Real World article
(written from a Production point of view)

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 poker on the holodeck with simulations of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. They engage in a conversation about the curvature of space-time and the "apple story". Newton asks why they are playing this "ridiculous game". Data tells him that he has found, from playing the game with his shipmates, that it provides a useful forum into the facets of Humanity. He explains that he was curious to see how three of history's greatest minds would interact in this setting. 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, an outpost with little strategic value. The Enterprise arrives to find a mysterious ship in orbit. An away team consisting of Riker, Worf, Data, and security officer Corelki find that all personnel on the station are dead and it appears that whoever was responsible for the attacks was specifically interested in their deaths. Data overrides a control panel, causing a door to open and revealing that the attackers are the Borg.

Act One

"Stop it. Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop!"

In the ensuing battle, the away team notice a marked difference in Borg behavior when compared to earlier encounters. Most notably, one Borg, Bosus, expressed sympathy for another by name, Torsus, 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 unusual display, after a Borg kills Corelki and attacks Data, Data becomes uncharacteristically enraged and brutally kills a Borg in hand-to-hand combat. The engagement ends shortly afterward and the Borg transport out.

Picard orders pursuit, but the Borg vessel disappears through a subspace distortion. La Forge will need time to understand the method used, so they go back to the planet.

Following the Borg's departure, Data reveals to Riker that he had genuinely felt anger, and is stunned. Riker asks what had happened and Data cannot provide an answer.

Act Two

Later, in a briefing in the observation lounge, Riker describes the unusual 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. Realizing what he had just said, Riker glances at Worf and tells him he meant no offense. Worf replies that none was taken. 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 the year before.

Later, 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 in one swift stroke. Despite Picard's insistence that Hugh's budding individuality had ethically compelled him to respect his desire to return to the Collective, she orders him to safeguard Federation citizens rather than his sense of morality in the future.

Meanwhile, Data is trying to make sense of the emotion he felt earlier. He speaks with La Forge and Troi about his recent 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

After sixteen hours of patrol, the Enterprise had no further Borg encounters, though tension still runs high on board and throughout the surrounding sector, causing at least one false alarm from the New Berlin Colony. 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. 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.

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 in him 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 friend's 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.

Shortly afterward, the Enterprise receives a distress call from the MS I 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 are down significantly. With a single Borg weapons shot, shields are down completely and two Borg transport aboard the bridge. After succeeding in killing security officer Franklin, 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 biospectral 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, Crosis begins talking to Data about emotions. Despite resistance to Crosis' insistent inquiries Data relents and reveals his experience on Ohniaka III. Crosis 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 Crosis 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 Crosis 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 like the Borg he killed 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 shuttlepod 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 they emerge 65 light-years away, it is revealed that there had been significant Borg activity in the three systems closest to 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 planet with unusually high EM interference. Weighing the risk of putting an away team down to the surface without knowing what could be waiting for them, to which Riker replies that they'll have to take that risk of being surrounded by Borg; Picard orders a well-armed away team down to the surface near the shuttle, with the transporter chief maintaining a lock on all of them at all times.

Crusher in command of the Enterprise

The shuttle El-Baz is found abandoned in a field, with no structures in the immediate area and no signs of Data or the Borg prisoner. Sensing a need to cover more ground, Picard decides to establish a command post near the El-Baz and wants to use the shuttles for low-level reconnaissance, therefore ordering the designated pilots to the shuttle bay. Finally, he orders all available personnel including La Forge and himself to put together four-man away teams, while leaving a skeleton crew on board. When asked by La Forge who would be left in command of the Enterprise, Doctor Crusher enters the bridge and asks for last orders. Picard orders her not to wait for him or anyone else, but to take the Enterprise back to the conduit, and return to Federation space should the Borg return and threaten the ship. Both officers wished each other good luck, with Picard adding "captain" to her title.

