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Why Data Should've Been Promoted On The Next Generation

Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner): decent painter, passable dancer, terrible comedian, and the only android serving in Starfleet during Star Trek: The Next Generation and its movies. He was created by Dr. Noonien Soong, discovered in the rubble of a colony on Omicron Theta in 2338, and joined Starfleet Academy a few years later in 2341. In 2379, after being a Lieutenant Commander for nearly two decades, Data finally rises to the rank of first officer in Star Trek: Nemesis.

He dies immediately.

Dying is a bummer, but dying after having spent 19 years at the same rank despite being one of the most qualified officers in the history of Starfleet is infuriating insult added to mortal injury. In fact, since Data doesn't use his emotion chip much despite craving the ability to feel things like humans do, we assume the reason he mostly goes emotion-free is because he's pissed off about the promotion thing!

Data should've been a captain ages ago. Instead he's toast. So let's talk about why Data never made it to captain, and why he absolutely should have. Please note: Nobody cares that the reason is "because it's a TV show." We're temporarily excising the fact that Data is a fictional character from our brains for the moment in order to express a little righteous indignation on his behalf. Also, it's fun.

Riker kept Data from breaking that glass ceiling at Starfleet

Other than bigotry (which we'll come back to later) the biggest reason Data couldn't climb the ladder on the Enterprise-D is because Commander William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is a real ball hog. From stardates 2364 to 2379, Riker served as First Officer to Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). Would you like to know how many times this man was offered command of his own vessel before he finally took it? Three! Will Riker turned down being captain of the USS Drake, the USS Aries, and the USS Melbourne. And you can bet that on every single one of those occasions, had Riker just taken the job Data would've at least been considered for First Officer in his stead. That's exactly what happened when Riker took the USS Titan!

Look, we all understand how rare it is to find a job you enjoy with co-workers you actually like. And I think we all can appreciate why Riker didn't want the Drake. I mean — a light cruiser? For real? Riker has stepped over chairs bigger than the Drake. But the Aries was Renaissance-Class! Why so proud, Will Riker? Are you worried you'll wind up with a crew full of Barclays? Did you hear the Aries had a funky smell? Look, man, this isn't just about you. Other people deserve a turn to be First Officer on the flagship, too. So take the commission for your musty ship full of holodeck addicts and go!

In short: Will Riker was a major hurdle along Data's pathway to command, and while Data is super-powered, he probably couldn't just leap over Will Riker — the dude is six-three!

Data has been acting captain multiple times

You know how we can say without a hint of hesitation that Data should be a captain? Because Data has been an acting captain on multiple occasions. In the episode "Night Terrors," when Picard and the the rest of the crew are losing their sanity because they can't achieve REM sleep, guess who takes over and guides the Enterprise to safety? That's right: Data does.

When Picard and Riker both somehow managed to get themselves captured by Arctus Baran (Richard Lynch) in "Gambit," who is it who keeps the Enterprise safe, while not getting captured by Arctus Baran? That's right: Still Data.

And can we talk about "Redemption: Part II" for a moment? As the Klingon Empire was about to fall prey to the manipulation of the Romulans, and Starfleet suddenly had to have as many ships ready for battle as possible, do you know who almost didn't get command of the USS Sutherland? Data. And the reason why Data did temporarily captain the Sutherland is because he rightly pointed out that Picard had only passed him over for the gig because he's an android! For all Picard's high-minded morality, he assumed Data couldn't be a captain because of robot racism. There, we said it. 

Data's gut instinct saved the Klingon Empire

Starfleet Command is hardly perfect. Being a captain is more than thinking fast on your feet, it's also about knowing when the orders you've been given need to be countermanded. When you're in the captain's chair, every life aboard your vessel is in your hands, and you have to be able to weigh every scenario in an instant to make the right choice — even when it might go against orders. It's all about gut instinct, but do androids even have guts?

Picard's reason for not trusting Data with the Sutherland is rooted in his concern that Data, as an android, doesn't have a gut to trust. Data may be cool and collected by his emotionless nature, but can he switch tactics at a moment's notice without that very human ability to sniff when something isn't right?

In the immortal words of Q (John de Lancie): "I'll answer that question if you promise you won't tell anyone — yes!"

In "Redemption: Part II," Data disobeys orders when the Sutherland is told to rendezvous with the rest of the fleet at Gamma Eridon. Instead, Data takes a calculated risk when he realizes that cloaked Romulan vessels might be tagged with a residual tachyon signature, thus rendering them trackable. Despite the protests of Lieutenant Commander Hobson (Timothy Carhart), Data brings weapons back online, floods part of the ship with radiation, and discovers the hidden Romulan vessels.

By disobeying orders and putting the Sutherland in some danger, Data ferrets out a Romulan plot, thus ending their control over the Klingon Empire before it could even begin — all without the loss of a single life.

Honestly, how does Data not have the 24th century equivalent of a BTS army?

Data should be a lot more than captain

In the end there are a lot of reasons why Data should have been promoted long before he sacrificed himself to save Picard's life in Star Trek: Nemesis. Data convinced a stubborn group of settlers to move in "The Ensigns of Command," he defied the Prime Directive to save the life of a small, alien child in "Pen Pals," and he communicated with Captain Picard when he was assimilated by the Borg so the Enterprise could exploit a Borg subroutine which literally saved the entire Alpha Quadrant in "The Best of Both Worlds Part II."

You could argue that Data values logic over gut instinct, but you could say that about Spock, too, and he was a captain by Star Trek: Wrath of Khan. You could argue that Data's willingness to put lives in danger during "Redemption Part II" shows he's too comfortable with loss of life; if that's the standard, you should probably throw Captain Sisko from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the brig, considering he lied and killed in order to drag the Romulans into an ill-advised war in "In the Pale Moonlight." Katherine Janeway got the whole crew of Voyager trapped in the Delta Quadrant, broke every Starfleet rule to get back, and literally had Starfleet time agents trying to kill her because her rule breaking is perpetually bringing all of creation to the brink of destruction. Yet somehow, by Star Trek: Nemesis, she's been made an admiral? In the immortal words of Khan Noonien Singh: "Admiral? Admiral? Admiral..."

If all those people got promotions, Data deserves at least the rank of captain. In fact, skip that — Data for President of the Federation.