Rewatch: "The Best of Both Worlds"

Locutus (Patrick Stewart) of Borg
Locutus (Patrick Stewart) of Borg. Paramount/CBS

I recently went back to watch the epic two-part episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "The Best of Both Worlds." This is the episode that established the Borg as one of the greatest villains of Star Trek, and also elevated the show to new heights of popularity. Looking back, it's amazing how well the episodes hold up. Truly, this is one of the greatest moments of the original series and Star Trek in general.

Part one first aired in June 1990, the season finale of the third season. The Borg had first appeared in "Q Who," where Q teleports the Enterprise to the unexplored Delta Quadrant to prove the Federation isn't ready to face the Galaxy. The Enterprise is quickly and easily overwhelmed by the power and ruthlesness of the Borg. Picard is forced to literally beg Q to teleport them back to the Alpha Quadrant to escape. The threat of the Borg eventually reaching Federation space was laid. With this episode, the threat became real.

The first part begins with the Enterprise investigating the lack of contact with the planet Jourel IV, where they discover the entire colony has been literally scooped off the planet's surface. They quickly discover that a Borg cube has entered Federation space, and is headed straight for Sector 001: Earth. Commander Shelby, an upstart Federation officer and Borg expert, joins the crew to try to stop the Borg.

She also openly gunning for Riker's position as first officer of the Enterprise, which doesn't make him too happy. Then the Borg kidnap Picard and assimilate him as their new spokesman, Locutus. Riker is forced to take command of the Enterprise and work with Shelby to rescue Picard and stop the Borg invasion.

Part one ends with the Enterprise preparing to fire an experimental weapon from the deflector dish, which would potentially destroy the Borg and the assimilated Picard. The final line is Riker saying, "Mister Wolf, fire." Truly one of the greatest cliffhangers in all of television.

The second episode starts with the deflector being fired to no effect. The Enterprise discovers to their horror that Picard's memories have been assimilated, allowing the Borg to adapt to the weapon, and the Borg claim to be more powerful than ever before. As they continue their assault on sector Wolf 359, the Enterprise is forced to stay behind to make repairs. They arrive to find the scattering of wreckage, the aftermath of the battle somehow more emotionally stirring than the epic space battle we missed. When they finally find the solution to defeating the Borg, it's so simple and effective that it works better than a powerful superweapon could have. It reminded me of War of the Worlds, where the Martians are defeated not by guns but by germs.

The conflict between Riker and Shelby was really great. I would actually have been pretty happy to see the two of them take over as the captain and commander of the Enterprise.

The sexual tension between the two was palpable, and bringing Troi into the mix would have been even better. At the same time, the threat of losing Picard made this a great episode. I worried more about Picard being a Borg forever than about the Borg destroying Earth.

The acting is pretty good, although most of the cast don't have much to do. Most of the characters like Crusher and Geordi pretty much just spew technobabble for most of the episode. We never really get to see how the loss of the captain affected the crew on an emotional level. Picard himself spends most of the show as an emotionless drone, but the moment where a tear rolled down his cheek during assimilation spoke volumes. But even as a Borg, Picard has great moments, like when he calls Riker "Number One" and when he breaks free of the collective.

As far as special effects, they hold up amazingly well. The Borg cube is just as massive and threatening as ever. I always loved the fact that Borg ships are just unprotected cubes of machinery, as if they value function over form. The space battles are gripping and frequent enough to bring excitement.

Unfortunately, the Borg costumes don't hold up too well, especially when compared to the improved costumes of Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Voyager. At the time, they seemed high-tech and frightening. Now they just look kludgey, like they stuck a bunch of random tubes, black plastic, and wires on black body stockings. Which is what they did.

The subplot of Riker being offered a command ties nicely into Riker being forced to take command after losing Picard. I kind of wish Riker had eventually gone on to become a captain, because he did such a great job in this episode. But the idea that he loves the Enterprise too much to leave her has so much poignancy.

The appearance of Guinan in this episode reminded me of a longstanding grudge I've had against the show. At one point, Guinan says her relationship with Picard goes beyond friendship and beyond family. So what the heck was it? The show ended, and she even returned in the movies, and they never so much as hinted at the true history behind Guinan. She was an enigma, one never solved by the show.

At this point in the series, the Borg evolved from being a one-off villain to a true threat to the Federation. There were moments where you really worried if the Federation could ever destroy them. It's a shame later episodes, and Star Trek Voyager in particular, overused the Borg to the point where they weren't as scary. But this was the Borg's finest moment.