Continuing in our look at Star Trek’s trends of episodic or serialized storytelling, we pick up now with the second part of The Best of Both Worlds, the followup to The Next Generation’s first two-part episode, and the first ever season finale cliff hanger in the Star Trek franchise.
The Next Generation took a big chance when it decided to leave its audience in suspense all summer long at the end of the third season. Months long breaks between seasons where questions were left intentionally unanswered were more common in evening soap operas where we were left wondering who shot whom and the like.
Adding to that was the suspense caused by Star Trek’s reluctance to venture into this kind of storytelling up to this point. Fans just weren’t used to this, and there was probably some worry that Patrick Stewart would not come back. Gates McFadden herself had only just come back at the beginning of the third season after an absence, so it’s not like shake ups in the cast were unprecedented.
All those fears turned out to be unnecessary, as the cast returned intact with some better lighting on the set, and Doctor Crusher even got a new hair style in the seconds between Riker ordering Worf to fire and the opening shots.
Seriously, check out the new hairdo.
The story continues…
As a followup episode, The Best of Both Worlds Part 2 ticks all the boxes. Almost every plot point built up in the previous episode that made its cliffhanger as dramatic as possible is resolved. No new drama is introduced. I did think the scenes when the crew deal with the loss of Picard are poignant, and the following scene featuring Worf and Data’s clandestine mission to capture Locutus was exciting.
The rest, though, is almost too much by the book. That rubber band I’ve been mentioning? By the time Data puts the Borg to sleep and Locutus reverts to Picard, I could feel it snapping back into its usual form with a whiplash-inducing amount of force.
This is not to say that this is a bad episode. Not in the least. For a series that never before told stories longer than one episode, this made a bit of sense. Besides, the Borg make several more appearances throughout the franchise, and the very next episode “Family” occurs while the Enterprise is finishing up repairs and Picard recovers emotionally. Even more, The Next Generation continues to introduce more characters and story arcs throughout its fourth season.
So you could say this two-parter helped get everyone’s feet wet with longer story arcs.
But, what if…
Looking back at the show, though, its tempting and almost too easy to see such a quick resolution to such a fantastic build up as a missed opportunity. I’d like to imagine that this story could have been stretched out for at least a couple more episodes.
What if Earth Spacedock had been captured and the Enterprise crew had to go and form a coalition with the Klingons, Romulans, and what ever else remained of the Federation fleet?
What if Riker’s and Shelby’s animosity only continued to escalate as the strain on the crew continued to add pressure to an increasingly more dire situation?
Or maybe they had a romance of some kind?
From a contemporary viewpoint, it’s not hard to ask those kinds of questions because it’s what we see in all sorts of television nowadays. We can almost predict some twists and turns to happen when we know that episode five out of ten is playing, or maybe there will be a Game of Thrones-esque shocker in episode nine, just before the season finale.
The point is not that The Best of Both Worlds, Part 2 failed at anything, necessarily. It was already breaking precedents. It’s just that, when compared to the first part, it isn’t quite as exciting.
Perhaps it’s that episodic television shows how people confront problems and get their lives back to normal again, and there is value in that because we can all relate to that, but sometimes it’s nice to get caught up in the drama. Especially when it’s not your own drama and you can just watch. Shows are currently gauged by their “bingeworthyness” and I guess I can’t help but think of ways to make Star Trek more binge-worthy.