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Recap / Star Trek: The Next Generation S3E26 S4E1 "The Best of Both Worlds"

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Part One
"I am Locutus, of Borg. Resistance is futile. Your life, as it has been, is over. From this time forward, you will"
Original air date: June 18, 1990

The 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 force-field 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.

Fortunately, Riker decides to undergo some Character Development and get over his self-doubt with three short words...

To Be Continued...

Part Two

Original air date: September 24, 1990

After 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.

Guinan: You're going have to do something you don't want to do. You have to let go of Picard.
Riker: Maybe you haven't heard. I tried to kill him yesterday.
Guinan: You tried to kill whatever that is on the Borg ship. Not Picard. Picard is still here with us in this room. If he had died, it would be easier. But he didn't. They took him from us a piece at a time.

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:

  • Achilles' Heel:
    • The Borg do not have the capacity to automatically cut off any member from the Collective, even if an enemy is using that member of the collective to hack into their Hive Mind. Crusher compares it to disconnecting your hand through force of will. By capturing Locutus, Data and O'Brien are able to pare away segments of their consciousness. While it would be near impossible to remote control the collective consciousness at large, Picard was able to break through the assimilation long enough to suggest a simple command of "sleep" (shut down and recharge) to buy them time. With the Cube shut down, some sort of feedback or failsafe ends up destroying it in the process.
    • In their first confrontation the crew observe a possible weakness in the Cube's power relay and believe they can destroy the ship with a large enough pulse from the deflector dish. This potential giant slayer weapon is the source of the tension in the cliffhanger ending, as Riker orders the attack believing Picard will be killed. The weapon proves to be inert against the Cube, and even cripples the Enterprise with a fried deflector dish. While any attack against the Borg will only work one time, because Picard knew the principles of the weakness and the improvised weapon they were able to remove that weakness before it could be exploited.
  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Picard and Guinan's late-night chat in Ten Forward as the ship hides from the Borg, with Picard wondering what's about to happen, and Guinan giving advice.
  • Adaptive Ability: The Borg, as usual. Despite all their preparations, Federation weapons are utterly useless against the cube since they already learned from the last encounter. 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, but this is just delaying the inevitable.
  • 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.
  • And I Must Scream: It's clear that Picard's identity and self-awareness hasn't been completely overwritten by the Collective, though he's definitely not strong enough to fight it on his own. Flashes of his original personality come through when addressing the Enterprise crew as Locutus, he refers to himself as "I" and the Borg as "them", implying that he is still a somewhat distinct entity, and we see him shed a Single Tear as the Borg "upgrade" him.
  • Anti-Climax: The "Mr. Worf, fire" cliffhanger from Part 1 resolves in a wet fart at the beginning of Part 2, since the Borg Cube is completely unaffected by the Enterprise's new superweapon. This is a downplayed example, though, since the confrontation with the Borg still takes up the rest of Part 2.
  • Artistic License – History: Picard's description of Emperor Honorius (listed below) is a misleading, if poetic, depiction of the latter days of the Roman Empire that reflects the then-current view of the fall of the Roman Empire.
  • Artistic License – Space: 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.
  • Aside Glance: Done during The Reveal in Part I. As Shelby's party invade the Borg ship, Crusher notices Picard, standing in profile, some distance away. But he turns... revealing Borg prosthetics on the side of his face that was hidden. The prosthetics include an attached laser pointer, which shines directly into the camera as Picard gazes at the viewer.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: 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's plan against the Borg involves modifying a saucer separation battle plan that Picard was briefed on before being assimilated, when Commander Shelby reminds him of this he replies he is counting on it. The saucer separation was a distraction to slip in a shuttle under the Borg magnetic field, capture Locutus almost as swiftly as they had captured Picard, and then slip out. The smug expression he wears at the act break after hearing they got him could aptly be titled "Riker Wins".
