Star Trek: The Next Generation

"In Theory"


Air date: 6/3/1991
Written by Joe Menosky & Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Patrick Stewart

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Some friendly conversation between coworkers leads to an unlikely dating situation when Lt. Jenna D'Sora (Michele Scarabelli) takes a liking to Data and makes a romantic move. Data in turn decides this may be a good learning experience about the human condition and considers entering into a relationship with Jenna. After a series of discussions with his friends, who provide varying advice (Troi: Be careful; Riker: Go for it; Picard: I don't have any answers regarding women), Data decides to give it a try. He writes a special program just for this experience. Jenna schools him on where his theory goes wrong and when contradiction must be embraced.

This is a pleasant enough storyline (and the title is perfect), but there's a problem that trumps everything here, which is that I never, for one second, understood what Jenna was thinking. Despite her early dialog, which establishes that she likes Data because he's polite, a great listener, etc., it's clear to her from the outset that he is completely emotionally unavailable. Love and romance by definition require someone who can return your feelings, and Data obviously can't do that. So I'm not sure what to make of Jenna's pursuit here, unless she, like Data, is also running an experiment in non-emotionally-based romantic relationships between humans and androids. The scene where Data attempts to manufacture forced "relationship behavior" scenarios based on anecdotal research is a perfect example of Data as a performance artist, aping human behavior without actually meaning or understanding it. This makes for an exercise in mildly curious behavior but painfully obvious inevitability. There's nothing at stake here — and again, what does Jenna expect?

The "sci-fi plot" involving the hazardous spatial anomalies is pure perfunctory filler barely worthy of mention. It made no sense to me for Picard to personally pilot the shuttle in this emergency (wouldn't a shuttle pilot be both more skilled and expendable?), and his navigation through the invisible anomaly field (depicted on his control panel) plays like a 1980s video game.

Previous episode: The Mind's Eye
Next episode: Redemption, Part I

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35 comments on this review

Fri, Mar 21, 2008, 10:04pm (UTC -6)
["Despite her early dialog, which establishes that she likes Data because he's polite, a great listener, etc., it's clear to her from the outset that he is completely emotionally unavailable. Love and romance by definition require someone who can return your feelings, and Data obviously can't do that. So I'm not sure what to make of Jenna's pursuit here, unless she, like Data, is also running an experiment in non-emotionally-based romantic relationships between humans and androids."]

Dude, all I can say is kudos on having at least a semi-healthy relationship history. You'd be amazed how easy it is to fall for the same type of exactly wrong person over and over, even recognizing the same set of faults that keep cropping up.
Mon, Jul 7, 2008, 12:41am (UTC -6)
I love love love looooove 'In Theory', I would put it in my top 5, easily. The B-plot was terrible, I fast-forward through it every time, but the A-plot was THE Data story, as far as I am concerned. It contains everything that is amazing yet tragic about him. The final shot, where he deletes his 'romance' program and blows out the candle to sit in the dark is just utterly, utterly depressing, bold, powerful, thoughtful, wonderful. And I totally believed that Jenna would wilfully 'look past' Data's lack of emotions and project what she wanted to see in him- after all, isn't that what the audience does, every week. Do we really 'believe' that Data doesn't feel affection for his crewmates, or isn't a 'good' person? The amazing thing about TOS was how SERIOUSLY it took the idea of Spock, the idea of a totally logical being, and how cold and amoral that being could be, and make it a regular character with an unwavering conviction to that concept. Sometimes I felt that Data's writing didn't have the same conviction, but here was an episode that really, really examined what he is, what he lacks. He doesn't have emotion. He can't really have a relationship, with anyone. That's staggeringly sad, and goes right to the core of the character. I like this ep more each time I see it.
Tue, Jul 10, 2012, 6:08pm (UTC -6)
Great episode, I normally hate all "comedy" episode in any of the Star Trek but this one has plenty of great one liners and the scene where Data is getting advice is great(as well as the editing). The only thing holding this back from 4 stars is the writers did not trust enough in the core material and tack on an absurdly bad sub plot with Picard doing something completely out of character and illogical.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012, 3:52pm (UTC -6)
"his navigation through the invisible anomaly field (depicted on his control panel) plays like a 1980s video game".

Well, this episode DID air in the early 90's... I imagine that readouts of a spatial anomally on a console would be designed to convey information, not look cool. Have you ever seen a radar or sonar display? They don't look pretty, but they tell the operators what they need to know.
Peter H
Sat, Nov 3, 2012, 4:09am (UTC -6)
Destructor hits the nail on the head about this one. This episode is the quintessential examination of Data's condition. I love the scene where he reels off a list of things he's simultaneously thinking about while in Jenna's company; this is surely what he's always doing in any situation with any of his friends or colleagues. Every second for one of us would be aeons in his mind; we could surely only ever occupy only a small fraction of his total awareness and computational activities, even if he remains totally attentive from out point of view. It exposes Data for the incredibly "alien" being he really is and how much we just see him as we want him to be.
Mon, Jun 10, 2013, 3:50pm (UTC -6)
Along the same lines of Destructor, I think the final scene is very moving, where Data sits almost as a mannequin or a toy after its owner has stopped playing with it... but then, in that poignant moment, Spot arrives and Data picks him/her (Spot has had some gender issues throughout the different seasons...) and starts to pet him/her. But wait, even this petting is done in a mechanical way, so we go from glimpses of humanity, to confirmations of how Data is a machine, to glimpses of humanity again, ad infinitum. I think that is intriguingly done.

