Friday, August 12, 2011

A Galaxy Full Of Soong-Type Androids Are Revealed Through “Inheritance”

The Good: Acting, Character
The Bad: Plot, Larger Continuity issues
The Basics: When Data's long lost mother appears on the Enterprise, Data is suspicious of her true nature.

One of the problems with Star Trek The Next Generation's final season was the increased emphasis on family. Back in "Interface" (reviewed here!) we finally see Geordi's and we fail to care and in "Dark Page" (reviewed here!), Lwaxana Troi finally becomes an emotive character we care about. The problem with the emphasis on family was not with family itself, but rather the convoluted and improbable ways family just suddenly came up all at once on the show. This contrasts with something like Star Trek Deep Space Nine where the final season reveals Sisko's improbable origins, though the viewer is able to make the leap because of all that has happened in the six preceding seasons. It's not so easy on Star Trek The Next Generation, and "Inheritance" is a perfect example of that.

"Inheritance" finds the crew of the Enterprise taking on Dr. Juliana Tainer, a scientist who soon reveals that she is the ex-wife of Dr. Noonian Soong, the man who designed and built Data. As we saw back in the second season's "The Schizoid Man," it appears to have been more of a team effort as Tainer is able to tell Data a bit about his childhood that he never knew. Data is somewhat suspicious of his "mother" and when the two are trapped in a cave-in, his theory is put to the test and he is able to reveal that Tainer is another Soong-type android. Data finds himself in the middle of an ethical dilemma, however, as Tainer is unaware of her status as android.

The real problem with "Inheritance" is not with either the acting or the character work, but rather with the plot. It seems inconceivable considering how many things go wrong in a year on Star Trek The Next Generation that Dr. Tainer could have lasted thirty years out on her own without anyone ever discovering she was an android. That idea seems improbable.

It is complicated by the idea that Dr. Soong's work appears to be less and less unique. In the first season, we met Lore (who was deactivated back in "Descent, Part II"), in the third Data built his own Soong-type android, and in the fourth season, Data met Dr. Soong. It's hard to believe that in "Brothers," Dr. Soong would not have mentioned to Data either his potential to grow to the point of dreaming (which Data did in "The Birthright") or that Data had more family out there, like Tainer or Star Trek Nemesis’ B-4. The writers are asking us to accept more and more that Dr. Soong managed to finesse and perfect increasingly complicated androids without ever drawing the attention of the scientific community. Please!

Beyond that, "Inheritance" works and it works well. Data's supposition of Tainer's true nature makes sense given his own observational skills. Moreover, the director of the episode makes sure that the viewer knows that Data is thinking something is amiss well in advance through the use of clever camera pans and subtle eye motions. Throughout the beginning of the episode, we see Data observing Dr. Tainer closely, making his nonchalance to her nature unsurprising, especially upon repeated viewings.

Dr. Tainer is played by Fionnula Flannagan and she does an admirable job portraying an android who believes herself organic. Flannagan is emotive, yet subtly off, allowing the viewer the barest foreshadowing to her character's true nature. It's a fine balancing act and she does it exceptionally well, never being too overt with it.

Brent Spiner, for his part, does an excellent job playing Data. In yet another situation that would seem to resonate emotionally, Spiner maintains Data as a dispassionate, unemotive character and he manages to keep the emphasis rightly on the ethical dilemma Data is trapped in as opposed to allowing the show to become a cheap soap opera type piece. Spiner deserves a lot of credit for keeping this episode focused.

In the end, despite the larger continuity difficulties, "Inheritance" is a fun episode that allows the fans of Star Trek The Next Generation to explore Data's history further. While mostly for those who had been watching the series for the preceding years, "Inheritance" may be enjoyed by anyone who likes a good, if weird, family mystery.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Seventh Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the final season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode or movie reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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