Written by Michael Piller and Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Cliff Bole
This was the first real season-ending cliff-hanger for Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in my opinion, it’s the best one they ever did. Though I have two episodes that I would put ahead of it as my favorite episodes of this show, this is definitely #3.
Part of what worked about this, as the story goes, is that the writer, Michael Piller, was supposed to write only the season-ending cliff-hanger and that was the end of his job. Therefore, he had the freedom of writing the series – and Captain Picard in particular – into the proverbial corner without worrying about how he was going to resolve it.
During a few episodes of the past three seasons, there has been build-up toward an encounter with an alien race known as The Borg. They are part machine, part organic life form. They are also seemingly unstoppable. The Federation has been preparing for an encounter for quite some time, but it is still eighteen months to two years away from developing serious weapons which it can use against The Borg.
When an entire Federation colony disappears – and the effects depicting this are marvelous – it becomes clear that The Borg has arrived in Federation space much faster than anticipated. A specialist in The Borg, Lt. Commander Shelby (portrayed by Elizabeth Dennehy) joins the crew of the Enterprise as they sort through what little remains of the colony.
Along with The Borg threat, we are given a sub-plot whereby Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) learns that Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) has been offered his own command – again. Shelby is angling for his spot as First Officer of the Enterprise. Where Riker has become more conservative and cautious over the years, Shelby is a risk-taker and very ambitious.
Shortly thereafter, the Enterprise is dispatched to investigate the disappearance of another starship that has had an encounter with The Borg. It is also intercepted by The Borg ship – which has the shape of a giant cube. The Borg do not seem interested in the Enterprise or its crew, but rather is intent on only Captain Picard.
Shelby and Riker continue to develop what they believe is a weapon that will give them a one-time shot at possibly destroying this Borg ship. Eventually, The Borg manage to beam to the Enterprise and succeed in kidnapping Picard. This shows a great hole in the Federation’s defenses.
With Riker now the acting Captain, Shelby takes an away-team over to the Borg vessel to try and retrieve the Captain. But the damage has already been done…
All around, this episode is terrific. By setting up Riker and Shelby as a possible successor to the Picard/Riker combination, it was a real cliff-hanger. Was Patrick Stewart going to return as Picard the next season? At that time it felt like a distinct possibility that he wasn’t, and I can remember watching all of the entertainment-based television shows for any hint that he was departing the show.
The entire regular season cast is given plenty to do here, but it is an episode in which Riker shines above all. Frakes gives a terrific performance, from his testy encounters with Shelby to his questioning his own hesitation at taking on command of his own with ships’ counselor (and former lover) Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis).
Especially on board the Borg vessel, Dr. Crusher and Worf (Michael Dorn) convey their anguish at what has become of their Captain. Even Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) is depicted realistically and comes off sympathetically in this episode.
There are some great action scenes, including a few battles between the two ships. Also great are the one-on-one combat scenes with the Borg when the crew is aboard their vessel. The special effects are marvelous. I actually gasped at the depiction of the destruction of the Federation colony.
This is one of the top episodes of the series, and one that people don’t need to have all of the background behind it to enjoy. If you want to introduce someone to the series, this is an excellent episode to do it with!
Previous episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Transfigurations
Next episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Best of Both Worlds Part II