I also think that this episode is also another step to humorous, main crew character-based TNG, which unfortunately would ruin the show by the Seventh season, but here was in just the right dose (Data's consultation of the crew and their responses).

Ah, I also agree with Jammer and Kefka, in that the whole shuttlecraft bit was bizarre and poorly explained in the episode, and inconsequential to the rest of the story.
William B
Sat, Jul 13, 2013, 1:34am (UTC -6)
The subplot is indeed almost shockingly terrible -- Picard's decision to pilot the shuttlecraft combines with a forced Picard-Riker conflict, and then Picard has to be beamed aboard and announces that he's dizzy and Riker, annoyed, just says "Let's make a run for it!"

I was actually ready to say that the A-plot doesn't quite work for me because Data comes across as a tad too mechanical for this point in his development -- but then I read the comments above, and that is part of the point, or at least part of the difficulty. Most of the time, I subscribe to the theory that Data does have something like emotions, in that he forms attachments and has certain responses which are nearly emotional. It's part of the way Data responds to himself that he believes that he does not have emotions and so dismisses these responses as potentially emotional -- which is why even though he seeks to be human, he won't admit outright that he is anxious to save Geordi in "Identity Crisis" or that he is nervous in "Data's Day" (when he says that if he *were* emotional, the sudden course change to the Neutral Zone might concern him). But ultimately, the belief that Data does have something-like-emotions may just be a projection, and some episodes, like this one, are painful and difficult because we are placed in the same position as Jenna (as we were, to some degree, placed in the position of the female lead in "The Ensigns of Command") of running up against Data's inhumanity while he behaves so closely human. Which is the point T'Paul raises about the final scene with Spot -- Data as Riker described him in "The Measure of a Man" (Pinocchio is broken; his strings are cut), then Spot arrives and he becomes the humanesque Data again, and then it fades away.

The ambiguity here is similar to what made the ending of "The Most Toys" so strong to me -- not only do we not really know, at the core of it, what Data "feels" and exactly why he does the things he does, Data probably doesn't either. (Why exactly *did* he go see Fajo at the end of "TMT"?) When he has a role to play, he becomes that role, but when that role no longer exists, who or what is he? It occurs to me that some of the difference between his reaction to Jenna and his reactions to other encounters in the show -- Tasha, Sarjenka, Lal, Soong, even adversaries like Lore and Fajo -- is that while Data deliberately chose to remember Tasha with a keepsake and talked of remembering Sarjenka at the episode's end, not to mention incorporating Lal into his programming and telling Soong that the two are somewhat alike, he immediately deletes the appropriate subroutines after Jenna leaves him; he knows enough to know that what is disappearing is not so much Jenna from his life -- she's still on the ship -- as that relationship itself.

I'm just "thinking" out loud (writing) here; Data is a tough nut to crack.
Thu, Jul 18, 2013, 4:17am (UTC -6)
Data is the best thing to ever happen to any incarnation of Trek, IMHO. He's brilliantly written and brilliantly acted. Humans have the tendency to anthropomorphize just about everything; I often think my cat is being arrogant or getting an attitude with me, for example. When we assign human motivations to things that aren't even close to human, it's only natural that we're going to do it for a human-looking android. But tragic as it is, Data doesn't have any emotions. If Data were real, I could easily see myself falling for him and getting hurt just like Jenna. I don't think it's that much of a stretch. People like to think that they'll be the one to get through to somebody - to really touch their soul even when it seems impossible. What could be more rewarding than helping an android to overcome the sum of his programming and fall in love
Thu, Jul 18, 2013, 4:25am (UTC -6)
? Of course it's an impossible feat, but that doesn't mean women wouldn't be lining up to try. I think a real-life Data would have more women then he'd know what to do with. (no men of course, since homosexuality is so nonexistent in the future that even a machine who can't have feelings for anyone has to reject women only)
Thu, Oct 3, 2013, 7:43am (UTC -6)
It is very obvious to me, why the writers chose Picard to manuever the shuttle.
As beeing the first episode directed by Patrick Stewart it would be crucial to have as few on screen scenes with him as possible. The filming of only ONE actor in a shuttle could be completed in a very short amount of time because of no co-stars, minimal lighting and only two camera angles.

Sure it doesn't justify poor writing. But
considering how much screentime Patrick still has in the episode - compared to, say, Johnathan Frakes' directing debut in ''The offspring '' where he only had one or two little scenes to be able to focus on the directing, i salute Patrick for having done a solid job.

i like the episode very much, despite it's weak B-Plot and an obvious cheap trick to shorten Patrick Stewarts screen time.
Wed, Jan 1, 2014, 7:41am (UTC -6)
I watched Voyager before I watched TNG, and I'm considering the differences between The Doctor and Data all the time.

I think this episode shows the clear difference between data and the Doctor: The Doctor is much closer to human beings because his original programming gives him basic human emotions and needs. Those in turns make him want to evolve, and his ability to program his own subroutines makes him as close to a real (or even a super-) human as he could be.

In the case of data, his original programming (much like a DNA sequence BTW) limits him very much in the type of feelings he can have and even the degree to which he can have feelings. However, it is made very clear that he is a sentient being.

