Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Descent, Part I"


Air date: 6/21/1993
Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore
Story by Jeri Taylor
Directed by Alexander Singer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Ah, the Borg. The Catch-22 of 1990s-era Star Trek. They were a brilliant invention as a one-off major threat to our protagonists: implacable, technologically superior, and not interested in negotiating to resolve differences. But what do you do with them after exploiting their technical vulnerabilities to defeat them in "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II"? "I, Borg," well over a year later, answered that by going in a completely new direction — using the Borg not as a visceral threat but as a device for moralizing. (I thought that was a brave narrative choice, and one that demonstrated that the Borg would have to continue to evolve as storytelling devices to avoid becoming a rehash.)

Now we have "Descent, Part I," which attempts to put the Borg back in business as a visceral threat, but in the process changes everything that the Borg once were (and, of course, what made them originally interesting). Instead of a hive mind bent only on assimilation, now the Borg are brutal warriors who have individual identities and names, who attack a Starfleet installation and kill everyone there. The Enterprise arrives to answer the distress call and engages the Borg in a firefight; one Borg vows revenge when his fellow soldier is killed.

This change in behavior is admittedly the point; a big part of "Descent's" story is the crew trying to figure out how and why the Borg have changed so dramatically. Could the reintroduction of the individualized Hugh into the collective have somehow caused this radical shift? (The story is cagey on the point of whether this might be isolated to only a small subset of the Borg, who have a badass-looking new ship design.)

As season cliffhangers go, "Descent" is middling; it's better than "Time's Arrow" but it's certainly no epic like "The Best of Both Worlds" (or even as involving as "Redemption"). By this point, season-ending cliffhangers had become so routine and obligatory that it would've been a radical act if this hadn't been a setup. I guess that's part of the problem here; "Descent" is mostly setup, and doesn't even try to exist as a story that can be truly satisfying on its own. Oh, sure, it's entertaining enough. But do we believe for one second that any of its questions will be answered until season seven?

I guess for now, let's take a look at some of the admittedly interesting story points. Data experiences anger during the initial encounter with the Borg during hand-to-hand combat. He later attempts to recreate the emotional outburst with simulations of the attack. Could Data finally be evolving to experience emotion? (This is one of the story points that is actually addressed before the "to be continued" sign, but in a manner that turns the character point into a plot point.)

I did find interest in the scene where Admiral Nechayev chews out Picard for releasing Hugh in "I, Borg," because it presents the legitimate and pragmatic alternative viewpoint arguing for survival: that the Borg are a threat that must be destroyed, and we couldn't afford to let personal moral conviction get in the way of that. Picard even expresses some hand-wringing over it. It was never a cut-and-dried situation in "I, Borg," but it's nice to see some actual fallout from that decision.

So the Enterprise pursues the Borg ship, which sends an attack boarding party, which results in the capture of a Borg named Crosis (Brian J. Cousins), who talks of a mysterious One who helped bring a focused individuality to these Borg. Crosis might best be remembered for his shtick of reciting the fastest ways of killing various humanoids ("Death is immediate"). His conversations with Data reveal that (1) Data's emotions are actually being sent to him via some sort of signal in an attempt to take control of him (thus robbing the story of character value and turning Data's emotions into a plot point) and (2) a Security Guy in the brig can be standing right there while Crosis seduces Data in a rather alarming exchange of dialogue, but apparently Security Guy won't do anything with such information. Ultimately, Data flees in a shuttle, leading the Enterprise in pursuit.

It's about here where the episode drops all pretentions of trying to continue telling a story and falls prey to Two-Parter Padding Syndrome [TM]. The attempt to track down Data is purely procedural and does little to actually advance the story. Ultimately, Data is tracked to a planet, where much of the senior crew beams down to engage in a search. They set up a command post and look at maps and discuss search strategies and stuff, and you realize that none of this is actually necessary except to pad out the running time before we get the final twist and inevitable "to be continued" card.

The final twist is perhaps one twist too many, and comes out of left field. It turns out that the One pulling all the Borg's strings is ... Lore. And now Data has joined his evil twin in their announced plan of together destroying the Federation — bwahahaha! This is all hook and no motivation, all setup and no payoff, and it cannot fairly be judged within the confines of just the first half. So tune in next season, as they say. As finales goes, "Descent" is mostly fine and reasonably paced, and introduces a number of intriguing elements — but it ends on kind of a head-scratcher. As for its grade, we'll go with Incomplete.

