From the first few moments of the premiere episode of Star Trek: Picard, it’s clear that the story isn’t just about famed Captain Jean-Luc Picard–it’s also about Data, one of his closest friends. Data was an android who served on the U.S.S. Enterprise under Picard throughout Star Trek: The Next Generation and its subsequent four films, and Data’s influence is still being felt by Picard and the universe at large even decades later.
Part of the reason Data is such a big deal in the new streaming series is that he remains basically one-of-a-kind in the universe. He was a sentient android created by the cyberneticist Noonien Soong and spent his life endeavoring to be more human. Other than the two androids Soong built before Data, B-4 and Lore, there are apparently no other artificial lifeforms who are quite like him. That’s not for lack of trying, though; as we learn in the first episode of Star Trek: Picard, the Federation created a number of “synthetics,” or robots who look a bit similar to Data, but who apparently weren’t sentient (although there are those who said the same of Data himself, as TNG fans know).
Data’s relationship with Picard, and the Federation in general, was built up over the course of Star Trek: The Next Generation and its films. But you don’t have to watch the entire series and four movies to understand the important facts about Data that come up in Star Trek: Picard. All the relevant Data backstory referenced in Picard’s premiere comes from just four TNG episodes–episodes we’ll summarize here to save you a few hours. And if these sound intriguing, check out our list of the 10 essential Data episodes and you can learn even more about the unique being.
Measure of a Man (Season 2, Episode 9)
One of the best early Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes has a big bearing on what’s going on in Star Trek: Picard. In “Measure of a Man,” a cybernetics researcher, Bruce Maddox, wants to disassemble and study Data in hopes of creating more androids like him. Data isn’t into it–he doesn’t think Maddox has the skills necessary to do the procedure without Data potentially losing the essence of who he is. Maddox argues that Data doesn’t have a choice; as a machine, Data isn’t a person, but rather the property of Starfleet. Therefore, Data has no right to refuse to take part in Maddox’s experiments.
The argument eventually goes to court, with Picard serving as Data’s advocate in arguing that the android is alive and therefore has rights, and Picard’s first officer, Commander Will Riker, forced to argue against Picard as Maddox’s advocate. Picard eventually prevails after he suggests that creating more androids like Data in a world where they have no rights would be tantamount to creating a slave caste. Picard always shows a profound respect for life throughout TNG, and in “Measure of a Man,” he gains even more respect for Data and artificial life in general–a feeling that’s obviously still a major part of him in Star Trek: Picard. And the events in the trial cause Maddox to gain a new respect for Data as well. The pair continued corresponding over the years (Data narrates a lengthy letter to Maddox about his typical day in Season 4, Episode 11, “Data’s Day”). That’s the same Maddox who Picard hears has disappeared when he visits the Daystrom Institute in the first episode of Star Trek: Picard.
The Offspring (Season 3, Episode 16)
After attending a cybernetics conference, Data discovers a way to replicate his positronic net–essentially, his brain–to create another android. He uses that knowledge to create Lal, who he considers his offspring. Lal selects her own gender and appearance, choosing to present herself as a human woman, and thus becomes Data’s daughter.
Data tries to raise Lal and teach her how to fit in aboard the Enterprise, an experience he finds incredibly rewarding. Of course, Starfleet again wants to study the androids, and attempts to separate Lal from Data to take her back to the Daystrom Institute. Before that can happen, however, Lal’s positronic net starts to break down. She eventually dies, although Data downloads her memories into himself so he can keep a part of Lal with him.
Like “Measure of a Man,” “The Offspring” further establishes the idea of synthetic life based on Data’s design and Picard’s respect for it. It also builds on the idea of Data as a form of life and his ability to produce offspring, both of which are a big part of Star Trek: Picard’s first episode.
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
Data spends most of Star Trek: First Contact as a captive of the Borg Queen after she and her drones manage to board and take control of part of the Enterprise. The movie establishes some changes to Borg lore by adding the Queen, and suggests that she wants more than to just assimilate more drones–she wants a true equal. To that end, she grafts real skin onto Data to help him become more human, trying to convince him to join her. Picard eventually rescues Data and together they defeat the Queen and the Borg on the Enterprise, while Riker and the rest of the crew stop the Borg’s attempts to disrupt humanity’s first contact with alien life (it’s a time travel movie, just go with it).
First Contact does a lot of heavy lifting in reestablishing Picard’s lingering trauma over being assimilated by the Borg, and builds on his close relationship with Data–though he’s planning to destroy the Enterprise to defeat the Borg, he goes back to rescue Data rather than leaving him behind. Data played a major role in saving Picard from the Borg when he was assimilated in TNG, and the captain felt he couldn’t leave his friend behind, even though there was a good likelihood Picard and Data would both have been killed in the attempt
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
The final of the TNG movies brings Picard’s relationship with Data to an end. After the Romulan Star Empire makes overtures toward peace with the Federation following the installment of a new leader, Shinzon, Picard and the Enterprise head to Romulus for negotiations. They discover that Shinzon is actually a clone of Picard the Romulans created in hopes of installing a spy in Starfleet, a plan they eventually abandoned. Shinzon eventually gained power as a wartime commander, and means to destroy the Federation with a weapon that uses a powerful kind of radiation.
The movie is mostly about Picard worrying about what kind of man he could have become under different circumstances, but the part that matters is that Picard heads over to Shinzon’s ship to destroy it–with the belief that he’s going to die in the process. At the last moment, Data arrives with an emergency transporter, a little gizmo that can automatically beam a single person back to the Enterprise with the press of a button. Data slaps the emergency transporter on Picard and then destroys Shinzon’s ship himself, dying in the process.
Nemesis also introduces B-4, a prototypical brother of Data that Shinzon discovered. Though Data attempted to download his own memories into the prototype, B-4’s appearance in Star Trek: Picard suggests the transfer didn’t take. So as of Star Trek: Picard’s first episode, Data is gone, and Picard is still feeling his loss even years later. Data still resonates with the people who were close with him, and with the scientific community in the Federation that studied him. He might be gone, but Data’s influence is a huge part of Star Trek: Picard, and it doesn’t seem like it’ll be waning anytime soon after Episode 1.
Disclosure: ViacomCBS is GameSpot’s parent company.