Star Trek 181: The Best of Both Worlds, Part I

181. The Best of Both Worlds, Part I

FORMULA: Q Who + The Wrath of Khan

WHY WE LIKE IT: The Borg as we best remember them. The music. The ending. Locutus. Name it.

WHY WE DON'T: Shelby's more aggressive tendencies.

REVIEW: It hardly comes any better than this. The Borg were a great creation and liable to become a major threat in the lives of our heroes when introduced in Q Who?, and unlike the parasites from Conspiracy, that promise is fulfilled. They're back, new and improved, with a more interesting goal (assimilation) and spouting their famous dialogue about servicing them, etc., etc. for the first time. The effects are up to the task, repeating what we've seen before, but also opening with a great shot of the rooted up colony, and later giving us some atmospheric nebula footage.

A most brilliant creation is Locutus, a very dramatic speaking voice for the Borg, and after Picard's talk about the last tour of the ship with Guinan, you don't really know if the good captain will be able to return in the next season. The first time I saw this, you didn't really know. No Star Trek series had even gone 4 years (so a great time to cement it with an actual cliffhanger), and with Riker being offered captaincy and Shelby looking for a first officer slot on the Enterprise, it didn't take long for rumors of Patrick Stewart considering leaving the show to crop up. It was a long summer! Part of the reason the episode worked so well is the tension that mounts over the course of the hour, ending with those wonderful musical cues after Riker says "Fire!" and the "To be continued..." card comes up. Those cues are charged with so much tension, I get a rise from them every time. Speaking of the music, I can't review The Best of Both Worlds without mentioning the beautiful Borg theme, with its multiple angelic voices. Excellent.

As for Commander Shelby, I'm not so taken with her. I have no doubt Elizabeth Dennehy is a fine actress, but she's fallen to playing the strong woman as an overbearing harpy. This is most annoying. It seems to be a tradition on Star Trek for strong women to be portrayed as overly antagonistic for some reason (the Bajoran ones, certainly, Tasha, B'Elanna, even Pulaski), but it seems outmoded even for our time. Shelby is instantly dislikable as she goes over Riker's head time after time after time, because WE LIKE HIM. On the flipside, Riker is written as more wishy-washy than he's ever been. It's a bit of manipulation to make his finally taking charge more powerful, but it's a manipulation I can forgive given the rest of the material. If Shelby had really become Riker's XO, we could have expected a relationship not unlike Sisko and Kira, with a little more drama aboard ship. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I'm glad it never happened. But here, you do need an antagonist with a personality, since the Borg can't really provide that.

The best scripts have something for the entire cast to do, and that's the case here, despite the intense use of a guest star AND a good scene for Guinan, they all get a chance to offer useful input. Troi advises Riker on his career, Beverly suggests the mosquito's approach, etc. After this, there's little chance of the resolution to be as good as the set-up, but Part I is worth watching on its own.

LESSON: Creating an insoluble problem makes for excellent drama, even if you write yourself into a corner doing so.

REWATCHABILITY - High: Trek at its best. The Best of Both Worlds completely deserves its reputation. Shelby is a flawed character, but adds to the level of pressure Riker is under, and certainly makes things less predictable!


Matthew Turnage said...

I remember watching the episode when it first aired. I didn't realize it was going to be a cliffhanger and TNG had not done any two-parters up to that point (unless you count the pilot being split in two during reruns). During the last few minutes I kept wondering how they were going to wrap things up before the end of the hour, and when Riker gave the order to fire my jaw was on the floor. One of the best hours of Trek ever.

Dan said...

Man, that was just about the longest summer of my life. No "Star Trek" cliffhanger has ever matched this for sheer, "Gotta see it" champing at the bit for the next season. My friends and I spent hours speculating about whether Picard was actually going to die or not and what would happen next.

De said...

Back in the days of the good ol' VCR, I tried putting the two parts together to make a movie. It didn't work. I tried again last year in my editing bay. It still doesn't work.

The gravitas of the first part's end needs a bit of time to sink in before delving into the second.


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