Episode #35: The Measure of a Man

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Episode #35: The Measure of a Man

Post  BoG on Sun Mar 14, 2010 2:58 pm


THE MEASURE OF A MAN episode #9 of season #2 / Air Date: 2/13/89
Written by Melinda M. Snodgrass; Directed by Robert Scheerer

This one tackles the heavy-duty question of sentience and individual rights. The Enterprise arrives at a new starbase and Picard re-acquaints himself with the female prosecutor (Amanda McBroom) who had to place him on trial after his previous ship, The Stargazer, was wrecked; she's the new JAG officer  for the sector. But, the big idea is instigated by an ambitious lieutenant, Maddox (Brian Brophy), who is following Dr. Soong's theories on positronic brains; Soong was the genius who built Data. Maddox wants to disassemble Data, see what makes him tick by downloading his memory into the starbase core computer and thereby possibly build many more Datas. Maddox has obtained transfer orders for Data to facilitate the plan.

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This turns out to be a 'trial' episode (see also The DRUMHEAD) and, when done well, these kinds of stories offer an interesting exploration of ideas through reasoned debate. This one is pretty clever - it uses the first scene of the weekly poker game to demonstrate the ephemeral quality of experience - of attaining knowledge through action rather than just compiling it as data by reading a manual.
Data, after asking Maddox a technical question, is of the opinion that the unique "ineffable quality" of his experiences will be lost after Maddox attempts his unsophisticated download.

Data resigns as his only option but even that choice is taken away from him after it's determined that he (it?) is the property of Starfleet. Picard calls for a hearing as a challenge to this determination of legal status; he will be the defense; Riker, as the next ranking officer, is forced into the job of prosecutor (the JAG office on this new starbase is as yet not staffed).
The questions this episode raises may be even more tricky for present-day audiences than for the 24th century officers. Our acquaintance with machines such as computers is, after all, much less sophisticated than 24th century humanity; there is never a question for us in the 21st century as to the possible sentience of one of our machines - not yet, anyway. So, Data is a concept which is thoroughly alien to us and hard to comprehend; it may be more difficult for us to take his side than even 24th century characters.


There's an interesting moment during Riker's research, when he finds a weak link to Data's case; he smiles, but abruptly realizes that he may have found a way to doom Data. As Riker demonstrates during the hearing, an android is no more than a collection of circuits, built by a human; how can we consider Data as anything more than that? (humans, however, can be described as several pounds of chemicals combined with water, as a counterpoint - I first learned this way back when the TOS episode The Omega Glory aired).
But, the story expands to include other ideas and possibilities: a 'race' of Datas would open up a whole new Pandora's Box of dilemmas and philosophical arguments, as opposed to just one unique android. This touches on the problems presented in such sci-fi films as The Terminator film series and The Matrix, the possible scenario of losing control of machine intelligence - something we managed to avoid in the Star Trek universe thus far, except briefly in such TOS episodes as The Ultimate Computer - and also recalls much older films such as Creation of the Humanoids (1962).
More, it's a philosophical examination of ourselves - how would we change, as a species, if a race of Datas existed - serving us or working with us? Guinan's brief involvement near the end turns this entirely into a parable on slavery, an extrapolation from the premise of property, but it's also a reworking of the original science fiction theme, that of Frankenstein; if humans become true creators, what exactly do they do with their creations? Are the creations automatic slaves to their creators? Picard believes that no, this is not automatic.
The episode has a couple of nice touches; Data has a small holographic portrait of Tasha Yar (killed in the previous season) and it's mentioned that they were intimate (in the episode The Naked Now), creating a strong continuity. There's also commentary on the basics of prejudiced attitudes, of our behavior towards the unknown, the unfamiliar - those who are not familiar with Data refer to him as 'it;' once they get to know him, they call him 'he.' BoG's Score: 8 out of 10  


TNG Trivia: this episode was nominated for a Writer's Guild award; some firsts here: 1st look at the weekly poker game; 1st mention of the Daystrom Technological Institute, a nod to TOS episode The Ultimate Computer; the starbase in this one is #173.


Last edited by BoG on Fri Nov 07, 2014 11:26 pm; edited 3 times in total
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Measure of a Review

Post  BoG on Thu Jun 03, 2010 2:40 pm



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