in Part 1 was. I don't mind the idea that the Borg collective consciousness is not separable. I think a better analogy in the dialogue would have been asking someone to delete a component of their personality, rather than severing a body part. It would have reinforced the collective nature of the Borg, and provided a better exploration into how the Borg function and what assimilation means to an individual, but we'll get more of that in "Family."

Matthew: Yeah, the cliff hanger of the first one had really delivered a whopper. Crusher was arguing for rescuing Picard, but Riker knew he had to take his shot at disabling the Borg ship, with or without Picard. It was a satisfying and challenging emotional situation. How does part 2 start? With a pretty light show and a whole lotta nothing. The deflector firing was rather anticlimactic. I would have liked to see some more sparks, so to speak. Maybe the Borg could have taken a little damage, but then reflected it back against the Enterprise. Maybe the deflector itself could have exploded. Heck, if they had even explained with a line of dialogue that the deflector being burnt out meant that a speck of dust could annihilate them at warp, that would have been at least slightly more exciting that a light show sputtering against the Borg cube, and Shelby saying "impossible." And then after that, why does Locutus remind them that all of Picard's knowledge is at the Borg's disposal? It's akin to the Borg reminding their enemy that they should change their command codes, come up with wild new strategies, and surmount their new weakness. It makes no sense for the Borg as a story force.

Kevin: I agree with you. It's not the scene isn't interesting. I can and certainly have watched the crew stand around and talk at great length and enjoyed myself; it just lacks the oopmh of "Mr."

Matthew: I'm not saying that the emotional impact was missing. Riker looked pained at having to sacrifice his friend and mentor to the strategic needs of the moment. Troi looks positively devastated at the notion. Crusher is left bereft at Picard's capture. And then Admiral Hanson's field promotion of Riker to Captain (OMG! A believable and necessary field promotion to captain!) was totally kick ass. We both mentioned how much we love the nerdy detail of the fleet massing at the real star system Wolf 359.  Hanson's story about Picard winning the academy marathon was great, too (though Kelly has pointed out quite correctly that a marathon is not 40 km... so we have to assume that some historical change to the meaning of the word marathon has occurred... perhaps an earthquake has brought the battlefield at Marathon and the city of Athens closer than their original 42.195 km apart?).

Kevin: I liked how they played Riker and Shelby in their scenes this time around. Crisis and grudging respect have led to a bit of a detente, and with the exception of Riker telling her he "reluctantly" appointed her XO, all the dialogue plays well. I particularly liked the scene in Engineering. Her ambition and his concerns for her rashness both still read as credible. I'm not saying I'm sad Patrick Stewart stayed on the show, but it would have been fun to watch them over a season.

Matthew: This is one of my biggest problems with this story as a story. I agree entirely that getting four more seasons of Captain Picard is nothing to sneeze at. But as a story, Riker has been put through the wringer and come out the stronger for it. His character experiences real growth in these two hours of television. But then what happens? Galactic Reset Button time! Everything great that happens to Riker is essentially washed away by one line of dialogue at the conclusion. And then, his ambitions for a captaincy are never mentioned again. You know at a time that Starfleet needs to find 40 new starship crews? Sigh... As we mentioned in the podcast, this could have been ameliorated somewhat by Riker saying something along the lines that he wants to stay because he lost his mentor and then found him again, and he doesn't want to leave him again so soon. Something.  Hell, he could have stayed because he wants to marry Deanna and they wouldn't be able to on a new ship. Anything. If nothing else, this is the biggest knock on this show for me, and it might be worth a whole rating point.

Kevin: This episode also has one of my favorite pieces of dialogue in all of Star Trek, nay science fiction itself. "The Borg have neither courage nor honor. That is our greatest advantage." Hell, yeah, Mr. Worf. Fuck that "interdependent hive-mind regeneration cycle hack vulnerability" shit. No courage. No honor. Case closed.

Matthew: That line always makes me laugh. It's usually a somewhat derisive snicker, I must admit.

Kevin: I'll finish up by saying that I agree this episode is not as strong as Part 1, and that's sad, but even in its flaws, the episode still feels right. I still feel the same sense of tension and fear pretty much throughout the episode, and it's not until I start picking it apart later that the issues emerge. In the moment, it is a well-paced story that more than makes up for plot holes with nigh on flawless character development.

Matthew: Until it forgets that selfsame development. I agree with you broadly, that the tone was still enjoyable. But I do think the "Borg weakness" could have stood better development and exposition. I mean, Data basically hacks into the Borg net, right? Have the Borg never encountered an attack like this, in the entire galaxy, over an existence that at a minimum spans centuries? They should have hacked back at Data, threatening to kill him, shut him down, or assimilate him. I can also forgive the "sleep" command... up to a point. It would have been better if the sleep tactic would have worked only for a few minutes, and in those minutes the Enterprise beamed a complement of photon torpedoes into the Borg power plant. Or, on the other hand, if "sleep" is permanent, it would have been better to indicate that Starfleet inherits a dormant Borg cube to poke, prod, decommission, reverse engineer, and all that. Instead, we got the boringest of alternatives... kaboom!


Kevin: The actors certainly didn't get lazy over the break, did they? Jonathan Frakes gets less of the focus this episode, but he still anchors the bridge. My feeling that the bridge is off is because of Picard's absence, not the lack of ability of Riker to sit in the achor chair. I particularly liked the scene on the battle bridge when he gives the Riker Smile (TM).

