Season Six, Episode 26
Teleplay by Ronald D Moore
Story by Jeri Taylor
Directed by Alexander Singer
Main Cast:
Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard
Jonathan Frakes as Commander William Riker
LeVar Burton as Lt Geordi LaForge
Michael Dorn as Lt Worf
Gates McFadden as Dr Beverly Crusher
Marina Sirtis as Counsellor Deanna Troi
Brent Spiner as Lt Cmdr Data

Guest Cast:
Professor Stephen Hawking as Himself
John Neville as Isaac Newton
Jim Norton as Albert Einstein
Natalija Nogulich as Admiral Nechayev
Brian J Cousins as Crosis
Richard Hilbert-Hill as Bosus (1st Borg)
Stephen James Carver as Tayar (2nd Borg)

An away team has an encounter with the Borg - but a somehow altered Borg. No longer mindless automatons, the Borg are evidently seperated from the Collective and have a new agenda. Data experiences his first emotion during the heat of battle; anger, followed by pleasure at having killed a Borg. Admiral Nechayev arrives with a task force to counter this new Borg threats and upbraids Picard for releasing Hugh back to the Collective once he'd achieved a sense of individuality a year previously. The Enterprise encounters the Borg again, and this time ends up with a Borg prisoner who boarded the ship. The Borg, named Crosis, has a disturbing influence on Data, urging him not to shy away from his dark emotions. Both Data and Crosis leave the ship in a shuttle, pursued by the Enterprise. They track to shuttle to a planet unpenetrable by sensors, so they mount a massive ground search, using the majority of the ship's personnell. Picard, Data and LaForge discover a hall where they are ambushed by the Borg, when Data appears with his "brother", Lore, who is evidently behind the Borg activity.


Given the near-legendary status of the show's previous Borg two-parter (the infamous Best of Both Worlds), Descent certainly had its work cut out for it. For my money's worth, there's a world of difference between the two and while Descent never successfully pulls itself out of the shadow cast by its predecessor it is nevertheless a competent, if not brilliant, season finale. There are definitely some problems, which I'll go into in a minute, but fortunately Descent boasts a number of enjoyable moments.

The first of which is clearly the delightful teaser which features a cameo by Professor Stephen Hawking. Data's latest holodeck endeavour is to team up three of history's greatest minds for a game of poker (Eistenstein and Newton are, of course, played by actors!). Great fun. Slightly less whimsical is the return of the Borg who not only have something of a new image, but also have a profound effect on Data who experiences his first emotion. Given that it's long been Data's quest to become more human, this development is interesting although some of the scenes that deal with it felt too much like filler to be truly riveting. The arrival of Crosis, the Borg prisoner who somehow has some sort of influence over Data, further adds to the mystery and allows for an eerily intense scene in the brig as Crosis lures him over to "the dark side" (hey, for lack of a better phrase, OK!!).

In terms of narrative flow, structure and pacing Descent isn't perhaps the tightest of episodes and the cutting between various threads kept it from truly building up much in the way of tension or suspense. There were a number of effective moments, however, such the aforementioned Data/Crosis scene and the return of balshy Admiral Nechayev who dresses down Picard for a decision he made a year previously in season five's I, Borg. The latter showed a refreshing attempt to deal with actual consequences, something quite alien to TNG, but which I wholeheartedly commend. Nice to see an acknowledgment that such actions have consequences.

The main problem I have with Descent (and this is reflected even moreso in the second part) is...well, put simply the "new" Borg are ineffective in the extreme. Fortunately, in light of Star Trek: First Contact and Voyager it's clear that these Borg are an isolated exception because at the time I was very peeved that they'd essentially ruined Trek's best villains! Although these Borg are meant to be far meaner and more dangerous than the Borg Collective, they don't come across half as menacing. Just goes to show you -- if a thing works, don't fix it. By giving these Borg individuality and a new agenda ("destroying" instead of "assimilating") you make them all too similar to the conventions of standard villains and rob them of the very precepts that made them unique in the first place.

The revealation that it is Lore who is somehow behind this new breed of Borg actually left me a little cold. I guess I've never been all that fond of the character of Lore. First of all, I find the concept of the "evil twin brother with a twitching mouth" somewhat hokey (to say the least) and I've never been particularly fond of Spiner's portrayal of him (do the words "pantomime villain" mean anything to you?). The closing line "the sons of Soong have joined together and together we will destroy the Federation!!" was overblown and similarly hokey. It's not a bad ending, but it did feel somewhat contrived and stilted.

Other slight problems include the ridiculous notion of searching for Data by beaming ninety-nine percent of the crew onto this potentially deadly planet! Sorry, guys, but that was a really, really bad command decision. If that planet had been teeming with Borg, Picard could have lost practically his whole crew! All to rescue one officer who may or may not have left of his own accord. And isn't it also rather dumb to assign three command officers to one team? Tut, tut, Jean-Luc. You should know better than that! When all is said and done, Descent is an enjoyable season finale with some stand-out moments...but (how did you know a "but" was coming?) it also has it's share of problems and, let's face it, it's no secret that it ain't half as good as Best of Both Worlds, Part One. It's also difficult not to hold against it the fact that the concluding part was a bitter disappointment, but I don't suppose that's entirely fair. So, let's just give it the benefit of the doubt.  

Rating: 8

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