In Spring 1990, the Star Trek franchise was in trouble. After the underwhelming reception to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and the tumultuous first three seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, interest in the adventures of the Starship Enterprise was dropping. Trek needed a big hit to prove it was still relevant. That hit came in the form of Next Generation’s Season 3 finale “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1.” That cliffhanger episode and its resolution in the Season 4 premiere not only became a classic — the two installments altered the whole franchise.
“Best of Both Worlds” centered on the Enterprise’s conflict with the franchise’s most iconic enemy: the Borg. Captain Jean-Luc Picard engaged them as they prepared to assimilate humanity. Meanwhile, Picard’s subordinate Commander William Riker struggled with the arrival of Lt. Commander Shelby and the question of why he hadn’t left the Enterprise to take a captaincy elsewhere. When Picard was captured and assimilated into the Borg collective, Riker got his wish in the worst way. The first part ended on the haunting and iconic cliffhanger of Picard declaring “I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile,” and Riker ordering the Enterprise to fire on the Borg cube.
“The Best of Both Worlds” Drew Attention Back to Star Trek
“The Best of Both Worlds” was a masterpiece of science fiction. The two episodes were perfectly paced, with Part 2 upping the stakes ever higher with each encounter. The Borg rightly became one of the most well-known villains in Trek history thanks to their Terminator-esque level of efficiency and terror, carving out a place in the franchise that continues on current Trek series. They became the antagonists of Star Trek: First Contact — one of the franchise’s best films — and have remained important ever since Patrick Stewart’s delivery of that chilling line.
“The Best of Both Worlds” was a TV phenomenon after, as The Hollywood Reporter noted, Next Generation had been struggling in its first three seasons. There were multiple cast and crew changes, including the controversial departure of Gates McFadden as Beverly Crusher. The two-parter established The Next Generation as a different show after some previous episodes had followed The Original Series too closely; Season 1, Episode 3, “The Naked Now” was criticized for its similarity to TOS’s “The Naked Time.” It was also a rare cliffhanger at that point Trek history; the only two-part episode in TOS was “The Menagerie.”
How “The Best of Both Worlds” Updated Star Trek for the 1990s
Now hailed as a TV classic, TNG had different strengths from TOS — and it only hit its stride once it embraced them. TNG’s characters had been given ongoing arcs that TOS lacked, at least on TV. Riker’s ongoing conflict between loyalty and his desire for captaincy drove the plot and emotional beats of “The Best of Both Worlds” in a way that only worked because it had been built up over many past episodes. The crew’s reaction to Picard’s assimilation played on all of their relationships with him, including the will-they-or-won’t-they tension between Picard and Crusher. The Borg had previously been introduced in Season 2, Episode 16, “Q Who” and remained important in Picard’s storyline for years, including their pivotal role in Star Trek: Picard.
“The Best of Both Worlds” revitalized interest in Star Trek, gave Stewart an opportunity to show off the scope of his acting chops and earned two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Art Direction and Outstanding Sound Editing. It further made TNG a series a cultural phenomenon once more. The episodes were the proof the world needed that Trek was no longer stuck in the 1960s and could boldly go where no chapter of the franchise had gone before.