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A few weeks back, I was able to attend a special Fathom Event screening of “The Best of Both Worlds”, the two-part classic and groundbreaking Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. This particular screening was special in that it was the “remastered” edition which would appear in the then-upcoming Blu-Ray release, and the two episodes were slightly re-edited into a feature length movie.
What can be said about BoBW that other Star Trek fans have not raved about since 1990. I guess coming into the episode with a modern audience member, nothing seems too intense. Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) was kidnapped by the cybernetic Borg who turned our hero into their unwilling mouthpiece. Made even more jaw-dropping was that Picard’s first officer, Riker (Jonathan Frakes), made the decision to fire their quickly created super-weapon to destroy the villains. Cue “To Be Continued…” and summer hiatus.
This might not seem like anything today. How many TV series have their heroes in peril at the end of a season? Most all. How many of them survive their jams? Most all. Adding to the mix is that, in our instant information digital age, actor contract negotiations and cast departures are usually known well before a season ends. The tension really isn’t there as many times, you know what the results will be.
Back in 1990, there was no internet. Cliffhanger season endings were not really the norm. Plus, science fiction was still a bit of a hard sell on TV (or rather for actors looking for work on TV). It was entirely conceivable that this was written as an exit for Patrick Stewart, and, even more damming, viewers had no way to know for three long months. Something like this was inconceivable in today’s world.
Beyond that, “The Best of Both Worlds” is just damn fine television. The story completely holds up twenty-three years later. The plotting is tight and the intensity is there. Every character has a moment to shine. And, as much as it is about stopping the Borg from invading Earth, it is also squarely about the sense of family the Enterprise crew has. It plays with the struggles between letting go and preserving with what you know. This theme is present in every moment of the episode from the Borg vs. Enterprise conflict, and Riker’s promotion, to whether or not to save Picard.
The mind-boggling thing is that part one was written without any idea of how part two was going to turn out. Writer Michael Piller was able to dig back into part one and play on those themes towards a satisfying resolution. Some might say that the second part is a bit of a disappointment, and they might be right. But then, it would be impossible really to match the buildup and that cliffhanger ending. One can’t top that, so don’t even try. Just continue telling the story. Piller did that, and did so fantastically (we can forgive him for Star Trek: Insurrection).
Like Wrath of Khan is to the movies, this is the two-parter all other Star Trek two-parters are judged by. It is just that good. It is Star Trek at its finest and should be required viewing for anyone who fancies themselves a tele-phile.