Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “Brothers”

brothers172“Brothers”
Written by Rick Berman
Directed by Robert Bowman

Season 4, Episode 3
Original air date: October 8, 1990
Star date: 44085.7

Mission summary

Young Jake Potts’ practical joke on his younger brother, Willie, ends in tears when Willie ends up infected with dangerous parasites. That’s it, vacation’s over! We’re turning this ship around. Enterprise has to head to a nearby starbase for emergency medical treatment, or Willie Potts might die; meanwhile, he remains in quarantine in Sickbay, utterly inconsolable. In the midst of comforting Jake, Data abruptly loses interest in the B-plot of the episode and tunes out, running through the next few scenes literally on autopilot.

As if he were being manipulated by some unseen screenwriter, Data changes the ship’s course and speed, then handily clears the Bridge of the ship by turning off life support systems. Once the rest of the Bridge crew relocates to Engineering, he imitates Captain Picard’s voice and locks controls to his station. In the fine tradition of ships named Enterprise, the vessel has been taken over by one person, with everyone helpless to stop him. Even Wesley.

The ship reaches its unknown destination, but since Chief O’Brien has successfully disabled site-to-site transport, Data is forced to leave the Bridge and make his way to a transporter room. With full control of the ship’s systems, he pulls some neat tricks with force fields in the corridors to evade capture, and soon beams down to a jungle on the planet’s surface, where he meets Dr. Noonien Soong — the brilliant cyberneticist who created him, long thought to have been killed by the Crystalline Entity.

Soong has activated a homing beacon to bring Data to him, but the signal reaches someone else who is supposed to be dead: Data’s evil twin brother, Lore. After their last tussle, when Lore colluded with the Crystalline Entity, he was transported into space. He drifted for two seasons before being picked up by a Pakled ship, which was looking for things to make it go.

Soong  has summoned Data because he’s going to die soon, and he has spent his last years developing an emotion chip that will upgrade Data’s programming to make him more human. Unfortunately, since he had no idea Lore had ever been reassembled, he has only made one chip. Bummer.

Meanwhile, Enterprise is still in orbit around Soong’s planet, because Data has put a password on the ship’s computer. Willie Potts is running out of time, so they get creative. They do some techie stuff with the quarantine fields in Sickbay to clear the corridors of Data’s force fields, then use a few tricorders to reset the transporter to factory defaults and trick it into allowing Riker, Worf, and La Forge to beam down after Data.

As soon as Soong has installed the only existing emotion chip in the universe into Data, the android bursts into a quiet rendition of the song “Abdul Abulbul Amir.” Uh oh. Yeah, that’s not Data.

He starts calling the clueless doctor “Often Wrong Soong,” which tips him off that he’s just put the chip in the wrong android. He tells Lore the chip wasn’t designed for him and it has to be removed, but Lore knocks him backwards and beams out, still singing.

The Enterprise away team arrives to discover the crumpled form of Dr. Soong and a deactivated Data. Of course, Riker still knows how to turn on the android, who then has a moment to say good-bye to his father.

SOONG: Everybody dies, Data. Well, almost everybody.
DATA: Do you believe that we are in some ways alike, sir?
SOONG: Yes, in many ways, I’d like to believe.
DATA: Then it is alright for you to die, because I will remain alive. You know that I cannot grieve for you, sir.
SOONG: You will, in your own way. Goodbye. Goodbye, Data.
DATA: Goodbye, Father.

With Enterprise back to normal and the Potts brothers safe and back on speaking terms, Dr. Crusher gives us the takeaway for this episode:

DATA: The boys appear to have reconciled their differences.
CRUSHER: They’re brothers, Data. Brothers forgive.

brothers191

Analysis

My love for this episode comes from two things: Data’s badass takeover of the ship, and Brent Spiner’s virtuosity as three distinct characters: Data, Lore, and Dr. Soong.

I’ve only recently learned about the term “competence porn,” in conjunction with another TV series I’ve started watching, Leverage. So now I know what to call those scenes in which Data outsmarts his friends and controls Enterprise, Spock takes over the original Enterprise in “Menagerie,” Picard fends off terrorists in “Starship Mine” and the Borg in First Contact, and Wesley saves everyone on board in “The Game.” I love watching characters use their unique knowledge of the ship and procedures, along with their own ingenuity and guts, to pull off some amazing stunts. That scene where Captain Kirk stalls Khan and assumes remote control of Reliant in Star Trek II? That’s what I’m talking about.