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Lt. Shelby is happy to be on the Enterprise because she hears it's exciting, and Riker complains he's gotten too comfortable as second-in-command.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Picard is rescued from the Borg and the Borg Cube is destroyed before it could assimilate Earth, but the scars dealt to Starfleet and Picard especially will be felt for years to come.
    • Adding to the bitter, while the Borg devastated Starfleet, they only sent a single Cube this time; they still have vast resources and manpower back in the Delta Quadrant. While an existential battle for the Federation, this was essentially a mere weekend excursion to the Collective. More, the incursion was only stopped by sheer luck and an unexpected flaw. When the Borg inevitably come again, they will have adapted and that strategy won't work a second time. Indeed, that the Federation was able to repel a Borg invasion at all only vindicates the Borg's belief in assimilating this culture and adding its biological and technological distinctiveness to their own.
  • 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.
    • In Part II, Beverly proposes making nanites as a weapon against the Borg, prefaced by "With our recent experience in nanotechnology...", probably referring to season 3's premiere episode "Evolution".
  • Calm Before the Storm: As the Enterprise hiding from the Borg in a nebula while they prepare for the confrontation. Picard begins roaming the ship and finds himself in Ten Forward, where he and Guinan discuss the ancient tradition of the captain touring his ship on the eve of battle.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Shelby comes up with an idea of separating the saucer section as a decoy. Riker opposes the idea, so she brings it to Picard over his head. As Locutus knows this plan, Riker uses the saucer section for their main assault and the rest of the Enterprise as the decoy.
  • Cliffhanger: The most famous one in the entire franchise — and possibly one of the most influential in television history: longtime fan Keith R. A. DeCandido, reviewing the episode two decades later, points out how rare this sort of season-ending cliffhanger was for television as a whole at the time.
  • Cliffhanger Copout: By definition, the Borg destroying weapon that fuels the cliffhanger line "Mr. Worf, fire!" is a paltry light show that does nothing to the Cube. It's revealed that the Borg have assimilated all of Picard's knowledge and were able to create a countermeasure ahead of time. Normally this might feel cheap, but it sets up the later Battle of Wolf 359 where Picard's knowledge is used for a devastating massacre.
  • Compliment Backfire: Troi calls Riker “seasoned,” and he complains this is a horrible thing to say about a man.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: The first episode dealt with the Enterprise running distraction tactics as long as they could so that Starfleet could get a 40-count armada to engage the Borg Cube at Wolf 359. While outmatched, the Enterprise does make things difficult. But in the second episode we see the aftermath of the fleet at Wolf 359, showing the Borg clearly had the power to steamroll the lone Enterprise had they chosen to do so. The climax similarly has the Enterprise lasting far longer than it realistically should, if only for dramatic purposes. note 
  • 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 V: The Final Frontier was a critical and financial failure, and 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 Who shot J.R., saved TNG and made Star Trek into the 90s media juggernaut it was. invoked
  • Dark Reprise: A frantic, desperate-sounding version of the TNG fanfare plays after the away team discovers that Picard has been assimilated.
  • Debate and Switch: In Part I, Picard tries to impart some tough love on Riker, urging him to take command of the USS Melbourne rather than spending the rest of his Starfleet career as first officer of the Enterprise, leaving Riker wondering whether he's lost his passion. Then, Picard is abducted by the Borg, and Riker is forced to take over. And in Part II, not only is the Melbourne among the ships lost at Wolf 359, but Picard's rescue also means that Riker returns to being first officer once again.
  • Defiant to the End: Picard, after being kidnapped and brought before the Collective. The Borg are less than impressed, but at least they get a great Catchphrase out of it:
    Picard: I have nothing to say to you! And I will resist you with my last ounce of strength!
    Borg: Strength is irrelevant. Resistance Is Futile.
    • (It should be pointed out that unlike they sometimes seemed to in their later appearances, the Borg aren't just spouting catchphrases here, they're systematically invalidating each point of Picard's argument. Strength is irrelevant because they can adapt to the strongest weapon; Picard knows this, so his resistance is futile.)
