Part OneThe Enterprise responds to a colony's distress call, finding a hole in the ground when they arrive (an inverted Colony Drop?). They identify that this hole is identical to holes made near the Romulan Neutral Zone and the Star System J-25, so it appears that the Borg have finally taken an active interest in the Federation and have begun an invasion. In response to this, Admiral Hanson assigns Lieutenant Commander Shelby, leader of a dedicated anti-Borg taskforce, to the Enterprise, recommending to Picard that he assign her as First Officer, as Riker has been offered command of the USS Melbourne.Shelby rubs Riker up the wrong way as they analyse the remains of the colony and try to devise anti-Borg tactics. She acts boldly, sometimes circumventing the chain of command to enact her ideas. It doesn't help that everyone seems to go to her for suggestions, even though it was Riker that was actually aboard a Borg vessel. And worst of all, she beats his bluff in a poker game. Commenting on her style to Picard, Picard muses that this reminds him of how Riker was before the beard, and recommends to Riker that he take the position on the Melbourne. Riker talks with Troi about this, considering whether he's become too comfortable, too "safe" aboard the Enterprise.Eventually the Borg Cube is sighted nearby and the Enterprise intercepts it, hoping to keep it occupied while Starfleet assembles The Cavalry. The Borg surprise everyone by contradicting Q's previous statements and addressing Picard by name, demanding that he surrender himself. The Cube is unaffected by everything the Enterprise throws at it, so the ship flees into a nearby nebula that looks suspiciously like the Mutara Nebula. Inside the nebula, a plan is devised to modify the Deflector Array into a Wave Motion Gun. During this latest brainstorming session Riker and Shelby clash yet again, and Shelby spells it out for Riker: What's happening with the Borg is far more important than his own insecurities, and she's not going to let him stop her trying her best.Picard tours the ship as it makes repairs and preparations, eventually discussing with Guinan about how this could be considered a pivotal moment in Federation history. Then the ship shakes; the Borg are deploying space depth charges to flush out the Enterprise. Flushed out they are, and after some Borg beam aboard and swat Worf aside, they capture Picard and bring him aboard the cube, which now heads directly for Earth with the Enterprise in pursuit. Aboard the cube, Picard refuses to say anything, but the Borg have ways of making him talk...Riker prepares a boarding party to rescue Picard and knock the cube out of warp, as the jury-rigged deflector can only be fired at sublight. He plans to lead that away team, but Troi points out that since he is now in command, his place is on the bridge, so he has to defer to Shelby yet again. Aboard the cube, the drones decide the party is not their problem until they shoot the Upside Down Warp Pyramid Thingy, which kicks the hornet's nest. Modified phasers keep the drones at bay until they see Picard. Yay! Wait...why is he dressed in black with metal on his face?A forcefield means the party can't reach Picard, so they beam back to the Enterprise. The deflector array is ready to fire, but Picard is still on the cube, and it won't stay out of warp for long. Before we can dwell on this, the Enterprise is hailed.
Picard: I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile. Your life as it has been is over. From this time forward, you will service us.Fortunately, Riker decides to undergo some Character Development and get over his self-doubt with three short words...
Riker: Mister Worf... fire!
Part TwoAfter charging it for three months, the Enterprise fires its Wave Motion Gun at the cube... and it has no effect. The Borg have used Picard's knowledge of it to adapt.