However I would submit that Data HAS to have feelings - for example, the will to survive - otherwise I don't think he would really qualify as sentient. And in my book he does qualify. That episode just shows the obviously gigantic gap there is between his life form and the human life-form. They may be incompatible. Just as Star Trek does a good job with Vulcans and Klingons for example to show societies that are valid in their own right, but which are just incompatible with us and remain incomprehensible to humans (especially the Klingons). I think that is the tru nature of "cultural differences" and the real test of tolerance / acceptance. It is difficult to accept REAL differences. In the case of Data, I think the Enterprise crew struggles with that same question: How do you accept as a friend someone's whose very existence is an affront to everything you are yourself? How do you consider them equal?
Sat, Apr 19, 2014, 6:47pm (UTC -6)
Interesting that three of the last five episodes of season 4 (Half a Life, Host, and this one) all deal with very similar themes, namely a romance doomed to failure because one of the people in the relationship is completely and totally alien to the other. Of the three, I think this is the best, because it turns it around and makes the central cast member who we have seen and grown with over the past 100 episodes as the alien one. I liked Destructor, T'Paul, and William's comments, and agree with them. The fact that Data appears so mechanical here is what made the show. Others have mentioned elements of the last scene that were moving and striking, but I'll add one more. As Jenna's leaving, Data asks if this means that they are breaking up. This seems such a natural and emotional thing to do. If it were a human saying that, we might imagine he was being wistful or regretful, asking but not really wanting to hear the answer. But when Jenna confirms it, he merely comments that he will delete the appropriate program. There was no emotion behind his question, merely aiming for factual clarity so that he can efficiently organize his files.

I also agree that it was not out of the ordinary for Jenna to fall for Data; the episode set it up well. Data has had 20 some years of experience dealing with people in professional or relaxed social environments. So while he's not perfect in these realms, he does a decent job of following the proper social protocols. He really was being a good friend to Jenna beforehand, both in the torpedo bay and after the concert. In fact, I remembered the "double date" with Miles and Keiko as happening after they became a couple, not before. But given how clingy Jenna was being with Data and how comfortable she was with him, it seemed only natural that she would think he might be able to be more than just a friend.

And it was just as natural how much he failed. He has had zero experience with relationships (drunken one night stands with former security chiefs notwithstanding). Of course he wouldn't know how to behave. We see him act naturally (when Jenna visits him in his quarters), and he is emotionless and unavailable. So he tries to act unnaturally, and it is painfully obvious to everyone that it's a façade. Even Jenna noticed it was a failure pretty quickly. I guess that's why I can't complain about the pointless B plot too much. If it was so obvious to everyone that Data was pathetic at being a boyfriend, how could they have filled 43 minutes of it? Better to create filler than to mess up a good 30 minute story by stretching it to 43.

As for comparing Data and the Doctor, this episode is one of the reasons Data is a better character. From my recollections of Voyager (and in fairness, I don't know it as well as TNG), the Doctor's INhumanity was rarely explored. For the most part, he was just a sarcastic human who could be turned off. The episode where his OS crashed due to saving Kim and not the redshirt is the only exception I can think of off the top of my head. That's not meant as a slight to Robert Picardo, who played the sarcastic doctor well. But there was much more depth to Data, because he was much more alien. We could never be sure how much of humanity he was mimicking and how much really was there.
Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 9:16pm (UTC -6)
Just watched this one. It's amazingly awkward to watch, and kinda sad. At the same time, even without the absolutely terrible b-plot, I don't think this holds up very well against either Measure of a Man or the Offspring. The issue is that there is, essentially, only one point to make here: Data is bound to fail. It only takes a few scenes to get through all of the phases of this 'relationship', and while the ending shot really is the perfect gutpunch to all of us who delude ourselves about Data, the rest feels less inspired to me. I think the episode could have been better if the writers found a way to 'fool' the audience into believing Data was 'learning'. But I'm not sure how it could have been done.

Maybe the other problem is that I actually prefer 'deluding' myself about Data. His reactions show a clear concept of desire, even if the desires are impersonal. The Offspring showed how, in the case of parenting, logical desire is not so far from 'caring' and 'love'. It's both fascinating and comforting to see Data's simple motives appear complicated and 'warm'. It's less engaging to be reminded that the complication and 'warmth' are illusory, and that in fact Data is strikingly simple. I acknowledge that it's important and that it actually adds to his character in some ways, but that doesn't make it more enjoyable to watch for me.
William B
Mon, Aug 18, 2014, 2:05pm (UTC -6)
So, I have trouble quite knowing what I think and how I feel about this episode, but one thing to remember is that this episode does not disprove that Data is capable of genuine caring, of the kind that he showed to Lal, or, indeed, that he shows to the other main crew members (Tasha, Geordi, Picard, Troi, Riker, etc.). The thing is, Data and Jenna are not that close; they are friends, but how often have they actually worked together? Jenna wants to go out with Data, and so Data tries to date Jenna on the terms of a standard romantic relationship with an acquaintance. The relationship is inauthentic not (merely) because Data is inauthentic, but because he tries to construct the entire relationship to move along relationship structures that don't particularly fit him. Relationships have to develop organically, or, at least, if a relationship is going to develop according to certain well-established courting systems, the people have to be, by their nature, responsive to those courting systems.

