On this date 30 years ago, Star Trek had its “Who Shot JR?” moment. The third season finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation aired. This would be the first end-of-season cliffhanger in the history of Star Trek, and it would make TV history as one of the greatest cliffhangers ever. The episode was entitled, “The Best of Both Worlds.” It became one of the best known TNG episodes.
At the end of the episode (and if you have never seen it SPOILER ALERT, but it was 30 years ago), the Borg hail the Enterprise. We see the crew watch in horror as Captain Picard, now calling himself “Locutus of Borg,” utters what many consider Star Trek’s most chilling lines, “I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile. Your life, as it has been, is over. From this time forward, you will service us.” With no other option, Picard’s first officer William Riker orders, “Mister Worf…fire.” The screen goes black with the words “To Be Continued” on the screen. Star Trek fans would have to wait three months until the premiere episode of Season 4 on September 24th.
The episode is considered a continuation of events that took place in the third season episode, “Q Who.” Q, a powerful entity from a race of godlike beings also known as the Q, was introduced in the series opener, “Encounter at Farpoint,” and would serve as a menace in TNG, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. In “Q Who,” Q throws the Enterprise into uncharted space where the ship encounters, and is engaged by, a dangerous alien vessel of a previously unknown species: the Borg. When the vessel instantly and effortlessly overwhelms the Enterprise, Picard realizes that the Federation may not be as ready for the future as he thought.
At the end of “Q Who,” we see the foreshadowing of “The Best of Both Worlds.” Guinan, played be actress Whoopi Goldberg, is seen reflecting upon the events of meeting the Borg in Ten Forward with Picard. Guinan says the encounter with the Borg happened before it should have. She believes it might be possible for the Federation to establish some kind of communication between themselves and the Borg, but for the time being, Humans are just raw material to be consumed. Guinan begins, “Since they are aware of your existence…” Picard finishes for her saying, “…they will be coming.” Guinan ominously warns, “You can bet on it.” Picard comments that perhaps Q did the right thing, for the wrong reasons, to shake humanity out of its complacency for whatever lies ahead.
I always wondered, with the Borg having numeric designations instead of names, why Picard was given the name Locutus. It turns out that “Locutus” is Latin for, “he who has spoken.” The Borg Collective, speaking in one combined voice, tells Picard when he is captured, “To facilitate our introduction into your societies, it has been decided that a Human voice will speak for us in all communications. You have been chosen to be that voice.” Therefore, Picard becomes the voice of the Borg as it moves to assimilate the Federation beginning with Sector 001, Earth.
Part II of “The Best of Both Worlds,” particularly the Battle of Wolf 359, would be revisited in the series opener of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This episode, “The Emissary,” introduces the character of Commander Benjamin Sisko. In the opening scene, then Lieutenant Commander Sisko, the executive officer of the USS Saratoga, is on the bridge when the ship encounters the Borg led by Locutus at Wolf 359. Locutus tells the Federation fleet, “Resistance is futile. You will disarm your weapons and escort us to Sector 001. If you attempt to intervene, we will destroy you.” With its shields drained and a direct hit form the Borg cube, the computer announces there is a warp core breach in process, and the ship will soon explode. With his captain dead, Sisko begins to evacuate the ship. He goes to his quarters to find his wife and son trapped under debris. He can pull out his son but cannot get to his wife who is already dead. He is ultimately dragged away screaming to an escape pod by another officer. Together with his son and the other survivors, he watches from the escape pod as the Saratoga is destroyed. The episode then jumps to three years later as Sisko and his son are arriving at Deep Space Nine, a station which was orbiting the planet Bajor. Later when Sisko meets with Picard in the observation lounge of the Enterprise, Sisko is brusque and distrusting towards Picard. He begins by “re-introducing” himself, mentioning that he has already “met” Picard (or rather Locutus) at the Battle of Wolf 359. Obviously, Picard is troubled by his memories of the event. Sisko clearly blamed Picard for the death of his wife.
The effects of the assimilation of Picard by the Borg not only runs throughout the rest of DS9 and into the TNG movies, but also into Star Trek: Picard. To me, Picard always seemed cold and distant throughout TNG, but ironically, his assimilation by the Borg humanizes him to the audience. It is a major turning point for Picard’s character, the series, and the entire Star Trek franchise.
In the current political climate, we shouldn’t forget that from the very beginning, Star Trek has held a firm belief represented by the symbol representing IDIC: infinite diversity in infinite combinations. Creator Gene Roddenberry has been quoted as saying, “Until we can value the diversity here on Earth, then we don’t deserve to go into outer space and encounter the infinite diversity out there.”
For any Donald Trump supporters out there, I want to add a quote from a different episode of The Next Generation, “The Drumhead.” In the quote that ends this episode about conspiracies and casting blame, Captain Picard says to Worf:
“Mr. Worf, villains who twirl their mustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well-camouflaged.”
While most Democrats and people around the world can spot Trump as a mustache twirling villain, most Republicans don’t seem to see it or want to see it. They see his appointment of conservative judges and actions against Mexicans, African Americans, Muslims, LGBTQ+, and others they want marginalize as good deeds, but they need to remember that “Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well-camouflaged.” Look at what he has done, the lies he has told, the harm he has caused, the mismanagement of government, etc. etc. etc. The list goes on and on. When will you wake up and see him for what he truly is: a sociopathic megalomaniac?