Twelve teams from the Enterprise had been deployed so far, with Riker and Worf in one and Picard, La Forge, Troi, and a security officer armed with a phaser rifle in another. After leaving Wallace and Towles manning the command post on the planet, Picard's team search the surface. While climbing up a hill, Picard asks La Forge if they could modify their phasers to send out a luvetric pulse to leave a resonance fluctuation in Data's power cells and could use that to home in on him. La Forge tells Picard that he had thought of that. However, the pulse would have to be so powerful that it would destroy Data's positronic net. As they are talking, Troi sees a structure in the distance. Picard's team enter the structure some distance from the landing site, the interior and exterior bare save for a unknown claw-like insignia in the decor. La Forge informs Picard that he can detect no energy signature coming from the room's illumination sources. Picard realizes that the structure is surrounded by a dampening field that would interfere with their sensors and they should get out immediately. 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


"Do not patronize me, sir. I invented physics. The day that apple fell on my head was the most momentous day in the history of science."
"Not the apple story again..."

- Issac Newton, to Data with Stephen Hawking responding


"Wrong again, Albert."

- Stephen Hawking while showing his winning hand to Albert Einstein


"You have killed Torsus. I will make you suffer for this."

- Bosus, to Riker


"Stop it! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop!"

- Data, while strangling a Borg drone


"What happened?"
"I got angry."

- Riker after Data kills a Borg


"If it meant that you could feel emotions again, the way you did on Ohniaka III, would you kill your friend? Would you kill Geordi?"
"Yes... I would."

- Crosis and Data


" ... 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


"Data."
"That's not Data."
"What?"
"You should listen to her, captain. She's way ahead of you."
"Lore!"

- Picard and Troi, when Lore reveals himself


"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 history

Story and script

  • The story for "Descent" was devised after several ideas for cliffhangers were rejected. One of these, "All Good Things" by Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, involved the Enterprise being recalled to Earth with the crew dispersed to different postings. (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 281) Another story involved Data's dreams from "Birthright, Part I" becoming nightmares. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., pp. 252-253))
  • On 4 March 1993, Jeri Taylor sent a memo to Michael Piller with a different story concept, involving the crew encountering powerful new aliens (potentially as a crossover with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). Meanwhile, Data is experiencing increasingly negative emotions and his behaviour is becoming more erratic. In the end, the mysterious leader of the aliens is revealed to be Lore. [3] Taylor likened her concept to the novella Heart of Darkness, with Data and the crew journeying "up the river". (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 252); Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 281)
  • Ronald D. Moore suggested using the Borg, as a follow-up to "I Borg". After that episode, Taylor and Rick Berman had been hesitant to re-use the cybernetic race. Taylor commented, "I knew we couldn't simply do a Borg story just to do it and use them as villains, because after Hugh that was impossible. This was the exact right story." (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 252))
  • Rick Berman elaborated, "I find [the Borg] very two-dimensional in a way. They are faceless characters without personality and without specific character traits. They're sort of a one-beat group of bad guys to me. In 'Best of Both Worlds' they represented a threat as opposed to characters, and that was a great episode. In 'I Borg' you had the antithesis of that fact, which was a Borg pulled away from the collective and made human. It turned into a character and was given a personality and something to be sympathetic towards. My only interest in the Borg is when they're used off-center in other than the way they were originally conceived." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 281)
  • However, on Piller's suggestion, "Descent" intentionally did not specify how much of the species had changed. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 252))
  • Moore commented, "I liked the idea of 'Descent' a lot. It was an opportunity to go very dark with a character. There were overtones to it that I was drawn to. Finding that Lore and the Borg had joined forces was a creepy proposition, and there was something delicious about that scene in the brig with Data talking to the Borg about killing. I liked taking Data to a very dark place." (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 312)

Production

A concept sketch by Rick Sternbach

Teaser

Spiner and Hawking during filming

Hawking interviewed on-set

  • Professor Stephen Hawking appears as himself in the teaser. He is the only actor to ever play himself in the Star Trek franchise.
  • Hawking's appearance originated with a visit to Paramount to film an advertisement for the documentary based on his book, A Brief History of Time. Hawking, a Star Trek fan, asked for a tour of the Star Trek: The Next Generation sets. On the bridge he requested to be helped into the captain's chair. Afterwards, Hawking commented, "It is rather more comfortable and a lot more powerful than my wheelchair." Later, Hawking was interviewed on the engineering set. Referring to the warp core, he said, "I'm working on that." After the visit, Hawking asked if he could appear on the show. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 253); Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 313)
  • Naren Shankar recalled that the writers pondered for some time an appropriately "profound" scene for Hawking to appear in. Eventually they settled on the poker game. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 253))
  • Brent Spiner referred to the opportunity to appear with Hawking as "perhaps my favorite moment in the entire experience of doing Star Trek. (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 313)
  • In his foreword to The Physics of Star Trek (p. xi), Hawking joked 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."
  • Hawking's off-screen remark which Newton doesn't understand is 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.
  • Einstein has trouble with the math of how much the next bet is. Newton asked if Einstein could do "simple arithmetic". It is a commonly held myth that he could not. In fact, he was quite brilliant as a child, and began teaching himself higher math when he had outpaced his schooling.

