Written by Melinda M. Snodgrass, Leonard Mlodinow, and Scott Rubenstein
Directed by Robert Scheerer
This episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation is most definitely one of the best of the series. When viewing a listing of the top ten lists fans devise for the series, it is inevitable that The Measure of a Man appears on the list.
In another review, I stated that the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation seemed to be obsessed with the question “What is life?” Other episodes prior to this one dealt with the question poorly, or perhaps they just pale in comparison to The Measure of a Man .
The episode begins with a poker game amongst friends on the Enterprise which showcases the android Data’s (Brent Spiner) inability to understand the concept of “bluffing”. It is a segue into a wonderful debate about the definition of life.
After arriving at Starbase 173, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is presented with orders for Data to begin serving under Captain Maddox (portrayed by Brian Brophy), a seemingly inept student of the ideas of Data’s creator, Dr. Noonieng Soong. He can’t figure out certain aspects of Dr. Soong’s theories, so his brilliant idea is to take Data and disassemble him to get the answers.
Data stresses that he does not want to be disassembled. Captain Picard fights the transfer order and is defeated. Data attempts to resign from Starfleet, but Maddox presents a scenario that data is the property of Starfleet and cannot do this. All this culminates in a trial at with the local JAG (Judge Advocate General) Officer, with whom Picard has a history. Captain Louvois (portrayed by Amanda McBroom) apparently tried to court-martial Picard once and was unsuccessful.
Starfleet regulations call for the second highest ranking officer present to prosecute the case. The burden falls to Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes). Riker is reluctant, but without his effective argument that Data is the property of Starfleet, Louvois will be forced to rule in Maddox’s favor.
The trial is intriguing. Trying to pin down what defines life and if Data meets the criteria is an unusual argument. Riker dramatically demonstrates that Data is a machine much like the computer on the Enterprise – do they grant it the right to refuse an order?
Picard talks with Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) whose words of wisdom lead him to a new angle – the slavery issue. Is Maddox’s idea to create a race to be the slaves of humans and other races across the galaxy? Would they not be considered a “new life form?” What rights will they have?
The writing on this episode is virtually flawless. Kudos to Melinda Snodgrass for an excellent job. The acting all around is flawless as well. Patrick Stewart shows Picard’s unusual passion as he is arguing for the right to choose for one of his crew. The performance here showcases Stewart’s training on the stage. Jonathan Frakes shows the anguish he feels after possibly giving an argument which will mean the end of Data as he knows it. It is a response that could easily have been over-done, and yet Frakes manages to convey the anguish of the situation perfectly.
Finally, there is Brent Spiner who has always done a tremendous job as Data. Here, he is the same unemotional being, and yet his emotionless demeanor compliments all of the other emotions that are running high. This is probably the best acting job done by Spiner in the series: he has to make people feel sympathetic for him without emoting at all. He conveys that – whether it is the way he carries himself or the softness of his voice, he manages to make the viewer see Data as more than a machine despite the counter-arguments.
A viewer does not need a great background in Star Trek to view this episode, though knowing and understanding what Data means to the rest of the crew would be helpful. It is a great episode to show someone when I am trying to convey the message of why I like this series so much.
Previous episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – A Matter of Honor
Next episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Dauphin