What do we see Jenna and Data doing? Data gives Jenna good advice on her life; Jenna talks to Data because Data is a *great* listener; Data tries to bring in a new organizational structure to Jenna's things. I don't think they are a good match to begin with; they worked okay as friends because Data really is a good listener and is capable of being interested in whatever the other person is talking about, but is she all that interested in any of the things Data values on his own spare time?

By contrast, Data's long-standing friendship with Geordi develops because they share common interests, and Geordi takes an active interest in what Data wants to do. Ron Moore, who wrote "In Theory," also wrote, for instance, Data's memorable reaction to Geordi's death in "The Next Phase." Data can learn the true value of friendship, corny as it sounds. Data never understood the meaning of a romantic relationship with Jenna, but I think we can read this not just as that Data is genuinely incapable of a relationship, but that such a relationship cannot be forced without personality compatibility, no matter how hard Data tries, and he has seemingly limitless supplies of, you know, ability to try. While Moore may have intended this as a demonstration that Data is incapable of a romantic relationship, and I do think a romantic relationship would be very difficult for Data, I think the episode maybe "says" something a tiny bit different, and the message, in general, is that a logical attempt to emulate the courtship rituals does not work for everyone. I think there are certain type A nerds who might be able to relate.
Mon, Aug 18, 2014, 4:20pm (UTC -6)
William B,
I sort of agree with what you're saying, but I think there is even more to it than that. I agree with you that Data is capable of 'caring' in the sense that he processes the appearance of happiness or sadness, and he wishes to make people happy. He also wishes to genuinely understand individual persons, and he has infinite patience. Both of these wishes could be called 'caring', maybe 'love', and possibly even 'romantic'. And it's hard to decide if Data's actions and motivations of this sort are any different from a human trying to please others.

However, there is more to romance and love than two people trying to please each other. I think it's clear that Jenna appreciates Data's continuous attempts to give her attention and to make her happy. The problem is that a romantic partner doesn't just want to love and be loved; a romantic partner wants to feel as if his or her love truly matters to the other person. Especially when we are young, we want to feel that we have an emotional effect on our partner, beyond the rational. As Jenna says, no matter how much she and Data 'care' about each other, she can't actually make him 'happy'. She can only make him pleased to see that SHE is happy.

Perhaps the easiest way to say all of this is that Data lacks the ability to be personally selfish. A romantic lover, especially young (and female? I'm not really qualified to say), wants his or her lover to seek him/her out of personal selfishness, not just to make him/her happy.

Contrast this with Data's 'love' for Lal. A parent's love for the child is supposed to be entirely unselfish, and is based on the good of the child. The child needs to feel 'cared' for, but does not need to feel as though he/she inspires selfish desire in the parent. This is the kind of 'love' that Data seems capable of giving, even if he doesn't entirely understand it. It's a type of love with a certain rationale behind it that is detached from selfishness, and it's touching to see Data so naturally ready to 'give' it. Just typing this out helps me reinforce just how much I love the Offspring episode. But this is not the kind of love that Jenna needs for romance.

As an extra aside, I think this also applies to Lal feeling fear, and why that scene doesn't feel like it comes from 'out of nowhere'. There's a certain stark logic and rationale behind Lal's fear - she has been told that an admiral will take her away from her father, who has 'cared' for her in the parental way that I'm claiming she and Data are naturally capable of (and that she understands as 'love' better than he does). She is about to lose that 'care' or 'love', and so she is 'scared'. It would have felt VASTLY out of place for her meltdown to have been caused by an emotion like romantic love or humor, which seem to defy logic and rationale.
Mon, Nov 10, 2014, 5:21am (UTC -6)
A great vehicle for Brent Spiner's acting but just a silly waste of time story-wise. The outcome -- that love with an android is impossible (and that Jenna is hopelessly headed for disappointment) -- was so obvious, why bother talking about it? And talk about bad advice. Did everyone on this ship just conveniently forget he has no emotions? We're we suppose to forget? No, we can't, so, in theory, this is just a pointless trip from the outset. The B plot doesn't merit a mention, so let's leave it at that.
Mon, Nov 10, 2014, 9:04am (UTC -6)
I think it was a worthy experiment. I'm not certain "love" is an emotion. He could not feel passion for her, but love is a great deal more complicated than an emotion, and I'm not convinced he doesn't love Geordi and Lal, to use two examples. He doesn't think he does, but that doesn't mean anything per say.

I'm also not convinced that the relationship failed because she didn't feel loved. I felt the lover's quarrel scene was really forced. And not just in the sense that the episode intended. I liked the earlier scene with the gift much better.

I'm also not convinced the episode itself got the experiment right. The final conclusion "JENNA: No, it's not. Because as close as we are, I don't really matter to you. Not really. Nothing I can say or do will ever make you happy or sad, or touch you in any way." is just plainly not true.

She doesn't matter to him? Why? Because he doesn't stop parallel processing when they kiss? He has said that he looked forward to spending time together, he consulted all of his friends for advice, considered how to be an attentive boyfriend, etc., etc.

She is correct that she will never make him happy... but to quote an excellent Voyager episode

"TUVOK: I want to be able to have fun. With you. I won't be able to, will I?
NEELIX: Well, you won't call it fun. You'll call it deriving satisfaction. But it's basically the same thing. You'll still experience emotions.
TUVOK: But I won't express them."

