Star Trek: Data’s Most Important Episodes For Picard
With Star Trek: Picard just over the horizon, many fans are wondering how Data, the late, great android officer from Star Trek: The Next Generation, will factor into the series. Data was a cybernetic organism who felt no emotion, but he evoked more than a little feeling in both Star Trek fans and his fellow crew members on the Enterprise. Data's quest to become more human was TNG's most consistently great character arc, due in no small part to actor Brent Spiner's extraordinary performance, squeezing so much power, humor, and yes, emotion, out of a character who was barely allowed to emote in traditionally human ways.Click the button below to start this article in quick view. Start now
Data met his end in Star Trek: Nemesis, the final TNG film, but it seems Data's story isn't quite over. Somehow, either through dreams, flashbacks, or mystical visions, a much older Jean-Luc Picard is still haunted by his old friend, and the show seems set to delve into the legacy of the character in surprising, potentially dangerous ways.
To understand where Data's story might go from here, even in death, it's important to understand what made him such an integral part of The Next Generation, as well as Picard's life in general. The following episodes serve both as showcases for Data as a character, as well as a roadmap for where Star Trek: Picard could potentially take him next.
"The Measure Of A Man"
Arguably the first great episode of TNG, "The Measure Of A Man" finds Data on trial to confirm his status as either a sentient lifeform or simply a machine. When Commander Bruce Maddox, a Starfleet research officer, planned to duplicate Data against his will, an ethical debate over the android's rights began in earnest. Captain Picard mounted a rigorous defense, and eventually it's decided that Data is indeed alive, and cannot be forced into the Starfleet research project.
Apart from being one of the best early episodes of TNG, "The Measure Of A Man" sets up what looks to be a central theme in Star Trek: Picard. With Data long dead, it appears someone has picked up where Maddox left off so many years ago; in the show's dazzling San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) trailer, Picard sees what appears to be an army of Data-like androids. Picard may be required to mount another android defense, but this time on a much larger scale.
The first episode of TNG directed by Commander William Riker actor Jonathan Frakes, "The Offspring" is the story of Lal, the young female android Data created as his own daughter. The episode is largely a lighthearted glimpse of an unconventional new parent, but things take a dark turn when Lal's neural net overloads, and she eventually dies in Data's arms. Data would integrate Lal's memory engrams into his own, so that she would always be a part of him.
There's been much speculation over the identity of Isa Briones' mysterious character in Picard, a young woman named Daj. Theories have ranged from Picard's long lost daughter, to some sort of recreation of the Borg Queen. Some, however, have speculated that she's a version of Lal somehow brought back by Borg technology. Whether or not Daj is Lal, "The Offspring" is a quintessential Data story.
"Birthright" sees both Data and Worf go on journeys of discovery regarding their long-deceased fathers. For Data, that journey started with an accident in engineering that caused a power surge in his positronic brain; Data went offline and had what seemed to be a vision of his father. In reality, the power surge accidentally activated a hidden dream program Dr. Noonien Soong installed in Data's core programming. It was one of the final gifts Soong imparted on his son, and when Data realizes what's happening to him, it's a truly moving moment.
Birthright begins Data's association with dreams and the interpretation of his dreams through his art. The trailer for Picard finds Jean-Luc himself dreaming of Data painting among the fields of Chateau Picard, before he hands the brush over to Picard. It's a beautiful, somewhat ominous vision, and it would seem to set the stage for the kind of slightly left-of-center Star Trek show Picard intends to be.
"Descent" opened with one of the most action packed first acts in all of The Next Generation, as Riker, Worf, and Data find themselves engaged in a running firefight with a group of very unusual Borg; this band of the robotic villains had names and individual emotions. Even curiouser, when violently confronted by one of the Borg, Data suddenly became extremely angry, strangling the Borg to death in a rage. Data is shaken by his first emotion being such a negative one, but he would eventually learn he was being manipulated by Lore, his identical brother who was created before him by Dr. Soong.
"Descent" also importantly sees the return of the Borg Hugh from the classic episode "I, Borg." Hugh's individuality spread through the collective, creating both sentient, benevolent Borg drones like Hugh, as well as deeply malfunctioning, suicidal drones. Lore took advantage of the latter group in an attempt to create his own Borg army, which seems to be what the Romulans are up to in Picard. Hugh may be forced into saving his people once again.
"Phantams" is a further exploration of Data's dream program, this time concentrating on a series of disturbing nightmares that plagued him. He saw bizarre images like Dr. Crusher drinking Riker's brain through a straw, and Worf eating a Troi-shaped cellular peptide cake (with mint frosting). Data even went to the holodeck to consult Sigmund Freud about the meaning of his dreams, to no avail. He eventually learned he's subconsciously sensing energy draining beings that have infected most of the Enterprise crew, a mysterious new wrinkle to a program Data barely understood before.
Star Trek: Picard sees the good captain haunted by his past, and experiencing what appear to be both sleeping and waking nightmares. It's not yet clear if Picard is sensing something in the same way Data did, but the fact that Data seems to be a constant presence in Picard's mind is probably not a coincidence.
Star Trek: Nemesis
The fourth and final film to feature the cast of The Next Generation, Nemesis is divisive, to say the least. The film was critically reviled and a box office bomb, putting the movie franchise on ice until it was rebooted by J.J. Abrams seven years later. Far and away the most interesting and important part of Nemesis is, of course, the death of Data. After a shellshocked Picard defeated his own evil clone, Shinzon — played by a hilariously miscast Tom Hardy — he found himself stuck on Shinzon's ship with a weapon that is about to decimate the Enterprise. At the last second, Data appeared with a site-to-site transport device, rescued Picard, and destroyed Shinzon's ship, sacrificing himself for his friends and definitively affirming his humanity.
As is made plain in trailers, Picard is still haunted and guilt stricken over Data's death, and is concerned with his legacy and how bad faith actors may be looking to exploit it. Data himself may be long gone, but his presence will loom large over Star Trek: Picard. The beloved android may prove just as important in death as he was in life.