Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Descent, Part II”

“Descent, Part II”
Written by Rene Echevarria
Directed by Alexander Singer
Season 7, Episode 1
Production episode 40276-253
Original air date: September 20, 1993
Stardate: 47025.4

Captain’s Log: We get a summary of the relevant portions of Part 1, then pick up right where we left off. Lore speechifies for a bit, and Troi can now feel emotions coming off Data. Lore still has the emotion chip Dr. Soong placed inside him in “Brothers,” and he claims to have allowed the Borg and Data to both break free of being mindless automatons, but are passionate now, and with a purpose.

Picard asks if Lore has given them emotions, but Lore confirms that, in fact, Picard did that when he sent Hugh back to the collective. Hugh’s sense of individuality spread through the Borg like a plague, and Lore had to come in and clean up the mess. The ship Hugh was on was lost and directionless—they were incapable of handling individuality and emotion. Lore plans to bring the Borg to the perfection that he and Data represent: wholly artificial lifeforms. Then Lore tells Data to take the prisoners away.

On the Enterprise, Crusher’s skeleton crew is trying to pierce the EM interference when Riker calls, saying he’s lost touch with the captain. Crusher can’t raise him either—and then one of the new Borg ships shows up. Crusher starts beaming teams back, but they can’t get everyone before the Borg ship is in firing range. The Enterprise and the Borg ship exchange fire, but the Borg ship does not pursue the Enterprise as Crusher follows Picard’s orders and heads to the transwarp conduit.

On the surface, 47 people remain, including Riker and Worf. Riker orders the team leaders to hole up and avoid the Borg, thus saving them having to hire extras.

Data and some Borg stick Picard, Troi, and La Forge in a cell, removing their combadges (though he’s still wearing his for some odd reason), and also confiscating La Forge’s VISOR. Data announces that his quest to become human was an evolutionary step in the wrong direction and that he’s not Picard’s puppet anymore. Troi notes that she’s only sensing anger; when asked about other emotions, Data declares that there are none.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Descent, Part II

On the ship, Crusher refuses to leave without those last 47 people. She has Ensign Taitt (who has only been on the ship six weeks, and is a bit nervous at being thrust into the fire so soon) prepare a buoy with their log entries to send through the conduit back to Starfleet. Then she goes back, trying to see if she can get back to the planet and beam the remainder up before the Borg ship engages them.

Lore has instructed all the Borg to remain linked to Crosus, so when Crosus brings one in to say he has disconnected himself, Lore is disappointed, and gives the confused Borg a pep talk. Then Data takes La Forge away for an experiment—but not before the engineer reveals that he saw with his VISOR a carrier wave moving from Lore to Data. He theorizes that Lore has found a way to project the emotion chip onto Data, and has also disabled his ethical program.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Descent, Part II

Riker and Worf find Lore’s HQ, but before they can approach, they are ambushed by Borg who take them, not to the stronghold, but to a cave system, where they meet up with Hugh. He provides the same exposition to Riker and Worf that Lore did. (Riker and Worf are oddly unsurprised by the revelation that Lore is behind the Borg, even though they had no way of knowing this before they met up with Hugh.) However, once Lore started experimenting on some Borg, to make them over into his image, Hugh and many others broke away, taking refuge in the caverns. Hugh, who’s pretty pissed at the Enterprise crew, too, refuses to help Riker and Worf directly, though he relents when Riker reveals that La Forge is one of the ones captured.

Data straps La Forge down to a table, deadening his pain receptors, and then sticking probes into his mind in an attempt to make his cognitive functions stronger, but he only has a 60% chance of surviving. La Forge’s attempts to get through to Data, including mentioning that Lore’s controlling him, fall on deaf ears.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Descent, Part II

Picard and Troi almost manage to escape using the sick-prisoner bit, but they engage it just as Data returns with La Forge. However, Picard was able to grab a piece off the Borg he tricked that La Forge might be able to convert to a technobabble solution that will reboot Data’s ethical program.