I know Data doesn't "experience emotion" but he can clearly "derive satisfaction". It may not be the same. And it may not be enough for Jenna... but I wish that they actually took the episode THERE. They didn't really. The things they did to prove that he wasn't able to love her just fell short and didn't really talk about how she needs to be able to touch him emotionally.
William B
Mon, Nov 10, 2014, 6:40pm (UTC -6)
I agree with Robert to a degree, though I think this episode does do some interesting things with it. I don't think it's a great Data episode by any means, and I've even seen people argue not unconvincingly that it puts his character back by making him more explicitly mechanical in his interactions than he had been in previous ones. But as I said, I think the problem is less that Data "can't love" and more that Data is so very different from most people that his attempt to have a "normal relationship" on "normal terms" is doomed to fail. I think about what Data says in "The Next Phase":

"I never knew what a friend was until I met Geordi. He spoke to me as though I were human. He treated me no differently from anyone else. He accepted me for what I am. And that, I have learned, is friendship."

Compare this with this exchange (all transcript quotes from here:

DATA: In my study of interpersonal dynamics, I have found that conflict followed by emotional release often strengthens the connection between two people.
JENNA: But there's something so forced and artificial about the way you're doing it, Data. It's just not the real you.
DATA: With regard to romantic relationships, there is no real me. I am drawing upon various cultural and literary sources to help define my role.

Jenna's statement that Data is not being "the real [him]" is both accurate and inaccurate. Data is not being the...authentic self that he more or less is with Geordi. Data pretty much never tries to use his analytical skills to improve his relationship with Geordi directly; rather, he uses his analytical skills to improve himself, and gets feedback from Geordi. He pursues his own interests, whether it's joketelling or painting or poetry or whatever, and gets feedback. Here, Jenna *is* Data's project, and that means that Data is being himself in that he is giving his all to attempting to change himself to fit in with human parameters (which is on some level what Data always does), and is not being himself in that he's ceased to attempt to emulate human behaviour in the terms that he finds admirable and has shifted to a kind of alternate persona. Well, or something; I think the distinction is actually a bit hard to pin down.

Anyway, the next moment is my favourite in the episode, and one of my favourite Data moments period:

JENNA: Kiss me.
(they kiss)
JENNA: What were you just thinking?
DATA: In that particular moment, I was reconfiguring the warp field parameters, analysing the collected works of Charles Dickens, calculating the maximum pressure I could safely apply to your lips, considering a new food supplement for Spot....
JENNA: I'm glad I was in there somewhere.

Data's trailing off when he says he's considering a new food supplement for Spot shows his genuine concern for Jenna -- he sees that she is disappointed and put off by his response, and seems to want to correct it but be uncertain how. And I think the beauty of this moment, which for me encapsulates the things that work about this episode, is that there is no "bad guy." Data is being completely honest, and that Data is constantly multitasking is not a sign that he doesn't care about others or that he's incapable of love. It's just that Data's love is far from the typical picture of human love -- which, to my mind, is not entirely accurate with humans either. As for Jenna, it's certainly true we can say that she is being foolish and all over the place, refusing to acknowledge the realities of Data. But it's also just *very hard* to have a certain degree of intimacy with someone so very different from oneself. A lot of relationships are based on empathy -- on having some ability to feel what the other person is feeling, or be able to reproduce their internal state in oneself. One doesn't completely understand another human (one doesn't completely understand oneself), but that kind of emotional understanding is a big deal, and Jenna really can't understand Data, nor can Data completely understand Jenna.

I think that there is some indication that the tragedy in this episode is not that Data is incapable of having a caring relationship, but that Data and Jenna are mismatched -- but mismatched in a way that demonstrates how difficult and overwhelming the difference between Data and humans in general is, and thus how difficult any relationship will be. For Jenna, in particular, we mostly learn that this relationship is a bad fit:

JENNA: I didn't see it until today. I got out of a relationship with an unemotional man, and I got right back into another, with a man who is absolutely incapable of emotion.
DATA: There does appear to be a recurring motif.

Ouch. The fact that Jenna mentions her previous relationship with an unemotional man is a reminder that it's not just androids, but humans who have intensely different levels of emotion.

The scene with Troi, for example, has this dialogue:

DATA: I have studied much human literature on the subject of love and romantic liaisons. There are many role models for me to emulate.
TROI: Ultimately, Jenna will care for you for what you are, not what you imitate out of a book.
DATA: My programming may be inadequate to the task.
TROI: We're all more than the sum of our parts, Data. You'll have to be more than the sum of your programming.

One could say this episode is a failed experiment which demonstrates that Data just has no real self, or no ability to rise above the sum of his programming. Or maybe it's a failed experiment, about how sometimes Data's reach exceeds his grasp, at this point in time. Nobody's perfect. Even Data. Some experiments are going to fail -- and in the short-term it seems as if Data hitting a certain possibly temporary ceiling in his rise to understanding human interactions is more final than the long-term would suggest.
Andy's Friend
Tue, Nov 11, 2014, 8:59am (UTC -6)
@Robert and William B:

Interesting thoughts, as always. A few comments:

Unlike William, I actually consider this one of the best Data episodes. The episode is very unfair to both Data and Jenna, but still, there are few episodes that depict "his own self" as well as this one.

