Star Trek: The Next Generation – In Theory [4.25]

In spite of his inherent limitations, Data engages in a romantic relationship with Lt. Jenna D’Sora, a fellow crew member.  Meanwhile, the Enterprise encounters “dark matter” which causes random phasing on the ship, eventually leading to the death of a crew member.  Picard must pilot a shuttlecraft ahead of the Enterprise in order to help it navigate through this hazard.  Afterwards, Jenna ends her relationship with Data, realizing that he can never truly care for her.

Written by Joe Menosky & Ronald D. Moore. Directed by Patrick Stewart .

Previous Episode: The Mind’s Eye • Next Episode: Redemption

Patrick Stewart makes an inauspicious directorial debut with this sub-par episode of Next Generation, one of the weaker of the season.  The episode features two storylines which compete rather than work together – largely because they have nothing to do with one another.  Worse, neither story is particularly interesting or strong.  The Data-Jenna romance has some cute moments but is so obviously doomed from the get-go that watching it makes one wince on more than one occasion.  Remember, this is Next Generation, and this is romance, so already the chips are stacked against the story.  Making the story about Data simply giving something new a try with a woman who never pauses to think why this is a bad idea pretty much puts the nail in the coffin.

That’s not to say it’s unwatchable.  Brent Spiner, of course, is a good actor, and is fine in the part.  There are a few moments of genuine amusement and some measure of relationship insight.  But the premise feels forced and not a little ridiculous.  Jenna is made to be pretty flaky, which really is necessary to get her into the situation in the first place.  Perhaps an interesting story could have been made by telling the it from her point of view – getting her to chat with all her friends about the relative merits of dating Data.  But that certainly would have been harder to write.  Another big issue with this plot, and a clue that the episode has  problems, is the fact that we don’t actually see what motivates Jenna’s change of mind:  the break-up scene comes without any antecedent to set it up.  But we don’t really care, because frankly, it’s too boring to really care.

The other story is very routine Star Trek-fare featuring the crew encountering a strange but deadly natural phenomena, sorting out what it is, and then getting away in a typically-tense survival scene.  The situation doesn’t really provide any of our heroes any sort of interesting character beats, except for some absurd stuff about how Picard insists on being the one to put his life into danger to pilot the shuttle, even though it would seem that the faster-than-human-reaction-times Data would be the more obvious candidate.  There’s something a bit odd about having this random Picard semi-grandstanding moment come in an episode directed by Patrick Stewart.

On the positive side (I try to find them when I can), it is nice to see another example of the fact that “normal” ship-board romances do take place (as opposed to just with visitors of the Enterprise).  The “advice montage” is mostly material we’ve seen before, but Picard’s line to Data is memorable (see below).  The crew member dying when she phases through the floor was sort of trippy.  Data’s artificial lover’s quarrel was kind of funny.  And the last line as Data farewells Jenna is a memorable one (also see below).

Guest Cast
• Michelle Scarabelli plays Lt. Jenna D’Sora.  She was a regular on both Airwolf and the series Alien Nation.

• Pamela Winslow makes her second appearance as Ensign McKnight

Shout out to the Past:
Intentionally or not, Picard’s line, “Now would be a good time, Mr. O’Brien,” echoes Chekov’s similar line to Scotty in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Setting Up the Future:
• Spot, Data’s cat, makes his first proper appearance in his from-now-on normal breed and apearance, and is named.

• That is one ho-hum teaser, not really signifying anything of importance.

• As is often the case, the romantic aspects of the story are more awkward and uncomfortable than full of chemistry and atmosphere.

• Worf’s advice to Data is sort of funny, but not anything we haven’t seen before.  Riker and Troi’s input is sort of predictable.

• The bit where Data returns abruptly to his painting is funny, but awkward.

• As mentioned, the funniest scene is the “lover’s quarrel” and the build up.  But it also makes me cringe.  I can’t decide if “Your hair is looking particularly silky tonight” or more amusing or uncomfortable.

• Thorn and the Van Meyter conspicuously do not talk at all – keeping them as uncredited extras, I suppose.

• Van Meyter is actually the first Enterprise crew person to die this season

• The whole climax is well done as far as an independent scene is concerned, but deeply disconnected to the supposed main plot.

• Data’s inability to recognize Jenna breaking up with him is appropriate.  “Then I will delete the appropriate program,” is a strong contender for the episode’s best line.

Crazy Talk: Captain Riker (Huh?)
This would not have mattered, except that we would have lost the mentioned below.

Dialogue High Point
Picard does not look forward to Data approaching him for relationship advice:

Yes, I’ve heard Data.  I would be delighted to offer any advice I can on understanding women.  When I have some, I’ll let you know.

Previous Episode: The Mind’s Eye • Next Episode: Redemption

One thought on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – In Theory [4.25]

  1. This was an OK episode. Not great, but a couple memorable moments. The ending was actually kinda heartbreaking. Data’s matter-of-fact statement was harsh.

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