Revisiting Star Trek TNG: In Theory

James' Star Trek: The Next Generation episode-by-episode odyssey continues with In Theory...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

This review contains spoilers.

4.25 In Theory

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As the Enterprise prepares to explore a strange dark matter nebula, Data and well-known Enterprise crew member Lieutenant (Junior Grade) D’Sora, with whom he has a long-standing platonic relationship that just happened to develop entirely off-screen, are modifying a torpedo for surveying purposes. As she explains her feelings about a recent break-up, Data offers her a cold unfeeling robot shoulder to cry on.

Tentatively, she attempts to get closer to Data. It isn’t long before they’re having dinner with the O’Briens (god help us) and chatting with some familiarity. Naturally, she decides to take things to the next level: kissing. Data reacts in exactly the way we all would if a strange woman kissed us: he goes to Whoopi Goldberg for advice.

Data explains to Guinan that D’Sora gave him a passionate kiss in the torpedo bay, which is understandably confusing for him because it’s more typical to give someone a passionate kiss in the mouth. Data is encouraged to visit other crew members for advice, receiving a selection of hilarious (but uniformly bad) encouragement. My favourite is Picard, who says he knows nothing about women and will let Data know the moment he does. Though personally, I think he probably could’ve done better than asking La Forge for help when he’s A) best-remembered for falling in love with a holodeck recreation of a married woman and B) still getting over some pretty severe brainwashing (don’t worry, he’s recovering well).

Still, with a collection of dysfunctional pointers under his belt (does Starfleet have belts?) Data embarks on a romantic relationship with D’Sora, informing her that he’s come up with a selection of romantic subroutines (and domroutines?). Unfortunately they’re all garbage, apparently pieced together from 1950s sitcoms, and cause Data to act like he’s got a loose wire. D’Sora does her best to encourage Data, but soon realises that an emotionless robot is probably no place to look for romantic validation.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise crew is starting to notice lots of strange occurrences, like things falling off stuff and Data’s cat escaping and the meeting room undergoing a momentary explosive decompression. This plot is pointless in the extreme and largely ignored until the moment when a crew member dies. The problem is that some weird anomalies from the nebula are dematerialising random bits of the ship for a few seconds at a time and will eventually, at some random point in the future, blow up something dangerous just out of sheer probability.

Unable to simply fly to safety because the Enterprise isn’t easy enough to steer, the crew decide a shuttle flying ahead of the ship will allow them to detect the anomalies in advance. Rather than pilot the shuttle remotely, or some other sane plan of action, Picard insists he sit in the driver’s seat. Things get pretty sketchy as the shuttle takes damage from the anomalies, but Picard captains on. Will he make it? Well yeah, he’s the star of the series. If only they’d had a potentially expendable guest star in the cast.

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Speaking of D’Sora, with the Enterprise safe, she decides to dump Data, acknowledging that she’s gone from one emotionally unavailable man to someone who’s essentially a speak & spell with yellow contact lenses, and that’s not a trade-up. Luckily, Data has no emotions so he cannot hope to experience the soul-rending mixture of shame, embarrassment, sorrow, self-doubt, regret and general existential desolation that accompanies a break-up. The episode ends with him picking up and stroking his cat in what amounts to an unnecessarily graphic metaphor about how quickly he’ll be able to move on from this failed relationship. Mate, we should all be so lucky.

TNG WTF: So you’re watching what is a fairly frothy episode about an android in love (or not) and then BAM: a crew member falls into a space-hole, gives a blood-curdling scream and is then discovered dead, embedded in the floor with her eyes frozen open and blood trickling down her face. What the Actual. I mean, I get that Star Trek can encompass a variety of tones but this one goes from Four Weddings And A Funeral to The Shining in the space of about 3 seconds.

TNG LOL: There’s a lot of very funny stuff in this episode but Worf suggesting they step up to Red Alert because Picard’s book fell through a table is probably my favourite. You can take the Klingon out of the fight…

To Boldly Go: HOLD UP EVERYONE. The Enterprise is preparing to enter an unexplored dark matter nebula. That… is actually some pretty bold going!

Mistakes and Minutia: Patrick Stewart directed this episode, which might be why he also gets the chance to fly a shuttlecraft and put himself in actual danger. Was Frakes paying off the rest of the directing team? Almost definitely.

Also Data uses a bunch of contractions in this episode, including the pretty memorable examples, “You’re not my mother!” and “Honey, I’m home!” – of course it makes NO SENSE that he doesn’t use them anyway because anyone with even a basic knowledge of programming could write a line of code that created contractions and I’m only the eighty millionth person to have made that assertion so let’s waste no more time on it.

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Better question: why does Data use the non-existent word “Nebuli” instead of “Nebulae” when he’s using the plural? I have an answer: 350 years of evolving linguistics.

Time Until Meeting: 34:56. The ship is in immediate, deadly peril and a crew member has already died, so let’s sit down and chat about what might be happening in a room which recently underwent a sudden unexplained decompression. Sounds good.

Captain’s Log: This episode had a chance to be one of the greats. The idea of Data’s first romance is simply ripe for the picking, and that plotline has a reasonably light touch with some wonderful character interactions. Data asking the senior staff for advice is, I’m confident in saying, a pretty much perfect sequence.

So what went wrong? For me, it hurts the episode that Data and D’Sora don’t have a lot of chemistry (or rather, the actors don’t) because things might have clicked a lot more readily if they did. I can’t believe D’Sora’s attracted to him, so I’m never really invested in it.

A bigger problem is that the B-plot has absolutely nothing to do with the A-plot on a textual or thematic level. The best episodes dovetail the main and sub plots to create a glorious thematic knot, and for me the way to do that would’ve been to have Data and D’Sora piloting together (either both in the shuttle, or one on the Enterprise and one in the shuttle) at the end. As it is, Picard’s there, doing a competent job but in jeopardy that doesn’t do anything to further the story.

It’s telling that the conclusion of the episode doesn’t really have anything to do with what happened before, D’Sora just decides that she made a bad decision at some point while off screen. Far be it for me to tell writers how to do their job 25 years too late, but surely the turning point should have occurred on-screen and during the Enterprise’s escape from the nebula?!

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Without that tie-in, what we get are essentially two completely different episodes happening at the same time. Both of them good, but what they were doing in the same 45 minute block of time I don’t know.