TNG: S3E26: “The Best of Both Worlds: Part 1”

In which Shelby doesn’t fit in, we meet some old friends, and Picard gets a facelift. 

"I've got a baaaaaad feeling about this..."

“I’ve got a baaaaaad feeling about this…”

We open with eerie sustained notes as the Enterprise has been sent to investigate a far-flung colony that’s gone radio silent. In fact, they beam into what should have been the center of the colony, but is instead a crater with some freshly-churned dirt. As if some great force just scooped it off of the planet.

That would have carried way more weight with you people if you weren’t already Star Trek junkies and didn’t know exactly how this goes. You bunch of nerds.

The Enterprise has taken aboard a pair of experts – Admiral Hanson and LtC Shelby of Starfleet Tactical. An organization which I immediately suspect of being understaffed (to not be able to properly train security forces) or woefully up their own butts in theory with no sense of the practical. We shall see if my mind is changed by the end of this sequence.

Hanson and Shelby jump right to the Borg connection which, so far so good. That said, all the prototype weapons they’ve drawn up so far have not gone into full production. Starfleet expected more lead time, since the encounter was seven thousand light-years from Federation space.

Shelby is apparently something of a situational expert on the Borg and the Admiral is recommending Picard take her on to replace Riker, who’s been offered another, third, captaincy on the Melbourne. Shelby seems hell-bent on it, and her eagerness seems to be putting Riker off, as does her calling his bluff in poker later. And then supersedes Riker’s presence in the away team. So far, she is not endearing herself to the current XO of the Enterprise and may not be, how you say, a good cultural fit. She had really good reasons for doing what she did, but thus far Picard has run a very different ship than she’s used to dealing with in her capacity as a subject matter expert on an existential threat to the Federation.

Riker continues to show his chops as a good XO by not venting about her to Picard in his official report. His reward for his trouble is Picard telling him to pursue the opportunity on the Melbourne. Later Riker asks Deanna why he’s still on the Enterprise, not realizing, apparently, that the long slow lingering kiss they shared on Betazed before her mom showed up kind of answers that question. I may be reading too much into this, but I like to imagine that the dialogue in this scene (which you should be watching right now) speaks to each of them not quite daring to leap across the table at the other one and make a scene in Ten-Forward.

Shelby throws a lot of theories around about Borg ship design and what that implies about them, but it always bothers me that they talk about the Borg as though the collective is made of a commune of individual minds thinking in unison. Before I can expand on that thought, however, Riker orders everyone to get some rest, and shortly thereafter a Borg sighting is reported and the Enterprise makes way towards it, and plans to be the first one on the scene against an enemy who can shrug off any weapon the Enterprise has. They have some modifications planned, but nobody is feeling confident.

"That's no moon..."

“That’s no moon…”

“We have engaged the Borg.”

The Borg are hailing Picard. Not the Enterprise, but Picard himself. They demand he beam himself aboard their ship, on pain of destruction of the Enterprise. When he refuses, the Borg start probing the shields, bypass them, and start draining. The Enterprise goes weapons-free. At this time, firing all weapons means one dorsal phaser array, two pylon-mounted phaser turrets, and one torpedo launcher that can put out three or four torpedoes in a second before having to go into reload cycle. That’s not shabby, but of course it does nothing, and they start cutting open engineering. Shelby’s plan is random phaser modulations in rapid succession, rather than a continuous beam. Keep an eye on this – pulsed phasers are going to be a thing much, much later.

The Enterprise runs away and hides in a nebula primarily composed of dilithium particles. The silent running mode might be more effective if they actually ordered silent running. Playback of their escape indicates the Borg may be vulnerable to a specific band of energy. Also, we get a real look at the utter failure that Saucer Separation wound up being.

I may have touched on this before, but the Saucer Separation thing wasn’t as good in practice as it was in theory. If you know you’re going into combat, saucer separation is fine… in that you’re stranding the civilian and nonessential population of the ship in a massive juicy target without warp drive. It takes too long to be useful in combat. And now, apparently, the saucer section provides power that the battle hull could need in combat, so even if they could leave the saucer section as a sitting duck, they dare not because it would diminish their battle capacity. It seems to have been a cool idea that simply didn’t pan out at all.

