TNG Review: Datalore

Happy Monday! (You’re twisting my melon, man . . .)

My Datalore review is at TV Squad:

After a bit of exploring, they find themselves in the lab of Data’s
creator, Dr. Noonian Soong. Riker, Geordi, and Tasha all join forces to
be sort of an Exposition Voltron, informing the audience that Noonian
Soong was the Earth’s foremost neuroscientist, until he tried to build
Asimov’s positronic brain and failed. Everyone thought he did the walk
of shame off the planet, but it turns out he just moved to Omicron
Theta to continue his work until he got it right. (Coincidentally, on
Omicron Gamma, there’s a group of former Microsoft employees still
working on an MP3 player).

As I mentioned on Friday, this episode was a massive disappointment to me, because I had such fond memories of it as a child. I said, "I liked this episode a lot when it first aired, but watching it now,
all I can see are gigantic plot holes and inconsistencies that never
should have made it past the first draft."
Well, I re-read the original script over the weekend, and it doesn’t suck nearly as much as the final episode does, and I honestly can’t figure out how they screwed it up so badly.

Well, actually, I have an idea: we shot several episodes in the first two years where the producers and writers were rewriting the script while we filmed it, and on some of those episodes we’d get new pages in the morning for a scene we were filming that afternoon, and then we’d get pages to replace those pages right after lunch. It’s incredibly hard to keep any sense of continuity when we don’t know what’s going to happen before and after the scene we’re working on, and it’s equally difficult to turn in nuanced and well-prepared performances when we’ve only had a few hours with the material (that we haven’t had much time to look at because we’re shooting other scenes.)  Despite this, I think the performances in Datalore are fine. In fact, Picard and Data’s scene in Picard’s ready room, where Data asks Picard to stop calling Lore "it" is a fantastic one, and shows depth from both actors that we hadn’t really seen, yet. So the problem with Datalore isn’t the acting. I’m biased, of course, but I believe now (and remember) that everyone did the very best they could with what they were given.

Maybe someone who was working on the show in a production capacity at the time — Diane Duane, I’m looking in your direction — can confirm or deny this, but it seems like there was fighting among the producers, and this episode got caught in the power struggle. I said this in fewer words in my bottom line:

The pitch was awesome: "We find Data’s evil twin brother, who he never
knew he had." Sure, there’s nothing original about the evil twin story,
but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be told again in an interesting
way, especially with a cool character like Data, played by a great
character actor like Brent Spiner supported by a brilliant dramatic
actor like Patrick Stewart. How could they screw up this story this
badly?

I think it comes down to lazy writing that has things
happen because they’re supposed to happen, rather than having them
happen organically. The characters are credulous when they should be
skeptical, the audience isn’t surprised by anything after the second
act, and there are story problems that should have never gotten past
the first draft.

When you’re getting lots of conflicting orders from different producers, and the big, ultimate boss (in this case, Gene) wants one particular thing to happen, I think you must end up writing like that, having things happen because they’re supposed to happen, which is why this episode has so many holes in it.

I have a deadline chasing me like a pissed off Big Daddy in Rapture,
but I’d love to hear your memories of this episode, or any comments you
have on this review. I’ll be checking in at TV Squad throughout the day, or until readers get bored and stop commenting.

Propel it!