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Naturally, he and crew disobey the order and arrive at Earth to see a lone, massive Borg Cube assaulting the planet while dozens of ships attempt to stop it, though its defenses are too strong. Picard, suddenly able to hear the Collective call to him, as he retains some of the Borg ‘nanoprobes’ used in his assimilation, uses what he hears to guide the fleet in targeting the enemy vessel. It works, but before the Borg are defeated, it sends out a probe and Picard and crew witness a temporal vortex open, revealing that the Borg have already turned Earth into a hive. Realizing that the Borg are using time travel to accomplish this, he orders the Enterprise to follow the probe and they slip through the vortex and travel back in time to see the probe firing upon a target in the central United States. The Enterprise destroys the Borg device but there is concern what damage they have caused.
They discover it is April 4, 2063, one day before the historical first contact with alien life when a man named Zefram Cochrane achieves human’s first Warp flight, drawing the attention of the Vulcans flying nearby. Picard worries the attack by the Borg might have damaged the station where Cochrane is working so he sends Commander Riker (Jonathon Frakes) and two others to make sure the planned flight still happens. Meanwhile in orbit a few Borg have survived and are now on the Enterprise slowly assimilating the crew. It’s a desperate race to make sure Cochrane gets in space at the right time in history and that the spreading Borg don’t take over the ship and use it as a weapon against Earth.
Directed by Frakes, this eighth film in the long-running series, and the second staring the Next Generation crew, is a well-made, exciting entry in the franchise, deftly directed by Frakes, who more than competently handles the multitude of traps a time traveling plot naturally incurs, keeping the audience on target and on pace throughout. With some great special effects, including a remarkable opening shot that takes us from inside Picard’s mind, out his eye and into space in one shot, and a rousing space battle over Earth that while chaotic, never loses the viewer. What’s best though, and a defining characteristic of the series, especially on television, are the characters themselves, each of whom are rich with personality and watchability. Stewart especially shines, playing Picard with much more emotional impact than what we’ve seen before. This is a man who struggles with the terror of being assimilated once before, and facing that possibility again, but also this time having to protect so many under his care. First Contact is one of the better films in the series, and the best in the Next Generation lineup. Confident, funny, thrilling, and unexpected, this one delivers.
Scene Setup: With Commander Riker and a landing party assisting Cochrane to stay on schedule, a task harder than it would appear given the reckless nature and sudden wish not to be famous for what he is about to discover, on board the Enterprise, things are taking a bad turn. Cochrane’s assistant Lily Sloane (Alfre Woodard) has been beamed aboard when she was injured in the Borg attack on the planet. Once conscious, it’s not easy for her to understand where she is or who these people who have helped her really are. Captain Picard escorts her around the ship explaining to her that they are from the future. It’s not an easy adjustment, but there’s little time to let it sink in as the Borg invade the Enterprise. Lily stays with Picard as the spreading Borg assimilate crew members, quickly overrunning deck after deck. Security personnel fight them and Picard takes ups arms, even killing a crew member who is attacked but not yet transformed, an act that Lilly sees as barbarous. Worse, the Borg are able alter their internal shield frequencies to compensate for and repel weapons fire. There is an option to self-destruct the ship, an extreme action that would defeat the aliens but also leave the survivors stranded in the wrong time. It seems the only choice, but Picard refuses. It’s a sacrifice he’s not willing to make. In the observation lounge, keeping one step ahead of the encroaching Borg, Picard and Lily stop while he works to adjust his laser rifle to a more deadly setting. Lily however, has had enough of the killing and the madness she is seeing in her new friend.
That Moment: As the situation becomes more deadly, and the Borg drive ever closer to capturing the ship and turing the entire crew to the hive, Picard grows increasingly more driven to exterminate them. There is history in his anger and fear, having survived assimilation before. The fight is personal and when Lily confronts him about his behavior, he is taken aback by her seemingly indifferent attitude. She calls him Ahab chasing the White Whale, fiercely determined to hurt the Borg because they hurt him. But her words only fuel him further as he smashes a window display of model Enterprise starships, a metaphorical gesture about a choice he’s making and the possible consequences. The Borg attack and the Federation retreats, they push closer and the Federation falls back. Not again, he shouts at her. The line must be drawn here.
The moment is crucial because it reveals the true impact of what his assimilation cost him. The fury he has is, just as Lily guessed, personal, despite his dedication to the crew and the fleet. He is driven to make them pay for what they’ve done. That line, which he spouts to Lily, is important as these words are the threats of a man with vengeance on his mind, one with a stake only he can find value in. He is not the tactical, methodical, diplomat we’ve come to know. This is a not the Captain who led the Enterprise on years of exploration, preaching about the Prime Directive and the need for peace. This is a Captain who has seen too much and felt the sting of a subservient, empty life in the Collective, the dehumanization of what that role is like and the long dark shadow it has cast over him since he was torn free. Lily sees it, too. And his impassioned speech has greater effect on he than her as he realizes she is right. The end of all of this does not lie in the bloody hands of battle, but with the a sequence of numbers that destroys his ship. It’s a mesmerizing moment, one of the best in the entire franchise, with Stewart giving the performance of his career.
Gene Roddenberry (television series Star Trek), Rick Berman (story)
Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Alfre Woodard