TNG: S4E25: “In Theory”

In which Data catches the rebound. 

The Enterprise is checking out a Dark Matter nebula, an unusual phenomenon only because if you can use sensors on it, it is not dark matter. That’s why the stuff is called dark matter. But no, apparently 24th century science can actually detect dark matter, or at least certain types of dark matter. Since dark matter composes about 68% of the known universe, this is pretty huge. I guess once you crack faster-than-light travel the secrets of the universe just start falling into your lap.

"If you did not wish me to take your every word literally, perhaps you ought to have remembered to whom you were speaking."

“If you did not wish me to take your every word literally, perhaps you ought to have remembered to whom you were speaking.”

Anyway, Data is working with this chipper young lieutenant, Jenna, who is still getting over someone named Jeff and has specifically asked Data to remind her why they broke up. Data has also been using her as a case study to examine this aspect of the human experience, including studying the relationship problems between Anne Boleyn.  He needs a lot more experience if he thinks the biggest problem those two had was that Henry VIII liked hunting. They detonate the sensor torpedo or whatever in the nebula and there are fireworks, and Jenna is about to fall hard.

Later, after they play in concert together (she on flute, he on oboe, Keiko on clainet, and Jenna on flute), Jenna is hard on herself for her tempo control, and Data is doing his best to reassure her. He also manages to make topical reference humor later with Keiko and O’Brien, and Jenna hanging off his arm. Recall that this season began with Brothers, and Soong being ready to give Data an emotion chip to complete his program. Now beginneth, it would seem, the great experiment.

Guinan knows what's up

Guinan knows what’s up

Yup. She’s definitely falling for Data. Whether it’s a mistake or not is yet to be seen, but she’s  construing him as kind, funny, and supportive. To be fair, it’s not like these are qualities he lacks. They are superlative qualities in a human being and a Starfleet officer, and ones he has been trying to master for years. It’s really quite encouraging if he’s managed to display those in sufficient quantities to get a human infatuated with him enough to give him a passionate kiss on the torpedo bay. Sorry, “in”. In the torpedo bay. On the torpedo bay is, like, the third date, minimum. Guinan refuses to help him out with his first love affair, so he’s in for a fun ride.

Later, Spot is found wandering around outside Data’s quarters, and the computer denies any other entry to his quarters. Also, the door is programmed not to let the cat out. So that’s odd. Earlier, Crusher got a cameo picking up a hypospray that had fallen off a tray. Meet the B plot, I guess. Data asks for Geordi’s advice, which seems cruel given his luck with women. Geordi’s advice is that Data is probably a rebound, but ask someone else. So he asks Troi, who tells him to be careful because she has feelings. Worf’s advice is to go plant his flag and conquer her, but also if Data hurts Lt. Desora, Worf will have to fight him. Riker says “go for it, she’s hot and she wants you.”

Riker? I hardly know 'er!

Riker? I hardly know ‘er!

That’s not actually fair to Riker. His advice is “she’s a grown woman, she knows you’re an android, the chance of happiness is worth the risk of disappointment because that’s what it means to be human. Also she’s hot and she wants you, go for it.”

So fraternization between personnel is not only not against regulations, it’s not even discouraged enough that Riker can mention the rewards of forbidden fruit.

His sweet talk could definitely use some work, but it seems to be doing the trick.

"Okay, now you hide and I'll find you."

“Okay, now you hide and I’ll find you.”

Also, everything on the ship is falling through everything else. Since the items are all directly underneath Picard’s desk, it is reasonable to assume (given the Enterprise’ history with weird hoodoo, that the items have fallen through the desk, something is compromising the elecromagnetic fields that keep stuff solid, and anyone who lives in a tin can that has to carry its own air with it should probably vacate the area immediately. Instead, Picard orders ‘caution,’ whatever that means.

Jenna brings Data a gift to liven up his quarters, and she gently explains to him some of the finer points of what to do when your girlfriend comes over with a gift. Meanwhile, the Enterprise has arrived where a planet should be, only to find no planet present. No wait, there it is. Premission to name this nebula ‘Brigadoon,’ sir?

We’ll have to put that off, since the Observation lounge just decompressed. Now there’s no excuse for sticking around, right? Even though it stabilized immediately and there’s no lasting damage, the way the entire room is piled up against the window, and that window is exhibiting anomalous structural readings, should be sufficient reason to continue further examinations via probe rather than in person for all but the foolhardiest of… oh yeah. The ship’s name is Enterprise. 

In this scene, Brent Spiner plays Floyd Mayweather.

In this scene, Brent Spiner plays Floyd Mayweather.

Data has been studying several sources on seduction, and it’s suuuuuuuuuuuper creepy. Spiner is channeling Lore for this scene. Sadly, it may be that the Uncanny Valley has not quite been bridged. When the doting boyfriend subroutine fails, the exception loop apparently calls an anger simulation, which is supposed to trigger a ‘make-up sex’ function. As with music, Data is trying to adopt a behavioral mode by mixing previously documented norms, but human interaction is a bit more complex than a Back prelude.

As the ship moves, discontinuities move through the ship and wind up embedding an engineer in the floor and killing her. Now that the danger is known, the possibilities – that a photon torpedo or antimatter storage pod could be hit – are even deadlier than the mere sudden loss of cabin pressure. The best solution appears to be re-configuring the sensors so that they can detect the pockets, then having  shuttle scout its way through with the Enterprise following. Picard insists on piloting for some reason. The margins of errors are less than half a kilometer, and Picard can’t even manage to get his shuttle threading the needle properly, but it’s too late to change the plan now, I guess. Picard loses the shuttle but they beam him back  in time. Maybe next time, let the android with the lightning-quick reaction time pilot the shuttle through the space-time minefield.

Sadly, this triumph is not to last, as Jenna utters those fateful words: “I think we should talk.” It can’t quite hurt Data, and he deletes the ‘boyfriend’ protocols.

The episode is kind of brilliant and extremely necessary – we have seen Data stumble into many of the appropriate reactions – grieving over Yar’s death, for instance. It is occasionally necessary to re-establish that he’s still got a ways to go. At least he doesn’t have to fight Worf.

Did we miss something awesome?