Skip to main content

Love and Androids

So far this week, I've looked at the two most basic types of conflicts for characters in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation -- physiological needs and concerns over threats and safety. Pressing forward, it's more difficult to make sweeping generalizations about such and such an episode, we have to focus on individual characters and their motivations.

The simplest and most general type of psychological motivation revolves around acceptance and love. Human beings are social animals, and even our fictional creations seek relationships and affection. For the most part, the crew of the Enterprise is presented as a surprisingly well-knit and supportive work place considering that initially most of them are strangers to each other. However, there are tensions that pull the characters away from each other, a reoccurring theme in first season "character episodes."

 Sometimes you can almost guess what's written on each index card for the main character's motivations. Tasha Yar: gain measure of peace with troubled childhood. Worf: reconcile Klingon background with human upbringing. Wesley: stop getting treated like a kid.

Data is the character with the most obvious tensions over acceptance and one of the clearest character arcs over the course of the season. Even more than the truly alien Worf, Data represents a challenge to his friends and crewmates. Data simply does not get people and his attempts to blend in typically serve only to highlight this point. Very early on in the awful "Code of Honor," episode, Data attempts to tell LaForge a joke, failing spectacularly. A running gag in the first season is Data initiating a conversational info dump only to hear, "Thank you, Data, that's enough." By the second season, even the main computer gives him lip.

Data as a character really defines why I prefer looking at the needs of a character over situational conflicts (man vs. nature, man vs. man, etc.) What makes Data interesting, even early on, is this bottomless need to fit in paired with an utter inability to do so. Watching this 25 years ago, I initially figured this part of Data was a programming defect until the "Datalore" episode when it's revealed Data's incomprehension of basic human customs was feature not flaw. Data's creator intentionally created an imperfect android, one less offensive to the other human colonists of his homeworld. The other android created by Noonien Soong, Lore, tells the crew that the colonists grew alarmed by his more sophisticated understanding of human behavior. Although this phrase isn't used, Data is an example of the uncanny valley effect. The closer an android gets to being human, the more jarring the minor difference remaining become.

Actually, in retrospect, "Datalore" functions as a reboot for the character, the true beginning of his quest to be more fully human. By the end of the story, Data doesn't even seem to understand the betrayal that Lore's actions represent. To Data, Lore is a threat and once dealt with, Data continues on as before, alone but incomplete.

A better signpost to where the character is ultimately going happens later in the season in "We Will Always Have Paris," and "Neutral Zone," the season finale. Data has a pivotal role late in the earlier episode, beaming down to a computer lap and patching a flaw in time with a canister of anti-matter. Picard orders him into the risky situation because Data seems to be less bothered by the 'temporal hiccups' caused by the rift. Data, however, at first assumes the captain is sending him down because he is somehow expendable. Patrick Steward is able to provide Picard a moment of being taken aback by the android's clinical observation, a moment that Data seems to pick up on. Later on in the episode, three distinct Data's appear after another hiccup, with only one in proper phase to repair the rift. One of the android's calls out for the captain but it's the middle one that steps forward with a simple, "It's me!" The episode doesn't make a big deal out of this moment, but I actually like it a great deal. It's one of the first clear moments where Data expresses something like an emotion, first confusion and then the exhilaration of self-discovery. Not to beat a dead horse, but this is Data giving himself the measure of acceptance and recognition absent from the other characters with exception of LaForge.

Which is why Data's side-plot in the season finale strikes a chord with me. It's Data who beams over to the decaying satellite and rescues the freeze-dried 20th century passengers. Ryker and Picard seem repulsed by the survivor's behavior and attitudes but Data seems to identify with them.  It's Data who forms a bond with the musician and seems genuinely tempted, or at least curious, by L.Q. "Sonny" Clemmons' offer in the closing scenes. Sonny offers something that Data had not realized he wanted, companionship and the casual acceptance of another. These are themes, obviously, picked up and elaborated on through the run of the show.

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

"The Yuru-chara of Hector, NY" is now available!

My new story, "The Yuru-chara of Hector, NY," is now available in the current issue of the Electric Spec magazine. I'm very proud that this story is getting published at Electic Spec for the simple reason I've been reading the magazine for years, dreaming of the day I might get a story published there. Well, it's finally happened.

The story of "Yuru-chara" is pretty simple: a young girl wakes up to discover that her old virtual friend, a seven-foot-tall yellow monster named Tama Bell, has come to life. While navigating through waves of other virtual creatures released through a world-wide hack, the young heroine tries to come to grips with her responsibility to her forgotten friend and the losses inherent to growing up.

I hope that you enjoy my story and that you give the other stories a try. They're awesome!

Thank you for your continued support.

New Story Acceptance!

As mentioned last week, I do have a bit of happy news to share. I am excited to announce that my story, "The Yuru-chara of Hector, NY," will appear in the next issue of the Electric Spec Magazine at the end of the month. I am tremendously excited about this for a few reasons:
Electric Spec is simply awesome. I've been reading this magazine for awhile and never been disappointed by a single story. To have one of my stories selected is beyond humbling. I can only give an earnest thank you to Lesley L. Smith for choosing the story.I love this story dearly. It has one of my favorite protagonists and shows in the clearest way I've managed where I'd like to go with my fiction. Electric Spec also gave me the chance to reflect on this story and its meaning in a guest blog which I am sharing below. Without being spoilery, this blog expresses some of what resonates about "The Yuru-chara of Hector, NY," with me. Guest Blog at Electric SpecAt the moment, I think the…

Solemn Treasures

In Gilead, the transcendent novel by Marilynn Robinson, a 76 year old man confronts his impending mortality and the sense he cannot provide for his young son after he is gone. He had not expected to meet his son's mother in the twilight of his life, not expected to have a son. If he had, he tells his son in a lengthy letter forming the substance of Robinson's novel, he might have set something by for him. Some sort of savings or investment. It pains him to think that when he is gone, all that he can leave are a few words.

What words.

As mentioned in a previous post, I set myself on the task (is that really the right word here? maybe endeavor would be better) to read as many of the 'great novels' of this young century as I could. After reading Hillary Mantel's "Wolf Hall-" which was also fantastic by the way - I made my way to Gilead. One of the many quietly strange things about this novel is that it's actually the second novel from Robinson. Her first…