Monday, May 9, 2011

A Marriage Of Plot Convenience And A Day In The Life: "Data's Day"

The Good: Good character story, Well acted
The Bad: Strangely disoriented plot
The Basics: When Miles O'Brien plans to get married, Data finds himself caught between an nervous fiance and a Romulan trap.

Miles Edward O'Brien is a rather eclectic character on Star Trek The Next Generation: he was on for the first three years as simply "O'Brien" and in the fourth season's second episode, he finally got a first name. And then . . . he suddenly gets married. Oh? In "Data's Day," we learn that this strangely anonymous character has been dating a botanist on the Enterprise and here they actually get married. Go figure. It's one of those "out of left field" things that an episodic show will do that a great serialized show will not be able to pull off.

"Data's Day" is actually not an O'Brien story, though the events in this episode will resonate throughout his entire character arc on this series as well as Star Trek Deep Space Nine. Data, it seems, has been in communication with Commander Bruce Maddox (from "Measure Of A Man" back in season two, reviewed here!) attempting to explain the various parts of his day. This day finds the Enterprise escorting a Vulcan ambassador to the Romulan Neutral Zone for a treaty negotiation while Keiko is experiencing cold feet. When the Vulcan ambassador is killed in the transporter, the Romulans get upset and Data is caught between Miles and Keiko on the personal level and the Romulans on the professional front.

What is nice about the episode is that it keeps us wanting to watch. The tired plot of the woman with cold feet before her wedding is well interwoven with the Vulcan/Romulan plot. How? Well, fans of the show are kept watching attempting to figure out the bizarre relationship between Miles and Keiko and attempt to figure out why they were ever together in the first place. People unfamiliar with the series will keep watching for the interactions between Data and Keiko and Data and O'Brien.

The Data plot dealing with the personal issues is not terribly clever, but it does manage to be amusing and sometimes that's enough in this episode. The only real problematic aspect of this episode in this regard is that Data is once again treated like he has not learned anything in the prior twenty-five+ years since he was activated. Suspension of disbelief applies, though fans of the series might be irked at the way Data is used for cheap laughs in the interpersonal plot of "Data's Day."

However, the political intrigue of the plot with the Romulans is very good; the tension is high throughout. With the Romulans, there is always the possibility of betrayal; they are notorious for having plans and manipulations. Even people unfamiliar with Star Trek The Next Generation will be drawn into the political tension of that part of the plot. The Romulans are used here well, presenting a decent front of offense as they appear to be genuinely interested in negotiating a peace and the death of the ambassador seriously compromises that. The treachery of the Romulans is always fun to watch and it seems they are in this episode for far too little time.

But the plot alone is somewhat self-defeating: an ordinary day on the Enterprise. One must assume that there are many, yet this is not one of them (i.e. this is not an ORDINARY day on the ship). We aren't privileged with seeing one of those. This episode, however, is the closest we get. Even more than the seventh season's "Lower Decks" which takes the focus off the main crew is more extraordinary of a day than the one in "Data's Day."

What works better than the plot - which works fine for a bottle episode, yet seems odd in the context of the series - is the acting and the character development. While O'Brien seems a rather unlikely choice to get married, he's also a safe character to marry off and it ends up working out very well as the O'Briens become a reassuring ADULT relationship on television. Because the characters are destined for something more impressive and adult (Star Trek Deep Space Nine), it's nice to see the O'Briens establishing a relationship that will have actual consequences. Their relationship pops up in subsequent episodes and that's a nice additional bit of continuity for this usually episodic show.

But here, O'Brien gets true development as we see his anger and confusion over Keiko's doubts. Moreover, balancing his emotions with his respect for superior officers comes through excellently in his scenes with Data. Keiko, however, begins her run on the series as pretty much the archetype of the nervous fiance. Fortunately, her character rapidly gets better.

Data, for his part, develops fine. Here he makes more baby steps toward becoming more and more human by exploring deception and love. In that respect, the elements of this episode come together wonderfully on the nose. Again, though, there are moments here where Data is used for a cheap laugh - the climax to the dancing scene, for example - and that is somewhat disappointing.

The characters and the plot are supported richly by the acting. Rosalind Chao makes her Star Trek debut as Keiko and she was cast perfectly to be a foil character for Miles O'Brien. Colm Meany makes Miles human with his frustration, anger and hurt. Without his acting talents, O'Brien would be stale and flat. Instead, he comes across as one of the most viable and real characters on Star Trek The Next Generation. He seems exactly like the type of person we might know, which helps to ground the series.

But, naturally for a story entitled "Data's Day," much of the burden comes down to Brent Spiner. Spiner does his best job in some time playing Data as unemotional. Here his performance is quite pure and it works very well. Spiner makes the episode worth rewatching. Only when one sees Spiner outside the Star Trek The Next Generation setting may one truly appreciate the depth of acting he embodies on Trek, as his natural instincts are toward comedy. He does the whole "emotionless" thing perfectly in this episode, though!

There's a lot here for fans and non-fans of Star Trek The Next Generation to enjoy. Outside from the comic misadventures of Data trying to make Keiko happy, the tense political plot with the Romulans keeps the story engrossing.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the fourth season by clicking here!

For other political espionage Star Trek works, please check out:
"The Enterprise Incident"
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit the index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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