Star Trek: The Next Generation: In Theory   Rewatch 
March 11, 2021 3:27 AM - Season 4, Episode 25 - Subscribe

When one of his subordinates goes through a breakup, Data gets experimental with her.

Nothing Memory Alpha can say or do will ever make you happy or sad, or touch you in any way:

• According to Ronald D. Moore, the story was inspired by stories of fans confessing their love for the character of Spock during the original run of Star Trek: The Original Series. He remarked, "So much of Leonard Nimoy's fan mail was from women, women who were falling in love with this remote, inaccessible character with the idea that 'I could touch his heart – I could get to Spock like no one else.' I was fascinated by that aspect of fandom." He thought it would be interesting to explore what would happen when the man completely lacked emotions, rather than just controlled them as Spock had.

• Both writers wanted the episode to be essentially a character study but found they needed to combine it with a B story. "We had to come up with some stupid subspace anomaly that the Enterprise had to be battling at the same time," commented Moore. "It was annoying storytelling, but that was built in to the structure of that show. While you were downstairs with Data, you always kind of wondered what the ship would be doing."

• This is the first episode to be directed by Patrick Stewart. For advice, Stewart turned to Jonathan Frakes. Frakes recalled, "We had a couple of conversations. He was fabulous and took to it beautifully. He's a very sensitive man and he did a great job. He was also lucky that he got a Data show as his first. Brent [Spiner] really is an incredible actor with unbelievable range and technique, and certainly the most popular character, so it's a real plus to get that combination."

• Stewart recalled, "I was a virgin then. Those seven days that I worked on 'In Theory' were seven of the most exciting days of my career. They were so intense."

• While having a "lovers' quarrel", Data says angrily "You're not my mother", using a contraction. When Jenna questions him, he explains calmly "You are not my mother." This might indicate that the initial phrase was specifically programmed with the contraction, but the repeat without a contraction is a unique form of the "no contractions" contradiction.

• This is the only episode with scenes inside one of the torpedo bays of the Enterprise-D.

• When asked whether there were any episodes he had written that he felt were under-recognized, Ronald D. Moore remarked, "I guess I have a fond memory of the A-story in "In Theory" and always felt people didn't quite give that one its due."

• Ron Moore disliked having the space anomaly B-story in the episode, describing it as being representative of the "hamstringing" structure that Star Trek: The Next Generation had. He noted, "On Deep Space Nine you don't have that looming over your head all the time, so it expands the kinds of stories you can do."

"This can be a… a little complicated. Listen, my advice is… ask somebody else for advice. At least, someone who's got more experience at giving advice."
- La Forge, when Data asks him for advice on dating

"Klingons do not pursue relationships. They conquer that which they desire."
- Worf

"Data, when it really works between two people, it's not like anything you've ever experienced. The rewards are far greater than simple friendship."
"How far, sir?"
"That's what I'm hoping you're going to find out!"
- Riker, enjoying Data's burgeoning romance with Jenna

"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!"
- Data, to Jenna D'Sora

Poster's Log:
If the amount of giggling I did on this rewatch is any indication, this one holds up. Apart from Data being super-creepy in a Lore-ish fashion, most of the intended comedy works. Good thing they didn't do this episode in the first couple of seasons; we need to know these characters for the jokes to land.

D'Sora is obviously a one-shot character, which makes it harder to care about the outcome of this relationship, since this script takes such care to point out that Data can't love. But maybe this isn't a flaw—maybe it even works to the episode's advantage, since it's clearly meant to be pretty light, and doesn't seem to be shooting for the kind of profound insights that would require us to care about the relationship itself.

I half-expected La Forge's line about "my advice is… ask somebody else for advice. At least, someone who's got more experience at—" to end with "not shitting the bed when it comes to women."

I've already forgotten what the space anomaly was. That could just be quarantine-brain.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Patrick Stewart also directed the episodes "Hero Worship", "A Fistful of Datas", "Phantasms", and the penultimate episode of TNG, "Preemptive Strike."

Next up is the season finale!
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (24 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"Commander Riker says these have worked for him in the past." *raises arms*
posted by rocketman at 5:09 AM on March 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:

Just three from Premiere this time around. Survey Mission has perfectly sensible requirements and a nice swirly nebula image. It's a pure Klingon mission in the game, because if you make every mission the Enterprise went on Fed-only there wouldn't be that many for the other factions. If he happens to be here for some reason, Ensign Tuvok could use his special skill. Maybe in a Treaty deck, to avoid nasty Borg Ships during the attempt. It could happen.

Gaps In Normal Space is not too bad an option for slowing down your opponent, hopefully you don't get stuck there yourself.

