In a season of episodes rated as twos and threes, this one stands above the rest. 'The Measure of a Man' is not only the best episode of this season, it's one of the best of the entire series. Perhaps even one of the best in the whole of Star Trek.
Much like Phillipa Louvois felt in delivering that final verdict, I feel a bit inadequate to write this review. This episode deals with some pretty heavy material: philosophy, civil rights, the human condition. Like all the great episodes of Star Trek, and science fiction in general, we aren't given easy solutions. Is Data alive? Does he have a soul? Personally, I feel that he does, because to me he is far more than just a machine.
But in the larger scope of things, should an artificial intelligence have rights? I think Guinan's argument is the only truly important factor to consider. As a moral society, especially the one described in the utopian future of Star Trek, it would be reckless and outright monstrous to condemn another intelligent species to servitude and slavery. It is clear to me that even if Data isn't alive, he has enough of a consciousness to be given basic rights.
But I have to consider the other side of the argument. Data does not feel fear, and it is safe to assume that as long as his positronic brain is unharmed during the procedure, he could possibly reclaim most if not all of his personality after his memories were re-implanted. To use a familiar phrase, do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one? I'm honestly not sure. An entire race of Datas seems like a laudable goal, but is it worth the risk? Losing Data would be a devastating blow to the crew, and to Picard in particular. Which begs the question, is Picard serving his own interests by defending Data? Or is the experiment simply an unreasonable and unfair thing to ask anyone to submit to? Data had a strong point when he brought up the idea that Geordi's eyes are superior to human eyes in practically every way, and having every officer with those implants would be a boon to Starfleet. Yet the idea of forcing anyone to undergo that kind of invasive and permanent medical procedure is both appalling and disgusting. It's no wonder Picard jumped into action.
All of these questions are a response to an episode that delivers in every possible way. The story structure is tight, and there isn't a single irrelevant scene. The characters all work, and the dialogue is marvelous. Yet the real strength of this episode is the acting. Everyone stood out in this episode, even the smaller roles.
Amanda McBroom (Phillipa Louvois) immediately made an impression. There was the mostly implied history of her role in Picard's Stargazer court marshal, the subtle romantic vibes she shared with Picard, her almost humble realization that the case was too big and too far reaching for her and that she had to side with the future instead of being narrow-minded. At the same time she managed to convey the conflict and the complexity of that decision in such a way that it could be interpreted on multiple levels.
Bruce Maddox (Brian Brophy) seemed like more of a straight forward villain, a scientist so blinded by his profession that he could never consider the possibility that Data could be sentient. Yet it came across clear as day that Data's testimony surprised Maddox, especially the idea that Data had been intimate with someone. So when Picard cross-examined him, forcing him to ask the question about Data's sentience, he realized he was wrong. That's not a small character arc, especially given the brief time the character was on screen.
Then we have the wonderful performances by our main characters. I really liked the way Jonathan Frakes played Riker in this one. He was both zealous and horrified to be the prosecutor charged with taking away Data's rights. He did his job, and he did it well, but it was clear he was devastated by his own actions. The scene where he discovered that Data had an off switch is a particular favorite of mine. Riker expressed pleasure at finding the key to his argument, followed by the realization that he was likely condemning his friend. It was kind of perfect.
In the end, though, it came down to Patrick Stewart and his incredible acting range. I won't discuss the entire episode -- this is without a doubt a Picard episode. I want to focus on his absolutely riveting performance during the trial. He ran a gamut of emotions as he spoke, evoking specific reactions and then capitalizing on them. He forced everyone, including the audience, to see his point and come to the conclusion that his was the only opinion worth listening to. In short, it was a performance that cemented for me that Picard is my Captain.
Location: Starbase 173, Sector 23 (near the Romulan Neutral Zone)
This episode was written by Melinda Snodgrass, and it was the first unsolicited script the show ever produced. It was also one of her first attempts at a screenplay, based on her time as a lawyer. She eventually went on to be a Next Generation story editor and an executive script consultant for the series in seasons 2 and 3.
This episode marks the first appearance of the poker game. This time we got Dr. Pulaski, Chief O'Brien, Riker, Geordi, and Data playing his first game ever. ("Is that what is called a poker face?")
Bruce Maddox worked for the Daystrom Institute, which was an homage to the character Richard Daystrom from the original series episode 'The Ultimate Computer'.
The model for Starbase 173 is the same model used for Space Station Regula 1 in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
My only real criticism of this episode is the obvious question of why didn't the status of Data's rights come up when he was entering Starfleet?
Picard: "It's been ten years, but seeing you again like this makes it seem like fifty. If we weren't around all these people, do you know what I would like to do?"
Phillipa: "Bust a chair across my teeth."
Picard: "After that."
Phillipa: "Oh, ain't love wonderful."
Phillipa: "It brings a sense of order and stability to my universe to know that you're still a pompous ass... and a damn sexy man."
Data: "I am the culmination of one man's dream. This is not ego or vanity, but when Doctor Soong created me, he added to the substance of the universe. If, by your experiments, I am destroyed, something unique, something wonderful, will be lost. I cannot permit that. I must protect his dream."
Picard: "You're talking about slavery."
Guinan: "I think that's a little harsh."
Picard: "I don't think that's a little harsh, I think that's the truth. But that's a truth that we have obscured behind a... comfortable, easy euphemism. 'Property'. But that's not the issue at all, is it?"
Riker: "Pinocchio is broken. Its strings have been cut."
Picard: "Your honor, the courtroom is a crucible. In it, we burn away irrelevancies until we are left with a pure product: the truth, for all time. Now sooner or later, this man, or others like him, will succeed in replicating Commander Data. The decision you reach here today will determine how we will regard this creation of our genius. It will reveal the kind of people we are, what he is destined to be. It will reach far beyond this courtroom and this one android. It could significantly redefine the boundaries of personal liberty and freedom: expanding them for some, savagely curtailing them for others. Are you prepared to condemn him and all who will come after him to servitude and slavery?"
Data: "That act injured you and saved me. I will not forget it."
Riker: "You're a wise man, my friend."
Data: "Not yet, sir. But with your help, I am learning."
I don't think I can heap much more praise on this episode.
4 out of 4 Automatons broken with their strings cut
J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related. He reviews Arrow and Farscape and cool new movies that strike his fancy.