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[TNG] Lynch's Spoiler Review: "Descent"
Review by Tim Lynch <tly...@juliet.caltech.edu>
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NOTE TO USENET:


I'm going out of town for a couple of weeks starting very shortly.  If anyone
has responses they really think I should see, you should _mail_ them to me as
well as or instead of posting them.  Thanks.
===========================================================================­====
WARNING:  The following post, about TNG's season finale, "Descent", quickly
descends to the point of containing a great many spoilers.  If you don't want
to know the details, don't read the article.  To protect spoilers more than usual (believe me, it's necessary), two Ctrl-L's and 30 blank lines follow.


As a one-line thought:  Not exactly "The Best of Both Worlds", but the best season-ender they've had since then.


I hope that's enough spoiler protection, because the synopsis is about to
commence.  For those who haven't yet seen the show, be very sure -- the cliffhanger is a jaw-dropper.  Anyway:


Data is called away by a red alert and must shut down a poker game with
simulations of three of physics's most gifted minds:  Newton, Einstein, and
Hawking.  The alert has been sounded because the Ohniaka Three outpost has
reported coming under attack, although no signals are coming from the outpost
now.  The Enterprise reaches the system, and sees a gigantic ship that they
don't recognize looming over the planet below.  There is lots of EM
interference, preventing good scanning, but they manage to beam down a team of Riker, Data, Worf, and a security member.


On the outpost, the team initially finds nothing but bodies, with wounds
considered brutal even by Ferengi standards, and caused by plasma weapons
similar to Ferengi phasers.  With scanning still difficult, they begin a
room-by-room search for survivors -- but the very next room holds a surprise.
As Data forces the manual controls to open the door, a Borg is revealed in wait just behind it.


The Borg attacks viciously, with many of its fellows coming to join it.  They
seem somewhat different from past encounters.  For one thing, they are using
energy weapons, which they never have in the past.  They also show concern
for their fellows; when Riker manages to fell one of them, a fellow Borg
responds with "*I* will make you suffer for [the killing]!"  The security member is killed, and the others are under heavy fire.


Data, under physical assault by one of the Borg, suddenly becomes enraged and
throws the Borg away from him like a rag doll.  As he stands over it, the surviving Borg leave after identifying Data.


The Borg ship, having fired once at the Enterprise, now turns to leave.  The
Enterprise quickly pursues -- but before they get far, the Borg ship vanishes
in a flash, its destination and mode of travel unknown.  The Enterprise
returns to Ohniaka Three to pick up the away team, where Data is realizing that he just got _angry_...


Later, with Data having voluntarily relieved himself from duty to investigate
this new development in himself, the rest of the senior officers (excepting
Geordi) gather to discuss the change in the Borg.  Riker refers to them as
vicious, saying that it was almost akin to fighting Klingons.  More
disturbing, however, is the suggestion that these Borg are now acting as
individuals rather than as part of a collective -- with no interest in
assimilation, they may simply be out to destroy.  What's worse, since the
only Borg known to have an individual name before now was Hugh, everyone
wonders if their act of kindness a year earlier might have led to this new,
brutal change in the Borg.  Picard sets to work, ordering Riker to begin
analyzing the data on the subspace anomaly the Borg disappeared, and Worf to begin a security alert, while Picard informs Starfleet.


Meanwhile, Data and Geordi find no traces of error in Data's systems.  Data
concludes that he may well have experienced his first emotion, though he
grants Geordi's point that he has no frame of reference to define what an
emotion is.  Regardless, he suggests that he may now be able to reach for
emotional awareness -- but Geordi hopes that he's capable of feeling more than just anger.


A few days later, there have been no new attacks, but Admiral Nechayev is
preparing to take command of the sector.  After giving Picard details about
the task force he is to command, Nechayev asks him about the details of the
incident involving Hugh, expressing amazement that Picard could have simply
let Hugh go.  Picard explains his reasons of conscience, but Nechayev will
have none of it.  "Your priority is to safeguard the lives of Federation
citizens, not to wrestle with your conscience."  She directly orders that if
he has another opportunity to destroy the Borg for good, he is to take it, period.  


Data starts conferring with Troi about his situation -- he's tried to provoke
various emotions with a variety of methods, but to no avail.  When Troi asks
why he's avoiding provoking anger, he says that anger is a negative emotion,
and despite Troi's protestations to the contrary, worries that if he's only
capable of emotions such as anger, jealousy, hatred, and so forth, he may
become a "bad person."  Troi reassures him that based on how well she knows
him over the last six years, he will never be a bad person -- but Data then
reveals that he may have felt another emotion.  After he killed the Borg and
stood over the body, he felt another sensation.  "I believe it was ... pleasure."  Troi is taken aback.


