Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Measure of a Man   Rewatch 
July 31, 2020 4:59 AM - Season 2, Episode 9 - Subscribe

It's Data's day in court when Starfleet scientist Bruce Maddox, eager to dissect and replicate him, argues that androids don't have rights. Picard, naturally, has a response to this.

(Note: This post won't contain any PIC spoilers, but the comments might.)
What a piece of work is Memory Alpha:

• "The Measure of a Man" was writer Melinda Snodgrass' first television credit. She drew from her own experience as an attorney in writing the episode.

• Snodgrass' spec script was "discovered" as a result of the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike and the consequent need to use existing scripts.

• Snodgrass commented, "Everyone seems to view [the episode] as a Data script, but it's really a Picard script. Data is the catalyst, but the stress is all on Picard."

• In a comment on her blog, Snodgrass recalls how Gene Roddenberry nearly shot down the story: "As to the issue of law in Gene's vision. He nearly killed 'The Measure of a Man' because according to Gene there were no lawyers in the 24th century because if people had criminal intentions they 'had their minds made right'. I found that chilling. I also pointed out that you have contracts that have to be negotiated and conflicts of law between different legal systems, and divorces, etc. etc. There was no way there would be no lawyers in the future."

• The model of Starbase 173 was the first of many reuses of a model best known as space lab Regula I from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

• The Daystrom Institute, first mentioned here, was a homage to the character of Richard Daystrom from TOS: "The Ultimate Computer".

• Data's rights as a sentient being would again be challenged a season later, in "The Offspring". In both episodes, Picard acts as Data's advocate.

• After his trial, Data showed Commander Bruce Maddox that he nonetheless remained open to future collaboration with him. He would indeed keep open correspondence with Maddox, at one point recording a log of a day in his life in "Data's Day".

• Data would refer back to his trial in his decision to champion the exocomps in season six's "The Quality of Life".

• This episode features the first appearance of the officers' regular poker game, with Data, Riker, La Forge, Dr. Pulaski, and O'Brien. It is also the first time Data has ever played the game.

• Admiral Nakamura tells Picard that Starbase 173 has been established in response to disturbances along the Federation/Romulan Neutral Zone, which were first referenced the episode "The Neutral Zone". These disturbances will later be revealed to be early attacks by the Borg.

• The episode features the rare "interim" pattern Starfleet admiral uniform which was only seen twice in the second season of TNG.

• This episode was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in the category of "Best Episodic Drama".

Entertainment Weekly ranked this episode #6 on their list of "The Top 10 Episodes" to celebrate the 20th anniversary of TNG.

• Producer Maurice Hurley commented, "Stunning. That's the kind of show you want to do… It just worked great, everything about it. And it dealt with an issue in a very interesting way. I thought Whoopi's place was good in that. She's a wonderful actress."

• The episode's director Robert Scheerer called it one of the best of TNG. He explained, "It has to do with the content, what it had to say, how it deals with it, the depth that it goes and the way it's resolved. I love that show. It is indeed my favorite show. I guess you would have to say that what I enjoyed is the dilemma that they're put in to, especially Jonathan [Frakes] and Patrick [Stewart] having to deal with Brent [Spiner] not as a dear friend but as someone whose worth has to be resolved. And Jonathan had to take the other side. It was all just beautifully crafted. It was not typical episodic television and had a great deal to say about man, humanity, what our problems in the world are today and hopefully what we can do about it in the future."

• Rick Berman cited this episode, along with "Yesterday's Enterprise", as one of his favorites.

• Michael Piller named this episode (along with "The Inner Light" and "The Offspring") as one of his favorite TNG episodes, "because they had remarkable emotional impacts. And they genuinely explored the Human condition, which this franchise does better than any other when it does it well."

• Troi actress Marina Sirtis cited this as her favorite TNG episode, commenting, "It was perfect Star Trek. A riveting story, great performances and a moral issue to think about."

"If we weren't around all these people, do you know what I would like to do?"
"Bust a chair across my teeth."
"After that."
"Oh, ain't love wonderful."
- Jean-Luc Picard and Phillipa Louvois

"'When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes / I all alone beweep my outcast state.' Tell me: are these just words to you? Or do you fathom the meaning?"
"Is it not customary to request permission before entering an individual's quarters?"
- Maddox and Data

"Your Honor, a courtroom is a crucible; in it we burn away irrelevancies until we are left with a pure product: the truth, for all time."
- Picard, in his summation

Poster's Log: ran this article in April that focuses on PIC and this episode: "Jean-Luc Picard Is the Captain We Need Right Now". Here's a great quote from Snodgrass from the article:
"I fell in love with the Data character, and I realized that there was an infamous Supreme Court decision called Dred Scott, which could really be on point for whether Data has rights—is he a person or is he the property of Starfleet Command? I knew it was a good idea, and [George R. R. Martin] had warned me that I would never sell that spec script, because you never do sell your spec script, and I was going to hold off on writing that one and save it for a pitch, and George said to me, ‘Melinda, never hoard your silver bullet,’ meaning lead with your best thing. So I wrote ‘The Measure of a Man,’ and they not only bought the script, they then ended up hiring me onto the show for half of the second and all of the third season."
The MA page for "Measure of a Man" does not (yet) make any mention of the fact that this episode is the entire foundation of season 1 of Star Trek: Picard, but I suppose anybody who's looking at MA (or this!) already knows that you can't watch PIC without watching this first.

If "110010etc." is the first good episode of TNG, this might be the first great one. I remember the mood of the room when I saw its original airing, and I'm pretty sure this was the turning point for TNG inasmuch as, prior to this, we all still had some doubts about this odd and uneven "spinoff" (nobody said "reboot" back then), but not after.

