Mark Watches ‘The Next Generation’: S03E26 – The Best of Both Worlds

In the twenty-sixth and final episode of the third season of The Next Generation, I WAS LULLED INTO A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY AND I REGRET EVERYTHING. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

I fucked up I fucked up.

Where do I even start???

Shelby / Riker

I’ll spend time yelling about everything hurting in a bit because let’s be real: y’all have been waiting for me to get to this episode for a long, long time. But I wanted to first address the interpersonal drama that played out in “The Best of Both Worlds” between Shelby and Riker. I think that the final line of this episode is the reason so much of this happened as it did. Riker needed to be pushed to a point where he would finally risk the life of someone he cared about. I find that undeniably fascinating, but I also began to wonder how much of Riker’s possible bias played into his irritation with Lieutenant Commander Shelby.

Look, this show can maintain that humanity has moved far beyond the many prejudices and bigotries that have plagued us for centuries. In many ways, we can see them in the fabric of the show. This is certainly the most racially and culturally diverse Star Trek iteration, though it still has problems. There’s a sense of political progressivism within many of the conflicts. But in a lot of ways, this is still a boys’ club. If Dr. Crusher and Deanna Troi are not on the deck at any given moment, this team is mostly men. Men make up the majority of characters with speaking roles and story foci. And when women are on the screen, how often are they subject to the male gaze? How many times does the camera frame their bodies? How often do they appear scantily clad and unnamed?

I can’t ignore that when I think about Shelby, especially after Picard points out that Shelby’s behavior here is exactly like Riker’s was when he was hired to be the First Officer of the Enterprise. If that’s the case, then why does Riker react so poorly towards her? There’s a moment early on where, in the midst of talking to Deanna, Riker realizes that Shelby may be acting as a reminder to how “soft” and “safe” he’s gotten. If we accept that he feels trapped by this, why does he then continue to treat Shelby with so much ire and derision? What is she doing that overrides his own awareness of what she brings out in him? It’s not like most of her recommendations are foolish, unnecessary, or downright offensive. She’s often shown to be a capable and courageous leader, taking initiative when it’s vital and offering up dissenting opinions where appropriate.

So… is it because she’s a woman?

I don’t even know if that’s an in-universe thing so much as the writing of the character. Perhaps the writers unconsciously expected us to dislike her so much that we wouldn’t question why Riker did, too. However, I grew to enjoy Shelby so much that I ended up being confused by the severity of Riker’s reaction. As a whole, I think there is a great story here, especially if the second half of this story follows up on Riker’s need to prove himself. But for now? It feels off-base and bizarre, as if the writers anticipated a different response than the one I had.

The Borg

I’m actually glad it’s been so long since the Borg re-appeared within The Next Generation. That absence allowed me to be even more terrified of them than I was the last time. Knowing that they’re a collective organism obsessed with adaptation, I went into this expecting a disaster because there was NO WAY they’d be calmer than before. That’s one of the reasons they’re so intimidating: they constantly evolve as a unit. Well, they’re also almost entirely invincible. Oh, and they use the power of numbers to their advantage. Oh, and NO ONE KNOWS THEIR WEAKNESSES. Oh, and I COULD KEEP GOING, and y’all know that this is why this antagonist is the worst.

I mean, this episode is a perfect example of that. From their rapid adaptation to literally everything to the unbearable way in which they speak, the Borg are designed by this show to make us feel awful, terrible things. It’s a hell of a suspense technique, I admit, and the inevitability of every scene hit me hard. It’s interesting that for a show that so routinely resolves plots in a single episode, I suddenly feel utterly hopeless once the Borg shows up. I don’t expect a victory; I expect the Enterprise to avoid annihilation at best. You can’t fuck with the Borg because the Borg are a million steps ahead of you and everything is awful and you should just run and hide because that’s the only option available to you.

WHICH IS PRECISELY WHAT PICARD DOES IN THIS EPISODE. He hides the Enterprise in the cloud of a nebula! Except even that is just biding time, so “The Best of Both Worlds” becomes a waiting game. How long until power runs out? Until the shields fail? Until the Enterprise cannot keep up with the Borg ship? Until the Borg reaches earth? The stakes are continually raised, none more so than when Picard is successfully kidnapped and the Borg heads straight for Earth, determined to usher in a new era in the galaxy:

Humanity will become a resource for the Borg.

At least, that’s the initial plan. The ultimate goal? Humanity will become part of the Borg, all so that the Borg can adapt and evolve and become more powerful and stronger, and this is so goddamn scary and upsetting, y’all. Even then, I thought that this would be resolved. I thought that the crew would successfully catch up to the cube ship, infiltrate it, rescue Picard, and dash away at the right time. Hasn’t that always been the case? Hasn’t every episode prior to this been resolved in under forty-five minutes? Why would this be any exception to that?

BECAUSE “THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS” EXISTS TO HURT ME FOREVER AND EVER. I am never going to get over the image of seeing Picard turn to face the camera, his face grey and ghoulish, that apparatus stuck to his head. The reactions of the crew… awful. SO TERRIBLE. There’s no hope here. There’s no last-minute rescue or heroic sacrifice. The four members of the away team leave Picard behind, only to see him later while on the bridge, acting as the voice of the Borg. He’s now Locutus, the first named Borg, and EVERYTHING IS SO AWFUL AND DISTRESSING. Oh, is that not enough? How about Riker finally taking a huge risk and ordering Worf to fire on the cube, which would guarantee that Picard dies?

I can’t believe this is a cliffhanger. I’VE BEEN TRICKED.

The video for “The Best of Both Worlds” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

Mark Links Stuff

– The Mark Does Stuff Tour 2015 is now live and includes dates across the U.S. this summer and fall Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be the remainder of The Legend of Korra, series 8 of Doctor Who, and Kings. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
- Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
This entry was posted in Star Trek, The Next Generation and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.