Friday, February 18, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 2: The Measure of a Man

The Next Generation, Season 2
"The Measure of a Man"
Airdate: February 13, 1989
34 of 176 produced
34 of 176 aired


Arriving at newly-built Starbase 173, Admiral Nakamura drops a bombshell on Picard and crew - Data is to be reassigned to the command of cyberneticist Bruce Maddox, in order to be disassembled and replicated. This sets of a series of events involving Data's resignation, Starfleet's refusal, and the matter being settled via jurisprudence. Is Data the property of Starfleet, or does he have a soul, a life, and the right to self-determination?

Can I get a hand, here?


Kevin: This episode works on two levels. First, there is a pretty solid science fiction set up. You don't get much more science-fiction-y than an exploration of the nature of life and sentience in the context of artificial life. I didn't read Asimov's Robot or Foundation series until I was much older, but looking back, it's hard not to see the influence.What I like most about this episode is that it engages the bigger questions surrounding Data's sentience, even if it doesn't fully answer them. It's the discussion we were waiting for and never got in "Elementary, Dear Data." I like Phillipa's ultimate position that she is not sure what Data is, but because of that uncertainty, she has to err on the side of caution.

Matthew: Agreed on sci-fi credibility. This is definitely a think piece. If there is a flaw, writing-wise, I think it's a bit too talky. It might have been nice to have some of the drama crystallized in the form of some more scenes like Data's going away party. Perhaps the story could have been troubled a bit more with some counter-examples that demonstrate how radically different Data is from humanoids (such as scenes like in Elementary Dear Data, where Data doesn't "get" the point of play, or later, when Data had a girlfriend). Then, the arguments Picard offers to the contrary would have more impact.

Kevin: The other level that this episode works on is one of character and relationship development. Scenes between Data and Geordi, Data and Picard, Picard and Guinan, and Picard and Louvois are what really make the episode for me. We get some lovely continuity by referencing a heretofore unknown court martial for what happened to the Stargazer, and we get another of the Captain's lost loves, but this one works on sheer strength of chemistry. Data's scenes with the crew all work emotionally, and they serve to emphasize what the audience already knows, that Data is a lifeform and a friend. The scene with Tasha's hologram was handled perfectly by everyone, and was quite touching. These scenes help the audience share Picard's outrage at the casual treatment of "his android." I also particularly liked the scene between Picard and Guinan. I can't believe it's accident that an African-American actress led the British actor to say the word "slavery" to her feigned shock. Carried by the skill of the actors, Picard saying the word first kept the scene from becoming heavy handed while still using real world history to make the audience feel truly uncomfortable at what Maddox is proposing.

Matthew: Character stories are by far the strength of this episode. It's nice to imagine Picard getting some, especially with a MILF like Louvois. Riker's guilt is palpable and well written. The Geordi/Data friendship gets some great development. Data's fling with Tasha is referenced, which is nice. All in all, it's episodes like these that really cement TNG in the viewer's mind as a show with great characters that are easy to identify with and care about.

Kevin: My only complaint is that the episode gets a touch contrived in places. For a decision of this magnitude, we can't wait for a real lawyer to hop a shuttle? Or appeal to a higher court of...wait for it...appeals? Why would Louvois, or Maddox for that matter, accept a man who stated his incapacity to represent someone because of his relationship with the opposing party? In modern law, it's a "conflict of interest" and it would prohibit Riker from working for the other side. Louvois' relationship would also be a little problematic for an adversarial legal system. If Maddox weren't so magnanimous at the end, he may have a pretty solid case that his lawyer and the judge were both biased for the other side. I know I got on this soapbox in Court Martial, and yes, this is not supposed to be an accurate representation of modern law, but things like this make me question the competence of Federation law as a credible part of a credible universe. Also, and this is the only part of the episode that truly bothers me, is if Data is property, how is he Starfleet's? He was built by Dr. Soong, and if he were dead as he was presumed to be, his property would descend to his heirs. Even if we are relying on the case of Finders Keepers vs. Losers Weepers, then how was Data allowed to join Starfleet in the first place? Wouldn't this determination of his free will and non-property status have to have been determined already? It feels a little like they set up a straw argument to provide Picard the opportunity to give a speech. Don't get me wrong, it's a damned good speech, so in the end, I can deal with it.

Matthew: Although I agree with these issues in principle, in continuity we have to accept that the Federation's legal system is a different beast altogether. Remember, after WWIII, there was some sort of New World Order in which new constitutions were drafted, and, according to Q, Shakespeare's advice on killing all the  lawyers was followed. So I don't find it outrageous that there might be different rules on jurisdiction, appeals, and necessary speed for litigation. Maybe there's a Federation rule that these things have a week, or they're not decided at all. This actually seems rather consistent with all the courtroom dramas we're presented with (The Menagerie, Court Martial, this episode, The Drumhead, Author Author - a sample that runs the gamut from military to civil trials). And as Picard says, "there must be regulations to cover these situations." So it sounds like speedy trials with whoever is available is a part of common Federation and Starfleet procedures.

Kevin: One question I have lingering from Guinan and Picard's scene. Assuming Data were held to be property, what would Data have done? Implicit in the slavery analogy is the potential for revolt. Would Data have been forced to go all Cylon on his ass? I'm totally going to have to ask Ron Moore that at the next convention.


Kevin: It's episodes like these that make me irritated that Star Trek doesn't get acting Emmys just because it's science fiction. Main and guest cast did an awesome job here. Brent Spiner in particular pitched perfectly his feeling of being swept up in something his couldn't control. A few more scenes with Geordi may have been nice, but the episode was juggling a lot, so it's understandable. Riker's reluctance was well done, as was his guilt. Despite the contrivance of the set up, Frakes and Riker both clearly gave it their all.

Matthew: LeVar Burton definitely maximized his screen time. He seemed genuinely sad, and his performance more than any other underscored that Data is viewed as a living being by his peers. I thought Patrick Stewart did a fine job, too, with a sort of detachment at first (why would anyone question this?) which turned into a righteous indignance at the end. This is one of his first "big speech" episodes, and he did a fine job.

Kevin: Captain Louvois was awesome and I am sad she never came back. She was fun in her own right and had awesome chemistry with Picard. Maddox was almost too good at being a jerk. Especially when he barged into Data's quarters, I really wanted to punch him. He played his change of heart at the end well, as if he were really convinced to at least reexamine his position.

Production Values

Kevin: The Starbase was a reuse of Regula 1, and it's always nice to see a movie model. The shot of the Enterprise through the lounge window was nifty. I also liked the diagram of Data that Riker accessed, a neat Okudagram. The Starbase set itself felt a little undercooked, but at least they tried to explain it as being new and understaffed. Beyond that, there's not a lot in production here. This show was, for obvious reasons, more about the acting. I thought the courtroom itself looked good.

Matthew: Yeah, this was kind of a snoozer for me in terms of production values. I didn't find anything particularly exciting. I think the best bit was the Tasha hologram. I wonder if: 1. She filmed something new for it; 2. Did she get some sort of extra royalty payment for her likeness appearing? Anyway, it was neat.


Kevin: This has gotta be a 5. This is some of the most basic ideas of Star Trek and Rodenberry's universe, the nature of life and the freedom to choose and friendship, getting an outing with some top-notch acting. The slightly contrived setup and the slightly underbuilt Starbase sets don't detract from an episode that is otherwise awesome. Picard and Data get some awesome scenes that do credit to the actors and their characters, and it's one of those episodes that reminds me why I like the idea of living in the Star Trek universe so much.

Matthew: I think this is a 4. I felt that the drama relied too much on talking and not enough on physically dramatized situations. The production values were also lackluster. The acting was definitely good, don't get me wrong. I just think that the writing didn't put it over the top. The story was rather one-sided on the Data end - there was no conflict on the issue of whether he actually should be viewed the same way as humanoids. Nonetheless, this is a good think piece and a good acting showcase. I just don't think it's great. So that makes a 9 from the two of us.


  1. Kevin, as a lawyer, I feel you should have been a bit harsher to this episode. Admittedly, the UCMJ or whatever the Starfleet equivalent is aren't the same as the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, but I can't believe that in the 24th Century, any judge would have the right to say, "You, sir, must defend this man! I care not that you are not an attorney and have never cracked a law book, for he must be defended by someone - anyone! - or risk having all Due Process stripped from him!" Seriously, I get the morality play behind it, but it's a damn shame the people who wrote this story couldn't have run it past an attorney for some basic legal gloss. Seriously, it makes the Gitmo military tribunals look like the height of jurisprudence by comparison...
    - Carl

    1. The woman who wrote this episode is an attorney. So go figure.

  2. I held off if only because it would have been a repeat of my rant in Court Martial. I think law:me::philosophy:Matt. It drives us respectively up a wall, but can't quite excite the other as much.

    But I agree, there would have to be an actual system to deal with this in a more deliberate manner. Law is nothing if not ponderous. Still, like FTL engines, it's a conceit that drives the episode, so I can not exactly forgive it, I can move past it to enjoy an otherwise super episode.

  3. I have to agree with Kevin and anon here: it seems a bit bizarre that Phillipa would FORCE Riker, who clearly has a conflict of interest, is not qualified and who objects and protests to this, to defend Data "the best he can" or else threaten to take it out on Data and his future if Riker were to fail (and, of course, she decides if he fails or not. As she said 'if i FEEL that you are not giving it your best" or something).

    I mean how can you force someone to take on such an important role and if they dont or refuse or do a bad job, threaten to ruin and fuck up someone else's life?

    That's the kind of thing you would expect of Cardassian or any other military dictatorship's jurisprudence, not the Federation/Starfleet's.

    Also, whatever the details of Starfleet jurisprudence, we know that they believe in , and operate under, the principle that one is considered innocent until proven guilty ("A matter of perspective" etc). Such a principle is incompatible with what Phillipa is pulling here. I know she calls Picard a pompous ass but I always thought she was the pompous ass here.

    I also have an issue with qualification. Riker is not qualified to be a lawyer or act as such. Phillipa just wanted a warm body with the correct rank to fill the role. I found that not only a dick move on her part but unjust.

    Anyway it seemed as though the writers just added this whole spiel of forcing Riker to defend Data etc, for effect and to move the story along. It also aided with developing both characters' friendship/relationship.

    And it is true, you know, a lesser person would have refused to accept Phillipa's ruling for precisely the reasons mentioned above by you guys and challenged it in court.

    That said, what I did not understand was Picard equating what would be done with Data to slavery or enslaving an entire race. My question always was: how can you say it is an entire race and they are enslaved, when you have not established that Data is more than the sum of its parts/not a machine? Can machines be enslaved? Are they are a "race"?

    This episode made it looks like Picard's conversation with Guinan who "opened his eyes" and his subsequently making that 'slave" argument was what ultimately made his case that Data IS not just a machine. But in my opinion, I dont think Picard succeeded in showing us why Data is more than just a machine - at least not when he made that "enslaving an entire race" argument. In fact, everything else said and done about Data was a far better proof that he is not a machine, not the slave argument.

    Again, in order to accept that argument you first have to agree and prove that Data is something that can be enslaved in the first place and I dont think Picard did that by arguing that we would "enslave an entire race if Data were made into property" etc.