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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Best of Both Worlds, Part I (Review)

This January and February, 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.

So we’re here. It’s the end of the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the season where the show really kicked into gear. After a decidedly uneven first and second seasons, where moments of brilliance blended with hours of tedium, the show had really pulled its act together. Even the weakest hours of the season where still competently produced, the average quality increased significantly and the stronger episodes just hit it out of the park.

The Best of Both Worlds is really just the cherry on top. But it’s one hell of a cherry.

He's looking right at us...

He’s looking right at us…

Of course, all the usual provisos are in place. Like so much of the third season before it, The Best of Both Worlds, Part I simply should not have worked. It had been a chaotic season, and the cliffhanger came right at the end of it. As guest star Elizabeth Dennehy notes on the episode commentary:

There’s a huge difference when you’re working on the last episode of a season. They were exhausted. They were burnt out. I really felt like everybody needed a vacation. They had been living in their trailers on the set for hours and hours and needed to take a break.

More than any other episode this season, The Best of Both Worlds should really have been hammered by all the aches and pains that had taken root over the last traumatic season. You imagine that the cast and crew really just want to go home a sleep for a few months after that sort of production period.

Stripped for action...

Stripped for action…

Then it’s the genius of Michael Piller to really write that into the episode. As a writer, Michael Piller had a wonderful knack for drawing from his own perspective and experiences. That should really be writing 101, but it’s something that tends to get lost quite easily among the science-fiction trappings of Star Trek. So when Piller allowed his concerns as a parent to bleed into Evolution, it felt like a breath of fresh air. The Riker storyline here works so well because it feels like Piller having a conversation with himself.

And so the beauty of The Best of Both Worlds is the fact that it’s written around the fact that the crew won’t get a rest. The actors will soon retire for the summer, and the writing staff were mostly leaving, but the characters would have to work for it. The Best of Both Worlds is not a complicated story engine – but it’s one that runs on forward momentum. That’s the problem with the second half. The story has to end at some point. Still, you get a sense of the quiet desperation and exhaustion that must have been a part of the atmosphere on the set of The Next Generation bleeding in through the edge of the screen.

A hole lot of trouble...

A hole lot of trouble…

It works. The general consensus is that this was really the point at which The Next Generation came into its own as a show, and the point at which fans stopped comparing it to its predecessor and started judging it on its own merits. As Ronald D. Moore notes:

It wasn’t until the end of the third season — when the summer buzz over Michael Piller’s “Best of Both Worlds” two-parter had people wondering what happened with Picard and the Borg — that the show’s popularity started to exponentially grow. After that, suddenly we were Star Trek. We were true bearers of the torch. So it’s really gratifying to see that, this many years later, there is real affection for what we did.

It’s the point at which the show really developed into its own phenomenon, its own thing as distinct from merely the spin-off to a long-dead television series.

Collective bargaining...

Collective bargaining…

The Best of Both Worlds really was a pop culture event. It arrived just as cliffhangers were becoming an accepted part of the television landscape. The first proper two-parter produced by The Next Generation, not counting the bisected version of Encounter at Farpoint cut for syndication, The Best of Both Worlds would go on to set a template for the franchise. The next three seasons would end with cliffhangers, becoming a standard feature of each subsequent Star Trek spin-off, save Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. (Indeed, TV Guide found Deep Space Nine‘s lack of interest in direct cliffhangers rather strange.)

While by no means unheard of in the summer of 1990, season finalé cliffhangers were not as common as they are today. The storytelling technique had become more popular on prime time during the eighties, bolstered by the massive success of the still-famous “Who Shot J.R.?” mystery that kept audiences guessing across the summer of 1980. More people tuned in to watch the resolution than voted in the 1980 Presidential Election. Reflecting on the show’s end in 1991, The Hollywood Reported noted that the series was responsible for “founding and perfecting the cliffhanger format that would become a standard of television.”

Reflecting...

