Well, the cover art pretty much gives away the end of the issue. And also the whole cliffhanger, because you know damn well which one of the Worfs is going to eat it.
But there’s some other stuff that happens before we get to that point. Picking up from last month, Data and Captain Picard are trying to figure out why Locutus isn’t where he’s supposed to be, but with the Borg closing in on them they don’t have a ton of time to ponder that. They beat a retreat back to the shuttlecraft, but the collective is onto them and latches onto the shuttle with a tractor beam before they get very far. Thankfully, the Alternate Enterprise crew is able to beam them to safety before the Borg blast the shuttle to smithereens. Back in the observation lounge, Data reveals that Locutus is likely on Earth, the Borg having set up a command base at the location of the former Starfleet Command in San Francisco (and I love, by the way, how after assimilating the entire galaxy, the Borg choose Starfleet Command of all places to set up shop), which Data was luckily able to discern by doing something with a tricorder (Friedman will always get a pass from me for this sort of stuff: There’s also a continuity error involving the alternate Guinan, or rather the lack thereof, that crops up here, but the story is good enough I’m not bothered by it). Captain Picard once again volunteers to lead the strike force to extract Locutus, alongside Data, Commander Riker and both Worfs.
Commander Riker reminds his counterpart that his crew has no intention of sticking around to help win their war for them, and is assured that the Alternate Enterprise crew has ever intention of returning them when the mission is completed, citing once again the fact that the dimensional rift will be open for several days. Captain Riker promises that the strength of his word will be proven when the time comes, however, there is soon an implicit justification of these concerns when he orders the alternate Commander Shelby to use the Enterprise as a distraction while the strike force is on Earth looking for Locutus, because she has the “more expendable ship”. As they beam down, Commander Riker exchanges some terse, barbed words with the alternate Geordi for his “optimism”, which is really Will’s code for the dismissive, arrogant snarking tone of the entire Alternate Enterprise crew that the alternate Geordi seems to embody the strongest (I guess Will and Laren share a few things in common after all). Meanwhile on the Enterprise, Shelby begins to set her own mysterious plans in action, and so does the Alternate Miles O’Brien, who reveals he’s got a plan of his own up his sleeve to potentially betray Shelby the way she plans to betray Captain Riker.
The highlight of this issue, otherwise a bit of a setup for the big finale (and double-length 50th issue celebration!) of next month, is the conversation between the two Worfs that occurs as the away team is getting prepared for the strike operation. The Alternate Worf is wracked with guilt over what he perceives as his failure to save his Captain Picard and the dishonourable act of abandoning his deceased comrade, the alternate Data. There’s that petulant adolescent “you wouldn’t understand” attitude, which is doubly ridiculous considering he’s talking to a version of himself. But our Worf reminds him it wasn’t his fault because he was beamed out, although he admits this is little consolation to one who lives by a Klingon warrior code. Our Worf also confides that there was a time during his version of events where he too felt like he had to abandon his captain, but it was that very tenacity to redeem both himself and Captain Picard that gave him the strength needed to play a pivotal role in his rescue. Now, the alternate Worf has the chance to do the same for his Captain Picard, and he must seize it without giving into grief and guilt.
It’s a remarkable thing to hear from Worf, possibly the most grimdark-prone of anyone in this entire cast. It’s a moment that I daresay hearkens all the way back to the jihad interpretation of honour, the characterization Worf was always supposed to have: The real battle is in confronting and overcoming our own inner struggles and personal demons and trying to live in accordance with our ideals day-to-day. This is also paralleled in Captain Picard’s story, his unwavering dedication to save his counterpart belying his own perceived need to redeem himself. The failing of the Alternate Enterprise crew, and thus of grimdark, is that they’ve forgotten how to do this. They have become so consumed by themselves and their own pain they’ve lost not just hope, but foresight and perspective. Being exposed to their dark mirrors (and there’s one hell of a Utopian concept for you: The dark mirror of darkness) is what drives this home for them for the first time in years, and what gives the Alternate Worf the courage he needs to never give up, ultimately giving his life to save Commander Riker and his team (whoops).
The Worst of Both Worlds really is the perfect story for Star Trek: The Next Generation to be doing at this moment in time. Regardless of how prevalent it may already be, the signs are already evident that grimdark is going to be the defining aesthetic tradition in media going forward. If nothing else, the very blatant lip service the creative team on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has been paying to it (regardless of whether or not this actually manifests in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s televised products) is strong evidence of that. Even the creative team on Star Trek: The Next Generation oftentimes feels like it’s chomping at the bit to go in that direction. But Michael Jan Friedman is the only writer who has consistently demonstrated an awareness, understanding and mastery of the themes, ideals and motifs that are actually *supposed* to define Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek in general, for the past six years, and if we ever needed a reminder of that, there’s never been a better time than right now.
Frankly, going from the television episodes to the comic book issues has always felt like a breath of fresh air, even after a season that’s been as consistently excellent as this past one was. No matter how outstanding the show can get and no matter how large it looms in my memory, coming back to the comics always feels like a gentle reminder of why I ever liked this franchise to begin with. This is giving me the strength I need to press on with my own struggles. I don’t want to say that Michael Jan Friedman wrote the only “real” Star Trek: The Next Generation…But that’s increasingly becoming kinda what it feels like to me.