6 July 2016

In Theory

Episode: s4, ep 25

This episode explores some interesting things about Data, even if on a personal level I felt uncomfortable about it. The B-plot doesn't make much sense, has nothing to do with the A-plot and feels like it should be in series 2.

What Happens
The Enterprise is going into a dark matter nebula and Data is altering a weapon for an experiment alongside a lady called Jenna who is missing her ex, or more accurately missing being in a relationship. Data again lists her reasons for breaking up with her ex, which mostly seem to be about not paying attention, and sloppy eating. Then the Enterprise shoots the modified torpedo into the nebula, cos I guess that nebula had it coming or something.
Jenna is in a woodwind band with Data and Keiko, they're playing in 10 Forward (never short of entertainment on board it seems). Afterward she's wistful seeing Miles congratulate Keiko and worries about her own performance, but Data assures her that the audience wouldn't notice. Keiko and Miles tell funny couple stories, like how Keiko has to pick up his socks. Jenna tells funny stories about stuff Data has said and acts kinda coupley with him. Data doesn't understand why anything is funny. Later Jenna tells Data he's the perfect man and kinder than other men, he points out he has no feelings. She kisses him. I am weirded out. Meanwhile people are excited about lifeforms or something in that nebula they shot. Something falls off a table in sickbay. Data's cat gets out, even though it shouldn't be able to. These significant events are really boring.
Data asks Guinan's advice about the kiss and what to do next, she says he should work it out himself. Then he gets advice from most of the senior crew, it is mixed. Weighing advice and info very carefully Data goes to Jenna with flowers. He tells her about his decision-making process, mentions how messy her quarters are and then while he's tidying he suggests they try a relationship. Turns out he has written a programme for relationships, with a subroutine just for her. She finds this romantic and they kiss. Everything in Picard's office has been stacked under the desk, he calls in Worf to investigate and jokingly suggests a poltergeist. Data's girlfriend brings an ornament over because his quarters are dull, it turns out Data doesn't understand idioms in this episode. She has trouble communicating with him because he's being super-literal, but she explains how she is feeling and is happy that he is trying.
Welcome to the B-plot
The Enterprise goes to where there should be a planet, except that there isn't a planet, but then a planet appears, I think? It's really not important. The Computer reports decompression in the observation lounge, but then everything is fine except that all the furniture is stacked on one side. Data finds an anomaly in one of the windows. Data visits his girlfriend, acts super cheesy, changes the timbre of his voice to give her compliments and is basically trying too hard and it's really cringy. She's confused. Then he suggests she has a problem and shouts at her because he believes quarreling is supposed to strengthen a relationship. It's very forced and she doesn't like it. She asks him to kiss her then asks what he's thinking, she's only one in a list of things.
Later Data's console goes all weird, an Engineer is injured by weirdness, then Geordi hears a scream and finds a woman partially phased into the floor in a corridor. Data describes little anomalies in the nebula that phase parts of the ship out of regular space and cause damage. The ship is too big to manoeuver through this, so Worf suggests using a shuttle linked to the Enterprise to navigate. Riker and Picard disagree over who should fly the shuttle, Picard pulls rank so he gets to do it. Picard flies the shuttle and describes his route, then shuttle is damaged and the link broken so Picard keeps describing his route through the anomalies. The Enterprise is flown manually, but being much bigger it sustains some more damage. Picard loses control of the shuttle for some reason and zooms away, O'Brien has trouble locking onto him. The shuttle explodes, but O'Brien did manage to get Picard. Riker suggests they just fly out of the nebula, as apparently that is an option now. It's a really lacklustre B-plot and at this point the show can do much better.
Data makes a romantic meal. Jenna is uncomfortable, clearly about to break up with him. She realises she's blindly made the same mistake and rebounded from an emotionally distant man to someone who doesn't have emotions. She thought kindness and attentiveness would be enough, but she needs an emotional connection he can't provide. Data agrees this is reasonable and that he tried to do something he isn't capable of. They aren't a couple anymore.

Oh Captain, My Captain
Picard has heard that Data is asking everyone for relationship advice, it is well-established that Picard hates such conversations. When Data approaches him Picard says he'll be happy to give advice on understanding women as soon as he has any, then hightails into his office. I don't blame him. Plus as a lifelong bachelor who seems to be married to his work I don't feel he's the best person to ask.
Picard insists on flying the shuttle that will guide the Enterprise, there's no real reason why. Picard seems insistent that he is their best chance, because apparently he's suddenly a hotshot pilot? Unless he's fed up of Riker throwing himself into danger and wants to protect him, except that doesn't really seem to be a reason why Picard should throw himself into danger instead. Also, don't they have pilots on this big starship? Surely there's someone who's trained for this kind of work. I mean they have a fiction expert and a botanist, but I'm supposed to believe they don't have anyone who specialises in flying shuttles?

