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|October 22 2008, 07:11 PM||#16|
Re: The Best of Both Worlds, Part One
This episode has withstood the test of time becoming a part of television history. It is an absolute stunning classic even 18 years later.
I love it as much now as I did then and over the years I've always made sure I would catch it whenever it was on in reruns and I always knew when I happened upon it because of the instantly recognizable teaser with the establishing shot of the Enterprise entering orbit of Jouret IV overlaid with Picard’s log followed by the away team beaming down to New Providence colony.
This episode was one of those fortunate instances where writer Michael Piller was able to come up with a storyline that resonated on every level with the viewer. A large part of its appeal is depicting a near Armageddon where the audience could believe the worst case scenario could happen. Michael Piller conceived the ideal portrayal/execution of a doomsday-level event by incorporating all the necessary and desired elements one would hope to see in such a dire situation. That of course includes a worthy enemy capable of upping the stakes to epic proportions.
The second reason for its popularity in my opinion was due to the presence of the Borg, who fans had been hoping to see ever since “Q Who?” ominously hinted at an inevitable confrontation. The Borg are just one of those instances of writers catching lightning in a bottle by creating an alien race that catches on like wildfire with the fans and that captures their imagination. I mean how many races have that kind of impact after only one brief appearance. Sure they might not be the first cybernetic race in science fiction but Hurley must be applauded for doing something original with them making them such a fascinating group with quite intriguing characteristics and unique behavior.
Their appeal for me and I suspect a great many others is the idea of a race of beings that communicate on every level that they are alien. Their society is so fundamentally different in every way.
I also thought that it was a good decision by Piller to not give us the Borg immediately. Piller knew full well that the audience would be clamoring for the Borg right away but he wisely didn’t cave into that pressure choosing instead to postpone the confrontation with the Borg for just a while longer to allow our anticipation of the encounter to build as we patiently waited through the crew’s careful and sensible investigation and then preparations for engagement once confirmation of the Borg as the mysterious attackers was determined.
This allowed for the inclusion of some nice scenes showing the characters possibly for the last time before all hell breaks loose. Seeing Riker ponder why he can’t seem to move on and take a command given how driven he was was particularly strong. I’ve certainly been there myself. We also get an effective scene showing the crew fatigued struggling to devise countermeasures culminating with the first of several power struggles with Riker and Shelby.
I also loved the fatalistic tone set throughout both parts. Atmosphere is always crucial in selling the idea that our crew is in a bleak situation and this episode fortunately has it in spades. Scenes like the one where Hansen informed the crew of a possible Borg encounter--I love the presentation--“At nineteen hundred hours yesterday, the USS Lalo departed Zeta Alpha Two on a freight run to Sentinel Minor Four. At twenty-two hundred hours and twelve minutes, a distress signal was received at Starbase one five seven. The Lalo reported contact with an alien vessel…described as cube-shaped. The distress signal ended abruptly. She has not been heard from since.” That clearly sent chills up the staff’s spine much as it did mine based on the various reactions captured by the camera knowing they were swimming with sharks.
The delayed gratification was well worth it when the moment finally arrives signaled by that unforgettable operatic music piece with the haunting voices that accompanies the dreaded moment of visual contact between the Borg and the Enterprise with the sight of the Borg vessel barely visible soon filling the screen revealing the chilling sight of the cube in all its intimidating glory. Wow, what a powerfully effecting image. At that moment it conveyed to me perfectly the sensation one would experience confronting evil incarnate as the cube itself pierced right through me. Picard somberly turns to Worf-“Dispatch a subspace message to Admiral Hanson, we have engaged the Borg.” Fantastic moment as we fade to commercial.
This episode also made me appreciate TNG’s approach to using battlescenes sparingly. For it is in moments like these where we see the Enterprise throwing everything it has in its arsenal (from phasers to a whole spread of photon torpedoes to high energy bursts from the deflector dish to Borg beams slicing into the engineering section to Geordi having to evacuate and seal it off) at the Borg cube that makes it all the more special. I know it isn’t as impressive as what can be done these days with FX but for me at that time I got a real kick out of it and even all these years later I think it still is pretty cool. The fact the Enterprise was fighting instead of talking also further reinforced the gravity of the situation.