Some time later, the Enterprise is en route to battle at New Berlin, when the
alert is revealed to be a false alarm.  With tensions running high, Picard
snaps at Riker when the analysis of the Borg's travel method proves
inadequate.  He then apologizes, citing worries about Hugh.  Although Riker
commends his choice to let Hugh go as a good and moral one, Picard wonders this time if the moral thing wasn't the same as the right thing to do.


Geordi goes to the holodeck to ask Data to return to duty, but finds Data
re-enacting the events on Ohniaka Three, trying to rekindle the anger he once
felt.  Data says he is nearly finished, but asks Geordi to help him authorize
removing the safety limits from the holodeck program, since for him to truly
relive the events, he must be in the same danger.  Geordi refuses to help,
and they discuss the issue -- but it is left unresolved, as the alert klaxon sounds.


The MS One colony is under attack, and this time it's legitimate.  The
Enterprise gets there just as the Borg ship prepares to leave, and attempts
to intercept, pushing the engines to their limit and beyond.  They fail to
reach the Borg ship in time to prevent it traveling through the subspace
distortion it's created, and instead are dragged in themselves behind it.  
The ship makes it through the distortion to normal space, though not without damage, and Data attempts to locate where they are.


The Borg ship, however, approaches them and fires once.  At the same time,
two Borg beam onto the bridge.  They kill a security officer, but are quickly
subdued.  Although the ship took the attack as an opportunity to escape, the dead are left behind -- and one of the Borg is even alive!


This Borg is brought to the brig and revived.  He calls himself Crosis,
saying that he has been given that name by "The One -- The one who will
destroy you."  Upon the mention of assimilation, Crosis all but scoffs, "We
do not assimilate inferior biologist organisms -- we destroy them."  As
Picard muses that "the one" may be Hugh, Crosis recites ways to kill
particular species such as humans and Klingons, and refuses to answer any
more questions.  Picard leaves in disgust after ordering an autopsy on the
other Borg, and orders Data to scan the Borg and make sure he isn't broadcasting to the others.


Once they are alone, Crosis tells Data that he can be assimilated rather than
destroyed, and tells him that "resistance is futile" as he switches on a
device on his arm.  He begins appealing to Data's quest for emotions, saying
that "the one" helped him achieve emotions, and that he can help Data as
well.  When Data is prompted to speak of his own recent emotional experience,
Crosis asked if there was any pleasure in the Borg's death.  "It ... would be
unethical to take pleasure in another being's death."  "You didn't answer my
question.  Did it feel good to kill?"  "... Yes."  Crosis pounces, insisting
that therefore _Data_ must be unethical, even given Data's insistence that
Dr. Soong gave him a conscience.  Eventually, Data begins to weaken,
admitting that it was a "potent experience", and eventually succumbs, saying
that the sway of emotions was so powerful that he would do anything to feel it again -- even kill Geordi.


Meanwhile, Geordi has finally figured out how the Borg are disappearing.  
They appear to be using subspace conduits, rather like wormholes, that they
have created to travel from place to place at incredibly rapid speeds.  The
conduits are triggered by a particular tachyon pulse, which Geordi will
attempt to duplicate.  At the moment, however, another concern takes
precedence, as a shuttle unexpectedly departs from the Enterprise, and
triggers a conduit before it can be captured.  On the shuttle was Crosis -- and Data.


While many begin wondering if Data went as a prisoner or a willing shipmate,
Geordi quickly duplicates the tachyon emission sent by the shuttle, and the
Enterprise zips 65 light-years away in a few seconds.  The shuttle is nowhere
to be found, but they locate its energy trace, along with signs that two advanced civilizations in nearby systems may have fallen to the Borg.  


The Enterprise tracks the shuttle to a planet, but the interference below is
so strong as to make sensors all but worthless, at least so far as looking
for life-forms is concerned.  Despite the risk, Riker takes down a heavily
armed away team.  The team encounters no attack, but also sees no sign of
Data -- the shuttle has been abandoned.  When Geordi estimates the maximum
distance in which the pair could have traveled, Picard orders a massive
number of away teams down to the surface, leaving only a skeleton crew aboard
the Enterprise.  He commands Dr. Crusher to take the ship back to Federation space at any sign of trouble, then departs himself.


