Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Best of Both Worlds, Part II"

****

Air date: 9/24/1990
Written by Michael Piller
Directed by Cliff Bole

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise's plan to destroy the Borg ship with a specially directed frequency of energy from the ship's main deflector dish fails when it turns out Picard's knowledge of the clever plan has been passed to the Borg and has allowed them to prepare a defense against it. "Your resistance is hopeless, Number One," says Locutus. The Borg proceed on their course to Earth as the Enterprise sits helplessly awaiting repair.

The episode's biggest plot conceit, obviously, is that the Borg don't destroy the Enterprise or assimilate its crew right then and there. Not being a threat, the rationale is that the Borg decide to simply ignore the non-threat and proceed to Earth. But come on. Obviously, the real reason is that it's the only way to permit the story to move forward. Granting the constraint that Picard and the Borg and the Enterprise must all survive the legendary "Mr. Worf, fire" setup, part two proves surprisingly effective as the solution to what seemed like an unsolvable problem. It's not an exercise in rock-solid logic, but it is an exercise in compelling TV.

The tension that was evident in the first part of the story does not for an instant wane here. The Borg are still headed for Sector 001, Starfleet is still woefully unprepared for the battle, and Picard is still in the clutches of the Borg. In an intriguing scene with harrowing implications, we see Picard being further transformed into Locutus; a streaking tear reveals that beneath Locutus still exists Picard, in torment. Aboard the Enterprise, Picard's absence fuels a solid character story for Riker, who must assume the role of captain under the worst possible circumstances and simultaneously step into Picard's shoes (and out of his shadow) for his crew while squaring off against Picard as the enemy. Guinan, who offered words of wisdom to Picard in part one, now bluntly tells Riker that he must let Picard go in order to do his job.

Meanwhile, the Borg march toward Earth. Starfleet's desperate stand at Wolf 359 ups the ante on the foreboding, and when the Enterprise subsequently arrives upon the debris of the wiped-out fleet, it's a particularly striking scene.

The secret to this story's success is its careful balance of elements and that it never loses sight of the fact that this is a TNG show, even amid the chaos. In addition to showing how the crew reacts and plans for this looming threat, Michael Piller's script keeps the story humming along on all cylinders; the details follow on the Borg ship, at Starfleet's desperate stand, and as Riker must hatch a daring plan to retrieve Picard from the Borg. This leads to some of TNG's most memorable action, in which Picard is retrieved but not rescued (the crew has his body but has not freed his mind). The show then shuttles into pure TNG problem-solving mode, in which the crew must figure out how to save Picard and stop the Borg, which might be one and the same.

Given that the story must resolve itself and Picard must survive, the solution is a clever one that allows the Borg to be defeated but without the brute force that part one had assured us was not possible. I find it highly unlikely that the access to the Borg's "sleep" system would not be under higher security, and even more unlikely that a self-destruct fail-safe would automatically ensue after that. But what the hell — the execution of the plot and the struggle and Picard's angst depicted in Data's hacking scenes bring it home as drama.

The show wisely keeps Ron Jones as the composer, bringing a musical continuity to this two-parter in a way that is more crucial than in virtually any other multi-part Trek on record.

Previous episode: The Best of Both Worlds, Part I
Next episode: Family

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13 comments on this review

Stef - Thu, Mar 6, 2008 - 3:34am (USA Central)
As an addendum with no real connection to your reviews:

In England, Best of Both Worlds part 2 was shown the week after Part 1 on BBC2 the first time around, as if it were part of the same season. Then there was a gap, and Season 4 started (with Family).

Once Sky started airing TNG, things went to their 'proper' order.
Brendan - Fri, Mar 7, 2008 - 12:32am (USA Central)
I wouldnt give BOBW2 4 stars, it doesnt even compare to part 1 as far as I'm concerned. Nothing could, but its basically one big long plot contrivance to get them out of an impossible situation, and its all to easy.
David - Fri, Mar 7, 2008 - 12:42pm (USA Central)
It's nice to see Jammer give BoBW II 4 stars because I think it is a four star episode too. Both parts rank as my favorite two hours of not just TNG but Trek.

I've never understood those that say the second half is a let-down. I find it as riveting as Part I. I had no clue what would happen from scene to scene and I had no idea how things would ultimately end up and that included whether Picard would survive.

What impressed me is the fact Michael Piller wrote this months later with very little idea how he was going to resolve up Part I yet he effectively took advantage of the seeds were laid in the first hour that were there to exploit even though they weren't included with Part II in my mind since Piller had gone on record saying he planned on leaving TNG after season three.

For instance, it might have been just me but I never suspected, even for a second, that they would keep Picard alive by having the weapon fail to work due to Picard's knowledge that was assimilated by the Collective mind. In hindsight, I really should have. Yet it was all nicely set-up and Piller wisely seized upon what presented itself to get the crew out of a corner in the most brilliantly simplistic and ingenuous way.

Some writers plan ahead and intentionally go out of their way to put in place plot points in hour one that they know they’ll use to get out of a seemingly impossible situation in Part II but I never got that feeling here. This allowed for us in the audience to wonder a little longer about the fate of Picard as well as allowing the story, of course, to continue but it plausibly played off of the Borg’s pre-established MO making the hopes of a victory all the more unlikely given that the deflector was their ace in the hole—their best and only countermeasure to the Borg.

Jammer mentions the "tear scene". I agree it is such a simple scene but so powerful. It also worked so well because it continues to show how alien the Borg are. In Part I, Picard said that humans would rather die than be assimilated and here we see why and it helps to further provide insight into the alien nature of the Borg that is so appealing to legions of fans as well as showing the nightmare of assimilation.

They aren't doing this as punishment or torture but that is the net effect nonetheless. They see it as nothing more than a normal part of how they exist and they can’t even begin to understand the mental torture they are inflicting upon him as they leave Picard as not much more than a neutered silent observer passively watching as he is compelled to assist the Borg in the systematic deconstructing of his humanity.

This scene is so powerful because it doesn’t use graphic violence or conventional torture but is just as unnerving. The Borg cube is the equivalent of a 24th century house of horrors where unspeakable acts are committed.

And I like that these two episodes serve up a heap of fatalism. You've got Guinan talking about officers considering suicide, the end of the human civilization, Riker fully prepared to use the Enterprise in a suicide strike against the cube when all else has failed and the sight of a starship graveyard resulting in the loss of 11000 lives as we later learn.

Nothing comes close to the dramatic impact of this scene until years later with DS9 and the Dominion War.

Shelby begins naming off the destroyed ships and the crew takes a moment to absorb this and think of the lives lost in a solemn moment. I thought the touch of listing the [i]Melbourne[/i] as one of the ships destroyed since it added a touch of tragic irony for Riker.

Patrick Stewart gave a chilling performance as Locutus and his two best scenes included his confrontation with Riker right before the battle and his interaction with Worf in sickbay which was an intriguing look into the Borg mindset.

I also thought the episode did a superb job in generating real suspense and tension especially in the rescue of Locutus from the cube and in the final act as they reached Earth.

The battle between the cube and the separated Enterprise was well choreographed and an awesome sight to behold with the anti-matter sequence and shots of reactions on the battle bridge, the shuttlecraft and the cube.

The music was also just as effective as in Part I as Jammer mentions. I thought the score immediately following the destruction of the cube did a really nice job in capturing the sense of light breaking through the darkness and the final notes as the episode closes to be quite haunting.

Michael Piller really milked everything he could have had out of the Borg and this near-apocalypse scenario he crafted. In fact, it was with BoBW that I really became a great fan of his and continued following his work over the year like The Dead Zone.
SZ - Fri, Mar 7, 2008 - 8:14pm (USA Central)
Glad to see you back at it. I've been anxiously for you to resume TNG.
Stef - Mon, Mar 10, 2008 - 4:48am (USA Central)
I meant to add: I generally agree that BoBW2 was a let down after the build up. But what choice did they have? The script was deliberately written as a "Now get out of THAT!" by a writer at the end of his contract (Piller).

It was indicitive of what was to follow in every subsiquent Trek seires (and most of TV-land).

Instead of writing a two episode arc, the writers wrote a cliffhanger with no thought on how to wrap it up. Then they had to write themselves out of the corner they had just painted themselves into (To mix metaphors... badly)
Sam - Tue, Mar 11, 2008 - 5:04am (USA Central)
Just wanted to say thanks Jammer for the reviews. I usually agree with them, although I think your critical analysis far exceeds my own.

I three am a long-time lurker; made heavy use of your site last year when while I was trying to sift out re-runs of VOY that were worth catching on Spike TV. While I don't know I've really changed my mind about acknowledging the show, I'm glad to finally say that I've at least seen its more 'viewable' installments.

And now to stick my foot in my mouth: Based on what reviews of yours I've read, I think you'd probably really enjoy Babylon 5 as another 'epic' sci-fi series. I'm NOT suggesting you review it; just think you'd find it rewarding as a series that fires on a lot of the same cylinders as DS9 and BSG, with its serialized format, complex characters and heavy emphasis on politics/mythology. And that's the last I'll say on that subject (aside from that if you ever did Netflix it, you'd probably want to skip 1st season).

Curious to know what you think about the direction of the new movie, what with recasting Kirk/Spock and all...

