In which Data meets his mom and finds out they have a lot in common.
The Enterprise has been asked to help Atrea IV avert some sort of natural disaster, with the help of a human who moved there a while ago. The molten core of the planet is solidifying, which we will pretend could possibly have anything to do with the planet’s gravitational field. The best plan so far is to use phasers to drill down into the mantle and inject plasma into the core.
The woman, Dr. Juliana Tainer, also knows Data from back in the day. She was Dr. Noonien Soong’s wife, and therefore Data’s sort-of mom. To catch up, they go to Ten-Forward where Tainer alludes to having wiped Data’s early calibration memories prior to the attack of the Crystalline Entity and the abandoning of the colony. However, Data is a little skeptical about this reunion with his ‘mother,’ based on rather slim supporting documents in the colony logs and diaries. Old Noonien ‘always-wrong’ Soong never mentioned her, after all. But he also locked several memories away in the emotion chip. Geordi is the little emotion-angel on his shoulder, encouraging Data to throw logic to the wind and just get to know her.
We get to hear some anecdotes regarding Data’s assembly, including how it was determined that Data would be male (inventor fiat), and how proud his dad would be if Data were boning Troi (because Noonien was worried Data’s sex-bot programming wouldn’t work properly).
Juliana is now telling embarrassing stories about Data to his friends. Apparently Data used to run around with his… ahem… male-end adapter… hanging out because clothing was irrelevant as he did not suffer from the elements. And on the bridge, as all this is going on, Juliana’s new hustband is skeptical that a mere machine could get the calculations for their Mantle Revitalization project right.
As an aside, there’s precedent for this in recent history. When NASA calculated trajectories for spaceflight in the early days, the computer output would be checked against human calculations. If there was a discrepancy, they assumed the computer was wrong. That said, in the 24th century, they’ve had ample opportunity to prove the accuracy and precision of computer calculations, so I prefer to believe that the scientist is more concerned about Data’s intentions than his accuracy.
Juliana is quite taken with her robot son. He does the science, he ‘has a girlfriend’, and he plays the violin. Turns out, Juliana was responsible for giving him a creative drive, which he uses in order to ‘feel Human.’ She comes across a painting Data did of Lal, which is emotionally devastating for her. It’s clear that she and Soong had no idea of the scope of what they set in motion, and she cautions Data about the difficulties of creating a stable positronic brain. Data had three elder brothers before Lore who ‘died,’ and then the one who turned out evil. Because of how rough that was, she was against Soong trying to build Data. She also, as it turns out, never contacted him because she felt guilty for insisting on abandoning Data on Omicron Theta for fear he’d turn out like Lore.
As if in emotional resonance to her crisis, there’s a bit of difficulty at the next drilling site that somehow feeds back on the Enterprise, but since the science here frankly makes even less sense than usual, I’m not going to bother railing against it. What we do see is Data giving her sidelong stares after this abandonment revelation. Fortunately, Data is incapable of holding a grudge, so when she explains her reasoning, he seems to be okay with it, and their duet in Ten-Forward later is flawless despite her age and level of practice with the viola.
In fact, a little too perfect. It’s not clear why precisely Data is requesting Juliana’s medical records and transporter trace patterns, but he suspects something imposter-y. The third-act raising of the stakes via a cave-in that injured her husband provides a perfect opportunity for Data and Juliana to get some quality crisis time in. They beam down to make sure the plasma generator is working and can be triggered. Sadly, the transporter pattern enhancer pylons have been scattered, and they can’t beam up through the actual borehole that leads to the surface. Instead they have to do an action sequence, and Juliana’s arm comes off during the landing.
Oh by the way she’s a robot.
She’s a more human-y android even than Data. She has an aging program, tear ducts and sweat glands, and a transmitter system designed to fool scans. But her blinking uses the same RNG that Data uses, and there were also other clues. In trying to repair her, Geordi finds a holo-chip, and so Data takes it down to the holodeck to find out what’s on it.
Surprise, it’s young(ish) Soong, and there’s even a dialogue tree specifically in case Data is the one who found it. It turns out the real Juliana O’Donnel did help Soong create Data, but she was injured in the giant snowflake attack, and Soong built an android of her and tried to transfer her memories (but not her consciousness, like some other mad roboticists I could name) into a robot body. It worked, too, but Soong never told her that she was an android. He also never told her how much she meant to him, although I’m kind of confused as to how he managed to plant a program of himself imparting that information into her head. But I digress. She was programmed to shut down if her true nature is revealed, and to eventually die believing she was human. This is an especially rough order for Data, for obvious reasons. And although he gets some advice from all corners, not even Picard can claim the moral clarity to make the decision for him.
Data decides to lie. A straight-up counterfactual to make sure Juliana doesn’t find out. A considered and rehearsed lie, a lie meant to heal and not to harm, but a lie rather than a deception via half-truth or omission.