Riker: lover, adventurer, middle-management
Riker's advice to Data is to go for it because Jenna is beautiful and crazy about him. Data points out he can't reciprocate her feelings, Riker mentions there's always a risk in these things and Data points out that there's no risk to him. Riker leerily tells Data there are rewards to a good relationship (he clearly means sex), apparently not getting the Data won't really benefit from that, what with not feeling things.
Assumes he'll fly the shuttle and gets angry when Picard stops him. Riker insists that he has to protect Picard. From Riker's side the argument is about who gets to throw himself into danger to protect the other. If this is posturing it's really odd.

Does Not Compute
I am so weirded out by this relationship. It's a personal thing and I think it probably stems a bit from my issues, but every scene with Jenna and Data being together made me uncomfortable. Though I think the later scenes were probably supposed to be uncomfortable. In many ways Data's actions are admirable, he is aware that he could do harm to someone and he seeks advice to avoid this. He researches in order to find the best approach to his current situation, admittedly it's the same way he would approach any kind of query, but it's all he's got. I very much get the sense that Jenna is projecting onto Data (in fact I think a lot of the people who encounter Data for an episode do this). She badly wants a relationship with someone who is kind to her, and Data is so she hopes that it's enough. I know I've said here before that I think Data has greater capacity for feeling than he thinks he does, but I don't think that necessarily translates into romantic or sexual feeling. Or if it did, I'm not sure Data would realise, which comes to the same thing. Also (despite The Naked Now, which was clearly supposed to be people acting out of character) I always kind of figured Data for being asexual and aromantic, so it feels very strange for him to be sexualised, though I know that's just my interpretation. When Data's in the relationship he acts oddly and tries to behave in the way he thinks is appropriate. Lord knows what his sources are (more on that below). It's just not him and it doesn't feel right. Jenna notices it and though he's a good partner in many ways it's clear that the person he's being is not who she was initially attracted to. Plus it's demonstrated that his brain can process so much that he's not able to focus on one person the way a human would. Besides the fact that he has to think about how much pressure he can apply when kissing her, in order not to injure her (or maybe smush her head with his extra-human strength) has gotta be worry.

Blind Engineering
Geordi advises that it can be a bad idea to start a relationship with someone who has just come out of a relationship, unless they're definitely ready and you're definitely serious. Then Geordi remembers who he's talking to, advises that it's complicated and suggests Data talk to someone with advice-giving experience. This is actually far more sensible than I was expecting Geordi to be. His love life and romantic history isn't the best, but I guess when it's not his own issues he's more sensible and less whiny.

Klingon Warrior
Worf tells Data that Klingons don't pursue relationships, they conquer what they desire.Even if this is posturing, which I think it is, it's really, really gross. And Worf himself must know it's gross, because he then tells Data that as Jenna is under his command (apparently she's in Security) he will be very displeased if she's mistreated. So basically Worf's advice is that his people mistreat their partners, but that he will not stand for any mistreatment of a women he has responsibility for. It seems Klingons are super hypocritical and I can see why they have so many feuds going on. Also Worf's love life is another one that should not be imitated.
Picard calls for Worf to investigate the 'poltergeist'. Worf wants to go to red alert and put a guard outside; are Security short on things to do? Picard refuses and just wants to cautiously monitor things, which makes you wonder why he asked Worf to get involved at all. It's like Picard enjoys deflating his ideas.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
Troi's advice is the most sensible, which isn't a surprise as it's her job, Data should have stopped asking people after her. She tells Data to be very careful because there's a person's feelings at stake, and so he can't just treat it as an experiment or like his more casual relationships. In fairness this does seem to be one of Data's main concerns. He assures her that he has researched the subject extensively and found role models to emulate (given his later behaviour I think very little of these role models). Troi points out that emulation may not be enough and Jenna will learn to care for who he is. Data isn't sure that his programming will be adequate and Troi says that everyone has to become more than the sum of their parts.

Guinan's Hat: Purple
Data goes to see Guinan who is working on a new cocktail. She notices Data is distracted and he tells her about the kiss. Guinan is curious and asks Data what he thinks of Jenna, although he initially gives an employee evaluation report Guinan gets him to admit that he looks forward to seeing her. Guinan says the next move is his, but Data doesn't know what that should be. He asks for advice, but Guinan says it's best not to advise people on their first love affair. She's obviously doesn't want to push Data into anything.