Later
Alexey Bogatiryov - Wed, Mar 18, 2009 - 5:45pm (USA Central)
I must say Jammer, even though "Best of Both Worlds, Part 1" was certainly one of the best episodes of TNG (second only to "Yesterday's Enterprise" in my book) - I do not believe part 2 deserves 4 stars. The ending was too contrived - resetting the Borg and violated the premise (which was set up before) that the Borg cannot be defeated technologically. I would have also liked to have had Captain Picard removed from his rank for a while and perhaps have a Starfleet Intel debrief episode prior to "Brothers." Alas, proabaly the best TNG season show-for-show.
Paul - Wed, Nov 28, 2012 - 9:25am (USA Central)
This was on TV the other day, and something bothered me that I hadn't noticed before.

I understand Admiral Hanson died at Wolf 359. But some part of Starfleet had to survive after that. Why didn't the Enterprise hear anything from Starfleet headquarters -- or from the 40 ships the Klingons were said to be sending.

I suppose Riker could have talked to Starfleet off camera. But the fact that the only thing we see of Starfleet (other than the Enterprise) in the second half of the episode are two shuttle-type ships from Mars? It's really weird.

If nothing else, shouldn't someone on Earth have been hailing the Enterprise when it entered the Terran system? If not Starfleet, than the Federation Council?

Also, the Borg self-destructing because of a malfunction was a little too easy. It would have been more believable if the Enterprise had destroyed the ship after a malfunction, IMO.

Quibbles aside, this was a great episode, even if it wasn't as good as part 1.



Patrick - Fri, Apr 26, 2013 - 11:28am (USA Central)
I caught this edited for feature length on a theater screen last night at one of those one-night-only Fathom Events where they cross promote the Blu ray release. "Wow" is the only single word that comes to mind. This two-parter should have been the template for the TNG movies. While, we all know it was not to be, this was the first time in over a decade I came back from a Star Trek theatrical event smiling ear-to-ear instead of depressed (see: Nemesis and Trek 2009). There was a big applause from the packed audience in the auditorium as the credits rolled. And as I was leaving I saw a 11 or 12 year old kid say to his parents "thanks for taking me". The seed had been planted for another generation!

As for Jammer's 4-star rating for "part II", I say RIGHT ON! It's amazing how organic part II is to part I. It was wise to keep Cliff Bole, Michael Piller and Ron Jones to wrap this up. And you're absolutely right, this is compelling television. If there are plot holes, I was too wrapped up in the ride to notice. Seeing the series edited as a feature length movie, I don't think a first time viewer could have believed that part II was not planned alongside part I from the start.

One of the smartest things was not trying to destroy the Borg through conventional means. We don't see the Battle of Wolf 359 which would have been the television equivalent to a hand-job to the audience (we see it in the DS9 pilot instead). Instead, we simply seeing the aftermath; it's a dramatic punch to the gut. That is a stroke of storytelling genius on Piller's part which amps up the dramatic stakes a 1000-fold.

Part II has so many great moments I can scarcely name them all but my favorites are:

*Guinan's speech to Riker about there only being one captain of the Enterprise ("It's the only way to beat him; the only way to save him.")

*The look on Wesley's face when Riker orders him to set a collision course with the Borg ship as a last ditch effort.

*"Then take your best shot, Locutus because we are about to intervene."

*"Sleep, Data, sleep."

Part II is a classic episode in and of itself. Four stars indeed.
JackBauer - Fri, Apr 26, 2013 - 6:52pm (USA Central)
I also saw this in the theatres and I was so disgusted they decided to show the documentary before the show. I took my girlfriend who has only heard my hype and had no idea what a Star Trek was and the entire two parter was spoiled for her before it even started. Every single part was spoiled. What a crock.

As for the show, I agree with Patrick in that it was well done! The remastering was excellent and the episode doesnt seem all that dated for being 25 years old.

It was mentioned in the documentary that Micheal Miller quit the show without writing a second part. I had read years ago that there were a lot of head games being played between the writers, producers, actors and the media as to not ruin the ending of this two parter. They wanted people to believe this could be the end of Picard. So I actually think everything was planned out from the beginning to the end.
B - Sun, Dec 15, 2013 - 12:56am (USA Central)
While arguably the ending was too easy, it was consistent with what we know about individual drones, how they could self destruct if they suffered the "malfunction" of being injured or separated from the collective. Also, when the larger collective saw that the unauthorized sleep command had been issued, they may have triggered the destruction of the cube.
SkepticalMI - Mon, Feb 24, 2014 - 9:52pm (USA Central)
I didn't know there was actually any controversy about the conclusion until I discovered the internet; I always thought it was just as good as part I and not a let-down in any way.

