Thursday, September 29, 2011

Classics: TNG 3:26/4:1 - The Best of Both Worlds (Cheers)

Overall Rating: 9.8

Widely recognized as one of the finest moments in Trek history (and for good reason), Next Gen's Borg-centered smash hit propelled the franchise, the Borg, and Trek in general into the popular culture like no other Trek invention with the possible exception of The Wrath of Kahn.

Plot Synopsis:

The basic description of events can be found here, courtesy of wikipedia.

The Skinny:

There are four elements that make this episode both brilliant and uniquely likely to make a large cultural impact: iconic language, the likes of which you rarely see in Trek, award-winning sound track and an atmosphere to evoke mood unlike anything else in Star Trek history, cinematic scope and daring unrivaled by anything that came before it (some call it Star Trek's passage into adulthood), and a character-driven story line that serves to focus the action.  Taken one at a time...

Iconic Language
We are the Borg. You Will Be Assimilated. Resistance is Futile. We Will Add Your Biological and Technological Distinctiveness to Our Own.  Your Life, As it has Been, Is Over.  From this Moment Forward, You Will Adapt to Service Us. 
While The Best of Both Worlds did now introduce the Borg concept (that occurred back in season two - Q Who to be exact), it did settle on the final and most recognizable language of the Borg Collective.  Even saying those words causes an instinctual revulsion and fear.  This sentiment cannot be reasoned with.  It can't be understood on human terms.  It can't be compromised.  It can't be mitigated or made less threatening.  There is no safe middle ground, no common frame of reference, and no hope for peace.  There is only you...and the Borg who would destroy your soul and leave you alive to watch helplessly as they use you to do the same to everyone else caught in your path.  If this concept had been done on Farscape, it would have doubtlessly been much more disgusting (much more like a horror film), and much less optimistic (I wonder whether the power of the individual would have been able to overcome the collective the way it did for Picard once he was separated from the hive - after all, John decisively LOST to Scorpius in a battle in soul vs. soul within one brain), but the language lives on as a reminder of the infinite value of our individuality.  Resistance is Futile appears in political satire and some who use it have no idea that it came from Trek.  You will be Assimilated likewise has made it into the popular lexicon.  Those words have enormous power and were very carefully chosen to represent Trek's first truly threatening bad guys.

Atmospheric Brilliance

Uneasy - The Threat Looms

A Hopeless Battle

Death is Irrelevant

Fire! (focus on final moments)

It just does not get any better than that when it comes to theatrical scoring to set the tone.  And the tone is set just as well by the graphical production team.  From Picard's final stroll and conversation with Guinen (as seen in an eerie backdrop of dimmed lights and purple nebular gas) to the giant hole in the ground that was a Federation colony to the vision of Locutus hitting Riker in the eye with his laser of evil...every little detail adds something.  There are no flashy effects for the sake of having flashy effects.  There are no bombastic, intrusive beats of score like the days of TOS.  There is only tone and mood and art.

Cinematic Scope

As far as I can tell, TBoBW was the first Trek episode where there was true uncertainty about the survival of one of the cast members, the manner in which Earth might be saved (in fact this might be the first Trek Episode that truly threatened the existence of humanity), and the future direction of the franchise.  Luck was on their side when they decided to green-light their made-for-TV big-budget two-part Borg movie concept. You see, it wasn't clear whether Patrick Stewart would continue with the show, so they actually got the chance to write a story where he might...or might not...survive.  It also wasn't clear whether Jonathan Frakes would be ready for the big time, so they got to write a story where he might...or might not...take a promotion.  For the first time, they had license to take some real risks and put their cast truly in jeopardy in a way that fans would believe that something bad might actually happen.

On top of that, the Rick Berman era of Trek - while it has some detractors - is known as the period in which Trek writers became more ambitious and more interested in real conflict.  Stories that depicted the Federation not as Eden, basking without fear in a friendly galaxy with just a few tricks and traps on its' outskirts to keep us on our toes, but as a more appropriate parable for the United States, with forces at its' every border seeking to break down the walls of the Garden and plunder Eden's riches or break the spirits of her chosen few lucky inhabitants.  Berman isn't perfect, by any means.  He wrote and produced the feature film "Insurrection" (oops) and he is roundly criticized for taking some of the zing out of the music and artistic aspects of Trek in favor of art imitating life by just sort of being there in the background.  But he did take the show in a much more interesting direction, starting around this time.  TBoBW is, as sfdebris often puts it, the franchise's 9.11 moment.  The peaceful, idealistic paradise of Federation space is disturbed by the zealots storming its' battlements and from that moment on, Trek becomes increasingly militaristic.  For that, TBoBW deserves a lot of credit.  Because, after all, how long could you do a show without significant existential threats and bigger-than-regional stakes.  It's hard to imagine it would have had the staying power that it did without this decision to enlarge (and endanger) the Alpha Quadrant and expand on the many alien cultures within it (or adjacent to it, in the case of the Dominion).

