Data’s death in Star Trek: Nemesis was supposed to provide the film with an emotional climax, but it was an unworthy end to a much beloved character.
Star Trek: Nemesis killed off Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner) in an attempt to give the film an emotional climax, but the beloved android deserved a better ending. Data became a fan favorite over seven seasons on Star Trek: The Next Generation, with Spiner imbuing the highly intelligent, physically powerful synthetic life form with a childlike wonder and sincere desire to become more human. The TNG season 2 episode “The Measure Of A Man,” where Data’s rights as a sentient being are put on trial, is arguably the show’s first truly great episode.
Data essentially filled the alien outsider role occupied by Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in Star Trek: The Original Series. Data was largely emotionless – give or take a very ill-conceived emotion chip plot in Star Trek Generations – and yet he elicited deep feelings in his fellow crew mates. He shared a strong bond with Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), whom he considered his best friend, and Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) became perhaps his most important mentor in his quest to become more human. Despite Data’s popularity and value to the series, uncertainty loomed over how long Spiner would play the role as the TNG cast transitioned to the big screen.
Why Star Trek: Nemesis Killed Off Data
The original intent of the TNG writers was for Data to be ageless. This was becoming something of an issue by the time of the TNG movies, as Spiner acknowledged he was visibly aging out of the part; by the time of Star Trek: Nemesis, Spiner was 53 and felt his time in the role was winding down. He had actually lobbied to be killed off in the previous film, Star Trek: Insurrection, but the idea was vetoed. With the feeling that the TNG movies were likely on their last legs, Paramount gave the green light to kill Data in Nemesis. Not only would this grant Spiner his wish, the film could use Data’s death to emulate another classic Star Trek sacrifice, Spock’s demise in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan.
This made a certain amount of sense on paper, but the execution was extremely lacking. Nemesis was a critical and financial failure, ending the TNG movie era with a whimper. It was also completely unnecessary; the TNG season 7 episode “Inheritance” subtly retconned Data’s agelessness, as Geordi mentions Data has an aging program. Spiner may have simply been tired of playing the role after 15 years, but there was an in-continuity excuse for him to keep going despite a few wrinkles.
The Problems Data’s Death Caused Star Trek: Picard
It was impossible to know the story of the TNG crew would continue two decades later in Star Trek: Picard, but Data’s death in Nemesis has caused that series some headaches. The first season revolved largely around Picard’s guilt over the android’s death and his quest to help Data’s quasi-offspring, Dr. Soji Asha (Isa Briones). With the help of some digital nips and tucks, Spiner returned to the role, though only in dream sequences and in a virtual simulation. Data’s complete absence from Picard season 2 felt like a hole the show could never quite figure out how to fill.
The toughest pill to swallow is likely coming in Star Trek: Picard season 3, as the show will feature the return of the entire senior staff from the Enterprise-D, minus Data. Early images of the assembled TNG crew in a ready room without Data are bittersweet, to say the least. Star Trek: Nemesis was certainly not short on missteps, but Data’s untimely demise has proved to be its most enduring blunder.