Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 4: Brothers

The Next Generation, Season 4
Airdate: October 8, 1990
76 of 176 produced
76 of 176 aired


The Enterprise is racing to Starbase 416 to seek emergency medical treatment for a young boy on board. Dr. Crusher is optimistic that the boy will recover with treatment, but time is of the essence. Complicating matters, Data mysteriously commandeers the Enterprise and redirects it to a planet far off course from the Starbase. Once there, he beams down to an isolated outpost in a dense jungle. Why has Data done this? Will the crew of the Enterprise be able to regain control of the ship and save their young patient?

In his final malicious act of sabotage, Data changes Captain Picard's email password.


Kevin:I like the idea of this episode. Datalore went so completely off the rails, we really needed another stab at Data's back story. The scenes with Soong and Lore were pretty awesome all around. No one had to be stupid, and particularly when Lore sings the line revealing he's not Data, he's absolutely chilling. Lore's performance here was much better. I liked how he jumped so easily between hating him and nervously refusing to believe Soong was dying.  Both Data and Lore's interactions with Soong are pretty interesting. I like that it establishes Soong used his own face as a model. It blends nicely into the slight "mad scientist" reputation he had. His speech about why he created Data was also quite good.

Matthew: Better than Datalore? No doubt about it. A perfect episode? Sorry, no. I agree that this was a necessary and organic development for Data as a character. Of course we want to meet Dr. Soong. But the means of getting Data to the planet, as you mention below, strained credulity. Also, the B plot felt utterly and completely tacked on. Why isn't the cure for parasite X on the starship? Because we need artificial tension, I guess. The attempt to somehow make the two brother stories comment on each other was a failure. One involves a practical joke among young brothers who live on the Enterprise while their parents are on sabbatical (?). The other involves a homicidal maniac and an emotionless automaton. Sorry, writers, I'm not seeing it. And though I think the performance was solid, I think the means of explaining a human's desire to propagate ones own individuality via the Noophian story was a bit overlong, writing-wise. It made a point in three minutes that could have been made just as effectively in 30 seconds.

Kevin: I remain ambivalent on the idea of the emotion chip. It did give Data a glimmer of hope and something to strive for, but ultimately, makes his growth into emotional awareness a bit by fiat. And then given that he can apparently turn it off at will just guts it of any relevance.

Matthew: What I don't get is why in the hell Lore wanted to steal it. He clearly has emotions, already. If the promise had been that it would fix him by giving him positive feelings, I could have seen it. It seemed like they were trying to go in that direction, but the script saw one rewrite too few. But absent that, if he had just said "I want it so you can't have it," that would be a sibling motivation I could understand as well. I'm going to have to disagree, though, on people acting stupid - Data acts momentously stupid on the planet. Right after he delivers the line "I do not trust your intentions" to Lore, the scene breaks and suddenly Lore has incapacitated Data and switched places with him. AGAIN. Explanation? "Lore surprised me." WHAT?!?!? You mean Lore, a being who is neither physically superior to nor TRUSTED by the super-strong automaton, somehow got the drop on him? DUMB. But not only is this dumb, it's also a retread. How many times must we be subjected to the "uh oh, Lore is impersonating Data!" story line?

Kevin: I actually really like that they put this episode third. It's Data's plotline in Family that we never get to see. It might have been fun to see Data and Lore with Jean-Luc and Robert in the same episode, but maybe that episode would have been a little too much. In any event, I like that similar themes of disappointment and jealousy and resentment all play out, centering around someone incapable of any of those emotions.

Matthew: We're going to get a LOT of episodes revolving around the crew, their families, and their choices, in the first third of this season. And despite the problems I list above, I agree that it's worthwhile to see Noonien Soong, and to see Data confront these kinds of natural developmental milestones. And I agree that the Data plot requires a good thirty minutes to set up and pay off, so it couldn't be included in "Family."

Kevin: The part of the episode that really bothers me is how Data gets to Terlina III. Matt has pointed out a few times how annoying it is that Data (and also Troi) get possessed so often because of their skill sets. At what point do they become a liability? Also, it's clear, given Data's use of Picard's voice and codes, that Data remained aware of his life prior to the activation of the beacon. So why did Data play it the way he did? If the beacon required immediate compliance, why not say "Captain, I have to go,"...and go. Picard would have probably let him, or at least taken him after dropping off the boy. And as for the boy, why not return control of the ship after beaming down. Picard would have gone to Starbase 416 even if it meant leaving Data behind. If nothing else, even if the beacon creates a priority command to come where summoned, why does it require he do so in a dick way? You could argue that secrecy may have been key, but hijacking the Enterprise is not how you play it low-key, Noonien. In the end, the combination of the sick boy and Data's magical conversion to remembering just enough about the Enterprise to still know how to fuck with it just seemed to add artifical tension. That's a shame, because the scenes with Lore provided plenty. Jettisoning the plot on the Enterprise, and focusing on the scenes in the lab would have better served the episode.

Matthew: Agreed. Why the hell wouldn't Picard signal the Starbase and have them send "magic potion X" to the ship via a courier? Why even have command codes if you have a being on board who can subvert all of them? If Soong went to the trouble of creating ethical subroutines, why would he then nullify them with this homing beacon? It seems like "come home but don't kill anyone along the way" is a simple enough program to manage in such a sophisticated machine.