Character Based Drama

Not that I often find reasons to give two s***s about Will Riker...a man I find works better as a comic relief character than a serious hero.  But this was the coup de gras of his character arc.  From TBoBW on, Riker's character became stagnant and uninteresting.  The previous three seasons had been (from his perspective) about Riker's maturing into a true leader and shaking off his brash, cocksure youth.  He'd been offered command twice already and was getting a third overture at the start of this two-parter.  The trick Riker has matured, he's developed increasing interest in priorities outside of the simple ambitious quest for command.  Commander Shelby is what Riker was ten years ago or even three.  You can think of this episode as Riker's midlife crisis.  Does he choose to be comfortable among people he loves, whether that leads to advancement or not, confident that he could lead if he wanted to but happy where he is...or does he let his ambition win the day and accept his promotion (or, later in the episode, after Picard is taken, his responsibility to lead in a way different from Picard's style), sacrificing the close bonds he's forged with his shipmates?  The moment he chooses the former (after getting a taste of commanding the Enterprise and deciding that he is more than capable of being a great Captain, but perfectly happy choosing less for himself in the service of his relationships), there is nowhere left for Riker's character to go.  And he goes nowhere from then on.  But in this one episode, it is rewarding to see that character arc fulfilled in the way that feels somehow the truest.

Writing: 10.0

Beyond the atmosphere and the iconic language and the effects and the brilliant direction, this episode is also penned beautifully.  There are no unnecessary scenes, no wasted space, no hammy lines and no bad decisions.  The script delivers many memorable moments that will stay with its' viewers forever, and the characterization is pitch perfect.  Even the new arrival (Shelby) is given a character that we come to appreciate.  All in all, I dare anyone to find a major flaw in the script.

Acting: 9.5

There are just a few little moments that feel slightly over-acted...Michael Dorn is responsible for one of them: "He IS a Borg!", Jonathan Frakes has another ("Go over my head again and I'll snap you back so fast your head will spin!") and Shelby gives a few stiff line readings...not all that surprising considering the role she's being asked to play, but on the whole, the performances are excellent to brilliant.

Message: 10.0

TBoBW finally confronts the one kind of enemy that Roddenbury might never admit existed - the immovable, incompatible, existential threat.  We don't have cyborg creations running amok on Earth, but we DO have enemies whose core philosophy is completely alien and mutually exclusive with ours, and who are dedicated to destroying our way of life and our individual liberty.  When the show was made, the Borg were viewed as a stand-in for Communist Soviets.  Later analysis often paints them as a blend between the reducto ad absurdem for Communism AND Capitalism (though I think those folks don't accurately understand what Capitalism is - it isn't pure consumption, which is what the Borg is the right of the individual to consume, create and distribute wealth and goods as he sees fit...which the Borg would certainly never understand).  And today, we might view the Borg as representing the force of big-statism in all of its' forms...or even the oppressive tyranny of the majority (e.g. political correctness).  But they will always represent the reality that individual liberty is priceless and always threatened.


HANSON: Keep your eye on her, Jean Luc. She's one very impressive young lady.
PICARD: You seem rather taken with her, JP.
HANSON: Just an old man's fantasies. When Shelby came into Tactical, every admiral's uncle had a take on this Borg business. She cut through it. She put us on track.
PICARD: Earl Grey?
HANSON: Please. She'd make you a hell of a first officer.
PICARD: I already have a hell of a first officer.
HANSON: Don't tell me he's going to pass up another commission?
PICARD: One's available?
HANSON: The Melbourne. It's his if he wants it. Hasn't he told you?
PICARD: He'll make a fine captain, JP.
HANSON: You may want to tell him that. We're still waiting on his decision. This is the third time we've pulled out the captain's chair for Riker. He just won't sit down. Let me tell you something, Jean-Luc. There are a lot of young hotshots like Shelby on their way up. Riker could suddenly look like he's standing still next to them. He's hurting his career by staying put. If I were you, I'd kick him in the rear end for his own good.

