Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Myriad Universes: The Worst of Both Worlds Part 4: And Death Shall Have No Dominion
The issue itself is a bit more of a workmanlike affair. It's a perfectly satisfying conclusion to The Worst of Both Worlds and, together with its immediate prequel, comprises a joint two-hander that's a serious contender for the single most kickass title in the show's history. For real, “The Armies of the Night” followed by “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” is right up there with Original Series and Phase II levels of delightfully cheesy and bombastic episode names. The story, however, merely does what it needs to do and not a whole lot more than that: It's essentially one big protracted action scene followed by some rather unfortunately obvious stalling for time, which is always a fun thing for me to have to summarise for you.
Following up on last month's cliffhanger, the strike force is aghast at the death of one of the Worfs (at this point it's still meant to be unclear which one it is, but we all know it's the alternate one), and some convenient transporter interference buys the characters enough time to express their shock and disbelief in tandem. Once Alternate Geordi is able to retrieve the team, with Locutus in tow, it's finally *officially* revealed that the Alternate Worf perished while protecting Locutus from a stray Borg energy beam. Captain Riker is angry at his fallen comrade's bravado, but our Worf cautions him not to grieve, for his counterpart died a warrior's death and, in his own eyes, finally redeemed himself. Commander Shelby reports that the Borg cube she was sparring with has broken off and is speeding to Earth. Commander Riker notes that this is a discrepancy between the sequence of events in the two universes, as when they captured Locutus the Borg didn't seem to care. Captain Riker figures this Locutus is more valuable to this collective, and while Data, Doctor Crusher, Captain Picard and the Geordis start work on freeing Locutus with Ro Laren, Deanna Troi and our Miles O'Brien, he asks Commander Riker to stay with him on the battle bridge as the Alternate Enterprise moves to meet up with Commander Shelby to fight off the Cube.
In the lab, the team is busy repeating the experiment that freed Captain Picard in our universe, but they keyword “sleep” doesn't appear to be working this time, a fact that irritates Captain Riker, as it means the Borg show no signs of slowing down or letting up, and he and his ship are quickly running out of options. Captain Picard and Deanna Troi work out that this must be another divergence from the sequence of events as they know it, so the keyword is probably something different. But if Captain Riker is irritated at the turn of events, Commander Shelby is enraged at his perceived weakness, and uses this opportunity to spring her mutiny. Shelby orders the Enterprise, piloted by the alternate Miles O'Brien and Wesley Crusher, to break off the attack, leave the vastly outmatched alternate Enterprise to its fate, and chart a course for Earth, where she intends to attack the assimilation factories. But Wesley and O'Brien turn against her, mutinying against her mutiny.
Wesley feels that though his mother may be assimilated or dead, there's still one living Beverly Crusher, who believed there was a chance to beat the Borg, and that it's his responsibility to stand with her. Meanwhile, the Alternate O'Brien feels going along with Shelby would be a betrayal of Keiko and Molly, who are similarly either dead or nonexistent in his universe. When Shelby tries to regain command of the Enterprise by force, O'Brien literally shoots her in the back and throws her in the brig. On the Alternate Enterprise, the Rikers try to use unmanned shuttlecraft as IEDs, but the Borg soon catch on. The Cube lashes the ship in a tractor beam and carves up the engineering section with a cutting blast, resulting in the death of the alternate Chief Engineer Argyle and several members of his staff. The Alternate O'Brien, now in command, brings the Enterprise back just in time to keep everyone alive a little longer, but it's not long before both ships are caught and suspended for vivisection.
At the last minute, Captain Picard tries one more trick to break through to Locutus, much to the consternation of the Alternate Geordi, who has to be physically restrained from attacking the Captain by our Geordi and Laren. Suddenly the entire collective seems to shut down. Captain Riker wants to use the opportunity to destroy the Cube, but Commander Riker belays the order and urges him not to, reminding him there's no need. Captain Picard reveals to Geordi (our Geordi) that he was able to elicit emotion from his counterpart by touching not his human side, but his Vulcan: Presuming this Captain Picard had also mind-melded with Sarek as he had, he merely whispered “Spock” in his ear, and that was all it took. Captain Riker congratulates Captain Picard on his success and promises to return him and his crew to their proper universe, but Commander Riker holds out that he'll only accept his counterpart's word once they're safely to the other side.
