Series:Star Trek: The Next Generation
Episode: Season 2, Episode 9
Title:"The Measure of a Man"
Previous: A Matter Of Honor
Next: The Dauphin
Recapper: Synjo Deonecros
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
-Martin Luther King Jr.
For once, the Enterprise isn't
dinking about on some far-away planet, instead parking its aft at a local starbase for crew rotation and resupplying/offloading. Data gets his first taste at poker (which he fails at, due to Riker's impenetrable bluff), while Picard meets and catches up with an old friend/foil of his, Phillipa Louvois, currently assigned as a JAG officer on the station. After bleeding out some bad blood and sexual tension between them (seems like Louvois was Picard's love interest, before she tore him apart during the court martial hearing held for him losing his previous command), they're confronted by a Starfleet admiral and a slimy-looking commander, the latter of whom has an unhealthy interest in Data.
Apparently, they have some bad blood between them as well; the commander, named Maddox, was the only one on the Starfleet council to reject Data's admission to Starfleet, out of his insistence that robots aren't alive
. However, now he's interested in learning Data's secrets, determined to use him as a template to build more androids like him for manual labor. Interestingly, both Picard and Data are actively interested in this proposal...until they determine that Maddox doesn't have a lick of the mechanical ingenuity needed to avoid harming Data during his dissection. They refuse, but Maddox, being the dick that he is, anticipated their refusal and whipped up transfer orders forcing Data into his negligent care.
Torn, Picard is forced to swallow his pride and ask for help from Louvois, first asking for a way out of the transfer (Data resigning, which resulted in an unusually poignant argument about why Cybernetics Eat Your Soul
), then demanding a hearing be held after the out provided turns out to not be possible due to laws set two centuries ago
. Because of a lack of staff on-hand, Louvois assigns Picard as the defense and Riker
as the prosecution, completely ignoring Riker's protests over the apparent conflict of interest by threatening to stand on her ruling if he doesn't, or if she ever gets the impression he's not trying his hardest to win. Then, during the trial, Riker argues that Data is not sentient by making clear that Data is a robot
, including having him bend a steel bar (while Louvois ignores Picard's justified objection that there are organic, sentient beings with the strength to bend the bar just as easily
)... Riker then shuts Data off, proclaiming "Pinocchio is broken; its strings have been cut."
Picard is about to give up, when a talk with Guinan convinces him to start anew...by countering Riker with the argument that Data being a constructed being is not relevant, since all beings are constructed "from the building blocks of DNA," showing that Data does
have consciousness, intelligence, and sentience, the marks of a legal person who thus cannot be property, and further that creating a legion of Datas for labor use would bring about Unfortunate Implications
that the Federation is sanctioning slavery, a profound affront to its most basic ideals. Convinced, Louvois decides to rule in favor of Data, and the show ends with Data refusing the procedure (though encouraging Maddox to continue his research, to make it safer), and thanking Riker for doing what he had to do
to ensure Data's personal freedoms.
This episode contains examples of:
- Androids Are People, Too: The main point of the episode.
Picard: "Starfleet was founded to seek out new life, (points to Data) well there it sits."
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Between Picard and Louvois.
Picard: If we weren't surrounded by all these people, you know what I'd like to do right now?
Louvois: Bust a chair across my teeth.
Picard: After that.
Louvois: Oh, ain't love grand?
- Breaking Speech: Guinan plays a benevolent version of this for Picard, who is still simply worried for one of his officers' well-being, and not seeing the bigger picture yet.
Consider that in the history of many worlds, there have always been disposable creatures. They do the dirty work. They do the work that no one else wants to do because it's too difficult or too hazardous. And an army of Datas, all disposable...
You don't have to think about their welfare, you don't think about how they feel. Whole generations of disposable people.
Picard: You're talking about slavery.
- Continuity Nod: As part of the proceeding, Picard asks Data why he keeps a portrait of Tasha Yar, who was killed in Skin of Evil. Data states that they were close... that they were intimate.
- Courtroom Episode
- Easily Forgiven: Subverted, but in an unusually positive way for this kind of trope. It seems like Data is just forgiving Riker, but Data explains why Riker's actions still saved Data, by allowing a trial to give him a chance.
- "It" Is Dehumanizing: Commander Maddox refers to Data as "it" throughout the episode—until the end, when Data encourages him to keep working on his project, and his response is "He is remarkable."
- Jerkass: Commander Maddox comes off as just a bit creepy, probably due to his evident obsession and Fantastic Racism towards Data.
- Large Ham: Both Riker and Picard have their moments when speaking before the Court.
- Let's You and Him Fight: Riker vs Picard in a courtroom case with Data's freedom as the stakes.
- Mood Whiplash: When Picard asks Data about his hologram of deceased crewmate Tasha Yar, you'd expect a big sentimental moment to prove Data's humanity. What do you get? Data reminding everyone of... that one time they were both high on an alien virus and did the nasty.
- Moral Dissonance: It is not just Data's career with Starfleet that is at issue here, but rather his rights as a sentient being! Yet this matter is not being decided by a Federation civilian court, but rather by a Starfleet JAG. Most civilized societies in the real world would hold that there is a legal conflict-of-interest in Starfleet being asked to decide whether or not something is its own property, especially when that something is sentient.
- Morton's Fork: Riker being made a prosecutor. If he accepts, Data will be stripped of his rights if Riker wins. If he refuses to serve (or accepts, but does not perform his duty properly), Data will get denied the opportunity to defend himself, thereby getting stripped of his rights. Riker chooses the former (despite his misgivings), since at least that way Data would have a chance.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Riker's reaction after he turns Data off. Later he tries to Opt Out of the party because he very nearly won the case, but Data finds him and forgives him, knowing he didn't have a choice but to try his best.
- Even applies before the trial. Riker accesses the schematics of Data and discovers the off-switch. He reacts with a pleased look of "Yay, I won!" only to realize moments later "Oh crap, I won."
- Patrick Stewart Speech: One of the most memorable of the series.
Picard: Are you prepared to condemn him, and those who come after him, to servitude and slavery? Your Honor, Starfleet was founded to seek out new life; well, THERE IT SITS!
- Sadistic Choice: Forced on Riker by making him act as the prosecution.
- Whoopi Epiphany Speech: One of the most notable.
- You Are Better Than You Think You Are: At the end, Data has to remind Riker of this since his agreement to prosecute in the case when forced to was really an act of self-sacrifice that gave the android his one shot to win his rights in court.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The plot theme, as reflected by its title.