Thread: rethinking Data
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Old March 20 2011, 06:14 AM   #1
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rethinking Data

I think the character of Data was poorly conceived. The idea behind it was simple enough: TOS showed us the half-human/half-Vulcan Spock who is proud of acting logically and not having (or at least not acting on) emotions, so in TNG they wanted to explore the flip side with a character who wants to experience emotions but can’t.

Unfortunately, they didn’t think it through much further than that. Data’s desire to understand and experience emotion, and his frustration at being unable to do so, appear to be emotions, belying the very premise they were trying to establish. Worse, neither the writers nor Spiner appeared to have any idea why Data wanted to be more like humans. The first time we meet him he’s pathetically jealous that humans can whistle better than he can, and we never get any clue why. (FWIW, Data, I’m a human and I can’t whistle. It’s not such a big deal.)

So here’s my idea of a better way the character could have been imagined:

When we first meet him, he is logical, efficient, and emotionless. Some time in Season 1 he is in a situation like Spock in The Galileo Seven, where his failure to understand emotion leads to him mishandling both his crew and the life forms threatening them, resulting in a failed mission and some dead officers.

As a result of this and other experiences, he concludes he needs to understand emotions better in order to be effective in his role as a Starfleet officer. At first, he studies emotion as an outsider, approaching it as a logical problem of studying emotional beings and deciphering how stimulus relates to response. This way he gains some insight, but it only gets him so far, because the subject is too complex for that kind of analysis to explain it thoroughly. He comes to the conclusion that he will never really understand emotions unless he experiences them, and sets himself to that task.

That, unlike what we actually got, would have been interesting and made some sense.

Not that the TNG writers could have pulled it off. Their “exploration” of this aspect of Data’s character consisted of little more than a bunch of scenes of Data making puppy dog eyes asking Picard to explain emotions to him, and Picard giving answers that were profoundly lacking in profundity. They painted by numbers, and did it poorly.
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