There are episodes that are so poignant that their story is one that can be revisited and appreciated time and again. Episodes that challenge the viewer and their very perspective on life and the world around them. The Measure of A Man, originally airing on February 13,1989 is one such episode.
Stardate 42523.7: The Measure of A Man.
Data has his very self put on trial when the Federation orders him to be transferred to another facility for study and disassembly. This trail will determine once and for-all if Data has any rights under Federation law, and set the standard for all future artificial intelligence.
While docked at the newly built Star-base 173, Picard and Data are informed by Admiral Nakamura that Data will be removed from the Enterprise to undergo disassembly and inspection as part of a Federation project under the command of Commander Bruce Maddox. With Maddox having been the only person on the Starfleet admission board to not want Data to enter Starfleet, Data is rightfully concerned.
Picard goes to visit the JAG officer Captain Phillipa Louvois, an old friend and lover, to see if he can get assistance in the matter. She informs him that Data will be transferred unless he resigns his commission.
Data is soon visited by Maddox who informs him that, although Data resigned, Data has no choice in the matter as he considers Data to be Starfleet property and has no rights as such. Maddox considers Data to be no more than a walking and talking computer while Picard and his crew see Data as a person. Maddox insists and decides to take the matter to court. Denying Data his resignation, they must go to trial to determine the fate of Data and his search for humanity.
The rest of the episode is very much a court drama that is so well done, I can not duplicate the impact it has here. I will give you some highlights though.
Due to the JAG office being newly built and understaffed, Picard must act as Data’s defense attorney and Riker must begrudgingly act in support of Star-fleet’s interests.
After a devastating legal demonstration by Riker, Picard seeks Guinan’s council where she points out that the Federations interest in Data is only in the pursuit to create an entire generation of ‘disposable people’ or in essence, a race of slaves.
The case proceeds and, ultimately it is decided that Data is indeed a sentient life-form and, as such has the right to refuse Maddox and Star-fleet’s request for disassembly and refit.
In Captain Louvois’ own words:
- “It sits there looking at me, and I don’t know what it is. This case has dealt with metaphysics, with questions best left to saints and philosophers. I am neither competent, nor qualified, to answer those. I’ve got to make a ruling – to try to speak to the future. Is Data a machine? Yes. Is he the property of Starfleet? No. We’ve all been dancing around the basic issue: does Data have a soul? I don’t know that he has. I don’t know that I have! But I have got to give him the freedom to explore that question himself. It is the ruling of this court that Lieutenant Commander Data has the freedom to choose.”
Afterwards, Data denies Maddox the procedure, but encourages Maddox to continue his work in robotics. The crew throw a party for Data’s victory party in which Riker does not appear. Data seeks him out and tells him that he does not hold Riker’s role as prosecution against him. Riker and Data leave as friends.
Is this a ‘Good’ Episode:
I can’t think of any single episode of any other science fiction series that truly embodies the gravity of what makes someone or something human. This is one of those episodes that dives deep into the characters of Picard, Data and Riker in ways that no space battle or planetary exploration could. The weight of this episode alone almost makes this entire season a strong one on it’s own despite only being the sophomore run of this seven year journey. Sadly the rest of the season kinda drops the ball…
Many consider this episode to be a story about Data, but as I watched it for this review I realized just how much a Picard episode this was as well. This is probably Jean-Luc Picard’s most difficult mission so far in his career and the weight of it shows. Initially he jumps to defend Star-fleet’s position but after realizing his mistake, takes it upon himself to defend his crewman from a possible fate worse than death.
We get to see a great side of Riker as well. Burdened with the charge to act as a representative for Starfleet, Riker has difficulty fulfilling this duty, although if he does not, Data will have no chance. It is a great personal struggle and actor Jonathan Frakes pulls it off admirably.
I had an opportunity to see this episode in a movie Theater a few years back as an extended cut. In this cut we get even more of an opportunity for more character development including the revelation that Picard and Admiral Nakamura served aboard the USS Reliant together and also that Data presents his best friend Geordi with his Sherlock Holmes Pipe while discussing his resignation from Starfleet.
If you get a chance to pick up the Blu Ray edition of this season, the extended episode is on it and well worth the purchase for this episode alone.
Gleanings and Cool Bits:
Data claims to have a storage capacity of 800 quadrillion bits which is approx 100,000 terabytes of data capacity. Currently scientists believe that the human brain can store between 1 to 2,500 terabytes of data.
The opening scene features one of the many Poker Nights aboard the Enterprise. This one we see Chief Miles O’Brien among the senior staff, looks like O’Brien knows how to get a promotion!
We learn that Data has kept a hologram of Tasha Yar as a keepsake as she and he were intimate with one another. Something a simple machine would never do.
Pulaski’s constant reference to Data being only a machine comes to a head here, but does not come from Pulaski herself. Although not done on purpose, her constant stabs at Data as an ‘it’ become more of a foreshadowing for this episode and the payoff is tremendous. She is seen playing poker with the senior staff and even attending Data’s going away party, so I guess she has come to see Data as a person after-all.
This episode introduces Captain Phillipa Louvois and reveals that she was the attorney that handled Picard’s court martial hearing concerning the loss of the USS Stargazer. They apparently had a relationship sometime before or after that incident as well.
This episode marks the first mention of the Daystrom Institute. A location that will be mentioned many times more in the future.
Thanks for reading the Retro TV Review, I look forward to discussing the rest of the series with you, one episode at a time every Monday, Wednesday and Friday! Next Review: The Dauphin
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Late To The Game 6/16/2019 (Originally published 3/19/2018)
Special Thanks to Memory Alpha as they are one of the best sources for details on Star Trek information available. Although I have a pretty deep knowledge on the subject, they have proven invaluable as a regular resource.
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