In Premiere, your Fed team had three Unique security personnel, Worf, Tasha, and Jenna D'Sora. Of the three, she's the best suited for space missions, having that Stellar Cartography, and being able to overcome Crystalline Entity when you're attempting the mission on an Oberth for some reason. She's the only Fed Security/Stellar Cartography personnel in the game other than Tabor, who can't even report to the same quadrant.
posted by StarkRoads at 9:54 AM on March 11, 2021

I really don't like how this one treats Data. The writers' pendulum of Data is definitely swinging hard towards, "He's just a computer." And that's fine. But this episode does something else. It makes Data stupid and I hate that.
posted by Fukiyama at 10:00 AM on March 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

"In Theory" is a very very very poor Data episode. It regresses a lot of the progress Data has made in being Human simply to serve the episode's plot. And then there is the horrendous ending where Data has to ask Jenna if they are no longer a couple and then announces he will delete the appropriate program, essentially tossing her in the waste disposal. DATA IS NOT THAT INSENSITIVE! In "The Ensigns of Command," he learned how to read body language and react appropriately. It doesn't surprise me that RDM had a hand in this episode; continuity was never his strong suit.
posted by Stuka at 10:22 AM on March 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Yeah, this middle era is sort of frustrating for episodes that are kind of fun and entertaining in isolation - we know the characters well enough for situations they're put into to be entertaining, but are annoying because the writers would forget characterization for plot purposes.
posted by Kyol at 11:40 AM on March 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

It's a shame Michele Scarabelli is such a damn cutie-pie, because otherwise I could easily skip this episode and save myself the curling-into-a-ball misery of the Data embarrassment stuff. But I really like her, so I suffered through it, and there are a few cute moments that almost save it. It also has one of my other nightmare scenarios when that poor crew member gets Philadelphia Experiment-ed into the floor--ugh, god, that kind of thing gives me such heebie-jeebies (as does stuff like disappearing someone's face, thanks, Charlie X).

I'm never keen on men who think it's interesting to explore, from their vantage point, the way women interact with a character or a text. No wonder there's so much cringe in this thing. Data was never my favorite character here, but having him angrily yell at Jenna as an approximation of an emotional argument was just...well, it's obvious a dude wrote all that.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:00 PM on March 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

What people have already said, mostly. I can't remember the episode, but I think that I made the comment before that one of the common problems of weak Data episodes is that his characterization can be inconsistent; it's as if someone has a neato idea for a story, but it doesn't quite square up with where Data is at the moment, but they really, really want to do that episode. I get the connection with Spock fans, and there's also some resonance with Watchmen[the graphic novel]'s Doctor Manhattan having once been human but having gone way beyond that and acting out being Laurie's boyfriend even though he himself gets no pleasure out of it; the parts where he seems to be quoting from someone else's script also reminded me a bit of WandaVision. They just don't make sense given what Data has already gone through--say, with Ard'rian in "The Ensigns of Command." Individual bits are indeed funny (Smoove Data is hilarious), but you know how it's going to end. Especially given that the next two episodes are good contributions to Worf's comparatively strong and consistent character arc, this ep suffers by comparison.

Also, agreed with kitten kaboodle about the Philadelphia Experiment stuff. At first it's all goofy who-dumped-my-desk-onto-the-floor stuff, then someone suffers the equivalent of a bad transporter accident. Yee-heekers!
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:25 PM on March 11, 2021

The Greatest Generation made a point that really resonated with me: what if the outcome here had been that Data does learn to love? I think that would have been more challenging to write, but could've been a lot more satisfying.

Agreed that Data often in the past shows a lot of tact--but sometimes not. It's just inconsistent. Also, I'm quite convinced that Data does have feelings--it's just that they're mostly very muted versions of human feelings. Why does he sometimes get that satisfied little smirk? His intense curiosity and sense of duty are some kind of feelings. Having friends is a sign of feelings.

I'm reminded of the ep with Lt. Yar's sister, where Data gives her the silent treatment at the end. There's a tension about how to read it: either, like a human, he feels betrayed and in response is pretending not to care, or else he truly doesn't care because he's incapable of caring. I think if he really didn't care, he'd be just as conversational with her as he was before. He's should be equally incapable of caring before and after.

So at the end of this episode, the situation is very clearly "The love affair didn't work out, and I don't care." That's sort of interesting, but his reaction to friendship with Lt. Yar's sister is a thinker and is more interesting.
posted by polecat at 4:21 PM on March 11, 2021 [4 favorites]

I don't have anything brilliant to say, but I want kitten kaboodle to know that in my 50s I STILL don't watch that scene in Charlie X when it's on.
posted by wittgenstein at 4:53 PM on March 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

I wonder how much Spiner fought for Data, if he fought at all. I've read that he put a great amount of effort into the physical aspect of the character, even going as far as working with his body-double to make sure things were seemless. So it's surprising that Data's characterization seems to have been given much less attention to detail.
posted by Stuka at 4:56 PM on March 11, 2021

The Greatest Generation made a point that really resonated with me: what if the outcome here had been that Data does learn to love? I think that would have been more challenging to write, but could've been a lot more satisfying.

