Plot Synopsis: With Captain Picard assimilated by the Borg, the enemy is able to totally obliterate a Starfleet/Klingon armada at Wolf 359. Riker is in command of the Enterprise and forced to go one on one with the seemingly-invincible Borg, now armed with the knowledge and experience of his former captain.
Plot A and B Analysis: Except for TOS episodes “The Menagerie” there’s not much precedent for a two-parter in Star Trek history, so TNG decides to have a 2-minute recap of part one as part of the teaser, then we rejoin the action. Things are worse than we’d feared: not only does the Enterprise‘s uber-weapon not harm the Borg, but Locutus informs us the knowledge and experience of Captain Picard is now part of their collective. Plot A is about the Federation’s increasingly desperate battle against one Borg ship, there is no plot B. Guinan and Riker sum up the mood of the audience when she refers to the mood of the Enterprise crew: “they don’t believe anyone can save them,” and Riker responds, “I’m not sure anyone can.” The threat of the Borg assimilating Earth and then the entire Federation looms ever closer, and despite an ingenious battle which retrieves Picard there is no real way to win, until they do in a way that nobody thought of, but that makes total sense. This is the battle against the invincible enemy that will set the standard in sci-fi television for decades to come.
Favorite Scenes: It’s hard to narrow down, the whole episode is first-class. Locutus’ first chilling reference to Riker as “Number One”, a brief heartrending scene of Picard being further altered by the Borg on their ship, a bit of wisdom by Riker I’ve remembered, “we don’t have to like each other to work well together,” the shot of the wrecked ships at Wolf 359, the list goes on. Upon my reflection, my two favorite scenes are pretty predictable: first, the battle to rescue Picard at about 21 minutes in. It’s great because the viewer has no idea what the battle is about, and it turns out to be a wonderfully executed snatch-and-grab. My favorite scene is the final confrontation, which only lasts about three minutes. Data is trying to get to the Borg and failing, none of the Enterprise‘s weapons are effective, her shields go down again, Riker orders Wes to set a collision course and go to warp, it’s all just perfect. I also remember the impact of Picard’s response when Riker asks him how much he remembers. Picard’s answer, “everything,” takes away the hope of the merciful effect of ignorance and sets up the next episode at the same time.
Use of Cast/Characters: Picard is definitely in this one! I have never thought of Picard as helping the Borg, as Admiral Hanson makes clear; I’ve always thought of him as trapped inside his mind, trying to fight the Borg but utterly helpless to do so. This is evidenced by Picard himself initiating contact with Data later in the episode. He does help provide a key to defeating the Borg, but this episode really isn’t about him. Riker is center stage here: we see him placed in an impossible situation, wrestling with fighting Picard’s ghost as well as the Borg, and coming into his own. He figures out how to retrieve his captain, makes some very hard decisions, and they’re the right ones. He also gets a temporary field promotion to captain. Data is a crucial part of this episode, helping rescue his captain and is part of unlocking the puzzle of the Borg. Beverly makes the key breakthrough, realizing the Borg’s interdependence can also be their weakness. Guinan is the catalyst that turns Riker around, and we learn a key bit of history about Guinan and her relationship with Picard: “…our relationship is beyond friendship. Beyond family.” To this day the history of that relationship has never been fully explained. Worf is involved in every battle, and helps rescue his captain. Troi is also important, pointing out Picard’s presence vs Locutus’. Almost a complete ensemble episode, except that Geordi and Wes aren’t as involved as they were in part one. Elizabeth Dennehy as Commander Shelby gets promoted and is an able and active First Officer, the former rivalry between the two set aside.
Blu Ray Version: There were three seconds of original footage they couldn’t find, and were forced to upconvert from tape. This occurs at 20:33 into the episode, and you can tell it’s blurrier than the crystal clear visuals here. In fact they used alternate takes for this whole sequence, so I’m guessing they couldn’t find the original footage (thanks to Ex Astris Scientia for this catch). The deflection dish beam got improved, which is nice as well. The explosion of the Borg cube was completely redone for the HD version. There is also a 3-minute deleted scene! It takes place right after Picard’s tear scene on the Borg cube, and is about Riker trying to come to terms with his promotion and having tried to kill his former captain. It’s not bad–Troi is involved–but it’s a bit redundant with the Guinan scene later on. I’m fine with it being out.
Nitpicks: I’ve never been in the military, but if I were Riker I wouldn’t use the word ‘reluctantly’ when referring to his choice to promote Shelby to first officer. It’s the middle of a huge crisis, you’re right in front of the senior staff, I don’t think it’s appropriate to say that. I’m also not exactly sure why the Enterprise drops out of warp when it gets to Saturn, even at warp one it would take almost an hour to get to the Earth from there. Maybe it’s to drive home that we’re in our own solar system. Take a look at the scene starting at 17:15 when we’re looking at Wolf 359. Data is at ops, but in another shot at 17:35 you can see an obvious female stand-in at ops instead. Finally, I do wish we would’ve seen the battle at Wolf 359. No idea how they would’ve squeezed it in as they were already tight on time, but still!
Overall Impression: No one knew if part II was going to deliver on part one’s promise. In my opinion it did deliver, and deliver in a big way. It’s been said before and I agree with it: The Best of Both Worlds is really the first feature film of TNG. A large proportion of TNG fans consider this to be the pinnacle of the series. The final scene in the captain’s ready room is great, it shows us that everything is not necessarily back to normal, as we’ll see in the following episode. My favorite episode is still a couple of seasons away, and one could make arguments that other episodes represent the finest moment of TNG. Still, BoBW is not only a high-water mark in the history of Star Trek, but of televised science fiction as a whole. I rate this episode 5 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: Turns out one of the reasons Geordi had less to do this episode was because he was having emergency surgery. He wasn’t available when they were shooting most of this episode, which is why he only appears in close-ups. This is also why we see Chief O’Brien in the med lab instead of Geordi, as originally intended. The transporter effect was changed from this episode on, having the blue tinge removed. It would have been cool to see the actual battle of Wolf 359, but with all the money being spent they didn’t have the budget for it. The USS Saratoga, which was destroyed during this battle, was the one that Sisko was on, who would later command DS9. In the episode The Drumhead we learn that 39 ships were lost at Wolf 359, and a loss of life at ~11,000.
This episode marks the last time we ever see the saucer separation sequence or the battle bridge. Kind of a shame. There was a live orchestra for every TNG episode, and for this one it was doubled: 77 musicians. Star Trek 101 lists BoBw (1&2 combined) as one of the 10 unmissable episodes of TNG. Entertainment Weekly ranked this #2 on their top 10 TNG episodes. This episode also won two Emmys (Sound Editing & Sound Mixing), and was nominated for four. Enjoy a blooper reel dedicated entirely to this episode, here. Watch Michael Dorn screw up all kinds of lines!
Missable/Unmissable? Unquestionably unmissable, as is the next episode.