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Descent (episode)

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"Descent"
TNG, Episode 6x26
Production number: 40276-252
First aired: 21 June 1993
151st of 176 produced in TNG
151st of 176 released in TNG
  {{{nNthReleasedInSeries_Remastered}}}th of 176 released in TNG Remastered  
278th of 728 released in all
Data's poker game, 2369
Teleplay By
Ronald D. Moore

Story By
Jeri Taylor

Directed By
Alexander Singer
46982.1 (2369)
  Arc: Descent (1 of 2)
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The Borg begin a new offensive against the Federation, but this time they're acting as individuals; Data experiences his first emotions while fighting them. (Season Finale)

Summary

Teaser

Data is playing cards on the holodeck with simulations of Dr. Stephen Hawking, Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein. They engage in a conversation about the curvature of space-time and the "apple story". Hawking has just laid down a winning hand of four sevens when Riker calls for red alert. The USS Enterprise-D responds to a distress call from Ohniaka III, and arrives to find a mysterious ship in orbit. An away team consisting of Riker, Worf, Data, and a security officer find that all personnel on the station are dead and it appears whoever were the attackers were specifically interested in their deaths. Data overrides a control panel, causing a door to whoosh open, behind which reveals who is responsible – the Borg.

Act One

Immediately, the away team notice a marked difference in Borg behavior when compared to earlier encounters. Most notably, one Borg expressed sympathy for another after it is killed by the away team, promising that he would make the away team "suffer" for the death of his comrade, and referring to himself with the singular pronoun "I". In a similar display, after a Borg kills the Enterprise security officer, Data becomes uncharacteristically enraged and brutally kills a Borg in hand-to-hand combat. Following the Borg's departure, Data reveals that he had genuinely felt anger. The engagement ends shortly afterward and the Borg transport out. The Enterprise follows them, but the Borg vessel disappears through a subspace distortion.

Act Two

Later, in a briefing, Riker describes the marked differences in Borg behavior as compared to their previous encounters. The Borg were more aggressive, emphasizing destruction over assimilation, and Riker compares their behavior to that of Klingons rather than the Borg they had encountered in the past. Worf notes furthermore that they demonstrated facets of individuality rather than a collective consciousness, in referring to themselves in the singular "I" over the plural "we", as well as their concern for their dead comrade. It is hypothesized that the developments of named Borg and assertions of individuality may be tied to the influence of the Borg Hugh, who developed a sense of individuality after being rescued by the crew in 2368.

Data speaks with La Forge and Troi about his feelings of rage, and begins to fear that negative emotions are the only ones he is capable of feeling, despite all attempts to elicit other positive emotions through experimentation. Troi assures him that feelings of anger are natural, and are not to be suppressed. However, what most worries Data is that he felt pleasure after killing the Borg on Ohniaka III, which in turn worries Troi as well.

Act Three

Following the incident, Admiral Alynna Nechayev arrives on the USS Gorkon and assigns the Enterprise to head a three-ship contingent of a fifteen-ship task force in the sector, consisting of the Enterprise, the USS Crazy Horse, and the USS Agamemnon. Nechayev berates Picard for having sent Hugh back to the Borg when they had a chance to destroy the Collective. Despite Picard's insistence that Hugh's budding individuality had ethically compelled him to respect his desire to return to the Collective, she demands it would be better for Picard to safeguard Federation citizens rather than submit to his own feelings in the future.

La Forge later joins Data in a holodeck simulation of his experience with the Borg, wherein he tries to recreate the emotional response it had generated on the outpost. Despite multiple attempts, Data tells him that he has not been able to duplicate the sensation, repeatedly and dispassionately killing the simulated Borg while increasing its strength with each failure. Data then asks La Forge if he could help him deactivate the safety protocols on the holodeck in order to augment the Borg's strength to dangerous levels. While La Forge refuses to let him put his life on the line for a theory, Data genuinely believes it will allow him to answer his questions of emotion that he has sought throughout his entire life. Data asserts his ownership over his life, and that he can risk it if he chooses, but despite compassion La Forge refuses.

After sixteen hours of patrol, the Enterprise had no further Borg encounters, though tension still ran high on board and throughout the surrounding sector. During this time Picard reviewed mission recordings of Hugh's experiences on the Enterprise, and revealed to Riker an ounce of regret and second thoughts over sending Hugh back to the Collective. Though Riker maintains it was the moral thing to do, Picard is still fighting with himself over whether it was the right thing to do, given that Hugh presented the opportunity to destroy the Collective before it had caused further destruction.

