Star Trek: The Next Generation: Datalore   Rewatch 
May 15, 2020 11:33 AM - Season 1, Episode 13 - Subscribe

(via MA, of course) The Enterprise explores Data's home planet, Omicron Theta. They find his brother, and the dark secret he carries.

The Enterprise visits Data’s homeworld, where he was found alone and deactivated on the surface, covered in dust. His discoverers noted evidence of agriculture but could find no living beings; now there is no evidence of life at all, not even bacteria. We learn that Data carries the memories of the vanished colonists. The away team finds the disassembled Lore and brings the parts aboard the Enterprise where he is reassembled by Chief Argyle and Dr. Crusher.

Lore assists the Enterprise in determining that the colony was wiped out by an interstellar being, the Crystalline Entity, before drugging (!) Data and swapping places with him. Once this is accomplished he contacts the Crystalline Entity and summons it, just as he did previously. His deception is discovered, in part by Wesley ("Shut up, Wesley!"), and Lore is eventually beamed into space.

Memory Alpha’s production notes inform us that this is the final Trek production on which Gene Roddenberry receives a story credit. It also notes that In the initial version of the story, the character of Lore was envisioned as female and named Minuet, but this was changed when Brent Spiner suggested the evil twin approach. Minuet eventually surfaces in the season three episode, “The Offspring”.

The Crystalline Entity was one of the first all-CGI effects used on the series. When the show was remastered for HD, the original files used for the Entity were unavailable and the remastered effect is an entirely new build.

The scene in which Lore’s parts are discovered is reminiscent of a scene in Star Trek: Picard, where Data’s disassembled body is shown. The propmaster for Picard considered using at least “Lore’s finger” but ultimately used parts made for B-4, who appeared in the film Star Trek: Nemesis.

Poster’s Log:
I do not know if I have watched this episode in full since initial broadcast.

Recycled TOS story elements include bits from “The Doomsday Machine,” any number of episodes featuring a destroyed colony (oh, “Miri”, or “Operation - Annhiliate!”), evil twins and changelings (“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”, “Mirror, Mirror”, “The Enemy Within”, um, “The Changeling”), disassembled androids (“What Are Little Girls Made Of?”), and probably more. Despite this, for whatever reason, none of that borrowing feels like a cut and paste job to me.

I had quite a hard time writing a synopsis for this episode when I realized how little sense the plot actually makes! What a strange episode - it’s clearly very good, and yet the outlines and details of the story make almost no sense.

Lore tells Data that he fell into conflict with the colonists and we learn that he invited the Crystalline Entity to the planet in order to destroy the colony. Yet the colonists were able to deactivate and disassemble Lore, carefully storing him. Then, presumably while undergoing attack, they are able to somehow record and upload their memories into Data, who does not appear to have meaningful access to them. Finally, Data is left outside on the surface of the planet with a subspace beacon, which draws a Federation ship to him. The crew of that ship apparently note evidence of farms but fail to locate any further trace of the colony, while the Enterprise away team immediately finds a large, still-functional underground facility accessible via a door located right where Data was found. Finally, Dr. Noonien Soong apparently departed the colony during the Entity’s attack, and (as we learn much later, in the seventh season episode “Inheritance”) he did so in the company of his wife, Juliana, without bothering to bring his masterworks, Data and Lore.

Despite this truly flimsy set of story elements, the episode is ultimately great! It’s truly memorable, and the introduction of the Crystalline Entity, which returns in the season five episode “Silicon Avatar”, is a an unsettling SF creation, a cousin to Norman Spinrad’s planet-consuming “Doomsday Machine” from TOS.

Lore’s stated motivations both in this episode and in later appearances never make any sense to me. He is quite plainly a dramatic invention, a synthetic being devoted to cartoon-villain evildoing. Spiner always makes him amusing and engaging onscreen, and it seems to me that it’s that combination - a cartoon villain embodied by a gifted dramatic and comedic actor - that makes him such a memorable and interesting Trek character.

In conclusion, despite this episode’s many obvious flaws, I loved it! That’s three good first season episodes in a row! Can they keep the streak up? Tune in Monday to find out!
posted by mwhybark (16 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This episode harps on and on that Data cannot use contractions while Lore can, so what does Data say at the end of the episode after brawling with Lore? "I'm fine." Show of hands; anyone else think for a moment they were doing the ol' switcheroo and this was the tell that Lore was the winner of the fight after all?
posted by Servo5678 at 12:02 PM on May 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

In today's television world, with so much more attention paid to tiny details on the part of both the fans and the producers, I would totally go with that theory and hope that it would pay off way down the road some day. But not in 1987 TV. We've already noted how inconsistent the no-contractions thing is.
posted by briank at 1:11 PM on May 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

This episode establishes that Data was activated 26 years ago. I suppose that makes sense to explain how he reached the rank of Lieutenant Commander, but it seems like having lived that long among humans (and other humanoid species), he'd be more socially capable, or at least not have to ask about idioms quite so much.

