What Is The Battle Of Wolf 359 In Star Trek?
The Battle of Wolf 359, fought during the events of Star Trek: The Next Generation, sees the forces of Starfleet decimated like never before in conflict with a single Borg Cube aided by the assimilated Jean-Luc Picard.
Whether you’re an already dedicated and invested Star Trek fan or new to the fandom, the Battle of Wolf 359 is the most epic and destructive battle in the franchise that, for the most part, you’ll never see. Fought during the events of the Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 4 premiere, “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 2,” the battle sees close to 40 Starfleet ships and over 10,000 lives lost to a single Borg Cube, and the villains have the unwitting help of Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). The battle — most of which takes place off-screen — is instrumental in setting up the events of the spinoffs Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Picard.
The Borg are a cybernetic species that acts as a single collective, assimilating helpless victims into their culture in their drive toward perfection. The Enterprise-D first encounters the Borg in the Season 2 TNG episode “Q Who,” and after that meeting a single Borg Cube makes its way to Federation space with the goal of assimilating Earth and eventually the entire United Federation of Planets.
For the most part individuals do not exist in the Borg Collective, but in order to help them absorb Earth into their culture, the choice is made to assimilate Jean-Luc Picard and remake him into Locutus of Borg. Before capturing and assimilating Picard, the Borg communicate with Starfleet as one dark chorus of voices. Afterward, it is Locutus who acts as their voice, including at the Battle of Wolf 359.
After Picard’s assimilation, and the Enterprise-D’s failure to rescue him or to stop the Borg, the Cube heads straight for Earth. A fleet of 39 Starfleet ships led by Admiral J.P. Hanson (George Murdock) of the U.S.S. Yamaguchi races to Wolf 359 — in the Wolf System, approximately 8 light years from Earth — to intercept the Cube. While the fight takes place during “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 2,” beyond a communication from Hanson shortly before his death, we never see any of the battle during the episode — only the aftermath.
The Enterprise-D, damaged from its previous encounters with the Borg Cube, doesn’t arrive at Wolf 359 until the fight is already over. The ship finds what is essentially a massive spaceship graveyard. Starfleet loses 39 ships to the one Borg Cube, and approximately 11,000 Starfleet personnel are either killed or assimilated by the Borg.
While it’s mentioned earlier in the episode that the Klingon Empire was sending some of its own ships to help, according to StarTrek.com, they don’t arrive in time and would likely not have made much difference.
The Enterprise-D crew is able to stop the Borg’s advance by recapturing the assimilated Picard and using his connection to the Collective to order the Borg to rest; halting their advance. Picard’s Borg implants are surgically removed, though the experience stays with him in more ways than one. On one hand his assimilation proves to be the most traumatic experience of his life, and on the other he is occasionally able to use it to his advantage — such as when his link to the Collective gives him insight to their weaknesses in 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact.
What happens at Wolf 359 also impacts Picard’s interactions with the rest of Starfleet. For example later in Season 4, in “The Drumhead,” his assimilation is used against him in a McCarthy-esque inquiry. As recently as the Season 3 premiere of Star Trek: Picard, a Starfleet captain uses what happened to him to express disgust
This is never more true than in the series premiere of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Emissary,” when Ben Sisko (Avery Brooks) looks at Picard like he wants to push his face through the back of his head. Sisko, we learn in the opening scene, was at the Battle of Wolf 359 where he lost his captain, his ship the USS Saratoga, and his wife Jennifer (Felecia M. Bell). Later, when Sisko and Picard meet face-to-face in the Enterprise-D conference room, Sisko tells Picard he was at the battle and his demeanor makes it clear what he’d do if Picard didn’t outrank him.
It actually isn’t until “Emissary” that we get to see any of the Battle of Wolf 359. It isn’t clear if what we’re seeing is toward the beginning or the end of the larger fight, but in total we only see about 5 or 6 Starfleet ships in the battle. The Borg Cube decimates the Melbourne in one shot, and the Saratoga doesn’t last much longer.
The Battle of Wolf 359 proved not only to be one of the most destructive conflicts in the history of the Star Trek franchise, but for better or worse it was one of the most meaningful events for two of its greatest heroes — Jean-Luc Picard and Ben Sisko. Unfortunately, we never got to see the entire battle, and it wouldn’t be until Deep Space Nine‘s Season 4 premiere “The Way of the Warrior,” that Trek started giving us anything like space battles of this scope on the screen.