Star Trek: The Next Generation – Descent, Part II [7.1]

Data, under Lore’s thrall, conducts experiments on Geordi as part of Lore’s vision to destroy all organic life forms.  Realizing that in addition to feeding him emotions, Lore has also has dismantled Data’s ethical programming, Picard and the others attempt to find a way to restore it.  Meanwhile, Riker and Worf encounter Hugh and learn that Lore had taken over the Borg in the confusion following Hugh’s re-linking with the collective.  At the same time, Dr. Crusher commands the Enterprise and must fund a way to defeat a Borg ship and rescue her shipmates on the planet.  In the end, Data is restored and turns against Lore.  Hugh and his group of Borg assist Riker and Worf in rescuing Picard, Troi and Geordi.  And Dr. Crusher is able to lead her crew to success against the Borg.

Written by Rene Echevarria. Directed by Alexander Singer.

Previous Episode: Descent• Next Episode: Liaisons

And so begins the 7th and final season of Next Generation, with this cliffhanger resolution which proves to be an enjoyable runaround, including some tense action and decent character moments, but still somehow not actually all that great.  Part of the problem might be the undermining of the Borg as baddies.  I didn’t really remember it at the time, putting more blame on I, Borg for their villainous decay, but really, its Descent, Part II that really does them in.  Their appearance in Part 1 was still abrupt and startling enough to make them interesting, and the scene in the brig with the one Borg seemingly “turning” Data was a strong one.  But here, with the inclusion of Lore, they come across as lumbering, somewhat ineffectual oafs.  The worst offender is the Borg guard who is actually done in by the overly used “sick prisoner” routine.  You’d think with their collective knowledge of however many species that they have assimilated, they would have picked that one up already.

The episode also makes the Borg collective seem really small.  Indeed, there isn’t really anything in Next Generation that clearly states that this is not the case.  According to this episode, Hugh rejoined the Borg, it made them all confused and argumentative, they fell apart, and then Lore came in and got about 30 of them on his side, leaving another dozen in a cave to fend for themselves.  At the end, the Borg appear to be trying to recover as a people, and are hoping they can learn to work together as a community while still retaining their individuality.  I guess continuity nerds (and I’m sure something like this has been included in some expanded universe story) would just have to say that probably the Borg Queen (still to be introduced) probably disconnected these guys from the collective once their problems started, and was just too busy to come and do anything about it.  Presumably Hugh’s group were the first once up against the wall behind the scenes of Star Trek First Contact.  It is in fact in Star Trek First Contact that the Borg will appear in the franchise again, and it will take that movie and their subsequent re-imagining in Voyager to make them scary again.

So with the Borg reduced to the henchmen role, we turn to Lore to provide our real threat.  And the result is a mixed bag.  There are a bunch of intriguing ideas – Lore as a cult leader, Lore as a revolutionary, Lore as a sort of emotional drug dealer.  It’s interesting to see the guy again, and sort of surprising when he convinces that one confused Borg to stay connected through a pep talk, rather than a threat.  But none of it really makes any sense, and so it’s not particularly compelling.   What is Lore’s plan exactly?  How does he hope to usher in the destruction of all biological life forms?  What does he actually need Data for (getting Data appears to have been the entire point of everything they did in Part I)?  In the end, Lore just seems like a big fat jerk who wasn’t threatening anyone but the Enterprise and the Borg themselves.  Maybe the episode would have worked better if Lore’s plan was to get revenge on Data and the Enterprise (say by having Data murder all his old shipmates, and then leaving him with emotions but also with a restored ethical subroutine) rather than a grand, galaxy-threatening plan.  And maybe Lore would have been more interesting if it’d turned out he was sincere in any of the rhetoric he’s spouting.

Character-wise, it’s a pretty good Dr. Crusher episode, as she gets a massive subplot about being in command of the Enterprise to headline.  It’s enjoyable but a bit predictable.  And Geordi gets to have a good “getting tortured” scene with Data.  Hugh also shows up, and while continuity-buffs will enjoy his appearance just to satisfy our curiosity (“Whatever happened to that guy?” etc.) he doesn’t really add all that much to the episode.  So, as season cliffhanger-resolutions go, I’d certainly put this ahead of Time’s Arrow part II, but behind everything else.  It’s also the least interesting presentation of the Borg for the entire series (including Part I).