None of our crew really have any healthy non-work relationships at all, do they. :|
posted by StarkRoads at 5:03 PM on March 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

There are lots of non-work relationships in TNG! Her name is Guinan.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:00 PM on March 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

Spiner is actually less hammy in this than I remember, which makes it almost bearable. But not quite. I had to pause the scene with O'Brien, Keiko and D'Sora several times, I can't even articulate why, they just overloaded my cringe response.

The sequence where Data goes to each crewmember for advice in turn was the highlight of the episode, particularly Worf's protectiveness and Riker's sparkling glee.

I also remember thinking way back in 1991 that it was ridiculous that Picard would have to orally relay his heading from the shuttle to the Enterprise. But Geordi explicitly says that the navigation systems are linked . . . so is Picard just announcing out of habit?
posted by skewed at 6:10 PM on March 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

The sequence where Data goes to each crewmember for advice in turn was the highlight of the episode, particularly Worf's protectiveness and Riker's sparkling glee.

I did enjoy that everyone else is like “Uhh I don’t know, Data” and Riker is “HELL YEAH DATA DAWG YES!”
posted by rodlymight at 6:48 PM on March 11, 2021 [4 favorites]

There is a significant amount of cringe or creepiness in how D’Sora clings to Data in that “dinner with the O’Briens” sequence.

The awkward puppet-ness when Data is trying to get a hug and again when he gets Jenna to sit with him on the couch is reused in a lot of “Data is trying to be human” sequences and I kind of hate it.

I do like the B story here. Hand waving away the reason for Picard to pilot the shuttle, the rest of that sequence is fun, and the first shot of the shuttle scooting along in front of the magnificent and ponderous Enterprise still fills me with glee.
posted by hanov3r at 9:43 PM on March 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

There are lots of non-work relationships in TNG! Her name is Guinan.

Guinan isn't a Ten Forward barfly, she works there. Talking to people sitting at your bar is part of the job.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 10:01 PM on March 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

Thanks to the past 30 years of pop culture when I see the title of this episode my brain goes, "In theory Bart communism works, IN THEORY."
posted by StarkRoads at 11:00 AM on March 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

This is my first watch through, but I'm going to leave this out here: every appearance of the O'Briens is cringeworthy. So far we've had:

* Keiko decides to call off the wedding because she's not that in to Miles, and Miles immediately goes ballistic (Data's Day)
* Clearly knowing nothing about each other despite having just gotten married, they resentfully snipe at each other's gastronomic tastes (The Wounded)
* They fight about work schedules and Miles accuses Keiko of infidelity (Night Terrors)
* Keiko tells a story about how Miles is a slob and incapable of doing his own laundry right in front of him and one of his commanding officers (In Theory)

... and that's it! That's the sum total of The Miles and Keiko Show so far. That's not a depiction of marriage in a distant future when humans have hashed out all their shit; that's an origin story for The Lockhorns. Have we encountered any other married couples shipboard in TNG yet? Does 24th century marriage, like, just really suck? Do dilithium crystals fuck up matrimony or something?
posted by phooky at 11:48 AM on March 12, 2021 [5 favorites]

phooky, wait till you see their hijinks on DS9. It culminates in Keiko getting possessed by an evil being and forcing Miles to do all kinds of weird and damaging shit for an entire episode. It's a hoot.
posted by zadcat at 1:54 PM on March 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Re: Miles and Keiko
I assume how their marriage was written is another example of lazy writers. Federation society in the 24th Century is perfect. The very fact that Miles and Keiko are together means that they are perfect for each other (until they aren't). So the writers didn't bother giving us the good, just the bad, when it was convenient.
posted by Stuka at 2:13 PM on March 12, 2021

Yeah, you know, I recall really loving both Miles and Keiko back then but this go round has definitely soured me on Miles. Probably also my residual love for Colm Meaney has worn off from the days of The Commitments.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 3:38 PM on March 12, 2021

The sequence where Data goes to each crewmember for advice in turn was the highlight of the episode, particularly Worf's protectiveness and Riker's sparkling glee.

We had a sequence like this with Wes a couple seasons ago, didn't we?

One last observation from the 'because if they did that there would be no show' department:
If the Romulans can send out a ringer agent to Risa good enough to fool the local security and any acquaintances, they could easily do their whole assassination plot with the same guy yelling like 'for Krios!' and gunning down Governor Vagh the first chance he gets and not being captured alive afterward. You could say that they wouldn't have the security codes for the chief engineer of the enterprise or couldn't fool the crew for long, but if they can program a double agent that stuff seems like it shouldn't be out of reach. Like the Bashir Founder.
posted by StarkRoads at 7:06 PM on March 13, 2021

Did I watch these out of order and kinda conflate In Theory with The Mind's Eye? Reader, I did.
posted by StarkRoads at 8:57 PM on March 13, 2021

In a lot of shows with teenage characters, they're usually a plotline where one of the characters gets in their first big relationship and asks for advice, and is told to be themselves, which they proceed to not do. This episode is that turned up to 11.

Coulda left a warning beacon or something by that nebula, though.
posted by ckape at 9:05 PM on March 22, 2021

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