(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)
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, 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.
Immediately, the away team notice a marked difference in Borg behavior when compared to earlier encounters. Most notably, one Borg Bosus 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 Corelki, 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.
Later, in a briefing in the observation lounge, 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 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.
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 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 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.
As the Enterprise exits the conduit her shields were down significantly, allowing Borg to 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 shuttlecraft leaves the shuttlebay, revealed to contain Data and the Borg prisoner, and proceeds through the transwarp conduit.
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. 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.
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 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. 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. 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.
Memorable quotes Edit
"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
"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."
- - 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
"That's not Data."
"You should listen to her, captain. She's way ahead of you."
- - 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 Edit
- "Descent" was filmed between Monday 12 April 1993 and Thursday 22 April 1993. It was the final episode shot before the summer hiatus with a wrap day on Friday 23 April 1993.
- This is the only Star Trek episode in which the episode title and guest star credits appear in the teaser before the main opening sequence. This may have been done so as not to detract from the action of the phaser fight between the away team and the Borg, which comprises the majority of Act One. Alternatively, this might have been done because the credits would have run longer than Act One itself.
- Professor Stephen Hawking appears as himself, the only time he ever did so in any Star Trek episode. He is the only actor to ever play himself on any Star Trek episode.
- In one of the few identical shooting sites used by both TOS and TNG (besides Vasquez Rocks), the oak-studded hillside seen just before Lore's fortress is spotted was the same location used for Spock and Leila's discussion of rainbows and dragons in TOS: "This Side of Paradise".
- According to the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, the plot was inspired by the novella Heart of Darkness.
- The eyepiece used by Crosis is identical to the medallion on Worf's baldric.
- According to the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, no live effects were used for the phaser fight; all flames and sparks were added in post-production.
- Although many Borg appear on screen in the final scenes, only eleven extras were used (limited by the available wardrobe). They were multiplied using split-screen overlays. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion)
- While not very apparent or recognizable, the Borg building in this and the next episode is the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, perhaps most well known as the building said to contain the command center and power chamber in the first five seasons of Power Rangers.  This institute was also used as Camp Khitomer in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
- First UK airdate: 3 January 1996.
- This episode marks the third 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. Tasha Yar was the first female in command of the ship while Commander Riker was supervising repairs at the holodeck (TNG: 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 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".
- 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.
- Lastly, during the intellectuals' poker game, 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.
- 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. 
- 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 Edit
- UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 76, catalog number VHR 2738, 10 January 1994
- As part of the UK VHS collection Star Trek: The Next Generation - Borg Box: 5 December 1994
- In feature-length form, as part of the UK VHS release Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Full Length TV Movies: Volume 8, catalog number VHR 4108, 24 April 1995
- As part of the US VHS collection Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Data Collection: 19 August 1997
- As part of the TNG Season 6 DVD collection
- In feature-length form, as part of the Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete TV Movies collection
- As part of the Star Trek: Fan Collective - Borg collection
Links and references Edit
Also starring Edit
- LeVar Burton as Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge
- Michael Dorn as Lieutenant Worf
- Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher
- Marina Sirtis as Counselor Deanna Troi
- Brent Spiner as Lt. Commander Data / Lore
Guest stars Edit
- John Neville as Isaac Newton
- Jim Norton as Albert Einstein
- Natalija Nogulich as Alynna Nechayev
- Brian J. Cousins as Crosis
Uncredited co-stars Edit
- J. Aldrin as Borg
- David Keith Anderson as Ohniaka III science division officer
- Majel Barrett as USS Enterprise-D computer voice
- Joe Bauman as Garvey
- Christine Anne Baur as Corelki
- Pam Blackwell as Borg
- Steven Boz as Borg
- Carl David Burks as
- Cameron as Kellogg
- Tracee Lee Cocco as Jae
- Gerard David, Jr. as operations division ensign
- Joey Davis as Ohniaka III command division officer
- Jonathan Del Arco as Hugh (archive footage)
- Debra Dilley as Borg
- Matt Goodrich as Ohniaka III operations division officer
- Grace Harrell as operations division officer
- Heather as Ohniaka III command division officer
- Gary Hunter as Borg
- Jeff as Ohniaka III operations division officer
- Kathy as Towles
- Ken Lesco as operations division ensign
- Dennis Madalone as Borg
- H. McLaughlin as Borg
- Michael Moorehead as science division ensign
- Tom Morga as
- Geoffrey Mutch as operations division officer
- Mark Riccardi as Franklin
- Joyce Robinson as Gates
- M. Rotter as Borg
- Sissy Sessions as Ohniaka III operations division officer
- Noriko Suzuki as operations division ensign
- Adrian Tafoya as Borg
- John Tampoya as operations division ensign
- Mary Thompson as
- Curt Truman as Ohniaka III command division officer
- Guy Vardaman as Darien Wallace
- Rogan Wilde as Borg
- Vaun Wilmott as Bajoran security ensign
- Unknown performers as
Stunt doubles Edit
- Tom Morga as stunt double for Brian J. Cousins
- Mark Riccardi as stunt double for Jonathan Frakes
- Brian J. Williams as stunt double for Brent Spiner
- David Keith Anderson - stand-in for LeVar Burton
- Carl David Burks - stand-in for Brent Spiner
- Michael Echols - stand-in for Michael Dorn
- Ron Large - stand-in for Ken Lesco
- Nora Leonhardt - stand-in for Marina Sirtis
- Tim McCormack - stand-in for Brent Spiner
- Lorine Mendell - stand-in for Gates McFadden
- Geoffrey Mutch - stand-in for Jonathan Frakes
- Richard Sarstedt - stand-in for Jonathan Frakes
- Dennis Tracy - stand-in for Patrick Stewart
- Guy Vardaman - photo double for Brent Spiner
Agamemnon, USS; apple; arithmetic; Borg; Borg ship; Brooks; Crazy Horse, USS; El-Baz; electromagnetic interference; emergency power; evasive maneuvers; Excelsior-class; Federation; Ferengi; Ferengi trading ship; forced plasma beam; Gorkon, USS; inertial damper; luvetric pulse; magnetosphere; MS I colony; MS system; navigational sensor; New Berlin Colony; number one; Ohniaka III; Ohniaka III Research Station; Ohniaka system; positronic net; power cell; red alert; Soong, Noonian; spinal cord; transwarp; tricorder; skeleton crew; type 15 shuttlepod; vertebra
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"Descent, Part II"