Tuesday, April 10, 2007

By this time, the comic subplot of Data and his emotion chip has begun. It started on the sailing ship, when Worf’s promotion ritual concluded with a hazing, as Worf is dunked in the ocean. When the android Data (Brent Spiner) is puzzled as to why this is funny, Doctor Crusher (Gates McFadden) tells him to get into the spirit of things—to be spontaneous. So he throws her overboard. The rest of the crew stares at him, and it is his failure to understand why this act wasn’t funny that prompts him to take the extreme step of installing his emotion chip, which until now he thought might endanger his neural net.

Even casual TNG watchers would know that Data could feel no emotions. In the episode “Brothers,”, he met the man who created him (his “father”) who has summoned him so he can install this chip, to give him the emotions he lacked. However, the signal he sent also attracted Lore, Data’s “evil twin,” who stole the chip. Data retrieved it, and was about to destroy it when Geordi LaForge (Levar Burton), his closest friend among the crew, intervened.

It turns out that the chip does unleash Data’s sense of humor, however questionable it is. (As for his lack of understanding of why one of the dunkings was funny and the other one wasn’t—well, that’s not clear to me either.)

Some people like the comedy that ensues, others don’t. I liked it for itself, and for the dimensions it added to Spiner’s characterization. ( A look at the shooting script also impressed upon me the comic timing of two pros like Spiner and Whoopi Goldberg’s, in the contrast of the dialogue as written with the dialogue as they deliver it in their Ten Forward scene.) Data’s emotions are integrated into the story and supports the theme. With a stronger, clearer central drama, this comic relief might even have been Shakespearian.

When Worf discovers that the Romulans were searching for trilithium, an experimental compound theoretically capable of exploding a star, Riker sends Geordi and Data back to the observatory to search for any signs of it. When they find it in a hidden weapon, Soran suddenly appears, and now reveals himself to be a confident, determined villain. He attacks them, stunning Geordi while Data cowers—he has discovered a new emotion: abject fear. “Don’t hurt me,” he pleads. Now that he has felt joy, he can feel fear—the threat to take away that joy, and replace it with pain. It is from this arc of experience that the fear of death is derived.

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