Previous episode: Timescape
Next episode: Descent, Part II

Season Index

29 comments on this review

David - Tue, Sep 11, 2012 - 12:28am (USA Central)
This was TNG's 2nd best cliffhanger behind of course the eternally classic The Best of Both Worlds. When I originally watched it I would have given it 3.5 stars but because of how it ultimately played out and years of Borg stories since some of the shine has worn off for me all these years later and I'd only give it 3 stars.

It was effective set-up I thought. Appropriately unsettling atmosphere--the mere shot of the new Borg ship was creepy, vicious Borg no longer being under the control of the emotionless Hive Mind that had previously kept them in check on the loose, false alarms from colonies on edge, the spectre of Crosis Brrrr, Picard using his Locutus persona to no effect. Also the mystery of what was going on with the Borg was intriguing--did it have anything to do with Hugh and where was he in all this.

I thought it was an exciting hour with some great action. I also liked the crew's jaunt on the alien planet, Beverly in charge, the crew overrun by angry Borg and Lore's reveal. A lot of good set-up. But Part II takes it all down the least interesting path they could. I actually prefer what Voyager tried to do in Unimatrix Zero more than here in Descent--but again like with Descent so much interesting stuff just fizzled and went nowhere with the Borg civil war.

I had read at the time that in season 7 of TNG they were going to revisit these Borg but apparently that storyline was scrapped.

Overall though I thought this was a solid season finale.
Sxottlan - Tue, Sep 11, 2012 - 2:34am (USA Central)
I always appreciated the visceral and brutal shoot-out at the starbase in the opening. A nice change for TNG. It was a mostly effective season finale, but it kind of petered out before the cliffhanger.

Data's attempt to recreate what happened was strangely hilarious. The confused look on his face when he tossed the drone always got a big laugh from me. Anyone else think that particular drone was actually an elderly drone?

By the way, this was the only episode ever to have its credits in the teaser. I figured it was that they didn't want the credits all over the shoot-out.
William B - Tue, Sep 11, 2012 - 7:59am (USA Central)
I really enjoy these reviews, Jammer.

I'm in an interesting position (well, interesting to me! :) ), in that I haven't actually watched these episodes for years and so can't always comment on the particulars. That said, Descent was an episode I very much enjoyed as a child, at least part 1, and was a little surprised to find that people didn't like it. In retrospect, all your criticisms are spot-on; it's very obviously padded, and the realization

The "emotional" core of the episode is really, and should be about, Data. Data's quest to become human underpins his character, but the problem is that humans aren't actually intrinsically good so much as a mixture of good and bad. Lore's purpose was always to show this up, and Data's quest has always been to find a way to approach humanity without becoming monstrous. Data is stronger and faster and smarter than anyone around him (in certain senses of "smart"), and episodes like this one, or "Brothers" or "The Schizoid Man" focus on the fact that Data is actually entirely, remarkably *dangerous* to everyone around him and essentially unstoppable if he chooses wrongly. Data has a form of free will, but he doesn't have desires in the emotional sense and so he doesn't genuinely has to make a choice between his own selfish impulses and his duties and ethical responsibilities; his choices, when they occur (and they are interesting!) are between different ethical frameworks (c.f. Pen Pals, for example). But these episodes underline how much Data's quest to be more human is, while a source of strength, also his central weakness. His desire to be human is programmed into him, and it is as selfish as Data gets -- which means that it makes sense to me that his immediate response to emotions are actually even more selfish.