We probably shouldn’t be rooting for Data in this episode, but it’s hard not to be impressed — and of course we’re caught up in the mystery of what he’s doing and why. The first half of this episode is riveting and thrilling, but it is poorly balanced by the latter half, which oddly seems both ponderous and rushed.

What I find frustrating about this episode is it just doesn’t amount to much. Sure, it sets up later developments in the series, but that doesn’t have much of a payoff, with the lackluster two-parter “Descent” and Star Trek Generations to look forward to. Even with some measure of continuity across episodes, Data’s character doesn’t change much — his arc is largely self-contained and unresolved. And let’s look at the plot progression: The episode focuses on a character who we thought was dead unexpectedly appearing for the first time and ending up dead, and another character we thought was dead unexpectedly returning and then disappearing for two more seasons.

Then we have the other brothers, Jake and Willie Potts, which really drive the point of this episode… into the ground. Couldn’t the B-plot be a little more subtle when it mirrors the struggles and themes of the A-plot? I find it hard to care about these characters we’ve never seen before, who are kind of annoying besides. And it also seems kind of forced: Really, Dr. Crusher can’t treat this kid on Enterprise? Instead of quarantine, couldn’t they just put him in stasis? Even if they have these quarantine fields, shouldn’t they maybe be wearing gloves when touching the sick kid?

Most of all, I don’t agree with the basic presumptions of this episode. First off, Riker and everyone seems to blame Jake for what happened to Willie, but a) he’s a kid, and b) he didn’t feed that parasite-ridden fruit thing to his brother. It’s their fault for not teaching the kid about the stupidity of eating random things you find on new planets, not to mention letting them play around dangerous fauna.

Dr. Soong also seems kind of hypocritical. Does he think Data is sentient and his own person, or is he a thing? Because if you program something to mindlessly return home, it sure sounds like you don’t respect its right to make choices for itself. If he’d just communicated with Data, I’m pretty sure Data would have dropped by to say hi and get some new hardware.

I appreciate the Biblical conflict between Data and Lore, but it’s treading familiar ground already covered in the series and doesn’t progress much; plus, it pales a bit in comparison to the brotherly strife in the previous episode, “Family.” In some ways, this feels like an extension of that episode, but it doesn’t work half as well. Does anyone really think Lore is worthy of being forgiven? He’s pretty clearly a psychopath and can’t be trusted.

When you get down to it, this is mostly a throwaway episode that is fun to watch but doesn’t live up to its potential. It raises many more questions than it answers, way beyond “How did Lore deactivate Data this time?” For instance, security is pretty lax on Enterprise and it’s beginning to look risky to keep an android on board if you can no longer be sure he can be trusted. There are some interesting implications to the events of this episode that get passed over, and I wish there’d been more time to address them.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 4 (on a scale of 1-6)

brothers170Thread Alert: I can’t say Brent Spiner’s new outfit is doing much for him. It adds on quite a few pounds and years. He’s almost unrecognizable.

Best Line: PICARD: I want something that will really help.

Trivia/Other Notes: Brent Spiner plays three roles in this episode: Data, Lore, and Soong; however, at one point several older Asian actors were considered to play Soong.

Lore was a late addition to the story, suggested by Michael Piller because the episode didn’t work with just the brothers B-plot and scenes of Data talking with Dr. Soong. It shows, doesn’t it?

This was the last episode directed by Robert Bowman.

Reportedly, Brent Spiner imitated Patrick Stewart’s voice when entering the lengthy computer code, rather than dubbing in Stewart.

Lore’s song is based on William Percy French’s poem “Abdul Abulbul Amir” (1877).

The dinosaur skull in Soong’s lab was rented from the Museum of Natural History.


Previous episode: Season 4, Episode 2 – “Family.”

Next episode: Season 4, Episode 4 – “Suddenly Human”

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About Eugene Myers

Eugene has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young adult fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is available now from Pyr. His website is at http://ecmyers.net.