Friday, April 8, 2011

Entering The New Season In Style: "The Best Of Both Worlds, Part II" Rocks!

The Good: Acting, Character, Effects
The Bad: Awkward plot and resolution
The Basics: In one of the series' most psychologically disturbing action adventure stories, Riker and the crew must combat the Borg and Picard's experience in "The Best Of Both Worlds, Part II!"

When Star Trek The Next Generation completed its third season, it had a lot to live up to. The third year was a wonderful transition season from episodic television to something a bit more serialized. To that end, the season finale - "The Best of Both Worlds, Part I," reviewed here! -was an intriguing bit and it made everyone who saw it want - desperately - to see the conclusion to it. I highly recommend that anyone who wants to see "The Best of Both Worlds Part 1 and 2" stop reading reviews and simply watch the episodes. There's no comparison to the shock of the third season finale which will be ruined if you were to keep reading this - or any other - reviews of "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II."

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Assimilated by the Borg, Jean-Luc Picard is taken for dead and Commander Riker must battle his Borg alter-ego, Locutus. Locutus has the technical knowledge and strategy of Captain Picard with the inhuman Borg drive for assimilation. Following the failed use of the deflector dish weapon, the Enterprise is out of commission for several hours while the Federation makes its stand at Wolf 359. Soon, the Enterprise is underway while Locutus leads the invasion further and further into Federation territory. After witnessing the remains of StarFleet, the Enterprise engages the Borg ship once again and Riker succeeds in abducting Locutus. And as the Borg ship nears Earth, the fate of humanity comes into, ironically enough, Data's hands.

On the DVD version of "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II," Michael Piller admits that he had made the ultimate problem in the season finale and his view was that he would not be back to have to solve it. He was wrong and as he reveals on the DVD extras for Star Trek The Next Generation Season Four, he discovered the end to the show at the same time the crew did.

Therein lies the sole weakness of "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II;" so much of the episode feels like killing time evaluating the problem. By the end of the first part, we know what the problem is: the Borg want to assimilate Earth and they have Captain Picard to unwittingly help them. So, much of the strategy, much of the talking out of options, much of the character work involving Riker and Shelby feels like the writer of the episode killing time as he tried to figure it all out.

That's not to say that this is not a great hour of television; it is. Foremost, the character development works. Riker is promoted to captain and he makes Shelby his first officer in a series of scenes where the officers repair the ship and get underway again. Locutus becomes a distinct entity in the Star Trek universe and the Borg menace feels very real throughout this episode.

What holds the episode together is the acting. Whoopi Goldberg's cameo as Guinan is well timed and exceptionally well played with Goldberg using more body language to the character than she had up until this point. Elizabeth Dennehey and George Murdock give memorable performances as Shelby and Admiral Hanson.

But the acting in the episode comes down to two men: Jonathan Frakes and Patrick Stewart. Stewart does an amazing job at making Locutus a distinctive and dramatically different character from Picard and it's a testament to his quality as an actor. His tears are perfectly executed as Picard is drained of his humanity. Stewart's use of his voice makes all the difference in this episode and in the balancing of the two characters he plays here.

Frakes, however, carries the episode for acting. He plays Riker as frazzled, desperate, often confused and hurt. This works so well because until this point, Riker has been one of the bastions of the ship, unflappable and almost indestructible. Yet here, we see the character go from lost to confident and strong and the acting throughout is sharp and brilliant.

Definitely not for those who have not seen "The Best of Both Worlds, Part I," "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II" is a wonderful science fiction action adventure story wherein the Earth is menaced by cyborgs who want nothing more than, basically, to rape the planet of its societal and technological individuality. A must for any fan of the Star Trek franchise and very accessible to anyone who has seen the first part.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the third season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode, movie and boxed set reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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