The name Minuet of course gets applied to a different constructed person who shows up in 11001001 aka 0xC9 aka 0311 aka 201 aka The One With The Bynars.
posted by ckape at 2:14 PM on May 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

I look forward to these threads so much. I'm sorry I often don't have much to say about the episodes, but I'm always so happy to read through them.
posted by meese at 5:00 PM on May 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

I found this... meh? Too much “wait, they didn’t notice X, Y, or Z?” And we haven’t known Data long enough to care that much. At least Wesley wasn’t a pain.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:48 PM on May 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

We interrupt this thread for this CRUCIAL SUBSPACE BROADCAST

OMG imma have a heart attack
posted by mwhybark at 6:04 PM on May 15, 2020

Thanks for listing the improbabilities of the episode, mwhybark--I found myself taking notes on it, for the first time regarding an episode that I wasn't writing up, I think. Part of my motivation was trying to understand why Starfleet ever let Data join, given that he's an entirely unique artificial being of unknown manufacture or programming, and they haven't had the best of luck with AIs. (This will become much more relevant in next season's "The Measure of a Man", and the problem that I have with that episode.) The overwhelming weirdness of the circumstances of his discovery would only add with that. I thought that possibly having Geordi specifically discover the secret switch might explain that part, because his VISOR might have helped him spot it, but that's edging toward having yet another crew member have super powers (Lore easily beating Worf in the elevator reinforces Data's).

I did enjoy the episode, although I don't think that it was very good, between what I mentioned above and the lampshading of Lore's breaking bad. (I also think that they could have done without the face twitch, which is the most obvious steal from TOS, being very like Bad Kirk getting scratched by Janice Rand when he tries to rape her in "The Enemy Within" and subsequently conceals it to better pass as Good Kirk.) I also groaned at the "Shut Up, Wesley!" scene. How many times has this kid saved the ship, already? If Picard doesn't want to be seen taking hints from a teenager, he could pull him into his ready room. Geez, dude. For me, the enjoyable aspects of the episode are almost all centered around Spiner clearly enjoying the role and even using himself (as Data) as a straight man. Evil Kirk was a roaring, drunken monster; Lore is kind of an asshole, but a sly and clever one--he's the Loki to Data's Thor. (Pre-Ragnarok Thor, anyway.) It was always a treat to see him.

Also, I'd swear that the Piketrek series had already been announced, but still good to get confirmation.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:07 PM on May 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

I love the idea of a Lore, a foil to Data's integrity and optimism. So glad he returns in the future.

In retrospect, the timing of letting Spiner show that he can do something other than "emotionless robot" was appropriate.

Thanks for cataloguing the broken plot mwhybark - I still love this episode for introducing Lore. If this was DISCO I'd probably complain that Lore is too much like a Mirror Data and Data (and anyone else) hadn't deserved to use that emotional shortcut yet, but the Data character needed some conflict in his backstory and this was a creative way to do it.

Lore is an asshole, but I wonder if the writers had any intention whatsoever that his being an asshole is in large part caused by a "mental health"/ neurochemical-equivalent issue? They mention Soong thinking that he might be able to "fix" Lore, so maybe tweak behavioural enforcement feedback rules in software/ hardware like prescribing SSRIs or something.

Personal problem I had with Data practice to sneeze is that he surely must understand that sneezing is primarily an autonomic response. He's trying to practice sneezing through a somatic response; instead of training software to sneeze, he should have written a subroutine that directly controls his mechanical response. I do recognize that a lot of the "Data trying to be human" stuff is hokey by necessity.

Similarly, Data tries to understand/ experience emotions while basically lacking the relevant parts of the limbic system.

Do recall watching this on original airing and was impressed with the Crystaline Entity CG. Much more so than the Q space-forcefield.
posted by porpoise at 8:18 PM on May 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Unsurprisingly the answer to a question that's been pinging around in my head for a quarter century is 'Gene Roddenberry was a hacky tool'
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:30 PM on May 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

What’s interesting about Lore is that while he feels absolute contempt for humans, he seems to care about the crystalline entity’s gratitude. Is he expecting some kind of reward? Does he admire it? I suppose it could just be a means to an end (maybe it could kill the crew and leave the ship intact for Lore) and his mention of it’s gratitude was just his idea of an amusing observation. Still, kind of wonder what the deal is with those two.

Poor Data. Meets somebody like himself for the first time and they turn out to be a mass murderer. Now that I think about it, the outsider on the crew whose family/people/notactuallytheirpeoplebuttheromulans turn out to be somewhat problematic is a real Trek staple.
posted by rodlymight at 9:02 PM on May 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

rodlymight - hence I wonder if it was a miscalibration of what passes for a reward/ saliance/ aversion mechanism that made Lore a psychopath.

Here, it's a little ambiguous but the writers nucleate on a theme - Lore has calculated that he is superior to other people, he gets behavioural ("neurological") rewards for showing (to himself) that he is superior.

"Pleasing" the CE might be part of the miscalibration that Soon made - his subroutine of "pleasing humans" might have been corrupted into "pleasing those who are superior (in power)" in synergy with showing up his inferiors is causing his behaviour.

But this begs the question of whether Lore possesses the structure that Data lacks that the "emotion chip" gives to Data. When Lore slots the emotion chip, it messes him up - now if that through modulating his existing structure or overlays an incompatible structure over an existing one - which we don't know if it actually gives Lore emotions, or just the subroutines to mimic having emotions.

But I doubt the writers thought that deeply into it. Lore = asshole::asshole = usually a bully. Perhaps it's the subconscious dynamics of bullying that's manifesting through the writers?

Bullies often fawn at the feet of perceived bigger bullies and still get their rocks off, not purely out of fear of punishment/ disadvantage.

But yeah, my impression was that Lore was expecting the CE to reward him in some way.
posted by porpoise at 9:55 PM on May 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Greatest Generation podcast pointed out what may be the biggest issue with this episode: that all the Enterprise officers must've drank their stupid juice, if it never occurs to them that this identical duplicate of their super-robot crewmate could maybe be trouble.

I too had skipped this one on previous rewatches, and it's because Lore just bugs me. Always has. I like and respect Spiner (I remember his appearances on Night Court always being a treat) but there's something about this character that in general isn't so much threatening as irritating. We know Spiner can be scary when he goes into angry mode; maybe Lore should've been angry more often. Anyway, personal taste.

I do like the idea of Data's long-lost family, and I like the episodes with Dr. and Mrs. Soong. This episode had an interesting concept and some thought-provoking moments, but it didn't stick the landing IMO.

Part of my motivation was trying to understand why Starfleet ever let Data join, given that he's an entirely unique artificial being of unknown manufacture or programming, and they haven't had the best of luck with AIs. [...] The overwhelming weirdness of the circumstances of his discovery would only add with that.

I never thought of that, but OTOH, didn't DISCO establish some AI/cyborg crew in Starfleet back then? One can imagine AI sympathies being something of a pendulum within UFP/Starfleet culture.

Similarly, Data tries to understand/ experience emotions while basically lacking the relevant parts of the limbic system.

Maybe the whole point of Data attending Starfleet Academy (since he can just download factual data) was for him to get minimally competent at interacting with biological intelligent beings. Which brings to mind a "Data: The Academy Years" story wherein he's about as baffled by everything around him as Forky.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:55 AM on May 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Saw this in the theater during a Fathom Events screening coinciding with the HD remaster. Good showcase for the updated special effects. Fun collective experience! Kind of a dumb episode.

Re-visiting Data's origins is neat, though they don't do a lot with his memories from the colonists later in the series. A bit of a missed opportunity, though Dax eventually takes on a rather similar idea.

The evil twin thing is hacky, though Star Trek has hacked that hack a few times. It's kinda annoying that he's been completely memory holed in the later canon, once they decided to pretend the emotion chip thing never happened.
posted by StarkRoads at 8:14 AM on May 18, 2020

I never thought of that, but OTOH, didn't DISCO establish some AI/cyborg crew in Starfleet back then? One can imagine AI sympathies being something of a pendulum within UFP/Starfleet culture.

Well, the Disco era had Control, ‘nuff said, and Airiam, who got hacked. And, in three years of TOS, they got the Korby androids, the Mudd androids, M-5, Vaal and Landru, Nomad, arguably the Doomsday Machine, and, sometime later, V’Ger. That’s a heck of a bad run, some of them (if not most or all of them) potentially civilization-ending. It’s possible that Soong was the first researcher even allowed to do AI research in a while—say, since Daystrom himself—and his secretiveness may have been due to his believing that he might get shut down without warning.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:11 AM on May 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

Yikes! Prewatching my next episode, 11001001, and guess what? A holodeck temptress named... Minuet! What are the odds?
posted by mwhybark at 9:24 PM on May 19, 2020

(Hi to anyone following on Recent Activity!)

I recently caught this episode and noticed a pretty big plot hole (in addition to the many others already mentioned in this thread).

- Lore incapacitates Data and switches clothes. He secretly communicates to the Crystalline Entity (CE) that the next time he contacts it will be as "Data."

- Lore goes to the bridge as Data, and appears to be successful in temporarily stopping the CE's attack by warning the CE that the Enterprise has incredibly powerful weapons capable of destroying the CE.

- Lore proposes transporting a large object such as a tree out to the CE as a show of power (which, um, what? but, OK, let's go with that for now).

- Lore goes to a cargo bay and informs the CE that when the transporter is activated, the shields will briefly come down and the CE will be able to attack.

- Wesley finds and reactivates Data, they go to the cargo bay and confront Lore. This ends with Data tossing Lore onto the transporter pad and Wesley beaming Lore into space, which should have briefly dropped the shields and allowed the Crystalline Entity to attack, exactly as Lore had told the CE.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:48 PM on June 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

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