I have watched this episode many times with my better half, who is simply in love with Data. I guess that you might say that in a way, so am I. Aren't we all? ;)

The beauty and the problem of it is that my dearly beloved loved of course the "calculating the maximum pressure I could safely apply to your lips" moment that William also refers to. There, in one line (the full quote) we have the depiction of the android that is Data.

She also, such as I, absolutely understood everything Data did in this episode, and how hard he was trying. It is really quite touching, and quite tragic. Here we have a fantastic creation of genius, by design of his creator inhibited of sensing true feelings the way humans do, trying to so hard to be the best he could in that role.

There is a tragic element here; but there didn't need be. The point is, that this is a Season 4 episode; and by this time, just by watching the series every week, we the audience completely understand everything Data does in this episode, and how incredibly sweet he is, and how hard he is trying. I mean, how can you not love someone who tells you: "Darling, you remain as aesthetically pleasing as the first day we met. I believe I am the most fortunate sentient in this sector of the galaxy"?

Jenna, being his crewmate, should of course also recognize this. The episode is thus wholly unfair to her character, and indirectly so also to Data.

Jenna's reactions are consistent with those of someone who only has a vague idea of who Data is. To such a person, Data's actions might justify her responses, because yes, he is truly different from us in his extremely analytical approach to everything. And someone who didn't know him well would probably react as she did upon learning just how different he is.

Still, I fully agree with Robert in that great Tuvok/Neelix quote ― one of the few, truly outstanding Neelix moments. Data is capable of some other sort of sentiment, not quite like our feelings, but clearly not mere cold calculations. To quote that fabulous line of his: "As I experience certain sensory input patterns, my mental pathways become accustomed to them. The input is eventually anticipated, and even missed when absent."

There you have it. Soong prevented his creation from having true human emotions. But he gave him... something more than linear strings of command. Unlike VOY's EMH, Data was given an artificial brain, strange pathways and inscrutable neural networks that enable him to be more than a program (I refer to our recent, lengthy, and pleasant talk in VOY's "Heroes and Demons").

Jenna, being his crewmate, should know this. And Jenna should be able to accept Data for what she should know he is.

This episode is therefore illustrating its point the wrong way. If the writers had made Jenna be a newcomer to the Enterprise, or someone with otherwise limited knowledge of Data (I am reminded of that girl in last season's "Ensigns of Command"), it would be perfect. Because her reaction would then be very plausible. But by making her a long-serving officer on the Enterprise, I find her reactions much more difficult to accept.

The way I see it, the writers had two options:

1) ― put Data in a romantic situation with someone who hardly knew him, and let it play out like it did here, thus illustrating magnificently and tragically how different he is from humans, or
2) ― put him in a romantic situation with someone who actually had served for a long time with him and understood him, and would accept and love him for what he is ― thus illustrating the beautiful, futuristic possibilities of love.

The latter would of course have extremely far-reaching consequences, both for the Data character, and for TNG itself. So I can perfectly understand why the writers and producers chose otherwise. Unfortunately, they chose to do something in between. And that rings somewhat untrue. As I said, the episode isn't fair to Jenna's character ― and therefore isn't fair to Data's character aswell.

Having said all this, I still consider it a great Data episode. I am sorry the producers didn't choose to pursue a more ambitious story of futuristic love, but am still quite happy with this effort.
Tue, Nov 11, 2014, 9:06am (UTC -6)
At Andy's Friend. I think you explained what I feel is "off" here, better than I. The scene with the kiss could have been great, but as you said... why would his response have surprised her if they are such good off screen friends?

And as I said in my response, her final conclusion "JENNA: No, it's not. Because as close as we are, I don't really matter to you. Not really. Nothing I can say or do will ever make you happy or sad, or touch you in any way." was only half correct. She can't make him happy, but she clearly matters.

You are correct, Jenna smacks of someone who doesn't understand Data, and that doesn't make sense given their friendship (not to mention her gold uniform, 2 pips and her long service on the Enterprise). I find myself wishing they had done this with a newcomer to the Enterprise. That might have played better.

Also, it may sound like I don't like this episode, but that's not true. I just felt that it felt "off" in places.
Tue, Nov 11, 2014, 11:17am (UTC -6)
What I always liked about this episode was the fact that, as William B. alluded to (spot on as usual), Jenna's issues with Data are a symptom of her own relationship dysfunction. True, Data's android personality is a catalyst, but really her issues are her own. While it may have been novel for Data, the first of his kind, to date a human, I really liked that no one on the Enterprise thought it was odd for Jenna to pursue a relationship with AI. The reason they end up not working as a couple is the same reason any two people might not. In classic Trek fashion, Data's "non-human" traits are really a mythological magnification of very real human traits. How many of us haven't had our minds wander during a kiss (or sex, or conversation with our lovers)? But, would we baldly admit that our attention was elsewhere? Actually, yes some of us would, but that's just a convention of social graces, a tempered honesty to maintain idealistic illusions.

The weakness of the episode then becomes the fact that all the attention, from a psychological point of view, is on Data. Jenna has some issues to work through here and should probably be having sessions with Troi as well (assuming for the moment that Troi is competent).

As far as the "Jenna doesn't get Data" commentary, I have to politely disagree to an extent; being someone's friend from work (even for years) and being someone's lover are dramatically different degrees of intimacy. Data has had time to mould his workplace persona into one which has become comfortable and familiar to those around him, even if it isn't totally human. There is no reason Jenna, who probably doesn't know about Tasha, did not witness those intimate scenes with Lore, Fazio or Lal, or hear Data's pleas in "Pen Pals", etc. would understand Data the way we, the audience (think we) do.
Tue, Nov 11, 2014, 2:05pm (UTC -6)
"There is no reason Jenna, who probably doesn't know about Tasha, did not witness those intimate scenes with Lore, Fazio or Lal, or hear Data's pleas in "Pen Pals", etc. would understand Data the way we, the audience (think we) do. "

Point taken. But she wears a gold uniform. He's a computer. Did she really expect his mind would shut down all of his other parallel processes during their kiss?
William B
Tue, Nov 11, 2014, 4:04pm (UTC -6)
Well, Jenna's gold uniform is because she's a security officer, not an engineer, for what it's worth.
Tue, Nov 11, 2014, 4:16pm (UTC -6)
Oh ya! You know, I haven't seen it in awhile but I do remember her mentioning doing a security sweep. Good catch, my bad. I mean, I should still hope she understands how a computer works, but it's not as stupid as if it had been say... Lt. Torres.
Tue, Jul 21, 2015, 10:09am (UTC -6)
It's sad to say, because I really like Data and actually like the idea of him in a relationship, but his episode was nothing more than a waste of time. The idea of Data in a romantic relationship has potential and could work. But something like this really should have been done once him had the Emotion Chip. As it sits, I have to ask - what were they both thinking? Jammer hits it right on the head with asking what D'Sora was thinking when she got into a relationship with a man incapable of feelings. But what was Data hoping to achieve here as well? I'm honestly stumped. Was it simply a new experience he was interested in? What? And I'm sorry, but that scene with Data attempting to manufacture relational comfort and then turmoil, that was painful to watch. I legitimately feel bad for Brent Spiner and Michele Scarabelli for having to deliver that dialogue. I'd be perfectly happy never watching that again.

And then there's tech sub-plot - never yet in TNG has there been a more completely unnecessary plot element. I'm not saying that the A and B plots have to be interconnected (one of my favorites from DS9 has two completely independent plot-lines) but these two stories just seem so out of place together. Nothing in either one had anything remotely to do with the other, either direct story-wise or thematically. Or was that the point - to show how out of place Data and Jenna's relationship was? I think I'm probably giving the writers WAY too much credit there.

There are enjoyable elements to "In Theory," however. They're like little nuggets of enjoyment in a sea of boredom. Picard's "advice" on understanding women (I'm giving a +1 to the score for that little jewel alone), the truly haunting shot of the female lieutenant half merged with the floor and the final shot of Data petting Spot are all enjoyable. And that's ultimately the problem with the episode. I can only think of three very, VERY, short scenes that I honestly enjoyed.

This episode had potential and yet ended up as nothing but pure filler.

Diamond Dave
Sat, Sep 19, 2015, 2:45pm (UTC -6)
"Then I will delete the appropriate program". A curious episode this. Starting off with a perfectly serviceable 'can Data have a romantic relationship" story-line', which has some fine comedic moments. That story then spins off into a weird place - including Data living a strange 1950's-style sitcom existence - until supplanted by the B-story which again heads to a weird place when Picard demands to pilot the shuttle by himself for no apparent reason.

While I can understand Jenna fixating on Data, I am less clear as to why anyone else would think it was a good idea. As Troi points out - Jenna's feeling's can be hurt, and Data's can't. Because he hasn't got any. That being something of a fundamental point at the heart of the story that begs the question of how it was ever going to end differently. 2.5 stars
Sun, Sep 20, 2015, 9:05pm (UTC -6)
Begs the question does not mean asks the question.
Sun, Dec 20, 2015, 5:45am (UTC -6)
Worf's advice scene is priceless.
Wed, Dec 23, 2015, 10:42am (UTC -6)
I think that, after all the analyzing of this episode, and watching it again the other day, we can imagine that Jenna and Data don't normally work together, but when they do, they enjoy each other's company. We haven't seen how long she's been on the ship, but it's long enough that he goes to her quarters, and once picked up her clothes. If he was working with someone for the first time, or wasn't friends, he would only visit them for work-related purposes, and would never touch a thing. It sounds like they've been friendly, and he's been over before. They've known each other long enough she has Data remind her why she broke up with the other fellow, and he's had to to it a few times.

The problem: Data makes a new dating program. She is used to normal (but very friendly with her) Data, and might not expect the new program, which could really have reminded her he was a machine. Sentient, but a machine nonetheless. She was looking for Data version 1-0, but got 1-1. She wanted the guy who would be sweet, and listen to her, not the one who manufactured an argument so they could make up.

