Star Trek The Next Generation: Inheritance

Data: "I find I am having difficulty separating what would be best for her from what would be best for me."

By nature I love brevity: Eh. What's here isn't bad. It's just a shame what's not here is wildly more interesting.

Here we have an example of one of TNG Season Seven's better ideas, although it's kind of uninspired in its execution and it all gets wrapped up in material that's less interesting to watch. I mean, the central principle is interesting, and there's a lot you could do with it. Data is one of the show's most beloved characters, and his past is shrouded enough that you can get away with a lot concerning it. And to have Data's 'mother' be an android herself is kind of fascinating. But it's at this point in the progression of ideas that 'Inheritance' falters.

Picture with me, if you will, a very different version of this episode. It starts much the same way, as Data discovers who this woman is and figures out their relationship. Then, at the end of the first act, he discovers that she is an android. He finds the chip in her forehead and watches the message from Dr. Soong. Then he talks to his friends about what he should do, and they give him differing advice. It's this that the episode spends the bulk of its time on. It's a fascinating moral question, and there are no easy outs or obvious right answers. Data makes a decision, and the episode refuses to tell us how to feel about that decision, and whether it was right or wrong. Or, maybe even more interestingly, he doesn't tell her, and she finds out anyway. She becomes angry, and maybe in the end he even wipes her memory of the incident to make her happy again.

My point, as I hope you see, is that this question and this problem facing Data is the most interesting thing in this episode, and I would have really enjoyed a thoughtful exploration of it. Instead, 'Inheritance' makes the baffling decision to spend almost its entire runtime on this mystery. And we aren't even fully informed what the mystery is until near the end, because the moment we are made to question who she is is the moment we begin to figure it out for ourselves. That takes up well over two thirds of the episode, along with the technobabble problem that absolutely nobody cares about in the slightest. Then, finally, it spends approximately five minutes barely scratching the surface of its intriguing moral quandary, before it has Data make a decision, tells us it was the right one, and ends.

This is one of the many signs that this season gives us that the TNG writers were losing their groove. They still came up with interesting ideas and concepts, but when it came time to execute them, they wound up hitting the same old story beats, with the same old twists and tired cliches. It wasn't that they couldn't tell stories anymore, it's that they couldn't tell new stories anymore. Every new thing became an old thing very quickly, and they could no longer see the potential in their stories. It's a sad thing, but TNG needed to end. It was just about done.

The actual beats of the episode were pleasant enough to watch, but they weren't particularly interesting and they certainly didn't captivate me like the best episodes of TNG do. Everyone's performances are just fine here, although Brent Spiner's Dr. Soong hologram feels way too jovial for the information he gives Data. It would have worked better had he been more solemn. I thought Fionnula Flanagan as Juliana Soong was quite good; I believed her in her role as Data's mother, and would have gone on believing it had they gone the straightforward route. William Lithgow as her husband is capable in his fairly useless role, with a subplot that barely exists about his belief in Data's abilities because he's an android.

If this episode had been made in the golden age of TNG Seasons 3-5, it would probably would have been among the show's great morality plays. Instead, here, it opts to play out the least interesting approach, and falls flat as a result. Unfortunate.

Strange New Worlds:

The planet we visited was called Atrea IV. It never shows up again, and the technobabble problem with the core is its only distinguishing feature.

New Life and New Civilizations:

Juliana Soong is a new and improved sort of android, with tear ducts, emotions, and aging. It seems unlikely that nothing ever happened to make her discover who she was, but I guess that's the suspension of disbelief here.

Pensees:

-Brent Spiner really does get to play a variety of characters just by doing his regular job on this show. He's kind of like the Tom Cavanagh (The Flash) of Star Trek in that way.

-Yet another concert aboard the Enterprise-D. I'm honestly surprised the crew hasn't heard every piece of music ever written yet. Maybe they have, and that's why they always look so bored in most of those scenes.

-Honestly, how do they keep coming up with new technobabble problems to use? Like, do they just have some 'Science Problem' generator where they fill in the blanks to get a new one? Like, 'The *optional particle* of *something that's in space* is *verb ending in 'ing' that sounds bad*, and we need to *science action* the *science material* into/out of the *thing in space or part of the thing in space* by recalibrating the *part of the ship*!'

-I have no doubt that somebody has brought Juliana back in a novel to tackle the untapped wealth of material this episode ignored. In fact, I'll go check Memory Beta right now.

-Never mind. The only thing anyone ever did with the character happened after her death.

Quotes:

Juliana: "He's dead?"
Data: "Yes."
Juliana: "I had no idea it would hit me so hard."
I like her performance here.

Geordi: "That's life, Data. Part of being human is learning how to deal with the unexpected. To risk new experiences even when they don't fit into your preconceptions."

Data: "I am incapable of embarrassment. Please continue."
His delivery here cracked me up for some reason.

Data: "I have been told that my playing is technically flawless, but no one has ever described it as beautiful."
Juliana: "It was. Really."
Data: "Are you certain you are not saying this because you are my mother? I have noticed that parents tend to exaggerate when it comes to their children's accomplishments."

3 out of 6 science materials.

--
No matter where CoramDeo goes, there he is.

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