Star Trek: The Next Generation – Inheritance [7.10]

During a mission, Data meets human scientist Juliana Tainer who reveals that she is his “mother” – she helped to create him and was in fact married to Data’s creator, Noonian Soong.  However, during the course of the mission Data realizes that Dr. Tainer is in fact also an android, albeit a highly sophisticated one.  He eventually learns from a holographic message from Dr. Soong that Juliana was based on his real wife, who died shortly after their homeworld was destroyed by the Crystalline Entity.  After wrestling with the implications of this for a short while, Data opts not to reveal to Juliana her true nature, allowing her to live out the rest of her life as a human.

Teleplay by Dan Koeppel and Rene Echevarria. Story by Dan Koeppel. Directed by Robert Scheerer.

Previous Episode: Force of Nature • Next Episode: Parallels

If there’s something a little familiar about Inheritance, it’s because it shares some similar elements to Silicon Avatar from a few years ago:  Data and an older lady do a bunch of science-y stuff together, while they have emotional conversations about what Data’s original home colony where everyone died.  Of course, the difference here is that Juliana Tainer makes it into a “meet your long-lost mother story,” which is nice, but in a way also feels repetitive.

We’ve already seen Data meet his brother, his father, his daughter, and a girlfriend, and almost every single one of those encounters was, like in this one, accompanied by some sense of bittersweet disappointment which we were to feel all the more keenly because we knew Data couldn’t, not exactly.  None of this makes this a bad episode but it does feel like the production team is running out of steam in this final season of the show, and that things are feeling a little “samey”.  The lead performances are good – Fionnula Flanagan does a good job with Juliana Tainer and makes her a sympathetic presence.  Brent Spiner is also good, as normal, but doesn’t seem to be greatly challenged by the material.  But even with this strong foundation, the episode is not as rich or emotionally textured as we’d like it to be, possibly because we feel like we’ve already walked down this road before so many times–it just doesn’t feel like it “means” as much to Data as it should.

Similarly, the “action plot” is nothing to write home about, and is easily interchangeable with dozens of other such “science plots” we’ve seen over the series’ life.  What makes the episode different is of course the revelation that Data’s mother is actually an android.  But that part of the show doesn’t really make much sense, and the episode is forced to spend a lot of its narrative capital convincing us that it’s possible that Soong could have made such an amazing leap forward in his technique with Juliana so soon after making Data.  Anyway, this revelation is kept until the story’s climax in order to provide a twist to a plot that otherwise wasn’t really sure where it was going, but the end result is uneven and a bit jarring.  Maybe the reveal should have been the story’s halfway point, instead?  I’m not sure, but in a final analysis the show’s emotional “reunion” segments take over half the episode length, but feel like ground we’ve covered before, while the more “out there” science fiction stuff is underdeveloped.

As the episode stands, the most meaningful part of it for me comes when Data reveals the painting of Lal–probably because it calls back to an episode that truly was emotional and bittersweet and meaningful, and also because Flanagan really sells her character’s sadness at the thought of a granddaughter she will never know.

Guest Cast:
• Fionnula Flanagan, who plays Dr. Juliana Tainer, appeared in both Deep Space Nine and Enterprise, and had a recurring role as the creepy Eloise Hawking in Lost. She also played Molly Brown on an episode of the time travel show Voyagers! (but not Star Trek: Voyager)

Shout Out to the Past:
• There are lots, with references to Omicron Theta and the Crystalline Entity, and the events of Brothers, including Lore and the emotion chip.

• And of course, Dr. Soong reappears as well, this time as a holographic recording.  So we’ve seen him three times in the series:  once in the flesh, once in a dream, and now as a hologram.

• As commented, there is also a direct reference to Lal, which I did not recall.

• Spot does not appear, but a painting of him does.

Setting Up the Future:
We learn that there were three prototype androids made by Dr. Soong before Data.  Presumably, one of them was B-4, who we will meet in Star Trek Nemesis.

• In the opening scene, LeVar Burton does a particularly good at delivering technobabble in a natural way.

• I don’t think this episode is bad, but it does seem badly named.  What “inheritance” is being dealt with here?  And whose?

• Interesting notion that Data had days of life before his working memory – a “childhood” – just like a person.

• Juliana assumes Data is romantically involved with Troi – kind of funny, but a little strange.

• Cute as Juliana telling childhood stories.  “We asked you to dress, but you didn’t feel it was necessary because you didn’t suffer from the elements.  We actually had to write a modesty sub-routine to get you to keep your clothes on.”

• Riker may be confident in Data, but hey…we’re shooting phasers in to that guy’s home planet – shouldn’t we at least listen to his concerns and double check things, even just to make him feel better?

• Data plays the violin, and the duet is one of the episode’s best efforts at creating a bond between mother and son.  “I have been told that my playing is technically flawless, but no one has described it as beautiful…Are you certain you are not saying this because you are my mother?”

• When Data and Juliana arrive at the planet at the end, they seem to stand around doing nothing for a moment, as if waiting for a tremor.

• Hey, what?!  Data ages in appearance?I  That’s what Geordi says…that Juliana ages in appearance, just like Data does!  I do not remember that!  I always thought it was a thing with Brent Spiner – feeling like he was getting too old to play Data.  But if Data ages, than it’s not really an issue!  I guess he must age very slowly, though, since it’s been decades since he was re-activated, and unless he originally looked like a kid or something.

• Interesting though from Soong:  She’s real in every way that matters.  Would I think that about my wife, if her entire life’s memories were put into an identical android body?

• There’s an oblique reference to Wesley

• Hmm, I’m not sure about Data’s decision at the end, but I guess I understand it.  It would certainly be emotionally traumatizing for Juliana to learn the truth (and certainly, she’s advanced enough to be capable of experiencing that trauma).  But it’s a bit presumptuous for Data and the rest to make the decision to hold back this information from both Juliana and her husband.  Let’s just hope that the Borg will never show up and suppress her ethical subroutine or anything…

• So…Data lies, just so you know.

• “On Atrea, there is a saying that a child born from parents who love each other will have nothing but goodness in his heart.  I guess that explains you.  Take care of yourself, son.”  Awwwww…

Dialogue High Point
I guess my favorite comes when Geordi talks to Data about responding to stuff that doesn’t fit into his logical processors:

But that’s life, Data.  Part of being human is learning how to deal with the unexpected.  To risk new experiences even when they don’t fit into your preconceptions.

Previous Episode: Force of Nature • Next Episode: Parallels


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