And now…the end is near…and so we face the final curtain. Descender Volume 6: The Machine War delivers an epic conclusion to this sci-fi saga. Not without its kinks, it’s a well-built denouement that ties up the arcs we’ve followed for 32 issues.
The Machine War opens with two chapters set 4,000 years in the past. It’s a technique you’ll find in myriad TV shows: end one episode on a cliffhanger/major reveal, then start the next with something completely different, only to circle back to that reveal mid-episode. Here, the decision works really well. The story shows us the origins of the harvesters in human/United Galactic Council history. We finally get context that makes the story of the first five issues click. Soon after, we’re ushered into the final stretches of character arcs that have built issue after issue. This two-issue series within a series electrifies the current-day story of Descender, and I was so captivated I lingered on panels far longer than I’m accustomed to.
Then, we get back to the task at hand. The conclusion of this series is at its best in the middle of The Machine War. Captain Telsa has to choose between duty and feeling. Does she give Tim-21 to her father to man the UGC-made harvester and destroy the machines? Or does she release him and give him a chance to stop the fighting? Tim-21, meanwhile, finally reaches the pinnacle of his character growth. Though he’s a machine, he feels for people. But he learns here that sometimes emotions can fuel difficult decisions. He finally takes a stand and exclaims that he doesn’t want to be part of a genocide. He isn’t interested in letting others make his moves for him anymore. It was easy to see him as a pawn in the games of more influential characters, considering he’s built to look and act like a child. But Tim-21 is a complex machine, and he learns throughout the series. His final stand offers an amazing look at where he’s come from and how his journeys have changed him.
Of course, I’m a massive Driller stan, and his finale moment is just *chef’s kiss.* The Driller we know has been through the proverbial mud, dealing with the fallout of his choices and banishing himself from the only people who ever began to truly accept him. His actions in this volume showcase how even a machine programmed for a singular purpose can learn and grow. Driller makes sacrifices. He allows his past to inform his present, and of all the emotional peaks packaged in this volume, Driller’s is my favorite by far.
I won’t dive any deeper into the character moments within The Machine War, because anyone reading along will undoubtedly enjoy them. Rest assured, fellow Descender fans, all your favorites get compelling endings.
Overall, though, the grand finale of Descender left me wanting. Lemire and Ngyuen tell an exquisite story, and they had a clear goal in mind from the outset–that much is clear. But the final moments of Descender feel like they exist to set up the next series, Ascender. Am I gonna read that one? You bet I am. But I do wish Descender had a more satisfying final chapter without leaning on the ol’ “what comes next?” trope.
Still, I had a blast reading this series, and I hope others will feel the same. Descender deserves a large audience, and sci-fi fans should be clamoring to read the series. Despite its minor faults, The Machine War gives us a worthwhile ending.