Matthew: Frakes wears his four pips well. He really played a lot of emotions for Riker just under the surface. It's probably his best performance so far. I could really have seen him as the anchor for the next 4 seasons of show. It's a shame that the writing sabotaged all of Frakes' good work here.

Kevin: Credit where it's due, they gave Elizabeth Dennehy some varsity-level technoobabble, both in this and the last episode, and she delivered like a pro. Guest stars in particular can really flub delivering those lines like they know what they are talking about, and her ability to keep up prevents her scenes from dragging. I really believed she was working on a shield generator whose inner workings she understood. Her shock and grief in the Wolf 359 sequence, particularly when calling out the Melbourne's name, was pretty awesome. The only shame is that we never hear of or from her again. WTF, writing staff? WTF?

Matthew: Yeah, she really imbued her role with a realism. She seemed like a real person on the one hand, not a caricature. But she also reacted to the world of Star Trek with complete aplomb, which makes it feel all the more real to the rest of us. Peter David, who I think it's fair to say is a writer's writer (and who I'd give my left nut for if he could replace Abrams as the "guy in charge of Trek" role), recognized what a good character this was, and used her in his New Frontier novels. It's a real shame she doesn't get picked up.

Kevin: There was less for the ensemble to do this time as it was a more action-centered episode, but in the perfect example of what a good actor can do with literally nothing, every time the camera was on Gates McFadden's face in the sickbay scene, she looked both professionally concerned and personally horrified. She was reacting exactly as a real human being would react to seeing something horrible happen to a close friend. It's all in the eyes and the set of her mouth, but it elevates the scene and adds depth and veracity to their relationship.

Matthew: I think Spiner deserves some credit, too. His scene with Picard in the science lab could have been played for "excitement." I'm imaging this scene as redone by Abrams, Orci, and Kurtzman. Everyone is running around like headless chickens, shouting at each other, and lenses are flaring all over the place. But Spiner stayed completely true to Data's character, lacking most all emotions besides a healthy curiosity. We also talked about Whoopi Goldberg's turn as Guinan. Despite being pretty much the ultimate Cosmic Black Mentor, her scene still feels real. When she says that their relationship goes beyond friendship and family, I believe her. Too bad the writing never caught up with her acting chops in future episodes, failing to deliver on this line reading..

Production Values

Kevin: Well, where to start? The Wolf 359 sequence tapped into some atavistic part of my Star Trek-brain. It's still haunting. The kitbash models were cool and imply a large and diverse fleet. (BTW: I love that there are other ships in range of a crisis NOT the Enterprise. Finally.) It would have been nice to see some fully realized Excelsiors or Ambassadors out there, but that's a minor quibble.

Matthew: The "starship graveyard" is the most ships we'll see on screen for a long, long time. It comes across as an exciting shock to anyone who has followed the franchise to this point because previous portrayals of dead starships have been rather bloodless and lacking in detail. But here, we see recognizable models, all blown to hell, still burning in space. The only thing that could have made it better was frozen bodies floating out of the hulls. The holographic Borg cube viewscreen was cool, too, by the way.

Kevin: The shot of the shuttle leaving the saucer section was quietly amazing. There was the shuttle, the star field, the drive section, and the Borg cube all going by the window without any comment, and it was just beautiful, both in terms of technical competence and in the ability to show off without derailing a scene.

Matthew: It's the first time in the franchise that this sort of shot compositing has come off as so seamless. In previous seasons, these shots would be as grainy as all hell, or would show an obvious matte line. Here, nothing pulls us away from the illusion. Of course, we are going to see more and better iterations of this kind of shot in the future. But this show did it first, and it deserves props for that. We shouldn't fail to mention the music. There were some great music cues, especially during the battles, and the starship graveyard scene.


Kevin: Michael Piller certainly succeeded in creating an unsolvable problem, insofar as the solution he came up with wasn't wholly satisfying. But still, the energy and tension remain, and I argue the core idea of the solution is sound, even if the execution was a little too pat for its own good. The actors don't have the opportunity to shine like they did in the first half, but what they do, they do with the skill we've come to expect. Capped off with some awesome effects and music work, this episode is a 4.

Matthew: I'm torn between a 3 and a 4 because of the severe missed opportunities that this script left dangling in the wind. But the acting and production values are both so strong that I can't in good faith give it a 3. It's above average. So I have, reluctantly, decided to give it a 4, which makes a total of 8.



  1. Actually, it's the modern-day marathon that's 42.196 km. The distance from Marathon to Athens is right around 40 km. When the Olympics re-started in Greece in 1896, the marathon route was 40 km. Blame the Brits for the change. In the 1908 Olympics, it was changed to 26 miles (about 42 km) because of problems with the 40 km route they'd mapped out, and then 385 yards was tacked on so that Queen Alexandra could see the finish line from her royal box.* And believe me, I curse Queen Alexandra during those final 385 yards! :) So, perhaps in the future they have reverted to the original 40 km distance. I wish they'd told us how fast Picard ran it!

  2. Also, as much as I adore K'Ehleyr, I think not finding a way to keep Commander Shelby on the show in some capacity (even as a recurring guest) might be the biggest missed opportunity of TNG in terms of female characters.