The memory of Mr. Data, the android, haunts Jean-Luc Picard. In the first trailer for the new series, Star Trek: Picard, the titular Starfleet hero reminiscences about Data's sacrifice that saved Picard's life. And, in subsequent trailers, we see Picard having an ominous dream about Data, meaning the death of his synthetic friend will be a big deal in the new series, as actor Brett Spiner insisted.
There's good reason why Picard is so haunted. During the heydey of Star Trek: The Next Generation, you could argue that Picard and Data's dynamic surpassed the famous duo of Kirk and Spock. And as The Next Generation feature films proved, you can't really make a big TNG story without Picard and Data both featuring prominently. What were the best Picard and Data moments? Unlike Kirk and Spock, Picard and Data's bromance was more subtle — you have to look harder for the stories that really count.
Here are seven stories, and a few honorable mentions, from The Next Generation and the films that define what Picard and Data's friendship was all about.
Season 1, Episode 11, "The Big Goodbye"
It may not be the most serious episode of Star Trek on the list, and if you're not crazy about the Trek subgenre of stories in which the holodeck goes crazy, this one might not be for you.
But if you want to really know how Picard and Data have fun, the episode in which the Captain, the Android, and Dr. Crusher explore a 1940s hard-boiled detective story is essential. Yes, Raymond Chandler's ghost probably wasn't crazy about this one, but it's a fantastic romp and Picard and Data get to have loosened up outside of those super-tight Season 1 Starfleet uniforms.
Season 2, Episode 9, "The Measure of a Man"
Though Picard and Data certainly pal around a lot in Season 1 of The Next Generation, it's arguably not until the super-famous Season 2 episode, "The Measure of a Man," where we really see just how far Picard will go to help his android colleague. Written by former lawyer Melinda Snodgrass, "The Measure of a Man" plays out as a bare-bones courtroom drama. Will the judge rule in favor of Data's sentience?
With the help of Picard's rousing speeches, this episode became an instant classic.
Season 3, Episode 16, "The Offspring"
If you're fond of posting the Picard GIF where he puts both his hands over his eyes because he just can't even anymore, it might surprise you to learn that he's talking to Data about creating a robot baby.
Yep, this Picard double facepalm (not to be confused with the Riker/Picard double facepalm from "A Matter of Perspective") comes from "The Offspring," and not only is it one of the most heartbreaking episodes of The Next Generation ever, it's also one in which Picard supports Data in an endeavor never before attempted by an android: parenthood.
(P.S. the classic, single Picard facepalm is from Season 3, Episode 13, "Deja Q." It's not a Data/Picard episode, but it is excellent.)
Season 4, Episode 14, "Clues"
This super-underrated episode finds Data under extreme suspicion for possibly trying to take over the Starship Enterprise and maybe erasing everyone's memories in the process. But because Data's programming and loyalty to Jean-Luc Picard and the rest of the crew is so hardcore, the twist of this episode isn't about Data going rogue.
Instead, it's all about deep trust and understanding. Picard puts his life in Data's hands a lot in the TNG films, but in this subtle episode, the decision to trust Data has slightly larger consequences.
Season 5, Episode 1, "Redemption Part 2"
Okay. So, is this a Picard and Data episode? Maybe, maybe not.
There's a lot going on in this episode: The Klingon Civil War, Picard dealing with the news that an alternate, time-traveling Tasha Yar had a baby with a Romulan, and, of course, Worf briefly no longer being a part of Starfleet.
But there's a standout moment in this episode in which Picard almost doesn't give Data the command of one of the ships in his thrown-together space fleet. Data stands-up to Picard for treating him differently than Picard would a human. It's a fantastic moment and really helps chart the moments when Jean-Luc starts to change his mind about artificial life.
Season 5/6, Episode 26 and Episode 1, "Time's Arrow Parts 1 and 2"
When Data's severed head is found buried underground, it appears that Data's eventual "death" will occur in his own future, but paradoxically, in Earth's past. This episode begins with Picard acting like an over-protective father to Data, trying to shield him from a time travel event that he can't possibly predict. Though Picard is usually cool and rational, it's nice when he gives in to his irrational love for his robot bestie.
(Note: This two-parter is also an underrated epic that manages to showcase the entire TNG ensemble in an adventure where nearly everyone gets off the ship.)
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
When Picard realizes he can't leave the Enterprise-E before it is destroyed, he tells his 21st-century companion, Lily (Alfre Woodard) that there's someone he has to help. "Go find your friend!" Lily says warmly, unaware that Picard's friend is Data.
Although each of the four TNG films manages to give Picard and Data great scenes together, First Contact is the one you must watch to understand what a great team Picard and Data really are. If you haven't actually seen the movie, let's just say the last ten minutes are shocking.
There are actually many, many more episodes of TNG and feature films that are worth rewatching to really dig into the dynamic between Picard and Data. However, it would be kind of weird to just drop a list that says: Watch everything. But, as mentioned previously, outside of First Contact, all four of the TNG movies deal directly with Picard and Data's relationship.
So, if you're doing a full rewatch, feel free to include Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: Insurrection, and Star Trek: Nemesis. And, for extra credit, you can add-in the episodes "Data's Day," "Datalore," and "The Best of Both Worlds, Part 2." (Assuming you haven't watched those already!)