Reflecting…

The syndicated comedy television show Cheers, running from 1982, made it a point to try to end each season on a cliffhanger. Writing in The 80s, Bob Batchelor and Scott Stoddar credit that show with popularising the season finalé cliffhanger. In Toasting Cheers, Dennis A. Bjorklund argues that the prospect of an episodic television show ending a season on a cliffhanger was “quite uncommon at the time.” So The Best of Both Worlds aired at a point in the history of the medium where cliffhangers were becoming increasingly common. By the time the show wrapped up in 1995, they were practically expected.

And The Best of Both Worlds, while never anywhere near as popular as “Who shot J.R.?” has aged rather well among the annals of televisual cliffhangers. In his book on the medium, The TV Showrunner’s Roadmap, writer and UCLA lecturer Neil Landau cites it alongside “Who Shot J.R.?” as the pinnacle of a certain type of end-of-season cliffhanger. Even today, it’s still ranked as one of the best cliffhangers in the medium. The 100th episode of Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy ends on an affectionate homage to the cliffhanger.

Clouding the issue...

Clouding the issue…

It was something that really took on a life of its own. On the commentary that comes with the blu ray release of the episode, Mike Okuda reflects on the extent to which fans were engaged with the show, and the extent of the scrutiny watching the series. He discusses a fake script that did the rounds, something that has entered the Star Trek mythology as a “foiler” put out to help prevent leaks. While the story has taken on a life of its own, and the reality is more low-key, it’s still fascinating:

That was something Rick Sternbach and I did. Kinda as a gag, kinda not as a gag. Sternbach and I wrote a fake script – a fake teaser for the episode – in which Picard wakes up in the shower. … So we came up with basically one fake scene, typed it up as if it were a script revision in which Picard wakes up in the shower and then Q appears. We left it “accidentally” lying around in the art department – just for a few days. And surprisingly – or maybe not surprisingly – a few days later it ended up going around the early internet, on the science-fiction bulletin boards.

In fact, on the commentary to the episode, guest star Elizabeth Dennehy recalls the security around the shooting script for the episode, and the extended warning given to each member of the cast in possession of a script. Minor changes were made to each copy of the second part distributed among staff (the number of the “Jupiter Station”) to help flush out leaks.

Laying the cards on the table...

Laying the cards on the table…

The Best of Both Worlds has become so impossibly massive that it has even spawned its own mythology among Star Trek fans. There are various rumours about the production that linger to this day – mysteries and ambiguities that have never really been conclusively answered. For example, there’s the rumour that the episode was written in the midst of contractual negotiations with Patrick Stewart, as a hard ball negotiation tactic. Jonathan Frakes has even cited this story:

No, we were left hanging out to dry. We were wondering if Patrick Stewart was in the middle of negations and they were using that as a tactic to renegotiate his contract by stressing that he might not come back. And I think it was that seriousness of the story that made for such a brilliant cliffhangers. I think it is one of the greatest cliffhangers in television history.

It’s a story that gets larger in each telling, even though the details have never quite been made public. It’s a nice bit of myth-building by a franchise that was was rapidly expanding.

This is like the season of the facepalm...

This is like the season of the facepalm…

Even Frakes himself is somewhat cagey on the rumour, depending on the interview. It’s a story that skirts around the edge of the show, with nobody really seeming to know for sure. In the Regeneration: Engaging the Borg documentary, Frakes is a lot more equivocal about whether Patrick Stewart’s departure was a real possibility at the end of the season:

I don’t know that anybody believed that Patrick was leaving show, but the drama was strong enough, and the vision of him as Locutus of Borg was strong enough, that you could suspend your disbelief in a way that… oh my god! And it really did get you through the summer.

And whether or not the cliffhanger was a result of contract negotiations remains a mystery in the internet era – imagine how potent it must have felt in the summer of 1990, with all those fans gossiping away second-hand insights on CompuServe.

A fun shoot for all involved...

A fun shoot for all involved…

Various official sources offer differing accounts of how much truth there was in the suggestion that Patrick Stewart was considering leaving the show. For example, Michael Piller reinforces the rumour in his unpublished memoir Fade In, arguing that the cliffhanger was driven by those real-world concerns rather than any artistic ideal:

The idea of a cliff-hanger was actually a pure business decision. In fact, you could even call it a negotiating ploy. John Pike called Rick and said the studio was having a contract dispute with Patrick. “Come up with a cliff-hanger,” he said. “We may have to kill him.”

