The Best of Both Worlds: S Tier
First, a note. I will be rating each two parter with one rating instead of dividing them into separate episodes. I believe this is fair as each two parter is basically just a two hour long episode, and should be judged as a whole when rating.
However, I will also note that if I were to rate both parts of The Best of Both Worlds as separate, I would rate part one as S+.
So, we're gonna talk about a lot of stuff that went into this episode. Again, I will assume everyone reading this is familiar with the plot and has seen the episode, so I'll abstain from a detailed summation.
First, I want to talk about the music.
Ron Jones, a frequent composer for TNG in the first four seasons, returns from Q Who to finish the job he started in season 2, and the result is perhaps the greatest TV score in the history of television.
The Borg's sinister, synthetic leitmotif from Q Who returns, and it's just as threatening and relentless as ever. The slow build before "magnify" and the sudden swell of threat afterward as the Cube enlarges WOULD be the pinnacle of this episode's musical cabinet, but this episode's score is so good that it is merely a highlight.
Do yourself a favor and listen to the following two videos of isolated ost:
The ending of the second video is the pinnacle. The greatest cliffhanger in television history, as far as I'm concerned, and the music is a big part of that. Keep in mind that it was public knowledge that Stewart was in negotiations for his return over the summer, so it was a very real possibility that Picard would not survive to continue on the show in the minds of the fans.
Ron Jones was eventually fired at the end of the fourth season by Rick Berman, for his scores being "too noticeable." As much as I hate Rick Berman, after watching seasons 1 and 2 with Brentai, I have to admit Mr. Homophobe had a point. The episodes scored by Jones are often musically awkward and ridiculously epic in situations that do not warrant it, creating a hokey atmosphere much of the time. But here, in The Best of Both Worlds, the tension and stakes are high enough to justify a bombastic, epic, and in your face style.
So it turns out Jones worked on DuckTales too, but didn't compose the theme. Ah well.
Let's move on to the design of the Borg. I know we've talked about it already in Q Who, but I specifically want to talk about the major action scene that occurs right before the cliffhanger.
Some notes that are important:
1. The Borg, again, do not have a standardized design. They have various facial coverings of their eyes and mouth, but no two drones look precisely the same. This gives them a ghastly, almost undead appearance, which coupled with their slow, relentless gait makes them very corpse/zombie like.
2. When killed, the Borg do not simply vaporize. They instead jerk and spasm uniquely, and leave dead bodies that other drones must step over. This adds to their horror aspect tremendously. It would have been very easy to simply have them vanish/disintegrate on death, and while you might think this is a small thing, it isn't.
3. The way the scene is shot is very claustrophobic. All the shots of the crew are extreme close ups as they fire at the advancing drones. In addition, they are at a 4 way cross in the hallways, making them easy to surround and increasing the tension of the scene. Beverly is even shown to fire on and kill a drone, showing the viewer how desperate the situation is if even the doctor is willing to use lethal force in the situation.
4. The drones are shown one at a time from each angle until they adapt, when suddenly multiple drones are shown on screen at once. This sudden jump in threat level combined with the now immunity from phaser fire really hammers home how hopelessly the crew are overmatched.
5. Then, and only then, is Picard revealed to have been assimilated as the final nail in the coffin. Worf rams himself into a forcefield uselessly and then the crew are forced to withdraw.
All of these elements combine to create what is probably the best and most tense "action" scene in all of Trek. Except Kirk vs the Gorn of course.
This is not an episode with a deep moral or lesson, but it does actually have a pretty decent one in the first part with Riker learning that it's okay to stay where you are happy and not let "ambition" drive you into places in your life where you would not be happy. His relationship with Shelby exists pretty much to hammer this home, but gradually he comes to use her skills appropriately once he is given command after Picard is taken.
The conversation Riker has with Guinan is both well written and also sets up a future episode where the nature of Picard and Guinan's relationship is explored. Funny to think that this whole time Guinan knew that Picard would have to survive because he hasn't yet traveled back in time to meet her. Neatly explains her confidence that the Federation would prevail.
The resolution of the episode is fairly weak. Data hacks into the ship with Picard's help and makes it explode. The writers have expressed trouble with writing solutions to the Borg because they're just so scary, and I don't envy them having to come up with some sort of plausible solution. As it is, it's a serviceable if slightly boring one.
The Battle of Wolf 359 was not shown due to budget reasons, but I think it actually helps rather than hinders the episode. We do eventually get to see it in part as the first scene of the pilot of DS9, and they also basically recreated it in the TNG movie First Contact.
I personally saw this episode (and the conclusion) as they aired when I was a kid, and let me tell you that tiny child Friday was absolutely terrified of the Borg for a long time because of it. To me, the Borg have always represented the inevitably of Death. Slow, relentless. You can fight against them and delay them, but eventually they will overcome you. I think that was probably an intentional part of their design, especially since they are designed to look and behave as walking corpses.
I'll always prefer this original "slow" design of the Borg. The new design that premiered with First Contact and Voyager, the faster, angry expression Borg, might be more "realistic" or whatever, but it loses that corpse-like inevitability. I also personally think the weird disease mottling they use on the skin of the new Borg is over the top. I prefer the pale alabaster of the original.
Well, that's The Best of Both Worlds. It's all downhill for the Borg from here on out, friends, eventually culminating in a funtime sockslide down a Borg hallway. Though I'm not as down on VOY's use of the Borg as a lot of other people are, and even think Scorpion was a good episode. But the Borg will never reach these heights again.