Star Trek: The Next Generation: Descent, Part II   Rewatch 
September 17, 2021 6:46 AM - Season 7, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Lore takes a page from the late-21st-century playbook and starts controlling his most powerful soldier with the most potent drug of all: emotions.

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• Writer René Echevarria recalled, "Part I left many balls in the air and I had to catch them. We had a better idea of what this Part II was going to be like, but nothing turned out quite as simple as it seemed."

• Jeri Taylor noted, "[W]e had too much story to tell. It was an embarrassment of riches that a lot of things had to get short shrift. The Lore/Data thing took over, forcing us to almost ignore Hugh, who became a very minor kind of character. We were trying to deal with themes of cults and how a charismatic leader can lure and beguile people. But we had so many themes."

• The first draft of the script had Data kill Lore in self-defense in a lengthy phaser battle, but Michael Piller suggested a less overt means.

• The Borg building in this and the previous episode is the Brandeis-Bardin Institute. This institute was previously used as Camp Khitomer in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

• Visual effects supervisor Dan Curry recalled that the location shooting was done on a day where temperatures reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit. "Those Borg extras were dying. They had to wear black longjohns under those rubber suits."

• According to Jonathan Del Arco, "Rick Berman said in an interview, 'The storyline that ended in 'Descent II' will be continued later in the season.' You'll find out what happens to this group of Borg that are left with me on this planet. You don't know what is going to happen. It really depends on if the audience wants to see the characters again. I think one reason Hugh came back is they got a lot of mail." A reprisal of Hugh on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was also not out of the question. However, Hugh was not seen again on screen in either TNG or DS9. A reprisal, to some extent, of the storyline takes place in Star Trek: Picard.

• Crusher's support for the experimental metaphasic shielding technology was the focus of "Suspicions" [FF previously --ed.]. In that episode James Horan played Jo'Bril, an alien trying to steal the shield technology, while in this episode he plays Lieutenant Barnaby.

• Brent Spiner was disappointed with the episode. He commented, "I don't think it was as good as it could have been. There was a real nice potential there, but it was too mammoth an undertaking in the seven days we're allotted to do shows. There was a nice subtext. Lore wasn't really just villainous, he believed in what he was doing."

• Jeri Taylor admitted, "Maybe it was just too ambitious, because we were not able to do justice to any one of the themes. We spread ourselves so thin and that was our mistake."

• Brannon Braga was also not enthused. "I think 'Part II' was less successful than 'Part I' in that not enough time was developed to the relationship between Geordi and Data and Data's experience with these strange, warped, addicting, dark emotions. Unfortunately you had all these disparate elements […] We though that would sustain the excitement when, in fact, in my opinion, it just served to take away from the more interesting elements." Braga added, "Nevertheless, it was action-packed and successful on that level."

"In a quest such as ours, sacrifices have to be made. It is regrettable, but the greater good must be served."
- Data, under Lore's influence

"I now realize that my life aboard the Enterprise was a waste. My quest to become Human, misguided. An evolutionary step in the wrong direction... I am not your puppet anymore!"
- Data, under Lore's influence

"You probably can't imagine what it is like to be so lost and frightened that you will listen to any voice which promises change."
"Even if that voice insists on controlling you."
"That's what we wanted. Someone to show us the way out of confusion."
- Hugh and Worf

Poster's Log:
The best thing about this episode is Beverly and Taitt. Everything about the Lore Borg Cult is just limp; apart from the undercooked elements described above, I got no sense that they have any actual plan or any clear means to "destroy the Federation"*; what do they have, one big ship (much of which may well be automated) and MAYBE a hundred fairly beatable guys? Lore didn't think it necessary to, say, mass-produce some manner of Soong-type drones? (THAT would have been scary!)

"Descent Part I" had some nice setup, mystery, and action; this fails to capitalize thereon in a fashion I can only describe as Voyageresque. Maybe a three-parter would've worked out better—and been more surprising! But we won't get a three-episode arc with a season-ending cliffhanger AND a season-beginning cliffhanger until DS9 episodes 2x26, 3x01, and 3x02. (DS9's second season began a few days after this episode aired.)

I'll give Spiner props, though: Lore here was a lot less annoying than in past installments, and Data here needed careful acting choices, which he aced. Bad Data, plus Beverly in command, makes this one worth sitting through IMO. And also, lots of supposedly-menacing Trek villains have gone out far less memorably than Lore does here.

