Star Trek: Picard Season 3: Brent Spiner on How Data Never Really Died and the Soong Series He Wants To See

Star Trek: Picard Season 3 brings back the entire main Star Trek: The Next Generation cast, including Brent Spiner. Fans may have assumed that Spiner would be playing a new character, perhaps a member of the Soong family, as he did in Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and Season 2 (not to mention episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Enterprise). Instead, the Star Trek: Picard Season 3 trailer suggested that Spiner would return as Lore, the evil brother of his beloved Star Trek: The Next Generation android, Data, who physically "died" in Star Trek: Nemesis, and moved on in a more metaphysical sense in Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

I put "died" in quotation marks because Brent Spiner tells us he doesn't think Data ever really died, at least not in the human sense. The most recent episodes of Star Trek: Picard Season 3 back up this notion, revealing the reality of Spiner's return to be more complicated than that Star Trek: Picard Season 3 trailer let on. spoke to Spiner about Data's resurrection and Star Trek as "the great American epic" that will never end.

(Photo: James Dimmock)

You were in Star Trek: Picard Season 1, which was your second goodbye to Data. You said you were done playing this character. When they came back to you and offered you the opportunity to return as Data but in a different way, what was the initial gut reaction? Was there excitement in that, hey, they found a way to do it that makes sense and is a bit less makeup intensive? Was there even a sense of, oh no, they found a loophole and now it looks like I'm going back on what I said?

Brent Spiner: No, when I said that's it, the end of Data, I really thought that would be. I couldn't imagine that there'd be a way for him to come back. And then Terry Matalas, who wrote this season and show ran this season and indeed directed the last two episodes of this season, had an idea, and we talked about it and we tweaked it a bit, and I thought, "Well, yeah, okay, I'll give it a shot. I don't know if it's going to work, but let's try." And so there we are.

Can you talk at all about what that conversation with Terry was like? I know from talking to him and the other Star Trek stars, they had a lot to say about how he made this pitch and took feedback, and found something that was exciting for everybody. I know you don't want to spoil anything, obviously, but can you talk at all about what excited you, what you may have had reservations about, or what those tweaks might have entailed?

Well, actually, we went all over the place with it for a while, but he had this basic idea which was what you see, which is that Data is, at least when we first see him, he's a conglomeration that Dr. Altan Soong has put together into a golem and that he's been created to be the same age as the rest of the cast, or the rest of the crew members, and we'll go from there and see how that pans out. And I thought, "Well, that's kind of an interesting way to go with it." But my trepidation was, is anybody going to buy it or are they going to be like, "Oh gosh, couldn't you just leave well enough alone?"

But that's always a risk, and at the end of the day, fact is, I just didn't want to be at home thinking all my friends are having a really good time right now, and I didn't go to the party. I've grown past the "I just want to punish myself and stay home" part of my life, and I thought, "No, I want to enjoy this with everybody else." And so we did.

And in terms of adjustings and tweakings and things like that, that happened all through at least my part of the shooting season, and even prior to that, when I had scripts, being able to -- well first of all, the writers, Terry and the writers, all made themselves very available to me whenever I had a thought or an idea or change or wanted a dialogue adjustment, and it wasn't that they just went, "Okay, whatever you want." That didn't happen. We struggled. It was a creative process and we fought over -- not really angrily fought, that's just a euphemism for we addressed all the problems that each of us thought we had and came up with what we came up with.

And I mean, I must have gone back to them a hundred times and said, "You know what? I know I said, 'okay,' but I'm still having a problem with this moment." And they were right there, and they never said, "Oh, come on, stop." They were like, "Okay, all right, so what now?" And then we would have a meeting of the minds.

It feels like you feel a great amount of ownership and custodial responsibility for this character. Talking to the other cast members, it feels like their relationship with their character differs from person to person. For you, having that strong sense of ownership, how do you feel that this season changes what Data's story is now that he has died and come back again? Do you feel like it fundamentally changes what his overall arc was, given how you ended it in season one with him saying something along the lines of, "Dying is the most human thing I can do"?

Well, it's difficult to describe where this character is concerned as opposed to a regular human being. I mean, Data, first of all, Data didn't die. I mean, Data's not flesh and blood, so he didn't have a human death. His death was metaphorical and it was about hard drives and computers and things like that. And I've said this to other people, but if your computer crashes or blows up even, and it's still possible for some genius out there to retrieve the hard drive and memories that are on it, that computer still lives. That's the heart of the computer. That's the essence, the heart or the brain of the computer and the rest is just a shell. And so the journey continues because they were able to access memories and we are nothing more than our memories and our experiences, and that's what they were able to access. So it makes perfect sense for me, for Data, of all characters to keep going on as long as they could make copies of that hard drive.