Crusher, with the help of Taitt and the relief tactical officer Lieutenant Barnaby, manage to get most of the remaining people off the surface. Transporter Chief Salazar says they’re only missing six—which raises the question, does he mean Picard, Riker, Data, La Forge, Troi, and Worf? If so, what about the security guard who was part of Picard’s team, whom nobody but Picard, La Forge, and Troi know is dead? Or wasn’t Salazar counting Data?

The Borg ship attacks, and Crusher breaks orbit. But the Borg weapons took out the warp drive, so the Enterprise can’t outrun the Borg ship to the conduit. So Crusher sets a course for the sun. She tells Barnaby to dig up metaphasic shielding out of the data banks and incorporate it into the shields. That allows the Enterprise to enter the sun’s corona where the Borg ship can’t follow. However, the Borg ship does take up position relative to the Enterprise, waiting them out.

Because the notion of surveillance within a prison cell has somehow never made it to the Borg (or to Lore), Picard is able to adjust the doodad so that it’ll reboot Data’s ethical program. He doesn’t do so until after Data has taken La Forge for another session. La Forge keeps trying to get through to Data, this time by reminiscing.

Data goes to Lore, expressing some concerns, and Lore thinks that maybe he’s not handling his emotions very well. Using classic behavior modification techniques—or, just generally, the way you deal with a junkie—he withholds some emotions from Data, then gives them back after Data begs for them.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Descent, Part II

The Enterprise’s metaphasic shield is starting to fail, and they don’t have warp drive yet. Taitt suggests kicking up a solar flare that will envelope the Borg ship, which works nicely, allowing them to escape.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Descent, Part II

Data takes Picard to the main room. The captain tells Data that La Forge will die if he has another session, but Data insists it’s for the greater good. Picard immediately takes the semantic opening, pointing out that Data’s knowledge of good comes from his ethical program, and what is it saying about this whole situation? Before Data can answer, Lore shows up. He wants Data to close the door on his past, and he needs to know he can count on Data, so Lore tells his brother to kill Picard. But Data can’t do it, as it would be wrong. So two Borg grab Data.

Lore announces that he’s asked the Borg to make many sacrifices, so now he’s going to show how awesome he is by making a sacrifice of his own: killing his beloved brother.

But before he can, Hugh stops him, and he and his fellow rebel Borg attack, as do Riker and Worf from the rafters. Lore quickly runs away, Data chasing him. Eventually, Data shoots his brother, though he does not do so until such a time as it is in obvious self-defense. He then deactivates Lore, though not before Lore says that he loves his brother.

Hugh laments that they no longer have a leader, but Picard thinks that’s not entirely true. The Enterprise comes into orbit, and everyone beams back on board.

Data recovers the emotion chip from Lore’s body before it’s disassembled, and it’s also damaged. Data intends to destroy it—gaining emotions was what led him to torture La Forge, and he values their friendship too much—but La Forge stops him, saying he wouldn’t be much of a friend if he cost him a lifelong dream. They’ll hold onto the chip until he’s ready.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Descent, Part II

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: A framistatal thingamabob on the Borg can be converted by total non-engineer Jean-Luc Picard, based on instructions from a blinded La Forge, into a doohickey that can send out a nonsense pulse that will reboot Data’s ethical program without his noticing it. Youbetcha.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Aside from helping Picard with the sick-prisoner scam to try to escape, Troi serves no function in this episode, which is too bad, as the psychological issues of Part 1 were worth continuing to visit.

If I Only Had a Brain…: Apparently turning Data’s ethical program off is enough to turn him into a completely different person.

I Believe I Said That: “I love you, brother.”

Lore’s last words.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Descent, Part II

Welcome Aboard: Jonathan delArco returns as Hugh, following “I, Borg,” and he’s way crankier. James Horan returns as Barnaby, having played Jo’Bril in “Suspicions.” Brian Cousins returns as Crosus, Brent Spiner once again does double duty as Lore, and Alex Datcher plays Taitt.

