the story: Data meets his "mother."
what it's all about: This late-series addition to Data's backstory is a fascinating one, which maybe would have been better if it'd happened earlier. You can bet that if this had been Deep Space Nine, we would've seen Noonien Soong's wife a few more times at least.
So it turns out Soong, the man who created Data, Lore, and B4 (whom we don't meet and/or know about until Star Trek Nemesis), also transferred his wife's consciousness into an android body. This is a wonderful Next Generation echo of far more blunt moments from the original series ("What Are Little Girls Made Of?," for instance), and even from its own past ("The Survivors"). If "Inheritance" has a quieter legacy, it's because the story around what really matters is about as generic as the series could get. It's still a step up from "Interface" earlier in the season, though, and a clear sign that the season had begun to find its footing.
Data was a remarkably rich character to explore. Whether his quest in the present to become more human, or his origins, there was always great material to be found. To consider it as something that could easily have consumed the entire series (Data was probably inspired by Gene Roddenberry's failed pilot concept, The Questor Tapes, which did star an android, played by later Trek alum Robert Foxworth) is to wonder how any other in the series ever managed to compete with him. He even had the season premiere to resolve another aspect of his story, the matter of Lore and the emotions he'd stolen from Soong that were meant for Data.
That was a thorny story, and didn't in the end add anything new. It was so obvious there was nowhere left to go with Lore the episode ended with Data switching him off! So to have another android, one who apparently was the most sophisticated android Soong ever created, is something worth considering.
Soong had a human prototype to work with. For the androids everyone knows he created, he merely used himself as a visual aide, and created everything else from the ground up. For Tainer, he had an actual person. From other episodes we already know Soong could program the memories of individuals into Data. It's not so unreasonable to assume he could imprint Tainer's directly into a positronic net, so that the android believed it was Tainer.
That's the story, right there, Tainer not realizing what she is, but Data figuring it out. It's perhaps one of his most human moments in the whole series, not one where he was forced to pass judgment on someone, but in the grand tradition of the series let the moral ambiguity work itself out. Soong programmed the Tainer android to live a natural lifespan. She never needed to find out, and Data decides it's just as well that way.
Soong was full of secrets. What made him such a maddening genius was that those secrets had a way of revealing themselves without warning. Tainer was the best of them, and "Inheritance" is a happy experience for it.
- franchise - Smart, subtle echoes to franchise lore.
series- In its basic structure reflects poorly on the creativity of the series.
- character - Works wonders for Data, however.
- essential - It adds a nice flavor to his backstory.
Fionnula Flanagan (Tainer)