Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 2, Episode 9 – “The Measure of a Man” – A Brilliant Defense of Personhood

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       Going back and watching this episode was so enjoyable. It is rare to find a show that takes its time in a story and goes slow. This is very much “The Measure of a Man” and all the stronger for it as it gives time for us to be with the characters and to explore the theme. This is easily one of the best episodes in “Star Trek” and this is in early “Star Trek: The Next Generation” when the writers were still finding their footing. If you haven’t watched this episode and are a Trekkie, I highly recommend you do. It explores the themes of humanity and sentience and gives a beautiful character drama.

The episode was written by Melinda Snodgrass and directed by Robert Scheerer.

The story follows Data as he is ordered to be reassigned and disassembled for study by Starfleet. The only way for this order not to occur is for Captain Picard to prove Data’s sentience worthy of the same rights and freedoms of all members of the Federation.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Commander Bruce Maddox – Commander Bruce Maddox is the primary antagonist of the episode as he is the one who wants to disassemble Data in order to create more androids. He has a fascinating arc as he starts out viewing Data as merely a machine and tool and denies his sentience, referring to Data as “it” rather than “him.” His idea is that he wants to create more of Data to help the Federation and humanity and even in his experiments he has enough awareness that he would like Data’s mind to remain intact, even in the beginning. It is this shred of awareness that eventually evolves into empathy by the end of the trial.

Data and his Relationships – Data and his relationships are front and center and part of what makes the episode so strong. The episode starts with a card game where Riker explains bluffing to Data. Later on he gives his things to Geordi, who is his closest friend and the main crew throw him a party. It is devastating seeing how everyone wants him to stay even as he feels bound by his duty as a Starfleet officer. We also see Picard show how much he admires him too as he is the one presenting solutions and who fights for Data’s rights before the judge. He even comforts Riker at one point as Riker is the one who has to argue that he has no sentience, and thanks him for doing his duty, knowing how much it hurt Riker to do it. There is depth in the relationships which reminded me of part of what was so great about “The Next Generation.”

The Trial – The Trial is compelling as we have Riker fighting on the side of Maddox out of duty (if he doesn’t Data will be disassembled and Maddox wins by default) and Picard arguing for Data’s sentience and dignity. It is powerful as Riker demonstrates that Data is a machine, at one point shutting him off and also having Data remove his hand. Picard gives the famous Picard speech pointing out how organic beings are also machines and confronts Maddox with the fact that Data meets 2/3 of areas of sentience by Maddox’s own terms sentience. He is intelligent, he is self-aware and consciousness is the only one in question. In the end the judge Captain Louvois rules that she cannot rule on androids as whole. Data is a machine but he is not the property of the Federation and has the right to choose his fate.

The Value of an Individual – When Picard is lost on what to do he goes to talk Guinan. She is the one who helps Picard realize what the connotations are of what it means if more Data’s are made. This trial is about the fact that Data is an expendable individual and that the Federation plans to make an army of them, slaves of the Federation. It is a powerful speech and it is Picard arguing on Data’s individuality and humanity that arises from this and leads to them winning the case. The scene with Guinan is easily one of the best in all of “Star Trek.”

The Cons:

Tacked on Romance – The judge Captain Phillipa Louvois who is ruling in the case against Data is an interesting character, but her tacked on romance with Picard makes no sense. She prosecuted Picard but the writers felt it necessary to throw in romantic tension and flirting. The episode ends with Picard asking her out on a date as well. I think this was to further humanize her and Picard but it just felt tacked on. Their complicated relationship didn’t also need romance as the plot was strong enough and this was just a distraction that added nothing.

This is truly shows the best that “Star Trek: The Next Generation” has to offer. Deep character relationships and complex topics of philosophy and morality are what I love about “Star Trek.” “The Measure of a Man” has this in spades. This is one of my favorite episodes in all of “Star Trek” and it was a pleasure returning to it. The questions this episode poses are ones that people should always return to.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 Could have done without the tacked on romantic B plot, but the rest is amazing.

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