Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Brothers"

***1/2

Air date: 10/8/1990
Written by Rick Berman
Directed by Rob Bowman

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise races to a starbase to save the life of a young boy who has inadvertently eaten poison for reasons that ... well, are perhaps a little more contrived than they need to be. (I've always found the initial premise of the sick boy to be the episode's most obvious weak link.) This emergency is halted, however, when a homing signal in Data's brain is triggered and he takes over the ship, diverting it to a nearby planet. Data's takeover of the Enterprise is depicted with some memorable opening-act action that proves just how dangerous Data can be when his human qualities are disabled and he becomes, simply, an unstoppable machine. (His multi-dozen-digit lockout code of the computer — recorded in Picard's voice — is classic.)

"Brothers" is like "Family" with a plot. Coming on the heels of "Family," the thematic similarities are interesting, even if the storytelling method is completely different. (For one, we're dealing with the family roles surrounding an android who has no emotions; for another, we have a more traditional Trek structure, with action and plot.) When Data's conscious mind is reactivated, he finds himself in the lab of his creator, Dr. Noonien Soong, long believed to be dead. Not too long afterward, Lore walks through the door, having also followed the signal home (and proving that "Datalore" was merely the beginning of their arc). With both Soong and Lore, we get two surprises where we might've expected only one; the story brings the entire Soong "family" to one household to tell a tale we didn't envision when the hour began. In that telling Soong reveals he's dying.

Brent Spiner is superb in three roles of characters who are very different and yet vitally connected by the intimate history they share. We see here that Lore is not simply "evil," but a tragic victim of his own existence gone awry. No one is more regretful of that error than Soong, who would've liked nothing more than to fix Lore, if only he'd known he'd been reassembled, and if only there were enough time. Rather, Soong has brought Data here to give him the gift of basic emotions.

In the final act the story pulls the ol' switcheroo — which, I suppose, was inevitable — with Lore disabling Data and taking his place so that Soong installs the emotion chip in Lore's positronic brain. This seems to have the effect of making him even more unstable. The way Lore lashes out at his father makes you wince with sympathy; here's a man who had good intentions but felt forced to shut down Lore like a failed project, and that project now resents him for it. And now the father's failure for his first child prevents him from realizing his dreams for his second. (Note: No comments about B-4 will be entertained.) It may be with a sci-fi twist, but human feelings are still the point here. The message of the final scene all but guarantees Data and Lore will meet again, and seems to ponder what they might ultimately mean to each other.

Previous episode: Family
Next episode: Suddenly Human

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21 comments on this review

Jay - Fri, Nov 4, 2011 - 2:34pm (USA Central)
The contrivance in "Brothers" that made the Enterprise's own sickbay incapable of treating a parasite that lives in fruit, when we've seen Beverly Crusher far more elaborate things...like reversing de-evolution and cultivate a spinal cord from scratch, was just too ridiculous to accept.
Jack - Mon, Apr 30, 2012 - 2:35pm (USA Central)
Or, once again, simply running him through the transporter should cure him...
Moegreen - Sat, Sep 1, 2012 - 6:21pm (USA Central)
Entertain this!!!! (B4 floating in space with Worf firing a big-ass phaser at 'it'.)
Patrick - Sat, Sep 1, 2012 - 8:37pm (USA Central)
Um, why didn't Brent Spiner get an Emmy for this episode? This was Brent Spiner's finest performance on TNG on the same calibre as Patrick Stewart in "The Inner Light". His triple performance is amazing.

The other incredible part is taking the rather lame evil twin idea from "Datalore" and giving it some much needed depth. Lore, while an definitely an evil character is given much needed motivation behind it--he's a child who felt snubbed by his "father". And there's that brief moment where he shows concern for Dr. Soong, when he's told he's dying. Is it an act? Who knows. (Who says there was never ambiguity on TNG?)

But, one of the great things about TNG is how it didn't let things go to waste like Star Trek: Voyager did so often. Tasha Yar's death in "Skin of Evil" seems anti-climatic, but later would be used to give "Yesterday's Enterprise" its dramatic power. The Ferengi were terrible adversaries, but were revamped as comic relief foils (which worked in varying degrees). Q went from a one dimensional omnipotent tormentor to one of the most fascinating characters in the history of Star Trek. Here, "Datalore" (which I consider to be a highly overrated and dumb episode) is improved upon 10-fold with this follow-up story.

TNG was like the plains Indians and their used of the buffalo--very little went to waste.
DPC - Wed, Nov 14, 2012 - 7:20pm (USA Central)
Spiner should have won an award.

With his dual role with Lore, he's always top-notch. As a triple role with Lore and Soong, he excels.

Patrick makes a good point as well - while TNG season 1 was bad, it was how they relied on the early year's concepts and did something *better* with them. Yar, the one Data beds (!!!) is referred to several times, and each time she's referenced it's a home run.

With Lore and Soong, it's no different (though "Descent" would be the one exception...)

The Soong/Lore subplot is a half-cliche (Seigfried from "Get Smart" had a similar background, as would Darth Vader, Davros, and others - they all would later use the same "I was abused as a kid so I will become the most evil being in the universe, have pity on me now instead of before I wanted to wreak havoc and we'd all be licking ice cream cones in perfect harmony instead" trope... of course, everybody forgets that bit... trying to fix problems before they begin...)

The story has some conveniences but so much more makes the whole story that much better in the end. "Chain of Command" would be similar in that regard; contrivances that can be overlooked because the overall effect was a success.
xaaos - Sat, Dec 8, 2012 - 5:21am (USA Central)
Brent Spiner^3

Simply amazing!
Moonie - Sat, Oct 26, 2013 - 1:03pm (USA Central)
Like all Data-centered episodes, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Brent Spiner is fantastic.
Latex Zebra - Mon, Nov 4, 2013 - 5:55pm (USA Central)
B-4 we talk about this episode there is one thing we should addresss...
Jay - Sat, Nov 16, 2013 - 3:35pm (USA Central)
@ Latex Zebra

Nemesis is best treated as akin to Season 9 of Dallas.
Latex Zebra - Mon, Nov 18, 2013 - 2:38am (USA Central)
lol
I just never understood why the writers could be so lazy sometimes, introducing stuff that has clearly never been mentioned b-4 (hohoho)and expecting us to swallow the big plot hole.
Patrick D - Mon, Nov 18, 2013 - 3:29pm (USA Central)
@Latex Zebra

I'm really playing devil's advocate here but: in season 7's "Inheritance", Data's "mother" mentions that there were three androids before Lore and Data, so....B-4 *could* have been one of those aforementioned Soong-prototypes. It's too bad Star Trek: Nemesis was such a sloppily made movie, that they could have used a throwaway line that made B-4's existence seem less convoluted.
Paul - Mon, Nov 18, 2013 - 4:21pm (USA Central)
@Patrick D: 'Inheritance' does lay some groundwork for B4. But how would Shinzon have found him? Granted, the "perfect cloak" would have let him get to Omicron Theta. But didn't the Enterprise crew in "Datalore" look through the lab and what was left of the colony pretty thoroughly? Is it really plausible that B4 was just left in Soong's lab?

It seems to me that it might have been more interesting if Shinzon's people built B4 using Soong's work. The fact that B4 was less advanced could have been chalked up to the fact that Shinzon's people were just parroting Soong's work. The difficulty in building Soong-type androids had been established already.

The dramatic payoff would have been better, too. Just like Shinzon was an imperfect Romulan adaptation of a human/Federation individual, so would have been a (renamed) B4.
PatrickD - Mon, Nov 18, 2013 - 5:29pm (USA Central)
@Paul

In Star Trek Nemesis, it was never clearly explained how Shinzon got B-4, nor did it explain clearly where the Romulans procured Picard's DNA either. Writer, John Logan didn't feel it was necessary to fill in those little cracks.

But, back to "Brothers"--the much maligned Rick Berman wrote this episode and it's fantastic!
Latex Zebra - Wed, Nov 20, 2013 - 9:59am (USA Central)
Cheers Patrick, think that one is scheduled for a rerun soon. I may check it out.
Jack - Mon, Dec 23, 2013 - 8:46pm (USA Central)
If the only difference between Lore and Data really is "a bit of programming", then the "those circuits weren't meant for you" bit makes little sense...
Jack - Mon, Dec 23, 2013 - 8:51pm (USA Central)
Plus, had he not died, considering what he did to the Enterprise, I would think (and hope) that Soong would be facing trial and possible prison.
William B - Tue, Dec 24, 2013 - 2:08pm (USA Central)
Yeah, Dr. Soong does not come off this episode very well -- the primary reason that his scenes alone with Data come off as sweet as they do is because Soong has ensured that Data doesn't remember how he got there, and so doesn't actually realize that Soong's call has done actual damage. SFDebris' review of the episode has a really neat argument about Data as Soong's "good" half and Lore as Soong's "evil" half, and I think that gets at how the episode characterizes Soong (a complicated man with lots of good and lots of bad) very well.

Actually, in a big way I think that we are meant to recognize that Soong is something of a tragic figure -- "deserves" would be going too far, maybe, but he certainly brings Lore's killing him on himself. Data is the culmination of Soong's dream (well, apparently; it turns out in "Inheritance" that Juliana is the actual culmination of his dream, which is itself a creepy matter), but in the process of getting to Data he made Lore and his recklessness in creating and discarding Lore is the cause of the deaths of everyone on Omicron Theta. That he brings Data there and doesn't bother to give Data his memory back right away, so he can continue controlling him perhaps!, is a sign that his dark, myopic side is still present.
Nissa - Thu, Jan 9, 2014 - 11:33pm (USA Central)
Um....I don't like this episode. It was pretty dull, actually. Also, I find it really irresponsible of Dr. Soong to cause Data to go to his home by any means possible. Had the Enterprise been in danger when Data's mind went, lots of people could have died. Dr. Soong doesn't have the right to screw up the doings of a starship on his own personal whims, and it really spoils the "family" nature that this episode was trying to convey.

Also, I found a lot of the dialogue about human nature to be inane and simplistic. Meh.
SkepticalMI - Thu, Feb 27, 2014 - 9:22pm (USA Central)
This is what Datalore should have been. We have the crew actually being competent in dealing with an evil Data. And we have Lore as a real character, rather than a mustache twisting villain.

In fact, it really is Lore that saves the episode. Data and daddy talking to each other? Well, that's going to feel rather formulaic and feel-goodish. Don't get me wrong, their scenes together are very good, but of course it's what we expect. Of course Data is going to ask why he was created, of course Soong wishes Data became a cyberneticist (hey, no mention of Lal?). But Lore, wow... We see a bit of why he's an evil jerk; he's really pissed off about the whole being deactivated thing. And more importantly, he has severe insecurity issues. He wasn't just the unloved older brother, he was the deactivated and ignored brother. Soong created him and tossed him aside to try to figure out his problems with a new model. Essentially, he treated Lore like a machine. Ouch...

As an aside, Data seems to have some insecurity issues too. See Peak Performance. Also, his "I am not less perfect than Lore" mantra. Seems to be a personality quirk in Soong androids... Anywho, Lore and Soong's argument was very well done, and frankly with Soong coming off as the wrong one. Not bad when you already have a reason to think Lore's a jerk. So with a bit more justification for his actions, we're not too surprised when he's goes crazy murderous again. And his ultimate plan, to get "fixed" via obtaining the emotion chip that, of course, Soong made for the perfect son and didn't even bother trying to make for him, makes perfect sense based on what we've seen.

On the other hand, the kids subplot was a bit... off. I don't mind it; it's nice to see the civilian side of the ship. And with a name like "Brothers", there is an attempt to link the two stories together. But how? Bev seems to provide the moral of the story by saying that brothers forgive each other. But how does that apply to Data and Lore? Lore started to seem more understandable over the course of the story, only to pull the ole' knocking out Data and taking his place trick again. Not to mention possibly hastening Soong's death by tossing him around like a rag doll. At this point, Lore is essentially unredeemable. Why should Data forgive him when he has shown no sign of remorse for his actions? Brothers may forgive, but it requires some reciprocity on the part of the aggressive brother. Sigh...
Tom - Sun, Apr 13, 2014 - 1:33pm (USA Central)
I agree with the rating. Masterful performance by Brent Spiner. Am I the only one who hadn't noticed that he played Soong?

The episode does leave a lot of questions unanswered. First, there's the question of Soong's call to Data. I have no problems imagining that a selfish old man would program a simple homing beacon without thinking about the consequences, but there should ideally have been some sort of reflection about the morality of doing that. Alright, that would probably require a double episode, so I can see why they left that out. It's probably also why we don't see them helping Soong at the end. They just left the old man injured in his home. No one would do that.

@SkepticalMI " At this point, Lore is essentially unredeemable. Why should Data forgive him when he has shown no sign of remorse for his actions? Brothers may forgive, but it requires some reciprocity on the part of the aggressive brother. Sigh... " I thought that Beverley's line about forgiveness might be foreshadowing a future episode where Data has a good reason to forgive Lore.
NCC-1701-Z - Fri, Jul 4, 2014 - 2:48pm (USA Central)
This is a 3.5 for me as well.

Obvious gripe: The subplot with the boy who ate poison was weak and cloying - I would have much preferred the old standby cliche of "We need to get medicine to the colony of the week within X hours or else", however old that plot device is.

Setting that aside, every other element was pitch-perfect. Data's takeover of the Enterprise was classic, especially when he started making commands in Picard's voice and issued the bridge lockout code so fast the computer couldn't keep up. Picard's irritated attitude towards being locked out of his own ship, and angry face when the computer wouldn't even tell him how long to the starbase was priceless.

Lore was a good addition to the story, and I still find it hard to believe that Dr. Soong was played by Brent Spiner as well. How Spiner was able to portray three different characters all in one episode is pretty amazing. I saw the 'switcheroo' coming the instant Dr. Soong said he needed to rest, but that didn't make it any less heartbreaking once Soong realized his mistake.

Regarding B-4, there was a (non-canon) short story written that explained how Shinzon got B-4, called "Twilight's Wrath", but that story does raise a set of questions in of itself. (Spoilers - Basically, according to the story, Shinzon was tasked with destroying a Tal Shiar lab during the Dominion War, where he discovered B-4 there and appropriated him before completing his mission.)

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