And the coinciding scenes showed how intelligent these people really are--seeing Shelby come up with a temporary countermeasure allowing for an escape, Picard thinking of the safety of others by hiding inside the Paulson nebula to keep the Borg from harming anyone else(and seeing the cube wait patiently unfazed for the Enterprise to come out before sending in the charges is just so Borg), Wesley & Geordi coming up with the idea of channeling energy through the deflector dish.
Basically every scene in this episode is a favorite but I particularly like the one where, in a brief moment of reprieve inside the dust cloud(a simply beautiful visual with the Enterprise all lit up), Picard and Guinan gather in a deserted Ten-Forward to discuss the situation they find themselves in. The references I thought were quite appropriate given the circumstances putting this bleak situation in effective historical perspective. Picard ponders soberingly that much like the ancient Roman Empire, the Federation could very well be facing its own downfall as they face their own 24th century Visigoths—the Borg.
Afterall while this is a devastating possible reality one could objectively look at how many civilizations or in the Trek universe how many alien civilizations no longer exist for one reason or another. “Another page in history.” Indeed.
I also love how Guinan always shows up in earth-shattering moments dispensing some interesting words of wisdom. Here her pep talk to Picard is interesting and perfectly Guinan in that it is both reassuring and optimistic in one way in that she gives some hope that whatever happens humanity will survive in some form but troubling in that she can't promise him he’ll prevail and that any rebuilding of the human race would be difficult. I’m sure at that moment Picard would have loved nothing more than to hear from such a wise soul that everything will be alright but in typical Guinan fashion she is pragmatic knowing from personal experience the worst might be before them.
And I loved how the stakes kept being raised. As the crew collects themselves after Picard's abduction, Worf delivers further bad news—the Borg are now on a direct course to Sector 0-0-1—Earth.
I also loved the scene as the Borg escort Picard to the central chamber of the cube revealing in a great matte shot the endless rows upon rows upon rows of Borg. We were used to seeing adversaries who had a hierarchy, leaders, governments to negotiate with; individuals with understandable motives ranging from greed to power to pride and a hope always existed for reconciliation because they always had a similar working frame of reference for the universe they co-existed within. But now the Federation was facing for all intents and purposes a force of nature devoid of any malice or pride directed at their victims, with seemingly no apparent weaknesses, no burden from morality, possessing superior technology, and having a psychology that couldn’t grasp the idea of diplomacy.
What follows is a chilling dialogue that perfectly captures the essence of the Borg by demonstrating just how incompatible the Borg are.
“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.”
But more than that the exchange reveals a society where a fundamental part of humanity-death- doesn’t exist and therefore is incomprehensible. I appreciated that Piller didn't tinker with what Hurley had established in "Q Who?" especially knowing how the Borg would be revised in the year's to come, however, his one contribution of the idea of assimilation was brilliant adding a new even more disturbing and terrifying element to the Borg mythology. The idea that the Borg would even deny death as a release from the horrors of assimilation is just a downright disturbing prospect to consider and Stewart's reaction says it all. When the Borg in unison tell him “Death is irrelevant”, Picard is speechless and so was I.
I also loved the presentation of Picard’s reveal of having been assimilated with the profile before turning to show half of his face and head were implanted with technology as the laser attachment filled the screen. It hit me like a ton of bricks and the actors did a great job in conveying their stunned reactions and sense of loss whether Shelby’s initial look of horror or Worf’s “He is a Borg” or Beverly thinking of recovering him to Wesley holding his head down.
This was a punch to the gut because by this point in the series I had developed a real attachment to Picard and given how it seemed at the time that the assimilation process was irreversible, I truly believed the man I knew was gone forever. And finally the cliffhanger ending was perfect. I wasn’t happy having to wait until the fall. It was a long summer. I was pretty young then and the ending held so many possibilities. I had no awareness of Usenet and didn't participate in any speculation or generating scenarios. I just anxiously awaited the premiere.
One can debate whether the Borg over the years became a pale shadow of themselves but here they were at their zenith. They were an unstoppable lethal juggernaut who acted with impunity. I even loved the Borg costume work and liked the way the actors portaying the Borg weren't big lumbering hulking monsters the way they were seen on FC and Voyager.
And I’ll always have fond memories of this episode because it made me take note of the writer and this is where my respect for Michael Piller started and why I continued to follow his work over the years. This is perfection.
|October 22 2008, 09:05 PM||#17|
Location: Waiting for Dorian Thompson to invite me to lunch
Re: The Best of Both Worlds, Part One
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