In the first episode of the fourth season of The Next Generation, YES TO ALL OF THIS. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For nonconsensual medical procedures.
Let’s talk about all the reasons THIS TOTALLY FUCKING RULES.
Granted, I did not have three whole months to suffer after a show that historically has avoided cliffhangers dropped a hell of a twist at the end of a season. That doesn’t mean I did not anticipate the resolution of all of this. Not only was it shocking for The Next Generation to do something like this, the writers also committed to a story twist that seemed virtually impossible to resolve. You can’t just say, “Ha, ha, this didn’t happen at all.” Well, I mean, you could, but I think that would have been insulting to pretty much the entire audience. The point being: I did not see an end in sight. That’s good writing, y’all. It was shocking enough that I felt like the rug was pulled out from under me, but it was also a challenge. How could the Enterprise crew get Picard back? Was Riker truly going to kill Picard?
YES. And I’m curious if we’ll ever see references to this again because HOLY SHIT, HE ACTUALLY WENT THROUGH WITH IT. I honestly expected some last second cutaway that would make Riker stop the firing the deflector dish, BUT NOPE. That motherfucker would have killed his captain because he truly believed it was their last shot at stopping the Borg. And for what it’s worth, it’s not lost on me that Riker did exactly what Shelby urged him to do, and he got his first captain job.
By nearly killing his hero.
So the show commits – albeit briefly – to Picard’s absence. It’s weird, it’s scary, and it’s such a brilliant writing choice. I went into “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II” hoping that Picard would be saved, so I wasn’t anticipating anything other than that. Yet I still found the scenes where the crew adjusted to life without Picard to be invigorating and thrilling. Y’all, The Next Generation needed to take risks like this long ago. I know that’s why the third season felt so rewarding to me, and I feel incredibly good about what this season will do if this is how it starts.
While I still think Riker’s behavior towards Shelby in the last episode warrants some critical attention, I think Shelby’s handled much better in this episode. Part of that is because I now have the complete story, and I’m willing to admit that I lacked the full picture. Shelby’s attitude and aggressive ambition pushed Riker to have the same thing, at least for a while, and this episode is the other shoe dropping. What is Riker like as a captain? It’s clear that he’s not meant as a replacement; his style and demeanor are so radically different from Picard’s that everything just feels off for the first few scenes. But I don’t think he’s a bad captain at all. He’s willing to admit that Shelby should be the First Officer, rather than promoting someone internally who may have been next in line. It was a smart choice for him to keep everyone in their normal roles while they battled the Borg. And he’s remarkably inspirational, too, doing his best to keep his crew motivated amidst a goddamn disaster, despite that he’s nowhere near as optimistic as Picard.
WOW, WHAT THE HELL WAS SHE TALKING ABOUT??? I NEED AN EPISODE ABOUT THIS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. WHAT THE FUCK. Don’t tease me like that! What happened between her and Picard?
I simply did not expect this.
The Next Generation doesn’t avoid death or serious situations. I’d say it’s largely a serious show, sometimes too much so. But there’s a distinct lack of cynicism and epic tragedy. It’s not Battlestar Galactica, for instance. So I don’t expect sweeping strokes of violence and pessimism from this show, which is why it’s so terribly shocking to see the Enterprise pull up to Wolf 359, only to find that the Borg have decimated every single ship sent to stop it. Thousands of people are dead, and starships drift among the debris of a battle that was less of a battle and more of an annihilation.
It’s one of the most chilling things that The Next Generation has ever done.
And I say that knowing that this two-parter is chock full of chilling moments and lines. From Patrick Stewart’s delivery as Locutus to the sheer unnerving power of the Borg’s ship, this is The Next Generation at its creepiest. So how the fuck do you destroy an invincible ship?
Look, there wasn’t going to be a believable or credible method to destroy the Borg because this was always designed from the beginning to be an impossible antagonist. What I love so dearly about the resolution to this arc is that the writers don’t bother to try and subvert the story that they created. No, I’d say that this entire episode still maintains that the Borg are a superior force, one that is obsessed with assimilation as a moral force. (Which I believe I was supposed to glean from that line towards Worf, right? The Borg believes it is improving the world through assimilation.) On top of that, their assimilation of Picard has given them an additional advantage: they’ve gained all his knowledge as a human and a starship captain.
How do you stop that? How do you beat both the Borg and your Captain? At first, all they’ve got is human ingenuity and cunning, and that’s how Data and Worf are able to nab Picard from the Borg ship. But even that presents a million more problems because they’ve basically planted a spy on their ship willingly. It doesn’t make things easier, and everything is further complicated because that’s Picard. Picard is RIGHT THERE, still as Locutus, and Dr. Crusher is certain that she can’t even do the surgery to help him without KILLING him.
For me, what the Enterprise crew come up with represents their refusal to stop resisting. The Borg repeatedly tell them that resistance is futile, and the discovery of a weakness is proof that it’s not. We’ve seen over the course of three episodes featuring the Borg that they are a collective unit, and this is one of the main sources of their power. But what if that’s also their weaknesses? I’d say that their dependence on one another as part of a greater unit is what the crew exploits. With Picard’s suggestion, they PUT THE BORG TO SLEEP. It’s akin to unplugging the computer when things get too complicated. It’s so deliciously simple that I can’t help but adore it.
And they keep resisting.
Without that final scene, I would have said this episode was perfect. It was thrilling, exciting, brilliantly written and acted, and a bold new direction for the show. And then we get a glimpse – a very brief one – of Picard’s rehabilitation, and it’s fucking haunting. Without speaking a single word, Patrick Stewart is able to communicate the trauma he went through at the hands of the Borg. I appreciated it because the show didn’t try to say that this experience was nothing more than an unfortunate incident. It fucked Picard up.
And now I’m fucked up.
The video for “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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