You're the only other member of the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast, besides Patrick Stewart, who's been involved with all three seasons of this show. You've gone through three different characters, and three different showrunners, and this one brings back everybody else from Next Generation. How did the vibe on set feel compared to the previous two seasons? Did it feel significantly different?

Yeah, it did, just because we're like a family. It's like going home again. It's like, I know all these people so well. We've been friends for 36 years and the characters are an extended part of that family. So all being in a room together, it was very familiar. And it was odd, but only because we were wearing costumes because we've all been in the same room together many, many times since Nemesis. It felt great.

I mean, that's not to say I didn't enjoy seasons one and two. I did. I mean, season one, I only worked with Patrick and it was great. Season two, I got to work with some of the other cast members. And by the way, I think they were a terrific cast, and there's some A+ actors who were in those seasons. I mean, I'm thrilled to have been able to work with some of those people and wish I'd been in scenes with all of them cause they were really, really great. But it was a very intriguing and inviting proposition to be on a stage with my family and my extended family, the characters.

Given the theme of the season is so much about legacy -- and I asked Michael Dorn a similar question about Worf's son -- was there any discussion or idea to deal with Data having a daughter now? Or even Lal from The Next Generation?

That was never raised. That issue was never raised, although I do think Dr. Soong says he puts a little bit of Lal in this creation, so she is referenced at the very least. But I mean, those connections go all the way through this episode in ways that are both right on the page and subliminal. I mean, we've got Jack, who is the son of Picard and Crusher, and we've got Riker talking about his children. We've got Geordi's two girls, and even to the point of we've got Amanda Plummer who has a relationship to Trek through her father in one of The Original Series features. So yeah, family is at the essence of all of this.

In Star Trek: Picard Season 1, we get this great goodbye between Picard and Data that gives Picard closure. For some fans, even if they liked that scene and plot, while Picard was Data's mentor, Geordi was his best friend and they felt Geordi's absence was an oversight, or at least that his presence could have enhanced that story. Was that something that you felt at all?

Well, I was just glad to be there doing that brilliant scene that Michael Chabon wrote. It didn't really occur to me that, well, shouldn't Geordi be here? And it would've been great if he was, it would've made sense if he was, but I don't know. Listen, I didn't write it, so I don't know what they were thinking at the time, but I do know that I thought the scene was beautifully structured and really easy to play and really was very happy to do it.

You've given Data an ending multiple times now. Filming this season, in the moment, did it feel like a conclusion to you, or like the start of something new?

I don't know. I don't think it's over 'till it's over. This is the great American epic, Star Trek, and I think Star Trek, essentially, is going to go on forever. We as a cast will go on. This could be the end. It could be the beginning of something new. Who knows? It's not for us to decide, unfortunately. It is when the powers that be say, "Hey, would you like to do another show?" Then it's for us to decide.

I'm still waiting for them to do the Soong miniseries and we find out why, in fact, this guy has a Chinese last name. And I do think there's something to be said for that because I think in season two there's a scene where Adam Soong and Picard meet at a gala and Picard says, "Oh, you're the first." And in fact, he isn't the first. He can't be the first. Somebody came before him. He didn't just appear out of blue. Or did he? I don't know. But I think the search for who he is, who the Soongs are, where they came from, what they're all about would be an interesting, even if I don't play it, which I think some people would be thrilled at that idea.

Are you making a run at Michael Dorn's record as the most recurring actor in Star Trek? You think you can take it from him?

Well, I don't know. I think we're sort of equal now, aren't we?

It's been a while since I looked, but last I check he had it. I haven't actually tallied up now with your first couple seasons of Picard.

Well, so he was on Deep Space Nine and he was in one of the movies of the original cast. I need to do a couple things without him in them. I'll see if I can arrange that.

Speaking of Dorn, you've done acting of all sorts and you've written books. It was recently announced that Dorn is writing a comic book for DC. Are there other mediums you'd still like a shot at, comics or otherwise?

Well, I don't know. Is there anything I haven't done? I mean, just genre wise, I'm not sure. I mean, in the words of the great Herman Mankiewicz, "I have a few irons in the freezer," but we'll see, we'll see. 

I'd like to do another play. I'd like to be on the stage again. And I say that now until I get there and I go, "Oh my God, I forgot how hard this is." But in my mind, I see myself doing at least one more show on stage.

How to watch Star Trek: Picard

Star Trek: Picard Season 3 premieres new episodes on Thursdays on Paramount+Star Trek: Picard's first two seasons are already streaming on Paramount+.

Star Trek: Picard streams exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S. and on Amazon Prime Video in over 200 countries and territories. In Canada, it airs on Bell Media's CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave.