I Wish Star Trek: TNG Had Never Introduced Data’s Emotion Chip


Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) has always been my favorite Star Trek character, but I wish Star Trek: The Next Generation had never given the android an emotion chip. Since his introduction in TNG’s premiere, Data wanted nothing more than to be human, so he spent TNG’s seven seasons observing the humans around him. Created by cyberneticist Dr. Noonien Soong (Brent Spiner), Data was a one-of-a-kind technological marvel, with superior strength and an advanced positronic brain. Without Data, the USS Enterprise-D would’ve been destroyed on multiple occasions, and Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) considered the android one of his closest friends.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation season 4, episode 3, “Brothers,” Dr. Noonien Soong activates a homing beacon in Data’s brain that causes the android to hijack the Enterprise and return to his creator. When Data arrives, Soong reveals that he has created an emotion chip that will allow Data to experience human emotions for the first time. Data’s evil twin brother, Lore (Brent Spiner), ends up stealing the emotion chip meant for Data, leaving Data to witness the death of Dr. Soong. While I think giving Data an emotion chip could have worked, the TNG movies squandered the opportunity, reducing Data’s emotions to comedic relief.

Data’s Emotion Chip Storyline In Star Trek: TNG Films Didn’t Work

Data’s Star Trek Generations storyline makes me wish TNG had never introduced the emotion chip.

After Lore was deactivated in Star Trek: The Next Generation season 7, Data put the damaged emotion chip away for safekeeping. It wasn’t until Star Trek Generations that Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) helped Data repair the emotion chip and install it. But rather than giving the android realistic human emotions, the chip made him erratic and prone to bursts of humor or fear. Considering Dr. Soong had spent years building this emotion chip specifically for Data, I never understood why it would malfunction this way in Star TrekGenerations.

The emotion chip should not have changed Data’s personality so drastically.

The emotion chip could have been used to bring Data closer to humanity in a nuanced way, and I hate the way it became little more than a running joke. By Star Trek: First Contact, Data was able to turn the emotion chip on and off as he wished, and by Star Trek: Insurrection, he had removed it entirely. The emotion chip should not have changed Data’s personality so drastically, but rather given him the ability to experience the emotional response to things he was already feeling in his own way.

Data Had Already Achieved His Own Kind Of Emotions In Star Trek: TNG

Data was already human in all the ways that mattered.

Throughout Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data insisted that he did not have the ability to feel. Despite this, Data clearly cared for the people around him and he regularly displayed very human reactions. Even as early as TNG season 1, Data mourned Lt. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) after her death and thought of her often. In one of Data’s most important episodes, TNG season 2, episode 9, “The Measure of a Man,” a trial was held to determine if Data was the property of Starfleet. Although Data had decided to accept whatever the court decided, he was clearly disturbed by the idea of being dismantled and studied.

Later, when Data created a daughter named Lal (Hallie Todd), he was obviously devastated by her death. Even when Data could not see his own humanity, those around him saw it. Dr. Noonien Soong knew that Data would mourn him “in [his] own way,” and Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) and others aboard the Enterprise expressed their disbelief that Data was an unfeeling machine. Over time, Data could have grown into his humanity, but his journey on Star Trek: The Next Generation was not always consistent.

When Lore returned in the Star Trek: The Next Generartion two-parter, “Descent,” he had found a way to project his emotions onto Data. Because the emotion chip was not designed for Lore, it made him even more unstable and prone to emotional outbursts. In “Descent,” Data begins to experience anger and even hatred, as Lore manipulates his brother’s emotions. While the “Descent” two-parter not be perfect, I think it presented a more interesting exploration of Data’s emotions than anything in the TNG films. As someone who loved Data’s journey on TNG, I was disappointed that the films undermined his most important story arc.

Star Trek: Picard Season 3 Redeemed Data’s Emotion Chip Storyline

Data finally became as close to human as he could ever hope to be.

Despite his apparent death in Star Trek: Nemesis and again in Star Trek: Picard season 1, Data returned in Picard season 3. Picard season 1 revealed that Data’s consciousness had survived the events of Nemesis, only to kill him off again in an emotional death scene with Admiral Picard. While I don’t hate this scene in and of itself, I do not understand why Picard season 1 brought Data back only to kill him off again. Not to mention the fact that Data did not get to say goodbye to Geordi, the person he always considered his best friend.

Thankfully, Star Trek: Picard season 3 redeemed almost all of these blunders for me. Data received a new synthetic body and the ability to experience realistic, organic emotions (with no mention of the emotion chip). His new consciousness incorporated not only Data’s personality, but also that of Lore, B-4, and Lal. Data also got to reunite with Geordi and the rest of his USS Enterprise-D family, finally bringing his story to a satisfying conclusion. Still, I hope we get to see more of Data’s story, as he keeps exploring his newfound emotions and continues the journey that began back on Star Trek: The Next Generation.