At this point the story reaches what by any measure should be the denouement: There's a terse exchange between the two Geordis and Worf confides to Doctor Crusher that he hopes when he finally dies, it will be in a manner as glorious as his counterpart's sacrifice. Captain Riker tries to convince Deanna to stay in this universe with him, even threatening to go back on his promise and keep her and her friends here (just as Will suspected he might). Deanna calls his bluff though, and brilliantly points out that “I am not the woman you lost. I am someone else”. Sometimes all it takes is a few words to say everything. As the Alternate Captain Picard finally recovers, he chastises our Jean-Luc for delaying onboard the Alternate Enterprise to visit with him when the rift is about to close, revealing that it was he, as Locutus using the Borg's transdimensional technology, who created it, hoping that he would eventually find one universe where his crew were able to beat the collective (which raises the interesting, if chilling, idea that the Borg winning and assimilating everything is actually the *norm* throughout the multiverse).
But we're not done. It turns out that the Alternate Chief O'Brien has pulled one more double-cross by incapacitating our Miles and surgically altering himself to resemble him (if you haven't read the story yet, which is probable, the alternate O'Brien has a scar over his left eye), intending to take his place on the Enterprise to live with Keiko and Molly. Conveniently, this comes just as the alternate Captain Picard informs us that the rift is closing faster than expected and we have less time then we thought to get back home. So we have to spend an additional eight pages or so resolving that last-minute bit of plot from nowhere, which is resolved in about three panels of Worf shouting a bit and getting the Alternate O'Brien to confess and admit he was wrong to inflict his loss and pain upon someone else (though it's testament to Friedman's skill that, in hindsight, I can see the Alternate Miles' actions as a completely understandable extension of his earlier heroism, even if it does stall the plot's momentum a bit). The Enterprise now has to push warp limits to get to the rift on time, Geordi warns that may cause the engine containment to fail and the ship to blow up, which of course it doesn't. There's even a countdown! But we all make it back home and Laren confirms our position and we all live happily ever after.
This isn't the first time Michael Jan Friedman has had to resort to stalling tactics: The Star Lost similarly ended with a great big runaround to kill time so the plot didn't resolve itself too quickly. I'm not going to fault him for it though, for a few very good reasons. First, like The Star Lost, The Worst of Both Worlds is a damn good story. It's not only the rare example of a sequel that actually works, it's an incredibly important piece and one of the best stories of the year. And considering what year we're talking about, that's hugely significant. Secondly, this is more indicative of the narrative genre Friedman is working in then his actual talent-Comic books use a very old fashioned kind of serialized structure, and this is the sort of thing that tends to come with the territory. And as quaint as I typically find serialized stories to be, I won't begin to slag them off here, especially considering in many respects this is actually a *better* fit for Star Trek given its origins than the approach the TV series have been trying to carve out for themselves in recent years.
But thirdly I think this is actually a fault of this being a double-length issue: Just like “Homecoming” (the finale to The Star Lost, not the upcoming Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode), “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” pushes fifty pages. This would be great for, say, an annual, but Friedman's event miniseries, as well-done and complex as they often are, really don't need that kind of length on an issue-to-issue basis. Frankly, this story probably could have resolved itself in a normal length issue (comparable miniseries in this run have and do), and one wonders if The Worst of Both Worlds was actually meant to until someone on DC's editorial staff realised this was going to be the 50th issue and thus decided it warranted a double-length book. Either way though, none of this really hurts the story in the long run: The end result is that it drags a bit at the end, but the flipside is that the book has plenty of time to pay off each of its individual story threads in a satisfying and endearing manner.
Along those lines, I just really adore the implications of this story by the end. I've already talked about the very obvious (and hella appreciated) grimdark critique it raises, but “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” leaves no question as to what the intended message was. The scenes that always stick out for me are Commander Riker's confrontation of Captain Riker after the collective shuts down, Geordi leaving his counterpart with some terse words of wisdom and Captain Picard's monologue at the very end. In each case, the contrast between the two crews is drawn by emphasizing that, in a world conquered by the Borg, even the supposed survivors have been in a very real sense still dehumanized to some degree. Captain Riker wants to kick the Borg while they're down, but Will keeps him from doing it. Captain Picard mourns all the innocent Borg drones who had to die in order to secure a victory against the collective in the end, but just a few issues back Captain Riker was hoping for a chance to “hurt” the Borg. And while I would have liked one more scene between him and Laren, the Alternate Geordi's final scene is still wonderfully loaded: He apologises to Data for his earlier bigotry, but stresses he will still hate the Borg. Our Geordi says they'll have to “agree to disagree” on that, but, subtly urges him to reconsider his values in a few years, when all of this is behind him.
I think that moment may sum it all up for me. Like the greatest role models they are, the Enterprise crew constantly strives to bring out the best in everyone, especially themselves.