Geordi points out that theres no evidence of anyone beaming onto the Vico. Troi says that she didnt sense any deception from Timothy about what happened, so Picard, having finally realized that what Troi does or doesnt sense means precisely squat, concludes the boy must have made up that story for some reason. Troi suggests having Data spend some time with him, which may make him open up about the truth. Now, the boy is in a delicate state, and Data doesnt have the best track record with handling emotions well, so naturally they send him in to talk to the kid alone with no one to keep him from saying something stupid. He finds Timothy building a model of an ancient temple, and promptly tells him it sucks. Having reduced an orphan child to tears in almost record time, Data decides his work is done and turns to go, but then changes his mind and further taunts the kid by finishing the model himself, doing that "sped-up footage thats supposed to look like hes moving really fast, but instead just looks like sped-up footage" thing. Timothy asks how he did it, and he explains that as an android he has enhanced mental and physical abilities, but no emotions. The tradeoff doesnt sound so bad to Timothy, who decides to live as an android from then on.
Credit where credits due, the kid actually does a pretty good job mimicking Datas mannerisms. Good enough, evidently, to convince Counselor Troi that this is actually a good idea. She declares that this is an effective way for Timothy to deal with his emotions until hes 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 Enterprises 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 dont 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 Enterprises sensors and phasers useless. This goes to prove that the Vico wasnt attacked by another ship, because the ship couldnt 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 ships computers, but they 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" (what is Star Trek's deal with that song, anyway?), Data talks to Timothy, whos no longer acting like an android. Hes still sad about losing his family, but hes dealing with it. Data tells him that he would be happy to continue spending time with Timothy, which Timothy decides would be... "acceptable." And then he's never seen again.
This episode provides examples of:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.