Season Six - TNG

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Descent Part I

Written by Ronald D. Moore, Jeri Taylor, Brannon Braga, and Rene Echevarria
Directed by Alexander Singer

As the sixth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation winds down, fans of the series already knew that the seventh season would be the last. It would be the last chance to grow characters in a way that can only happen in series on television, not in films. In this respect, the changes exhibited by the android, Data (Brent Spiner) in the sixth season finale were frightening.

Stephen Hawking guest stars as this episode opens with Data playing a simulated poker game with the noted physicist, Einstein, and Sir Isaac Newton in the holo-deck. He is summoned back to the bridge when it gets a distress call from Ohniaka III, an outlying research station. When they arrive, they see it being attacked by a ship unlike any they’ve ever encountered before.

Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes), the Klingon Worf (Michael Dorn), and Data beam over to the Ohniaka II space station where everyone is apparently dead. As they investigate, they come across a hidden Borg drone. Their encounter soon devolves into a firefight. During the fight, Data begins experiencing a feeling of anger. This dismays him when all is said and done and he tries first to talk to Geordi (LeVar Burton) about it, then turns to Ship’s Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). He also speaks of feeling pleasure at having killed a Borg drone.

Meanwhile, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) copes with Starfleet politics as he struggles to justify his past actions with the Borg to Starfleet as he’s read the riot act about having sent “Hugh” back to the Borg in the episode I, Borg

There’s an interesting twist to the Borg the Enterprise has encountered in this episode. They’ve already noticed a shift in their demeanor; gone is the single-minded pursuit of assimilating those they encounter. These Borg are intent on destroying. Instead of referring to each other by designations, they each have names and apparently feel a sense of loss when one of them is struck down in the fighting, swearing revenge in an almost Klingon-like manner.

Data’s emotions are the focus of the episode. Although it felt like some of Data’s scenes were longer than they should have been to stretch the episode, Spiner handles them quite well. There’s an almost franticness to his trying to understand why the only emotion he’s been capable of feeling was anger. All this time he’s been surrounded by friends who love him; people who he should be concerned about their well-being; and yet only the intense hand-to-hand combat with a Borg drone is able to evoke anger, and then possibly a hint of pleasure at the drone’s demise. It was frightening for fans – will the Data who evolves with emotions end up being psychotic? Are the writers about to give us the Pinocchio story with an evil twist?

There’s plenty for the rest of the cast to do. As mentioned, Picard deals with the fallout from his earlier actions, and the dawning that the “moral thing to do” may not have been “the right thing to do”. Did his inaction when he was possibly able to destroy the Borg entirely result in the deaths of all these people? I wish the Spiner’s scenes had been shortened in favor of Picard anguishing more over this question.

Geordi has always been Data’s “best friend” and it’s nice to see how both he and Troi react to Data after the fact. Both of them are willing to help him and give him the space he needs to explore what has occurred, and at the same time, they are prepared to call him back to duty when they need him instead of allowing him to become self-absorbed.

This is a good season-ending cliffhanger. Not the best cliffhanger Star Trek: The Next Generation has ever given fans, it’s nonetheless a good one.

Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Timescape

Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Descent Part II

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