Written by Rick Berman
Directed by Rob Bowman
Season 4, Episode 3
Production episode 40274-177
Original air date: October 8, 1990
Captain’s Log: While the Enterprise is on liberty at Ogus II, two brothers, Jake and Willie Potts—who have remained on the ship while their parents are on sabbatical—play at an arcade that sounds suspiciously like Laser Tag. Jake plays a practical joke on his brother by using a balloon filled with red dye that explodes when Willie fires on his brother. Devastated at the belief that he’s killed Jake, Willie runs into the forest and eats a native fruit that is filled with parasites that could kill him.
The Enterprise cuts leave short so they can get Willie—now in quarantine—to Starbase 416. However, en route, Data suddenly stops talking in mid-sentence and goes to the bridge. While never once responding to anyone speaking to him, he takes over helm control, then cuts life support off from the bridge. Any attempt by Picard or Riker to talk to Data or to figure out what’s going on is set aside to evacuate the bridge. Data fools Picard into thinking he’s going to evacuate also, then remains on the bridge—the lack of life support having no effect on him.
While everyone else reconvenes in engineering, Data impersonates Picard and locks out all command functions and sets up force fields around the bridge. Picard attempts a saucer separation, while Worf and Riker try to break through, all to no avail. O’Brien manually disables site-to-site transporter functions, so Data can’t just beam off the bridge, but when they arrive at the planet where Data wants them to go, he sets up a cascading force field setup so that he’s surrounded by force fields wherever he goes, keeping Worf’s security people from stopping him. When he arrives at the transporter room, he reactivates the site-to-site functions and beams down to the planet.
Data materializes in a jungle near a structure. He walks into the structure to meet an elderly gentleman who deactivates his combadge before restoring him. Data remembers nothing since being in the turbolift and cutting himself off in mid-sentence.
The old man identifies himself as Dr. Noonian Soong, believed to have been killed on Omicron Theta with the rest of the colonists. Turns out he had a route of escape set up. Father and son catch up with each other. Soong asks why Data went into a career in Starfleet—he says it was because the people who rescued him were in Starfleet. Data in turn asks Soong why the doctor created him—Soong says he made Data for the same reason why painters paint, why boxers box, why Michelangelo sculpted.
Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Lore. Data implores Soong not to reactivate his brother, but Soong ignores Data’s sage advice (not to mention the fact that he conspired with the crystalline entity to destroy Omicron Theta, and almost did the same to the Enterprise) and wakes Lore up. Angered at being brought back against his will—and unintentionally, as Soong only thought Data was active, but the homing beacon works the same on both of them—Lore is about to leave when Soong reveals that he’s dying (though he avoids specifics regarding what he’s dying of or of how long he has to live).
The family reunion is a bit tense. Soong tells Lore that he did what he had to do, which Lore does not think is a good enough reason to have disassembled him. In turn, Soong reveals to Data that Lore was not entirely honest in “Datalore,” and that it wasn’t so much that the colonists envied Lore as they were afraid of him. Lore hadn’t been able to properly handle the emotions Soong gave him. Soong has spent the intervening years making emotions work right for Data. Had he known that Lore was reassembled, he would have spent time working on fixing Lore, as well.
But before Soong can install the chip, he needs a nap, as he’s quite old, as evidenced by the sheer volume of latex Brent Spiner has been dipped in to play the part.
After his nap, Soong installs the chip into Data—or so he thinks—who starts singing “Abdul Abulbul Amir” by William Percy French. However, it turns out that Lore subdued Data and traded outfits with him, and so Data’s emotion chip is now in Lore. Soong tries to explain to Lore that the chip wasn’t meant for him, but Lore is too busy being pissed at his creator. He throws Soong into a wall and then beams out.
With La Forge and O’Brien having fooled the transporters into thinking anyone who uses it is Data, Riker, Worf, and La Forge beam down. They find Soong on the floor and Data deactivated. The injured Soong tells Data how to clear his memory, at which point he realizes that his actions endangered Willie Potts’s life. Soong refuses to beam back to the Enterprise, as he’s dying anyway (or so he claims, as his exact words are that he has no intention of dying anywhere other than this planet, not that said death is in any way imminent). The away team beams back, Data restores command functions, and the ship hightails it to Starbase 416 to save Willie.
Data gives Willie a set of toy dinosaurs as a gift, and we see Willie and Jake playing with them, the brothers having reconciled. (One can’t help but imagine Willie saying, “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!” with Jake responding, “Mine is an evil laugh!”) When Data expresses surprise at the rapprochement, Crusher says, “Brothers forgive.” For obvious reasons, Data seems dubious at the universality of that statement.
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: La Forge somehow recognizes Soong because of the “stuff” in his lab. This is a neat trick, since the lab is filled with bubbling cauldrons, books, anatomy diagrams, and all kinds of other things that give absolutely no indication whatsoever that the world’s greatest cyberneticist uses the lab. In fact, the “stuff” indicates that he’s pretty much anything but a cyberneticist, as there are maybe three pieces of electronic equipment in the whole room. This is more a failure of set design than writing, but still…
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Pretty much Worf’s entire security force tries to stop Data from making it from the bridge to the transporter room, and they all fail miserably. One member of that force gets a name, Casey, making him the first security guard besides Yar and Worf to be named in dialogue.
The Boy!?: Wes mostly stands around and is ineffectual, but to be fair, that’s true of everyone not named Data….
