Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise…
These are the words, recited in Patrick Stewart’s velvety intonations, that announced dinner time when I was a kid. We had a small TV mounted in the kitchen over the counter. And so it was that most nights, we ended up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, which came on at 6. That suited me just fine. I am a trekkie. It’s useless to try and hide it, and even if I could, I wouldn’t want to.
If you watch enough of the shows and the movies, you’ll start to notice parallels between the different incarnations. One that you might notice is that each of them has an outsider character. A crew member who is not human, and struggles to understand humanity, society, belonging, and emotion. TOS had Spock, DS9 had Odo, Voyager had Seven (and a Vulcan), etc.
I always felt more drawn to these characters, for many reasons, and to some extent, I found them relatable. But my favorite among them was Data, played by Brent Spiner. Data wasn’t human. Technically, he wasn’t even alive, in the biological sense of the word. He was an android.
He spent nearly all of the series almost single-mindedly seeking to understand and experience human emotion. It’s not that the technology didn’t exist to give androids emotions. Data’s older brother, Lore (also played by Spiner), had been built with the ability to feel. And he had consequently become conceited, megalomaniacal, and dangerous. So that capability was left out of Data’s programming. As well as, for some strange reason, the ability to use linguistic contractions.
Finally, toward the end of the series, he receives an upgrade – an ’emotion chip’ developed by his creator (ALSO played by Spiner). Throughout the movies that followed the end of the series, there’s an overarching subplot of Data learning the hard way just what the wide gamut of human emotion can include; how to live, or even just survive, with those emotions, even the horrible ones; and finally learning to manage them.
Oh, and he had a cat.
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