The “Best of Both Worlds” consists of two storylines adapted from Star Trek: The Next Generation, an American science fiction television series. It aims to explain the struggle between the two opposing factions, the Enterprise and the Borg. The Borg intend to conquer Earth, whereas the Enterprise is determined to prevent the Borg from accomplishing this. Before the cube is able to reach Earth, the Enterprise is able to destroy the Borg’s protective shield, leaving it vulnerable to attack and therefore increasing their chance of success in preventing it from conquering Earth. This paper will analyze how the second thesis, The Monster Always Escapes and the third thesis, The Monster Is the Harbinger of Category Crisis, can be applied to this episode of Star Trek.
According to Cohen’s theory “The Monster Always Escapes," monsters are difficult to control or manage, as they will, at some point, disappear by turning themselves into immaterial things, and then reappear at some different place (Cohen, 14). It is clearly stated that the very future of civilization is at stake (Hark & Ina). One might inquire as to why the Enterprise needs to bother fighting such a powerful enemy, especially if it is, as the Borg often say, “futile” to do so. If civilization will be destroyed anyway, then what is the point of fighting? Because there is one weakness that can be exploited: by eliminating the source of the Borg hive-mind, one could effectively vanquish them. Their first clash with the Borg is a frightening encounter which ends in the sudden kidnapping of Captain Picard. The manner in which the Borg materialize and dematerialize (taking Picard with them in the process) is an example of how the Borg do, in fact, “disappear” and “reappear” as Cohen puts it. Furthermore, when the Borg continuously adapt to the Enterprise’s weapons and technology, thus effectively becoming immune to it, it is an example of the way in which the Borg keep “returning” from death. Although the first few Borg drones die in order to collect the necessary data on the Enterprise’s weapons for future adaptation do not, in fact, return from the state of death. However, if one thinks of the Borg as one collective being, then it becomes clear that this monstrous entity is, in fact, continuously escaping defeat, capture, and even returning from death in order to fulfill its ghastly purpose. This is one example of how the behavior of the Borg is consistent with that of monsters as described by Cohen’s second thesis on the nature of the monster (Cohen, 5).
Cohen further explains, through his third thesis concerning monsters: “The Monster is the Harbinger of Category Crisis” (Cohen, 6). This particular thesis supplements the previous one discussed above. For instance, the monster is able to both make its move and immediately escape through its ability to inexplicably render the Enterprise defenseless and vulnerable. This baffles the ship’s crew because this largely unknown enemy is able to adapt and exploit the Enterprise’s weaknesses before the crew of the Enterprise have a chance to respond. In employing a straight-forward interpretation of the story, one can look at the Borg as simply the incidental villain of the story in the midst of a tense situation. But looking at the story in such a way, the core of the story’s meaning would be lost. So, how do the Borg serve as the so-called “harbingers” of disarray? This entity seems to predict one’s actions before one makes a decision, almost like playing chess against a CPU. They are so cold and detached, behaving with such indifference to the point that they almost do not seem to have what we can call “behavior” at all. In this way, the Borg are almost a force of nature rather than living, breathing organisms. How do you kill that which is consists of many? In their state of near panic and desperation, the crew of the Enterprise were prepared to fire whatever means of attack they had left on the Borg cube, which would knowingly destroy what was left of the assimilated Picard in the process. They were fully aware that this weapon might not have any effect. Referring back to the assimilation of Captain Picard once again, we can see the emotionless ingenuity of the Borg collective as they very cleverly use the face of Picard as a psychological deterrent against the remaining crew of the Enterprise, while effectively holding their captain hostage in the process. This maneuver forces the crew to act against their best interests, knowing that at this point in the story, the Enterprise has nothing quite as effective to use against their enemy in return; checkmate.
Having outlined common themes in fiction rather effectively, Cohen provides several theses for interpreting works of art, and in using his seven theses on monsters as an example, connections could be made with almost any instance of monsters in fiction. Some might write Cohen’s work off as being too generic. But rather than looking at the nature of his work this way, one can point out that what may seem vague is actually intended to be nonspecific in order to be as all-encompassing as possible. In analyzing, “Best of Both Worlds," it is crucial to recognize the Borg as the “monster” outlined in Cohen’s writing. If no such connection is made, then the story loses its significance. Without a meaningful story, complete with danger and struggle, there is no purpose. This is why structure and themes are so important in storytelling, as they are for people like Cohen who analyze them. It is through work like Cohen’s that we can ask the question “what can we take away from mythology in our daily lives? What do these stories teach us?”.
Cohen, Jeffrey J. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Minneapolis, Minn: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. Print.
Hark, Ina R. Star Trek: The next generation, The Best of Both Worlds. (parts I and II) Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Print.