As a team consisting of Picard, Troi, Geordi, and a security officer head
across the terrain, Geordi considers and discounts the option of using a
high-energy pulse to locate Data, since it would be likely to kill him.  Troi spots a structure in the distance, which they head for.


The structure is not scannable with the tricorder, but is apparently not a
Borg-built object.  The team heads inside, and finds itself in a meeting hall
of some sort.  It is clearly _not_ abandoned, and is giving off a dampening
field as well, rendering their scanning instruments useless.  They decide to make a hasty exit --


-- but are stopped by Borg entering the room from all sides, virtually
snarling.  The security officer is killed and the others surrounded.  They prepare to fight, but suddenly hear "STOP!" from the sidelines.

They look, and see a familiarly faced android watching over the tableau.

"Data!" breathes Picard.  "That's not Data..." answers Troi.  "What?"


"You should listen to her, Captain," smirks the android.  "She's way ahead of you."

"Lore!"


Lore beams.  "Right.  And I'm not alone..."  He beckons, and Data steps out of the shadows, nearly as scornful as Lore.  He adds to the worries:


"The sons of Soong have joined together -- and together, we will destroy the Federation."

TO BE CONTINUED...


Whew.  Thank heavens _that's_ over -- now I don't have to write another synopsis for three months.  :-)  Now, on to the good stuff -- the commentary.


First of all, a cry of frustration with the cliffhanger ending itself.  Not
the fact that we're going to be strung along for three months, though that is
the usual source of distress -- but the fact that I was caught _completely_ flatfooted by Lore's presence.


And I, for one, feel I shouldn't have been.  There were rumors going around
about Lore's appearance as early as April -- and I helped _start_ them, given
Rick Berman's quotes at a con in Pasadena early that month.  I later
discounted those rumors as people perhaps misinterpreting the previews or
something they'd read, and had absolutely no trace of Lore in my mind.  You'd
think that with Berman himself suggesting we'd see Lore, I _might_ be a
little less quick to discount it.  But, apparently not -- I can be suckered in with the best of them.

Damn.


It's particularly annoying because there _were_ a lot of clues pointing to
Lore in hindsight.  All were fairly subtle, but were ones that you can go
back to and slap yourself silly for not noticing.  For instance:
-- Crosis's statement that "The one helped me [gain emotions]."  Now, it's
certainly _possible_ that this could have been Hugh, but given that Lore's
the one with the emotion chip, isn't it much more likely to be Lore?  Classic misdirection here.


-- The very fact that the Borg are so anti-biological lifeforms now.  Hugh
certainly wasn't _that_ -- but Lore *is*, and has been ever since his first appearance.


-- Data's mention of Soong in his exchanges with Crosis.  That's not much of
an internal-to-Trek clue, granted, but it's not a bad dramatic clue.  Usually
if Soong gets mentioned, something relating to his plans or his "children" is in the offing.


-- Crosis argued an awful lot like Lore -- he tried to set Data apart from
his friends and comrades, offering instead similarity of "his own kind" and
appeals to improve Data.  Lore pulled the same stunt in "Datalore"; the Borg never did.


See?  It was well hidden (in fact, it might be the best-hidden secret ending
TNG's had in its career), but it wasn't pulled out of left field.  Very nice work for those involved in the subterfuge.  :-)


Along similar lines, having Lore behind this makes a great deal of _sense_,
except for a couple of questions I'll get to later.  For one, it explains why
the Borg appear able to create emotions in Data when nobody else can.  While
it's not dead obvious yet, what appears to be the strong implication is that
Lore has somehow managed to distribute the emotion chip's programming out to
all the Borg under his wing (more on that later), and that somehow they can
project some kind of "emotion field" which affects Data.  Certainly, the fact that Data only got emotional while near Borg supports the idea.


It also goes a long way to explain why the Borg specifically targeted Data
this time around.  They certainly wouldn't have three years ago -- Locutus
himself said Data would be "obsolete".  Lore, however, might have a use for his younger brother.  Again, things are hanging together nicely.


Enough about Lore, especially since he only showed up for about seventy
seconds (but oh, what a crucial seventy seconds that was).  Let's deal with other facets of the show.


The plotting was, for the most part, very good.  Certainly, the internal
scheming on the part of the Borg was very nice.  There was the initial
assault to verify that Data was around and could be affected, then the second
one to (1) get a live Borg on the Enterprise to tempt Data and (2) draw the
Enterprise away from Federation space.  Finally, there's the luring away of
Data, which had the unexpected side benefit of making the Enterprise virtually defenseless as well.  Nifty thinking there.


