Plot Synopsis: The Borg begin an invasion of Federation space. A Federation expert is brought on to assist, and causes friction with Commander Riker.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser is super brief: Riker and an away team beam down to a colony after receiving a distress call, only to find the entire colony is gone, similar to other colonies lost due to the Borg. Plot A is about the Borg invasion, plot B is Riker’s offer to captain his own ship and dealing with Shelby. At the 18-minute mark plot A hits the fan: “we have engaged the Borg.” The rest of the episode showcase the Borg as the seemingly unstoppable force they are, with the Enterprise trying to survive and distract them while the Federation readies its defenses. Geordi and Wes put together a strategy for an uber-weapon that can potentially destroy the Borg ship, but in the meantime the Borg overpower the Enterprise again and the rug is pulled out from under us as they kidnap Picard right off his bridge. Plot B is almost as good. Lieutenant Commander Shelby, an expert on the Borg, is brought on board to help and comes into increasing conflict with Riker. We side with Riker, but on repeated viewings her points are mostly valid. Both plots are great viewing and keep the audience riveted right up to the final seconds, in a cliffhanger for the ages.
Favorite Scenes: Let me be clear, this entire episode is a favorite scene to me. I’ll single out two that I especially enjoy. First though, during the poker game, the line “it’s time for the long pants” is something I’ve actually said while playing poker. Try it! The first is at the 26-min mark, after Shelby has overstepped herself yet again. She and Riker have a confrontation in the turbolift:
Riker: You disagree with me, fine. You need to take it to the captain, fine. Through me. You do an end run around me again, I’ll snap you back so hard you’ll think you’re a first-year cadet again.
Shelby: May I speak frankly, sir?
Riker: By all means.
Shelby: You’re in my way.
Riker, with a wry smile: Really? How terrible for you.
Shelby: All you know how to do is play it safe. I suppose that’s why someone like you sits in the shadow of a great man for as long as you have, passing up one command after another…
Riker: When it comes to this ship and this crew, you’re damned right I play it safe. *turns away*
Shelby, in a parting shot: If you can’t make the big decisions, commander, I suggest you make room for someone who can.
The other scene is, I’d imagine, everyone’s favorite moment from the episode. The Enterprise‘s uber-weapon is ready and their former Captain–now a Borg–approaches the view screen from their ship and says:
Locutus: I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile. Your life, as it has been, is over. From this time forward, you will service us.
Riker, locking eyes with Locutus: Mr. Worf…fire.
Use of Cast/Characters: Everyone is used here, a true ensemble episode. Picard’s role is to command the battle scenes with the Borg, plus he gets one heckuva characterization boost by becoming an actual Borg himself. The two parts of this episode really are Riker’s coming of age. When Picard says he’s ready for command, we agree. Take a look at him in season one, contrast it with most of this season and we can see he’s ready to become captain. His job here is overseeing the team readying the Enterprise for battle, and reining in Shelby–not to mention take command of the ship later on. Data and Geordi are tasked with the actual readying of the ship to have a fighting chance, as well as go on away missions. Wes is part of the brain trust along with Data, Geordi and Shelby. Beverly comes on an away team, finds the nodes and develops the idea of how to get the Borg out of warp. Troi is in this episode too, talking Riker through his feelings regarding the captain offer, and later reminding him once Picard’s gone that his place is on the ship. Worf is the only one who doesn’t have as much to do, but he is part of the away team to the Borg. Guinan helps out Picard a bit by being a listening ear and reminding him this is not the end of humanity. Elizabeth Dennehy (daughter of actor Brian Dennehy) is Commander Shelby, and she’s wonderful. She’s the kind of character the audience loves to hate, but we can’t dismiss her because she’s actually useful–a sign of good writing. George Murdock plays Admiral Hanson and does a solid job as well.
Blu Ray Version: Reference-quality video and audio, but nothing new otherwise.
Nitpicks: Not really a nitpick, but a physics question: if the Enterprise is trailing the Borg, both traveling at 9.6, how can they beam on board the Borg ship? Are the transporters faster than warp? Also, I suppose a better title for this episode could have been found. Maybe it refers to how the Borg view a fusion of biology and technology? I liked seeing Crusher on the Borg away team, but on a real ship the chief medical officer probably shouldn’t have been on it–send another medical officer instead. Finally, shouldn’t Locutus say “we are Locutus” instead of “I am”?
Overall Impression: A plot-driven tour de force if ever there was one, and IMO one of the top three episodes of the series. It’s difficult to overstate the impact BoBW had: it legitimized it for fans everywhere and brought TNG into part of a national conversation. It seemed like everyone in the US wanted to know how this would end! No cliffhanger Star Trek has ever done has been quite at this level, I simply love everything about it. This really turned into a Riker-centered episode, with him shining in parts one and two brighter than he ever has. It also gives us some insight as to why someone as ambitious as Riker was would turn down another offer of captaining his own ship–it’s because he’s happy for the first time with where he is. I rate this episode 5 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: In the wake of everything else this is also a poker episode, and the final kidnapping of the season. The original contract with Piller was just for one year, because he wanted to be “on the beach in Mexico writing screenplays.” He wrote part 1 with no intention at all of resolving the plot. At the end of the season Roddenberry came to him personally and asked him to stay for one more year, so he did. The problem was that, in his words he’d created “an unsolvable problem.” The writing staff did come to Piller with the idea of a ‘queen bee’, but he resisted that until he decided that Picard himself would serve. There is also a nice story about Patrick Stewart’s first rehearsal as Locutus, by the assistant director:
He came on to the set – everybody was wowed with what they had done to Patrick – and we got everyone settled down and did one rehearsal. All he had to do was walk up to the camera. He did so and towered over everyone. It was just so creepy and so spooky, and he said, ‘I am Locutus of Borg. Have you considered buying a Pontiac?’ And everyone was on the floor. That’s the kind of thing that makes it wonderful to work on the show; those people have a wonderful sense of humor.“
You may recall that a live orchestra did the music for all the episodes. For this two-parter they used twice as many musicians, 77! The name Locutus is actually Latin for “he who has spoken.” This episode, not Q Who, is where the Borg first say “resistance is futile.” Entertainment Weekly named BoBW #2 of their top 10 episodes, it was nominated for an Emmy for Visual Effects, and Star Trek 101 named this episode one of the top 10 essential episodes.
Missable/Unmissable? That’s it for season 3! If you care about Star Trek (or good writing) at all, this episode is absolutely unmissable.