[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Picard's season finale, titled "Et in Arcadia Ego: Part 2." Read at your own risk.]
Star Trek: Picard's emotionally charged Season 1 finale marked the end of an era, with one fan-favorite dying while another was reborn. The episode began with the Tal Shiar ready to wipe out all synthetic life on Soji's (Isa Briones) home planet, Coppelius. But with help from a dashing Riker (Jonathan Frakes), who swooped in for the last-minute save, Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his team were able to ward off the Romulan army. However, the bold standoff cost Picard, whose brain has been deteriorating, his life. But that wasn't the end for the former Starfleet captain.
Picard awakened in a simulation with Data (Brent Spiner), who'd been biding his time there in a sort of limbo since sacrificing his life in Star Trek: Nemesis. Unlike his friend, though, Picard wasn't meant to stay there for long, since his crew on the outside were working on a way to bring him back. In a moving final conversation, the longtime friends bid each other farewell, but not before Data asked to die. The droid who was always looking to be more human wanted to endure the most human experience of all. Picard, after waking up in a customized synthetic body identical to his old self, disconnected the machine that was keeping his friend alive. And with that, Data was gone for good.
In light of the touching farewell to one of Star Trek's most iconic characters, TV Guide spoke with Brent Spiner about Data's heartbreaking final scene with Picard and why the beloved android's second death was so fitting. The actor also opened up about why he'll never play Data again.
Data was always trying to be more human, so it's fitting that his final moments were, in some ways, the most human of all. How did you feel about his ending?
Brent Spiner: I thought it was pretty great. It was an unbelievably beautifully written scene — [showrunner] Michael Chabon at his finest. Both Patrick and I were both like, "This is fantastic," and we were both really moved by it. It was just wonderfully written, and I think the intent was to soften the blow of Nemesis and give Data a gentler exit than he had in that film.
Yeah, he literally blew up, which may have been jarring for some. His death is Picard was just so touching and peaceful.
Spiner: When he blew up in Nemesis, I never expected to get the backlash [the show got] from so many fans over that. I thought, "Well, that's a great, big emotional ending, and he's sacrificing himself for his friends" and that was just. But it didn't seem to sit that well with too many people.
I especially loved Data's final conversation with Picard. It closed the book on their friendship in such a beautiful way. It just felt really fulfilling.
Spiner: I think there's something really profound about what Michael [Chabon] wrote for Data to say about those things that are fleeting, that mortality is what makes us human, and those things that mean the most to us never last forever.
What do you remember from filming that scene?
Spiner: It was an entire day of shooting, from the minute Picard wakes up in this odd space to the last moments of Data, and that was all done in one day. It was a long, kind of emotional day. We had the wonderful Akiva Goldsman, who is a brilliant writer and director, directing. It's maybe strange to say it, but Patrick [Stewart] and I found it really enjoyable, at least I did, to be engaged again in a long dialogue scene between Picard and Data. It was really satisfying.
Did it feel like The Next Generation, which also had those long, very still scenes?
Spiner: It did. It felt very much like we were doing Next Generation. There was something very familiar about it and kind of natural that we should be sitting there having that conversation.
You've played Arik Soong, a descendant of the man who built Data, in Star Trek: Enterprise and now Alton Soong in Picard. What has it been like playing all of these different, albeit connected, roles?
Spiner: I just like being every member of this family. I would like to see uncles and cousins and aunts and mothers and grandmothers and grandfathers, and they all look like me.
Like Eddie Murphy in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps?
Spiner: Exactly. Well, my hero has always been Alec Guinness, and in Kind Hearts and Coronets he plays every member of the family. I feel sort of like that doing the Soongs, except I haven't really played a female Soong yet, but maybe one day.
Alton is still alive, so would you like to return for Season 2?
Spiner: Absolutely. I love working with all of the people on the show. The new cast is fantastic. Obviously, to still be working with Patrick is a dream. Now there's a character that could conceivably go on and continue, so of course I'd love to.
Was it weird playing Alton during Data's metaphorical funeral, portraying one character while killing off the other?
Spiner: It wasn't weird for me to be doing that because Data has already perished once before. But I think when the scene was originally written, Alton wasn't there, and I asked if he could be there because he was, after all, [Data's] brother and he wanted to be there for the ending.
The show revealed that Data has multiple children, including Soji. How do you think he would feel about his many offspring?
Spiner: I think, like every parent, he would love them all...There was a [Next Generation] episode, "The Offspring," where he built a child himself and it didn't quite work out, but it looked like he was going to be a really good father. So I assume it would be fun to watch him try to grapple with a bunch of young female children.
What was also fun about this season was just how potty-mouthed everyone was. How did you feel about the swearing?
Spiner: I didn't mind it. I know some people were maybe unhappy with it and said, "That's not Star Trek. You can't do that," and other people were like, "Oh, come on. This is the way people talk." I didn't have a problem with it. But if you remember in the movie Generations, I blurted out an expletive when I thought the Enterprise was crashing, and so I think it's canon, as they say. They tried to make a slightly more adult version of Star Trek, and I think that Gene Roddenberry would have been fine with it. Initially, when we started doing Next Generation, his idea was to do a more adult version of Star Trek. Somewhere in the first episode, the studio came along and said, "You guys gotta tone it down. We can't have that," and so we never did it again. But I think Gene would be perfectly happy with it.
Having played Data for as long as you have and having these amazing memories, what has it meant for you to revisit this beloved character and give him that beautiful ending?
Spiner: I mean, there was just a finite amount of time that I can actually play Data, no matter what anyone says. So many people were like, "Oh, you can do it. You're not too old," and then I do it and they go, "You're too old. Why'd you do it?" I think we did it in such brief sequences that it was fine to do it, and I felt good about it. But I wouldn't really entertain the idea of doing it again because I just don't think it would be realistic. So it seemed right to me to give him this more gentle sendoff, and it seemed right to me in the context of the entire season of Picard and what Picard himself had been experiencing because of the loss of Data. I think it allows him to feel okay about it too. So it seemed like the right thing to do.
What message, if any, do you have for the Trekkies out there who love this character and have supported you over the years?
Spiner: I'm very appreciative. I'm constantly astounded at how personal it is to them and that the loss of Data was so personal. I didn't realize it would be like that. I appreciate that, and I appreciate them continuing on the Star Trek ride that's being offered to them now.
Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard is now streaming on CBS All Access.