Saturday, June 25, 2011

4-03. Brothers

Data and his father.


The Enterprise is rushing a boy to a nearby Starbase after a practical joke played by his brother goes badly awry, creating a medical emergency. They are less than 24 hours out when Data abruptly changes. He goes silent, and then relentlessly takes control of the ship. All attempts to stop him fail, as he overcomes every action Picard takes with seemingly no effort at all. When he reaches his destination, he uses a series of force fields to block security as he walks to the transporter room (in, incidentally, a genuinely cool scene), and then simply beams down to the planet below.

When Data regains his proper consciousness, he is startled to find himself no long aboard Enterprise, and he has no memory of his actions. Any questions he may have are quickly silenced when he sees where he is: The laboratory of his creator, Dr. Noonien Soong (also played by Brent Spiner). Soong used a homing device to call Data back to him. He is dying, and he has one last gift for his creation: An emotion chip, to allow Data to experience the simple emotions that have so far been denied to him.

But Soong's signal has called someone other than Data to the planet. Lore, Data's evil predecessor, survived being beamed out into space, and has joined the family reunion...


Capt. Picard: Intently focused on getting the ship back under his control. He responds to the takeover of the Enterprise with speed and determination that would almost certainly have trumped any human hijacker. Despite this, when he sends the Away Team after Data, his instructions - "Bring him home" - make it clear that this incident does not change his view of Data as a member of his crew.

Riker: Continues to be the designated "stern authority" for the ship's general population. Riker is the one who talks to the boy whose practical joke created the medical emergency. He is careful in handling the boy - He's not too harsh, just stern enough to make the point. He is also quite stern with Data when they recover him from the planet, though he does allow Data time with Soong when the android requests it.

Data: This episode is a field day for Brent Spiner, who gets to play three roles - four, if you count the "possessed" Data who takes over the ship at the episode's start. Spiner is terrific, as expected. The first 15 minutes shows us a Data devoid of the usual human warmth. He barely says a word until speech is needed to trick the computer into locking out Picard. He moves quickly and emotionlessly through the ship like an unstoppable force of nature (or technology, as the case may be). The Terminator on a starship, only without the body count. Once Soong re-activates Data, and his more familiar personality emerges, it's really startling just how different Spiner's truly machine-like Data of the beginning was. Spiner remains very good at showing Data as a full character without breaking that character by showing genuine emotion. The final shot of the episode, as Data reacts without reacting to the statement that "Brothers forgive," is a particularly fine nonverbal beat, the perfect one to close out the episode.

Lore: In Datalore, the "evil twin" was almost certainly intended to be a one-shot character. But it was a rare episode and character from the dire first season that actually worked. The creation of the more human, but sociopathic, Lore was genuinely memorable, and brought out a whole new side of Brent Spiner's acting. It was probably inevitable that the opportunity of the character would be picked up down the road, and this episode does that. Writer Rick Berman pares back on the outright "ee-vil" nature of Lore, instead presenting his misdeeds as a reaction to layers of resentment that have built steadily through the years. Lore's genuinely emotional reaction when Soong announces he is dying is a particularly strong moment.


After three years acting as a producer for the series, Rick Berman makes his TNG writing debut with Brothers. Not that Berman hadn't had substantial (and steadily growing) input into scripts prior to this point. But Brothers marks the first time that he receives solo credit as a TNG writer. Despite Berman's current (only partially deserved) reputation within Trek fandom, the resulting episode is not just good, but very good.

Attention is captured right away, as we see Data "taken over" just before going into credits. The first third of the episode is dominated by Data's takeover of the Enterprise. A bravura set piece, as we see Picard and his crew attempting every act they can think of to reclaim control of the ship, only for Data to anticipate and outmaneuver them at every turn. It is among the best openings of any Trek episode I can think of.  Credit to not only Berman and Spiner, but also to director Rob Bowman, who keeps this all moving quickly and keeps it all visually dynamic.

The bulk of what follows is very talky, with conversations between Data and Soong and Lore and Soong, but it remains good. Brent Spiner differentiates all three roles with unique acting tics for each character. Lore's distress that his "father" is dying plays as genuine - but is replaced by something crafty (fueled by resentment) when Soong reveals the chip he has created for Data. The interplay between the three characters works and, just as the back-and-forth between Soong and Data begins to get old, Lore is dropped into the mix to add some tension and danger.

The episode ends in a way that begs for a follow-up. Lore's next return will definitely be something I'll be looking forward to.

Overall Rating: 9/10

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