the story: Data attempts to have a romantic relationship.
similar to: "Family," "Data's Day"
my thoughts: I've had something of a conflicted relationship with this episode over the years. On the one hand, it's a valuable experience of what it's like to interact with Data on an intimate basis, and on the other, it really doesn't give him enough credit.
"In Theory" joins a suite of episodes from the fourth season that take a slice-of-life approach to the series, including "Family" at the start of it and "Data's Day" near the middle. "Theory" is the most simple of them, and therefore the easiest to take for granted. Yet it may be the most valuable. It's one thing to accept Data as a member of the crew, and another to accept that the crew accepts him. Often enough, we're remembered that other people haven't always been as accepting, but "Theory" presents what it's like to actually accept him, warts and all, including all the idiosyncrasies that are so easy to take for granted.
Fans hate it when they're introduced to characters who are relevant for one episode, but are otherwise represented as relevant on a continued basis to the ones we otherwise have followed all along. As with the rest of the season, "Theory" is interested in someone for their unique perspective, and so use them as a catapult to help the story along. The woman who falls in love with Data, however, is kind f beside the point. Unlike O'Brien in "The Wounded" or Barclay in "The Nth Degree," it wouldn't have benefited anyway (say, Nurse Ogawa) to have been used, from the available pool, and so let's just move on to Data himself.
The most telling scene is when Data explains everything he was processing at a given moment, and it's the rare moment where we're allowed to view him as the complex mechanism he really is. His girlfriend is pretty annoyed that she's just a part of his thought process, but it's exactly what Data should be doing. It's painful when he programs himself for love (Voyager's Doctor had better examples of such attempts, such as "Real Life" or "Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy"), but again, that just goes to show he inexperienced he really is, despite his many years of service with humans.
"Theory" is hardly to the caliber or significance of "Measure of a Man," but it's still a valuable insight into Data and his greater role in the society of the crew. And besides, just as Wesley discovered before him, it's dangerous but incredibly amusing to ask crewmates about love!
criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential
Colm Meaney (O'Brien)
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Whoopi Goldberg (Guinan)