Episode: s4, ep 1
This two-parter spanning a finale and a première is a big step up in terms of continuity and intrigue, especially when you look at the transitions between the previous series.* I was expecting to see a space battle, but even without that the pace of the episode is an improvement on many.
The Borg are close and the Admirals are worried, so they send Borg-expert Shelby to the Enterprise. People who aren't Riker are concerned about Riker's career trajectory and he's annoyed that up-and-comer Shelby is interested in his current job. The Borg headhunt Picard by kidnapping him, leaving Riker in command. A rescue attempt fails when it turns out that Picard has been altered by the Borg and is now their spokesperson (called Locutus). Riker doesn't stop to get advice or orders about Picard's situation, he fires on the Borg Cube...
The Enterprise's one-shot weapon doesn't work and Locutus reveals the Borg have all Picard's knowledge. The Borg Cube zips away towards Earth. The Enterprise is damaged and can't join the fleet who are prepared to intercept the Borg at Wolf 359. The Admiral gives Riker a field promotion. Riker has a word with Shelby about putting aside their issues and working together with her as his First Officer. Guinan comes to see Riker and explains that she had Picard's ear because of their very close relationship, which she drops hints about. She tells Riker that in order to get through this he will have to let go of Picard completely, especially as the Borg have his knowledge.
The Admiral's comms drop out suggesting the battle isn't going well. The repaired Enterprise pursues the Borg and finds the devastation of the battlefield (battlespace? battlezone?). We don't get to see any of this space battle only the aftermath of broken ships and as the Enterprise remains in hot pursuit, there are presumably no nearby survivors. Riker gives Data and Worf a special assignment then goes to the battle bridge to try and negotiate. Locutus refuses negotiations as the Borg don't want anything and Locutus thinks it's a trick. The saucer section is separated as the Cube and the battle bridge exchange fire, and Data and Worf quietly take a shuttle into the Borg Cube. The Klingon and the android get Picard and beam back to the Enterprise. Locutus points out that removing him changes nothing as the Borg continue Earthwards.
Data neural links with Picard to access the Borg system. Crusher monitors Picard's life signs, O'Brien monitors Data, and Troi is there to sense what's happening to Picard. Data is able to connect to the Borg system, slowing the advance of the Cube and causing it to attack the Enterprise. Picard himself facilitates the connection for Data and croaks "sleep." The Enterprise is close to being destroyed by the Borg, and Riker is about to ram the Cube when Data realises what Picard is trying to say. Data manages to access a low priority Borg system and puts the Borg in sleep mode, immediately ceasing the attack. Shelby and Worf beam over to the Borg Cube and confirm that their enemies are dormant. A self-destruct system has been started due to the malfunction and though Riker has the option to disarm it he has the Enterprise moved to a safe distance and the Cube explodes.
Picard is quickly returning to his old self. He and Riker share the ready room as Shelby leaves to help rebuild the fleet. Riker is still prickly about his career plans, but he and Shelby have a warmer, more respectful attitude to each other.
Oh Captain My Captain
We see Picard being upgraded by the Borg and it's a creepy scene as he lies expressionless, surrounded by machines that make him more machine-like. Though he never actually uses his laser-pointer headgear or unspecified-tool-arm for anything. The greater concern is that all of Picard's knowledge has been taken by the Borg. Picard's absence hangs heavy over the first part of the episode, it is the main thing Riker deals with. The Admiral has admired Picard since he was a cadet (not in an inappropriate way, it was because of his uphill-running skills) and views the Captain as a casualty of war, never a traitor.
As Locutus Picard is chillingly robotic. At one point Locutus is stomping around sickbay spouting Borg propaganda about their superior civilisation and good intentions. He's knocked out for being insufferable (and to take him to Data's lab). Locutus also says "Resistance is hopeless" suggesting he's understood the corporate message, but has fluffed the catchphrase wording. The images and Patrick Stewart's performance are definitely effective, and on an emotional level taking away Picard works, but I must admit I don't understand why the Borg need a spokesperson. This doesn't seem to be their usual practice, and as they have no concern for the thoughts or feelings of those they assimilate it's an odd move. When Riker tries to stall them by suggesting he prepare Earth for assimilation Locutus says: "Preparation is irrelevant. Your people will be assimilated as easily as Picard has been." Then why have a familiar face at all? These guys barely need to communicate with their victims. I suspect Picard's strategic knowledge made him more valuable.
During the neural link with Data it's clear Picard is under a lot of strain, but he's still there and helps as much as he's able. He reveals that he was conscious and remembered everything he'd done as Locutus, but being Picard he doesn't express weakness in front of his crew.
Riker: lover, adventurer, temporarily senior management
In the previous episode Riker didn't react very well to his sudden command role, but now that it's made official by an Admiral he puts more thought and care into it. He talks to Shelby in Engineering, praising her on her performance and acknowledging that although they haven't got on, he needs her to keep him on his toes. She pushes for the vacant first-officer post and he comments on her ambition but isn't angry when she points out her value at this time. There's no apology, but equally there's no bitching or snideness, both respect each other and have ways of working together in this challenging situation. It's all very mature and professional.
Riker makes clear to the senior crew that he can't replace Picard, but he will do the best he can. Guinan urges Riker to let go of Picard and tells Riker how low morale is. The crew know and like Riker, but they think they're going to die. Riker isn't sure he can save them, but Guinan points out that he needs to be. Just in case we'd believed the odd 'Riker plays things safe' message from the first part Riker comes up with a daring plan to rescue Picard, which is unpredictable in it's lack of logic and a gamble that Picard has enough Borg knowledge to be useful. At the end when it looks like all is lost Riker is ready to ram the Cube with the Enterprise, sacrificing their lives to save Earth and the Federation.