That said, the current plan involves rigging the deflector dish to channel more energy than is normally available in the weapons arrays. The Deflector array, which is designed  to push matter out of the path of a ship doing 2700C, is apparently pretty absurdly powerful. We’ll watch its continued use over the course of the show. I should probably make a counter. Maybe I will if someone wants to go through back episodes and see how many times the Deflectors have been magical prior to this.

No joke in this caption. Just an absolutely stunning image that I wish was higher-resolution on Netflix.

No joke in this caption. Just an absolutely stunning image that I wish was higher-resolution on Netflix.

Tensions mount as engineering is being repaired and the Borg just… continue to wait. Picard winds up in Ten-Forward taking a pre-battle tour of the ship. A last tour of the ship, it is implied. He compares himself to Nelson at Trafalgar, the Borg to the Visigoths that broke Rome’s spirit. This episode is so good. Everyone is out of their comfort zone but still working as a team. This episode right here illustrates why Star Trek ran for seven seasons and the Battlestar Galactica reboot disappeared inside its own colon.

That’s right, I said it. Start your own obsessive blog and you can say whatever you want.

I also appear to be developing a theme here. This is worrying. So is Guinan’s excuse for a pep talk, getting back to the episode. The Borg destroyed her world and put her people into a diaspora, but there are still a few of them kicking around. Before Picard can tell her exactly how reassuring she isn’t, the Borg start lobbing depth charges. As the Enterprise flees, a series of Borg appear on the bridge until one of them manages to nab Picard. This is, apparently, all they wanted, and the Cube leaves at top speed. Toward Earth.

Well, it looks like Riker has that command now.

Picard is brought before the collective and told that now their biological distinctiveness is also required. When Picard says that humanity would rather die than be part of the collective, they offer what is perhaps the most chilling of anything they’ve ever said.

Death is irrelevant.

Now, I would be far from the last person to embrace a deathless universe. Death is kind of terrible and we would be better off without it, as long as we can still be us. If we can’t, there’s very little point. Also, this *may* be the first time we see the Borg begin to embody the zombie trope in which fallen soldiers rise again as enemies. In “Q Who” it seemed as though Borg actually gave birth to live young (or more probably though IVF and techno-wombs) and they didn’t seem to care about biology. Aside from the Cybermen, I can’t think of any instances of techno-zombies prior to this, and I’m not even sure how much Cybermen used mass conversion prior to the reboots.

Riker’s about to go charging in, despite Shelby’s protests, when Troi reminds him that he’s the captain now and can’t go. Shelby modulates some hand phasers so that they’re each on a different frequency and they’ll each have a shot or two, and they beam over to find Picard. The Borg still ignore them, despite having mentioned that human biological distinctiveness is something that interests them. I can only compare it to the way you might study a bacterium sample you’ve carefully prepared, but not consciously react to that same bacteria inside your skin. You have to wait until it makes itself noticed and your immune system reacts, and this in turn suggests to me that we should not be using plural pronouns when talking about the Borg.

It’s very thinly supported, but I prefer to think of the Borg as a single mind made up of neurons that happen to be whole brains linked together along technological synapses, rather than hundreds of thousands of individuals who think together. The actions of an individual Borg appendage don’t seem like the actions of a person carrying out a greater agenda. They seem like the actions of an incredibly vast consciousness that’s focused on a small and delicate task. Perhaps I will go deeper into this later, but in point of fact I think that the approach Federation personnel take towards the Borg Collective is systemically flawed and nobody, not even Shelby, is mentally equipped to think about an enemy of that configuration.

Data and Worf start blowing up synapse junctions in order to get the Borg Cube to drop out of warp so they can use their new weapon, and begin to fight off an endless wave of Borg appendages (drones) that are responding to what amounts to an infection causing a minor stroke. Then the away team sees Picard…

Now will all of you finally get over the lens flare in the reboots and stop complaining? Otherwise, we might not get any more Star Trek!

Now will all of you finally get over the lens flare in the reboots and stop complaining? Otherwise, we might not get any more Star Trek!

Or what’s left of him.

Riker has to make the hard decision to deploy the weapon, but before they can do so, Picard steps forward.

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 opens fire, and we see those three little words that make us all tingle with anticipation.

To Be Continued…

Did we miss something awesome?