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Star Trek: The Next Generation (DC Comics, 1989) #47-50 – The Worst of Both Worlds (Review)

This November and December, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

The Worst of Both Worlds, as the name implies, is an excuse to revisit one of the pivotal moments of Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Go on, guess which one!) Unfortunately, it’s not quite up to the task – a failing down to both to the scripts from Michael Jan Friedman and the artwork from Peter Krause. It winds up feeling like an interesting idea, given a rather lackluster execution, working best as a study of the impact that the show’s third season cliffhanger had on the franchise.

A time warp...

A time warp…

The Best of Both Worlds is a big moment for The Next Generation. The series had a phenomenal third season including several of the best episodes the franchise ever produced. Sitting at the end of the season, with one of the best cliffhangers in television history, The Best of Both Worlds felt like the cherry on top. It would have been impossible to imagine a series finalé this impressive even a year earlier.

If you want to measure the successful evolution of The Next Generation, the blossoming of the show into its maturity during its third year, you only need to compare the final episode of the second season (Shades of Grey) to the closing adventure of the third year (The Best of Both Worlds). There really is no comparison.

A Worf core breach...

A Worf core breach…

More than that, it was unprecedented at the time, offering a threat to our heroes (and their entire world) so severe that it could not be wrapped up in a single episode. The Best of Both Worlds was not the franchise’s first two-parter. However, it was the first to feel truly epic. The Menagerie ran to two episodes because it was one episode wrapped around another. Encounter at Farpoint was a feature-length pilot. Here, however, the stakes were so high and so severe that they practically burst out of the screen.

As such, it’s no surprise that the episode has become something of a focal point, a frame of reference for The Next Generation in particular and even Star Trek in general. Star Trek: Voyager framed its own tribute in Scorpion. The best of Picard’s movies, Star Trek: First Contact, was anchored in the two-parter. One early draft of All Good Things… included a visit to the time period of The Best of Both Worlds and the episode was even referenced in one of the alternate realities in Parallels.

Double trouble...

Double trouble…

Even the comic books got in on the action. Celebrating the impending fiftieth issue of DC comics’ Next Generation series, writer Michael Jan Friedman decided to revisit the events of that formative cliffhanger. The Worst of Both Worlds has a great hook for a story. It’s a four-part epic featuring the iconic adversaries from the television show, presenting an alternate world where our heroes lost and are struggling just to survive. Contrasting the relatively comfortable voyages of Picard and his associates to the daily realities of their counterparts should provide much fodder for conflict and contrast.

Unfortunately, The Worst of Both Worlds can’t quite deliver on the premise. Part of that is quite simply down to some scripting choices by Michael Jan Friedman. Despite its epic scale, The Best of Both Worlds worked because it was really a Riker story. It thrust the ships’ second-in-command into the hot-seat in the worst possible circumstances and asked him to take on one of his closest friends with the fate of the universe resting in the balance.

Borg to be bad...

Borg to be bad…

The Worst of Both Worlds lacks that intimacy and that character focus. You would imagine that putting Picard in a direct confrontation with his Borg-ified alternate self would provide a nice way to power a story, but it doesn’t really come up. His assimilation at the hands of the Borg is the worst thing that ever happened to Picard, and the show has acknowledged that he might be emotionally blinded by the experience. It certainly coloured his later encounters. So putting Picard against Locutus should generate some sense of character conflict or drama.

Unfortunately, it gets a bit lost. None of the characters feel well-drawn or well contrasted. alt!Geordi is mean to Data. alt!Worf feels bad about screwing up the rescue mission and getting Data killed. alt!Shelby is mutinous and crazy. alt!O’Brien is bitter. These are reasonable starting points, but the script never really develops any of them, never textures the characters or their interactions. The closest it comes is a nice heart-to-heart between the two versions of Worf, but it was clearly added so the inevitable death of alt!Worf would carry some weight. It feels shamelessly transparent.

Riker is really thrown by the experience...

Riker is really thrown by the experience…

Friedman doesn’t get that intimacy, but at least there are a few failed attempts – alt!Riker asking real!Troi to stay with him, for example. But they feel like too little too late. He also doesn’t scale upward either. He can’t replicate or emulate the character drama at the heart of The Best of Both Worlds, but he doesn’t even try for the epic scale either. This is an alternate universe where the Borg have conquered Earth. And yet the Enterprise and Earth seem to be the only thing different.

What about the neighbouring worlds? Did the Borg just stop on Earth? What about Vulcan and Andor and Tellar? Or what about the colonies within the solar system? They destroyed the Jupiter defenses, but are the Borg just ignoring New Berlin or Mars? The only Starfleet ship we see is the aft section of the Enterprise. What about other ships? The Borg wiped out the fleet at Wolf 359, but what about ships (like the Enterprise) who couldn’t make it back in time?

Not a patch on the originals...

Not a patch on the originals…

Indeed, what about everything except the Enterprise and Earth? Are colonies fortifying themselves? Are people banding together to form last vestiges of humanity fighting against the darkness? Are they running? Are there refugees spilling across the cosmos, like the El-Aurians? A few lines of dialogue, like those delivered by Hansen in The Best of Both Worlds, would help. However, this is a comic. The budget is infinite, so to speak. And yet The Worst of Both Worlds feels more hemmed in and more confined than its predecessor. And while some of the blame lies with Krause, Friedman’s script is very restricted in its imagination.

It doesn’t help that the storytelling is a tad convenient. At one point, Picard figures out that the universe aren’t exactly alike. Beverly Crusher never returned from Earth. The command “sleep” won’t work. And yet other events unfold by rote. “Don’t forget what happens now, Commander!” O’Brien remarks while Data works on Locutus. “That arm of his–!” He is correct. Later, Picard is able to get through to Locutus by using a shared experience. “I gambled that the Picard of this universe a touch of the inhuman in him — that he had melded minds with Ambassador Sarek as I did — and as it turned out, I was right.”

Things go around the bend...

Things go around the bend…

It’s more than a little bit contrived. It doesn’t help that Picard essentially defeats his doppelgänger using a continuity trick rather than anything particularly intrinsic to Picard. Referencing Sarek, Picard defeats the Borg using “the simple, whispered word… ‘Spock’.” When even Spock’s name is more powerful than your leading cast, you probably have some storytelling problems. Friedman’s work on The Next Generation comic was reasonably solid, but you can see why the book isn’t as highly regarded as Peter David or even Mike W. Barr’s Star Trek work.

There’s never a sense of true desperation about the alt!Enterprise. The version of other Borg-hounded version of Riker appearing in Parallels for about two seconds seems more broken and defeated than this version – eye-patch or no eye-patch. That version only appeared on screen for a brief moment, but he seemed more developed and realistic than this iteration of the character. Watching your home being eaten alive, and being unable to do anything should do more than just make you a bit of a jerk.

It's difficult to square...

It’s difficult to square…

Some of the blame lies with artist Peter Krause. Krause isn’t the strongest artist. He doesn’t do movement or likenesses well. Based on some of the sequences here, he has difficulty with scale. The Borg Cube should be massive and daunting. Here, it looks like a runaway black Rubik cube. When Picard and the crew beam down to a Borg-ified Earth, it looks the same. Starfleet headquarters recalls Conspiracy or The First Duty. It doesn’t even look like the Borg trampled the grass.

You’d imagine that they’d want to build temporary alcoves, or harvest technology and resources, or that some of the infrastructure might have been damaged in a failed attempt to fight them off. Earth should look horrific and grotesque, but Krause renders it as if it were just another day. Friedman at least tries to create a sense of doom as Troi observes, “I expected to sense fear… hopelessness… despair. But to sense nothing… or so very nearly nothing… is even worse.” Riker tells us, “More than ninety percent of the Earth’s population has been converted into Borg, Counsellor.” That should look alien and disturbing. But it doesn’t.

Ships of the line...

Ships of the line…

The Worst of Both Worlds feels like a wonderful opportunity wasted. It demonstrates just how important The Best of Both Worlds was for the series, but also how difficult it must have been to pull off. The concept here is fantastic, but the difficulty that Friedman and Krause have duplicating the sense of dread from that cliffhanger (let alone surpassing it) offers proof of just how perfectly The Best of Both Worlds was actually executed.

Read our reviews of the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation:

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