  • Derelict Graveyard: Wolf 359, by the time the Enterprise arrives.
  • Deus ex Machina: The defeat of the Borg Cube can't help but fall into this because of their raw malevolence. While the Enterprise crew had found a type of "off switch" through hacking into the Hive Mind via Locutus, the actual destruction of the Cube was some sort of feedback or failsafe that they did not know would happen as a result. But it provided a handy, and explosive, resolution instead of spending another ten minutes of runtime on what to do next.
  • 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: While the Borg are becoming the assimilating techno-monsters everyone would know and love for decades after, there's still a few odd bits to their characterization compared to what would settle into canon.
    • 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. This continues into Star Trek: Picard, as a former drone refers to him as Locutus... over 30 years after the fact.
    • Once again the Borg "scoop up" technological elements from a world instead of just assimilating the ground structures. While this time we get a pretty impressive effects shot of what this looks like (Trek matte paintings to the rescue again), this would be the last time this behavior was majorly referenced, and later depictions show them as favoring assimilating anything in their way, including planets.
    • The Borg's interest in Picard is treated, even seemingly by them, as a fairly unique situation and they still show no immediate interest in assimilating other life forms outside of Picard himself; they still don't have hand nanite injectors and in almost any other Trek work, the melee on the bridge during part 1 would've ended with Picard, Riker and Worf all assimilated on the spot. Instead Riker and Worf are just shoved aside, Picard is stunned by a Borg sound thingy, he's allowed to speak to the Collective briefly and only after trying to give the Borg a Kirk Summation is he initially assimilated offscreen. In part 2 Locutus mentions that humanity will be "assimilated", but it seems like this is a process that would take a great deal of time (when in later works, the nightmare scenario for Starfleet is the Borg getting the run of Earth and assimilating it in a couple days).
      • In fact, the intent seems to be that assimilation of the sort we see in this episode is special and wasn't meant to happen in this form often. The situation became so iconic so quickly, however, that direct mechanical assimilation of sentients quickly became the Borg's hat in the zeitgeist and the writers would follow suit with expectations.
    • Relatedly, the Borg seem single-minded in their quest for Earth partially because they want to score a knockout blow against the Federation early, and this is meant to be why they ignore the Enterprise in its more vulnerable moments. While it makes sense in the context of their behavior of this episode, later depictions of Borg combat behavior treat it as a multi-front whirlwind of both violence and assimilation, and the Borg of later works definitely would've at least sent over a force of drones to attempt to assimilate and damage the Enterprise further before continuing on.
      • Similarly, in later works the Borg almost certainly would've assimilated at least some of the ships they were facing at Wolf 359, rather than just shooting them all down. A few later works, including in the TV canon, did suggest crewmen were assimilated at 359 (and then somehow weren't involved in the later destruction of this Cube) but ships getting assimilated at 359 was never retconned in.
    • The Borg Queen, naturally, is nowhere to be seen; she was later retconned to be on this vessel, but all interactions with "the Borg" are with a disembodied collective voice.
    • The assimilation procedure is somewhat different - famously, Picard at one point sticks out his arm and a Borg-y attachment is slipped over his arm. His skin is also deliberately induced to be the iconic Borg pallor. Later depictions, particularly starting in First Contact, would instead have the Borg fully replacing the limbs of poor assimilated souls with Artificial Limbs outright (occasionally with all the gruesomeness this would entail), and the Borg pallor was generally treated as a side effect of the invasive nature of Borg implants and nanites, and the Borg would hardly care about skin tone in any event as it wasn't relevant to a drone's function. Additionally, Picard has his uniform discarded and he's put into their cybernetic bodysuits. First Contact would show the Borg simply put their cybernetic parts over or on top of whatever the victim's wearing (Lily is unsettled when she sees a scratched Starfleet badge beneath the assimilated Ensign Lynch's Borg armor).
