Sci-Fi: Best TNG Data Episodes

Screenshot of Brent Spiner in ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’. Copyright goes to Paramount.

Hi! It’s Annie!

Re-watching various seasons and series of Star Trek has proved to me one thing over anything else. My love of Data from watching odd episodes of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ when I was young has come back with a vengeance. I’m not sure any character comes close to Data for me for so many reasons, many of them having to do with the complexity with which they handled his character. But I think what really stands out about Data is how much he’s become a comfort character for so many people. Data is kind of like a giant golden retriever puppy in the form of an android; he’s the innocent on board and easily befriends children of all ages. Easily one of the most huggable characters in all of Star Trek. Data’s episodes are some of my favorites not just because of how important of a character he is to me, but also because of how eloquent, cute, and meaningful they are. So I’m going to rank some of my favorites! Obviously, MAJOR SPOILER WARNING for TNG.

Dishonorable Mention: Of all of Data’s episodes, choosing my least favorite one was remarkably easy. That is because this may be the only Data episode that I’m not particularly fond of. ‘In Theory’ is technically Data’s second attempt at a romantic relationship, but the first real one. Not only is his love interest in this completely annoying, but she also seems to think that because Data is an android she can tell him every time she feels he’s not doing something correctly in a relationship. Oddly, this episode seems to have been made with the purpose of proving that Data is a machine, while the other episodes focus on showing us that he’s more human than he thinks he is. Though as Picard so eloquently put; have we ever argued that Data isn’t a machine? No. Not being able to figure out his partner who is evidently putting in no effort to figure him out in turn, does not make him less emotional. Though trying to make Data seem less emotional to the audience seems to be the point of the episode. Personally, I don’t think this works in any regard. It wasn’t as though the episode depicted a moment where Data wasn’t there for her when he needed to be or didn’t love her when she loved him. All the episode depicted was her attempting to force gifts onto Data because she didn’t like the look of his quarters, or insisting that he drop whatever he was doing the moment she walked into a room. Both seem a bit stupid to me. The lesson of this episode feels less like Data doesn’t have emotions as humans do and more like the moral is to be careful who you choose to date.

Honorable Mentions: ‘The Offspring’ is unfortunately going to have to go here for me, though I know many would argue against this. Don’t get me wrong, I like ‘The Offspring’! But there were elements of this story that I thought were done better in other episodes. Data dealing with family members, such as his father and brother, feels more meaningful in other episodes in my personal opinion. And the threat of Lal being taken away feels almost too much like ‘The Measure of a Man’. I love Guinan and her interaction with Data this episode and I love that Lal learned to love. But the fact that Data was able to randomly create this effect feels a little odd. Especially because she’s so much like Data and whether or not Data actually can love but just doesn’t know it seems to be a question throughout TNG. I’ll talk more about that later. So why would Lal be able to tell that she has those feelings and Data not? It’s still a very emotional Data episode though and I love it all the same. I also want to bring up ‘Elementary, My Dear Data’. While this isn’t the most profound Data episode, it has to be one of the most fun Star Trek episodes I’ve ever seen. Seeing Data as Sherlock is adorable and the fact that Picard has to come in to easily fix the mistake of the kids, is hilarious.

5. ‘Data’s Day’

Again, this isn’t the most profound of the Data episodes, but I think it’s particularly important. This is the only episode of TNG to be told entirely from Data’s perspective. The plot is fairly standard, there’s nothing really special to it except that this is the episode that we see Keiko and Miles O’Brien marry. But Data’s interactions with people and how he still doesn’t seem to understand them is hilarious. Keiko tells Data that she wants to cancel her wedding because she doesn’t feel happy on her wedding day. Data, only really hearing that she would be more happy if she postponed it, interprets this initially as good news. Wouldn’t Miles be happy if his fiancée is happy? And then the audience witnesses the hilarious moment when Data tells Miles, who is very much… not happy. This episode continues with instances like this, as Data partially narrates through letters his difficulty understanding people around him. It’s nice to see an episode completely through Data’s perspective and also see what his friendship has meant to his closest friends in the form of his integral role in giving away Keiko at her wedding.

