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Season Four:
-174-175: "The Best of Both Worlds"
-178: "Family"
-179: "Remember Me"
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The Best of Both Worlds

(Star Trek - TNG episode production codes 174 & 175)
(the 2-part season 3 cliffhanger / season 4 opener)
  • written by Michael Piller
  • directed by Cliff Bole
  • music by Ron Jones
  • 2 episodes @ 45 minutes each

The Best of Both Worlds

As much as I've always liked this story a lot, I've also always instinctively wanted to resist the idea that this is the greatest story of the entire run of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Sure, it's an exciting drama, and a great mythology-advancing sci-fi blockbuster, but it doesn't quite showcase any great philosophical advances. Its events are quite violent, and a very ugly thing happens to the series' lead character. Plus the final fix is a bit clumsy, feeling like a tacked-on afterthought. Surely there must be a few other episodes, equally dramatic and exiting, but a bit more noble, polished, and clean...??

This has remained a difficult question to answer over the years, but I think at least one thing is certain. "The Best of Both Worlds" is definitely the best two-part story produced for "The Next Generation" during its seven year run on television.

At the story's heart is a very human examination of ambition (or lack thereof), particularly as it relates to career advancement. Several characters become major players in this aspect of the drama, though Riker definitely emerges as the big central protagonist of the entire two-part drama. The stakes on the personal level are also nicely complemented by having an impending big Borg battle as a backdrop - as the personal issues reach the point of testing, it is the outcome against Borg that will deliver the verdict. The earliest scenes of the show hook the audience well into this idea. This is the greatest challenge the Federation has faced thus far, and it is uncertain whether or not they are ready.

One of the biggest coups for this story, particularly when it first aired, was how believably well it created anticipation of changes to the line-up of regular castmembers for the series. Key amongst the ingredients is the extent to which guest star Elizabeth Dennehy's character of Commander Shelby is fleshed out and made real. Significant time is spent defining her, not only through what she says and does in her extensive interactions with so many of our regulars, but also with the many conversations others have about her in her absence. Not only that, but we see immediately how much potential dramatic inter-personal conflict could come with her, adding interest to any number of new stories. All this makes it very, very easy to believe that a new regular character is being introduced, and that this is just her debut story.

Might that mean that one of our other regulars would leave the show? Such a notion was also quite believable, considering how Tasha Yar only lasted for the first season, and how Dr. Crusher was replaced for the second season and then brought back for the third, while Guinan, O'Brien, and Pulaski became oft-recurring characters for season two. Thus far, every season of TNG had made some alteration to the regular line-up. What might be in store this time?

Early sections suggest Riker might be about to leave the show, promoted to take command of another ship. It seems quite obvious, as Shelby presumptuously declares her intention to replace him and take his position. Was this his finale? He gets a lot of good scenes wrestling with the idea - some of the most potent scenes in the entire story in fact.

As the story escalates through several exciting action beats with the Borg, a key turning point is reached as Captain Picard is captured. In their previous outing, "Q Who", the Borg had merely featured as an intractable force with the most bizarre social structure encountered yet on Star Trek. But now here we see something new and significant - they remake their captured enemies and add them to their own numbers. In this respect, they truly imitated their sci-fi cousins, the Cybermen on Doctor Who. In the mind of this sci-fi fan, as probably with many other fans, the Borg would also, at least temporarily until proven otherwise, inherit some of the precedents that the Cybermen had set. In Doctor Who up to that point, if the Cybermen captured and converted you, there was no hope for you anymore, no coming back. Death was your only release. I don't think we should underestimate this influence on what the audience might expect from the rest of the story.

Indeed, once the away team discovers Picard and realizes what has been done to him, it seems a foregone conclusion that this is the end for his character. And suddenly, all the previous set-up for changing the regular line-up seems to click into place. Of course! It's Patrick Stewart who is leaving the show. Jonathan Frakes will stay, with his character of Riker now promoted to be the Captain of the Enterprise, while Shelby comes in as the new first officer. It all made perfect sense.

The fact that this story had a cliffhanger leading into a second episode came as a complete surprise to me on first viewing - and it did get me thinking that the tale was an even bigger deal than I had at first anticipated. Cool! I could go for another helping, since the action and drama had been good, and the Borg proved to be very worthy adversaries, ripe for further exploration which no doubt would prove interesting. I got yet another surprise when I tuned in the following week and got only a re-run episode from the middle of the season. Huh? What the hell? What was going on?

I honestly don't know of any other TV show prior to this ending a season on a mid-story cliffhanger. Sure, the practice went on to become a staple on Star Trek and many other shows, sci-fi or otherwise, but did "The Best of Both Worlds" set a precedent for this? It has always felt like it did to me. Of course, Doctor Who was full of cliffhangers, but each of its many seasons would finish one story off cleanly, and start the next season with a fresh one. This new Trekkian/American concept of opening a new season with "Part Two" of something has always felt quite clumsy and less than ideal to me.