* = A case could be made that this episode begins what Voyager would fully develop: the defanging of the Borg. IIRC some have said the first Hugh episode was really the start of their Villain Decay, but that episode's so good I'm loath to blame it.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
It's a very special Greatest Gen this time: they interview LeVar Burton!
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (15 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Pretty much with you on this one. The Lore Corps never really had a chance; I would have been happy with the real Collective coming in at the last moment and settling their hash in about ten seconds. And, if the idea of a Borg Queen was antithetical to the original paradigm, then their having a symbol/logo is even more so. (Although it gave Paramount/CBS/Viacom an excuse to sell more merch, of course, in the manner of Gene Roddenberry introducing IDIC to sell merch through Lincoln Enterprises, much to Leonard Nimoy's displeasure.)

But the episode still had its pleasures, including the idea that reintroducing Hugh to the Collective would have unintended consequences (besides Picard being chewed out by Nechayev), and yes, Lore using emotion as an addictive drug on Data. ("Hey, can you hit me up with some of that good anger?" "Aw yeah, baby, daddy's got what you need, let me get you all raged up.") And, of course, the substitute bridge crew rising to the occasion. I wish they'd brought Taitt back. I was also amused to find out that, not only did they bring back the metaphasic shields from "Suspicions" back, they also recycled one of the actors. (Horan will eventually play the mysterious "Humanoid Figure" from ENT's aborted Temporal Cold War arc.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:58 AM on September 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:

Last time we mentioned this episode's Rogue Borg Mercenaries, a popular/infamous interference card. Play one card, stop a whole ship. Nasty, but there are counters like Intruder Force Field. On the other hand, Lore's Fingernail provides a means to add your Data and Lal to non-Fed decks. A little too easy to counter, but neat. Giusti and Taitt are a bit meh. Lore is a beast, the first 7-skilled card and they're all pretty useful.

Second Edition provides us some of its most popular and unusual personnel, including Non-Aligned Data, Loyal Brother, who is cheap to play but expensive to use. There are also various Rogue Borg personnel, with some cool stat boosting abilities, including Hugh, Rogue Borg; Crosis, Fanatical Lieutenant; Morik; and perhaps most interestingly Goval, Follower of the One, who can gain unlimited attributes, up to your ability to get cards into your hand for him to burn. This leads to him being used in crazy decks where you can clear missions with like Crosis + one other personnel for stats, which in 2E is a huge advantage.
posted by StarkRoads at 9:42 AM on September 17, 2021

It seems like "cut the damaged part off from the collective" is standard operating procedure for The Borg, even though it wasn't clear in these episodes. Everyone seemed to think turning Hugh into a boobytrap would have destroyed the entire Borg rather than just whatever cube happened to re-assimilate him. Also the idea that Hugh having his identity restored would mean anything to the Borg as a whole is silly, if the Borg can effortlessly assimilate people who have been an individual for their whole lives it should be no problem at all to plug in a drone who has only been a person again for a few days. Even if they were expecting a compliant drone he's only one voice among trillions. My headcanon is Hugh did something to himself (maybe even unconsciously) that made him a danger to the collective, perhaps he altered an implant to keep himself from fully reentering the collective, and when an anomaly was detected his whole cube was cut off rather than spending time tracking down the one rogue drone.

Dropping both Lore and Hugh after this episode was a great disservice to either of their arcs. And not only that, Lore was disassembled and vanished completely, he's never mentioned again. Even stupid B-4 gets more screentime than Lore in ST:Picard. Either of them showing up in DS9, or even Voyager somehow, would have been much cooler than the TNG fanservice we did get in those shows (Barzan wormhole Ferengi notwithstanding).
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:04 AM on September 17, 2021

I'm not sure I can coherently explain why, but I considered this a weak two parter when I first watched it. I don't buy that Lore could fool the Borg into forming an alliance. The anger Data showed in part 1 immediately read to me as not genuine, but plot related (and Spiner's acting in that scene also read as forced to me.)

This was the two parter that ruined the uniqueness of the Borg for me.
posted by wittgenstein at 4:09 PM on September 17, 2021

I've always had a soft spot for Lore's costume here.

What I never understood was Data's assertion that this collection of Borg "aspired to the perfection my brother and I represent. Fully artificial lifeforms. We are their future. The rein of biological lifeforms is coming to an end."

Hasn't the Borg been about sampling biological and technological specimens and then assimilating the "best" that they find? Unless Data is just parroting Lore (who may be lying - to himself even).

I do dig Crusher being a nurturing-style captain and staying cool as a stethoscope.
posted by porpoise at 7:07 PM on September 17, 2021

I enjoyed this one! It ended with a bunch of Borg wrestling, which is kind of fantastic when you think about it.

I kind of assumed that, based on the ship and his costume, Lore's plan was to just to become some of space pirate and have a really good time. I would have been on board with that.

