Monday, May 14, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 7: Inheritance

The Next Generation, Season 7
"Force of Nature"
Airdate: November 15, 1993
160 of 176 produced
160 of 176 aired


The Enterprise visits Atrea IV, aiding the inhabitants in an attempt to re-liquefy their planet's core. One of the planet's scientists lays a bombshell upon Data, though, when she tells him that she is his "mother," having helped Dr. Noonian Soong create him.

My wife here invented Oomox, which she delivers with an almost mechanical precision and stamina.


Matthew: So, based on my last season's worth of reviews, you might expect me to hate this episode. As a matter of fact, I like it quite a bit. This is the "Data Episode" done right. It expands on his back story in an interesting (if not completely believable) way, has a good level of science fiction (indeed, it is somewhat reminiscent of "What Are Little Girls Made Of"), and doesn't require any gratuitous Brent Spiner acting scenes (e.g. A Fistful of Datas), or out of character moments (e.g. Descent). So, as far as the first point, it is not unbelievable that Soong would have a wife. It makes a fair amount of sense. It is odd that he doesn't mention her at all in "Brothers." Why didn't she follow the same homing signal? Her various rationales for abandoning Data on Omicron Theta and never looking him up in the decades since are also pretty artificial. But overall, it's a nice excursion into Data's past, and it gives us some fun snippets about him, such as his predilection towards full frontal nudity, and more talk of his sexuality program.

Kevin: I agree with the credibility problems you mention. I suppose I could see guilt about abandoning him as what prevented her from reaching out until circumstances forced them together. What bothers me is how no one else put two and two together. Assuming she did not fabricate her life story after Omicron Theta, how did the Crystalline Entity remain a mystery? She knew what happened, and if she left Soong, wouldn't she be less inclined to keep everything that happened secret? But overall, I agree that the episode does provide a lot of great character moments for Data and his past, and they were all pitched perfectly between Juliana's affection and Data's neutral curiosity. The scene with Lal's painting was a fabulous nod to continuity and pulled on heartstrings in several directions.

Matthew: The science fiction here is obvious and deep. Human-machine personality transfer was broached in both "Little Girls" and "The Schizoid Man," but always had a mad scientist angle to it. Here, we're not sure the ineffable flavor of consciousness has been transferred, but the subject is convinced that it has. This is a fun philosophical wrinkle. Is this still Juliana O'Donnell? No one else has a better claim to the identity, since she at least retains her memories. If she is convinced she has a "soul," is that basically the next best thing to actually having one? Or are we all just similarly convinced? I do question the idea of a "feedback processor" that could send a human biosignal to medical devices. That seems unduly cute, and could have stood another line or two of dialogue to explain it - perhaps a cloaking device or something.

Kevin: I liked both the science fiction concepts surrounding her identity and how the mystery was built. It makes sense that Data would notice the things that he would, and he reacted accordingly. I also like the moral questions, as ably phrased by Troi and Crusher in the conference room. They both raised valid points and I would have enjoyed more wrestling on Data's part with the question. I like that no one seems to question her subjective sense of humanity. It's a nice sign of the growth everyone has had in seeing Data as a person.

Matthew: The characterizations work well here. Data is written as being curious, but not having any undue emotions beyond his basic ethical ideas. He doesn't get angry when he is told he was left, he is just curious as to the rationale. When he has to decide whether to follow Soong's wishes, he is uncertain whether to proceed. The question of truth for truth's sake vs. a "noble lie" is well explored, with the help of Data's peers, too. I'm kind of uncomfortable with the idea that her status is known by many of the Enterprise crew (not to mention that Dr. Crusher again opened someone's medical records without consent), but it's not a huge deal. Since Data seems to be a utilitarian at heart, most of these things can be justified by their consequences.