That said, once I figured out that I would have to wait several months for Part Two at the beginning of the next season, the cliffhanger seemed even more perfect in facilitating a cast change. Patrick Stewart didn't even need to show up for season four. The big blast from the deflector dish could be the opening shot of the season, and it could easily be powerful enough to kill Stewart's character right off the bat, while the rest of the Borg and their ship retaliate and challenge the Enterprise crew for another episode.

And so, season four opened amidst high anticipation, and fans tuned back in with baited breath. The deflector dish fired, but fizzled. Locutus of Borg uttered fresh threats, unwavering and unfazed. Okay, so they got Patrick Stewart to return for a guest spot in this one episode. That was decent of him to oblige.

And the rest of the episode continued to fulfill expectations with some satisfying dramatic turns. Riker got his promotion to "the field rank of Captain", and began wearing four pips on his collar. Shortly after, Riker makes his choice for new first officer, and Shelby graduates from the 2.5 pips of a lieutenant commander to the 3 pips of a full commander. With a little help from Guinan, Riker is able to work through an issue to assume an effective style of command that both achieves a modest tactical success against the Borg and also wins Shelby's full respect and support while giving her something critical to do.

Then the story begins doing the unexpected, setting itself apart from some of the common patterns in Cybermen stories on Doctor Who. In fact, it is only as a recaptured Picard is examined by Dr. Crusher and Data that the title of this two-parter begins to make some sense. Both Humans and Borg are exploring each other's cultures, learning from each other, looking for tactical advantages among other things. Can the Humans do it better, and pull the winning move out of this opportunity?

They are off to a great start. Against the ticking clock of the Borg cube's flight through Earth's solar system, Data and the crew gradually peel back the layers of Locutus's resistance and gain access to the Borg collective. Picard also resists and meets them half-way, offering them a vital clue. All good. This is about as close as the entire story comes to championing an advanced philosophy: the philosophy of celebrating Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, and discovering the Best of Both Worlds.

But right here the story slips a groove and stumbles a bit. The secret command to win the day turns out to be.... "sleep"? That has to be one of the most undramatic choices imaginable. Riker suggests Shelby take an away team into the Borg cube to confirm how boring it all is, which she does. That SHOULD be a move so dangerous that no one considers it, and yet there it is, bland and boring as ever, with no real tactical goal to the manoeuvre to keep us interested. Then for no sensible reason, the Borg self-destruct mechanism kicks in, and we suddenly make an exciting escape.

It was quite a satisfying moment to see that Borg cube finally get toasted, after having seen it get away with so much nastiness in the middle of season two, and again at the end of season three. But it also felt a bit hollow, as we couldn't quite put our finger on how our characters had achieved it. There just wasn't any logic in the journey from going through "sleep" to "KABOOM!"

Also, as much as this has been a great Riker story most of the way through, Riker doesn't really have any choices left to impact this story after he masterminds and accomplishes the rescue of Picard. After that point, the story's resolution rests with the rest of his crew. Thus, our main protagonist seems a bit upstaged in the final moments.

One of the many things that blow my mind about the way that much of "The Next Generation" was written was the degree to which things were made up on the fly, using the "gardener" method of writing, as opposed to a more methodical, pre-planned "architect" approach. In particular, I'm not really sure how the season three finale could have gotten its title unless the writer knew where he was headed for his conclusion. But apparently, Michael Piller wrote part one and had it shot, finished, and broadcast before actually sitting down to figure out anything of part two... which blows my mind. Me, I'd want both parts to be fully scripted before any shooting took place, in part because I really put a lot of emphasis on endings that satisfy and "prove the point" of a narrative. Strange that it seems to be standard practice to ignore this where American season cliffhangers are concerned.

At any rate, the struggle Piller went through in wanting to leave the show at the end of season three, and being convinced to do more for it by Gene Roddenberry for season four, seems to have really helped shape the character arc for Riker and his colleagues, and give it the immense power that it has. In the end, this trade off for more gardening and less architectural planning seems to have paid off.

Production-wise, this story chiefly builds on the great work that had come before and maintains its high standard. All of the regular actors are on their game, delivering compelling and pretty much flawless performances. Whoopi Goldberg gets only one scene in each of the two episodes, and knocks each one out of the park with memorable and impactful advice. And Dennehy and George Murdock turn out to be two of the very best guest stars ever to have graced the show. It really is too bad though, that we never get to encounter Dennehy's character again, to find out where she ended up, or how her career path may have advanced. One can easily imagine her becoming Captain or Admiral one day, and/or indeed perishing in the midst of a dangerous mission somewhere. Whatever might have become of her?

This story is also a musical tour-de-force for composer Ron Jones, perhaps unusually being allowed to get away with a more lively and exciting score than normal due to the special nature of the story. Personally, I think Jones delivered musical scores for several other stories which turned out to be even better / more preferable than this one, but "The Best of Both Worlds" can likely still stand as the pinnacle of Star Trek TNG action music. Some sections are a bit random for my tastes, but there are many, many highlights throughout, and some great themes as well. Excellent!

The score for this story is available here:
Audio CD
The Best of Both Worlds
(expanded version)

1-disc album

Find out more....

