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Recap / Star Trek: The Next Generation S4E25 "In Theory"

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"You do not tell me how to behave. You are not my mother."
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Original air date: June 3, 1991

The Enterprise is about to enter a "dark nebula," so Data is working with security officer Jenna D'Sora to modify a photon torpedo into a probe to study the nebula. Jenna has just broken up with her boyfriend, and Data lends an ear to her troubles. Jenna finds Data's attentiveness to her drama as sweet. After the pair perform as part of a musical performance, Data provides further support to her insecurities and have what is effectively a double date with O'Brien and Keiko. It becomes clear that Jenna has developed a crush on Data.

Although Data lacks emotions and is therefore incapable of love, he would like to pursue a romantic relationship to explore that aspect of humanity. He seeks advice from all the major crewmembers aboard the ship. Worf warns Data to treat Jenna right. Troi cautions Data that his experiment could hurt Jenna. Riker tells Data to go for it. Picard refuses to comment. Data ultimately decides to do it. He invites Jenna to his quarters and tells her that he has devoted a considerable amount of his processing power to writing a romantic program for her. She is flattered and yields to his passionless, robotic advances.

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Meanwhile, something strange has been happening on the ship. Things are turning up missing, temporarily disappearing or getting broken with no explanation. Picard jokes that the ship might have a poltergeist and advises cautious observation before putting the whole ship on high alert. When they arrive at their destination in the nebula, they discover that the M-class planet they expected is nowhere to be found.

Data continues his relationship with Jenna. She frequently has to correct his behavior when he's Innocently Insensitive, such as when she arrives at his quarters with a gift and he continues painting rather than give her his full attention. It becomes more and more clear that a romantic relationship with an android who feels no romance is untenable. Data suddenly begins yelling at Jenna during one disagreement. When she questions why he's behaving this way, he drops his act and calmly states that his studies indicate that a "lover's quarrel" brings people together. Jenna is left very unsure of this whole dating-an-android thing.

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But more important things are happening around the ship. The disturbances are increasing in frequency and severity. A security officer winds up dead after she phases partially through the floor. Data concludes that dark matter from the nebula is warping space, putting the whole ship at risk. Further, the Galaxy-class starship is too large to safely maneuver through the pockets of dark matter without hitting them. Worf suggests using a more maneuverable shuttlecraft to chart a course, and Picard volunteers. He zigs and zags through a dark matter slalom course, leading the ship to safety just before his craft is critically damaged. O'Brien manages to beam him out just before the craft explodes. The ship is saved.

Jenna arrives at a romantic dinner planned by Data, but she's tells him that they "need to talk." She admits that her crush on Data was likely just a rebound from her previous relationship with an emotionally distant man. In truth, she needs to be with a partner who genuinely loves her back. Utterly unphased by getting dumped, Data tells her that he'll now delete the romantic program he'd written for their relationship. Data blows out the romantic candles he'd lit as Spot jumps up on his lap and purrs.


Tropes in this episode include:

  • Call-Back: In his quarters, Data still has Tableau 1, by Piet Mondrian, which he showed to Lal in "The Offspring."
  • Casual Danger Dialog: "Now would be a good time, Mr. O'Brien..."
  • The Comically Serious: Jenna mistakes Data's blunt observations for dry wit.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: At one point, the nebula causes the floor to go out from under one crewmember, then resolidify right through her midsection.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Data and Jenna discontinue their relations at the episode's end, when Jenna realizes that Data doesn't feel anything from their relationship—she can't make him happy (or sad, or anything).
  • Double Date: Jenna treats her drinks with Data, O'Brien and Keiko this way. After Keiko tells a funny story about O'Brien, Jenna immediately tries to tell a funny story about Data.
  • Fake Relationship: Data is only able to imitate a romantic relationship, and badly at that.
  • If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her...: Worf says that, as Jenna is under his command, he will be very angry if Data ever does anything to hurt her while dating her.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Jenna quickly learns that Data isn't good at pretending to have emotions, so it's easy to pick up on the fact that he doesn't actually care about her.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Even though Riker is the Ace Pilot and volunteers to man the shuttlecraft, Picard insists on doing it himself. He doesn't even give a justification for it, saying only, "I must do this."
  • Mood Whiplash: Mostly a fluffy piece exploring Data's romantic life, right up until a crewwoman gets cut in half.
  • On the Rebound: Jenna is so desperate after her breakup that she dates an emotionless android.
  • Our Dark Matter Is Mysterious: The episode features the Enterprise exploring a dark matter nebula which causes bits of the ship to randomly vanish. This causes activity from Spot (Data's cat) exiting Data's room without using the doors to a crew member falling through the floor after it vanishes and then getting killed when it comes back.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Despite us never seeing Jenna before, she clearly has spent enough time with Data to consider him a friend and feel comfortable telling him about her personal life. We won't see her again, either.
  • Romantic Candlelit Dinner: Data prepares one for Jenna and himself in the final act. He's so clueless that he expects they'll continue with dinner after she dumps him.
  • Red Shirt: A random security officer dies when she phases through the floor. No one seems particularly broken up about it.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Jenna ultimately admits that Data was just a substitute for her emotionally distant ex-boyfriend, whom she still pines after.
  • Stock Footage: The nebula is obviously a re-colored version of the Mutara Nebula from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
  • Take That, Audience!: According to Word Of God, Jenna D'Sora was inspired by the female fans of TOS that expressed romantic feelings for Spock. This episode was written to explore what would happen if such a woman got her wish and found herself in a relationship with a man with no emotions.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: The B-story of the Enterprise experiencing anomalies while exploring a nebula is entirely disjoint from the main plot, and was written just to add some action to the episode.
  • Telefrag: A crew member is lost when part of the hallway she is walking down briefly disappears during one of the anomalies and reappears as she is halfway through it, resulting in this happening to her.

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