“Star Trek: The Next Generation” suffered a wobbly launch.
Many fans questioned why a sequel series was needed when so many stars from the original series were game and willing to slip into those familiar Federation uniforms.
The first two seasons of “Next Gen” were rough, but in its third season, the series found its own path to the stars with such memorable episodes as “Deja Q” and “Yesterday’s Enterprise.”
But no fan, casual or not, was prepared for “The Best of Both Worlds.”
The final episode of the third season, written by Michael Piller and directed by Cliff Bole, airing in June 1990, immediately got off to a tense start:
An away team led by Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) discovers that an entire colony on a planet had vanished, leaving nothing but a gaping hole in the earth where the settlement had been.
The Borg are encroaching on Federation space, and Starfleet is unprepared.
As the crew of the Enterprise work around the clock on offensive weapons, Riker faces a personal battle: Borg expert and visiting officer Lt. Commander Shelby (Elizabeth Dennehy) wants his job.
“You’re in my way,” she tells him.
“Really? How terrible for you,” Riker says.
Truly, the Bitch Factor for this series has never been higher. Riker and Shelby started at nine and only went up from there.
Dennehy was so riveting as Shelby, it’s a crime that producers never brought her ambitious officer back for another visit or a berth on one of the “Trek” spinoffs.
The Borg eventually appear on the Bridge and kidnap Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart). Their new destination: Earth.
Shelby’s Away team beams over to the Borg Cube but is unable to rescue Picard – for he has been assimilated into a Borg.
Now calling himself Locutus of Borg, he warns the Bridge crew, “Resistance is futile. Your life as it has been is over. From this time forward, you will service us.”
Like a stone-cold Horta, Riker says, “Mr. Worf – fire.”
And a “To Be Continued …” message flashes as the music reaches a blistering crescendo.
Wait. What? A cliffhanger? What was going to happen to Picard? Were producers going to kill him off? How was he going to survive this? How was the Enterprise all by its lonesome going to defeat the Borg?
So many questions. And in a time before internet spoilers, viewers were completely on their own.
As someone who lived through it, let me assure you: That summerlong wait for the cliffhanger resolution was hell.
Three decades later, this episode still stands strong. It established the Borg as the nightmare villains of the Federation.
It also ended any doubts about “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
This was the series to gather the fans and lead the franchise forward.