Descent, Part 1 (#StarTrek #TNG Rewatch, Season 6, Episode 26) Data experiences disturbing emotions while killing a Borg drone

Rewatching ST:TNG

Data plays poker with holodeck simulations of a crabby Isaac Newton, a genial Albert Einstein, and a grinning Stephen Hawking (playing himself).

The Enterprise-D follows a distress call to an outpost, where they find a Borg task force. But everything seems off… not only did these Borg seem to be hiding, the drones refer to each other by names, and one swears to avenge another’s death. When choking a Borg, Data gets really, really mad.

Picard realizes these Borg (whose ship disappears into a Space Thing) may have a new agenda. A video call with Admiral Nechayev is an opportunity to summarize the recent encounter with Hugh (s5e23 “I, Borg”) as we glimpse fleet-wide defense strategics. Later we see Picard watching a video record of a scene from that episode, so it’s reasonable to assume we’ll be seeing Hugh again before long. Riker reassures Picard that letting the adolescent drone go was the moral thing to do, because he developed autonomy when cut off from the Collective; but Picard wonders whether turning down an opportunity to destroy a deadly enemy was right.

Meanwhile, Data and LaForge try to figure out what caused him to experience anger. Data surmises that perhaps he has evolved beyond his programming, but tells Troi his efforts to invoke other emotions have been unsuccessful. He realizes that, while he was choking the Borg, he felt pleasure, and wonders whether that makes him a bad person. Data asks LaForge to help him to disable the holodeck safety protocols, on the theory that facing a real risk may spark a real emotion.

But their experiment is interrupted by an encounter with the same unusual Borg ship that got away from them before. This time they follow the enemy ship into a Plot Contrivance Particle Field, and pew-pew happens, both in space and on the bridge.

One of the fallen drones survives, giving his name as Crosis, He praises a leader he calls “The One” and tempts Data with the prospect of feeling emotions again. Data is disturbingly willing.

After a talky scene all about this week’s never-seen-anything-like-it-before Space Thing, Worf tracks an unauthorized shuttle carrying Data and the Borg; it technobabbles up a Space Thing and heads for it. This being Star Trek, the Enterprise-D is unable to tractor-beam the shuttle (and nobody even suggests using the transporter), but after just four lines of dialog, LaForge can technobabble up a Space Thing of their own, and follow the shuttle.

The chase leads to a planet where a different sort of Plot Contrivance Field prevents scanning the planet from orbit, and a Script Exigency Anomaly that requires Picard to be on the planet surface for storytelling reasons leaves Dr. Crusher in command of the ship.

When a four-person search party consists of Picard, Troi, LaForge and some random guy with a hand phaser, guess who gets offed when they happen upon a Borg meeting hall?

We’ve been carefully prepared to expect who is behind the strange behavior of the Borg, and the cliffhanger revelation delivers a mixture of surprise and familiarity.