At the end of the last episode of the season, when Riker fires weapons apparently killing Picard aboard the Borg ship, I had no idea if Picard lived or died.

Fortunately, the contract dispute was settled and I had to come up with a way to keep Picard alive. Ironically, the final episode created enormous interest. The ratings of re-runs that summer climbed and finally exploded to record heights with the fall premiere that resolved the cliff-hanger. By the end of the fourth season, Patrick was on the cover of TV Guide. Soon, the magazine’s readers would vote him “the sexiest man on TV.” No one would ever again talk of killing Picard.

Piller talks about these negotiations second-hand, and it’s possible that the story is exaggerated to help build up this meta-textual myth, but Fade In is a surprisingly candid memoir. That’s probably why it was never actually published.

The Borg are back...

The Borg are back…

Still, various other sources dispute the claim that the cliffhanger was written as a means to get Stewart off the show if necessary. Ronald D. Moore, for example, suggests that there may be a kernel of truth at the root of the story that has since been exaggerated:

Early in the development of the episode this was a possibility, but I think it was more rumour and agent-posturing than anything else.  Patrick’s involvement in TNG’s 4th season was never seriously in jeopardy to my knowledge.

That doesn’t make for quite as compelling a narrative, and it doesn’t invite the audience to suspend their disbelief about the possible fate of Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

Would they really fire Patrick Stewart?

Would they really fire Patrick Stewart?

It is worth noting, as Star Trek historian Mark A. Altman notes on the Regeneration: Engaging the Borg documentary, that the production team had been working very hard to keep Patrick Stewart satisfied on the set:

I mean, there was some speculation that Patrick Stewart wasn’t going to come back. But, to a large extent, Michael Piller had addressed Patrick’s concerns, and given him some meat to play in the third season. So he was a lot happier than he had been. Also, they were getting scripts earlier, which was a big issue for a theatre actor who was not getting time to look at the material. More importantly, Michael Piller wasn’t sure that he was coming back!

This was the mindset that led to episodes like Captain’s Holiday, and it’s worth noting that the third season saw Picard getting a lot more dynamic than he had been in earlier seasons. (He even gets to brawl in Sins of the Father, channel John Wayne in Yesterday’s Enterprise and seduce a co-star in Allegiance.)

Home soil...?

Home soil…?

It’s telling that all of this mythology built up around the cliffhanger. The beauty of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I is the way that the episode is very meticulously crafted to lead to those final thirty seconds. “Mr. Worf…. fire.” Barring the necessary set-up and introduction of Shelby in the first act, the bulk of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I is designed to push the Enterprise crew to the limit. It’s a show that is very much built around ratcheting up the tension, with each act structured to raise the stakes and force the episode towards that wonderful closing shot.

From the moment the Enterprise encounters the Borg Cube, the paints the crew into a corner. First the Borg state that they want Picard. They chase the Enterprise. As the Enterprise hides in a nebula, Picard does some reflecting and we’re reminded that the Borg are an unstoppable cosmological force that have already destroyed countless civilisations. This is a nice breather section of the episode that does allow room for the characters, but it’s very much framed a siege. The crew are all but waiting for the point where the Borg flush them out into the open.

Seeing red...

Seeing red…

Wandering an eerily empty Enterprise, Picard alludes to both the collapse of Rome and the death of Nelson at Trafalgar in some pretty dark foreshadowing for a show that’s normally optimistic and upbeat. Forced to leave the nebula, the Borg snatch Picard. Attempting a rescue mission, the Enterprise crew discover that the Borg have converted Picard. With no other alternative open to him, with the threat growing and time running out, Riker gives the order to destroy the Borg ship, with Captain Picard on board.

