The Enterprise arrives at a new starbase, near the Romulan border. While there, Commander Bruce Maddox (Brian Brophy) pops up with orders to take Data apart so Starfleet can build more androids. When Maddox’s plan seems like a stretch and even dangerous, Data resigns from Starfleet. Maddox goes to the new base’s JAG officer, Captain Phillipa Louvois (Amanda McBroom) and convinces her that Data is, in fact, Starfleet property — meaning he can’t resign. Picard challenges the ruling and demands a hearing. Louvois grants it, but her limited staff requires that Picard must represent Data while Riker must represent Maddox (or else Louvois will maintain her original ruling). Riker’s strong arguments almost convince Louvois, before Picard’s counter-arguments turn the tide. Louvois rules that Data is a machine, but not property. In true Data fashion, he tells Maddox to keep working — and that he’ll be willing to help once Maddox gets closer. The episode ends with Data thanking Riker for his willingness to do his duty and save him from Louvois’s original judgment.
Why it’s important
Simply put, this was TNG’s first classic episode. For that reason alone, it almost made the tapestry. But there are other reasons it got here, too.
Questions surrounding Data, his rights, his very existence, etc., were a major part of TNG. Exploring Data’s backstory began in the first season episode “Datalore”, but “The Measure of a Man” was the first episode to address it in a serious, thought-provoking way. The events here are referenced (sometimes quickly) throughout the next several years. Notably, they arise in “The Offspring,” when Data builds another android and “The Quality of Life,” in which Data assumes Picard’s role in protecting mechanical beings he believes are sentient lifeforms.
Less important, though still relevant, is furthering the idea that the Federation is expanding and is a multi-layered organization. Not all layers of it are apparently equal, as we’ll discuss. But it is interesting to see what Starfleet looks like outside of the Enterprise.
What doesn’t hold up
The big problem here — something we discussed in “Datalore” — is the idea that Data’s been in and around Starfleet for more than 20 years and only now are these questions being raised. Part of the Maddox backstory is that he opposed Data’s entry into Starfleet — which means that Maddox is older than he looks or was a boy genius. I wonder, again, why the creators decided to put the discovery of Data so far in the past. Even 10 years would have been easier to swallow.
The other issue is that the the admiral we meet at the beginning of the episode and Louvois (initially) are really pretty narrow-minded when it comes to Data. This further stacks the deck against Data to up the drama. But are we to believe that the only enlightened officers in Starfleet serve on the Enterprise? Throughout TNG, we learn that Data is well-known throughout the Federation — so it’s not as if Louvois and the admiral can be excused because they hadn’t put much thought into the matter. Maddox, obviously, holds beliefs about Data — but his reasoning (while awful) is at least believable and well thought out.
Lastly, I’ve always wondered why Maddox simply didn’t represent himself in the hearing. It provides some drama when Riker is forced to verbally spar with Picard (and Data), but you’d figure Maddox would be better prepared to make arguments, as studying Data and robotics is his life’s work. Early in the episode he convinces Louvois of his cause.
Complaints aside, this is truly one of TNG’s finest hours. It’s thought provoking without being preachy and it includes some of the best acting in the series.
By this time in TNG, Patrick Stewart had really figured out Picard. The unnecessary officiousness of season one was gone, replaced by a passionate but measured commanding officer who would become, arguably, Trek’s best character. Brent Spiner, who also took some time in the first season to get comfortable in his role, really shines here, too. The scene with Maddox in Data’s quarters is strong. Spiner’s ability to play Data effectively making an argument without being impassioned was a key to TNG’s success.
But of special note is Jonathan Frakes, who turns in his best performance as Riker (even stronger than in “The Best of Both Worlds” and “Star Trek: First Contact”). Here, we see Riker as thoughtful, loyal and resourceful. Later in the series, Riker is often written as the chowder-head character whose obvious questions/objections allow other characters to provide exposition (for a great example, watch “Time’s Arrow, Part II”). The reasoning behind forcing Riker to argue against Data’s rights here was sort of a stretch (as we noted above) but the payoff was worth it. The final scene in the observation lounge with Frakes and Spiner is pitch-perfect.
As TNG went on (and perhaps not coincidentally as Frakes became more involved in directing) Riker became more of a marginal character, perhaps matching only Crusher for lack of scenes and stories, especially in the sixth and seventh seasons. But the Picard-Riker-Data trifecta worked here as well as it did in any TNG outing.
Lastly, the somewhat questionable addition of Whoopi Goldberg to the cast in season two was justified by her performance in this episode. The idea that Guinan has Picard’s ear and can provide an outside perspective was extremely useful throughout the series. That relationship is really first established here in the wonderful scene in Ten-Forward before Picard’s closing argument.
Coming later this week …
One of Trek’s most consequential hours. And the bad guys sound Swedish …