Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Descent, Part 2:" Failure To Follow Through On The Psychopathic Androids

The Good: Acting, Elements of character
The Bad: Overwhelming thematic issues, Plot
The Basics: When Lore is revealed to be the manipulator of the rogue Borg, the writers belabor an anti-cult theme that kills the momentum from the first part in "Descent, Part 2."

Star Trek The Next Generation had a flaw that it never outgrew, which was having two-part episodes where the setup vastly outweighed the payoff. In simple terms, Star Trek The Next Generation knew how to do first parts that were interesting, compelling and demanded the viewer watch and wait for the second part, but when the second part came, they were often limp and failed to live up to the potentials introduced in the first part. I attribute this to the writers, who were well known to write the first half of their two-part episodes without having the second part done or even plotted out. "Descent, Part II" opens the seventh and final season of Star Trek The Next Generation with something of a fizzle as a result. Without having seen "Descent, Part I" (reviewed here!) this episode is pointless.

When we last saw the crew of the starship Enterprise, at the end of season six, Dr. Crusher was in command of the Enterprise and the rest of the crew was down on an alien world searching for Commander Data and his psychopathic Borg friend, Crosis. When the season ended, Picard, Troi and LaForge had found Data, the Borg and their master . . . Lore. "Descent, Part II" picks up immediately after the revelation of Lore. Lore reveals that he encountered the Borg following Picard's meddling in "I, Borg" (reviewed here!) and he rescued them. Since then, he has become a megomaniacal leader intent on helping the Borg achieve perfection by ridding themselves of the biological agents that he feels are limiting them. To achieve that, he will experiment on the three captives he has, starting with Geordi.

While Picard tries to reason with Data and Data performs cruel experiments on Geordi, Dr. Crusher's command abilities are put to the test when the menacing Borg ship from the first part returns to destroy the Enterprise. As well, Worf and Riker end up finding Hugh, the Borg they once rescued from the Collective and they set out to destroy the cult Lore has formed.

Essentially, that is what "Descent, Part II" is about; it's about a cult. While "Descent, Part I" promised the intriguing notion of Data having emotion and being mentally unstable, all the sequel offers is a simplified explanation and a refocus of the audiences attention on how emotions are manipulated by charismatic leaders. The problem is, the viewer didn't tune in to be lectured about the dangers of cults, they tuned in to see how the Borg became psychopaths, understand how Data could fall so far and prepared to see a real conflict between Picard and Data and the evil Lore. Instead, we get mush that tries to be action and suspense wrapping itself around philosophy. What the viewer is left with is a jumble that feels much like a non-sequitor when viewed with the first part.

Gone is the menace and the promise of "Descent, Part I." This is clearly an episode where the important accomplishment was simple resolution of a problem. And that is all they achieve. And while I'm not one to advocate the post-Roddenberry violence that erupted on Star Trek The Next Generation in the latter two and a half seasons, even the violence is largely gone. "Descent, Part I" was a violent episode where people (mostly Borg) were being cut down right and left. Here, they simply wait for Lore to tell them what to do.

While the characters muddle through a series of murky circumstances, the stand out of the crew is actually Dr. Crusher. Despite being trapped in a plot about the arrogance of senior officers in their relations with green officers, Dr. Crusher experiences genuine character growth as she commands the Enterprise. Forced to innovate to keep the ship intact, Dr. Crusher makes some fast decisions that we have not seen her make before. Here, she has backbone.

The whole arrogance of senior officers toward junior officers was done early on in the series when Wesley Crusher was given his first assignment on a science team. Here, the conflict between Tait and the security officer is forced, ridiculous and poorly written. This seems a strange contrast to the sudden strength of character that Crusher appears to have. Is it possible she only looks so much better by comparison to the juvenile officers who surround her?

In contrast, the superlative acting in the episode must be a nod in the direction of Brent Spiner. Spiner once again does double duty as both Lore and Data and as a result, we are treated to a diverse performance that reminds us how good Spiner can be at controlling his movements and his sense of timing. Spiner proves he is a master of body language and vocalization, clearly portraying two characters who are more similar than ever for the first time, while keeping them distinctly different.

This marks the second appearance of Jonathan Del Arco as Hugh Borg and unfortunately, his role this time around is little more than a cameo. He fills the slot well and he makes the viewer wish a better part were written for him.

But even the acting and character growth cannot save this episode. In the end, it is simply a resolution to a significant problem that was set up far better. The domination of the cult themes and the constant bleatings about control wear into the viewer and make this episode seem like a demented after school special more than anything else.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Seventh Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the final season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek reviews, click here to see my index page on the subject!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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