There are film scenes that we love, and there are scenes that we loathe (or hate). As such, we like to celebrate the good ones and shame the bad ones. Today, it’s time to talk about a bad one. This is the scene from Star Trek: Generations that causes us to involuntarily exclaim “I LOATHE That Scene!” whenever it is brought up in conversation, and that’s only if we’re being nice.
THE FILM: Star Trek: Generations (1994)
THE PLOT: Like a thousand Star Trek fan fiction novels come to life, this is the one where Captain Kirk (William Shatner) from the original series meets Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) from The Next Generation. The device by which this comes to be is a ribbon of space energy known as the Nexus. It is a periodic anomaly that destroys everything in its path while also absorbing people and through rather shaky science (as in a non-existent explanation) preserves their bodies and surrounds them with whatever they might regard as their own personal heaven. As such, those within the Nexus live in a sort of magical fantasy land where the world responds to their innermost desires. Not surprisingly, people ripped from the Nexus take it about as well as Buffy took being freed from a literal heaven at the beginning of season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Captain Kirk is one such person trapped in the Nexus. Eventually, Captain Picard gets caught in it as well, albeit nearly 100 years later. For Captain Kirk, it happens while he is aboard the maiden voyage of the Enterprise-B; for Captain Picard, it happens when a former Nexus resident attempts to manipulate the path of the Nexus to place himself in the eye of the storm thus assuring re-absorption even if it means the destruction of planets or the Enterprise-D. So, Picard and Kirk meet inside the Nexus and have a fist fight the moment Picard asks for a cup of Earl Gray tea, with Kirk yelling out in-between his fists of fury, “The…captain…of the…Enterprise…does…not…drink…tea!”
Or something like that. That last bit might have been something from a a very anti-Picard fan fiction novel.
Alongside the film’s more ponderous sci-fi musings over mortality and the macguffin that is the Nexus is the culmination of the show’s 7 season journey to make Commander Data (Brent Spiner) into a real boy. He’s an android who wants to become more human, and luckily his creator left behind an emotion chip he might be able to use to experience real human emotions.
He gets the emotion chip and he can laugh, even uncontrollably so, and cower in fear at the first sign of danger. Welcome to humanity, Data, you big wimp!
(FOR EVERYTHING BELOW: SPOILERS AHEAD. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.)
THE CONTEXT OF THE SCENE:
Kirk just went bye-bye, permanently as far as the audience knows, and the film has jumped nearly 100 years into the future straight to a H.M.S. Pinafore-style boat. What the deuce! The first time we see the Next Generation crew they are all wearing 1800s nautical outfits? Duh. They’re on the holodeck. Why? They are undergoing a particularly cruel promotion ceremony for the Klingon, Lieutenant Worf (Michael Dorn), wherein he has to walk a literal plank which contains dangling above it a hat which represents his new title: Lieutenant Commander. Worf meets this indignity with victory, claiming his hat and growling fiercely at all observers, only to have Riker accidentally pull the plank out from under him. Now, we’re left wondering if Klingons can swim while the crew watches on laughing just a little bit too hard, as if they all secretly hate Worf and hope he drowns. Well, not quite that far. Worf adapts to his new aquatic surroundings fairly well, admirably falling short of swearing death upon the foolish Riker.
Laughter is had by all, except for Data who possibly speaks for the audience in questioning why it’s so funny. Beverly Crusher, in explaining the joke to him, clearly chooses her words poorly because Data pushes her into the water as well, attempting to join in the frivolity. He then gets scolded.
WHY I LOATHE IT:
The tone. As fellow WeMinoredInFilm writer Julianne has repeatedly argued in conversation with me about this scene, the way Geordi tells him “Not funny!” has the tone of an owner scolding their pet dog. “That’s a bad, Data. Bad!” You half expect him to roll up a newspaper and swat Data over the nose with it. Come to think of it, if he had done so Data would have likely done the same to him instantly, believing it to simply be a funny joke he fails to understand what with being an emotionless android and all (wah-wah). I actually want to see that now.
Moreover, it is not entirely clearly why Dr. Beverly Crusher being pushed into water is so bad. Granted, if I were in her position I’d be perturbed. In fact, as a child who was a rather poor swimmer being pushed into a body of water was terrifying, and it did happen at family pool parties on occasion. Plus, Dr. Crusher isn’t wearing a bathing suit or anything (except inside the minds of particularly randy Next Generation fans) and her hair and make-up are likely not fake-ocean-water ready. However, it is a bit jarring how instantly everyone gives Data “You bastard! How dare you!” stares. He’s Data. This kind of thing happens all the time, one guesses. Dr. Crusher was probably the third person he’d pushed off the boat, with a couple of nameless crew members awaiting rescue from the boat’s other side. Wouldn’t there, at this point, be a knowing laugh, “That’s our Data,”-like reactions before Geordi takes him aside and asks him whether or not he’d like to have been pushed over the side of the boat as a way of using logic to point out his faux pax?
Instead we get “not funny.” Honestly, the scene is probably only as bothersome to me as it is because of the way Levar Burton says, “Not funny.” I now imagine him popping up throughout the rest of the Next Generation movies and admonishing Data for any of his comic relief bits with a rather harsh reading of the phrase, “Not funny.”
So, Data rejoicing at the deaths of the Klingons in Generations?
Data playing with “Mister Tricorder” in Generations?
Data switching off his emotion chip to turn into a stone-cold killer much to Picard’s admiration in First Contact?
Data playing with that little kid in Insurrection because everyone should find an hour a day to play?
This would be especially poignant if yelled by Geordi as he is being taken hostage while a cowering Data does nothing but, well, cower in Generations.
Actually, he’s okay with that one: