Monday, February 6, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 6: The Quality of Life

The Next Generation, Season 6
"The Quality of Life"
Airdate: November 16, 1992
134 of 176 produced
134 of 176 aired


The Enterprise is at Tyrus VIIa investigating a new mining technique, the particle fountain. The project has been plagued by delays and setbacks. The lead scientist, Dr. Farallon hopes another invention of hers, the Exocomp, will speed up the process. When one of the Exocomps overrides its programming to avoid being destroyed, Data begins to suspect the devices are more than merely intelligent, but possibly alive and sentient. Is it possible Data has found a kindred spirit, or is it the android equivalent of wishful thinking?

Let's talk about beards, gentlemen. Surely this will segue nicely into whatever our adventure is this week!


Kevin: This is a perfectly adequate episode. It's pretty much a mix of Home Soil, The Measure of a Man, and maybe a little splash of Evolution. It's certainly better than Home Soil, but maybe not as reaching as the other two. The end result is an episode that is by no means bad, and enjoyable enough to watch. I will say the development of how the Exocomps were portrayed as having intelligence was well done. They were self-preserving, and displayed deductive reasoning in the Jeffries tube test that cover at least two of the bases Picard posited in Measure of a Man. I also enjoyed the way they explicitly discussed neural pathways being established, as it lent some veracity to the idea. It wasn't merely "left on" or asked to defeat Data. I also like the casual way Farallon mentions wiping the memories of the units whose pathways had grown too complex. I always read it as a little ambiguous as to whether they were genuinely malfunctioning, like Data's predecessors, or if Farallon negligently killed an intelligent life form.

Matthew: The economics of this "Federation approval" situation puzzled me, but seem to point to a centrally planned allocation of resources (just as "A Matter of Perspective" seemed to). I wish the "particle fountain" idea had been either more of a real sci-fi idea (for instance, an orbital tether "space elevator"), or had been tied in some thematic way to the utilitarian question which was shoehorned in at the last moment (to be discussed below). The particle fountain as it stands was not very interesting. I guess they were shooting for a "canary in the mine shaft" metaphor with the Exocomps - but they missed. I agree that the unfolding of the Exocomp story was pretty well handled. I do think some rather big leaps in logic were undertaken, especially by Data. Why does seeing through the test equate to some sort of "life" quality? It might have been nice if his preconceptions had been challenged just as well as Dr. Farallon's. In fact, it probably would have been a better episode if Data had simply been wrong about their intelligence. Think what that would tell us about his character. I wish the conversation between Data and Crusher had gone on for longer, since it cut right to the heart of the ethical dimensions of the story. It bothered me that the Exocomps were continually referred to as "alive" as opposed to intelligent, sentient, "ethically significant," or whatever other term could have better captured the quality that they displayed.

Kevin: Farallon herself is the upper tiers of "guest scientist" to me. It was nice that she needed Picard rather than the other way around, so we avoid the Visiting Federation Dignitary Trope, and her ego and stubbornness read as organic and not insufferable. I also thought she stayed on the happy side of the "talented" line. I don't mind scientists who are polymaths. I do mind when they are the Professor from Gilligan's Island and an expert in everything. Here, she read as a geologist who uses computers and tinkers with them as a hobby, rather than a weak stab at being a new DaVinci.

Matthew: I liked that Farallon wasn't a villain. Too many times, when a guest star opposes the viewpoint of a main cast member, he or she is painted in villainous hues. Bruce Maddox, Dexter Remmick, and Norah Satie stick out in my mind here. This characterization was pretty nice. I would have enjoyed seeing even more of it, seeing Farallon wrestle with her own expectations and external pressures having blinded her to scientific fact.

Kevin: The final scenes of Moral Dilemma were okay. Not great, but okay. The increasing death trap of a mining station provided drama, but in a slightly tacked on way. There needed to be some stakes to Data's position on the Exocomps, and here it is, but still, it lacked the philosophical grandeur of "The Measure of a Man" or the personal connection of "Evolution."

Matthew: This portion of the episode really bothered me. Data's moral reasoning seems to be on shaky ground. He states that he will not trade lives for lives by sacrificing the Exocomps to save Picard and Geordi. But isn't he doing just the reverse by disabling the transporter? Let's say you are arguing that Data is trading a disaster he cannot prevent for one he can prevent. OK, fine. But his moral reasoning seems unduly stark. Is he unwilling to sacrifice any life for any other? The level of a life form's mental complexity, depth of feeling, ability to feel pain, and the ability to make plans and form preferences to fulfill them seem to be rather important to the equation when lives are at stake. Buy this reasoning, would Data be unwilling to sacrifice some cows, or even some monkeys, in order to save some humans? Stepping away from this apparent black and white reasoning on Data's part, I also have questions about the lack of consequences for his actions. This is the latest in a sequence of many times in which Data has been commandeered, disobeyed orders, and/or put his crew mates at risk. Where are the consequences? I think he should at least have been demoted, and this would have given his choice more dramatic heft. The resolution of this episode feels unduly pat as a result. When Picard dismissed Data's rank, life-threatening insubordination with "it was the most human decision you've ever made," I kind of wanted to barf a bit. Come on! What normal human being, given the same information set, would have decided in the same way? If anything, it was the most Data decision he'd ever made. These two issues represent the episode's greatest sins, much more than the retread story elements.

Kevin: The comedy scene in the teaser was cute. The friendly jabs about vanity read as natural and like most poker games, really cements the idea of the Enterprise as a real place full of real people. I would have liked to have seen Crusher as a brunette.

Matthew: I thought the first portion of the teaser was a little strange, in that it has no relation whatsoever to the main storyline. It could have been appended to any episode - and would have been best added to an episode in which gender was a major theme, such as "The Outcast." 


Kevin: Ellen Bry did a good job with Farallon. Like I said above, I think she did a good job of having the standard set of Federation scientist quirks without crossing the line, and she came off as very credible. A gifted theoretician whose zeal causes practical problems. She also handled the techonobabble really well.

Matthew: I agree on Ellen Bry. She delivered her dialogue well, seemed emotionally invested in her character's goals and struggles, and was easy enough to empathize with.

Kevin: I enjoyed Data's scenes testing the Exocomps and defending them to Riker. Spiner did his usual stellar job of not portraying the emotion while making the audience think it. I don't have much else to add on the acting front. Everyone else was kind of...there...but not in a bad way. Gosh...once you've called an episode adequate, there's not much more to add is there?

Matthew: I can't fault Spiner's performance here, and I shouldn't let any residue from "A Fistful of Datas" color my opinion. He did a fine job. The other cast member who sticks out to me is Gates McFadden. She had two really good scenes, the first discussing philosophical zoology with Data, and the second, comforting him after his series of failed experiments. She showed both empathy and depth of character. It really added to the Doctor's characterization to show her being so thoughtful. I also think Frakes did a pretty good job butting heads with Spiner.

Production Values

Kevin: I liked the design of the Exocomps. The replicator on the end looked good, and all the little servo motors gave it a kind of cute effect which I suppose was the point, as it would be easier to empathize with them if they could be anthropomorphised into some adorable Disney animal.

Matthew: I thought the innards of the Exocomps were cool, and I liked both the idea and the execution of the mini-replicator on the front. I didn't like the feet. I thought they looked silly.

Kevin: The particle fountain looked pretty good. The interiors were a little standardized, but I suppose that makes sense. I did enjoy the appearance of the uses two tubes with red neon lights in them. That thing pops up everywhere but has no discernible function other than to indicate Science! is occurring here.

Matthew: Yeah, those red thingies are funny, almost to the point of derailing an episode at this point. I liked the station interior, especially the lucite panels that seem to be some sort of diagram. The final effect of the Exocomps establishing the "resonance" of something or other was only adequate.


Kevin: So, yes, we have scene all these ideas trotted out before, sometimes better, sometimes worse. The guest actor is one of the better guest scientists in my opinion, but the script doesn't give her too much do. In the end, this episode is just kind of..there...for me. It's a solid 3.

Matthew: I'm afraid I must disagree here. To me, the problems I referred to above are too severe. This story is the straw that broke the already severely stressed "Data goes rogue" back for me. The justification offered for his behavior seems thin and muddled to the point that it diminishes his character. The lack of consequences for his actions seals the deal. This is a 2 for me. That makes a total of 5 from the both of us.


  1. Those red tubes also appear in a few episodes of Voyager. I remember them from the eposidoe where Torres get spilt into her human and Kligon self. I can't remember the other episodes but there are at least two more. Not sure about DS9. Funny enough but those exact same tubes were on at least one other scifi show; Sliders. Maybe Chris Black likes them. He was involved with TNG and Sliders.

  2. There's a great bit in Airplane 2: The Sequel, where William Shatner questions their presence on the base as having no obvious purpose other than blinking.

  3. The particle fountain looks beautiful on the Blu-Ray.

    The story's ham-fisted treatment of ethics still bugs me to no end.