    • Part of the reason for Borg interest in Picard, at least in this episode, is that they desire for him to "speak" for and to humanity and to ease interfacing with humans, with a somewhat logical implication being that obtaining a "speaker" is a standard practice for the Borg when they encounter a new civilization. Some of the novels (most prominently the second Shatnerverse one) would pick up on this idea and carry it forward to an extent, but later canon works largely dropped the idea or importance of speakers (or even that the Borg would bother communicating that much with targets outside of demands to surrender) and First Contact offered up an alternate reason for the "Borg's" interest in Picard.
    • In Part 2, Locutus dismisses Data as being primitive and will be rendered obsolete when the Borg conquer the Federation. In First Contact, Data is instead regarded by the Borg with a great deal more reverence and the Queen commits a great deal of effort to persuading a Face–Heel Turn. This change may have been precipitated by Data being the one that destroyed the first Borg Cube to attack Earth simply by remotely tampering with a minor system. The Queen's interest was piqued.
  • 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. While this particular series heavily embraced Status Quo Is God, future works such as DS9 and Picard would heavily explore the ramifications of this assimilation, with the latter including a heavy Wham Episode where Picard starts having a PTSD attack the first time he beams onto a Borg Cube in 30 years.
  • Enemy Mine: Early in Part 2, Hanson mentions that the Federation reached out to the Klingonsnote  and the Romulans as part of the stand at Wolf 359.
  • Face-Revealing Turn: Done for a Wham Shot with a Two-Faced Picard, converted from human to Locutus of Borg.
  • Fake Arm Disarm: During the attempt to establish a connection with Picard, Data rips off part of the cybernetic appliance on Picard's right arm.
  • 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.
  • Finale Production Upgrade: Well-known to even the general public, and a Trope Codifier in itself, this episode blew the entire franchise up to that point out of the water, shaking up the status quo of not only characters for years to come, but also the quality and general atmosphere of future installments and spinoffs. This included the Borg threatening the existence of the entire United Federation of Planets containing billions of individuals, showing their destructive power by obliterating 39 starships (the battle of which could not be shown because of its sheer horror, and the series' budget and technology at the time would not allow it), and putting into question whether the star of the show, Captain Picard, was going to survive. What fueled this was that Patrick Stewart at this time was in talks to leave the series, and his future involvement with TNG was just as questionable as his character's survival.
  • 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:
    • Part of the reason Starfleet Command's caught off guard by the incursion is because System J-25 is 7,000 light years from Federation space; they naturally assumed it would take the Collective more time to reach the Alpha Quadrant. With that assumption now having been proven wrong, Picard speculates to Admiral Hansen that the Borg may have a source of power superior to Federation/Starfleet technology. It'll subsequently be revealed three years later that Picard was on the right track: the Borg possess Transwarp capabilities and maintain a network that allows this to cross vast distances of space in short periods of time. So retroactively, the implication here is the Cube reached the edge of Federation space so quickly using a Transwarp Conduit (though it does beg the question of why they waited over a year before launching an incursion against the UFP).
    • 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...
    • There's a bit of a Happy Ending Override when Picard suddenly stops sipping his Earl Grey and stares out of his ready room into space as downbeat music plays, noting he's not over his enslavement by the Borg, which will be addressed in the next episode and future episodes and Star Trek: First Contact.
  • 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.
  • Gratuitous Latin: The assimilated Picard is given the name "Locutus", which is Latin for "he who has spoken".
  • Great Offscreen War: The Battle of Wolf 359. Some of it is seen later in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine pilot "Emissary".
  • Grin of Audacity: Riker wears one once he is apprised of the success of Worf's and Data's boarding action to abduct Locutus/rescue Picard. Cue a brief Triumphant Reprise of the episode's battle music as he grins, and then act break.
  • 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.
  • Heroic Willpower: Subverted. Once captured Picard tells the collective he will fight them with every bit of strength he has, and they respond that his strength is irrelevant. It is proven impossible to overcome assimilation through force of will and the following episode "Family" reveals just how traumatizing this was for Picard, saying "They took everything I was". But after Locutus was captured by the Enterprise, Crusher removed a number of Borg implants and Data hacked into the Borg collective consciousness Picard was able to push the rest of the way to become cognizant of himself again.
