WARNING: The following post contains large amounts of spoiler information concerning TNG's "Inheritance". Those not wishing to inherit spoiler information without proper precautions should avoid the article at this point.

In brief: Not perfect, but quite nice indeed; one of the more solid outings of the season so far.

Despite some of my initial skepticism, I was pretty impressed with "Inheritance". Details to follow, after the usual synopsis:

The Enterprise crew is assisting in re-liquefying the core of Atrea Four by drilling holes to "magma pockets" near the core and injecting hot plasma into the core from there. However, Data soon finds he has more concerns than this one project, because one of the scientists, Dr. Juliana Tainer, claims to have been Data's co-creator -- and Noonian Soong's wife!

Her story is, in many ways, quite convincing. She says that she married Soong in secret owing to parental pressure, and that Data has no memory of her because his early experiences were erased after a difficult "childhood". Juliana is very surprised to hear that Data and Soong have actually met, and finds herself hit very hard by the news of Soong's death, despite the fact that she left him years and years ago. Even with all these details, however, Data is initially very skeptical of her claims, in part because Soong never mentioned her. He searches for as much corroborative detail as he can, and finds enough to convince him that she's telling the truth.

They continue to get to know each other, discussing things such as the choice of Data's gender, and the programming of both manners and modesty into Data's personality after some childhood difficulties. The initial drilling to the magma pocket is successful, and with a few hours to kill, Data shows Juliana his quarters.

There, Juliana is swept away by the "beauty" of Data's violin playing, and asks to accompany him in an upcoming recital. Her mood worsens, however, after she sees a painting of Lal and hears of her tragic story. Later, after they practice, she asks Data if he intends to create another android, and worries about whether it's right to create something with such little chance of survival. She speaks from experience; apparently, she and Soong had three android "miscarriages" before a successful creation -- and that creation was Lore. Eventually, she reveals that she was initially opposed to Data's creation, and admits that she forced Soong to leave Data behind when the Crystalline Entity attacked, worried that otherwise she might have to deactivate him as she did Lore. She leaves, in tears.

As the drilling continues (including a small crisis which Juliana solves with surprising speed), Juliana's current husband Pran reignites the conversation from the previous night. Juliana manages to describe her viewpoint and how wrenching it was to have to deactivate Lore. "I'm not trying to justify leaving you behind," she tells Data, "I'm just sorry I did." Data is satisfied by this, and they continue their work.

After the recital, at which both Data and Juliana are superb, Data goes to sickbay to ask for Juliana's medical records, being surprisingly tight-lipped about why he wants them. No obvious problems are found, but Data will say only that Juliana "is not who she claims to be." The investigation is interrupted by reports of a cave-in in one of the magma pockets, however, and Data and Juliana quickly beam down to the pocket to reset the plasma injectors before the seismic activity renders their work useless. In the process, however, Data and Juliana must jump off a cliff to reach the beam-back point -- and when Juliana misses the jump slightly, she falls unconscious, and her arm breaks; breaks OFF, revealing that she too is an android!

In sickbay, it becomes clear that she's also a Soong-type android, but not why she is unconscious. (It is also revealed that Data has had strong suspicions of this for some time.) Data finds an information chip in her brain, and uses it to call up a holodeck interface with Soong, who even anticipated the possibility of Data finding Juliana out. Soong tells Data that there was a real Juliana, whom he married, but that she died shortly after the attack on Omicron Theta. He transferred her consciousness into this android Juliana, flawlessly -- so flawlessly, in fact, that Juliana _does not know_ she is an android; and neither does anyone else, until now. Soong regrets not telling Juliana of his love for her more often, and urges Data to spare her happiness, by not telling her of her true nature. "The truth is," he emphasizes, "in every way that matters, she IS Juliana Soong."

Data asks his crewmates for advice on what to tell Juliana, but in the end faces the choice himself. Despite his own wishes for a kindred spirit, he tells her merely that she was injured in the fall, and reveals nothing as the project is wrapped up. As they part, Data tells her that he wanted to reveal something: "My father told me that he had only one great love in his life, and that he regretted never telling her how much he cared for her. I am certain he was referring to you." Juliana leaves, again leaving Data as the only self-aware android in existence.


That should suffice. Now, onwards to the usual rantings.

Although my reaction to the initial news weeks ago of "Data will find out he has a mother" wasn't as, shall we say, visceral as many reactions were, I did have a fair amount of skepticism about it, actually for many of the reasons Data did. While it's not completely implausible for Soong to have had a partner in creating Data or even a wife, it did seem very unlikely to me, so I came in worried about it.

For the most part, however, I didn't find it nearly as implausible as I feared. I do find it a little hard to believe that Soong was thought dead by everyone with Juliana alive and publicly so, but that's really a fairly minor point -- things like "Brothers" work just as well if Soong has simply vanished into hiding. The idea of a past Data didn't know he had, however, works far better than it could for any other character, simply because Data is the one character whose memories can simply be flat-out removed. So, my disbelief wasn't suspended quite as far as I planned, which is nice.

The initial scenes of Data's skepticism were well-played out, though I for one couldn't help but be amused by some of it. After all, if you think of it, Data was trying to make sure he wasn't of "illegitimate" origin -- and the thought of Data wondering "am I, in fact, a bastard?" was just too cute. The only flat portion in this early section, really, was Geordi's little speech about how life is full of unexpected occurrences like this. Sometimes Geordi's lectures to Data have worked very well ("The Defector", which I saw again recently, has a great example of one), but this one sat there like a lump.

The middle portion, after Juliana's been accepted but before her true nature has been revealed, was on the whole nicely done, but probably the weakest part of the show. This may be, in part, because it went on a little long -- occasionally, I found myself wondering what else the show would have besides "okay, Data brings mom up to speed on his life and finds out about his past." There's a lot of good meat in there, definitely, but not a full episode's worth. However, most of it worked.

For instance, the Data/Geordi/Juliana scene where she reveals the early problems with Data's manners (and his nudity) was a scream. It made utterly perfect sense that both of those things would be somewhat foreign to an android, and the image of a little Data running around naked and sending colonists into fits was impossible to shake. (Yes, I know Data would have been the same size he is now, but with the repeated references to his childhood the image was still of a little Dataling. So sue me. :-) ) I also found her reaction to Data visiting Troi more than a little fun, as well. (One wonders if Data, to reassure Juliana that the sexuality program does work, ever mentioned Tasha. Probably not.)

One element of this middle portion that did not work, at least for me, was the "I'm so sorry I left you behind!" angle. It simply didn't ring at all true for me, in part, I suppose, because Data didn't feel that way at all. I realize that that was part of the point, but even so it undercut things a bit. That part was a loss (which wasn't helped by William Lithgow's rather one-delivery-fits-all style as Pran).

The last section, however, with the Juliana-as-android issue looming large, was superb on all counts. The revelation itself did not come as a surprise -- in fact, Lisa and I guessed something akin to it at about the time Data first started looking at her so strangely -- but we didn't quite know how Data was figuring it out, for starters. (The methods he did use both made perfect sense and were simply pure, pure Data. Beautiful stuff.) More significantly, we also had no idea that she didn't know she was an android, nor that Pran was unaware of it.

The latter, actually, was a minor problem -- it makes the "he's a machine; please check his figures" bit early in the show complete nonsense. However, the fact that Juliana didn't know, while not entirely new to the genre, was a good twist that was put to excellent use. Naturally, of course, the best parts of it came out of the Data/Soong scene, which followed in the footsteps of every other Data/Soong scene ever done in being one of the most compelling elements of the show. For a dead guy, Soong sure gets put to some good uses. :-)

Seriously, though, the issue is a good one. Should Juliana have been told? Quite honestly, I don't know, and I'm not sure there's a definite way to decide the point. Both sides of the argument from the show's perspective were well laid out (and appropriately cast; I believed Bev and Troi in their respective arguments far more than I would if they'd been reversed), and Data's decision makes sense, suggesting in part that he still has a lot more reverence (for want of a better word) for Soong's wishes than he'd really like to let on. I was extremely impressed by all of this.

A lot of the show was helped, of course, by the fact that Fionnula Flanagan was completely believable as Juliana. Her persona was so completely mother-like that it didn't take much longer for me to accept her than it did Data. One image really stuck with me, namely her almost bashful biting of her lip when Data came back to get to know her better. I don't know exactly what about it was so striking, but it felt so completely right that by the time the next act got underway, I had very little problem believing she helped make Data.

That takes care of the broad strokes of the show. There were a few plot glitches, most of which can be summed up by the words "Silly Science." They're drilling into a pocket only a few kilometers from the planet's core? Assuming the planet is reasonably Earth-type, that's a few thousand kilometers down -- probably more than I'd expect the phasers to do capably, and certainly more than I'd expect to make any sense. It wasn't particularly bad, just impossible to take seriously. Other mild plot points:

  • Just when did Soong make that tape? He referred to Juliana as having already left, which is impossible, given that he couldn't have implanted it after she left. My assumption (and I welcome comments on it) is that he implanted the chip a day or two before she left, deliberately speaking as though she'd already gone. One point that did help that was his referring to her as Juliana Soong; had he called her Juliana Tainer, everything would have been wrong.
  • Data and Juliana couldn't get back without the transporter enhancers? Then how'd the ENHANCERS get down there? (The most tasteless suggestion I've heard so far said "well, they were sent down with Baby Jessica..." Ow.)

That pretty much wraps it up. So, a few short takes and then a wrapup:

  • Given the other place we've recently seen Fionnula Flanagan on DS9, my mind has been buzzing with speculation. "You mean Curzon Dax's lover was an android?" :-)]
  • Data on Soong: "but his wishes are not necessarily paramount." Should that last word be capitalized? :-)
  • This probably should be a plus to Rene Echevarria and Dan Koeppel for avoiding the Bonanza syndrome and not killing Juliana off, but since they retroactively made the real Juliana dead, I think this was a case of having their cake and eating it too.
  • One major disappointment: I wish we'd seen Data talking to Juliana about Lore. It's clear he must have at some point, because otherwise she'd have no idea that Data and Lore had met, but it's a scene I would very much like to have seen. Ah, well.

So, in summary, I'd definitely recommend this one. It's not perfect, but for the most part it's a very involving and emotion-grabbing character piece. I think we could use a few more of these and a few less of, say, "Force of Nature".

To wrap up, then:

Plot: The side issues were a joke, but the basic character plot itself was very strong.

Plot handling: Pretty nice overall, though not breathtaking.

Characterization: Pran was a waste, but everyone else was terrific.

OVERALL: Call it an 8. Nice job.

NEXT WEEK:

Worfs, Worfs everywhere, and what are we to think?


Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
BITNET:  tlynch@citjulie
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"The truth is, in every way that matters, she is Juliana Soong." 
                        -- Noonian Soong
-- Copyright 1993, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

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