SHELBY: Of course. I appreciate any assistance you can offer. Tell me, Commander. Is serving aboard the Enterprise as extraordinary an experience as I've heard?
RIKER: Every bit.
SHELBY: Good. Because I intend to convince Captain Picard I'm the right choice for the job.
RIKER: Job? Which job?
SHELBY: Yours, of course. I'm sorry. I heard that you were leaving.
RIKER: If I were, I'm sure you'll be the first to know. Poker's at seventeen hundred hours in my quarters. Deck eight.

SHELBY: Morning. Early bird gets the worm, eh? We've had some interesting results.
RIKER: Commander Shelby. Walk with me, Commander.
DATA: Early bird? I believe Commander Shelby erred. There is no evidence of avifaunal or crawling vermicular lifeforms on Jouret Four.
LAFORGE: That's not what she meant, Data, but you're right. She erred.
SHELBY: I'm sorry, but I woke up early and I saw that a weather system was moving in it. It could have affected the soil readings.
RIKER: So without any regard to the risk of coming down alone
SHELBY: Really, Commander, if we ran into the Borg here, two extra bodies wouldn't've made a hell of a difference, now would they? We had three hours before the storm front hit, less than two hours now. Data was available. I took him. We came. I don't see your problem.
RIKER: My problem, Commander, is I expect to be notified before there's a change in my orders.
SHELBY: Noted for future reference.

RIKER: What am I still doing here? Deanna, I pushed myself hard to get this far. I sacrificed a lot. I always said I wanted my own command, and yet something's holding me back. Is it wrong for me to want to stay?
TROI: What do you think?
RIKER: Maybe I'm just afraid of the big chair.
TROI: I don't think so.
RIKER: The Captain says Shelby reminds him of the way I used to be. And he's right. She comes in here full of drive and ambition. Impatient, taking risks. I look at her and I wonder whatever happened to those things in me? I liked those things about me. I've lost something.
TROI: You mean you're older, more experienced. A little more seasoned.
RIKER: Seasoned. That's a horrible thing to say to a man.
TROI: I don't think you've lost a thing, and I think you've gained more than you realise. You're much more comfortable with yourself than you used to be.
RIKER: Maybe that's the problem. I'm too comfortable here.
TROI: I'm not sure I know what that means. You're happy here. Happier than I've ever known you to be. So, it comes down to a simple question. What do you want, Will Riker?

LAFORGE: We'll have to go through the specs again, but. I don't know. My mind's turned to clay.
WESLEY: Mine too.
SHELBY: I think we should look at modifying the plasma phaser design.
RIKER: Commander, I think we should call it a night. That's an order. We'll reconvene at oh five hundred.
SHELBY: Sir, if you'll allow me to continue with Mister Data, who does not require rest.
RIKER: You need rest, Commander.
SHELBY: If we have a confrontation with the Borg without improving our defence systems
RIKER: If we have a confrontation, I don't want a crew fighting the Borg at the same time they're fighting their own fatigue. Dismissed.

WORF: Captain, you are being hailed.
WORF: Yes, Captain. By name.
RIKER: Data, is it the same ship we faced at J two five?
DATA: Uncertain, Commander, but the dimensions are precisely the same.
PICARD: On screen. I am Jean Luc
(The viewscreen just shows the inside of the cube. The voice is made up of many speaking as one)
BORG [OC]: Jean Luc Picard, captain of the Starship Enterprise, registry NCC 1701D, you will lower shields and prepare to transport yourself aboard our vessel. If you do not cooperate, we will destroy your ship.
PICARD: You have committed acts of aggression against the United Federation of Planets. If you do not withdraw immediately
BORG: You will surrender yourself or we will destroy your ship. Your defensive capabilities are unable to withstand us.  (lovely)

SHELBY: There is one other recommendation I'd like to make, Commander. Separate the saucer section. Assign a skeleton crew to create a diversion
RIKER: We may need the power from the saucer impulse engines.
SHELBY: But it would give them more than one target to worry about.
RIKER: It's too great a risk.
SHELBY: I'd like the Captain to make that decision, sir.
RIKER: Commander, I bring all the alternatives to the Captain's attention. That'll be all. 

PICARD: Come in, Number One. Commander Shelby was just telling me of your concerns about her plan.
RIKER: I'm sorry if she troubled you, sir. I have already informed her
PICARD: Yes, I entirely agree with you, Number One. It's not the time. But the time may come when we will be required to take greater risks. I want you to consider her plan as a fall back position. Make the necessary preparations.
RIKER: Very good, sir.
SHELBY: Deck eight. Battle bridge.
RIKER: Halt. Commander, you and I need to have a conversation.
SHELBY: You never ordered me not to discuss this with the Captain.
RIKER: You disagree with me, fine. You need to take it to the Captain, then 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: 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. Proceed to deck eight.
RIKER: When it comes to this ship and this crew, you're damned right I play it safe.
SHELBY: If you can't make the big decisions, Commander, I suggest you make room for someone who can.

