Plot Synopsis: Data jeopardizes an emergency mission to save an ill child when he gets a signal from his creator.
Plot A and B Analysis: This teaser doesn’t give us much. It opens with a kid who played a practical joke on his 9-year old brother that may result in his death. Data is escorting the older brother to sick bay when he starts jerking his head around like a chicken looking for seed, and steps onto the bridge instead. Plot A is about Data and his ‘family’, plot B is about the deteriorating health of the kid. Things take off quickly, as Data essentially hijacks the Enterprise, giving maybe the longest (and awesomest) password in sci-fi history in the process. They arrive at an unknown planet, and Data beams down to come face-to-face with his creator, much to his surprise. Things really take off when Lore arrives as well! Plot B really serves no purpose except a half-hearted attempt to add some dramatic tension, but plot A is outstanding. We get to discover why Data was created, and the dynamic between Data, Soong, and Lore is endlessly interesting. Plot B gets resolved (but who cares), and plot A ends with us loving to hate Lore more than we already did.
Favorite Scenes: The whole sequence when Data takes control of the Enterprise is cool, and the ease with which he does it is a bit unsettling. If I was on that ship I’d be worried about how easily it happened–and I bet you forgot he could imitate someone’s voice! Everything on the planet with Data, Soong and Lore is of high quality and is hard to pick apart, but one of my favorite moments is when Lore shares with Soong that he tricked him. It occurs right after implanting the emotion chip. He wakes up and sings a little song, then:
“Data”: Thank you father.
Soong: You called me father?
“Data”: What would you prefer I called you? Often wrong?
Soong: What did Lore tell you about that?
“Data”, innocently: That is what the colonists called you, isn’t it? Often-wrong Soong? That’s a very sloppy rhyme. Wrong Soong. Wrong Soong? It just doesn’t work. Let’s see–
Soong, uncertainly: Data? How are you feeling?
“Data”, smiling: Often-wrong’s got a broken heart, can’t even tell his boys apart…
Soong, whispering: Lore!
Use of Cast/Characters: Picard is good in his role as captain, but he doesn’t do much else, and the rest of the cast is in the same boat with one notable exception. Brent Spiner gives no less than three dazzling performances as Data, Lore and Soong, and is the clear highlight and centerpiece of this episode. Data (and the audience) gets to meet his creator and ask him “the big question”, he gains more knowledge and insight into his status as ‘less perfect’ than Lore and even has human emotions placed within his grasp, but due to an almost-Shakespearean betrayal gets denied. The two actors who play young brothers in this episode are believable I suppose, but not noteworthy.
Blu Ray Version: This episode has a commentary track by Rob Bowman (the director) and Mike & Denise Okuda. At around the 6:11 mark you can see what looks like a red alert coloring to Data’s left, which is a mistake. On the original DVD version it’s blue, which is what it should be to match the blue alert, however they changed it to red here which is mystifying. At around 36:48 as the crew transport down, look at the top of the transporter, where you’ll see Worf’s and Riker’s reflections. Notice they don’t get removed like they did in the DVD version. There is also a deleted scene, about 3 1/2 minutes long, involving more conversation between Data and Soong. It’s pretty good, but not necessary.
Nitpicks: Data wouldn’t need the Enterprise computer to show him the shortest route to transporter room one, he’d have the entire schematics in his head. It does serve a narrative purpose, though. If the procedure to install Data’s emotion chip is “quite simple” then why didn’t he just do it? That’s bugged me for years. A simple change here saying it was more complicated would resolve my nitpick.
Overall Impression: In my opinion this is one of the finest Data episodes of the series. Brent Spiner puts on one heckuva performance, playing each character wonderfully different in the second character-driven episode in a row; this episode is a highlight of season four. This is another episode about family, and talk about a dysfunctional one! The concept of an emotion chip, solving Data’s only real flaw was so provocative, but to have it denied him was the only real solution as we later learn from the mistakes made when he gets it in the films. What the writers understood is what makes Data most interesting and sympathetic as a character is his ongoing struggle to be human. Plot B doesn’t contribute much, but I will say that inclusion of families and children in the TNG episodes makes them feel more grounded overall, more real than sci-fi series out there that don’t. In this case, plot B doesn’t do much though, and it’s for this reason I rate this episode 4.5 out of 5 stars instead of the full 5.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: Evidently the actor who was supposed to be Data’s dad was Keye Luke, the “Number One Son” from the old Charlie Chan films. It wasn’t until Brent got to thinking he should play the dad himself and called Rick Berman that it changed. Rob Bowman, the director, describing how he shot Brent playing all three characters was that he would have Brent play only one character per day. One day he’d play Data, the next day it’d be Lore, or Dr. Soong. That makes so much sense to me. Also, did you notice Soong saying Lore was “the first?” That precludes any of the B4 nonsense from Nemesis.
This is one of the only times we see a blue alert. The only other time we see it is on Picard’s shuttlecraft in Q Who. Here’s a great Easter egg that I just found out about: stop the episode around 19:07 when you see Picard looking at the Enterprise schematic. Look to the right of his ear, and on the schematic you’ll see figures of a Porsche, a mouse, and a duck along with a DC-3 off to the right. Click here for a close-up. There’s an even better example of it toward the end of Galaxy’s Child. Finally, this episode was nominated for an Emmy for makeup, and rightly so.
Missable/Unmissable? An excellent, unmissable episode. The emotion chip is a part of the TNG films as well. The first three episodes have been first class, but the next one is definitely a step down.