Locutus of Borg: The knowledge and experience of the human Picard is part of us now. It has prepared us for all possible courses of action. Your resistance is hopeless... Number One.The cube then continues on its course for Earth. After all, it's not like they'd want to assimilate the most powerful ship in the fleet or anything. The Enterprise contacts Admiral Hanson, who agrees with Riker's decision and grants him a field promotion to Captain. He's assembling a fleet to intercept the cube at Wolf 359, and Riker orders that the Enterprise rendezvous with them as soon as possible.Back on the Borg Cube, Picard/Locutus undergoes further Borg modification, being fitted with a mechanical arm and additional cybernetic implants.On the Enterprise, Riker speaks with Worf and Shelby about how they should stop the Borg since they are now familiar with Starfleet's strategies. During his conversation, he's informed by Data that Starfleet has engaged the Borg at Wolf 359. Riker returns to the bridge, receiving a hail from Hanson, who says the battle is not going well, but his ship is destroyed mid-transmission.The Enterprise speeds to Wolf 359, hoping they can still help. After much consideration, Riker appoints Shelby as his first officer, and asks his fellow officers to continue devising any anti-Borg strategies they can.Later, Riker muses in what is now his ready room about the situation, when Guinan comes in. He's proved that he can still be bold and make the big choices, but he's still living in Picard's shadow, comparing his own style with what Picard would do. Guinan calls him out on this: Despite her own friendship with Picard, she urges him to forge his own path. It's his ship, his room, his chair, and so he should be able to make his own decisions. With this pep talk over, Riker finally takes his seat in the Ready Room, but not before the Enterprise arrives at Wolf 359 to discover it's become a Derelict Graveyard. Picard's knowledge of Starfleet technology and tactics allowed the Borg to wipe out the fleet, and even The Sisko couldn't prevent it. Among the lost ships was the Melbourne, the ship Riker was offered command of.The Enterprise catches up to the cube once again and hails them. Riker attempts to offer terms of negotiation, but Locutus suspects that this is a deception. He is correct, as the saucer and stardrive separate and engage the cube. The real deception, however, is that Worf and Data sneak aboard the cube during the fight, capture Locutus, and bring him aboard the Enterprise. Despite attempts to reach Picard, he's still firmly part of the Borg Collective and decides to taunt Riker with his own self-doubt. Riker doesn't fall for it, so they opt for a new plan: Data will engage in a little Hollywood Hacking, using Locutus's connection to the Borg to access the cube's systems.The cube has now reached Earth, so the Enterprise engages in a Last Stand battle. Data attempts to disable the Borg's weapons and power systems, but they're too heavily protected. Riker dips into the fountain of Character Development one more time and orders Wesley to ram the Cube to save the Earth. However, Data's influence has revealed that Picard is in there somewhere, as he now suggests "sleep." Data orders the cube's drones to begin a regeneration cycle, and it shuts down. A feedback loop is created, and the cube overloads and is destroyed.Picard is now fully freed from the Collective, and Doctor Crusher is able to remove all the Borg implants without any problems. Riker announces he'll have to decide what he's going to do, but by the next episode he'll trip over the Reset Button and lose a pip in the process. Shelby is already leaving, joining a task force to rebuild and expand the lost fleet. After this harrowing experience, Picard looks out his office window and drinks some tea. Meanwhile, offscreen, the newly-widowed First Officer of the USS Saratoga starts thinking about building a new ship so this never happens again...
Tropes in this two-parter include:
- Adaptive Ability: The Borg, as usual. Shelby is briefly able to overcome it by having Data use his Super Speed to randomly cycle the ship's phaser frequencies faster than the Borg can adapt to them.
- Analogy Backfire: Brought up in the conversation between Picard and Guinan before the battle.Guinan: Trouble sleeping?
Picard: It's something of a tradition, Guinan—Captain touring the ship before a battle.
Guinan: Hmm. Before a hopeless battle, if I remember the tradition correctly.
Picard: Not necessarily. Nelson toured the HMS Victory before Trafalgar.
Guinan: Yes, but Nelson never returned from Trafalgar, did he?
Picard: No, but the battle was won.
- Asskicking Equals Authority: The Borg want Picard because he commands the strongest ship in the Federation fleet.
- Back-to-Back Badasses: Data and Worf for a brief moment while shooting drones.
- Batman Gambit: Captain Riker plays this during his go at the Borg Cube to capture Locutus. It pays off: The smug expression he wears right before the commercial break after hearing that Worf and Data got him could aptly be titled "Riker Wins."
- Blue and Orange Morality: The Borg's mindset gets highlighted with Locutus when the crew snatch him back. From their point of view, they're raising everyone's quality of life by mind-raping them, stripping away their individuality and turning them into faceless cyborgs. They don't get why all the other species are so darned uppity about it.Locutus: Why do you resist? We only wish to raise quality of life for all species.
Worf: I like my species the way it is.
Locutus: A narrow vision. You will become one with the Borg. You will all become one with the Borg.
- Call Back: The entire two-parter validates Q's position last season even more so. The Federation is deeply unprepared for this threat and victory is only just barely achieved after heavy losses.
- Cliffhanger: The most famous one in the entire franchise. Riker gives the order to fire on the ship carrying his brainwashed Captain—and the audience waited three months to find out what happens.
- Curb-Stomp Battle:
- The Battle of Wolf 359. 40-odd starships against the Borg cube, and the result is 39 destroyed starships and not a scratch on the Borg.
- As the Cube passes Mars, we see three small ships move in to intercept, and all are destroyed effortlessly.
- Darkest Hour:
- The approaching Borg Cube is considered this by all of Starfleet. It gets worse after the Wave Motion Gun fails and even more so after the Battle of Wolf 359.
