The Good: Excellent acting, Great character development, Intriguing plot
The Bad: Somewhat drawn-out pacing
The Basics: When Data experiences his first emotion, he is horrified to discover he may be a psychopath as the Borg resurface as killing machines.
Data's character, by the sixth season finale, was in a fairly dominant position and the season finale "Descent, Part I" is a Data story through and through. While "Time's Arrow," which preceded the finale in the fifth season sought to be an ensemble piece, "Descent, Part I" makes no such claim. It's a Data story and it wants everyone to see that from the beginning.
The Enterprise responds to a distress call on Oniaka Three to find the inhabitants there slaughtered. The culprits soon reveal themselves to be Borg and they mercilessly attack the Away Team. In the process of combating these new, vicious Borg, Data engages in hand to hand combat with one of them. He is surprised to find himself overcome with an emotion; hate. His killing of the Borg drone leads Data on a troubled journey to understand how he experienced the emotion and what he might do about it. The Enterprise, meanwhile, has recovered a Borg drone from the incident and Crosis, as he is named, gives the crew few clues to the change in the Borg, as the Enterprise is beset by an alien ship. Crosis tempts Data and it becomes clear he is manipulating the android and the pair escapes the starship through a transwarp conduit before the Enterprise crew can stop them. With Data in the hands of the Borg, Picard fears the worst and leads a mission to find him and discover the truth behind Data's emotive incident.
Perhaps one of the moments the writers of Star Trek The Next Generation were most in tune with the depth of humanity that they sought to explore through Data was the moment that the android turns to Counselor Troi and asks, "What if the only emotion I am capable of feeling is anger?" This fear is entirely understandable given the android's lack of emotion. How scary must it be to awaken to emotions only to have to wonder if you are a psychopath?
"Descent, Part I" makes a reasonable exploration of Data's human emotions and the scenes are troubling as he delves into his own motivation. The holodeck exercise he creates to slaughter Borg in the attempt to feel the emotion again is both disturbing and humorous.
But more than simply a "Data story," this episode integrates other characters into that search. While Geordi LaForge has been along the whole time, Counselor Troi - who has largely been absent from Data's periods of self-discovery since the third season's "The Offspring" (reviewed here!) - reasserts her importance by helping Data deal with his emotions.
Throughout "Descent, Part I," the seasoned Star Trek The Next Generation viewer must be asking "Where's Hugh?" and fortunately, so is Picard. The rogue Borg are obviously a result of the Captain's last encounter with the Borg in "I, Borg" (reviewed here!). Indeed, the episode is less understandable without having seen that piece.
Despite feeling like the writers were drawing a simple good idea out longer than it could bear, "Descent, Part I" makes excellent use of the actors it employs. Levar Burton earns his paycheck for playing LaForge as both the concerned friend and the analytical mind in the mission briefing. Burton does quite a bit here to emote his emotions given that much of his face is obscured by the VISOR. Similarly, it's refreshing to see Marina Sirtis once more in the role of actual counselor.
But it is Brent Spiner who walks away with the acting cake here. Spiner manages to create an angry, confused and somewhat psychotic Data without having the viewer feeling like we are watching his psychopathic killer from "Power Play," nor his evil twin Lore. Such a distinctive performance takes real class and talent and here Spiner delivers it wonderfully. There is not a single moment in this episode that the viewer does not feel they are watching DATA go through these obstacles.
A bit hard to swallow for those who are not fans of Star Trek The Next Generation, "Descent, Part I" is a gripping science fiction tale that leaves the viewer clamoring for more. Fortunately, by getting the tapes, the viewer need not wait long.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate season by clicking here!
For other Star Trek reviews, please click here to see the full list, in chronological order, of episodes, movies and seasons I have reviewed!
© 2011, 2008, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |