Weekly Trek – June 20-26, 2016

Season Three of Star Trek: The Next Generation is generally regarded as the point at which the show came into its own.  Pretty much every third season episode is solid, and there are some real standouts including “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “The Offspring,” and “The Best of Both Worlds.”

For all of televised Star Trek prior to the third season of TNG, the season finales were just regular episodes with nothing particularly special about them while today season finales are usually filled with major events that wrap up a season’s storyline and/or leave the audience hanging until the show comes back for the next season.  For TNG, though, the first season had ended with “The Neutral Zone,” an episode that reintroduced the Romulans to Star Trek, while season two ended with “Shades of Gray,” a clip show that exists mainly because the show ran out of money due to cost overruns on “Q Who” and “Elementary, Dear Data” earlier in the season.

In the days before the Internet, most TNG fans probably had no idea that “The Best of Both Worlds” would be any different.  I certainly didn’t on that June evening in 1990.  I had to work that night at my job as a dishwasher at a local Mexican restaurant (It was glamorous, I assure you.) and didn’t get home until close to 11PM.  After I showered off the smell of nacho cheese and fajita seasoning, I sat down to watch the episode that had programmed by VCR to record while I was away. 

About an hour later, just after Commander Riker said “Fire,” the quite unexpected words “To Be Continued” filled my screen.  I woke up my parents and my brother as I screamed “NO!” at my uncaring television.  A CLIFFHANGER?!?  I HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL &!%@#$-ing FALL TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS?!?!?  I was not pleased, but my friends and I spent a lot of time over the next couple of months speculating about what would happen next.

The source of most of our angst was that episode’s adversary, the Borg.  As I explained last week, the Borg are cybernetically-enhanced lifeforms that have a singular goal: assimilate all other intelligent life into the Borg Collective.  They travel in massive cube-shaped ships that are capable of repairing themselves, and both their ships and the Borg themselves quickly adapt to any weapons used against them. 

The Enterprise had first encountered the Borg in Season Two’s “Q Who?”  In “The Best of Both Worlds,” a Borg cube invaded the Federation and captured Captain Picard.  By the end of the episode, things were not good.  And in the Fourth Season premiere, “The Best of Both Worlds Part II,” the situation got worse as a large Starfleet armada, minus the Enterprise, faced the Borg cube in what became known as the Battle of Wolf 359.  It wasn’t much of a battle really as the cube decimated Starfleet’s forces and continued on to Earth.  Only a last-ditch and unconventional action by the Enterprise crew managed to save the day.

The Borg appeared sparingly on TNG after that, only showing up in three more episodes, one of which was a two-parter.  In both cases, the stories involved Borg that had somehow become separated from the Collective.  They would not menace the TNG crew again until their second feature film, Star Trek: First Contact, which introduced the concept of the Borg Queen.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine did not use the Borg except for in the pilot episode, which started in the middle of the Battle of Wolf 359.  While the Borg may not have appeared in the rest of the series, the events of Wolf 359 weighed heavily on Commander Benjamin Sisko’s character and shaped who he was as DS9 began.

Star Trek: Voyager, which was set in the Borg’s home of the Delta Quadrant of the galaxy, used the Borg far more frequently, and, as tends to happen when an ultra-powerful adversary shows up too often, defanged them a bit.  If one cube was able to practically wipe out Starfleet, how could one small ship survive multiple encounters without depowering the Borg a bit.

Star Trek novels used the Borg quite effectively on a few occasions.  Peter David’s novel Vendetta answered the often-asked question “What would happen if the Borg sent more than one cube?” by telling the tale of an incursion by three cubes.  And I will talk about the fantastic Destiny trilogy by David Mack in two weeks.

- Alan Decker

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