The way the episode escaped from part I's cliffhanger is clever and logical. The Borg learn and adapt. They have the ability to make themselves immune from many different types of energy attacks. They work by linking all their brains together in the collective. So it's quite logical to assume Picard's brain would now be part of the collective. And quite logical that they would have noticed the big plan to defeat them first. Not sure how many fans guessed that back when it first aired, but it makes perfect sense in retrospect.

Likewise, the final resolution to both the Borg and Picard plots was also clever and logical. The Borg had already been established as beyond the weaponry of Starfleet. Thus, it would have been unbelievable if a brute force, technological solution were to be found. Maybe an entire fleet defeating the Borg could have worked, but special effects hadn't advanced far enough to show that battle yet. Instead, Wolf 359 acted as a punch in the gut and made our dread even more real. So brute force couldn't work. A deus ex machina would feel cheap, even if it did work in Q Who. So it had to be a clever non-traditional route would need to occur. But special tactics like the Picard maneuver might still feel like a let-down. And it doesn't explain how to get Picard back. So why not link the two together?

We still got the cool maneuver and special tactics. We got a call-back to Peak Performance, which showed Riker can be pretty innovative when pushed into a corner. And that's what we saw. We start with taking advantage of the Borg's inhumanity by appearing to mimic a plan hatched when Picard was around. The Borg never considered the possibility of a bluff; their machine-like thought process immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion. We then see an awesome fireworks display, which were some pretty impressive effects for that time. But all of this proves to be a distraction for the real ploy; kidnapping Locutus. The whole scene felt smoothless and came with a nice bout of action. Very well directed scene.

And so Locutus is used to hack into the Borg collective. But even that is too easy. So instead, we meet Picard half-way. Data's hacking serves to wake Picard up enough to give advice on how to get the Borg to go to sleep. And so the Earth is saved. And, conveniently, Picard is back. I don't think anyone saw that coming. But looking back on it, it's hard to see any other way it could have gone.

If I had to make one little change, it would be to not have the sleep pattern cause a self destruct. Instead, I would have had Data warn Riker that he doesn't know how long this will last. And so Riker gets a chance to blow up a defenseless ship. It would have made the mini-argument between Shelby and Riker (about whether to stop the Borg's self destruct sequence) make more sense, and also would have been a nice conclusion to the Riker sub-plot of part I. Riker still has the gumption to take risks when the need arises (as proven by the kidnapping of Locutus), but also understands when to call. Shelby might try to get Data to keep them in sleep mode as long as possible in order to study them, while Riker understands that they are completely out of options if the Borg do wake up. So he orders their destruction. But it's a minor point.

Another minor point, which I thought was quite impressive, was that Riker essentially failed his first moments as the designated captain of the Enterprise. I'm referring to his staff meeting, where he made two rookie mistakes. The first was to immediately undermine his new first officer by dissing her at the same time as promoting her. "Reluctantly"? You don't say that when promoting someone! You need to have full faith in your first officer and you need to ensure your other officers know that you have full faith in her. And yet Riker gives the most lukewarm promotion ever. Ouch. Next, he ends the meeting with some serious self-depreciation while trying to raise the troops' morale. No no no no no. Yes, the situation looks hopeless, and everyone feels that we're all doomed. But you don't reveal you feel the same way! That leads to breakdown of morale and increase in despair. Even if everyone suspects that you don't have a clue how to survive, you need to act at least somewhat confident. I may not be a starship captain, but I know that those were two mistakes.

And yet, it makes sense. This is Riker's first command, and has had no time to prepare for it. He's also stressed, probably tired, grieving, and to be blunt has a whole lot on his mind at the moment. It is perfectly reasonable that his first staff meeting would be a bit... unrehearsed. And it ends up reinforcing the next scene, which shows that Guinan needed to give him a kick in the rear to get things moving. Nicely done.

It also helps to keep that sense of dread going. There's a nice scene in Dune that mirrors this scene; a staff meeting with war looming on the horizon and a sense of things slipping out of control for the Duke of Arrakis. Frank Herbert was able to use words to explain subtle signs on the faces and actions of the staff members showed that the sense of dread was wearing on them, and the staff meeting just seemed to dissolve rather than have a crisp, clear purpose. And I think this staff scene on the Enterprise showed the same thing.

4 stars for me.
Jack - Wed, Apr 30, 2014 - 6:45pm (USA Central)
Locutus throws the guard across the room, and Beverly doesn't bother to stop and tend to him. She is busy monitoring Picard's vitals, but she could at least page sickbay for someone to come tend to him. Even minutes later she's still preoccupied and oblivious while a patient continues to lie unconscious on the floor. Lovely.

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