- For the franchise as a whole: Star Trek: The Next Generation was on the verge of cancellation after the execrable mess the writers' strike made of Season 2 after a promising but raw Season 1, and it was still "on the bubble" during Season 3 despite Growing the Beard. The intense fan interest in "The Best of Both Worlds, Part I," which became the most talked-about cliffhanger in serial television since Dallas shot J.R., saved TNG and made Star Trek into the 90s media juggernaut it was.
- Derelict Graveyard: Wolf 359, by the time the Enterprise arrives.
- Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: Riker as he faces Locutus.Locutus: We will proceed to Earth, and if you attempt to intervene, we will destroy you.
Riker: Then take your best shot, Locutus, because we are about to intervene.
- Didn't See That Coming: Admiral Hanson is quite upfront that the Federation expected to have more than just one year to prepare for the Borg.
- Early Installment Weirdness: In this episode, the assimilated Picard is given the designation "Locutus." Later stories would establish that Borg are instead given numbers according to their batches. This name would get an explanation a few years later in Star Trek: First Contact that "Locutus" wasn't going to be a run-of-the-mill drone.
- The End... Or Is It?: Part 2 ends with things back to normal and Picard back at work, but while alone, he reflects quietly about the ordeal he has been through and that he's not done recovering from.
- Failed a Spot Check: Somehow, the crew beamed down to the New Providence colony actually need tricorders to tell them what's pretty damned obvious, that the entire colony, and a good chunk of the ground beneath it, have been gouged away.
- Fate Worse Than Death: The episode establishes that assimilation by the Borg is this.Guinan: If he had died, it would be easier. But he didn't. They took him from us a piece at a time.
- Fee Fi Faux Pas:Shelby: Tell me, Commander, is serving aboard the Enterprise as extraordinary an experience as I've heard?
Riker: Every bit of it.
Shelby: [grinning] Good, because I intend to convince Captain Picard that I'm the right choice for the job.
Riker: Job? Which job?
Shelby: Yours, of course...
[Riker glares at her]
Shelby: I'm sorry... I heard you were leaving.
Riker: If I am... I'm sure you'll be the first to know, Commander.
- Fighting Your Friend:
- Admiral Hanson views having to fight Locutus as this. He refuses to believe Jean-Luc Picard would voluntarily help the Borg and doesn't really comprehend that they have gained his knowledge against his will.
- Riker also grapples with this. That's one of the reasons why Guinan tells him he must let go of Picard.
- Flanderization: In their first appearance, Riker initially assumed that the Borg didn't attack the Enterprise away team because they didn't consider them to be a threat, but Data later clarified that they hadn't been attacked because the Borg were focusing on repairing their ship, and considered the away team to be less of a priority. This episode changes that to the Borg never attacking intruders until they actively become a threat, which becomes their standard behavior for the rest of the franchise.
- Foreshadowing: During Part I, as the Enterprise uses a nebula to hide from the Borg Cube, Picard tours the ship and meets with Guinan in the lounge. Guinan notes the tradition of a captain touring his ship before a hopeless battle, and Picard says, "Lord Nelson toured the HMS Victory before Trafalgar." Guinan replies that Nelson never returned from Trafalgar...
- From Bad to Worse: The entire two-parter is this up until the end. They fear the Borg destroyed the colony and later confirm it. Picard is abducted and his knowledge is used to make the Cube practically unstoppable.
- Frontline General: Admiral Hanson is one of the first Starfleet admirals shown to take part in combat.
- Great Offscreen War: The Battle of Wolf 359. Some of it is seen later in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine pilot "Emissary."
- Heroic Second Wind: Hanson mentions that Picard was the first and only freshman cadet to ever win the Starfleet Academy Marathon, and that he passed four upperclassmen on the final hill to do it. It was "the damnedest thing I ever saw," and that was when he decided he needed to get to know Picard better.
- Ignored Expert: Admiral Hanson ignores Shelby's warning that the Borg have assimilated Captain Picard's experience and knowledge of Starfleet tactics, despite Shelby being his handpicked Borg expert. Hanson pays for this mistake with his life and the lives of eleven thousand other people at Wolf 359.
- "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Data attempts to invoke this trope in connecting to the Borg via Locutus, with Troi standing by to confirm whether he's reached him. Subverted in that Picard doesn't willpower his way out. Instead it requires surgery and technobabble to free him. He does, however, manage to force out a hint on how to defeat the Borg.
- Indy Hat Roll: La Forge debuts his Epic Geordi Maneuver to escape the damaged Engineering. All he really had to do to clear the closing door was jog a little and duck his head.
