Star Trek Guide

Star Trek: Picard - How [SPOILER] Survived & Why He Wanted To Die

Warning: SPOILERS for Star Trek: Picard's Season 1 Finale

The Star Trek: Picard season 1 finale ended with the death of Commander Data (Brent Spiner), which was especially shocking since Data had already died in Star Trek: Nemesis. In Star Trek: Picard, the emotional scars left behind by Data's demise was a driving factor in Jean-Luc Picard 's (Patrick Stewart) quest to return to space and rescue the android's daughter Soji (Isa Briones). Indeed, the uplifting closing moments of Star Trek: Picard's season 1 finale, "Et in Arcadia Ego, Part II" revealed that the CBS All-Access series' long game was to give Picard and Star Trek fans the fitting goodbye to Data that just wasn't possible in Star Trek: Nemesis. Further, Data's farewell beautifully echoed the death and resurrection of Jean-Luc Picard in a new, synthetic body, making them mirror images of each other.

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It's no secret that Data's heroic sacrifice was Star Trek: Nemesis' blatant ode (or ripoff, many Trekkers have complained) of Spock's (Leonard Nimoy) death in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In both films, the emotionless member of the U.S.S. Enterprise gave up his life to save his ship and its captain from a lunatic's doomsday weapon after a devastating starship battle in a nebula. In Nemesis, the evil Romulan Praetor, Shinzon (Tom Hardy), who was a clone of Jean-Luc Picard, activated his thelaron weapon, which would destroy both the Enterprise-E and his own flagship, the Scimitar. On his own initiative, Data beamed aboard the Scimitar and fired a phaser at the thelaron device, which exploded and instantly killed him. Data's death was abrupt and came after a prolonged action sequence that depleted the audience; by the time the android died, there was little chance to register its emotional impact. After a few moments of shock and sadness, the film simply ends with a hint that Data may be resurrected in the body of B-4 (which Star Trek: Picard confirmed didn't happen).

Star Trek: Nemesis' box office failure meant no sequel was made, so Data was never resurrected. The Star Trek: The Next Generation films simply came to a dead stop, and fans simply had to accept that Data was dead and move on. Worse, unlike Spock's sacrifice, where he was stricken with radiation poisoning but had a heartfelt farewell with Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Data didn't get to have a similar moment with his Captain — that is, until Star Trek: Picard's season 1 finale unexpectedly righted this 18-year-old blight on TNG's service record. But it was a masterstroke for Star Trek: Picard to establish that Jean-Luc couldn't get past Data's death because, in truth, neither did Star Trek fans. Viewers were granted a final moment between Data and Picard that they, and the former captain, craved in Star Trek: Picard's season 1 finale.

How Data Survived Star Trek: Nemesis

Data's physical body and his positronic brain were indeed destroyed in Star Trek: Nemesis, but his essence and memories (up to the point where he sacrificed his life) survived because the android downloaded his memory engrams into B-4, his imperfect android "brother". This was the necessary Star Trek pseudo-science reason Star Trek: Picard needed to both explain how Soji and her synthetic family were created in Data's mold, and also to justify how Data's personality could still be "alive" in the computers of the planet Coppelius 20 years after he died. Thus, when synthetics were banned by the United Federation of Planets in 2385, Dr. Bruce Maddox (John Ales) stole a single positronic neuron (containing Data's essence) from the brain of B-4 and fled to Coppelius with Dr. Altan Soong, the son of Data's creator, Dr. Noonien Soong.

So, while Data was dead, Star Trek: Picard's retcon enabled the character fans knew as Data to continue to exist in a virtual world. As Data himself explained to Picard while Jean-Luc's own synaptic straits were being uploaded into his new synthetic body, the Golem, Soong placed Data's essence inside a "massively complex quantum simulation" — basically a private holodeck for Data's personality (which somewhat resembled the study of Sherlock Holmes within TNG's holodeck that the android enjoyed cosplaying in). In a way, Data's quantum simulation is his own version of the Nexus, the space ribbon that briefly transported Picard and Kirk into a realm of "pure joy" in Star Trek Generations. While in this simulation, Data's mind continued to be alive and to acquire knowledge of the outside world, so he was aware that he died fighting Shinzon in 2379. It's quite likely that Data also knew that more androids (his "children") were built from his positronic neuron.

Meanwhile, the post-Data synthetics Maddox and Soong built, including Soji, had access to Data's memories since they all derived from his positronic neuron. This is how Soji knew that Data loved Picard, since her father's life experiences are part of her, which harkens to how a Trill on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine can remember everything about her previous hosts' past lives.

Why Data Wanted To Die In Star Trek: Picard

Star Trek: Picard finally gave Jean-Luc and Data the valediction they never got to have in Nemesis, one in which Picard confessed his love for his friend and the android registered it (and returned the affection in his own way). But what Data really wanted from Picard was for his Captain to end his existence and finally put him to rest. In Data's poetic logic, granting him death, at last, would mark the end of his story. The android's entire life was dedicated to understanding humans and trying to become one — a goal he could never physically achieve thanks to his golden skin and eyes (unlike Soji, who was built to resemble and emote like humans) and Data's reliance on an emotion chip that he couldn't fully control. Therefore, Data's pursuit of humanity had to be achieved in metaphysical ways: by living a kind, noble life where he was respected and loved by those closest to him, which is something Data did accomplish.

It's understandable that Data felt his perpetual existence trapped in a simulation denied him the final gift of humanity: mortality. In his wisdom, Data knew that a human life being finite is precisely what gives it meaning. Data wanted his story to end and achieve that lasting meaning he deserved, and it was only fitting that Jean-Luc Picard was the one to grant him his final wish by unplugging Data from his quantum cage. By doing this, Star Trek: Picard ingeniously conveyed that keeping Data alive infinitely robs him of the very humanity he lived for. Instead, Data died (by aging into an old man with Picard gently holding his hand) as a man, who knows he also lives on in Soji and the other synthetics, just as a human being lives on via his or her children, the works they leave behind, and in the memories of their loved ones.

How Data's Death And Picard's Rebirth Mirror Each Other

Star Trek: Picard season 1 ended with a remarkable reshuffling of the TNG deck: Data died like a human being after Picard also died from his brain abnormality and was reborn in a synthetic body. Some Trekkers may find Picard's fate controversial and hard to reconcile, but the truth is, Jean-Luc Picard's character and virtues remain intact despite his new physical form. Further, Picard has always been partly synthetic: Jean-Luc has had an artificial heart for most of his life and he was also assimilated by the Borg. More, in his youth, Picard chose to be cold and distant to other people, in contrast to his emotionless android officer who was constantly striving for humanity, which his friends (including Picard) took for granted.

Picard has also been a longtime advocate for the rights of artificial beings, and he helped secure Data's individual rights in the TNG episode "Measure of a Man". So, it's fitting that Picard is now synthetic himself, and he, like Soji, is now a beneficiary of the ban on artificial lifeforms being lifted — something Picard secured by his heroic actions in "Et in Arcadia Ego, Parts 1 and 2". In Star Trek: Picard's season 1 finale, Data received the last gift of humanity he deserved while Jean-Luc received a new lease on an already legendary life well-lived. In the end, Picard gets to warp into the final frontier with his new crew, but, for Data, his long-awaited death means he gets nothing but blue skies from now on.

Star Trek: Picard Season 1 is available to stream on CBS All-Access and internationally on Amazon Prime Video.