Cast and characters

Patrick Stewart poses with several Borg extras

  • Darien Wallace, a background character played by long-time extra Guy Vardaman, receives his last name in this episode.
  • 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." [5]

Continuity

  • The USS Gorkon is the first Federation starship to be named for a non-Human, in this case, Klingon Chancellor Gorkon. The homage was suggested by Rick Berman. Early drafts of the script instead named the vessel the Valiant. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 253)) Later, Star Trek: Discovery would feature several ships named after aliens, including the USS T'Plana-Hath, USS Shran, and USS Muroc.
  • This episode marks the third time that the Enterprise-D is commanded by a female officer (Beverly Crusher). Tasha Yar was the first female in command of the ship while Commander Riker was supervising repairs at the holodeck in episode "The Big Goodbye". 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 the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Death Wish" we learn that the apple fell on his head because a 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 matte painting used to portray the Federation outpost on Ohniaka III was with slight changes previously seen as the Darwin Genetic Research Station in "Unnatural Selection" and as the Arkaria Base in "Starship Mine".'

Video and DVD releases

Links and references

Starring

Also starring

Guest stars

And

Co-stars

Uncredited co-stars

Stunt doubles

Stand-ins

References

2368; acceleration; Agamemnon, USS; amusement; anger; apple; artificial lifeform; arithmetic; automaton; auxiliary power; away team; battle stations; biological organism; blood pressure; Borg; Borg Collective; Borg history; Borg ship; Brooks; colony; command post; course; current; Crazy Horse, USS; dampening field; day; Delta Quadrant; door; duty stations; El-Baz; Einstein, Albert (holograph); electromagnetic interference; emergency power; emotional response; energy signature analysis; erotic imagery; ethical program; ethics; evasive maneuvers; Excelsior-class; Federation; Federation space; Ferengi; Ferengi hand phaser; Ferengi trading ship; flagship; forced plasma beam; Gorkon, USS; hatch; high warp; Hawking, Stephen (holograph); heart rate; high warp velocity; hour; Human; inertial damper; joke; kilometer; king; Klingon; light year; Loresworld; Loresworld moons; luvetric pulse; magnetosphere; meter; MS I colony; MS system; navigational sensor; New Berlin Colony; New Berlin Colony system; Newton, Isaac (holograph); non-inertial reference frame; number one; Ohniaka III; Ohniaka III Research Station; Ohniaka III sector; Ohniaka system; outpost; phaser; phenomenon; pleasure; pilot; positronic net; power cell; red alert; relative motion; river; search plan; security alert; senior officer; sensor range; sexual desire; shuttlebay; shuttlecraft; skeleton crew; Soong, Noonian; space-time continuum; spinal cord; Starfleet; Starfleet ship recognition protocol; subspace; systems attacked by Borg; Task Force Three; theory; time index; transwarp; transwarp conduit; transwarp topological analysis; tricorder; Type 15 shuttlepod; understanding; vertebra

Library computer references

Starship mission status: Ajax, USS; Alderaan; Alpha Laputa IV; Ambassador-class; Apollo-class; Aries, USS; Beta Cygni system; Bradbury, USS; Bradbury-class; Charleston, USS; Constellation-class; Excelsior-class; Fearless, USS; Goddard, USS; Hood, USS; Korolev-class; Merced-class; Merrimac, USS; Monitor, USS; Nebula-class; pulsar; Renaissance-class; Repulse, USS; Romulan Neutral Zone; sector; Sector 21396; Sector 21538; Sector 22358; Sector 22846; Sector 22853; Sector 23079; Starbase 134; Starbase 434; Thomas Paine, USS; Trieste, USS; Victory, USS; Vulcan Science Academy; warp drive; Zhukov, USS

External links


Previous episode:
"Timescape"
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6
Next episode:
"Descent, Part II"
Community content is available under CC-BY-NC unless otherwise noted.