If I Only Had a Brain : Between his access as second officer of the ship, his ability to impersonate the captain, and his amazing android awesomeness, Data can take over the entire ship without batting an eyelash, which is actually pretty damned scary, yet apparently comes with no consequences. He also comes up with a 54-word code (mostly numbers with a few actual words thrown in) to lock out command functions. (Amusingly, the computer display of the code doesn’t quite match what Data says.)
Oh yeah, and he also is reunited with his brother, meets his Dad, blah blah blah….
I Believe I Said That: “You know what Michelangelo used to say? That the sculptures he made were already there before he started, hidden in the marble. All he needed to do was remove the unneeded bits. Wasn’t quite that easy with you, Data. But the need to do it, my need to do it, was no different than Michelangelo’s need.”
Soong answering Data’s query about why Soong created him.
Welcome Aboard: Cory Danziger and Adam Ryen actually do quite well as the Potts brothers. Danziger in particular handles Jake’s regret and frustration and confusion at the way his practical joke went so horribly wrong quite well. James Lashly appears as an engineer named Kopf—Lashly will return on two episodes of Deep Space Nine as a Starfleet security officer named George Primmin.
But of course the biggest “guest star” is Brent Spiner. After not appearing at all in last week’s “Family,” this time around he plays three parts: Data, reprising his role as Lore from “Datalore,” and getting dipped in a crapton of latex in order to play the elderly Dr. Noonian Soong. That Soong created his androids in his own image retroactively makes Ira Graves’s comment in “The Schizoid Man” that Data has “no aesthetic value whatsoever” even more amusing (not to mention explaining how Graves recognized Data as Soong’s work right away). Spiner will reprise the role of Soong in dream and holographic form in “Birthright Part 1” and “Inheritance.” Lore will reappear in the season-bridging two-parter “Descent.” Spiner will also play an ancestor of Noonian’s named Arik in three episodes of Enterprise.
Trivial Matters: Data’s ability to impersonate someone, established during the trial sequence in “Encounter at Farpoint,” is apparently good enough to fool the computer’s voice-recognition software (which indicates that the voice-recognition isn’t actually all that good, since it should be able to distinguish between something that comes from a biological rather than mechanical source).
When Soong asks Data to whistle, he attempts “Pop Goes the Weasel,” the same tune he was whistling when Riker met him on the holodeck in “Encounter at Farpoint.”
Riker is the one who reactivates Data, as he’s the only one on the away team who’s aware of his off-switch, having discovered and used it during Data’s hearing in “The Measure of a Man.”
Data will get his emotion chip back from Lore in “Descent Part 2,” finally installing it in Star Trek Generations.
Soong does not reveal that he was not the only one to escape Omicron Theta—he also rescued his wife, Juliana, who was badly injured. As will be revealed in “Inheritance,” Soong transferred Juliana’s consciousness into an android body, but she eventually left him.
David Mack recently revealed on his blog that his upcoming TNG novel trilogy Cold Equations will deal with Soong-type androids and artificial intelligence.
Although he has been involved with the production of the show since the beginning, having been a co-executive producer since the late first season, this is nonetheless Rick Berman’s first writer credit on Star Trek. It’s also the last directorial endeavor on Trek by Rob Bowman, TNG‘s most prolific director to date.
Make it So: “Great. Just great.” There are a lot of nice touches in this episode, from the use of other crewmembers (Kopf, Casey, the engineer who accompanies La Forge to sickbay) to Riker’s mounting frustration throughout the episode (I particularly like the tone Jonathan Frakes uses when declaring that they only knew they came out of warp drive by looking out a window, with his hope that they don’t wind up looking like Data after using the transporter a close second) to the philosophical conversations about creation and legacies and such between Soong and Data to Crusher’s excellent bedside manner with Willie Potts.
Of course, the real reason anyone gives a damn about this episode is the trifecta of awesome that Brent Spiner pulls off (with tremendous help from director Bowman, who picked a doozy for his Trek swansong). Having three Spiners in a room playing three radically different characters—Data’s quiet deadpan, Lore’s overemotionality and snottiness, and Soong’s borscht-belt shtick—is a joy to watch, and the intensity of those scenes is excellent.
But ultimately, there’s a depressingly inconsequential feel to the entire episode. In particular the lack of consequences at the end are just appalling. It shouldn’t be Soong’s choice whether or not he beams back to the Enterprise, as he is guilty of kidnapping a Starfleet officer and endangering a nine-year-old boy.
Data has also proven to be a massive security risk. As much fun as it is watching him run rings around his ever-more-frustrated crewmates, there’s the simple fact that there is no way he would be allowed to continue to serve as third-in-command of the flagship after this.
Plus the risk to Willie never feels real because you know they’re not gonna let a little kid die.
As an acting exercise for Brent Spiner, this is a masterpiece, at least an 8. As an episode of TNG, it’s below average, a 4 at best. Luckily, that averages out to….
Warp factor rating: 6
Keith R.A. DeCandido has always enjoyed writing Data in his Star Trek fiction. The android appeared in his very first Trek work, the comic book Perchance to Dream (which is about to be reissued by IDW in the trade paperback Enemy Unseen), and also played an important role in A Time for War, a Time for Peace. Go to his web site and get all his latest fiction (like SCPD: The Case of the Claw, a police procedural set in a city full of superheroes), read his blog, follow him on Facebook and/or Twitter, and listen to his podcast, Dead Kitchen Radio.