By the end of the third season, Star Trek TNG had exceeded expectations and begun to pick up steam. After the first two seasons there were several changes both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. The production team began work on a two part story with a cliffhanger for the season finale to maintain momentum. There had only been one two-part story in The Original Series – “The Menagerie” in the middle of the first season.
The Borg, a cybernetic race with a hive mind introduced by Q in “Q Who” have returned and are intent on assimilating Earth. Starfleet scrambles to defend the Federation despite knowing little about the Borg. They send Lieutenant Commander Shelby to the Enterprise as their Borg expert. She’s young, eager, and confident. Admiral Hansen also reveals that Commander Riker has been offered command of another ship – the third in three years.
Riker feels threatened by Shelby, who reminds him of an early version of himself. She’s ambitious and her fast and loose style contrasts with his by-the-book nature. He can’t help but wonder if he’s gotten too comfortable and grown complacent on the Enterprise. The goal of his own command had always been a driving force in his career. But Riker worries he’s stalling.
Shelby confirms it was the Borg that destroyed the New Providence colony, leaving a gigantic hole in its place. Admiral Hansen reports that a cube shaped vessel overtook another Starfleet ship. When the Enterprise rushes to answer the distress signal, they find the Borg, who hail Picard by name. It appears the Borg remember the events of “Q Who” as well. They demand Picard surrender himself, which he refuses. The Borg lock onto the Enterprise with a tractor beam. The ship’s weapons are ineffective against the cube. Shelby suggests firing short bursts of phasers at random frequencies. It’s enough for the Borg to disengage the tractor beam. Picard takes the ship into a nebula while the senior officers rethink their strategy.
Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge suggests using the ship’s deflector dish to fire a blast of the same frequencies that caused the Borg to disengage the tractor beam. The crew analyzed the cube and found a two percent power drop. If they were to fire a bigger burst all at once, then maybe the power drop would be higher. Shelby also suggests separating the saucer section from the stardrive. Riker dismisses her plan while Picard suggests using it as a fall back.
It doesn’t take long for the Borg to find the Enterprise in the nebula. They drive the ship out with charges. Three drones board the ship and kidnap Captain Picard. On board the cube, Picard is told he will become the spokesperson for the Borg and the liaison between them and humanity. The captain is defiant but the Borg have a way of getting what they want.
Shelby leads an away mission to rescue Picard. They also want to slow down the Borg cube, which had been heading to Earth at warp speed. The away time succeeds in disrupting the Borg’s warp drive and locating Picard. But the captain has been assimilated. They return to the Enterprise without him. Back on the bridge, the Borg hail the ship again. The crew is shocked to find Picard, who calls himself Locutus of Borg and tells the Enterprise “Resistance is futile.” Riker orders the deflector dish fired.
If this were June 1990 we would have to wait three months for conclusion. But now we can switch DVD discs or even hit next episode on our streaming service. The deflector dish weapon didn’t work because Picard knew about it and the Borg used his knowledge to prepare for it. They also used the captain to easily defeat the fleet of ships Starfleet Command had assembled at Wolf 359. The Enterprise arrives late to the battle and finds a ship graveyard.
Riker is field promoted to captain. He struggles with the loss of Picard, unwilling to sit in his chair in the captain’s ready room. At first he tries to act like Picard. But Guinan helps him realize that he shouldn’t try to be Picard. Since the Borg have him, they will know all his tricks. Riker needs to think differently. So he goes with Shelby’s plan and separates the saucer from the stardrive. Picard was aware of this plan but put it on the back burner so it was never fleshed out.
At the same time, Riker sends Data and Worf on a second rescue mission. They are able to kidnap Locutus and return him to the Enterprise. But Picard is still linked to the Borg and the cube is approaching Earth. Data and Dr. Crusher rush to find a way to disconnect the captain without killing him. It is Picard who suggests sending a sleep command to the Borg, which deactivates their shields and weapons and puts it into a feedback loop. With the cube destroyed, Dr. Crusher is able to remove the implants from the captain, though it’ll take a while for him to heal psychologically.
“Best of Both Worlds” stands the test of time, even when viewers don’t have to wait three months for the cliffhanger. The Borg have become one of the most recognizable Star Trek aliens. Commander Shelby is a strong character. It’s too bad she couldn’t stay onboard the Enterprise. At the end of the episode, she returns to Starfleet Command to assist in rebuilding the fleet. Her character reappears in Peter David’s novel series Star Trek: New Frontier.