Star Trek Writers Clueless About Finishing Their Best Story

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

Getting Star Trek fans to agree on almost anything can be as difficult as getting a Klingon to pet a Tribble. However, fans of The Next Generation generally agree that the two-part episode “The Best of Both Worlds” (in which the Borg return and assimilate Captain Picard into their Collective) is the best story, especially because of the wild cliffhanger ending to Part I where Riker prepared to destroy the Borg Cube with Picard on it. The writing is so great that most fans never guessed that the head writer, Michael Piller, had no idea how to resolve his own cliffhanger ending long after the first episode aired.

The Best Of Both Worlds Cliffhanger

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If his name doesn’t ring a bell, by the way, we might have to revoke your nerd card. Michael Piller came onboard Star Trek: The Next Generation as head writer for the third season, and he’s arguably the main reason why the show’s storytelling went from “good” to “great.” He instituted strict rules that every episode had to develop the characters and their relationships in some way, and that rule was in full effect in “The Best of Both Worlds,” which was as much about Riker’s willingness to leave the Enterprise and become captain of another ship as it was about defeating the Borg menace.

The Next Generation’s Best Episodes

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In short, Michael Piller was the best writer the Star Trek franchise ever had. Why, then, would he create an amazing cliffhanger ending (one involving Riker about to seemingly kill beloved character Captain Picard now that the Borg has assimilated him) with no idea of how Part II would resolve it?

The answer is as simple as it is shocking: despite the fact that he would stay with the franchise through the end of The Next Generation and help create both Deep Space Nine and Voyager, Piller was originally only going to stay head writer on TNG for one season, which would have left the task of resolving the cliffhanger ending to someone else.

Interpersonal Conflicts And Also Borg

Interestingly, he basically wrote his own inner conflict into “The Best of Both Worlds.” Riker begins the story pondering whether or not he is really ready to leave the Enterprise to take command of another vessel, just as Piller ended the season pondering whether or not he would want to stay on and continue shaping this seminal science fiction series. He would later say that the dialogue between Riker and Troi (where he asks her why he’s still here, and she tells him “because you’re happy”) reflected his own inner monologue throughout the season. 

Gene Roddenberry Was Directly Involved

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Eventually, Gene Roddenberry convinced Michael Piller to stay, and Piller helped the rest of the writing team shape the resolution to that amazing cliffhanger ending. Some fans think that Part II isn’t as good as Part I because the answer to “what happens when the Enterprise fires its Borg-destroying weapon at Picard’s Borg Cube” ended up being “nothing at all.” While we’re fans of both parts, it’s undeniable that the best Star Trek story ever written could have been stronger if the writers hadn’t put off crafting it for so long.

The Picard And Riker Relationship

Still, we’re happy Piller stayed on board to continue shaping Star Trek in such a pivotal way. He got to do things his own way while staying with a franchise that brought him so much personal fulfillment. Like Riker getting to both become a (temporary) captain and stay on the Enterprise, Piller himself managed to fully enjoy “the best of both worlds.”