Kevin: The scenes between Juliana and Data, and the scene with the pair with Geordi were gold. It was simultaneously a nice, normal "Mom tells embarrassing stories" scene that provided a lot of great background for Data's character. The scene with Soong in the holodeck was also great, and that could have gone south easily. It was great getting to see Soong in his prime, possessed even more of the manic, genius energy. This was the pinnacle of seeing Data inspire emotions in others he cannot feel. Between Julia and Noonien, both parents displayed genuine affection for their son. I also liked the thematic elements of Data's mother an android and Data's father (at least this time) a hologram. Artificial parents for the artificial man, but somehow it only highlights the emotional bonds they formed with Data.

Matthew: There is a B-story of sorts, with the molten core of the planet. But it doesn't get much exploration beyond a conference scene at the start and a few captain's log mentions later on. I kind of wish it had, because it's an interesting science idea. Oh, well.

Kevin: This was another one of those problems that I was briefly worried about as a child, and I agree, it could have endured more exploration. I'm not too disappointed, as the episode we got was chock full of great stuff, so it wasn't like they gave up the B-story to focus on a crappy A-story.


Matthew: Part of my disdain for previous Data shows (such as those cited above) has been the overdose of Hammy Spiner. Hammy Spiner is not present here, possibly due to the lack of Lore in the episode. Either way, Spiner performs very well in both roles, maintaining Data's mostly unemotional character while still making him someone we empathize with; as well as giving Soong a good go, really animating his motives for creating the Juliana android. It was fun to watch, and it made me feel along with the characters. I was never annoyed by any acting choice.

Kevin: It was a lower key outing than Brothers, but I think that this Spiner/Spiner pairing was more successful, possibly because it was so short. The emotional tenor was really nice. His scenes with Juliana over Lal's painting are really some of the best he's done.

Matthew: Fionnula Flanagan was great as Julaina O'Donnell Soong Tainer (she has surpassed Jackie O territory and gone into Selma from the Simpsons territory). For whatever the inconsistencies in her motives were in writing, I was always on board with he way she played the character. She also showed off her mad viola skills to good effect.

Kevin: I really liked her scenes, and I'm a sucker for a good Irish accent. As our faithful reader(s) know, one of our yardsticks for a guest actor is how well they inhabit the universe. When she mentions Lore, a character the actress has never interacted with, and a history she likely has only a paragraph of reference material to go on, says his name and voices her concerns that Data would turn out the same way like she was present for Datalore. To put so much emotion in such a short line with so little backing really shows off her chops. It's easy to see why she was brought back for Enterprise.

Production Values

Matthew: I liked the orbital planet view, it seems as though we're back to the good computer scans in the optical effects. The Okudagram depicting the planet core was neat. The caves on the planet looked pretty good in this show, better than some recent episodes. Overall, the backdrops in this show looked good, including the holodeck.

Kevin: Agreed on all counts. I think the height implied in the shafts really sell the reality of the caves. I liked the doodads in the caverns to infuse the plasma. Some nice prop work all around.

Matthew: Speaking of the holodeck, it included an ambitious optical effect with Data and Soong in the same room, with Soong walking around him with no camera break. Could I tell it was an optical the whole way? Yes. But it looked better than most doubling effects so far in the franchise. The age makeup was much less jarring than in "Brothers," too. I almost believed it, and couldn't see the seams.

Kevin: Freed from the ten-pound mask of Brothers, it was really great to see Spiner animate Soong as a counter to Data's calm countenance. I agree on the quality of the optical effects, too. The internal android work on Juliana's arm and foreheard circuitry was also great.


Matthew: I think this is a 4. It's certainly above average in acting, and I think the story teases us in ambitious ways. The fact that it ended with an ethical dilemma will always earn it points in my book. I think it is solidly above average, but has a few story flaws that keep it from a higher rating.

Kevin: I agree on the 4. We get a nice blend of science fiction and philosophy questions in Juliana's nature combined with one great character scene after another exploring Data's ersatz childhood. That makes a total of 8 from the both of us.


  1. I'm surprised you both like this so much. I really hate the Juliana character. The acting choices ring so false for me, and she just seems creepy. Which, I suppose, maybe works here, but it makes me uninterested in the rest of the episode. Spiner is good though.

  2. I liked this episode but one thing always irked me...

    How is the hologram of Noonien aware that Julianna left him if the chip that had the program was stored in her brain?