During this time, analysis of the subspace distortion through which the Rogue Borg ship escaped is revealed as an "artificially-created energy conduit", which later becomes labeled as a transwarp conduit. Shortly afterward, the Enterprise receives a distress call from the MS-1 colony, and immediately responds. The Enterprise gives chase to the Borg vessel, and is pulled into the transwarp conduit as it attempts to flee the system.

Act Four

As the Enterprise exits the conduit her shields were down significantly, allowing Borg to transport aboard the bridge. After succeeding in killing a security officer the Borg are neutralized, though in the diversion the Borg vessel was able to escape. This incident further compounds the differences in Borg behavior for the Enterprise crew, notably in that the disabled Borg were left behind instead of vaporizing them, as had been done on previous occasions.

One of the Borg survives, and during his interrogation it reveals that he does not have a designation, but a name: "Crosis", given to him by an individual referred to as "the one", and, "the one who will destroy [them]". Picard argues with him on this emphasis of destruction, that it is the purpose of the Borg to assimilate rather than destroy. However, Crosis reveals that the modus operandi of these particular Borg is far different from those encountered in the past, in that they "do not assimilate inferior biological organisms, they destroy them", reflecting the development of an internalized ideological identity in these Borg rather than a mere collective identity as linked cybernetic organisms. After an unsuccessful attempt by Picard to communicate with him by referring to himself as Locutus, he orders Dr. Crusher to perform an autopsy of the dead Borg to find any connection to Hugh as an explanation for this behavior, and also leaves Data alone with the Borg to conduct a multispectral analysis.

While Data is alone with the Borg, it attempts to communicate with him. After activating an unknown device on its body that noticeably affects Data in some way, the Borg begins talking to Data about emotions. Despite resistance to the Borg's insistent inquiries Data relents and reveals his experience on Ohniaka III. The Borg pointedly asks him if it felt good to kill, and though Data fights with his understanding of ethics he reveals the pleasure he felt in killing, despite the fact that Dr. Soong gave him programming that defines his sense of right and wrong. It quickly becomes evident that the Borg is goading Data into admitting his like of brutal pleasure. Data admits that it was a potent experience, and noticeably appears to be getting seduced by emotion. Data's ethics begin to deteriorate as he admits he wants to feel this way again. When the Borg asks him if he had a friend, Data mentions La Forge, and in a tremendous reversal of his ethical programming Data says he would kill his friend in order to feel emotions again.

During this exchange, La Forge continued his analysis of the subspace conduit and its operation. As he explains the analysis a shuttlecraft leaves the shuttlebay, revealed to contain Data and the Borg prisoner, and proceeds through the transwarp conduit.

Act Five

After a short flight through the conduit, it is revealed that there had been significant Borg activity in the surrounding three sectors from the terminus, as there had been indications both of advanced civilizations, recent plasma weapon discharge, and no signs of life.

The shuttlecraft is tracked to a planetoid with unusually high EM interference. The shuttle El-Baz is found abandoned in a field, with no structures in immediate area and no signs of Data or the Borg prisoner. Dr. Crusher is left in command of the Enterprise and a skeleton crew on board while the majority of the crew is beamed to the surface as search parties.

During their search Picard, La Forge, Troi, and an armed security officer discover and enter a structure some distance from the landing site, the interior and exterior bare save for a heretofore unknown claw-like insignia in the decor. When the crew attempt to leave the building, a large number of armed Borg flood the building, displaying a near-mob mentality. The security officer is killed :'(, and shortly afterward Lore appears on a promontory in the hall, revealing himself as their leader. Data reveals himself as in league with his brother, as well as their plans to destroy the Federation.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Memorable Quotes

"But then I said "In that frame of reference, the perihelion of Mercury will have precessed in the opposite direction.""

- Stephen Hawking (first lines)


"All the quantum fluctuations in the universe will not change the cards in your hand."

- Albert Einstein to Stephen Hawking, incorrectly calling a bluff


"Wrong again, Albert."

- Stephen Hawking while showing his winning hand to Albert Einstein


" ... transmit another copy of Starfleet's ship recognition protocols, and tell them to read it this time!"

- Picard to Worf after a false alarm


"They were fast, aggressive, almost vicious. It was more like fighting Klingons than... (realizing) ...Borg. (to Worf) No offense."
"None taken."