It’s a very basic story structure. Basically, things continue to get worse. The teaser gives us an effective image of Borg devastation that is striking enough to stop us from wondering why – if O’Brien beamed them into “the centre of town” – the away team didn’t materialise dangling over the crater. With that beautifully haunting image, underscored by Ron Jones’ evocative score, the episode spends the rest of its forty-five minute runtime just increasing the pressure that is bearing down on the Enterprise crew.

It's hip to be square again...

It’s hip to be square again…

Which is part of the beauty of the cliffhanger ending. It’s a gripping dramatic hook – Riker orders the death of his commanding officer and the show’s leading actor. However, it’s also a cliffhanger that is open to audience interpretation. No matter how this plays out, our crew cannot win. If they manage to destroy the Borg ship, which is unlikely given that there’s a forty-five minute second part due, they kill Captain Picard. If they don’t destroy the Borg ship, then the Borg will either destroy them or continue towards Earth, even more unstoppable.

In fact, the only real problem with The Best of Both Worlds, Part I is that it is too efficient. It raises the stakes too high. It paints the Enterprise into a situation so impossible that any resolution that doesn’t end with the destruction of Earth feels a little disappointing. The Best of Both Worlds, Part II is a solid and well-constructed episode, and it does the best job possible of resolving everything left open by its predecessor, but it inevitably suffers from the fact that the mandatory “the Enterprise triumphs” ending can’t help but seem like a cheat.

Sigh, Borg...

Sigh, Borg…

After all, the whole point of the episode is that the Borg are unstoppable and alien. It’s no coincidence that the script leaked by Paramount to throw off fan speculation featured Q as the cause of all this trouble. You need a god-like cheat to escape the Borg. That was the entire point of Q Who?, and The Best of Both Worlds, Part I really continues to develop them along those lines. If it weren’t for the wonderful character-driven plot involving Riker and the personal focus on Picard, you would be forgiven for feeling like The Best of Both Worlds, Part I was a direct re-tread of Q Who?

This is, after all, one of the last times that the Borg will seem truly alien, truly implacable and incomprehensible. From here on out, the Star Trek franchise will feel the need to peel back the layers of the onion and give us a glimpse of individual Borg – running counter to the Lovecraftian horror of the Borg Collective. Star Trek: Voyager would even feature a Borg character as a regular cast member, demonstrating how thoroughly the franchise would de-fang these iconic adversaries.

A fateful Enterprise?

A fateful Enterprise?

The Best of Both Worlds, Part I exists on the cusp of this shift in focus. The Borg are still recognisably the monsters we encountered in Q Who?, but there’s a sense that they are becoming something else as well. It’s tempting to look at this as a wasted opportunity. As Adam Roberts argues in Science Fiction, part of what is striking about the Borg is how they exist beyond our ability to comprehend:

More powerful is their extraordinary statement of values, or rather of anti-values. The construction that such-and-such ‘is irrelevant’ does not even engage in a dialectic with the thing in question, because to do that would be to suggest that because the Borg are prepared to engage with it the thing in question has some value. But they are utter dismissive. The Borg do not say ‘your strength is insufficient’, which, by implication, would imply ‘we value our superior strength.’ Instead they say ‘strength’, with the implication of all strength, yours, ours, ‘is irrelevant.’ It does not figure. Similarly, and most radically, they do not even value life, the being that is most basic to any humanist conception of existence. It is impossible for us to enter imaginatively into the world of the Borg because certain key values we hold, values like individuality, life/death and so on, are too centrally part of us, whereas for the Borg they are neither good nor bad but simply irrelevant.

However, there’s a problem with this approach to the Borg, from a simple narrative standpoint. Without a window through which to explore the Borg, without a recognisable viewpoint into the Collective, there’s really only so many stories you can tell with the Collective. Q Who? and The Best of Both Worlds, Part I are essentially the same story. Scorpion, Part I (but not Part II) manages to attempt something similar.

Tabling the debate...

Tabling the debate…

However, it’s telling that all of the later Borg stories feature individual characters as focal points. Hugh appears in I, Borg and Descent. The Borg Queen is introduced in Star Trek: First Contact and becomes a recurring feature on Voyager. Even The Best of Both Worlds, Part I is building towards the moment where an individual Borg can be revealed to the audience. A familiar viewpoint, a recognisable character.

