8/11/14

Star Trek: Asterisk "In Theory"

Vital Information
Series: The Next Generation
Episode: S04E25
Air Date: June 3, 1991
Written by: Joe Menosky and Ronald D. Moore
Directed by: Patrick Stewart

Premise
Fresh off a breakup from an emotionless snob, Ensign Jenna D'Sora finds herself a coin-operated boy.

Recap
The Enterprise is coming up on the Mar Oscura, an unexplored dark matter nebula. In order to make it visible, Data and Ensign Jenna D'Sora are working together on a probe made out of a photon torpedo that'll light it up using science! As they work together, Jenna says that her ex had invited her to dinner. And, as she had previously requested, Data reminded her of all the reasons that was a bad idea. They launch the probe which sparks luminescence in the nebula to examine the deep, unknowable void of dark matter, while something else sparks an infatuation in Jenna to examine the deep, unknowable void of Data's emotions.

Later, Data and Jenna play together with Keiko O'Brien in a chamber orchestra. Jenna doesn't think she did so well, but Data supports her. Afterward, the two of them meet up with Keiko and Miles for drinks and Jenna gets very affectionate with Data there. On the bridge, Data surmises that because of the thick density of dark matter in the area, life may have evolved in different ways. Picard orders the crew to take the ship to a nearby planet to check out that theory, and Data goes back to the torpedoes to make another probe with Jenna. But after this probe-making session, Jenna leans in and gives Data a kiss on the cheek, and then passionately on the lips. Data's reaction is one of curiosity. So, obviously, he asks advice from everyone on the ship.
Processing... processing... processing... processing...
Guinan is excited for the new experience that Data will find in pursuing the relationship. Geordi warns against dating someone on the rebound, but then admits he's probably not the guy to give advice about such things. One is reminded of a certain holo-woman. Troi warns that Jenna might be vulnerable. Riker tells him to go for it, and he flashes a creepy grin while extolling the "benefits" he might get from it. Worf says Klingons don't date, they just take what they desire. But he offers a stern warning that if Jenna, who is under his command, ends up mistreated, there will be consequences. Picard says he'd be happy to offer his advice about women... once he had any to give. The consensus is reached: Data decides to date Jenna.

He makes a program specifically for romantic relationships and devotes a "considerable share" of resources to Jenna's subroutine within that program. The sad part is that when he tells her this, it turns out to be one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to her. The program takes a lot of work to get right. Jenna unexpectedly comes to his quarters while he's painting and offers him a gift. She says he can keep painting if he wants, but then tells him that when a girlfriend says you can keep doing something, you should usually stop doing it and pay attention to her. Later, Data acts like a "perfect" boyfriend, according to his baseline knowledge of romance in classical literature. But Jenna isn't feeling it. They get into a "lovers quarrel," and Data actually yells at her, which is so out of character that he even uses contractions!
You don't control me!! Don't... "Don't"... hmm.. sounds wierd.
Meanwhile, circumstances on the Enterprise are getting serious. What was initially laughed off as a poltergeist by Picard has put people in danger. Items have been falling through tables, Spot inexplicably escaped from Data's quarters, an entire planet turns out to have disappeared and reappeared, decompression in the observation lounge, and finally a crewman stuck fused into the floor. Turns out the dark matter is causing deformations in space. When anything, including the ship, passes through them, they momentarily phase out of normal space. The only way to navigate the ship successfully through them is to send a shuttle on ahead to detect  the deformations and make speedy course corrections.

With the plan set, Picard insists he be the one to pilot the shuttle. He does a good job at first, but the deformations just keep coming on the small sensor screen on the shuttle. After a while, he can't avoid them. The shuttle is destroyed, but O'Brien is able to beam Picard back just in time. Luckily, the Enterprise was just close enough to the edge of the nebula to get out on its own from there.
He's either making a hard turn away from a spacial deformation, or watching 2 girls 1 cup.
When all is said and done, Jenna and Data decide it's best for them to break up. Jenna realizes that she went from dating an emotionless man to dating a man who is completely incapable of any emotion at all. Data agrees and proceeds to delete the appropriate program. After Jenna leaves, Spot joins Data and says "I'll still love you" in a way that only a cat can. That way being "thank you for feeding me, now scratch my chin."

Review
Data's journey into humanity will be endlessly fascinating to me, but Jenna's character is also really fascinating. She knows that Data has no emotions, but she jumps on him anyway, just because he's programmed to be polite and friendly. I wish I could say I don't know a few people like this, but it's tragic just how common it is. Luckily, it's not something that can hurt Data, but there are people who have been hurt because they misunderstood exactly what they wanted out of a relationship. For Data, this whole episode is another experiment. For Jenna, she's just flapping in the wind after a breakup and looking for someone to hold her down. This episode gets a thumbs up as not only a great examination of dating relationships, but also Patrick Stewart's debut as a director! Way to go, cap'n!