Written by Naren Shankar, L.J. Scott, Brannon Braga, and Rene Echevarria
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
One of the biggest criticisms Star Trek fans have leveled at the more recent series offerings is that the ideas are stale and are essentially story ideas which have been presented before given a treatment with new characters. These actions by those in charge of the Star Trek franchise should come as no surprise, when back during the run of Star Trek: The Next Generation the story ideas began to repeat themselves.
The storyline of The Quality of Life is unfortunately all too similar to the second season episode The Measure of a Man in which the android Data (Brent Spiner) had to prove he was a sentient being and not “property” of Starfleet.
In The Quality of Life, the Enterprise arrives at a mining station which is experimenting with innovative ways to make mining more efficient. The head scientist, Farallon (portrayed by Ellen Bry) has developed a machine she calls an exocomp to aid in operations at the station. Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) sees it in action when she uses one to stop an imminent core breach. Shortly thereafter, the exocomps begin to malfunction. Data has another theory, however. He believes the exocomps are alive and attempts to win over the crew with his argument.
This story of “what is life?” was done much better in The Measure of a Man, and possibly because the comparisons between the two episodes is inevitable, this one falls short. The main problem I see is that the viewing audience has no investment in whether or not the exocomps are considered to be living beings. They have not been seen before and will not appear again. Whether they are or are not considered living, sentient beings is not a pivotal point for any of the characters.
That’s not to say there are not some truly great moments during the episode. Data puts his – and his friends’ – lives and careers at stake when he holds fast to the belief that the exocomps are sentient beings despite evidence to the contrary. The faith that his crewmates – and especially Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) – place in him is truly remarkable.
Brent Spiner’s acting is terrific. He is convincing in his steadfast beliefs that these machines are now living, as well as conveying what seems like a yearning to find other sentient machines like himself. Jonathan Frakes has a few terrific moments near the end as Commander Riker, as he must attempt to resolve a situation without a loss of human life while butting heads with the android. Has Data taken a correct action? How will his friends react to him possible choosing to save a mechanical life-form over them? Does this cast doubt on his loyalties to his crewmates?
Many of these questions are not explored, and it’s a gripe I’ve had with a few episodes that once Data’s “flaws” are uncovered, nothing is done about it. There have been questions of his allegiance to the Federation, Starfleet and his crewmates when the time has come and he is caught between them, his creator, his brother, the Borg, and now these exocomps. Yet, at the end of this episode there is not even a mention of a reprimand being placed in his service record.
The Measure of a Man is a much better episode on this subject, and I recommend it over The Quality of Life. That’s not to say this is unwatchable, or even that bad. Simply put, the subject matter has already received a good treatment during this series, so why was there a need to revisit it?
This episode is actually better if you are not a big fan of the series and have not seen The Measure of a Man prior to viewing this one. I think you’ll enjoy The Quality of Life if you don’t have anything else to compare it to. I recommend it, but only marginally.