This begins a process of de-mythologising the Borg that clearly leads to their climactic on-screen appearance in Endgame. At some point, the Borg stop seeming like a collective consciousness, unknowable and unfathomable and start seeming a bit more generic. (Indeed, with the introduction of the Queen, we circle back around to Maurice Hurley’s original pitch for the Borg as an insectoid-like alien hive race, which is subtly distinct from the vision presented in Q Who?)

Doing some groundwork...

Doing some groundwork…

Of course, it makes sense. If you’re doing another story about the Borg, you need to develop them. Developing them means losing some of the mystery about who they are. And The Best of Both Worlds, Part I is really only the midpoint in the development of the Borg into the race we came to know and love. It’s the first time that the Borg use the word “assimilate” or one of its variants. It’s the first time that the Borg are portrayed as interested in people or societies rather than simple technology.

In Q Who?, the Borg were portrayed as an organic race that implanted cybernetic devices in their children, but who were more interested in consuming the Enterprise than in any of its inhabitants. “The Borg is the ultimate user,” Q told us. “They’re simply interested in your ship, its technology. They’ve identified it as something they can consume.” So The Best of Both Worlds really expands the scope of the Borg. They are not only interested in the Enterprise, but in Picard and in Federation society as well.

Gripping adventure...

Gripping adventure…

To be fair, The Best of Both Worlds, Part I makes it quite clear that Picard’s conversion is an exceptional circumstance. “To facilitate our introduction into your societies, it has been decided that a human voice will speak for us in all communications,” the Borg tell Picards, matter-of-factly. “You have been chosen to be that voice.” We haven’t reached the point where the Borg are assimilating individuals on a case-by-case basis, as Hugh alludes to in I, Borg and we witness first hand in Star Trek: First Contact.

So this is a transitional state in this example. The Borg have gone from being completely disinterested in our characters, to being interested this one time. This approach very clearly leads to those wonderfully atmospheric zombie/vampire sequences in First Contact where the Borg are just assimilating crew members left-right-and-centre. And yet there’s a more fundamental shift in the Borg modus operandi that is concealed by the episode’s focus on Picard and Locutus.

It's all a bit murky...

It’s all a bit murky…

The Borg are blatantly reimagined as a neo-colonial force. They aren’t simply going to pillage Earth. There’s no indication that they are just going to scoop large portions of it off the surface of the planet, carving it up like they did to the planets seen in The Neutral Zone, Q Who? or even this episode’s teaser. Instead, they arrive as invaders rather than destroyers. They seek an “introduction” to Federation societies. They seek a relationship with these civilisations. “Your culture will adapt to service us,” the Borg inform Picard.

This is blatantly different from the version of the Borg introduced in Q Who?, but it’s a transition that works remarkably well. After all, the beauty of the Borg is that they serve as a dark mirror to the Federation. (Much as the Dominion would eventually on Deep Space Nine.) One of the more common criticisms of Star Trek is that it has rather heavy colonial undertones. At its most awkward, the franchise is about humanity bringing their values to the stars. This was particularly true in the early days of The Next Generation – think of The Last Outpost or Lonely Among Us.

Lighting up the screen...

Lighting up the screen…

So it makes sense that the Borg reflect those uncomfortable subtexts back at the Federation. They are invading the Federation with their own alien value system, and seeking to impose their own values over a society they deem to be different and inherently inferior. Picard is simply the native who has been chosen to liaise with those poor confused savages. In fact, Picard’s collaboration with the Borg can be read as a grim mirror of the way that certain native communities cooperated with colonial forces despite the damage being wrought.

And so we get a rather effective jumble of imagery. The respected British theatrical actor playing a French character in an American television show that has been described as “an American fantasy of (and later apology for) neo-colonialism”, shaped into the puppet of a larger and more hostile neo-colonial force. When Locutus converses with the Enterprise crew in the second part, he makes the standard colonial justifications. “Why do you resist?” he ponders. “We only wish to raise quality of life for all species.” His skin is made up a ghastly white caricature, as he speaks in sentences that evoke the archetypal white man’s burden.

