Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Inheritance”

Written by Dan Koeppel and Rene Echevarria
Directed by Robert Scheerer
Season 7, Episode 10
Production episode 40276-262
Original air date: November 22, 1993
Stardate: 47410.2

Captain’s log: The Enterprise is assisting Atrea IV with a geological disaster. The planet’s molten core is cooling to the point where it’s solidifying. According to the two geologists who report on board—Dr. Pran Tainer and his human wife, Dr. Juliana Tainer—Atrea will become uninhabitable in thirteen months.

La Forge and Data propose to drill holes through the crust to the pockets of cooling magma and use plasma infusion to reliquefy it. After the meeting ends, Juliana approaches Data and reveals that she was once married to Noonien Soong and worked with him on the creation of Data on Omicron Theta. She’s his Mom.

They sit in Ten-Forward, and Juliana tells Data about his earliest days—what she calls his childhood—when he had difficulty with his motor skills, and during which Soong constantly tinkered with him. They deactivated him, wiped his memory of his “childhood,” programmed him with the colonists’ journals—and then the crystalline entity attacked before they could reactivate him. Soong’s escape pod could only fit two, so they had to leave him (and the other colonists, obviously) behind.

Data has a revelation of his own: not only that he met Soong, but that he died. Juliana is saddened by the news, more than expected. She and Soong divorced shortly after they relocated on Terlina III, as she couldn’t stand the life of isolation they were leading.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Inheritance

Being a cautious sort, Data insists on corroborating Juliana’s story before engaging in any mother-son bonding. He does find evidence that Noonien Soong and Julianna O’Donnell took a four-day trip from Omicron Theta to Mavala IV, matching one of the things Juliana told him, but that’s not much to go on. Soong never mentioned Juliana when they encountered each other, but La Forge points out she probably broke his heart. Also, Juliana has no motive to lie.

This brings Data around, and he tells Juliana, “I would like to get to know you better, Mother.”

Juliana tells all kinds of stories—the arguments over what sex to make Data and whether or not to give him the ability to be creative, how Data had trouble initially with being polite or modest—and Data shows her his quarters. While there, he plays Handel for her on the violin and shows her his paintings. He also tells her about Lal.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Inheritance

They configure the phasers for drilling, and then they fire. Data’s calculations were perfect. (On the bridge, Pran expresses concern with trusting a machine without double checking his work; Riker defends Data’s skills, and smugly points out how well he nailed it when the phasers drill successfully.)

Juliana asks to join Data on the viola for his performance of the Handel piece for the crew. After they rehearse, they discuss procreation, and she reveals that, after they were forced to dismantle Lore, she resisted the notion of creating another android.

She also reveals that there was room in the pod for Data, but she made Soong leave Data behind because she was scared that he would become like Lore. Guilty, she runs from Ten-Forward.

Later on, after they’ve used the phasers to set up a magma pocket, the Tainers beam down with Data to the pocket to set up the plasma infuser. As they do so, Data asks if Juliana would have left him behind if he was a biological son of hers, and she says she would not have. Data believes that it means she values biological life more than artificial life, but Juliana explains that dismantling Lore was the hardest thing she ever had to do because—despite everything—she loved him like a son, and she couldn’t bear the thought of having to do that again. (The question of why, if there was room for another in the pod, they didn’t take any of the other colonists along with them is never addressed.)

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Inheritance

That night, Data and Juliana perform for the crew, having left Pran and another Atrean to continue the work of setting up the infusers. Afterward, Data requests to look at Juliana’s medical records. Crusher is reluctant to do so without a good reason, and Data can’t provide one yet—he’s only willing to say that she may not be what she appears to be.

But before they can go any further, he’s called to the transporter room. The magma pocket had a cave-in. Pran and the other Atrean were injured. They have to finish setting up the infusion before the pocket collapses completely, so Data and Juliana beam down. The infuser was damaged, so they have to reprogram it—while the pocket suffers seismic activity up the wazoo. They reprogram the infuser, but a tremor dislocates the transporter pattern enhancers so that they can only reach it by jumping a huge distance. Data makes the jump just fine, but the impact severs Juliana’s arm—

—which reveals that she’s an android. She’s also unconscious.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Inheritance

They beam back and Crusher and La Forge examine her. She was designed to fool people into thinking she’s human. Even as they look her over with her inner circuitry exposed, the sickbay biobed still reads her as human thanks to sensor trickery in her circuits. Crusher isn’t sure why she’s still unconscious, though, as there’s no damage to account for it.

Data is not terribly surprised at this revelation, as he’d been suspecting it for a while. He tells Riker that her eyeblinks were in a Fourier pattern that is the exact same pattern Soong programmed into Data to make his eyeblinks appear random. He also noticed that her performance in Ten-Forward was note-for-note, pitch-for-pitch exactly the same as that of their rehearsal.

La Forge finds a holographic interface module in Juliana’s cranium, which isn’t linked to any other systems. Data plugs it into the holodeck to reveal an image of Soong at middle age. This interactive hologram was programmed by Soong to answer any questions about Juliana that the person who found it might have. When Data identifies himself, it activates a subroutine specifically designed to respond to him in case he was the one who found Juliana.

There was a real Juliana O’Donnell who really did marry Soong and really did help create Lore and Data. But she was injured in their escape from Omicron Theta, and fell into a coma by the time they reached Terlina III. So he created an android and was able to transfer her memories into the machine. When she awakened, she thought she had simply recovered from her injuries. She never knew she was mechanical. But eventually she left him.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Inheritance

Soong programmed her to fall unconscious if her android nature was ever revealed. As soon as he puts the chip back in her head, she’ll wake up as if nothing happened. She was programmed to live a long life and die at a particular old age. The holographic Soong begs Data to let her live out that life.