GEORDI: Data, you don't have to do this!
LORE: Brother, we are going to become Space Pirates and have a really good time.
DATA: I'm sorry, Geordi. I am going to become a Space Pirate with my brother Lore. We are going to have a really good time.

I liked Captain Crusher, but it seems like every time we've had a woman in the captain's chair they've had to deal with bickering crew and end up doing a ton of emotional labor.
posted by phooky at 8:03 PM on September 17, 2021 [5 favorites]

lol, phooky.

Now I'm imagining Data in spaceDread Pirate Roberts costume. The space pirate Sons of Soong has a nice image to it like the GI Joe Crimson Twins, backed by a regenerating crew of nuBorg sailing a patchwork Borg dreadnought among the stars.

But I will have to respectfully disagree a little about Crusher doing emotional labour (only); she's nurturing by nature and created an environment where the ensign got the opportunity to give comeuppance to the 80's-stereotype a-hole lieutenant personally without Crusher having to intervene.

While it might make organizational sense to give Crusher a competent Lt, that Lt felt like he had a chip on his shoulder due to being inadequate (and left behind with the skeleton crew) - and the actor played it well!

Crusher also got the most out of the acting transporter chief and everyone else left behind by being calm, competent, and caring - and leading by example; I didn't get the feeling that she had to coddle anyone or pander to their feelings or compromise to let anyone maintain an undeserved ego.

No idea if the writers got this right, got this right by omission, or if McFadden just nailed her Crusher character regardless.
posted by porpoise at 8:34 PM on September 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

It does seem like this show has a thing where, whenever there's not one of the white guy leaders in the big chair, someone has to challenge their authority to lead. Even Data got a taste of that when he was temporarily in command of the Sutherland. So did La Forge, early on, before he was promoted to chief engineer, from Logan, who technically outranked him even though La Forge was in command of the ship.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:42 PM on September 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

MeFi: cool as a stethoscope
posted by fairmettle at 11:39 PM on September 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'd forgotten about the LaForge and Data command issues; thanks. The only time I can remember Picard having to put up with a recalcitrant crew like this they were all trapped in a turbolift and his crew was, like, twelve years old.

(Come to think of it, why did all the ordinary bridge crew shifts have to go down to the planet? They're all just walking in circles waving their bleep bloopers in the air; I don't think there's any special tactical competence required for hollering "Daaaataaaa, come hooooome" at the top of your lungs for hours on end)
posted by phooky at 4:59 AM on September 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

Everyone has done good work. I'll just say that while Crusher is a good commander, I wish they had done more to show it off earlier so that it's not so out of the blue.

I have never liked Taitt and Barnaby. Regarding Barnaby, he wasn't left behind with the skeleton crew, he was one of the first to be beamed up during the evac and replaced Taitt at Tactical.

This episode and the one before it illustrate well I think TNG's confusion over the Borg. They never really elaborate one way or another on how many Borg are out there, how large the Collective is. Did Hugh infect all Borg everywhere or just his own cube? Following the dialogue, it's really hard to tell what the writers' intentions are.
posted by Fukiyama at 10:51 AM on September 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

My only real memory of this episode, as it turns out, involves my exasperation at the speed with which Geordi and Data reconciled at the end. I mean, even at the time I understood TNG's desire to represent Future Humanity as Above All That, but holy trauma, Batman.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:51 PM on September 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

I was specifically paying attention to whether Data actually apologizes to Geordi or not - and Data never really does, other than implicitly.

If I was Geordi I would be and remain super weird about all of this. Is Data going to experience (yet another) -ware glitch and try to kill me again?

Data never promised to create a new top-level-priority subroutine along the lines of "I will never knowingly harm you or allow you to be harmed from negligence by myself" ever again.
posted by porpoise at 12:03 AM on September 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

This really just didn't make any sense at all. I enjoyed the scenes with Crusher on the Enterprise, but everything on the planet felt completely inorganic, nobody acting in character, events happening just to get from A to B. No Borg or Lore issues developed--they clearly were afraid of making any consequential statements about the Borg lest they reduce their utility as a future villain. As for Lore, he just does his Lore shtick, there's no arc, no clear or interesting motivations. His death has no heft because we still don't really know anything about him other than the fact that he likes to say "brother" a lot.
posted by skewed at 8:08 AM on September 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

There was a real nice potential there, but it was too mammoth an undertaking in the seven days we're allotted to do shows.
Presumably there are many alternative universes in which this was the plot of "Star Trek: Nemesis" and the one we know was a two-part TV episode. I'm envious.
posted by eotvos at 10:02 AM on September 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

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