But this episode’s Robert Knepper moment is Benito Martinez as Transporter Chief Salazar. Best known as Captain Aceveda in The Shield (one of your humble rewatcher’s favorite TV series), Martinez is currently appearing on Sons of Anarchy as a drug lord/CIA agent.

Trivial Matters: Data will indeed revisit the emotion chip, though it will look radically different, in Star Trek Generations, where it will cause all manner of problems. The chip becomes increasingly irrelevant as the movies progress, being switched off in First Contact, being left home in Insurrection, and not even acknowledged in Nemesis.

Star Trek’s AIs and the Soong legacy are the subject matter of the new TNG novel trilogy Cold Equations by David Mack.

When Crusher asks Barnaby about metaphasic shielding, the latter says he’s heard of it, which is doubly amusing since Barnaby is played by James Horan, who played Jo’Bril, the Takaran who tried to steal the shielding when it was introduced in “Suspicions.”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Descent, Part II

The role of Taitt was originally intended for Reg Barclay, but Dwight Schultz was unavailable.

La Forge and Data remember a time when Data jumped into a sea, and sunk to the bottom due to insufficient buoyancy, and he had to walk along the bottom in order to resurface. This is at odds with Star Trek Insurrection, in which Data can apparently act as a flotation device. (Perhaps he installed the buoyancy stuff after his and La Forge’s sailing trip?)

Any similarity to Lore’s deactivation scene and the deactivation of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey is purely intentional.

Hugh’s comment that they can’t return to the Borg Collective makes it clear that this is merely one ship’s worth of Borg that were “tainted” by Hugh’s individuality, and the bulk of the Borg remain as usual (as will be seen on Voyager and in Star Trek: First Contact). Hugh and his gaggle of individual Borg will go on to appear in several works of fiction: the comic book Star Trek: The Next Generation #75 written by Michael Jan Friedman, the short story “Seventh Heaven” by Dustan Moon in Strange New Worlds II, and the novels Avenger by Wiliam Shatner and Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, the Millennium trilogy by the Reeves-Stevenses, and Greater than the Sum by Christopher L. Bennett.

Make it So: “Goodbye, Lore.” And so TNG’s final season begins, not with a bang, but a whimper. Seriously, what an unholy mess. After ending Part 1 with Data and Lore declaring that they’re going to destroy the Federation, they then do absolutely nothing to further that goal thus proving that it was just a cheap way to add artificial suspense to the cliffhanger. We put Crusher in command and then get a bog-standard technobabble adventure, in which the only thing Crusher brings to the table is her knowledge of metaphasic shielding—because what the world was really crying out for was a callback to one of the worst episodes of the sixth season. We bring Hugh back and then pair him up with Riker and Worf—two characters who were all but irrelevant to “I, Borg”—rather than reunite him with his friend La Forge, which would’ve provided a helluva lot more dramatic tension.

And then we get the climax, when Hugh and his Borg are able to show up in the main room of the compound alongside Lore’s Borg without anybody noticing, including the two hyperobservant androids that can do billions of calculations per second, but apparently can’t count. Or recognize faces.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Descent, Part II

But the worst sin committed by this episode isn’t the fact that, after waiting three months to get the followup to an episode that’s all setup, none of it pays off in an interesting manner. No, it’s that it makes Lore boring. Say what one will about “Datalore” and “Brothers” (and I said plenty), they were both enjoyable to some degree due to Brent Spiner’s magnificent manic lunacy as Lore. But here, it’s horribly subdued, as Lore is reduced to a cardboard-cutout villain who isn’t at all fun to watch. He sneers more than anything, and it’s just dull. Where’s the crazed shtick, the histrionics?

Plus, it remains unclear what, exactly, the plan is. Is he trying to make the Borg more emotional? Or more machine? Or what? And what’s the goal, since destroying the Federation seems to have fallen by the wayside?

And ultimately, who gives a crap? This episode is a small sound and very little fury, and it still signifies nothing.

 

Warp factor rating: 2


Keith R.A. DeCandido wishes everyone a happy new year, and is looking forward to finishing off this rewatch in 2013. And who knows what the future will bring?

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