Enjoy the day... RT
Mon, Jun 6, 2016, 6:01pm (UTC -6)
This episode treats Data as is his relationship with Tasha never took place...this is a major inconsistency. Why wouldn't she be mentioned or acknowledged?
Mon, Jun 6, 2016, 7:42pm (UTC -6)

Because... That wasn't a relationship? It was essentially a drunken one night stand. And while Data, well appreciated, that moment with Tasha, it was essentially a moment. It never went deeper or beyond that sex. This was Data's first attempt at a real, deep relationship, working with, caring for, considering the needs of and living for someone else beyond himself and the regular way he treats his friends. Tasha was special to him, but she was never more than his first time, a friend, collegue and later a picture on his desk. Totally different.
Trek fan
Fri, Dec 9, 2016, 9:03pm (UTC -6)
Pleasant episode and a good showcase for Data. I would give it 3/4 stars because I think it's the best sustained exploration of Data's character -- hitting his core of desiring to be human -- since "The Most Toys" or "Elementary Dear Data" or "Pen Pals." Patrick Stewart's direction feels confident and relaxed, with the cast clearly having a good time, and it's nice to see Picard take charge of an away mission (in the shuttle) for a change, even if the technobabble plot is just filler. As for Jammer's big objection that Jenna's interest in Data feels unmotivated unless it's a scientific experiment of her own, I'm not sure I agree: There are actually a LOT of people, both men and women, who feel drawn to emotionally unavailable romantic partners. It's kind of a thing.
Thu, Dec 29, 2016, 12:36pm (UTC -6)
"She kissed me in the torpedo bay". Muhahahaha.

Yes I have the sense of humour of an adolescent with nae mates.
Tue, Jan 31, 2017, 8:44pm (UTC -6)
Heh heh,

I am smiling affectionately at the cute cluelessness of some on this board. I am referring to the question "Why is Jenna so surprised and hurt to learn that Data thinks like an android? Doesn't she know him at all?"

Aw cmon. She likes his company, she wants him to step in and be her perfect guy, and she immediately sets about reimagining him into that role. The thought process goes like this:

He's not incapable of emotion he's.... Got hidden depths! It just takes the right woman to bring him out of his shell. Once they get closer, his programming will evolve and create real loving feelings. I mean, okay, he's a bit different but... That's actually what makes him better than all the losers she's dated before! In fact, he's perfect. He'll never hurt her. He truly cares about her. That android stuff is just a minor flaw that doesn't matter much compared to all the good parts of him! Et cetera..

I've never dated an android, but I've dated all kinds of unsuitable types and imagined they were different from what they were, or talked myself out seeing their flaws, because I wanted to believe we were going to work out. It's called hope. I guess. Or self-delusion. Same thing.

I also kinda think it's human nature to imagine others think just like we do. JEnna has never been an android. Yes she knows, sort of, intellectually, that he's a computer with limbs. But he looks so human and acts so human - she can't help believing he's just like she is, except with wires instead of neurons.

BTW I love this episode. Lots of humor and character moments, and the sad ending reveals his mechanical-toy nature perfectly. Just like that, Jenna is forgotten and he's all "Spot!" Brilliant.

And I love that I too calculate the amount of pressure I can apply to someone's lips - but for me it's unconsciously done, and for Data it's a computation he is completely aware of. That really shows him for who he is.
Sun, Feb 5, 2017, 1:09am (UTC -6)
I appreciate the ambiguity the writers leave us with.

It's good to be reminded that Data is genuinely different from us, genuinely 'alien', as another commenter here pointed out.

When Jenna expresses to Data her concern that she doesn't really "matter" to him... He agrees with her. That part's not really up for debate, at least if Data's self-assessment is correct.

On the other hand, Data clearly experiences (or at least expresses) motivations and goals, which we project onto him as "desires". His primary personal motivation is to become more human (and his experimentation with Jenna is intended to further that cause); his primary professional motivation is to perform his duties for Star Fleet. Who knows what combination of circuits and chain-of-logic commands lead to the ultimate 'motivations' for Data's behaviour?

As the writers brilliantly point out at other times: we genuinely *don't know* if Data counts as a 'real person'. We, and the crew, want to believe he does-- and he certainly produces output that gives the appearance that he is-- but for the most part we're treading on the safe side (because the risk of offending against a sentient being, if we're wrong, is unacceptable). Whereas with biological humans, we know because we each *are* humans that there's a soul behind our eyes (or whatever you want to call sentient consciousness; the 'eyes behind the eyes'; the self-reflecting, observational entity we call "I", "Myself", "Me")... we will never really know if this very complex non-biological machine houses a soul or consciousness in the way we do.

I think the biggest trick here is, we will always *want* to project intelligence and humanity, intent and emotions, onto non-human things. We can almost trick ourselves that a toaster secretly has motivation and burns our toast on purpose. How much more with each stage of a machine specifically programmed to speak to us in case-sensitive English sentences, to refer to itself as "I" and "Me", to vary its responses in seemingly organic (but carefully contrived) ways; to adapt its programming on the fly to more and more closely emulate human behaviour and responses? And how much more when you fit a human face on it? Remember, Data was built by a fallible human who fiercely wanted to believe he could make machines that were really alive and conscious. It seems at least within the realm of possibility that, consciously or unconsciously, Dr. Soong programmed Data to be inclined to claim to to alive and conscious, and to exhibit as many traits as possible that give the appearance of sentience, whether or not it was ever achieved.

Again, of course, we will always want to believe Data is, really, alive and a proper person (I certainly do, and always watch him that way). But it's always interesting (if tragic) to reflect on the fact that, as appallingly empty as the thought is, it is certainly *possible* that a machine could be constructed that conducts itself exactly as Data does, proclaiming its 'life' and 'consciousness' via its audible voice through its human face, while never actually experiencing one iota of consciousness.

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