Star Trek Guide

Star Trek: Data's Emotion Chip Was TNG Movies' Worst Plot Device

Commander Data's (Brent Spiner) emotion chip was the worst plot device in the Star Trek: The Next Generation movies. The golden android was the Operations Officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise-D and E but Data was also one of the primary characters of the TNG films, arguably second in importance only to Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) himself. Data played major roles in Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection before he died saving the Picard and the Enterprise in Star Trek: Nemesis. But in Star Trek Generations, Data was sidelined with the inaugural TNG movie's most ill-conceived subplot: coping with having emotions thanks to his emotion chip.

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Data's emotion chip was introduced in the TNG season 4 episode "Brothers". Lured to the planet Terlina III by his creator Dr. Noonien Soong, Data learned his "father" was dying and wanted to gift him with an emotion chip, which would allow the android to experience the broad spectrum of human feelings. However, Data's evil brother Lore arrived and plotted to deactivate Data and trick Soong into installing the emotion chip, despite it not being compatible with Lore's programming. Lore and the emotion chip returned in the two-parter, "Descent", where he took control of a group of reclaimed Borg drones, including Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco), and Data himself. The Enterprise-D crew rescued Data and Lore was deactivated, after which Data took possession of the damaged emotion chip. Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) stopped Data from destroying the emotion chip because he didn't want Data to give up his dream of one-day experiencing human emotions.

Unfortunately, that dream turned into a nightmare for Data and for Trekkers in Star Trek Generations. After Data attempted an ill-conceived practical joke - shoving Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) into the ocean during Lieutenant Commander Worf's (Michael Dorn) promotion ceremony on the holodeck - the android decided it was time to input the (repaired) emotion chip to further his growth as an artificial life form. At first, Data's influx of emotions allowed him to realize he "hates" a drink he tasted at Ten Forward and he suddenly understood jokes he heard years ago. However, the emotion chip soon overloaded his positronic relays, making Data's emotions like laughter and fear go haywire. The chip then fused into his neural net, making it impossible to remove, forcing Data to learn to live with having emotions.

Despite the rich story possibilities of Data finally having emotions and how it moves him closer to being "human", Star Trek Generations instead used the emotion chip to make Data the source of awkward comedy. Data did unfunny things like speak through a mock-puppet named Mr. Tricorder, sing while on duty, pump his fist and yell "Yes!", and blurt "Oh sh--!" when the Enterprise-D was destroyed and crashed onto the planet Veridian III. Data also whined about not being able to control his emotions, forcing Picard to scold him while they were working in Stellar Cartography.

During their DVD commentary for Star Trek Generations, the film's writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga noted that Data having a comedy subplot was an edict by Paramount, which the studio believed would give the film necessary humor. Moore and Braga thought it was a good idea since it was a chance to make a major change to Data's character, something that couldn't be done on the TNG TV series. But not only did it not work, the whole enterprise bombed. Data's comedy made him irritating and, worse, the fact that the android now had emotions had no bearing on the movie's story. Data didn't save the day because he had emotions, it just amounted to an unwelcome distraction from the main plot of Captain Picard meeting Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner).

Star Trek Generations not only bungled the plum idea of Data gaining emotions but the filmmakers also miscalculated the fact that Trekkers liked and preferred Data exactly the way he was. A better story about Data learning to adapt to having emotions would have won fans over, but instead, the TNG movie sequels had to walk back Data's emotion chip plotline. Data quickly deactivated his emotion chip before facing the Borg in Star Trek: First Contact, although the Borg Queen reactivated it during her attempt to seduce him. Finally, in Star Trek: Insurrection, the android conveniently left the emotion chip behind in his quarters aboard the Enterprise-E - and it wasn't seen again in Star Trek canon.