Well, this is it, one of Star Trek's great adventures. Will it stand as the Next Generation's greatest ever? Time will tell as we examine the rest of what is on offer....

"The Best of Both Worlds" is available as an edited-together movie on Blu-ray.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for pricing and availability:

The Best of Both Worlds - The Movie Edit:

1 movie @ 85 minutes.
Blu-ray U.S.

Blu-ray Canada

Blu-ray U.K.

Exclusive Blu-ray Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by director Cliff Bole,
    Elizabeth Dennehy (Commander Shelby),
    and scenic/graphic artists Michael and Denise Okuda.
  • "Regeneration: Engaging the Borg" making-of featurette (30 min.) with
    Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard),
    Dennehy, Brent Spiner (Data),
    Michael Dorn (Worf),
    Marina Sirtis (Troi), and others.
  • Gag Reel (5 min.)
  • Episode promos

"The Best of Both Worlds" - PART ONE ONLY - is available in the standard season three box sets,
which include interviews of writer Michael Piller discussing the creation of the episode.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for pricing and availability:

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Three (1989-1990):

Captain Jean-Luc Picard and crew hit their stride in this third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and truly began to shine as only they could. Watch all 26 ground-breaking episodes, culminating in the season cliffhanger that many regard as the first half of the best Next Generation story of all time.

Includes 26 episodes @ 45 minutes each.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for more information:


DVD Canada

7-disc DVD set

DVD Canada


DVD Extras include 4 featurettes:

  • Season 3 "Mission Overview" (17 min.)
  • Crew Changes (14 min.)
  • Dept. Briefings: Production (20 min.)
  • Dept. Briefings: Memorable Missions (13 min.)
These extras feature interviews by cast and crew discussing favourite memories, cast input and response to character development, and new writer Michael Piller's insights into episodes' story mechanics.
Blu-ray U.S.

NEW for
April 30, 2013.
Blu-ray Canada

NEW for
April 30, 2013.
Blu-ray U.K.

NEW for
April 29, 2013.

6-disc Blu-ray box set

Additional Blu-ray Bonus Features include:

  • 5 Audio commentaries including:
    • "The Bonding" with writer Ronald D. Moore and scenic/graphic artists Mike and Denise Okuda.
    • "Yesterday's Enterprise" with Moore, the Okudas, and co-writer Ira Steven Behr.
    • "Yesterday's Enterprise" with director David Carson.
    • "The Offspring" with writer René Echevarria and the Okudas.
    • "Sins of the Father" with Moore, the Okudas, and visual effects technician Dan Curry.
  • "Assimilating the Next Gen." (HD) 3-part season three making-of documentary (90 min. total), with Moore, Behr, Echevarria, Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard), Jonathan Frakes (Riker), Brent Spiner (Data), Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher), Michael Dorn (Worf).
  • "Inside the Writers' Room" (HD) roundtable interview (71 min.) with Moore, Echevarria, Brannon Braga, and Naren Shankar.
  • A Tribute to head writer Michael Piller (HD, 14 min.)
  • Gag Reel (HD, 9 min.)
  • In Memoriam: David Rappaport (5 min.)
  • Promos for each individual episode
  • plus, all featurettes from the DVD version.

"The Best of Both Worlds" - PART TWO ONLY - is available in the standard season four box sets.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for pricing and availability:

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Four (1990-1991):

Includes 26 episodes @ 45 minutes each.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for more information:

DVD Canada

7-disc DVD set

DVD Canada


DVD Extras include 5 featurettes:

  • Mission Overview (16 min.)
  • Selected Crew Analysis (17 min.)
  • Departmental Briefing: Production (16 min.)
  • New Life and New Civilizations (13 min.)
  • Chronicles From the Final Frontier (18 min.)
Blu-ray U.S.

NEW for
July 30, 2013.
Blu-ray Canada

NEW for
July 30, 2013.
Blu-ray U.K.

NEW for
July 29, 2013.

Blu-ray features add:

  • 2 Audio Commentaries:
    • "Brothers" by director Rob Bowman and scenic/graphic artists Mike and Denise Okuda.
    • "Reunion" by writers Ronald D. Moore and
      Brannon Braga, and the Okudas.
  • Multi-part documentary "Relativity: The Family Saga of ST:TNG" (HD, 60 min.) with Patrick Stewart (Picard), Jonathan Frakes (Riker), Brent Spiner (Data), Michael Dorn (Worf), Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher), Wil Wheaton (Wes), Ron Moore, and make-up artist Michael Westmore.
  • In Conversation: The Art Department (HD, 65 min.) with designer Hermann Zimmerman, the Okudas, make-up artist Doug Drexler, and visual effects supervisor Dan Curry.
  • Gag Reel (HD)
  • Deleted Scenes (HD)
  • Archival Mission Log: Select Historical Data
  • Archival Mission Log: Inside the Star Trek Archives
  • Episodic Promos
  • plus, all featurettes from the DVD version.

Article written by Martin Izsak. Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

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Read the next Star Trek review: "Family"

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