Along those lines, for once a tech solution really caught my interest in a
positive way (unlike "The Chase", the aftermath of which is still a fly in my
ointment).  I'm referring to the "subspace conduits" the Borg used to travel.
First of all, the initial analysis _was_ too general, and Picard expressed in
one line the frustration that I've been feeling at technobabble all year:  
"That could be anything."  Secondly, however, the idea _works_ for me in
principle.  It's akin to the wormhole-travel used in Sagan's _Contact_, if
I'm remembering the novel correctly -- and I didn't have much of a problem
with it there, either.  Thirdly, and perhaps most interestingly, it actually
explains how the Borg showed up so damn fast in "The Best of Both Worlds"!  
There's something we never thought was going to be explained ... and yet here it is.  What a pleasant surprise.


I do have one problem with the plotting, however:  that damned
shuttle-stealing bit again.  I'm getting very tired of it being so _simple_
to steal a shuttle.  Yes, it's probably feasible for Data to be able to swipe
it, particularly when Worf is somewhat distracted by the other goings-on on
the bridge -- but it's still a pain, particularly when Data could have bought
more time by authorizing the shuttle's release _himself_.  Hell, he's second
officer -- he's got to have the clearance for it.  It wouldn't be convincing
to Picard eventually, but it would definitely get him a few extra seconds, by which time he'd be gone.  This one just rubs me wrong.


On the other hand, it's a nice bit of anticipation to use the shuttles for
reconnaissance.  I almost missed hearing it the first time around -- smart
thinking.  (I do wonder why the shuttle Data used is still on the ground, though -- do they really need it for a landmark that strongly?)


Onwards to characters and away from plot.  Clearly, the character to worry
about here is Data (in more ways than one).  Fortunately, all was very well.  
Although Data's protestations during the conversation with Crosis didn't
quite feel right, they weren't _supposed_ to, and we were also tipped off by
Crosis's activation of the whatchamahoozit that something was awry, so that would only be a problem if it felt _extremely_ wrong, which it didn't.  


One of the best parts of Data's exploration had to be his initial talk with
Geordi about it.  The point of "Hey, how's he going to know how an emotion
feels anyway?" is a good one, and one that deserved mention.  And, of course,
it was amusing to watch Geordi try to define feeling angry in any way Data
could comprehend (which, of course, he couldn't -- if it were that easy to break down, Data could feel emotions in a snap!).


Data's little therapy session with Troi was equally strong.  This is the
first time in a while we've seen Troi do any counseling, and it seems that
the improvement the character's had lately really is across the board,
because she had the right mix of detachment (initially) and friendship when
she could tell Data really needed the reassurance.  The best moment of the
scene, however, had to be when Data admitted feeling pleasure at the Borg's
death.  Data looked as guilty as I've ever seen anyone look, despite still "officially" being emotionless.  Nice, nice work.


Picard was a more secondary character, but he was strong -- up to a certain
point.  Picard is rarely second-guessing himself about whether what he's
doing is right, and it was an interesting change of pace to actually see it
come so strongly to the surface here.  One wonders if he _will_ actually be
in a situation to destroy the Borg for good in part II, and if so what he'll do.


That's where the "up to a point" comes in, though, and it ties in to the one main objection I have to the show.


Mainly, I think that "Descent" did a lot to _cheapen_ the Borg as an adversary rather than revitalize them, and that's a pity.


Let me explain.  Until now, two things have set the Borg apart from other TNG
villains:  their collective nature (and utter implacability as a result), and their overwhelming power compared to the Federation.


Both of those have now been set aside.  These Borg don't seem overly tough --
certainly, none of them adapted to repel phaser fire when hit.  The
individuality in and of itself is not a problem, but the way this has been
dealt with is to basically turn them from the silent, deadly, unbeatable foe into badasses with guns.  Ho-hum, say I.


Granted, this is based on part I -- and given some of what we saw here, I
wouldn't be surprised were there to be a significant everything-we-think-is-
wrong revelation coming up in part II.  But right now, I'm much more
interested in Data and Lore than I am in almost anything involving the Borg -- and that's a shame.


Similarly, I'm worried that with Picard's doubts, we're going to see an
outright repudiation of the events of "I, Borg", and that Picard may decide
that genocide in the case of the Borg is all right.  That is possible, but if
so it has to be handled _very_, _very_ carefully, in my opinion.  Trek, in
all its forms, has always been trying to encourage nonviolent solutions.  If
the point needs to be made that _sometimes_ they don't work, fine -- but it
really needs to be handled delicately enough that the Borg are seen as an
exception and not a changing of the rules.  There are enough bloodthirsty shows out there that I don't want to risk seeing TNG follow suit.  


