I have a very clear memory of the cool promo they had for this episode. “You once knew him as your captain…” To this day, this is the episode I've most anticipated.
What impressed me is the fact Michael Piller wrote this months later with very little idea how he was going to wrap up Part I yet you couldn’t tell that from watching this masterpiece. I thought it was every bit as solid as Part I and was permeating with the same off-the-scale tension. I've never understood those that felt it was weak or disappointing. The show amazingly managed to maintain the momentum built up three months earlier without skipping a beat picking up right where it left off.
The episode was relentless with its action, surprises, twists, harrowing moments, and characterization. I had no clue what would happen from scene to scene and I had no idea how things would ultimately end up.
It might have been just me but I never suspected, even for a second, that they would keep Picard alive by having the weapon fail to work due to Picard's knowledge that was assimilated by the Collective mind. I didn’t see this coming although in hindsight I really should have. The seeds were laid in Part I so subtlely that I wonder if Michael even knew that they were there to exploit until he sat down to write the second half.
Some writers plan ahead and intentionally go out of their way to put in place plot points that they know they’ll use to get out of a seemingly impossible situation in Part I therefore allowing for an exit from the corner they backed themselves into storywise. I never got that feeling here. This seemed more of an instance of a good writer being creative. I just loved the brilliant simplicity of how Michael resolved this.
This allowed us to wonder a little bit longer about the fate of Picard as well as allowing the story, of course, to continue but it plausibly played off of the Borg’s pre-established MO.
One of my favorite scenes was the one as the crew regroup, we get our first glimpse of the nightmare Picard is experiencing aboard the cube as it continues en route to Earth. Much like in “Chain of Command”, this is a trauma that Picard must endure alone on his own and one that no one else can even begin to fathom and for which no one can take his place for him. In an agonizing scene to watch, we witness the indignity Picard is subjected to as he is treated like an inanimate object as further alterations are made to him as part of the ongoing assimilation process.
We get the first indication that a part of the man is still alive struggling to break free, aware but trapped in his own body helpless to do anything.
It worked so well because it continues to show how alien the Borg are. They don't see this as punitive but that is the effect nonetheless. They see it as nothing more than a normal part of how they exist and they can’t even begin to understand the mental torture they are inflicting upon him as they leave Picard as not much more than a neutered silent observer passively watching as he is compelled to assist the Borg in the systematic deconstructing of his humanity as he raises his arm to receive an armature or as a device implants technology into his brain and drains the color from his face.
Picard can only shed a single tear that falls from his cheek. I loved that subtle but powerful touch. This scene is so powerful because it doesn’t use graphic violence or conventional torture but is just as unnerving in that it takes place in such a cold environment. This is why I find the portrayal of surgical assimilation to be a thousand times more effective than the instant assimilation facilitated by nanoprobes in demonstrating effectively the horrors of assimilation. The Borg cube is the equivalent of a 24th century house of horrors where unspeakable acts are committed.
Just as in part I, the show does a tremendous job with creating the feeling of a hopeless dire cause. Here we once again wonder if the Federation will be successful and whether Locutus would escape death once more. The scene shows an acceptance that all hope of retrieving Picard is gone and that the priority now is saving Earth and the rest of the Quadrant from a similar fate befalling them.
Michael Piller took every opportunity to keep upping the stakes and portraying events so devastating in their unpredictability realizing the Borg invasion was the one chance to really pull out all the stops like the Borg steamrolling through 39 starships leaving what we later learn is 11000 deaths in its wake. Nothing comes close to the dramatic impact of this scene until years later with DS9 and the Dominion War. I suspect some might have been disappointed in not seeing the actual battle but I preferred this creatively just seeing the aftermath. (First Contact was the time when a full scale Borg battle sequence could have been done justice and been a thrill. In fact I was expecting that but I wasn’t particularly satisfied with it).
Just when you think the Borg threat could not get any more dangerous- they have assimilated an entire colony, kidnapped and assimilated Picard, absorbed all his knowledge now they have just crippled the Federation fleet and are proceeding unimpeded straight to Earth undaunted. The scale of devastation was hard-hitting. The Borg truly seemed unstoppable.
I loved the tragic irony for Riker as Shelby begins naming off the destroyed ships and one of them is the Melbourne.
Stewart must be commended for an outstanding performance. Locutus was a chilling figure. He captured perfectly the controlled tone never once betraying emotions yet he was able to convey menace. No one before or after has come close to walking this fine line. Jeri Ryan’s portrayal in “Scorpion II” was too human-like.
I loved the wonderfully choreographed assault on the cube with the Enterprise separating off into the saucer and drive sections unleashing the anti-matter spread was not only a visually stunning sight to behold.
Picard’s exchange with Worf was excellent further showing even more insight into the Borg mindset.
The solution to the Borg threat was clever. It was just different enough but still keeping with Borg parameters to make sense and played well off the theme of the best of both worlds ie the Borg using Picard to see Federation weaknesses and now the Federation using the Borg part of Picard to see their weakness. Personally for a weak cop-out ending I look to First Contact where by destroying the Queen all the Borg on the E-E self-destruct. And I love the execution of the cube’s demise with it giving off sparks initially before blowing up into pieces as we see the various parts be blown outward.
But even then the suspense wasn’t over since the very real possibility existed Picard could die when his link was severed. I can honestly say I wasn’t expecting him to survive and return to the series but the way in which it was done was extraordinarily satisfying. Patrick captured the sense of wariness just as I would have imagined after his ordeal. Then in the next scene with the haunting epilogue--Picard looking through his window with the reflection of Earth framing him as that wonderful little piece of music plays we know the worst is still ahead of him as he begins the process of healing emotionally.
Michael Piller must be congratulated on getting the most out of the Borg’s one major appearance. I figured the Borg were just a one shot wonder and we’d never see them again. I felt he did everything he could have using them to full effect that their presence afforded.
Best of Both Worlds was a very dramatic moment not just in the Trek universe but in the series itself. It really gave momentum to the series that IMO would propel it for the remainder of its days. Both hours are classics.