- Riker and Worf


"Biological organism: Human. Sever spinal cord below third vertebrae. Death is immediate."

- Crosis


"... feelings aren't positive and negative. They simply exist. It's what we do with those feelings that becomes good or bad."

- Troi to Data about his first emotion


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

- Data


"It may turn out that the moral thing to do was not the right thing to do."

- Picard to Riker in the ready room

Background Information

Production

Brent Spiner and Stephen Hawking
Spiner and Hawking during filming.

Continuity

  • It's the second time that the Enterprise-D is commanded by a female officer (Beverly Crusher). Previously, the original Enterprise NCC-1701 was commanded by lieutenant Uhura in the TAS episode "The Lorelei Signal", and the ill-fated Enterprise-C's captain was Rachel Garrett. Deanna Troi was in command of the Enterprise-D during the episode "Disaster", as the highest ranking officer known to be alive after the ship was struck by quantum filaments.
  • Newton makes a reference to the day the apple fell on his head as the day science was born. In VOY: "Death Wish" we learn that the apple fell on his head because Q shook the tree.
  • In this episode Data says "I believe I've experienced my first emotion". However, in the episode "Deja Q", Data experiences a brief moment of laughter, which he then describes as "a wonderful... feeling".
  • The scene in which the Enterprise is traveling through the transwarp conduit is reminiscent of the energy vortex that the Enterprise entered in the episode TNG: "Time Squared".
  • Two starship naming firsts are made in this episode. The USS Crazy Horse is the first named after a Native American, while the USS Gorkon is the first named for a non-Human individual, Klingon Chancellor Gorkon.
  • The matte painting used to portray the Federation outpost on Ohniaka III was with slight changes previously seen as the Darwin Genetic Research Station in TNG: "Unnatural Selection" and as the Arkaria Base in TNG: "Starship Mine".

Notes

Descent Borg concept sketch
A concept sketch by Rick Sternbach.
  • One of the most subtle references to the number 47 occurs in this episode. Stephen Hawking's poker hand consists of four of a kind: four sevens.
  • Hawking's off-screen remark which Newton doesn't understand is a bit of an inside joke: Einstein understands the joke (and Data, who has no sense of humor, understands that a joke has been made and appreciates it), but Newton doesn't get it. Data explains that the joke is based on knowledge about the perihelion precession of the planet Mercury, before Newton angrily cuts him off, saying "Don't patronize me, I invented physics". The perihelion precession of Mercury could not be explained by Newtonian physics alone, and was regarded as a major flaw of Newton's theory, but it later was explained by Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.
  • Furthermore, Hawking's comment "Wrong again, Albert," when revealing his winning hand is a reference to the professor's life work in physics, in which he has disproved some of Einstein's theories.
  • Darien Wallace, a background character played by long-time extra Guy Vardaman, receives his last name in this episode.
  • Several costumes and props from this episode were sold off on the It's A Wrap! sale and auction on eBay, including Tom Morga's costume. [2]
  • The security ensign in the brig is a Bajoran who wears a Bajoran earring. This was referenced in a cut line of Crosis' from the script: "Bajoran. Puncture the lower ventricle of the heart. Death is immediate."
  • In his foreword to The Physics of Star Trek, Hawking jokingly wrote that after "winning" the holodeck card game, he called Paramount Pictures to try and cash in his chips, "but they didn't know the exchange rate."
  • During the filming of this episode Hawking was taken on a tour of the set. While on the bridge he requested to be helped into the captain's chair and in engineering he paused in front of the warp core and said "I'm working on that".

Video and DVD releases

Links and references

Starring

Also starring

Guest stars

And

Co-stars

Uncredited co-stars

Stunt doubles

Stand-ins

References

Agamemnon, USS; apple; arithmetic; Borg; Borg ship; Brooks; Crazy Horse, USS; El-Baz; electromagnetic interference; Excelsior-class; Federation; Ferengi; Ferengi trading ship; forced plasma beam; Gorkon, USS; luvetric pulse; magnetosphere; MS I colony; MS system; New Berlin colony; Ohniaka III; Ohniaka III Research Station; Ohniaka system; positronic net; power cell; red alert; Soong, Noonian; transwarp; tricorder; skeleton crew; type 15 shuttlepod

External links


Previous episode:
"Timescape"
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6
Next episode:
"Descent, Part II"
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