And, apropos of absolutely nothing, I really should mention the poker scene
at the beginning.  Great fun.  The physicist in me was laughing all the time.
I also suspect that Hawking may have consulted a bit on some of the
personalities involved -- both Newton and Einstein seemed to fit what we know
of their personalities quite well, and Einstein's little problem with simple
arithmetic was a nice touch.  (I also enjoyed the "apple story", though I was
prepared to be annoyed until Data said it was held to be apocryphal.  :-) )  
Anyway, the scene had no relevance to the episode, but who cares, it was great fun.  :-)


Anyway, that takes care of most of the commentary.  Now, some predictions for
the future.  Be careful what you read -- if I turn out to be right, you'll never forgive yourself for spoiling the show three months in advance.  :-)

Okay.  Well, here are some thoughts.  


First, as I mentioned earlier, I think that Data's emotional phases are due
to Lore's emotional programming somehow being transmitted to him via those
Borg devices we saw on Crosis.  Further, they appear to be doing something to warp him over to Lore's way of thinking.


The solution?  Well, the Borg are no longer getting rid of their dead.  
Further, the Enterprise already _has_ Crosis's partner awaiting an autopsy.  
Bev was going to look for differences as it is.  My bet is that she'll find
this, and that someone (who'll need to come back from the surface -- Geordi,
maybe?) will manage to figure out what it's for and how to block the transmissions -- and poof!  Data is back to normal.


(Note, however, that I hope this doesn't mean Data is 100% back to status quo, with no chance at emotions.  He deserves better.)

As for the Borg, well, ponder this scenario if you will.


We don't know how Lore hooked up with the Borg.  More importantly, however,
we haven't seen any SIGN of Hugh yet -- and there's no particular evidence that he's around or even that Crosis had heard of him.  Here's a thought:


Suppose that Hugh's individuality had become contagious, as Picard hoped.  
The effect of this might have been to splinter the collective into factions;
after all, you wouldn't expect all individuals to necessarily follow one
banner.  I suspect that Lore has control over one "splinter group" of
Borgdom, and that the faction following Hugh (wherever he is) might well be non-threatening, at least to us.


I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see Hugh coming in with a Borg cube to fight
on the side of the Federation, or at least to stop Lore from perverting the
"gift" of individuality he has brought.  After all, we've been seeing
attempts to cause a Klingon civil war for a while -- how about a Borg civil
war?  This would also ease Picard's conscience a bit, which I for one would like to see.


Just a few thoughts.  I've no idea if they're right -- and neither, I wager, do you.  :-)

So, some short takes and then we're outta here:


-- I really, _really_ like that new Borg ship.  Fluid, bloody huge -- and asymmetrical, which is all the more offputting.  I want one.


-- More fun with ship names:  the Gorkon?  The Agamemnon?  The Crazy Horse?   Most intriguing...


-- Speaking of task forces and Admiral Nechayev, I'm afraid I wasn't too fond
of her this time around either.  Her long speech ending in "why?" had me
wincing all the way through.  (As for her points, I was hoping Picard would
say "Look, you're the one that sent me into a mission that got me tortured, so who are you to talk about morality?", but I knew it wasn't to be.)


-- A TNG first:  the credits were given in the teaser!  Very strange -- I
wonder what brought it on.  (Probably someone just wanted to get a few hundred netters speculating on that very thing.  :-) )

-- Wonderful music job this time around.  Kudos to Jay Chattaway.


That should about do it.  After season-enders such as "Redemption" (which was
nice, but had as its cliffhanger the infamous who-gives-a-fig-for-continuity
existence of Sela) and "Time's Arrow" (which definitely fizzled in part II),
"Descent" was a wonderful change of pace.  I was riveted.  I hope the second half lives up to expectations...

So, numbers time, as always:


Plot:  7.5.  I'm worried about what they've done to the Borg, but other than

that I'm pleased.

Plot Handling: 10.  Bravo.  Crosis looking over Data's shoulder looked like
        a guardian devil.  
Characterization:  9.5.  Picard's inner troubles are giving me troubles, but         we'll see.

OVERALL:  9.5, rounding up for me being in a generous mood.  Wonderful.


Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
BITNET:  tlynch@citjulie
INTERNET:  tly...@juliet.caltech.edu
UUCP:  ...!ucbvax!tlynch%juliet.caltech....@hamlet.caltech.edu
"Not the apple story again." 
                -- S. Hawking
-- Copyright 1993, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

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