- Limited Advancement Opportunities: Deconstructed. Hanson comments that Riker's repeatedly declined command opportunities really don't reflect well on him. Played straight with Shelby's more direct statement that Riker is holding back other promising officers (such as herself) by blocking anyone else from taking the valuable transitional posting that being First Officer of the Enterprise represents.
- Lost Aesop: The whole episode has Riker learning he has to be his own man if he wants to become a captain, which he does, succeeding in both saving Picard and beating the Borg, but after this episode, he goes back to being a Commander and second-in-command of the Enterprise, not having his own command again until Star Trek: Nemesis. And it's even worse when you consider the Expanded Universe, which has Shelby becoming a captain before him. Particularly egregious given that Riker is formally promoted, not merely made an "Acting Captain"—and it had already been established that there's no rule against a ship's captain and first officer simultaneously holding the rank of Captain. Many fans also point to this as the start of Riker undergoing Badass Decay, having reached his apex during this crisis.
- Merging the Branches: The depiction of what has happened at the New Providence colony, and the mention of similar things happening along the Neutral Zone a couple of years previously, are a brilliant example of the production team sewing together a few disparate abandoned plot threads into a much bigger quilt (the "Neutral Zone" subplot was originally meant to foreshadow the coming of the Borg, but only here is the link finally made explicit).
- Mind Rape: Picard's assimilation. The next episode explores the ramifications such an experience could have on a person.
- No Sell: After months of waiting between seasons, Riker finally fires the improvised Wave Motion Gun... to absolutely no effect. Even the Borg don't usually adapt so quickly to a new weapon, but in this case, Picard's knowledge was all they needed.
- Nothing Is the Same Anymore:
- Wolf 359 has been retroactively called "Starfleet's 9/11" (despite airing in 1990). It shatters Starfleet's sense of security and superiority and the ripple effect spreads through the whole franchise, often in ways that severely test the Federation's principles. Picard has lasting trauma as a result of his abduction and guilt over his failure to resist and the lives lost as a result, culminating in his character arc in Star Trek: First Contact.
- For another example, consider that in "Peak Performance" Riker claimed that "Combat is a minor province of being a Starfleet captain," a year and a half before this episode. Several years later, Sisko would roll out the Defiant-class starship, which is a full-on, purpose-built Starfleet Warship in all but name.
- Obliviously Evil: Locutus seems to think the Borg are helping others in assimilating them.
- Oh, Crap!: The Borg Cube is just about to get to Earth, but once Picard's true mind is reached, the Cube halts and heads for the Enterprise.Riker: They're worried. They're worried because we have access to Picard.
- Permission to Speak Freely: Shelby to Riker in Part 1, preparatory to giving him her "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
- Real Life Writes the Plot:
- The ending of Part I was written because Patrick Stewart's contract was almost up and he wasn't sure if he wanted to continue.
- Look closely, and you'll see that Geordi does not actually share screentime with his costars during Part 2. This is because LeVar Burton had surgery shortly before filming began and so missed much of the production. They had to film his scenes in close-up and use a double for scenes such as the conference room.
- It's because of this that most of Geordi's role was given to O'Brien, along with the justification that the Borg subspace link is similar to a transporter beam.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Admiral Hanson is the most friendly, competent, and helpful Starfleet admiral in the franchise until the introduction of Admiral Ross on Deep Space Nine.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Riker gets one by Shelby in Part 1.Riker: You disagree with me, fine. You need to take it to the Captain, fine—through me. You do an end run around me again, I'll snap you back so hard you'll think you're a first-year cadet again.
Shelby: May I speak frankly, sir?
Riker: By all means.
Shelby: You're in my way.
Riker: Really? How terrible for you!
Shelby: All you know how to do is play it safe. I suppose that's why someone like you sits in the shadow of a great man for as long as you have, passing up one command after another.
Riker: When it comes to this ship and this crew, you're damned right I play it safe.
Shelby: If you can't make the big decisions, Commander, I suggest you make room for someone who can.
- Repeat to Confirm:Riker: Evasive maneuvers, pattern Riker-Alpha.
Wesley: Riker-Alpha confirmed.
- Replacement Flat Character: Shelby to Riker. Riker acknowledges this during a scene with Deanna and regrets he lost qualities about himself that he liked.
- Retcon: These episodes were later given two small ones. The first episode of Deep Space Nine changes it so that instead of the battle of Wolf 359 having no survivors, there are, in fact, several (Sisko being one of them). The second one is that the Borg Queen from Star Trek: First Contact is on the Cube the whole time.
- Scotty Time: Without prompting, Geordi says he'll get the deflector ready in the two hours they have left somehow, immediately after estimating that it will take at least three.
