The Best of Both Worlds Part 1 (original airdate: June 18th, 1990)
The Best of Both Worlds Part 2 (original airdate: September 24th, 1990)
Written by Michael Piller
Directed by Cliff Bole
Of all the episodes of TNG, these are the two I remember the most vividly. Here was were the procedural nature of Star Trek on television finally got upended, and it felt like this was a world where events could have long-lasting ramifications. While most viewers might see this as an episode about Picard, writer Michael Piller says this is a Riker-centric entry. The emotional core of the episode is Riker’s decision whether to pursue a place as captain on another starship or remain onboard the Enterprise as second in command.
What most people remember about this episode rather than the themes is the plot, which has Picard kidnapped by the Borg and assimilated. He becomes Locutus of Borg, part of the collective. This is the second encounter with the Bord since Deja Q, but they have been on the minds of Starfleet ever since. This antagonist really ended up being the best possible one to pit against the Enterprise in TNG. So much of the series is spent delving into questions about humanity through Data that the Borg are a perfect foil to all of that.
When Picard is turned, and his crew finds out, there are some unspoken questions about how to handle this news. Riker acts quickly and tries to fire on the Borg cube, knowing it could kill his captain. The Borg have taken Picard for just this reason and used the strategies developed by Starfleet against them. This also helps to underscore the Riker plot, answering the question of how far he would go to protect the crew. He’s willing to sacrifice his captain to do so. In modern life, people are often pressured to move up a career ladder, implying that if you are happy in one post, you don’t realize your potential. The Riker story is all about that.
These episodes also aired in the days before internet spoilers and production news that was so easily accessible. For the third season to end on such a significant cliffhanger must have been a big deal at the time. The show had already displayed a willingness to change up the cast on a seeming whim (see Tash Yar’s death, Dr. Crusher’s exit & return). I wonder how many fans legitimately believed Picard was getting killed off and possible Riker put into the captain’s chair. With hindsight, we see what the show was doing, and I think this is the moment where TNG really came into its own. The stories being told here and the way they are told aren’t like anything from the original Star Trek.
Family (original airdate: October 1st, 1990)
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Les Landau
Airing the very next week after The Best of Both Worlds Part 2, the show actually gets an epilogue to closeout the Picard/Borg storyline. The Enterprise is brought into spacedock for repairs, which allow the crew some time to regroup after recent events. Picard is checked out and cleared for duty, his connection to the Borg severed. He still retains the trauma of the experience, which serves as the fuel for this episode.
There are three family-related plots in this one: Dr. Crusher and her son Wesley finding closure in Jack Crusher’s death, Worf being visited by his adopted human parents, and Picard working through his trauma with his curmudgeonly older brother Robert. The Crusher storyline is okay, but not anything too spectacular.
The Worf subplot is a lot of fun, focusing on his awkwardness with such ebullient parents, so openly proud of their son. Worf has been trying to connect closer with her gruff Klingon heritage that he’s full of embarrassment over their behavior. His father, Sergey, was a chief petty officer in his youth and wants to go over the ship’s schematics and bond with the crew in engineering. His mother Helena is more of a balancing force, trying to find common ground between the two, tamping down her husband’s enthusiasm a bit while beaming over Worf and his accomplishments. Looming all over this is the ugly mark Worf received from the Klingon High Council because of his father, which his human parents bring up in the third act. They talk about how, despite what Worf might think, they are proud of him and everything he’s become.
The meat on the bones here is the Picard plot, which delves into his trauma from being violated by the Borg. It also gives us some back story on the character, his childhood in France, and resentment Robert feels over his little brother running off to Starfleet. There’s the talk of family duty and honor, mainly Picard’s role in the vineyard. From the trailer for the upcoming Picard series, it looks like the captain finally did return home to his roots at least for a time. Caught in the middle is Picard’s sister-in-law Marie who simply wants the brothers to have a relationship with each other despite all the decades of animosity.
What makes this episode so unique amongst all the good ones in the series is that it is so focused on characters that it doesn’t have any action beats. This is pure character development, breathing room after a harrowing season opener. So much of what happens to Picard in the rest of the series and especially the first two Star Trek TNG films came right out of these three episodes. It’s very refreshing to see a show pump the brakes on procedural done-in-one science fiction and try to tell a human story set in the distant future.