  • Hire the Critic: In-Universe, Riker develops animosity with Commander Shelby over her abrasive attitude and telling him to get out of her way. But she is the foremost authority on the strategies Starfleet had developed against the Borg, and with Riker promoted to Captain after Picard is captured, he assigns Shelby as his first officer knowing she would give him good advice and call him out on bad decisions.
  • Hoist by Their Own Petard: Starfleet and the Borg are hit with this — The Borg use Picard's knowledge of Starfleet tactics to initiate the very brutal Battle of Wolf 359 while the crew of the Enterprise modify a plan that was told to Picard in order to sneak in and rescue him, exploiting the Borg's assumption that they were using the original strategy that Picard was briefed on.
  • Hope Springs Eternal: Guinan talking with Picard about the future touches on this one.
  • 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.
    • Admiral Hanson appears to be relying on this trope when he declares that The Determinator he knew would never aid the Borg. What results afterwards, however, is that Picard finds that Resistance Is Futile.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Riker contacts Locutus to arrange a ceasefire, but instead uses it to determine his location in the Borg cube. After that, he sets his actual plan into motion.
  • Indy Hat Roll: La Forge debuts his Epic Geordi Maneuverinvoked to escape the damaged Engineering. All he really had to do to clear the closing door was jog a little and duck his head.
  • The Juggernaut: Nothing stops the Borg Cube from getting to Earth.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Locutus tells Data that, as an android, he's too primitive for them and would soon "be obsolete in the new order". Data devises the plan that leads to the Borg's defeat.
  • Lens Flare: Years before J. J. Abrams, Star Trek had its first taste of this trope from the Borg.
  • 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.
  • Literal-Minded: Data once again fails to grasp a human aphorism, in this case Shelby saying "Early bird gets the worm" to Riker after beaming down to Jouret IV before she was scheduled to.
    Data: Early bird...I believe Commander Shelby erred. There is no evidence of avifaunal or crawling vermicular lifeforms on Jouret IV.
    Geordi: That's not what she meant, Data, but you're right. She erred.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Picard was unaware of Starfleet's offer to Riker to captain the Melbourne. He only finds out when Hansen brings it up while trying to sell Shelby as Riker's successor.
  • 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.
  • Mathematician's Answer: When Data prepares to hack into the Borg subspace network.
    O'Brien: At what point should I shut it down if there's a problem?
    Data: I do not know. I have never done this before.
  • 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.
  • Mood Whiplash: Riker receives a moving motivational speech by Guinan, and moments later, he sees the devastating aftermath at Wolf 359.
  • Mouth of Sauron: Picard's role as Locutus of Borg is to act as a spokesman for the collective to humanity.
  • Nightmare Face: Some of the Borg drones in this episode wear two eyepieces (along with a mouth implant). It's... unsettling.
  • No-Sell:
    • The Enterprise's opening battle against the Borg cube is a miserable failure. Their modified shields can only resist the tractor beam for less than a minute before the Borg adapt, and their weapons don't so much as scratch the cube until Data starts rotating the phaser frequencies at speeds beyond human reaction time. Even then, all this does is get the tractor beam off them so they can run.
    • 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, they had Picard's knowledge of how the weapon would be deployed and the principles on which it was based.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Admiral Hansen talks of rallying 40 ships to engage the Borg cube at Wolf 359. The Enterprise had burned out the deflector dish and was unable to participate. They get a transmission from Hansen and (for obvious budget reasons) utter hell breaking loose before connection drops. As they give chase and arrive in Wolf 359, all we see is a field of debris from destroyed ships and Shelby identifies a handful of wreckages. Remains one of the most haunting moments of the franchise.
  • 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.
    • In "Peak Performance" Riker claimed that "Combat is a minor province of being a Starfleet captain," a year and a half before this episode. Five years later, Sisko would arrive in a Defiant-class starship, a full-on, purpose-built warship which Starfleet developed in response to the lopsided casualty rates at Wolf 359.
