Written by Joe Menosky, Ronald D. Moore, David Carren, and J. Larry Carroll
Directed by Patrick Stewart
For many viewers of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the character of the android Data (Brent Spiner) was the equivalent of Mr. Spock in the original series. I can remember as a youth watching the original series, waiting for any hints of emotion that I just knew boiled beneath the stoic Vulcan facade. Those moment of emotion felt almost like a triumph of Spock’s humanity. With Data, fans knew he was on a quest to be more human throughout the series. I would anxiously await those moments when his human potential and possible emotions would shine through.
However, the times these shined through in the best light were often in brief glimpses during episode, rather than when an entire episode centered around Data’s struggle with his potential humanity.
In Theory centers around Data’s exploration of the possibility of romance. In the first-season episode The Naked Now, we learned that Data was “fully functional” and “programmed in multiple techniques” when it comes to sex. However, In Theory doesn’t touch on that theme at all, but rather strikes at the emotional side of being in a relationship.
The object of Data’s affection is Lieutenant Jenna D’Sora (portrayed by Michele Scarabelli). She has just come out of one bad relationship when she is drawn to Data’s attentiveness. Not sure of how to proceed, Data solicits his friend’s advice in what is the only real humorous moment of the episode.
The secondary story going on is the Enterprise exploring a mysterious nebula which causes mysterious happening on the ship and puts the ship in peril.
The problem comes in that the two stories never quite come together, but are more like two entirely separate stories in one episode. Neither story is capable of carrying the episode on its own. Putting two weak stories together in the hopes of creating a good episode just doesn’t work well in the end.
That’s not to say the episode is all bad. Spiner does a terrific job acting here. Data changes his approach to Jenna at various intervals, mimicking various situations in which two people in a relationship might find themselves. His inability to naturally discern the correct way to act in a situation, or read the signals his “girlfriend” is giving him results in him testing a series of possible responses to see which works best.
That Jenna is apparently uncomfortable and unsure of how to react is perfectly natural. Scarabelli does a good job here as Data’s counterpart. She tries to make it all work, but in the end is just lost when it comes to dealing with being a part of Data’s learning experience. Scarabelli does a good job as a confused woman who sees a lot she likes in the android, but at the same time is slowly coming to the realization that for her, it cannot work. This comes as no surprise, as all the way through the story it just doesn’t seem to be working between the two of them. Rather than two young lovers, they come off more as teacher and pupil.
For the most part this episode hinges on the two of them, and it just doesn’t work. While I don’t feel their acting is at fault, and I blame the script they were given, it just feels like there should have been something more to their story. As the problems with the nebula play out, there is little suspense. This is despite the fact that Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) has launched a shuttle in an attempt to guide the Enterprise safely out of the phenomenon.
Patrick Stewart directed the episode, and I think it’s a shame he was given such a poor script to work with. The actors do their best with the material given, but in the end it feels very unsatisfying. This is especially true when viewed sandwiched between two terrific episodes. Though not quite as bad as The Royale or Code of Honor, fans can skip this one and don’t have to worry about what they’re missing.