The most anticipated new science fiction TV series of next year is without a doubt Star Trek: Picard. Because Star Trek: The Next Generation essentially defined late ‘80s and ‘90s sci-fi on TV, a direct sequel to that show not only gets to push sci-fi forward into the future, but also trade heavily on nostalgia for one of the most creative periods in franchise history. And, after San Diego Comic-Con the most nostalgic and confusing Picard news was easily the return of Brent Spiner as the android Mr. Data in the trailer. To be clear, Spiner returning to play Data in Star Trek: Picard is a little like J.J. Abrams suddenly announcing that Emperor Palpatine is in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The difference is that while Star Wars fans still have various Palpatine theories, Trek fans have moved one big Data theory to the front of the pack: on Picard, Data is probably a hologram. And now, Brent Spiner may have accidentally confirmed that theory.
Or did he? Let’s look at the evidence.
On Thursday, kicking of the big Star Trek convention in Las Vegas, Data actor Brent Spiner dropped a few hints about Data’s involvement in Star Trek: Picard. “I want to make it semi-clear, because I don’t want to make it too clear, that I am not a regular on the show,” he said. “Data did die at the end of Nemesis. But I am on the show. I do make appearances. Data’s story is a part of the thread of show.”
If Star Trek was a naturalistic drama, the only conclusion that you could draw from this statement is that Data was returning in the form of a flashback or psychological hallucination haunting the tortured psyche of Jean-Luc Picard (after all Patrick Stewart is famous for doing two versions of A Christmas Carol, so he’s used to having ghosts of the past haunt him). But because Data’s memories were stored in B-4’s android brain at the end of Star Trek: Nemesis, we actually have a handy and viable Star Trek sci-fi solution: Data has been reborn as a hologram version of himself, without a physical body. And one of Spiner’s other comments seemed to really support this idea.
“Up until this point to be honest, I have only worked with Patrick on the set.”
Now, if Spiner has only shared scenes with Stewart — and that arrangement remains the same way throughout the entire series — then it’s really easy for everyone to assume that Picard only goes to visit Data on the holodeck and that Data’s hologram is essentially an isolated story point, hidden from the rest of the series. Maybe this holodeck program is Picard’s secret? Maybe his meetings with the Data hologram are like his version of grief therapy? (Which would be exactly like the entire premise of the excellent 2017 Jon Hamm sci-fi flick Marjorie Prime.) Either way, if Spiner isn’t acting with anyone else, then everyone in the Data-Is-Now-a-Hologram camp has extra evidence. In one story from the 2018 comic Star Trek: Waypoint, Data existed as numerous holograms, operating a future version of the Enterprise, with himself as the only true crewmember. In other words, there’s a batshit crazy precedent for a post-Nemesis Data to be reborn as as a hologram.
However, let’s not count our holographic androids chickens before they’ve hatched. If there’s one thing savvy fans should notice about all this Picard news it’s this: They are still filming the show meaning the part of Spiner’s comment we should really be focused on is “up until this point.”
On Saturday, at the same convention, Jonathan Frakes said he’s shooting his big scenes as Will Riker next week, implying he hasn’t shot the big Riker stuff yet. On Thursday, Michael Chabon posted a hilarious Instagram photo that implied writing the season finale of Picard was like fighting the famous lizard-alien, the Gorn, from the classic Star Trek. The point there, the script for the finale was just written this weekend. Who knows, maybe Data meets everyone in that script (Chabon didn’t say anything like that of course, but the point is, if that script is still being written, there’s a chance Spiner hasn’t seen it yet, which means, anything could happen in it).
So, if Brent Spiner has only filmed scenes with Patrick Stewart — so far — that doesn’t mean he might not films scenes with a ton of other actors on the show going forward; they’ve clearly still got a lot more to shoot.
Furthermore, if we want to split android hairs; even if Data is a hologram now, the idea that he’d be limited only to interacting with Picard on the holodeck is kind of insane. Not only did Voyager establish that Trek holograms can move around quite a bit, but the most recent season of Discovery had pretty agile holograms, too. Also, Picard is set 20 years after Voyager and Nemesis, meaning the hologram technology has to be better than it was on TNG and Voyager. Finally, in the first trailer, we saw Alison Pill’s new character, Dr. Agnes Jurati, with Picard, opening a drawer that was supposedly filled with the parts of Data’s duplicate, B-4. At Comic-Con, Pill confirmed Jurati was a “researcher,” and if the trailer is any proof, it seems like she’s a researcher with an interest in artificial life.
If a researcher who has B-4’s body parts in a drawer is a major character on Picard, then maybe it stands to reason Data will meet people who aren’t just Patrick Stewart at some point. Also, why show those robot body parts at all, if the new Data will just be constructed of photons and force fields? Just because we all think a holographic Data is the most logical explanation, doesn’t mean that’s what’s going to happen.
But, if you want to talk holograms and dead characters, let’s get real. Emperor Palpatine is totally coming back as a hologram in Rise of Skywalker, right?
Star Trek: Picard hits CBS All-Access in early 2020. The next round of new Star Trek will be 6 installments of Short Treks, airing sometime in the Fall of 2019.
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