In which Data gets naked, leans passive resistance, and explores his humanity some more.
The Enterprise is doing a fetch quest to fix some planet’s problem for some Federation colony. Somehow, thy need a chemical too unstable for the transporters and apparently unrepeatable. This seems to reinforce the notion that the replicators don’t just create things out of raw energy (because otherwise, you ought to be able to materialize any elements you want in any combination) but rather that they keep a stock of base matter on board which the replicators can tweak. This in turn would explain why replicator food is universally thought of as inferior to regular food – the replicator simply would not be able to simulate subtle variations in flavors due to trace amounts of chemicals that humans don’t need but can detect. Ever go somewhere else and think that their tap water tastes bland compared to where you grew up? Yeah, kind of like that.
Anyway, because they can’t transport the stuff, Data is taking it over by shuttle. Data is taking it over by shuttle instead of Ensign Ricky because we all know Ensign Ricky would die horribly from a shuttle impact against a quantum string or something. It’s a fact of life that Starfleet has just learned to deal with, so they have to send important officers to do things whenever they know the camera is watching.
I digress, however. Data is loading the last of the chemical onto the shuttle and preparing to leave. Apparently, the relief efforts are not so urgent that the Enterprise needs to hustle past Warp 6. Data signs the last load with a thumbprint and gets electrocuted. Well, electrified. The trader crew of the Jovis start scanning him and listing his components, evidently so that when the shuttle explodes the debris will match Data’s makeup.
Oh yeah, they blew up the shuttle. Did I forget to mention that? While everyone looks on in shocked horror, it’s only Worf who offers a plaintive utterance for his friend and fellow outsider to Federation culture and wow that got maudlin quick. Sorry. We as the viewer know Data isn’t dead, though, so… yay?
The trader captain, Kevis Fajo, seems extremely compliant with Picard’s requests for his sensor logs, and they discuss how rare hytritium is on the retail market. Riker makes an offhand remark about how lucky it is that Fajo had any in the first place. Since we know he orchestrated this kidnapping, we can guess that Fajo poisoned the colony’s water supply so that someone would need hytritium to fix it, and then timed it so the Enterprise would be the one in range. The conspiracy runs deep. Datagate was an inside job!
Technically we didn’t actually know Data had been kidnapped up until we see him lying deactivated on the silliest couch I’ve ever seen. I kind of want it. Eventually, however, the stun wears off and Data begins to process his predicament. Fajo seems to believe Data is both deaf and stupid, but he has either kidnapped or stolen Data, depending on how you look at Data’s legal status, to add him to Fajo’s collection.
The door is too strong for Data to budge, the lock only responds to Fajo’s DNA and skin responses, and Fajo has a personal force field, which would be super useful if the Federation could get their hands on it. Fajo has many unique items, including Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory” and a Roger Maris trading card, and the last surviving hairy insect turtlemonster in a terrarium. Fajo shows Data to his own chair, as the only soong-type android known, and tells him to sit.
This is the second time this season we’ve seen captivity be a central theme. Just something to note, as Wes and Geordi go through Data’s quarters and try to work up the courage to deal with Data’s personal effects – the book Picard gave him, his poker chips, his service medals. Point of order – Data has apparently earned, and I quote, “some of Starfleet’s highest medals.” Either he earned those all offscreen since last season, or Starfleet had awarded them to him and then ordered him to be vivisected and then to have his daughter taken away from him. These are the kind of acts that make it very east to take an organization like the Federation, make a few tweaks to history, and end up rooting for Malcolm Reynolds and his desperate fight against the banal evil of the Alliance. Just saying.
Data refuses to put on the clothes provided to him or to sit in his chair, and starts working on Fajo’s assistant when she comes into the room, and he learns some crucial information about how Fajo maintains his rule – through large carrots and big sticks. While this is going on, Geordi has been doing forensics on the sensor records and since there was no record of anything going wrong, the only option is pilot error. So… there are no plausible options for what went wrong. Picard supports further investigation, but not at the expense of saving the colonists, but in trying to console Geordi he says the dumbest thing he’ll say for a long while.
Apparently, sometimes there just aren’t any explanations.
So Picard is reacting out of grief and trying to stop Geordi from obsessing about a tragedy he can’t change, which is all well and good, but this is Starfleet and you’re talking to an engineer. There are always explanations. The universe may be capricious and cruel, but it isn’t magic, and if an observed outcome disn’t fit the facts you have, then either you didn’t see what you think you saw or you have the wrong facts. Science, yo.
Data explains to Fajo that he will not consent to captivity, that he has been programmed with a strong respect for “life in all its forms, and a strong inhibition against causing harm to living beings.” Soong was probably aware of Asimov’s Three Laws and how they could cause positronic brains to go insane, so he left Data a bit of wiggle room in there. Data has not taken a life, but is programmed to be able to use deadly force in defense, and continues to refuse to put on the clothes, so Fajo splashes him with a special clothes-dissolving acid so he can either wear the stupid clothes or walk around naked.
Worf has been selected to replace Data at Ops, so Troi offers him some counseling about battlefield promotions via dead mans shoes. His second promotion that way, as it happens, and good on Troi for catching that. And Geordi has figured out what the problem is. Data followed protocol every time, except for the last time, when he didn’t make voice contact for an expected check-in. Geordi speculates that there was a problem with Data, rather than with the shuttle, and it seems like the Enterprise is going to track down the Jovis after their mission to see if Data was behaving oddly.
Fajo brings in a man in a green deep-v and what I can only pray is the next craze in contemporary rapper bling to show off Data who is, in fact, wearing the stupid suit. Because Data is pretty cool, he stands perfectly still and refuses to perform for Fajo’s visitor. Officers, it would seem, don’t dig.
The Enterprise gets on with its mission to clear the contamination. They load the highly explosive hytritium into a probe and launch it at the planet, because that’s apparently oh god I don’t even know anymore. However, it turns out that the contamination also does not match expected patterns, so they go to investigate.
Fajo continues to ask Data to sit in the chair, and pulls from a wall safe a prototype for a disruptor that’s banned in the Federation. It’s banned not because it’s lethal, but because it’s designed specifically to hurt as it does so. Instead, he pulls in his assistant Varia and is about to shoot her when Data sits in the chair.
In the investigation, it comes out that the contamination was artificial, which is puzzling as sabotage because it’s not an effective poison and is difficult to replicate and transport. It could pass as a natural disaster but then again, so could arsenic. But there’s only one way to treat it and Fajo had just enough. It is now that they access Fajo’s biographical file and find out that he obsessively collects rarities. It is now time for them to try to find reasons not to take down the Jovis’ propulsion, shields, and weapons with a ser of pinpoint phaser strikes, and offer Federation amnesty to any of the crew who assist in the capture and incarceration of Fajo. They should do this because, well, how much would you trust Starfleet Security in a boarding and rescue operation?