GUINAN: Trouble sleeping?
PICARD: Something of a tradition, Guinan. The Captain touring the ship before a battle.
GUINAN: Before a hopeless battle, if I remember the tradition correctly.
PICARD: Not necessarily. Nelson toured the HMS Victory before Trafalgar.
GUINAN: Yes, but Nelson never returned from Trafalgar, did he?
PICARD: No, but the battle was won.
GUINAN: Do you expect this battle to be won?
PICARD: We may yet prevail. That's a conceit, but it's a healthy one. I wonder if the Emperor Honorious, watching the Visigoths coming over the seventh hill, truly realised that the Roman Empire was about to fall. This is just another page in history, isn't it? Will this be the end of our civilisation? Turn the page.
GUINAN: This isn't the end.
PICARD: You say that with remarkable assuredness.
GUINAN: With experience. When the Borg destroyed my world, my people scattered throughout the universe. We survived. As will humanity survive. As long as there's a handful of you to keep the spirit alive, you will prevail. Even if it takes a millennium. 

BORG: Captain Jean Luc Picard, you lead the strongest ship of the Federation fleet. You speak for your people.
PICARD: I have nothing to say to you, and I will resist you with my last ounce of strength.
BORG: Strength is irrelevant. Resistance is futile. We wish to improve ourselves. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service ours.
PICARD: Impossible. My culture is based on freedom and self determination.
BORG: Freedom is irrelevant. Self determination is irrelevant. You must comply.
PICARD: We would rather die.
BORG: Death is irrelevant. Your archaic cultures are authority driven. To facilitate our introduction into your societies, it has been decided that a human voice will speak for us in all communications. You have been chosen to be that voice.

RIKER: I'm leading an away team over there to get the Captain back. We'll find a way to bring them out of warp. Ensign Crusher, you continue to assist Mister La Forge. Commander Shelby, you'll take the Bridge and coordinate with Starfleet. Data, Worf, Doctor, you're with me.
SHELBY: Excuse me, sir. With my knowledge of the Borg
RIKER: Those are my orders, Commander.
TROI: Commander Riker. It is inappropriate for you to lead the away team. Until the return of Captain Picard, you are in command of the Enterprise. We're in a state of war, and your place is on the Bridge.
RIKER: Commander Shelby, you'll lead the away team. Make it so.

RIKER: The Captain?
DATA: We were unable to retrieve him, sir. Sir, The Captain has been altered by the Borg.
RIKER: Altered?
WORF: He is a Borg.
SHELBY: We'll go back. I need more people. We need to retune the phasers again. We'll get him out of there.
LAFORGE: Commander, reading subspace field fluctuations from within the Borg ship. Looks like they're regenerating, restoring power. They could be capable of warp any minute.
RIKER: Is the deflector ready?
LAFORGE: It's ready.
CRUSHER: Will, he's alive. If we could get him back to the ship, I might be able to restore
RIKER: This is our only chance to destroy them. If they get back into warp, our weapon is useless.
SHELBY: We'll sabotage them again if we have to.
RIKER: We can't maintain power. We don't have the time. Prepare to fire.
SHELBY: At least consult with Starfleet Command. Get Admiral Hanson on subspace.
RIKER: Belay that order, Lieutenant. There's no time.
WORF: Sir, we are being hailed by the Borg.
RIKER: On screen.
PICARD [on viewscreen]: 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: Mister Worf. Fire.

RIKER: Cease fire.
LAFORGE: Shutting down warp engines.
RIKER: They couldn't have adapted that quickly.
PICARD [on viewscreen]: The knowledge and experience of the human Picard is part of us now. It has prepared us for all possible courses of action. Your resistance is hopeless, Number One (oooooh)

SHELBY: Reconstruction is proceeding normally. It's slow work. If we can nail down this shield generator problem, I agree with La Forge. We should be at operating capacity in two to three hours.
RIKER: Good.
SHELBY: Anything else, sir?
RIKER: Yes. You did a good job on the Borg ship.
SHELBY: I didn't get Picard.
RIKER: You stopped them. You gave us our shot.
RIKER: Commander, we don't have to like each other to work well together. As a fact of fact, I'd like you to continue to keep me on my toes.
SHELBY: Some might define that as the role of a first officer.
RIKER: Damn, you are ambitious, aren't you, Shelby.
SHELBY: Captain Riker, based on our past relationship, there's no reason for me to expect to become your first officer except you need me. I know how to get things done, and I have the expertise in the Borg.
RIKER: And you have a lot to learn, Commander.
SHELBY: Yes, sir.
RIKER: Almost as much as I had to learn when I came aboard as Captain Picard's first officer. A fact he reminded me of when I commented on what a pain in the neck you are.
SHELBY: Yes, sir.

