This article contains major Star Trek: Picard spoilers.
Although fans knew Brent Spiner would be appearing in the first season of Star Trek: Picard, nobody ever really knew exactly how all of that would work. And, it turns out, we were all totally wrong about every single theory. Data was not brought back to life, and now, it appears, Spiner’s other involvement in the series isn’t at all what we expected.
In its latest twist, Star Trek: Picard has brought back a familiar name to its complicated canon. But who is Dr. Soong? There’s actually more than one answer…
When Picard and the rag-tag crew of the La Sirena make it to the planet Coppelius in Picard episode 9, they meet not only a huge group of androids, but also, a human named Altan Inigo Soong, who claims to be the biological son of Dr. Noonian Soong; the reclusive scientist who built Data. Like his father, Altan is a cyberneticist, though, he later tells Dr. Jurati that he’s more focused on the bodies of androids than the minds. For longtime fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation, seeing a human “relative” of Data is pretty weird, if only because we were never aware that Data’s creator had any human offspring.
Weirdly enough, it’s actually a little tough to figure out exactly how old Altan is, and whether or not Data had actual memories of him. Data was “activated” in 2338, after an attack on the Omicron Theta colony, but he (along with Lore and B-4) were created sometime before that. But when was Altan born? One good guess would be sometime in the 2320s, which would make him a little younger than Picard, which would dovetail with the real ages of Brent Spiner (71) and Patrick Stewart (79) respectively.
If you think it’s weird that this Dr. Soong pursued the same line of work as his father, Noonian Soong, it’s actually not that weird. In fact, the prequel series Enterprise establishes outright, that Noonian Soong came from a long line of geneticists, who later became cyberneticists. In the Enterprise episode, “The Augments,” after failing in his work to create “superior” genetically engineered humans, Dr. Arik Soong (also played by Brent Spiner) claims he’ll start working with cybernetics instead. That episode takes place in 2154, which means, clearly, it took a few centuries (2330s!) for the Soong family of mad scientists to start producing androids. By the time of The Next Generation (2360s-2370s), Dr. Noonian Soong was already a legend who had gone into hiding after being presumed dead. Later, we learned that Noonian had made one more android; a synthetic duplicate of his wife Julianna. (Who, while she was still human, could have been Altan’s biological mother, but that’s just a guess.)
Now, in 2399, history is repeating itself. Like his father before him, Dr. Altan Soong is also creating androids in hiding. But this time, he had help. Interestingly enough, the existence of a new member of the Soong family was already teased out in an earlier episode of Star Trek: Picard we just all missed it. In episode 5, “Stardust City Rag,” Bruce Maddox mentioned “Soong,” when he talked about his collaborators in making Dahj and Soji. At the time, we all assumed he was referring metaphorically, since Noonian Soong was Data’s creator, and that was template for these new androids. But now, we know that’s not the case. Maddox was actually referring to Altan Soong, not Noonian.
Did Jurati know about the existence of Altan before this episode? That’s not entirely clear. She seems surprised by what he’s working on, but one thing we don’t know is just how long Altan has been in hiding prior to linking up with Bruce Maddox after the Synth Ban. That said, Altan does imply he and Bruce worked together a little bit before the Synth Ban, which again, suggests that even if Jurati didn’t know about Altan specifically, she may have known Bruce had another partner. Either way, the question of what Altan was doing with the vast majority of his life during the time of The Next Generation and the intervening years leading up to Picard may never be answered. But then again, in the TNG episode “Brothers” it was very unclear what Noonian Soong had been doing for roughly three decades since fleeing Omicron Theta and leaving Data, Lore and B-4 behind. Soong boys like their secret lives!
So, like all the mysterious mad scientists before him, Dr. Altan Soong is carrying on more than one family tradition. Building androids in secre is the obvious one. But having a nearly inexplicable, and backstory is the real kicker. That said, if you’re upset about the fact we’ve never heard of Altan before now, then you should really consider that the backstory of Noonian Soong basically makes zero sense, and mostly involves hiding on planets by himself doing nothing.
Overwhelmingly, the most honest person in Data’s family was Data himself. From Lore to Data’s father Noonian, and now, Altan, most of the Soong boys are devious and withholding. Altan seems cut from a similar cloth, but because he’s human and with way more resources than Noonian ever had, he may be way more dangerous than any Dr. Soong has ever been before.
Star Trek: Picard is streaming now on CBS All-Access. The final episode of season 1, “Et in Arcadia Ego Part 2” airs on March 26, 2020.