    • The ripples even reach the other side of the Milky Way galaxy, with the crew of Voyager freaking out when they encounter the Borg.
  • Obliviously Evil: Locutus seems to think the Borg are helping others in assimilating them.
    Locutus: Worf, Klingon species, a warrior race. You, too, will be assimilated.
    Worf: The Klingon empire will never yield.
    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!
  • 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.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: The entire crew is flummoxed about the Borg demanding an individual, when they've always been viewed as a Hive Mind with no use for them.
  • Permission to Speak Freely: Shelby to Riker in Part 1, preparatory to giving him her "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
  • The Peter Principle: Before becoming first officer of the Enterprise Riker was on a fairly linear path to being the captain of his own ship. When the call comes offering him the USS Melbourne he finds himself hesitating, and awfully annoyed that Shelby already knew of the offer and was looking to replace him on the Enterprise. He questions his waning confidence, in large part due to loyalty to Picard and subconsciously hoping to captain the Enterprise after him, which ends up becoming a Battlefield Promotion after Picard is captured. He proves himself exceptional in the position, but was glad to hand the Enterprise back to Picard and accept promotion on his terms (The Doylist reason was to keep the cast together). Commander Shelby in turn was gunning for assignment to the Enterprise, is promoted to serve as Riker's first officer during the crisis, and is said to be leaving for a new task force to rebuild the fleet.
  • Phlebotinum Analogy: Crusher suggests destroying the Borg's power distribution nodes by way of "The mosquito's point of view: If we sting them in a tender spot, they might stop for a minute to scratch".
  • 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. Naturally, he doesn't survive the episode.
  • "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 — though in some senses, she's everywhere the Borg are, always. She does, however, have a particular interest in "Locutus" (also explaining why he gets a name, rather than the number designation established in "I, Borg").
  • Sadistic Choice: Part I ends with Riker debating whether they should try to rescue Picard or destroy the Borg cube with Picard onboard. He picks the latter... and it fails thanks to the knowledge acquired from Picard's assimilation.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale:
    • When the crew is about to fire the deflector dish in Part 1, Riker tells Wesley to move the Enterprise "to within 40 thousand kilometers" of the Borg Cube. The Enterprise is 642 meters in length, and a Borg Cube is three (3) kilometers on each side. At 40 thousand kilometers, the Cube might appear as a dot from the perspective of the Enterprise, but the Enterprise would appear too small to see from the Cube (without visual augmentation, that is). Yet when we see the Enterprise engage the Cube, it's at most a few short kilometers away.
    • When the Enterprise reaches the outer edge of our solar system in Part 2, Riker tells Wesley to slow the ship to sub-light speed ("Slow to impulse"), and Wesley says that the time to intercept the Borg (who are approaching Earth) is "23 minutes". Except that the distance between the Cube (approaching Earth) and the Enterprise (at the edge of the system, likely Pluto) is 5 1/2 hours at Warp 1 (the speed of light). At maximum impulse (sub-light velocity), it would take at least 10 hours to reach the Cube at Earth. And that's assuming maximum impulse is half the speed of light.
  • 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.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: Happens during Part I as the away team shoots down drones.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: Data inadvertently triggers one on the Borg cube.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: We see the first hints of this with Picard after he is rescued from the Borg. When Riker asks him what he remembers from his experiences, he replies "Everything", before hastily changing the subject. At the end, he seems to be acting normal during the meeting with Riker and Shelby, but once he's alone, we see him slowly put down his tea and stare out of the window with a haunted look in his eyes.
  • Single Tear: Picard when he is assimilated.
  • Snowy Screen of Death: Hanson's transmission cuts out mid-battle, causing Riker to assume the worst.
    Hanson: The fight does not go well, Enterprise. We're attempting to withdraw and regroup. Rendezvous with fleet—(static)
  • Space Clouds: The Enterprise hides in a thick nebula to keep the Borg busy trying to search for them. The Borg eventually start launching charges into the nebula to force them out.
  • Status Quo Is God:
    • Riker all but says this when he makes Shelby his XO instead of Data or Worf.
      Riker: But this is not the time for change. I need all of you where you are, where Captain Picard always relied on you.
    • After this episode Riker stays as Number Two instead of leaving to command his own ship, which would require Jonathan Frakes to leave the show.
    • Had Patrick Stewart not been retained, Riker would have been Captain with Shelby as his Number One. As it is, Picard is still Captain.
  • Stock Footage:
    • A matte painting shot of the vast Borg cube interior is recycled from "Q Who".
    • The shots of Data and Worf firing at Borg drones from Part 1 are reused in Part 2.
    • The Borg cube exchanging fire with the Enterprise at the end of Part 2 is a reuse of their initial encounter in Part 1.
  • Temporary Substitute: Some scenes in Part 2 have O'Brien standing in for Geordi because LeVar Burton was having surgery.
  • 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".
    • Discussed by Picard to Guinan, a short time later, using one of the last Roman emperors as an example.
      Picard: I wonder if the Emperor Honorius, watching the Visigoths stream over the hill, truly realized the Roman Empire was about to fall.
  • Time to Step Up, Commander: Guinan telling Riker that he has to let go of Picard and step up to the Big Chair.
    Guinan: And that is now your chair...Captain.
  • 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?
    Riker: No.
    Guinan: Well, let's just say that what we have goes beyond friendship and beyond family.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee:
    • The audience is told nothing of Data and Worf's "special mission" — to physically retrieve Picard/Locutus from the Borg cube.
    • While wondering how to separate Picard from the Borg collective consciousness, Data simply tells Crusher "perhaps there is a way I can access the machine, Doctor.", and we aren't told what that plan is till we see Data linking with Locutus.
  • Villain Ball: 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 stardrive 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.
  • Wave-Motion Gun: The Enterprise's makeshift deflector weapon, essentially a souped-up phaser that dumps all their power into a single shot.
  • 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.
  • We Need a Diversion: Shelby suggests separating the saucer section with a skeleton crew as a diversion. Riker opposes the plan as it's too dangerous. However, knowing that Locutus knows this, he deploys the saucer section to serve as cover for Data and Worf to infiltrate the Cube in a shuttle, having the saucer section fire antimatter bursts to confuse the Borg sensors and allow the shuttle to slip through.
  • Wham Episode: The comfortable future utopia that was established with TNG is shattered by the events of this episode. Starfleet is devastated by a Borg attack and they only barely managed to win with some ingenuity. The increasing militarization of Starfleet and the impact on the characters personally has ramifications that bleed into every series set after these events. It's sometimes referred to by fans as the "9/11" of the Federation.
  • 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!
      Riker: Earth.
      Data: We were unable to retrieve him. The Captain has been altered by the Borg.
      Riker: Altered?
      Worf: He IS a Borg!
    • The end of Part I features two in a row:
      Locutus: I am Locutus, of Borg. Resistance is futile. Your life, as it has been, is over. From this time forward, you will
    • Followed immediately by this:
      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 
  • 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 
  • What Would X Do?: 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?"
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Picard asks Riker, "Why the hell are you still on the Enterprise?"
  • 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.
  • The Worf Effect: Worf finally tries going one-on-one against a Borg drone, with expected results. However, he gets to kill that drone later in the episode.
  • Worf Had the Flu: It is impossible for someone to break out of assimilation through force of will, which Picard quickly learns. But with the Enterprise crew removing many of the Borg implants and Data hacking into the Hive Mind Picard was able to meet them halfway, providing the key to stopping them in time.
  • You Are in Command Now: With Picard taken by the Borg, Riker has to take command of the Enterprise towards the end of Part I. In Part II, Admiral Hanson officially promotes Riker to Captain.


Video Example(s):


Wolf 359

The Enterprise D, under the command of now Captain Riker, is on it's way to the Wolf system to join the fight against a Borg cube with a fleet of Federation ships. However when they arrive, the battle is already over and the Federation lost.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / GreatOffscreenWar

Media sources: