Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Inheritance"

***

Air date: 11/22/1993
Teleplay by Dan Koeppel and Rene Echevarria
Story by Dan Koeppel
Directed by Robert Scheerer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise arrives to assist in solving the crisis of a threatened world whose molten planetary core is solidifying, which will ultimately render the planet uninhabitable. One of the scientists on the planning team, Dr. Juliana Tainer (Fionnula Flanagan), turns out to be the ex-wife of Data's creator, Dr. Soong. Data never knew this woman existed, but she certainly knows him; she helped Soong create him all those years ago, so in a sense she is Data's mother.

"Inheritance" is probably the best installment in the ongoing series of seventh season's Family Tree Theater. It tells an insightful character story about some of the particulars of Data's backstory, which by this point in the series have been sufficiently traveled, but benefit here from a new perspective from a different individual. The always reliable Fionnula Flanagan is good in the role of the former Mrs. Soong, revealing a woman who once shared the passion of creation that Soong did, but lost that zeal after the catastrophic failure that was Lore.

Indeed, Tainer's guilt over how Lore turned out and how that subsequently affected her decision to persuade Soong to shut down and abandon Data — which results in a whole new round of guilt now that she comes face-to-face with him — is evidence of the complexity of the issue of responsibility faced in the realm of artificial intelligence. "Inheritance" benefits from these two characters simply sharing their knowledge about their life perspectives, including brief but effective dialogue where Data reveals his own doomed attempt to create his daughter Lal. (I could've done without the trite backstory that wants to be earnestly and maternally cute, about an early version of Data's programming who refused to wear clothing.)

There's a twist in "Inheritance" as well, where Data discovers, by way of an accident, that Tainer herself is an android that Soong created when his flesh-and-blood wife died. But she doesn't even know she's an android. Soong was able to transfer Tainer's real memories into an android body that is in every way a perfect replica of a human being — right down to medical scans that reveal living tissue at first glance, and especially the fact that this body ages and will eventually die. (There's a subtly nice detail during a violin performance where Data picks up clues that Tainer might actually be an android even before this accident proves it.) And then there's the interactive message left by the late Dr. Soong himself, who explains to Data his intentions and wishes. Enlightening stuff.

This all comes down to a choice that Data must make: Should he tell Tainer the truth — that she is an android — or let her continue to believe that she is the woman named Juliana that she has always believed herself to be? What would you do? And if you were Tainer, would you want to know? Data ultimately decides to allow Tainer to continue believing to be what he himself has always striven to become — a human being. Given such a binary choice, the android Data is able to make the most human (and, for my money, most merciful) of the two options.

Previous episode: Force of Nature
Next episode: Parallels

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12 comments on this review

Paul - Thu, Nov 15, 2012 - 12:44am (USA Central)
Sorry, no. While this episode isn't bad like most of season 7, it's forced retroactive backstory at its worst.

It's also dull as dirt at points. Oh, and how could Soong hope that Data would discover Julianna's true identity? When the recording was made, Data was still on Omicron Theta, for all Soong knew.
grumpy_otter - Fri, Nov 16, 2012 - 1:02pm (USA Central)
I'm with Paul--dull one. As much as I like Fionnula, and she is wonderful in this, the whole story is just kind of "meh."

This is just a personal thing--I hate hate hate when characters get holographic messages from dead people. It is such a conceit! Dead people are dead and they can't tell us things now. I would much rather have them find out whatever "message" was intended through other means.

And when the dead leave holographic "goodbye wishes" for their crew (or son) it is just nauseating. Blech.

2 stars for this one--I won't vomit if I watch it but I don't bother to set the DVR.

Grumpy - Sat, Nov 17, 2012 - 1:35pm (USA Central)
"...the particulars of Data's backstory, which by this point in the series have been sufficiently traveled..."

Really? Of all the regulars, Data's background is notoriously sketchy. His history was deliberately vague until "Datalore," when they finally decided that he was built by a mad scientist, abandoned on a dead planet, and discovered by Starfleet. Between those events and "Encounter at Farpoint," all we know of Data is that Maddox opposed his entrance into Starfleet and, according to "Rightful Heir" (if I recall correctly), Data once contemplated suicide.

So many things about Data we never learn: how was he treated when he was discovered by Starfleet? Do those people stay in touch with him? Did Data have roommates at the Academy? Did he make any friends at all? Where was he posted before Enterprise? What adventures did he have? Why did he experience so much emotional growth in 7 years on TNG but not in the years he supposedly was active before we saw him?

The canonical backstories for TNG characters have huge bilnd spots. We learn a lot about Worf because his convoluted past is tied with Klingon politics, and LaForge accumulates a lot of little details. But little else is brought up in the series. Take Picard: he spent over *20* years as captain of the Stargazer. What do we know of that historic tour of duty? Three things: he took command during an emergency, Jack Crusher died at some point, and Picard ultimately abandoned ship at the Battle of Maxia. That's it. What strange new worlds did he discover? Did he accidentally have an entire civilization's memories implanted in his brain during those 20 years? Did Stargazer encounter any 20th century celebrities mysteriously transported to the future? Judging from what we learn in TNG (not counting novels & whatnot), very little of what happened to the characters prior to Season 1 was worth mentioning.

For Data's backstory to have been "sufficiently traveled," the writers would've had to treat him like a living person with his own rich tapestry of experiences. Instead, we get his origin story, and that's all. Even this episode is nothing more than an enlargement of that.
Paul - Tue, Nov 20, 2012 - 10:46am (USA Central)
@Grumpy: You raise an interesting point. We know almost nothing about Data's life post-discovery on Omicron Theta and pre-Encounter at Farpoint.

And, other than Riker and La Forge (to a lesser extent), we really don't know much about any other character's pre-TNG career.

I would love to know more about Picard. I always thought it would be interesting to see what happened after the Stargazer court martial and before TNG.
Sxottlan - Fri, Nov 23, 2012 - 3:26am (USA Central)
Good episode. The twist elevated it.

Good points made about the lack of background on the TNG characters. Then again, we don't have a lot of background on the TOS characters either imho. It doesn't seem like background details weren't really worked on until DS9.

The book "The Buried Age" does a good job of exploring the post-Stargazer era. Picard does some teaching and commands a Miranda-class vessel on an archeological mission. He meets Data, who still has under-developed social skills because Starfleet has basically kept him out of the way and everyone avoids him.

They had a whole Stargazer book series going for awhile. Unfortunately, the first several installments were pretty bad and the series was discontinued just as it was starting to get better. I do wish more thought had gone into developing Picard's back story. The idea that he commanded one starship for two decades like Kirk did makes me feel like we're missing a lot.
Paul - Thu, Nov 29, 2012 - 7:53am (USA Central)
@Sxottlan: Here's one idea I had a while ago for a Picard backstory.

One of the biggest inconsistencies from TNG to DS9 is the size of Starfleet. In BOBW and Redemption, 40 starships appears to represent a good portion of the fleet. During the Dominion war, Starfleet has apparently thousands of ships (or, at least, hundreds).

There are some ways the difference could have been explained in interesting ways ...

We know from "The Wounded" that the Cardassian threat was around while Picard was on the Stargazer, we also know that 20 years or so before TNG started, things with the Klingons weren't great. The creators could also have brought in the Xgenthi.

Basically, Starfleet might have been looking at new threats and could have instituted a major ship build up sometime after Picard lost the Stargazer. His assignment -- maybe one that looked like a punishment but that he excelled at -- was leading the build up.

Said build up might have taken 10 years, and by the time TNG was ending and DS9 was beginning, Starfleet's numbers could have increased. Maybe Picard's time running this task force would have been where he met Data, Geordi, Worf and most of the Enterprise crew (other than Riker, whom Picard first met at Farpoint).

It's likely that shortly prior to TNG, Picard would have been called away with the first of these ships to address some sort of a threat (which would have tied in the Tasha Yar backstory). His actions there and his work leading the task force might have been the reason he got the Enterprise.
Grumpy - Sun, Dec 2, 2012 - 11:38pm (USA Central)
To be clear, I didn't mind at the time that the characters had thin backgrounds. As Sxottlan says, TOS didn't flesh out its characters in great detail, and no harm done. I was mainly reacting to Jammer's assertion that we had seen Data's background when we hadn't. Heck, I had a better sense of Tasha Yar's background! She seemed like someone who had a life prior to Season 1 (slightly). When I think about that, I lament the stories the show never told.

When GR first pitched Trek, he wanted it set on a ship with some history. He ignored that principle when creating TNG, with its shiny, new-car-smelling ship... and the crew were likewise devoid of history, for the most part. And that continued for 7 years and 4 movies.
Sanagi - Sun, Dec 30, 2012 - 4:41pm (USA Central)
Sometimes(often) the technobabble writers get lazy and just make up some new kind of radiation or whatever... But Data noticing the psuedorandom patterns of an android's eyeblinks is brilliant. A perfect detail in an otherwise mediocre episode.
mephyve - Wed, Jan 29, 2014 - 11:45am (USA Central)
what began as 'Oh no, another fix s planet' episode suddenly becomes a scene from Star Wars "Data, I am your mother!"
After some blah, blah, blah, explaining why we had never heard of her before, it soon becomes apparent that she is an android and we spend the rest of the episode waiting for her head to pop open.
Then there's some blah, blah, blah, about whether or not she should be told, though we know she won't be.
3 stars is about right considering the implications and the acting.
Moonie - Wed, Feb 5, 2014 - 9:51am (USA Central)
I love this episode. 'Nuff said.
Smith - Tue, Feb 25, 2014 - 12:27pm (USA Central)
Not a fan of the story, although the directing was good. This was an example of a story that "looks backwards" whereas IMO the better stories "look forward". Too much of the episode was reminiscing...which doesn't make for good television. There didn't seem to be a lot of depth beyond the anthropomorphising Data to have a mother (it's data's non-human attributes and perceptions that make him interesting, not his human).

A much more interesting angle would be to keep the "save the planet story", but the scientist was an android unrelated to Data. She would be a xenophobe against Data/androids (as would her husband who was more so in the original script). Her mysterious identity (which was the strength of the old story) would be the focus of this new angle perhaps. Do you tell a xenophobe she is what she despises? That is a more interesting question then an android prime directive question that Data faced.
DLPB - Tue, Apr 1, 2014 - 7:09pm (USA Central)
Basically, this episode is a giant retcon. It was okay... but very flawed.

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