Original air date: January 6, 1992
The Enterprise is sent to investigate the disappearance of the science vessel SS Vico, and they find it destroyed inside a "black cluster." They beam over an away team to make a copy of the ship’s computer banks, but while they’re there, they find a young boy trapped in the wreckage—the Vico’s only survivor. The transporters can’t pull him through, so Data lifts up the debris to free the boy and gets him to where the transporters can reach just before the whole room collapses on them. The boy, whose name is Timothy, tells Dr. Crusher that aliens beamed over and killed everyone on the ship. He was only spared because he was hiding. Data turns to leave and let Timothy rest, but Timothy holds on to Data’s hand. Counselor Troi tells Data to stay with the boy for a while.
Geordi points out that there’s no evidence of anyone beaming onto the Vico. Picard wonders whether the boy made up the story for some reason and wants to learn what really happened. Troi suggests having Data spend some time with him, which may make him open up about the truth. He finds Timothy building a model of an ancient temple and promptly tells him it sucks, which hurts the boy's feelings. He tries to make amends by suggesting they build it together but gets called away, so he uses his super-speed to build it in seconds. Amazed, Timothy asks how Data did that. Data explains that his android nature allows him to exceed human potential at the expense of having no emotions. The tradeoff doesn’t sound so bad to Timothy, who decides to live as an android from then on.
Timothy starts dressing and imitating Data, stating that he's "operating within normal parameters." Troi declares that this is an effective way for Timothy to deal with his emotions until he’s ready to face what happened. Picard orders Data to teach Timothy how to be a proper android (the first step, of course, is to slick his hair back). As the two of them spend time together, the Enterprise enters the black cluster, and almost as soon as they do the ship begins to rock violently as it runs into energy waves. Geordi promises to adjust the shields to compensate. Worf begins to pick up the signals of another ship, but they keep disappearing and moving around. They eventually figure out that these are actually echoes of the Enterprise’s own signals reflecting off the wave fronts.
After observing Timothy in class and seeing him laugh and play with the other kids, Troi determines that Timothy is making progress, and encourages Data to help move things along by explaining his own desire to be human to Timothy. Data takes Timothy to Ten Forward for smoothies. Timothy enjoys his drink and asks Data how he likes his. Data explains that he neither likes nor dislikes it, since he has no sense of enjoyment. He says that even though androids have more capabilities than humans and don’t feel sadness, he often thinks that he would be willing to trade that for the ability to taste his food.
The gravitational wave fronts become stronger, rendering the Enterprise’s sensors and phasers useless. This goes to prove that the Vico wasn’t attacked by another ship, because the ship couldn’t have cloaked or fired its weapons. Picard calls Timothy into his ready room to explain what really happened. Timothy confesses that the destruction of the Vico was his fault, because he accidentally touched one of the ship’s computers. The rest of the crew assure him that the computers were designed to make that sort of accident impossible. The Enterprise is rocked by more gravitational waves, and Timothy says that the same thing happened on the Vico. Riker orders the ship to increase shield strength, and Timothy says the Vico tried the same thing. Each time they strengthen the shields, the waves get stronger, until they threaten to destroy the ship. Based on what Timothy said, Data does some quick checks on the computers, then tells Picard to drop the shields. Picard does so, and the next wave passes harmlessly by. Data explains the gravitational waves were reflecting the energy of their shields back at them.
After the children sing a rousing rendition of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," Data talks to Timothy, who’s no longer acting like an android. He’s still sad about losing his family, but he’s dealing with it. Data tells him that he would be happy to continue spending time with Timothy, which Timothy decides would be... "acceptable."
This episode provides examples of:
- Call-Back: The kids sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" in rounds, just like Kirk, McCoy and Spock in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
- Character Tics: Timothy mimics Data's peculiar head movements, with Data himself realizing how his own head movements, an attempt to mimic human characteristics, was so distracting.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Even though the episode ends with Data saying that he'll spend more time with Timothy, the kid is never seen again. Given that he's an orphan, he was likely dropped off at a Federation planet to be adopted.
- Dark Secret: Played with. Timothy thinks he has one, believing himself to be responsible for the destruction of the Vico. However, as it's point out, there's no way that what he did could have led to the destruction of the ship. But it is something that a child of his age would take upon himself.
- "Eureka!" Moment: When the Enterprise is caught in the gravitational wave and kept getting struck with stronger waves, Timothy tells Data that everyone on the Vico kept saying "more shields", convincing Data to figure out that the shields were was caused the Vico's destruction and save the Enterprise from the same fate.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: The gravitational waves of the black cluster scatter certain types of energy, and reflect other types of energy back at the source. The Vico was destroyed when it increased its shields to the point that the energy reflected was enough to tear the ship apart. The Enterprise narrowly avoids the same fate, thanks to Data.
- Innocently Insensitive: When Timothy asks what Data thinks of his sculpture, Data asks if he really wants his honest assessment and then bluntly tells him that it sucks, not realizing that the kid didn't need to hear that.
- It's All My Fault: Timothy blames himself for the destruction of the Vico. He is freed from guilt when he learns that the destruction of the ship was caused by the gravitational waves reflecting the energy of the ship's shields back at them, and prevents the Enterprise from meeting the same fate.
- Just in Time: Data and Timothy beam away a split second before a huge beam collapses right where they were standing.
- Lightning Bruiser: Data shows off both his super strength and super speed in this episode, which impresses Timothy mightily.
- Purple Is the New Black: The black cluster looks like a blue-purple nebula that occasionally pulses with gravitational waves.
- Sheathe Your Sword: The eventual solution to the problem caused by the building wave fronts; they drop the shields so that the wave fronts can no longer reflect their energies back at them.
- Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: The Enterprise-D is the big heavy cruiser/exploratory variant of The Battlestar. The SS Vico is a civilian-operated tin can of a science ship.
- The Stoic: Timothy becomes this during his emulation of Data, or at least tries to maintain this. He finally breaks out of it when confronted by the crew about what happened to the Vico after finding out that his story about an ambush wasn't true.
- Undercrank: Data's superspeed is expressed by this method when he builds the model.
- Unrealistic Black Hole: The "black cluster" was supposedly formed when a group of protostars all collapsed into black holes at once, creating an area of generally strong gravity. Needless to say, this isn't how black holes work at all.