I am not sure whether the fact that Lore is broadcasting only "negative emotions" into Data undermines the story entirely. Certainly, it is a difficult way of looking at the human experience, since humans have a full spectrum of emotions, etc. But I feel as if Data still has a choice in this episode of how to respond to the feelings he has, and he makes the wrong choice (initially), because all his programming and all his accumulated experiences don't prepare him for actual rush of feelings. This mirrors the Borg plotline, in which the intrusion of humanity into the collective is actually destructive -- it makes the Borg, who were a destructive force of nature, into actually *evil*, petty human-like beings. Data and the Borg, then, I think are meant as contrasts to each other; Data is what we would define as "good" and the pre-Hugh, pre-Lore Borg are what we would define as "evil," but neither are close enough to human experience of managing emotions for those terms to be really applicable. Whereas Hugh and Lore introduce individuality and free will to the Borg and emotions to Data, and so create the possibliity of making the choice. Because Lore has stacked the deck, the choices (initially) are all bad he only gives a framework to the Borg for behaving badly, and he only feeds Data emotions designed to make him behave badly -- but that is part 1 of the story. In part 2, there is the possibility for redemption for the Borg and for Data; Data rejects emotions entirely, but Geordi (wisely) tells him not to do so, suggesting that there is hope for Data to be an integrated emotional being and still be moral. Which is what his story in First Contact ends up being -- which, to me, is a satisfying end to Data's arc. Yep. First Contact, the end of Data's story.
Vylora - Tue, Sep 11, 2012 - 3:32pm (USA Central)
Yah I agree. First Contact is the end of Data's story. I like what they tried with Nemesis, but ultimately it was a rehash on top of a rehash. Insurrection was just an entertaining fluff piece with interesting Data moments.
Paul - Tue, Sep 11, 2012 - 4:14pm (USA Central)
I remember being totally blown away by this episode in 1993. But knowing how the two-parter ended -- with a thud -- this is a horribly disappointing season finale.

It also shows how the series was aging.

Riker, who basically saved the Federation from the Borg three years earlier, is only a marginal character in the episode. Why wouldn't he have been in the room for Picard's conversation with Nechayev? Riker after season 4 really was like Scotty in TOS -- i.e. the guy who ran the ship when Kirk and Spock were on a planet.

Also, Picard beaming down really turned a lot of the established practices of TNG on their head. I know Data was important to everybody, but beaming everybody to the planet and leaving Crusher in command? Talk about jumping the shark!

There's also far too much technobabble, particularly in part two.
grumpy_otter - Tue, Sep 11, 2012 - 5:18pm (USA Central)
I remember very little of this episode. What I do remember is cussing a bit when it was revealed that the One was Lore. And then thinking "Oh crap!" when Data became evil.

Based on the tone of the review, I am surprised you ranked it so highly.
Josh - Wed, Sep 12, 2012 - 5:46pm (USA Central)
I remember the cliffhanger being especially laughable. In Star Trek, Moore seems to love those glib, theatrical one-liners to close episodes.

Can't blame him for Taylor's story, though. It's not like he had much to work with.
Nic - Wed, Sep 12, 2012 - 9:24pm (USA Central)
Ah, but you gotta love that teaser, though. Stephen Hawking actually making an appearance and making a 'perihelion of Mercury' joke which Newton doesn't understand! Classic.
Yakko - Thu, Sep 13, 2012 - 9:27am (USA Central)

I agree that the teaser is the best part of the ep. I love Newton's outraged "How dare you!" when Data dismisses the apple story as apochryphal.

I never thought about "First Contact" being the end of Data's arc but he definitely regressed afterwards.

"Generations" - He gets the emotion chip and it overloads his neural network and becomes fused - it can neither be removed nor deactivated so Data's just got to learn to live with having feelings.

"First Contact" - He can turn the chip on and off at will. Okay - I can buy that he and Geordi figured out a way to do this. The Borg Queen attempts to use Data's emotions to manipulate him much as Lore did but, as William B says, Data proves to be emotionally mature enough to behave true to his morality.

"Insurrection" - He can now remove the chip if he wants and he never has it installed throughout the entire film. He's intensely curious about the experience of childhood but never bothers to explore it through an emotional context.

"Nemesis" - The chip is never mentioned and might as well have never existed since Data is STILL talking about his quest to become more than he is but seems content to be less than he was two films ago.
William B - Thu, Sep 13, 2012 - 1:17pm (USA Central)
I don't think that First Contact is literally/canonically the end of Data's arc -- but his rapid regression in the next two films says to me that there is very little, if anything, of value there. I think that Data being offered a form of humanity and being forced to deal with that, and reject it outright, while his emotion chip is active, seems like a fairly good resolution. Data comes closer to human by being able to put aside what he (thinks he) wants for his human connections. Validates Data, validates humanity. He gets the big sacrifice in Nemesis but he does so as emotionless Data and then gets an even further regressed replacement. So.
Jay - Thu, Sep 13, 2012 - 3:18pm (USA Central)
We hadn't met her yet here (and really she should never have existed, since her introduction ruined the Borg forever), but shouldn't the Queen have taken exception to Lore commandeering some of her drones and stopped him? She could call upon a force of millions, if not billions, and with the later established transwarp conduits, gootten to wherever she needed to. I just find it absurd that the Queen would tolerate Lore's meddling any more than the Q would tolerate Annorax's timeplay in "Year Of Hell".
Jeremy Short - Thu, Sep 13, 2012 - 9:08pm (USA Central)
No mention of Steven Hawking as the only person in the whole of Star Trek to play themselves ...
Landon - Wed, Sep 26, 2012 - 6:15pm (USA Central)
Really didnt care for this. The worst 2-part season cliffhanger IMO. Times Arrow was far better. Did have some interesting points but overall a mess. 2 stars for me.
Nick P. - Thu, Sep 27, 2012 - 2:09pm (USA Central)
So after rewatching this one again, it wasn't half bad. I used to think the season cliffhangers got steadily worse from BOBW, but 20 years later, I think this is my second favourite. Maybe alot of it was remembering it as much worse than it was, which actually explains alot of the 6th season for me. I think the music (bad) clouded alot of my judgement back then, outside of the music the show itself didn't get bad until season 7.

One thing I must say here, I am so glad Picard finally got his ass handed to him on the terrible call with Hugh. I said in the comments to that episode that every single death from that point on is Picards fault, and I stand by that.

@sctoxlan, I noticed that alos about the teaser. Is this really the ONLY episode that does that? Does anyone know why?
Sxottlan - Mon, Oct 1, 2012 - 2:03am (USA Central)
@ Nick P.: I'm pretty sure this was the only Trek episode ever to do the episode credits before the regular opening credits.

As I always assumed, I think they moved the onscreen credits because they didn't want them playing over the big shoot-out. If they had waited until after the shoot-out, the credits would have run pretty late in the episode.

Then again, they could have held the arrival at the starbase until after the opening credits sequence.
Grumpy - Sun, Nov 18, 2012 - 11:51am (USA Central)
More than a mere trivia point, the out-of-place credits were actually unsettling at the time, lending enough atmosphere (despite being metatextual) to boost this episode by at least .5 stars for me. The *reason* for moving the credits -- an opening act that's just one long fight sequence -- added to the unsettling tone.
Peremensoe - Tue, Nov 27, 2012 - 5:57am (USA Central)
Hawking's appearance was nice, but technically he wasn't playing himself. He was playing a holodeck simulation of Stephen Hawking, which involved as much computer 'guesswork' as the imagined Einstein.

After all, even holo-versions of contemporary people, with vastly more data on file (Leag Brahms), aren't really *them*.
Peremensoe - Tue, Nov 27, 2012 - 6:14am (USA Central)
(ack, typo)

As for the episode, the weakest link for me is Lore. I could accept Lore's 'evil' elsewhere on a personal level, but I can't understand his Bwahaha motivation here.
William B - Wed, Oct 23, 2013 - 1:22pm (USA Central)
My ratings of season six, where they differ from Jammer's:

Time's Arrow, Part II: 2 (-0.5)
Man of the People: 1 (-1)
Relics: 3.5 (+0.5)
True Q: 2.5 (-0.5)
A Fistful of Datas: 2.5 (+0.5)
The Quality of Life: 3 (+0.5)
Chain of Command, Part 1: 3 (-0.5)
Face of the Enemy: 3.5 (+0.5)
Tapestry: 4 (+0.5)
Lessons: 3.5 (+0.5)
The Chase: 3.5 (+0.5)

Season as a whole: Nothing in this season matches "The Inner Light" or "Darmok," but I think it's a better season than 5 on the whole. Like s5, it starts off with a weak series of episodes, with only "Relics" and "Schisms" being particularly strong, but starting with "The Quality of Life" (my fondness for which is admittedly idiosyncratic) I think the season gets going and doesn't really let up. Season five didn't really reach its turning point until halfway through, so it's nice. "Aquiel," "Birthright Part II" and "Suspicions" are the real losers of the post-TQoL phase of the season; "Starship Mine" and "Descent" are also disappointing, the former because of its low-scale ambitious and the latter because of it's grander ambitions which are met with mixed success. Overall though I think it's a strong string of episodes.

As with season five, this season's best episodes are *very* heavily Picard-oriented -- "Chain of Command, Part 2" and "Tapestry" being (IMO) the season's two best episodes, and "Lessons" and "The Chase" being other very strong shows. This is also a very good year for Riker, with "Frame of Mind," "Second Chances," "Schisms" and "Chain of Command" being good Riker vehicles. Data doesn't have as many stories as in previous years, and there are no episodes on the level of "The Measure of a Man"/"The Offspring"/"Brothers," but I think "TQoL," "Birthright, Part 1" and the first half or so of "Descent, Part 1" are very good stories for Data. For Worf, I like "Rightful Heir" with caveats and like "Birthright, Part 1" for him, and sort of like "A Fistful of Datas," but then there's "Birthright, Part 2," so. This season contains by a large margin the two best Troi episodes, "Face of the Enemy" and "Second Chances," which help to make up for the annual terrible Troi episode in "Man of the People." The real losers this season are Geordi and Beverly; Geordi, at least, had some decent work in "Relics" though it was really Scotty's show, but "Aquiel" is godawful, and Beverly only really had "Suspicions" which was pretty bad, as well as decent supporting roles in "True Q" and "The Quality of Life."
William B - Wed, Oct 30, 2013 - 3:50pm (USA Central)
I keep returning to this episode in my head for some reason. I talked in the thread for part II about what I think the episode is trying to do, but the episode's failings are numerous: trashing the Borg, playing Lore as a cartoon villain after "Brothers" had redefined him, wasting a reappearance of Hugh, terrible planning by the Enterprise crew, the inappropriateness of choosing *this* as the "Beverly in command" episode (I don't mind having one, but this is not the time). And, most of all, Evil Data is just not convincing, in spite of flashes. And yet, something about this story does appeal to me, and sometimes the stories that don't work, but have flashes of brilliance, are harder to shake than the stories that do work.

So I want to talk further about what I love about part I. Between the Borg fight in the first act and the capture of Crosis later in the episode, Data is not under any external control; he has been influenced only by the emotions fed to him during the fight with the Borg earlier on, and I think they are no longer a direct influence. On the Data side, then, the question gradually moves from "How does Data feel about his first emotion?" to "What does his emotion say about him?" to "What will Data do to recover the experience?" My favourite dialogue exchange in the episode is this:

TROI: We've served together for a long time and I think I've come to know you pretty well. I have to believe if you ever reach your goal of becoming human, you won't become a bad one.
DATA: I wish I were as confident as you, Counsellor.

The scene ends with Data saying, hesitantly and with some look of shame, that the emotion he felt after killing the Borg was pleasure. Part of what makes that whole scene gripping for me is that the implications run deep. Data is a great person because he is so caring, patient, nurturing, kind and ethical, in addition to his remarkable intellectual and physical skill. But what if the emotions he experienced were all anger, and rage? For one thing, is asks the question of whether people actually control the emotions they feel. If a person is predisposed to feel nothing but anger, does that make them a bad person? I'd say no, because a person cannot entirely help what they feel -- but those feelings will make them much more likely to do bad things, which is probably the intent behind the material in part II. It is tempting to say that when Data has strong emotions they should align with his general personality, but there is no guarantee of that. This episode points out the dark side to Data's entire quest for humanity.

The other big element I love here is Data's obsession. First of all, Data is a product of Dr. Soong, and in the last line in the episode he refers to himself and Lore as the Sons of Soong. And Soong has many positive traits, but one of his defining features is obsession, pursuing the goal of creating sentient life at all costs. In a very real way, Soong is responsible for the destruction of Omicron Theta, because his insistently going forward led to the creation of Lore and the inability to make the steps to ensure that a) Lore would be "happy" enough not to want to kill everyone, and b) that people would be protected from him if he did go off the rails. Data's obsessive traits are on display over and over again (I just mentioned it while talking about "Phantasms"), and Data's pursuit of emotions once he has a taste of them has this obsession; first trying to find any other emotions he can, and, once Deanna suggests he seek out anger, too, willingness to follow the possibility of finding anger into risking his own life.

*Data has no brakes*. There is nothing in Data that stops him once he's made a decision. Normally, this is not a problem, because Data rarely/never makes a "wrong" decision; he has his ethical programming, for example. And he will consider new information as it presents itself. But he also has no hesitation once he has made a call, which means he can do things as reckless as lock out the transporter controls in "The Quality of Life" if he thinks it is the only ethically correct things to do, or order the lowering of the Enterprise's shields if he thinks that the odds weigh heavily in favour of that being what Riker wants in "Gambit." And before Data is influenced by Crosis, there are already inklings of what the implication will be for Data. His drive to become more human is so strong that he is willing to risk his own life, even aware of the possibility that he may be a "bad person" when he becomes one. He does hesitate before choosing to commit to seeking out that anger, but once he does so it's unlikely he will turn back until he crosses some kind of line and does damage.

The other major element of this episode is Picard's hand-wringing over whether he made the right call in "I, Borg." For the show to revisit this is pretty brave, considering that it's a potentially controversial decision. And the episode, for all its flaws in making the Borg less interesting, is actually pretty strong from a Picard point of view -- again, before the last few minutes of the episode (in which Picard makes the crazy decision to search for Data and leave a skeleton crew on the ship). The Borg a) are not destroyed, which makes them a risk; and b) the Borg may even be "worse" now, not in the sense of more dangerous, but in the sense that the Borg themselves may have fallen into chaos and disarray because of Picard's returning Hugh to them. The Borg, with its extreme authoritarian collectivism, reminds me a little of the USSR under Stalin, and the general worst traits of communism the way it was implemented in the USSR, and so the episode's relevance, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, is that once the Soviet Union fell, despite the fact that people now "gained freedom," they lost cohesion, leading in some instances to charismatic thugs taking over in the power vacuum. This is something that Picard could potentially have predicted would be a consequence of introducing individuality into the collective.

And basically, I think that Picard's crisis is similar to Data's. Data is concerned that he might not be a good person. Picard is concerned that his moral code may not be a good one. Data's becoming more human, more emotional, is parallel to Picard's following through on his principles to the bitter end, and both may end up being destructive.

Which means: this episode, in its first 2/3 or so, spends time building the strong opposition case to one of the central concerns of the show's two most important characters. Picard is defined by his principles, and they may have been wrong to act on. Data is defined by his quest to be human, and this may be misguided. And the episode genuinely argues both cases well for its first 2/3. Picard has reason to worry that his decision hurt both the Borg and the rest of the universe more than it helped them, despite being "the moral thing." And this 2/3 of the episode points out that no one knows what Data-with-emotions would be like, what those emotions would mean, and already sows the seeds for how Data's obsessive personality will lead him further into scary places.

Which is why I fixate on the episode so much, a little obsessively (...like Data), because then Crosis comes on and Data jumps to "yes I would kill Geordi if I could feel pleasure again!" over the course of a few lines of dialogue. And then Picard makes a terrible command decision. And then in part II, Picard's moral conflict is mostly dropped, and Data spends most of the episode being basically a stiffer Lore until his ethical subroutine is rebooted, at which point he remains confused.

I think that the episodes ultimately *do* side with Picard's ethics and Data's essential self being good, though the defense is not as strong as the prosecution in the first 2/3 of part I. Data chooses to sacrifice the chance at feeling emotions AND his opportunity to connect with another of his own kind because they are damaging to both his ethics and those he cares about. The Borg are both "better" in that Hugh can take over the mini-collective after the charismatic-thug Lore has been ousted. FURTHER, in Part II, there is an underexploited parallel between the Data story and the Picard story. Data's experiments on Geordi -- an attempt to use Geordi as a tool with which to replace/overtake(/destroy) human life, is similar to the attempt in "I, Borg" to use Hugh as a tool to destroy the Borg. So when Picard says to Data that it is not okay to do something wrong in service of a greater good, he is genuinely backing up his belief that it was right not to treat Hugh as an object or to kill him, even if it would have done a greater good. The spine is there for a story that genuinely works. And this story would be one that does not actually undermine TNG's values, but *tests* them and eventually proves them. That would make it a really great two-parter to kick off the series' final season, and in its own way a good setup for "All Good Things," which similarly "proves" TNG's values. To some degree, I think that the two-parter *does* mostly prove Picard and Data's worth, with caveats, it just does it badly.

And I think what I wish had happened is this: actually describe, in detail, why Data would believe that creating artificial life was "the greater good." Data says that his quest to become human was misguided, "an evolutionary step in the wrong direction," with only emotions (and only the angry ones) worth keeping from humans. Why? The episode gestures to a reason why Data might believe this, when he tells Geordi that if the procedure works, Geordi's brain capacity would be remarkably improved. What I would have loved is to see Lore genuinely make this argument, and sell it enough that it makes sense Data would believe it: that ultimately, it is better for humans/humanoids to be remade as artificial life forms, who are smarter and stronger and will not die. I don't know that this would be convincing without a lot of tinkering. But we know that Data will continue on a path once he believes something is right, even in the face of his or other people's deaths, as in "The Quality of Life" or "Clues." Data cares about Geordi and Picard, but he was willing to let them die "for small machines" in TQoL, and I think that if Data really could be convinced that his actions were ethical, through Lore's manipulation and perhaps through an emotional distortion, he would proceed with them -- it is just that there has to be much better setup for it. Tie this in with Data's emotions by having Data *feel* the pain of the rejection he has suffered over the years, as Lore has. And hell, have him be angry at Picard and Geordi for reasons that he actually articulates, rather than "I am not your puppet anymore, Picard!" Or, I don't know. It's possible, even probable, that "Data descends into darkness by feeling emotion" and "Data becomes convinced of the superiority of artificial life to the point that becomes dangerous" are not compatible stories, anyway. I would love to see some compelling, convincing way of taking Data further along the path he was going in the first 2/3 of part I, in which his lack of preparation for emotions and obsessive personality lead to him becoming seriously ethically compromised.