- Self-Destruct Mechanism: Data inadvertently triggers one on the Borg cube.
- Single Tear: Picard when he is assimilated.
- Snowy Screen of Death: Hansen's transmission cuts out mid-battle, causing Riker to assume the worst.
- Stock Footage: The shots of Data and Worf firing at Borg drones are reused in Part 2.
- That's an Order!: Riker ordering everyone to get some rest before their first run-in with the Borg.
- This Is Gonna Suck: The lead-up to the Borg Cube's reveal. Upon being told a vessel has already moved to intercept them, Picard orders it be put on screen. You can just hear the trope in his voice when he says, "Magnify."
- This Is My Chair: After Picard is assimilated by the Borg, Riker becomes captain. He's in the ready room looking at Picard's chair and wondering, "What would you do?" Guinan then enters the room and sits in the chair, making the point that he's got to forget Picard and start thinking, what should Captain Riker do.
- Tough Love:
- In Part 1, Picard learns that Riker has turned down a command for the third time. Picard gives him some of this—saying he should think about his career and that the Enterprise can continue without him if need be.
- In Part 2, Guinan tells Riker he can only win if he lets go of Picard.
- True Companions: Picard and Guinan.Guinan: Did he ever tell you why we're so close?
Guinan: Well, let's just say that what we have goes beyond friendship and beyond family.
- Weaksauce Weakness:
- The Borg's control net can't be subverted to shut down their weapons or power systems, but it can be made to send them all to sleep.
- Earlier in the episode, Shelby surmises from their use of different phaser frequencies that the Borg are vulnerable to higher frequencies. But Picard's assimilation ensures that they are able to take steps against it, rendering the deflector weapon useless.
- Wave Motion Gun: The Enterprise's makeshift deflector weapon.
- Weird Moon: The shot of Earth at the end shows a considerably enlarged moon in the backdrop. In actuality, the moon looks little different from Earth orbit than it looks from Earth's surface.
- Wham Episode: To the point that the events of this episode are considered by fans to be the "9/11" of Starfleet.
- Wham Line: Full of them:
- First, upon encountering the Borg:Picard: Mr. Worf, dispatch a subspace message to Admiral Hanson. We have engaged the Borg.
Borg: Jean-Luc Picard, Captain of the Starship Enterprise registry NCC-1701-D, you will lower your shields and transport yourself aboard our vessel. If you do not comply, we will destroy your ship.
- After the Borg abduct Picard:Worf: Sir, the coordinates they have set, they are on a direct course to Sector 001—the Terran System!
Data: We were unable to retrieve him. The Captain has been altered by the Borg.
Worf: He IS a Borg!
- The end of Part I:Riker: Mr. Worf, fire!
- The beginning of Part II:Locutus: The knowledge and experience of the human Picard is part of us now. It has prepared us for all possible courses of action. Your resistance is hopeless... Number One.
- Arriving at Wolf 359:Shelby: [looking at the wrecks of destroyed starships at Wolf 359] The Tolstoy... the Kyushu... the Melbourne.note
- First, upon encountering the Borg:
- Wham Shot:
- The giant crater where the New Providence colony used to be.
- The scene in which the rescue team finally locates Picard only for him to turn to face them, revealing Borg implants on one side of his face. This is also the first time that it is revealed that Borg can assimilate other individuals to turn them into Borg.
- The Derelict Graveyard at Wolf 359. An entire Starfleet armada just got its ass kicked.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Admiral Hanson mentions that the Klingons are sending a fleet to help Starfleet, but we never hear anything more of it.note
- Whoopi Epiphany Speech: One of her most noteworthy, when Guinan tells Riker that as captain, he has to stop comparing himself to Picard.
- With Due Respect: Riker "respectfully" tries to argue that he shouldn't leave the Enterprise because Picard couldn't get along without him. Picard is having none of it.Riker: With all due respect, you need me, particularly now.
Picard: Starfleet needs good captains, particularly now.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: The Borg make some serious tactical blunders despite the knowledge they've gained from Picard. When Riker uses the separation plan against the Borg, they assume he's simply forgotten they already know about it, not realizing he is well aware they know and is using it to hide a second plan of sending a shuttle from the Saucer (ignored because Picard knows the Drive area is the real threat) into the cube. The Borg do catch on, but it's too late to stop them taking Picard back. After this, they assume taking Picard was just a foolish human gesture of saving one friend when they had more important problems, and don't bother retrieving him. Riker did want Picard back, but his other goal was getting access to the Borg though Picard, which ends up destroying the cube.