"Was he going on to you about the f@#!ing alcoves?"

“Was he going on to you about the f@#!ing alcoves?”

Picard-as-Locutus is an intermediary, a hook through which the Borg colonisation can take place. A collaborator. As with any issue concerning colonisation, it’s a thorny and complex issue. As Robert Borofsky argues in Colonial Engagements, collaboration was a reality of colonial existence that is often overlooked or ignored:

One of the categories often suppressed today is that of colonial collaborators. Collaborators played a critical role in maintaining colonial authority by acting as intermediaries in the ruling process. They allowed a colonial few to rule a colonised many. Robinson suggests that finding successful collaborators was often the key to imperial rule: Every stage of the imperial process from initial intrusion to decolonisation “was determined by the the indigenous collaborative systems connecting its European and Afro-Asian components.” Today, the presence of such collaboration tends to be softened or silences as an embarrassment – much as happened in France following Worlds War II. The presence of colonial collaborators disrupts national narratives of resistance to outside domination.

This is particularly true given how Picard grapples with his own guilt over the events of The Best of Both Worlds, in what is also quite heavily codified as an assault upon his person.

Shelby a fine addition to the cast, if Patrick Stewart's contract negotiations don't work out...

Shelby a fine addition to the cast, if Patrick Stewart’s contract negotiations don’t work out…

Of course, one of the strengths of science-fiction is the broadness of allegory. Actions and developments can exist as metaphors for any number of pressing issues. Picard’s conversion to Locutus is one that the show gets quite a lot of mileage out of. More than just a collaborator, the event has fairly profound implications. Family delves into it quite thoroughly as an issue with Picard’s identity and his culpability. There, Picard’s guilt is rooted in his inability to resist the collective strength of the Borg.

Later stories, like I, Borg and First Contact, push the assault metaphor a bit further. Those two stories in particular heavily emphasise the rape subtext of the whole experience. I, Borg has Counsellor Troi talking about the lingering insecurity from a violation like that, while First Contact heavily implies that Picard-as-Locutus was engaged in a coerced pseudo-sexual relationship with the Borg Queen. (“It wasn’t enough that you assimilate me,” Picard suggests in the latter. “I had to give myself freely to the Borg… to you.” It lends the whole thing an unsettling sexually possessive dimension. The Borg were tripping on a power fantasy. Given Brannon Braga’s contemporaneous boasts about his kinky sex life, the subtext was undoubtedly intentional.)

Picard is a machine this week...

Picard is a machine this week…

Of course, this isn’t a Picard story. Picard is an important character, but he’s really more of a plot device here. He’s an object that the Borg covet – he’s the reason they chase the Enterprise for most of the episode. Instead, The Best of Both Worlds is a Riker story. Which is pretty fantastic, but also an incredibly risky choice. Riker is hardly the most dynamic member of the ensemble. The last time we had a season finalé about Riker, we ended up with Shades of Grey.

And yet Piller finds a way to make Riker work. In essence, it’s the same way that he made Wesley work in Evolution. He takes a look at how well-adjusted Riker is as part of the ensemble and then begins to question it. Wesley’s arc in Evolution was driven by Piller’s concerns as a father. In contrast, Riker exists in The Best of Both Worlds as a blatant stand-in for the author as he considers whether or not he wants to stay on The Next Generation. Because, let’s face it, nobody would blame Piller for wanting to leave at this point in the run.

Dammit, she's a Doctor, not an action hero...

Dammit, she’s a Doctor, not an action hero…

A lot of this is very direct. “I’m asking you to look at your career objectively,” Picard advises Riker at one point. “Will, you’re ready to work without a net. You’re ready to take command. And, you know, the Enterprise will go along just fine without you.” You can imagine that snippet of dialogue rooted in a phone call between Piller and his agent. Riker’s self-reflection would be indulgent if it didn’t seem so honest. “What am I still doing here? Deanna, I pushed myself hard to get this far. I sacrificed a lot. I always said I wanted my own command, and yet something’s holding me back. Is it wrong for me to want to stay?”