Anyway, it's a mess, but I kind of value this two-parter anyway in a way that is really out of proportion to its overall quality.
mephyve - Sun, Jan 26, 2014 - 6:45pm (USA Central)
Finally Picard gets raked over the coals for his dumb decision to not annihilate the Borg when he had the chance. That alone makes this a four star episode.
Nice poker game with the four geniuses. Coiincidently I recently saw Dr Hawkings getting amazed by a David Blain card trick. I also just read that he says black holes don't exist, so it was cool that I arrived at his TNG episode around this same time. I also recall he did a Smallville episode and was part of a Big Bang theory storyline. They say great minds think alike, I guess I should be flattered.
Lore and the Borg: Picard must love suppling Lore with monsters to manipulate; Crystalline entities and murderous automatons that his bleeding heart won't let him kill. Good thing the old women in the TNG universe don't let sentiment blind them to dangerous natures of these beasts.
Lapan - Fri, Jan 31, 2014 - 4:14pm (USA Central)
The dumb decision was to send Hugh back, not that he didn't genocide them

Besides, the paradox approach wouldn't have been very likely to be successful. see also my post in I, Borg
Smith - Wed, Feb 19, 2014 - 12:23pm (USA Central)
Not a fan of this episode. Huge waste of Spiner's talents. In this episode, Data's ego is made a main emphasis which doesn't work because it doesn't understand Data. The strength of data is how he perceives things...when you anthropomorphous him and put the focus on him (as opposed to her perceptions), you lose his soul and you get a boring character.

The borg part was also quite disappointing. I actually agree with Berman in that they are too 2-dimensional. What made them interesting initially was their abstraction for collective group think. When you lose this metaphor and humanize the borg, they lose their soul and become boring as well.
213karaokejoe - Fri, Jul 25, 2014 - 7:58pm (USA Central)
I read a lot of comments in I Borg that the next Federation death would be on Picard's shoulders for letting Hugh go. Well, Franklin was killed and they took a Borg prisoner. Picard is certainly culpable for Franklin, but so is Crusher. When Picard wants to interrogate the prisoner Crusher gets all judgemental with him. I could have slapped her. Did she learn nothing? Her nagging helped cause the Hugh debacle.
Dave in NC - Sat, Jul 26, 2014 - 12:54pm (USA Central)
I'm going to save my review for another day (this is one of those squandered potential episodes), but to reply to "Karaokejoe"...

I guess only the female crewmembers are capable of "nagging"? Not to be Mr. Thought-Police, I'm just pointing out that it is kind of sexist to only use this word in relation to the women on the crew. (Unless we are discussing Keiko, hehe).
Dave in NC - Sat, Jul 26, 2014 - 1:20pm (USA Central)
And that wasn't directed completely at you, by the way. This is more a general observation than anything directly said by anyone.

I've noticed a undercurrent of misogyny in some of the reviews, both by Jammer and others. Yes, some female characters are written badly, but that's because the writers didn't understand women well and they were being forced by higher-ups to ramp up the sexual titillation.

There are some reviewers here that seem to revert to a "Ain't that just like a woman" kind of thinking rather than placing the blame where it belongs: at the feet of the writers/producers (and in the cases of Troi and Ezri, the ability of each actress to emote believably).

Then again, the flip side of this is that writers DO understand the male mind pretty well, which may be the reason why some reviewers react the way they do.

Of course Keiko is portrayed as bitchy, of course the female characters cry or scream at least three times a season, of course the women are either strangely prudish or super-promiscuous. This is how a lot of men see women, so of course this is going to resonate with many male viewers.

