Monday, May 13, 2013

Why The Next Generation Was Really About Data

I see a lot of memes about Captain Jean-Luc Picard. I like Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Of all the captains he's probably my favorite. But the television show--and the movies--are not about Picard. They're not even about Riker. They're not about Wesley Crusher becoming a man (and I hated those episodes). Star Trek: The Next Generation is about the humanoid android known as Lt. Commander Data.

"Hello? Yes, I'd love to hear
 about AT&T Uverse."
The first scene of the first episode of TNG has Captain Picard interacting with Data, giving him more back story than any of the other characters on the screen; Worf is there (we are not told about his Klingon-ness), Troi is there (we are not told about her tela-pathetic abilities), etc. We learn  more about Data than we do any other character in about 30 seconds.

Contrast this first scene with the last scene of Star Trek: Nemesis, which is the very last Star Trek movie starring the TNG cast. The last two characters we see--again--are Picard and a now defunct Data. The series begins with Data's quest for his humanity and ends with his death.

(The series also begins with Picard walking down a hallway contemplating his new ship and mission with a scowl on his face. It ends with Picard walking down a hallway contemplating his life, smiling).*

If you were a child of the eighties or the early nineties (when TNG reruns still ruled the air) you can remember at least one scene from The Next Generation. That scene will always involve Data. In the episode Phantasms he starts dreaming. Everyone remembers this episode because there were two guys taking pick axes to the Enterprise.

Everyone remembers the episode where Data got a girlfriend (it was really an allegory for gays in the military, apparently). Everyone remembers the episode where Data got a daughter. Everyone remembers the episode where Data gets a brother; when he is then betrayed by his brother. Everyone remembers Data's freakin' emotion chip.

Mostly all the pivotal episodes of TNG revolve around Data. Including the one where Picard is abducted and assimilated by the Borg. What's Data doing in that episode? His roll isn't big, but in the original version of the script it called for Data and Picard to become one being. Which would, you know, have been a big deal.

(The Borg later abduct Data in First Contact and try to convince him to join them).

The thing I've always appreciated about TNG has been its ability to comfort me when I'm down. The idea that I can throw on an episode and listen to it in the background, or watch it again and again. It's always been there for me. The parts that have always made me smile were the parts with our pale android friend.

Data doesn't quip, it's his lack of understanding that leads to comic relief on the show. And Data is the only comic relief on the show for many seasons. It's odd that an android--that is void of emotion--is the chosen vessel for this plot element.

If Data were not on the screen we would not get the message TNG is trying to convey. That humanity might be out there exploring the stars, but really, we're just trying to find out who--and what--we are.

*Throughout the years the show was on Picard goes from smiling once a season to every episode.

13 comments:

  1. Data has always been my favorite character, because of his comic relief, although I had a huge crush on Wesley Crusher when he was on the show.

    My favorite Big Bang episodes also feature Wil Wheaton, go figure. I'm such a girl. (A girl who loves TNG, but a girl nonetheless.)

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    1. Mine too. I couldn't stand Wesley, though. I always remember Picard telling Wesley to shut up in one episode. It made me happy.

      I have only watched a few episodes of The Big Bang Theory. It's a show I can't wrap my brain around, but I will look into this Wil Wheaton episode.

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  2. I wasn't a huge Data fan, but I did like him more than Troi.

    Have you played the ST:TNG drinking game? If not, it's a must. I just recently discovered it and there are different versions but you basically end up drinking the whole time.

    The Evil Wil Wheaton episodes are the best. But if you watch those then you also have to watch the ones with Brent Spiner (if I remember correctly this is a Wil Wheaton episode) and Levar Burton.

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    1. I'm just not a huge fan of the show (I just don't get it, I guess).

      No... link to said game?

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    2. There are a number of versions I can't remember which "rules" we used but I think it may have been this one. If you search "ST:TNG drinking game" you find a lot of results

      https://web.duke.edu/DRAGO/humor/trek/drink_trek.html‎

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    3. Now this is a game I can play.

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  3. I mostly remember Wesley from watching this show with my Dad because obviously Wil Wheaton is super dreamy. I realize that I may have missed the point of the show just a little bit.

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    1. I disliked Wesley. He was so... just goody goody most of the time. Even when he was trying to be a badass he couldn't do it.

      Next week: Why Wesley Crusher Should Shut Up.

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  4. I decided to rewatch the series this winter. I only made it thru season 1 so far. My fave episode was the one where the away team goes to a planet run by ladies who are all strong and powerful...untik Riker shows the queen what a *real* man is and then she was all docile. Like you would if you met Riker.
    I never liked Wesley either. It was always Picard for me. Which may give away more about me then I'd like.
    I also like the holodeck episodes, like when Data was Sherlock Holmes. Good stuff.

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    1. When Data was Sherlock Holmes = best episode ever. "Data, quit it with the pipe!"

      I think I should give it a rewatch, instead of just watching my favorites over and over again.

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