Review: “The Measure of a Man” Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2, Episode 9

Star Trek: The Next Generation had a most unenviable task when it debuted in the fall of 1987. The juggernaut that was the original Star Trek series was a difficult thing to live up to. And rightfully so. How could anyone capture lightning in a bottle a 2nd time. Needless to say it was exceedingly difficult at best. Many fans will agree that a lot of the early episodes from the first season of The Next Generation were either retreads of episodes from The Original Series, were duds that either fell flat or just outright hated by fans, critics, and even some of the cast (such as “Code of Honor”), but most would agree that the first episode where The Next Generation truly begins to peek out of its vaunted predecessor’s shadow and become its own show was the 2nd season episode “The Measure of a Man”

In the episode, the question of Lt. Cmdr. Data’s status as a sentient being within Starfleet and the Federation comes into question. As an android, an artificially constructed life form created by Dr. Noonien Soong, is he really a life form, or is he just a machine? A Starfleet commander, Cmdr. Maddox wants to study him and build more. Data does not wish to go through with the procedure, finding Maddox’s methods flawed, incomplete, and risky at best, dangerous at worst. He feels that the odds are, he would not survive Maddox’s experiments, and something wonderful would be lost forever from the Universe’s symphony.

To resolve the issue, a court hearing is convened at the newly established JAG office in the sector where the Enterprise is located, and Capt. Picard’s old flame/nemesis, Capt. Levoir is the head of the JAG office. She over saw his court martial hearing during his loss of the USS Stargazer, something Picard hasn’t quite forgotten yet. Levoir quite bluntly states that Picard will defend Data’s position that he will not undergo the procedure, and as the next senior officer on board, the unenviable task of prosecuting goes to Cmdr. Riker, who happens to also be one of Data’s closest friends. Levoir makes it equally clear to Riker that if she feels even for an instant that Cmdr. Riker isn’t pursuing this with full force, she would rule summarily against Data in an instant, having him disassembled, putting Riker in a nigh impossible position.

There are several notable scenes in this episode. One interesting scene occurs when Riker brings up Data’s engineering schematics, and discovers his “off” switch. For the briefest instant, Riker smiles as he realizes he’s found a way to win his case, and as soon as he smiles, his smile washes away into concern, bordering on absolute dread as he realizes he’s condemning his good friend Data.

Another such excellent scene is when Picard calls Data into his Ready Room. This is just prior to the trial, and Picard asks Data why he doesn’t wish to undergo the experiments. Data replies with a question of his own; if his best friend Geordi’s VISOR makes his vision superior to that of most humans, why then don’t all humans undergo the same procedure as Geordi (who was born blind, and actually HAS a need for the VISOR). Picard’s face says it all, and Data’s next statement is a trueism if there ever was one.

One last scene that was perhaps the best of the episode was between Picard and Guinan, played by Whoopi Goldberg. Guinan, who’s something of a mentor/friend to Picard, and always couches her advice in veiled stories and metaphors, talks about how in the history of every world, there were always disposable people, people who did the dirty work no one else wanted to do. And now, here the Federation is, wanting to build an army of Data’s that can do the things no human, Vulcan, Andorian or Tellarite can do, by virtue of the fact they’re essentially walking talking calculators. It’s then Picard makes the realization that by doing so, Maddox would not only be quite literally creating a race of androids like Data, he would essentially be subjugating them to slavery by having them do the things no one else wanted to do. When he brings up this argument in court, much to the others’ stunned reactions, he wins the argument by reminding them of Starfleet’s charter, to seek out new life, even if it is the life of one single android wishing to serve Starfleet. Upon Levoir’s ruling that not only is Data NOT the property of Starfleet, but that he has the right to choose whether he wishes to under go the procedure, he promptly refuses (again) to undergo the procedure.

One more scene worth noting, which is all the more poignant, is the final scene, where Riker is staring out at the stars on the observation deck by himself, when Data walks in, asking him why he isn’t present at the celebration. Riker states that he had no right to be at the party because he very nearly cost Data his life by prosecuting the case, coming within mere millimeters of winning. Data points out, quite correctly, that had Riker not done so, Levoir would have ruled summarily against Data, and that by taking on the role of prosecutor, a role Riker knew could very well end the life of one of his closest friends and comrades, that act wounded Riker, and in doing so, saved Data’s life, something which Data would never forget.

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