Does Not Compute
Locutus calls Data primitive and obsolete under Borg system, which makes sense coming from a species that enhances itself through cybernetic upgrades to organic beings; androids would seem like a dead end. Still there are no real parallels drawn between androids and the Borg, which I've commented before strikes me as odd. Data has the most equipment and expertise in this kind of thing. It's never said outright but he's probably the only one who can safely link with the Borg, plus being technology himself he probably perceives their systems quicker and more accurately than a human would. He's also the only one strong enough to match enhanced Picard and remove his cybernetic arm thing. Data hacks into the Borg systems to try and plant a command, but this attracts Borg attention. He figures out that Picard's "sleep" isn't request or expression of feeling but a suggestion about using the regeneration cycle, which is controlled by a low-priority, unguarded system. This episode demonstrates that the Borg's only real weakness is bad system infastructure.
Crusher and Data have been working on possible nanite solution to Borg problem, it will take too long for this situation (weeks not hours). It sounds like a really promising place for further study, I am told it doesn't really come up again, somehow I am not surprised. Crusher examines and monitors Picard, seeing how the cybernetic implants are affecting him. She tries to connect with him as his friend, but it only briefly works before Locutus takes over.
Klingon Warrior and Blind Engineering
Geordi isn't in this episode much, and is mostly around as the Enterprise is recuperating from the initial Borg encounter. When Worf arrives in Engineering Geordi is delighted and gets Worf to help with some engine problems as he's "just the man I need." Yeah, Worf -the Chief of Security- is the only person who can help with a crucial engine problem. Certainly none of these engineers who are presumably littering Engineering can help. Again there seems to be an unspoken rift between Geordi and his staff. Riker seems to have considered Worf for a promotion, but as they're going into battle he acknowledges that Worf serves everyone best by staying in his tactical role. Riker talks to Worf about coming up with strategies that Picard won't know, Worf reckons they're fine because Borg have neither courage or honour. He does not elaborate on how he came to this conclusion.
Guinan's Hat: purple
Guianan pops in to see Riker, explaining that she had Picard's ear. She urges Riker to let go of Picard, not just because he's gone but because the enemy have everything he knows. She hints at the depth of her relationship with Picard "beyond friendship, beyond family", and says she's prepared to let him go. She acknowledges that it's harder because he wasn't killed, just taken from them. Riker can't try to imitate Picard, it won't work. He has to put aside his feelings of stepping into a great man's shoes and instead try to beat that great man.
I wonder whether she would have described their relationship to Picard in these terms. The series has not yet covered how Guinan and Picard know each other, leaving her mysterious and intriguing. Based on what I know I suspect that Guinan already knows/has experienced stuff that is in the future of her and Picard (though at this point the writers wouldn't know that, they were just preserving her mystery). It's interesting that Riker both follows and ignores Guinan's advice. Rescuing Picard is in no way letting him go, but equally it's not something Picard would have done at all. Picard would've listened to Guinan in all ways.
Staff Meetings: 1 (no time for more)
Riker tells Worf and Data he considered promoting them, but announces Shelby as his first officer. After their talk in Engineering he defers to her with more respect and grace than he showed in the previous episode. Everyone discusses options, nothing is decided. Riker gives a small speech about how he doesn't have Picard's way with words and can't replace him. He expresses confidence in everyone's ability, then dismisses them without giving any orders or devising a plan. Bet he was kicking himself just after everyone left.
Won't Somebody Think of the Children?
Riker goes to the battle bridge, leaving Shelby with the saucer section. This is exactly what you should do before engaging hostile forces, send the civilian population to safety if at all possible. Except that's not what Riker does. (Being so newly promoted Riker hasn't had the memo explaining that the Captain is charged every time the ship separates, which is presumably why Picard hardly ever did it when going into danger.) He only separates the saucer after drawing the Borg's attention and uses it to mask Data and Worf's shuttle. He knows Picard/Locutus is aware of the limited capability of the saucer, and so the battle bridge draws all the attention, and fire. Though there is a moment when Wesley points out the the saucer is a sitting duck. Riker is gambling with the most vulnerable part of his ship and its population, taking away the protection of the battle bridge's weapon's capability.
Death By Space Misadventure
We only see the aftermath of the space battle, but it was obviously a rout. Shelby names three damaged starships, we see many more. The Enterprise doesn't stop to rescue, suggesting there are no survivors there. From the info we get here everyone could have been killed.
I only know that they weren't because I've seen Deep Space 9. There must have been many casualties, the only one I can name is Jennifer Sisko, a civilian married to a star fleet officer. It's worth remembering that plenty of those who died were probably non-combatants.
Picard left alone is still experiencing some physical discomfort, which puts him off his tea. He's gotten some blood back to his skin (or whatever made him pale has been reversed), but he still has some face furniture. He looks out of the window at space and the music combined with his expression shows this is a melancholy moment. He remembers what he did.
I used to work in a building called the Cube (which is not actually a cube). I have seen an article that compares my former workplace to a Borg Cube, I think that has more to do with the name than anything else, but I'll leave you to judge.
* Series 1 had a gripping penultimate episode but a weirdly anticlimactic finale, which did nothing to build on the success of the previous episode and only weakly hinted at an ongoing story. Series 2 opened with a bland episode featuring annoying tropes and ended with a clip show. Series 3 also started with a bland episode, but at least it was an improvement on the series 2 opener.