Guest Cast:
• Jonathan Del Arco returns as Hugh, after appearing about two years prior in I, Borg.  He’s also been a regular on series like The Closer and Major Crimes, and appeared as a different character in the Star Trek Voyager episode “The Void.”

• James Horan plays Lt. Barnaby.  He was the villainous Dr. Jo’Bril in Season Six’s Suspicions, and also had roles in Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise (as the recurring “Humanoid Figure”).

• Benito Martinez plays Salazar.  He is best known for co-starring in The Shield as David Aceveda.

Shout out to the Past:
• Reference to the previous episode, of course, and also the events of Brothers.

• There is a use and reference to metaphasic shielding as from Suspicions.

Setting Up the Future:
• At the end, in one of the episode’s nicer scenes, Geordi stops Data from destroying the emotion chip.  It would therefore come back to haunt Data and all of us in Star Trek Generations and its sequels.

•  Data sounds pretty loopy:  “The Borg aspire to the perfection my brother and I represent.  Fully artificial life forms.  We are the future.”

• I liked Ensign Taitt when she first appeared, although she became a little tiresome as it went on.

• Isn’t it a little ludicrous that Riker leaves Beverly in charge when the ship is under attack?  I’d have thought it’d make more sense for him to beam back and to leave Worf and a security team to continue searching?

• Narratively, it’s a pleasant surprise when it turns out that the Borg that capture Riker and Worf aren’t the same as Lore’s.

• Picard’s prison break seems to work thanks to a particularly stupid Borg guard, and fails because Troi is particularly unsuccessful at sneaking around.

• Troi goes to watch the door – hopefully she does a better job than she did at the same job just a moment ago!

• A predictable exposition conceit:  Someone announces to people who already know that the new heading they’ve just ordered goes to somewhere dangerous.

• Isn’t a bit funny that James Horan is playing Lt. Barnaby, the officer who is helping to use the metaphasic shields, when he previously played Dr. Jo’Brll, the scientist who tried to steal the same technology in its only other appearance?

• Data won’t realize that his ethical program is being rebooted?  Huh?

• Funny story about Data and Geordi going out sailing.  “You decided to go swimming, and when you jumped out of the boat you sank straight to the bottom.” “I did not have enough buoyancy to get back to the surface.” “You had to walk over a kilometre to get back to the shore.”

• This episode puts forward a pretty good argument that Data is not alive, but just a machine, since he can have all his ethics turned off and his personality completely altered by remote control.  Oh well, I guess that sort of thing is happening to normal people on Doctor Who all the time (via hypnosis, mind control, etc.)

• Another annoying cliche:  One character repeats another one’s dialog back to them, with a slightly new meaning to it (between Taitt and Barnaby).

• The destruction of the Borg ship isn’t as exciting or powerful as one would have liked

• Why does Data continue to wear his commbadge?

• There are some very good split screen effects here:  when Data is being held prisoner and Lore walks near him to pick up a weapon, and at the end when Lore is being de-activated.

• It seems to take Picard a long time to react to what’s going on when the Borg fighting breaks out.

• Lore’s “I love you, brother” isn’t as effective or meaningful as it should be.

• Spot appears!

• The whole thing with Data is pretty easily resolved, really.  Maybe someone should ask, “Um…anything we can do to keep you from being taken over so easily again?”

• Data is about to fire a phaser on the ship at the end.  Can you just do that without setting off some sort of alarm?

Dialogue High Point
There truly isn’t anything particularly notable at all.  I’ve gone with Geordi’s line at the end, which is somewhat poignant considering the chip he stops Data from destroying is partly responsible for almost getting him killed:

Data, I wouldn’t be very much of a friend if I let you give up on a life-long dream, would I?

Previous Episode: Descent• Next Episode: Liaisons

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