Well, that and the lingering shots of Deanna's ample boobage.
SkepticalMI - Sun, Aug 17, 2014 - 3:36pm (USA Central)
This was a great episode right up to the last 10 seconds. OK, so Data had a troubling experience. He started exploring it. Then it became clear that Crosis was controlling him somehow. It was messing him up. He was becoming uncertain. Crosis asked if he would kill his friend to experience emotion again. Data responds that he would. So clearly he's having trouble with his ethical programming. And he escapes in a shuttlecraft (by this point, you would think Picard would invest in some bicycle locks for those things). The crew searches for him and finds Lore. And then Data appears and... gives an incredibly hammy evil villain one-liner. Oy.

It kinda ruined the fall of Data there. The episode is entitled "Descent". It was interesting seeing Data descend from his normal, ethical self. Seeing him skip a whole bunch of steps and seeing him jump to becoming full Hitler was a bit, well, not quite as fun. Just a silly tacked on ending, trying to create a cool one-liner to create a hook over the summer. I don't know if it was effective back then, but it's certainly not effective now.

As for season 6 as a whole, I had assumed that TNG would have a slow downward spiral after season 4, but it seems season 6 was still a pretty good show. Kinda strange that the dropoff happened so suddenly between 6 and 7. Everyone just all of a sudden realized they didn't care anymore?

In any case, season 6, while not having anything quite like Darmok or Inner Light, seemed to have a lot of really good episodes. They didn't necessarily mean all that much, but they were still enjoyable television. At this point in time, the characters are far more comfortable to us, and far more comfortable with each other. We can enjoy them experience weirdness in their lives. And even if this season doesn't say much new about the characters, it does keep showing an ever changing universe and ever changing experiences. In the end, it was exciting to watch.

A couple trends I noticed:

- There seemed to be a lot more emphasis on consistency and callbacks than before. For example, they seemed to play up Picard's archaeology interest a lot more this season and I believe namedropped Dr. Galen a few times prior to The Chase. We had plenty of sequel episodes such as Face of the Enemy and Ship in a Bottle. And events in one episode would impact another, a la Birthright and Rightful Heir. I wonder if this was due to the influence of Deep Space Nine, or if DS9's emphasis on consistency and such followed from the same place that TNG got it. Maybe it was due to the increasing familiarity with the internet, and thus more of a need to cater to the obsessive fans. Who knows? But it was nice to see.

- What wasn't so nice is that Season 6 had a tendency to cut the endings short on their episodes. The drama would build, we'd get the climax, and then... not much. If we're lucky, we would have a quiet conversation between a couple cast members and then an ending. But that's it. Sometimes it worked (like Schisms, where the uncertainty surrounding the aliens was part of the general uneasiness of the episode), but it sometimes felt like the episodes were rushed and simply came up on a cosmic deadline. It doesn't hurt the rest of the episode, but it sometimes feels like there's not enough resolution to what happened.

- Also, this season had a tendency to take a character completely out of his/her position and focus exclusively on that. Face of the Enemy and Tapestry are generally considered great episodes, but are almost entirely Troi/Picard surrounded by guest stars. And Birthright II and Frame of Mind (even if Riker was interacting with images of the rest of the cast). There are other episodes that are similar in concept, too. While these tend to be pretty interesting episodes, it's a bit sad that we don't have as many ensemble episodes as well.
Grumpy - Sun, Aug 17, 2014 - 10:02pm (USA Central)
Skep: "Everyone just all of a sudden realized they didn't care anymore?"

Apart from the show feeling its age, the personnel shifted between 6 and 7. Jeri Taylor became executive producer while Piller shepherded DS9 and Berman was preoccupied with the movie and prepping Voyager. All were still involved in TNG, but Taylor's greater influence could explain the perceptible difference.
Eric - Sun, Oct 19, 2014 - 12:21am (USA Central)
No mention of the idiotic moment when Jeordi has no idea how the subspace conduit works, and yet he is able to duplicate the tachyon pulse to activate it after just two tries and mumbling something about, "Okay, how about a low bandwidth pulse?" And VOOM! the conduit opens and the Enterprise can use it. All to keep the ridiculously contrived plot moving.

Jeordi says that the subspace conduit is "100 times as efficient as our warp drive." You'd think that if it were that easy to open a conduit through subspace that could allow a ship to travel 65 light years in a few seconds, that Jeordi would take a couple notes and release a paper or something... You know, ditch that outdated warp drive crap. Of course, after this episode it is never mentioned again. Stupid.

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