Data consults with Picard, Troi, and Crusher about what to do, as he is very conflicted. Eventually, he decides to let her believe she is human.

The infusers do their job, and Atrea is saved. Before Juliana beams away, Data promises to visit her on his next leave, and he finds a way to tell her that Soong loved her.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity?: Atrea’s magma is cooling to the point where it’s no longer liquid. Seems to me that this would cause a lot more catastrophic damage than the increased seismic activity offhandedly mentioned by the Tainers, but whatever. The Enterprise of course fixes it with magical 24th technology just in time for the executive producer credit.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Inheritance

Thank you, Counselor Obvious: While Crusher and Picard feel that it would be better for Juliana if Data told her about her android nature, Troi is the only one who argues in favor of obeying Soong’s wishes, as she’s believed herself to be human all along, and the revelation would be incredibly traumatic. It also would rob Juliana of the one thing Data has wanted all his life: to be human.

If I only had a brain…: Data figures out that Juliana is an android, using evidence that only he can possibly notice. He also eventually takes Troi’s advice, being given two choices (hey look! a machine with a binary problem!) and goes for the humane one.

What happens on the holodeck, stays on the holodeck: Soong went to great lengths to make Juliana seem human, including an interactive holographic message in a bottle to explain in case her android nature was exposed. Because he’s just that awesome.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Soong and Juliana married in secret, because her mother didn’t approve of him. They eloped on Mavala IV, with a Klingon and a Carvalan as their witnesses. Soong created the android Juliana so well that she eventually left him just as the original would have.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Inheritance

I believe I said that: “He was worried that the sexuality program he designed for you wouldn’t work.”

Juliana confirming that Data being fully functional was totally a feature, and not a bug.

Welcome aboard: Fionnula Flanagan makes her second of three Trek appearances as Juliana Tainer. She played Enina Tandro in the Deep Space Nine episode “Dax,” and she’ll play Vulcan Ambassador V’Lar in in the Enterprise episode “Fallen Hero.” William Lithgow is relentlessly mediocre as Pran Tainer. And Brent Spiner, having played an elderly Noonien Soong in “Brothers” and a young Soong in “Birthright Part I,” gets to play a middle-aged Soong here.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Inheritance

Trivial matters: Juliana Tainer returns in the novel Immortal Coil by Jeffrey Lang (which, I would argue, has one of the three or four best Star Trek novel covers ever) and the Cold Equations trilogy by David Mack, and those novels also feature more of Soong (and Lal, for that matter).

Tainer mentions that there were three prototypes created before Lore. One of them, B-4, will be seen in Star Trek Nemesis.

This is the first time the planet where Data met Soong in “Brothers” was named.

Amusingly, given his artificial nature, Data has had as many or more family members appear on screen than anyone else in the main cast: his father (“Brothers”), his brother (“Datalore,” “Brothers,” “Descent”), his grandfather (“The Schizoid Man”), his daughter (“The Offspring”), and now his mother. He’s matched only by Picard (mother, brother, sister-in-law, nephew, and father) and Worf (brother, foster mother, foster father, son, and foster brother, who will appear three episodes hence).

The manifests that Data looks over while searching for records of Soong and Juliana’s trip to Mavala IV includes several references to various members of the production staff and crew, among them Alpha Echevarria IV (after the episode’s co-writer), Lauritson’s Planet (after co-producer Peter Lauritson), Gamma Towles II (after script typist Daryl Towles), Coopersworld (after electrician Brian Cooper), and dozens more.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Inheritance

Make it so: “In every way that matters, she is Juliana Soong.” I want to like this episode a lot more than I do. It’s a retcon that actually works—there’s nothing in the various bits of Data’s backstory we’ve gotten in “Datalore,” “Brothers,” and “Silicon Avatar” that precludes the notion of Soong having a partner and wife, although at least some mention of her totally switching disciplines might not have been untoward. (Seriously, cybernetics is a totally different field from geology. Not that it’s unrealistic at all—people change vocations all the time—but at least a mention would’ve been nice, instead of television’s usual portrayal of all scientists being the same.)

Ultimately, the episode just slogs through. It’s a lot of people sitting around talking about things that happened a long time ago. The fact that the always- wonderful Brent Spiner and the ever-radiant Fionnula Flanagan are doing the talking ameliorates the problem, but only to a degree. It isn’t helped by yet another bog-standard TNG technobabble problem which is mostly there as background noise, not to mention a waste of a character in Pran Tainer. The latter is especially frustrating, as they set up a possible conflict with his request of Riker to double check Data’s work because he doesn’t trust machines, and then do absolutely nothing with it when his wife is revealed to be one as well.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Inheritance

Having said that, Data’s dilemma at the end over whether or not to tell Juliana the truth is a compelling one, and Spiner plays it beautifully—as do Sir Patrick Stewart, Gates McFadden, and especially Marina Sirtis, serving as Data’s chorus.

But if ever an episode cried out for flashbacks, this was it. There’s a reason why the first rule of fiction is “show, don’t tell,” and all this episode does is tell. A really good hour of television could have been constructed from showing Data’s “childhood” on Omicron Theta, witnessing Soong and Juliana’s arguments, observing Juliana’s agonized decision to leave Data behind. This, sadly, was not a good hour of television.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Inheritance


Warp factor rating: 4

Keith R.A. DeCandido has a bunch of short stories currently available in More Tales of Zorro, Tales from the House Band Volumes 1 and 2, Liar Liar, Apocalypse 13, V-Wars, and the new release Defending the Future 5: Best-Laid Plans. He’s also got two short story collections due out this spring: Tales from Dragon Precinct and Ragnarok & Roll: Tales of Cassie Zukav, Weirdness Magnet.


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