Piller has confessed that he wrote The Best of Both Worlds about his own career insecurities. And so it flows organically from that. To be fair, this probably shouldn’t work. Riker’s character arc here is no different from his little journey in The Icarus Factor. He is offered his ship, he hesitates, Picard tries to convince him to leave, and then he stays. The difference is that The Best of Both Worlds avoids the soap opera histrionics of The Icarus Factor, while pretty much conceding that Riker was never as interesting or dynamic a character as the early seasons of the show wanted us to believe.

A stunning kidnap...

A stunning kidnap…

That’s probably the most compelling endorsement of Michael Piller’s approach to Star Trek: The Next Generation. His first episode of his first season is based around Wesley. The last episode of his first season is based around Riker. Neither character is especially well-loved by fandom. And yet both episodes work, and they book-end one of the strongest seasons in the history of the franchise. So there’s that.

There’s another weirdly apropos behind-the-scenes fact about The Best of Both Worlds that is telling and interesting. Apparently the episode marked the last time that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry appeared in a crew photo. His health would push him further and further away from the franchise in the year-and-a-bit ahead. His influence on the series would diminish further. The Next Generation was very clearly its own thing at this point, and it had stepped out from under the shadow of the classic show completely.

What was going on under the Hood?

What was going on under the Hood?

It was a brave, strange new world ahead.

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

8 Responses

  1. And whether or not the cliffhanger was a result of contract negotiations remains a mystery in the internet era – imagine how potent it must have felt in the summer of 1990, with all those fans gossiping away second-hand insights on CompuServe.

    That must have been a truly unique and memorable experience for the fans lucky enough to have been there! It’s so hard to be part of geekdom in an authentic way now.

    • Yep. Everything is so known and leaked and transparent. (Plus, audiences are much more cynical.) There’s a quirky innocence to these old-school cliffhangers that I think became less effective with time. (I’d argue that the Voyager cliffhangers or even the later TNG ones, for example, weren’t quite as good as the earlier ones.)

  2. An excellent episode and two parter but everyone knows this. Outside the crappy cgi explosion that replaces the awesome looking model explosion at the end of the second part, the effects look excellent in the HD remastering, esp the nebula scenes. While one of my favorite episodes, I actually dont think its “THE” best in the franchise or even of NextGen, call me crazy. I may even think Q, Who is a better episode, and hell, I may even like the Scorpion two parter in Voyager a bit more, though I have to rewatch that again. However in a top 10, 20 episodes of the franchise, this would def. be near the top.

    Anyway, what do you think of the fact that the Borg were originally supposed to get a whole season arc in TNG, would that have worked?

    • I don’t imagine a season-long arc could have worked on Star Trek in 1988/1989.

      Although I am one of the few people sad that the Conspiracy aliens, which were tied to the original Borg concept, never reappeared.

      • Why not?

        Why did they not reappear?

      • No idea. I suspect because people thought the model work looked silly, because Gene Roddenberry hated the premise, or because of the extreme viewer reaction to the graphic nature of certain scenes in Conspiracy. But I would have liked to have seen them again at some point.

      • Why do you think a season arc at that time wouldn’t have worked?

        And I’ll have to watch “Conspiracy” again and read up about it. I remember the effects being decent, are they really that silly? They kind of remind me of the Goa’uld from Stargate. And extreme negative reaction? I do remember it ending in a very violent scene (esp for TV at the time) but I remember really liking the scene.

      • The effects are great. But they are stop motion as opposed to animated or computer-generated. So they have a very retro look to them. Which I love, but audiences don’t and which I suspect freaked out people like Rick Berman who were very insistent that The Next Generation look more dignified and credible than the original show.

        In terms of reaction, the scene was memorably trimmed from the UK broadcast for years. I haven’t caught the episode in syndication for years, so I’m not sure if it’s back in there.

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