GUINAN: May I speak to you, Captain?
RIKER: Actually, Guinan, I
GUINAN: You know, Picard and I used to talk every now and again, when one of us needed to. I guess I'm just used to having the Captain's ear.
(She sits in Picard's chair)
RIKER: What's on your mind?
GUINAN: I've heard a lot of people talking down in Ten Forward. They expect to be dead in the next day or so. They trust you. They like you. But they don't believe anyone can save them.
RIKER: I'm not sure anyone can.
GUINAN: When a man is convinced he's going to die tomorrow, he'll probably find a way to make it happen. The only one who can turn is around is you.
RIKER: I'll do the best I can.
GUINAN: You're going have to do something you don't want to do. You have to let go of Picard.
RIKER: Maybe you haven't heard. I tried to kill him yesterday.
GUINAN: You tried to kill whatever that is on the Borg ship. Not Picard. Picard is still here with us in this room. If he had died, it would be easier. But he didn't They took him from us a piece at a time. Did he ever tell you why we're so close?
GUINAN: Well, then let me just our relationship is beyond friendship, beyond family. And I will let him go. And you must do the same. There can only be one Captain.
RIKER: It's not that simple. This was his crew. He wrote the book on this ship.
GUINAN: And the Borg know everything he knows. It's time to throw that book away. You must let him go, Riker. It's the only way to beat him. The only way to save him. And that is now you chair. Captain. 

RIKER: We wish to end the hostilities.
PICARD [on viewscreen]: Then you must unconditionally surrender.
RIKER: We are prepared to meet to discuss your terms.
PICARD [on viewscreen]: It is unlikely you are prepared to discuss terms. It is more likely that this is an attempt at deception.
RIKER: Come now, Locutus. If Picard's knowledge and experience is part of you, then you know I've never lied to him. You should also implicitly trust me, is that not so?
PICARD [on viewscreen]: Picard implicitly trusted you.
RIKER: Then trust me now. Meet to discuss terms.
PICARD [on viewscreen]: Discussion is irrelevant. There are no terms. You will disarm all your weapons and escort us to Sector zero zero one where we will begin assimilating your culture and technology.

RIKER: We would like time to prepare our people for assimilation.
PICARD [on viewscreen]: Preparation is irrelevant. Your people will be assimilated as easily as Picard has been. Your attempt at a delay will not be successful, Number One. We will proceed to Earth, and if you attempt to intervene, we will destroy you.
RIKER: Then take your best shot, Locutus, because we're about to intervene. (this is a nice line)

PICARD: I am on board the Enterprise.
RIKER: That's right.
(Picard sits up slowly)
PICARD:: A futile manoeuvre. Incorrect strategy, Number One. To risk your ship and crew to retrieve only one man. Picard would never have approved. You underestimate us if you believe this abduction is any concern. There is no need for apprehension. I intend no harm. No harm. I will continue, aboard this ship, to speak for the Borg, while they continue without further diversion to Sector zero zero one, where they will force your unconditional surrender.

PICARD: Worf. Klingon species. A warrior race. You too will be assimilated.
WORF: The Klingon Empire will never yield.
PICARD: Why do you resist? We only wish to raise quality of life for all species.
WORF: I like my species the way it is.
PICARD: A narrow vision. You will become one with the Borg. You will all become one with the Borg. The android, Data. Primitive artificial organism. You will be obsolete in the new order. 

SHELBY: Request permission to disembark, sir.
PICARD: Permission granted. They've picked a fine officer for the task force, Commander.
SHELBY: We'll have the fleet back up in less than a year. I imagine you'll get your choice of any Starfleet command, sir.
RIKER: Everyone is so concerned about my next job. With all due respect, Commander, sir, my career plans are my own business, and no one else's. But it's nice to know I'll have a few options.
SHELBY: I hope I have the fortune of serving with you again, sir. Captain.
(Shelby leaves)
RIKER: Course to Station McKinley ready and laid in, sir.
PICARD: Make it so, Number One. 

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