4. ‘Brothers’

Not only is this Brent Spiner in three different roles, but this is also an amazing appearance of Lore. I’m always a fan of when Lore shows up and it’s never underdone when it happens. During the first part of this episode the audience is left in complete confusion, as well as the crew, when Data suddenly goes rogue. He completely takes over the Enterprise and brings everyone aboard to an unknown location that he immediately goes down to. It’s here that we finally see why Data suddenly went a bit off the rails. His homing beacon was activated and he, as well as his brother, return to their father. The man who created them. The best part of this episode? The reveal that Data was actually created after Lore. We had all, including Data himself, been under the impression that Data was created first because of his more android-like traits and his apparent lack of emotions. But here we find out that Lore actually scared the villagers with his semi-malicious personality. Data was created to be more approachable. Leading both Lore and Data to the realization that Data is no less perfect than Lore. This information both angers Lore and adorably shocks Data who now seems to value himself a little more than he had before. It is everything Data deserves.

3. ‘Descent’

This is another one of the Lore episodes. This I particularly like because it’s one of the episodes that features Lore as a truly powerful villain. While he does damage in other episodes, this is a world domination kind of damage. Through many different means, he controls Data who is confused through the entirety of the episode. This is all including a point where he almost kills Geordi. Watching a highly confused, manipulated, and controlled Data in the middle of Lore and the Borg is both heartbreaking and highly interesting. It’s also nice to see Hugh back in this episode! But what really makes this one for me even over all of that, is Data saving the day at the end. Not only is he reminded of who he is and who his friends are, but he successfully takes down Lore singlehandedly. And this is the most heartbreaking part. Throughout the episode Lore is trying to emphasize his familial relationship with Data, even attempting to convince Data that he loves him. Towards the end of the episode when everything starts falling apart, Lore tries to kill Data who in turn is forced to shut down Lore. And just as he does, Lore tells him that he loves him. It’s an emotional moment for Data and a confusing moment for the audience, who doesn’t know if maybe this time Lore is actually being sincere.

2. ‘Hero Worship’

If you’re looking for a cute Data episode, look no further than this gem. In this one Data saves a little boy from the debris of a recently destroyed ship. And the traumatized boy immediately, and understandably, attaches to his savior. We all know that Data is good with kids. There’s an entire other episode where a child attaches to Data and the crew can do little to get her to detach herself from him. But this episode takes it to a completely different level. In an attempt to forget his trauma, the boy decides that he wants to be as similar to Data as he possibly can. This includes him watching and imitating Data and Data even helping him to look like him. One of the cutest Data moments ever is Data’s attempt to style the boy’s hair so that it looks like his. There’s even an adorable moment where the boy falls asleep painting with Data, who then takes him to bed and even tucks him in. This is the ultimate comfort Data episode. Even above all of his adorable moments with Spot, which is a difficult level to pass. But this specifically shows how attached Data can get to other people. In fact, Data tells the boy at the end that it would be a pleasure to be his friend. One of the only times that Data doesn’t seem to realize he just expressed that he felt an emotion. Pleasure. This one is so cute!

1. ‘Measure of a Man’

I think everyone could tell that this was coming. This is not only the best Data episode, but it is also one of the best philosophical episodes of Star Trek. Which is saying something. But likely, you’ve heard something about this episode whether or not you’ve seen Star Trek before. Whether it’s Picard’s message about Data being exactly the new life that they’ve been trying to find or Picard’s speech about how the decision will determine whether or not they condemn an entire race to servitude; this episode has blown up for being so applicable to real life. This episode follows Data as a Starfleet science officer comes aboard in order to propose a potentially lethal study on Data that would allow him to make more androids like Data. When Data refuses, the science officer argues that Data is property belonging to Starfleet and a trial ensues. Picard defends Data while Riker is forced to prosecute, and here we establish that Data is far more human than anyone thinks. Data expresses that he packed his medals simply because he wanted them and even shows a capacity to fear for his life. I cried the first time I watched this and it still never fails to make me a little emotional. Even though calling Data, an entity who chose to enter Starfleet and wasn’t created by it, property of Starfleet is kind of ludicrous. You would think they would have answered that question when he joined Starfleet. But either way, this episode is pure genius.

I love Data so much! Absolutely the kind of character that you wish was real so that you could hug him at the end of a long day. It helps that this comfort character has so many comfort episodes too! But I’m also blown away with how intricately Data was written. Because Data could have easily become a gimmick, but instead he’s probably one of the most complex Star Trek characters to exist.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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