Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “In Theory”

“In Theory”
Written by Joe Menosky & Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Patrick Stewart
Season 4, Episode 25
Production episode 40274-199
Original air date: June 3, 1991
Stardate: 44932.3

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise is exploring a dark-matter nebula. Data is supervising the modification of a bunch of photon torpedoes that will help reveal more about the nebula by illuminating it.

One of the people with whom Data is working is Jenna D’Sora, a member of Worf’s security team, who is also apparently a friend of many months’ standing. She tells Data that she bumped into her ex-boyfriend, Jeff Arton, and when he asked her to dinner, she said she’d think about it. Data immediately informs her that, per her instructions, he will now remind her of why she and Jeff broke up — and this is the third time he’s had to refresh her memory.

Data has also made a study of human romantic relationships, which he undertook after Jenna and Jeff broke up, in order to help be supportive of Jenna in her time of need. They then test the torpedo, successfully.

Later, in Ten-Forward, Data, Jenna, Keiko, and two other crewmembers play a concert, performing Reicha’s Wind Quintet #2. Data is playing the oboe, Jenna the flute. Jenna and Data talk, and Jenna starts to rip into her own performance, citing numerous things she did wrong — Data points out that he saw no severe technical issues with her performances, and the audience was oblivious to such nuances. (As a musician myself, I totally get where Jenna’s coming from, and often have to remind myself, as Data does her, that nobody else noticed or cared what I screwed up, as it was so minor as to be noticeable only by me.)

Afterward, they share a drink with the O’Briens, with Keiko complaining about Miles’s inability to put socks away, and Jenna starting to act surprisingly flirty toward Data.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: In Theory

On the bridge, Data examines the nebula, discovering that the density of dark matter is greater than expected. There are some Class M planets in the vicinity, and Picard orders a course change to check one of them out.

In sickbay, Crusher puts an instrument down on the table, and it falls to the floor. She assumes she just missed the table and puts it back, not giving it another thought. But, since they went to the trouble of showing it, it’s obviously important.

Cut to the torpedo bay, where Data’s modifying another torpedo. Jenna’s sitting nearby, reminiscing about her childhood. She tells Data how much she enjoys his company, and how good a friend he’s been. And then she kisses him before leaving the torpedo bay.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: In Theory

Thrown for a bit of a loop, Data goes to Guinan for advice. He has no experience in such matters, and he has no clue how to proceed. Guinan, however, refuses to give him advice, as this is a path best pursued on one’s own.

Upon returning to his quarters, Data is greeted by La Forge, who is carrying Spot. The cat got out of his cabin and wandered two sections away. But the computer shows no indication of having let anyone in or out.

Data then proceeds to do the exact same thing Wes did in “The Dauphin,” to wit, ask everyone in the credits for their advice. La Forge pretty much throws his hands up and tells him to go to Troi. (Given La Forge’s own romantic history, this is probably wise.) The counselor preaches extreme caution, as this is far more intense than anything he’s ever tried before. Worf also demurs, saying that Klingons don’t have relationships, they conquer what they want. (He also reminds Data that Jenna serves under his command, and if she is mistreated, he will be upset.) Riker, of course, is all-in — he thinks Data should totally go for it. Picard says he’ll be happy to provide Data with advice about understanding women as soon as he has some.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: In Theory

Data brings flowers to Jenna’s quarters and makes a move — in a hilariously stilted but actually kinda sweet manner.

Picard goes to his ready room, to discover that everything that had been on his desk is now on the floor under the desk. He requests Worf’s presence, but he detects no biotraces other than Picard’s. “You did not — ” “No, I did not.”

Jenna comes to Data’s quarters and gives him a sculpture to help brighten up his cabin. He makes several mistakes in how he should respond — a critical analysis of the sculpture, rather than just thanking her for it, is but one example — but at least he’s making an effort to get things right, which Jenna appreciates.

The Enterprise arrives at the Class-M planet, but it’s not there — at first. Suddenly, it reappears. Before they can examine it, the computer registers explosive decompression in the observation lounge — but Worf reads no hull breach. When Data declares the atmosphere restored, they enter the lounge to find all the furniture bunched up against one wall.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: In Theory

Data walks into Jenna’s quarters, and declares, “Honey, I’m home,” with a contraction and everything. He then turns into a Stepford husband, talking like a 1950s lothario, fetching her a drink, and just generally acting kinda weird. He then starts to straighten up her quarters, but she doesn’t want him to do that. Concerned that he’s not paying enough attention to her, he tries to be more solicitous, but she thinks he’s acting very strange. He then manufactures a lover’s quarrel (complete with using more contractions), but the very artificial nature of it makes it pretty ridiculous, and Jenna says it’s not working. Then she tells him to kiss her. Afterward, she makes the spectacular tactical error of asking him what he was thinking, and he proceeds to supply the entire (lengthy) list.

The incidents are increasing, but there’s no indication as to what’s causing it. So far, nobody’s been hurt, but Riker suggests they continue the investigation outside the nebula. But as soon as the ship goes to warp, consoles start futzing out, there’s more explosive decompression, and things just escalate until Picard orders a full stop.

La Forge takes Van Mayter and Thorne to check out the structural damage between decks. After Van Mayter goes off in one direction, La Forge starts to give instructions to Thorne, when a horrible scream pierces the air. Running back, La Forge and Thorne find Van Mayter halfway in the floor. The floor disappeared, she fell through, and then it reformed around her, bisecting her and killing her instantly (and, based on the scream, painfully).

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: In Theory

Data at last has a theory: there are pockets of dark matter in the nebula that cause matter to go out of phase when they collide. The deformations are also moving, so it’s difficult to navigate out. Data can only tune the sensors to detect the dark matter at very close range. Worf suggests using a shuttle, which is more maneuverable, to play stalking horse, finding the dark matter (and getting more easily out of its way) and leading the Enterprise through it.

For absolutely no good reason, Picard insists on piloting the shuttle himself, overriding Riker (who’s more qualified). Picard gets them past a few dark matter pockets, but one damages the shuttle, and they lose the link. Picard tries to guide them verbally, but then another pocket appears and wipes the shuttles engines. O’Brien beams the captain away before the shuttle explodes. At this point, they’re less than two million kilometers from the perimeter, and McKnight is able to navigate out of the nebula.

Data has prepared dinner for Jenna in his quarters, but she wants to talk before they eat. Jenna realizes that she’s been making the same mistake over and over. She broke up with an unemotional man, and dove into a relationship with someone who can’t feel emotions at all. Data’s kindness and attentiveness isn’t enough, because she knows that, deep down, she doesn’t matter to him because he has no emotions.

When Data asks, “Are we no longer a couple?” Jenna say that in fact, they are not. “Then I will delete the appropriate program.”

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Dark matter can apparently make bits of the ship phase out of reality for a moment. Who knew?

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: In Theory

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi is concerned that Data is treating his relationship with Jenna like an experiment, and reminds him that, while he has no feelings that can be hurt, she does.

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data has expanded his musical repertoire to include the oboe. His friendship with Jenna goes back many months, and she made the literal-minded android promise to remind her why she broke up with Jeff if she ever considered getting back together with him again.

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf is the one who saves the day here, suggesting the shuttlecraft be used to lead the Enterprise on. Riker and La Forge jump all over him, but it was his idea. Dammit!

Syntheholics Anonymous: Guinan feels that everyone should experience their first love affair on their own. When Data reminds her that he has no feelings and therefore can’t love, she just smiles and says that that means it’ll be a very unique experience. (Sadly, the rest of the episode proves her wrong.)

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: It is unclear whether or not Jenna and Data went beyond kissing. But we do know that he’s fully functional

In the Driver’s Seat: Ensign McKnight returns, and she does a fine job of coordinating with Picard in the shuttle, and then is left to pilot the last million kilometers or so on her own.

I Believe I Said That: “Perhaps we have a poltergeist.”

“Sir?”

“A mischevious spirit.”

“Sir…”

“Perhaps not.”

Picard proposing an outlandish theory, and Worf refusing to play along.

Welcome Aboard: Rosalind Chao is back as Keiko, and we discover that she also plays the clarinet (and also hates picking up O’Brien’s dirty socks). Pamela Winslow makes a second appearance as McKnight (following “Clues“). And Michelle Scarabelli — probably best known in genre circles as Susan Francisco in FOX’s Alien Nation TV series, as well as the followup movies — is quite charming as Jenna D’Sora.

Trivial Matters: This is Sir Patrick Stewart’s first time in the director’s chair, to which he’ll return four times. Amusingly, four of the five episodes he directed were Data-focused.

This is the last time that Spot will be seen as an Angora. The cat’s subsequent appearances will be as an orange tabby.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: In Theory

Van Mayter gets a first name (Helga) and personality in your humble rewatcher’s Starfleet Corps of Engineers eBook Many Splendors (printed in the collection What’s Past).

Make it So: “Darling, you remain as aesthetically pleasing as the first day we met.” What a clunker of an episode. It’s never a good thing when a show starts repeating itself, and it’s compounded by the truly dreadful choice in episodes to rehash. Really, who thought it was a good idea to re-do “The Dauphin,” only without the gravitas?

Some of the go-to-each-of-the-crew-for-advice bits work better here than they did in “The Dauphin” (Riker’s was better here, certainly, and Picard’s line to Data was a classic), but it still is ground that’s already been covered.

And the relationship is just awful. Of course, that’s part of the point, that getting romantically involved was a bad idea for both of them. But that doesn’t make it any fun to watch — and it was such a nice friendship prior to that. And watching Data stumble through bad 1950s “romantic” clichés is just painful to watch.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: In Theory

The dark-matter B-plot isn’t much of an improvement. Twenty years later, we still don’t know much about dark matter, so I guess maybe it could do what the episode says it does. Kinda.

To Moore and Menosky’s credit, the minute the stakes are raised — when Van Mayter is killed (and brutally so; the image of half her body sticking up out of the floor was one that stuck with me for weeks after watching the episode) — the silly romance plot is abandoned until the ship is out of danger. Though that part of it has its moments of ridiculousness, not the least being Picard insisting on piloting the shuttle. This is a ship with a thousand people on board, they must have dozens of qualified pilots. In what universe does it make sense for the captain — who by his own admission way back in “11001001” hadn’t taken the conn in years — to be the one to do the incredibly risky piloting? (To make matters worse, he half-asses the job, and gets the shuttle destroyed. Imagine what might have happened with a good pilot.)

Ultimately, it’s a rehash of a Wesley Crusher episode. A really really bad Wesley Crusher episode.

 

Warp factor rating: 2


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