Future Is Better?
This episode doesn't say good things about traditional, heterosexual relationships. I say this as a straight woman in a very happy, monogamous relationship; but seriously TV relationships so often look dreadful. I really, really hope that this is not how things still are in the future. In the first scene Data compares Jenna's feelings about her ex to Anne Boleyn's displeasure that Henry VIII spent time hunting instead of with her. Is that the best comparison he can find? One from over 800 years in the past, at a time when women had very little agency, and a marriage that ended when the husband had his wife executed? Apparently so, and this is likely Data's problem, his role models all seem to be terrible. He uses literary and cultural sources, I can't help but feel that most of them were ones played for drama rather than realism, which is often the problem with fictional relationships. Simplicity and happiness apparently aren't entertaining. Data's attentiveness is good, but he tries too hard and the cheesy things he says suggests he researched how to compliment women from 1970s movies, or Riker. When she raises concern about his behaviour he starts shouting at her and tells her she isn't his mother. They both know he hasn't got a mother. He explains that his sources show that lovers' quarrels are healthy (really, just shouting for no reason?) and that accusing her of being like his mother is the standard response to criticism. Are these sources exclusively cheesy sitcoms from the 20th century? This is not how Data would normally behave and the way he is changing himself shows that he really lacks the instincts for this and that it's probably not a good thing for him.
Of course Jenna's prospects on board must be pretty bad, I can't imagine dating within Star Fleet is particularly easy. She keeps telling Data that he's kinder to her than any other men, when literally all Data is doing is being polite in the same way that he is to everyone. I mean how bad are the men on this starship that friendly interest from a colleague is nicest behaviour that she encounters? Are the rest of them going around grunting and staring or something? I thought this was supposed to be the enlightened future. She must be projecting onto Data and presumably reacting to the recent disappointment of a failed relationship. At least she realises that she has to explain what she wants very literally, which highlights issues with usual human communications as she expects to use coded, unclear language. Data criticises Jenna for being messy, which feels out of line, I didn't think her quarters were that messy (which no doubt says something about me) and even if they were, well they're her quarters. I know he's an android and they're both in a pseudo-military organisation, but let her have her space as she likes it. While it's nice that he wants to help her tidy up and organise he seems to have no understanding that maybe this is how she chooses to live.
Miles and Keiko are shown as a happy, successful couple and it's in conversation with them that Jenna starts acting like Data is a match for her. Keiko recounts, with laughter, how after they got married she started picking up Miles' discarded socks. Then she realised that wasn't how she wanted to spend her life, so she left them on the floor until there was a massive pile. Miles still didn't get the hint that his socks were his responsibility, and so she got fed up and picked then up and now... wait for it, cos it's so funny... now, she still picks up his socks. Hahaha, isn't the domestic labour automatically expected of women so funny? Miles, instead of apologising or at least saying he'll try harder in future, simply finishes the story by condescendingly praising Keiko on her ability to pick up his socks, apparently missing that this was something she explicitly stated she didn't want to do at the beginning of the story, as well as something that requires no skill. It's the future, don't they have robots or something for boring domestic tasks? I mean it would have made more sense if Keiko had asked Miles to pick up his socks, or told him that she really didn't want a future of tidying up after him, instead of letting them pile up which clearly bothered her far more than him. Though I can understand the instinct that led her to that. Of course wouldn't have been as funny, open communication probably isn't. Except now he looks inconsiderate and she looks passive-aggressive. Welcome to TV's portrayal of marriage!

Staff Meetings: 1
Data explains that the weird stuff that's happening on board (ranging from something falling off a table and a cat getting out, to parts of the ship decompressing and someone being sucked into the floor) is caused by dark matter in the nebula. It means there are moving gaps in spacetime, which cause bits of the ship to phase out. It's lucky it hasn't been more dangerous. The Enterprise is too big to move around these anomalies, Worf suggests using a shuttle. What is not mentioned is whether them torpedoing the nebula at the start had anything to do with it, or indeed what that was actually about.

Death By Space Misadventure
Van Mayter, an Engineer, was checking for structural damage after a particularly bad anomaly. She presumably walked into a gap in spacetime which meant she briefly phased through the floor of a corridor. She had time to scream before death.

The End
Jenna explains to Data that their relationship isn't enough for her because he lacks emotion and she was repeating a pattern. He concludes that he is perhaps not as human as he would like. Jenna confirms they are no longer a couple, Data says he will delete the relevant programme. She leaves without eating. Data's cat climbs into his lap and Data pets it.
It's kind of sad, but almost certainly for the best. It was a really weird relationship and obviously more than Data knew how to handle.

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