Kevin: Nitpick #453D7-A: Why didn't they pick up Lore on the other ship? The sensors have no trouble finding Data, ever. If Nemesis is to be believed, he's a positronic pulsar, a beacon across space, so Worf saying "no lifeforms" was just weird. This isn't Star Wars where C-3PO and R2D2 can hide from sensors because they're droids. Let's remember that. Star Trek. Not Star Wars.

Matthew: My nitpicks include the ability of Data to set course and speed from his station. If that's even possible, why are there two stations at all? The 52 character alphanumeric access code Data created ought to be breakable by a brute force attack in about 2 minutes. The emotion chip was really small, and seemed like a sophisticated microprocessor. Was it replicated? Because the sort of lab that it takes to fabricate such a device requires a clean room, boatloads of machinery, etc.


Kevin: Well, given that Brent Spiner has three roles in this episode, it's gonna live or die by his collective performance. Fortunately, he delivers. Data, Lore, and Soong all come off as three distinct characters, though clearly related. Data's curiosity, Lore's hurt and rage and love for Dr. Soong all overlap and it makes the final scenes all the more scary. I would have liked a touch more "unconcerned for others" from Dr. Soong. I mean, what if the Enterprise were in battle? If he set off the beacon two episodes ago, the Federation would have been destroyed by the Borg. I would have liked a line indicating Soong didn't think or care about the collateral consequences. His creation was all that mattered. It would have added an extra layer to the mad scientist angle.

Matthew: I am sensitive to the "too much Spiner" factor. It's sunk several episodes, not to mention movies. Spiner is a good actor, don't get me wrong. But when he is allowed to run roughshod over a story, especially for yuks, it becomes too much. Happily, that was not the case here. In comparison to Enterprise's Arik Soong, Spiner's Noonien Soong is a lovely creation, feeling like a real and uniquely strange person with a real affection for his creations. Lore was good as well, though I felt he came across as too emotional. This is part writing and part acting. But I wish Lore were more like HAL - less evil by choice than evil by having a screw loose. Data was, yet again, perfectly pitched. He never breaks his emotionless character.

Kevin: My plot problems aside, I enjoyed the scenes of the Enterprise being hijacked. Picard's frustration played well and Spiner did a good job of being emotionless in a different way. It shows how much work goes into his normal portrayal of Data that playing truly cold and flat reads quite differently.

Matthew: I kind of enjoyed Frakes playing Riker as a stern role model to the boys. It's fun to see him in a role besides "insouciant cad."

Kevin: The kids were okay, but didn't have a lot to do. Dr. Crusher gets another lovely turn in the mother/healer role. Her bedside manner is, as always, quietly touching.

Production Values

Kevin: I liked the blue alert lights on the bridge, and the camera work in Engineering was a little different. I don't know if that was on purpose or not. Maybe it was just to accommodate the additional people, but it helped reinforce how out of place Picard is giving orders from Engineering. Little trivia note, the screen showing Data's password doesn't quite reflect what he said. I wonder if that caused problems later...

Matthew: Although Soong's age makeup was relatively convincing, I felt like the color was off. He looked like a leather purse, as if he'd been tanning for years. On a dark jungle planet like that, with all that shade, and all that staying indoors, this seemed unrealistic to me. I think perhaps they needed that dark color to hide the seams. The makeup seemed a bit thick in spots. But again, given the show and the budget, it was still quite good.

Kevin: Soong's lab had lots of nifty doodads. I liked the touch of having Lore in a Pakled uniform. It's quietly unsettling in its implications. The technical work on the split screens was pretty good. I was never pulled out of the moment by an obvious stand-in or matte line.

Matthew: Indeed, the optical and double work was really good, almost never calling attention to itself. I liked the "isolation ward" set.


Kevin: This is between a 3 and a 4 for me. The scenes in the lab are interesting, and touching, and horrifying by turn, and it's the proper villainous performance that Lore never got in Datalore. The implications about Data's susceptibility and the highjacking of the Enterprise and the artificial drama of a sick child pull the episode down, if only because they force the camera away from the Soong family drama. However, Brent Spiner is always a pleasure to watch, and on the strength of his performance(s), I'll give this the 4.

Matthew: This is between a 2 and a 3 for me. The B plot was pointless and artificial, and the A plot required too many unbelievable events to proceed. It pushed too hard on the "Data hijack" trope for me to feel good about it. It is certainly redeemed by interesting Data/Lore/Soong material. But even some of that material lacked credible motivation for the characters. I think that on the strength of the acting and the production, I can call it a 3. That makes it a 7 from the two of us. But these Data stories are kind of starting to piss me off, so I don't know whether the next one will be on the receiving end of a backlash.


  1. Sigh.... Reading your review makes me sort of hate you guys right now because you are making me realize some crucial flaws in a episode I have always liked and I will admit cried at the end of(When Data call Dr. Soong Father). But that being said your review is spot on and this would have been much stronger episode without all of the chaos of the sick kid/Data going all crazy.

  2. I hear ya. It's been interesting seeing what stands up to rigorous analysis, and is not merely something I liked because I was a kid. Don't get me wrong, plenty of TNG stands the test of time and maturity just fine, but there are a few favorite episodes that have a pronounced flaw now that I am a little more critical than I was at the tender age of 9.

  3. Oh Kevin, I still cry at the end of this episode. I probably first saw this episode in college or as an adult. I guess until you guys pointed it out, I was able to ignore/will away the flaws.

  4. The emotional aspects of the story, and the triple performance by Spiner that outlines them, are the saving graces of this episode. Without them, this would probably be a 2.

    So I don't think it's foolish to be moved by them. There are certainly other flawed episodes that are redeemed by the actors, in all of the different series.