Writing- and acting-wise, the character of Picard is as on as we'll ever see him, and ditto Riker, ditto La Forge, ditto Guinan. So many cool little moments, like Riker's visible thought patterns when he's researching alone, and how Picard's rebuttal to Riker is initially so soft-spoken. The closing Riker/Data scene is STILL affecting after seeing this like probably ten times; a case could be made that this is the episode where we actually start to really care about Picard, Data, Riker, and La Forge. And we get intriguing guests as well: Maddox is appropriately unlikeable, yet redeemable, and shows some glimmers of depth; Louvois too is complex enough to be compelling. It's a confident episode; it knows how deep its bench is.

It's also uncompromisingly talky, which, given the constant pressure in the world of TV to have action and/or sex, is both bold—not the first successfully bold move this season will make, by the way—and a clear indicator of where this show is going. (I suppose Louvois's saucy relationship with Picard may well have been added because of the talkiness, but it works nonetheless—adds some extra tension and some additional acting meat for Stewart.)

Objections? Well, I feel like Riker really has no case besides a flashy demonstration of "look how much Data is a machine." And Maddox calling Data "it" might've played better in season one. But perhaps more seriously, this hearing seems like a big enough deal that it should take place on Earth or Vulcan or something, and not be as improvised as this one. (Budget may have influenced this choice?) At minimum, this hearing's a big enough deal that everybody on the starbase, the admiral included, should either be in the audience or waiting eagerly out in the hall if it's a closed hearing, which my minimal military understanding suggests a JAG hearing may well be.

From a TV perspective, this script hits the beats of the classic midcentury "courtroom episode" pretty predictably overall—but still very very well; Picard's argument is one that we need to remember IRL, and that's what the best sci-fi does: force us to consider how our values will shape our near-future. TNG will return to the Big Courtroom Scene a couple more times in the much weaker season 3 ep "A Matter of Perspective" and the quite good IIRC season 4 ep "The Drumhead" (and probably others I'm forgetting, and of course the Qo'NoS episodes, which sort of count).

Bernd at Ex Astris Scientia notes: "Maddox was the only one in the committee to vote against Data's admission to Starfleet Academy. That was in 2341, 24 years prior to the episode. Either Starfleet Academy has children in their evaluation committee, or Maddox looks at least some 20 years younger than he is." The latter isn't totally implausible, given Trek-tech.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
We will see Admiral Nakamura again twice, but not again until season 7; at 3 appearances, he has the second most appearances of any admiral character on TNG behind Nechayev, and unlike Nechayev, he's not really much of a badmiral (though he is obviously dismissive of Data in this one, in a small but potentially significant moment).

"Greatest Gen" episode link.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (27 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
And now, for the prosecution...

So, we’ve seen Trek episodes that had the reputation of being really bad but were probably hated by the fandom mostly because they made the characters seem silly (“Move Along Home”, “Threshold”, “Spock’s Brain”) and others that really were bad (“Tattoo”, various other VOY and ENT eps, “Code of Honor”). I’m not necessarily saying that “The Measure of a Man” was bad, because its main point was good, but I do think, after having watched it a few times, that it may be the most overrated episode of TNG, maybe of the whole franchise, and that it’s overrated because of what it intends to do, and not because of what it actually does and how it does it. Fair warning: this may be the longest comment that I’ve written up for any Trek episode, and so I’ll be splitting it up into two parts, the first concerning the episode itself and what it got wrong (and right) IMO, and the second as to how it could have been made better, which gets into not only the ep itself but Data’s character arc and the very basis of the character. Choose to read it, or not, based on that; if you choose not to read this at all, I won’t be hurt. (Much.) I’ll also be upfront and say that I’m not a big fan of Melinda Snodgrass, the writer, and see some of the same problems in this episode as I saw in her installments for George R.R. Martin’s superhero prose anthology series, Wild Cards.

My main problem with the episode, which has bothered me ever since I first saw it, was that there is something deeply, deeply wrong with Starfleet retroactively declaring a highly-decorated, 24-year veteran officer a non-person, both in general and for the specific reason of taking him apart to try and create more beings like him, without his express permission. If the purpose of the episode is to establish something beyond the scope of the particular episode and the particular situation in it, this is one of the things that it establishes, that they would consider doing something like this, even for a second. We have been told, over and over again, how enlightened the Federation and its citizens are, and how Starfleet exemplifies the very best of the Federation and its citizens and how selective their admissions process is and yadda yadda. But all of that gets kicked to the curb because some AI boffin has a neat idea for a project that he wants to try. I should make the point that doing a storyline that highlights the gap between the Federation and Starfleet’s high ideals and what they might be willing to allow because of opportunity and crisis would be great; in fact, it was great, on DS9, over several seasons, but with the impending crisis of the Dominion War and also with plenty of time to show the erosion of those ideals and its effect on Starfleet personnel. (Historical context matters. I get the analogy to the Dred Scott decision--surely one of the most reprehensible and loathed SCOTUS rulings ever--but that decision was made under the growing shadow of secession and civil war, and the fact that it made things worse underscores that context.) Here, it’s posed as merely an immediate and short-lived threat to everyone’s lil’ android buddy. That’s my main problem with the ep ,but by no means the only one:

- There’s no precipitating crisis that justifies the speed with which Data is being taken away. There are a couple of recent crises that could have been used for that purpose, but they aren’t. The casualness with which Maddox hands over Data’s orders makes it seem as if Picard should just accept that one of his high-ranking, heavily-decorated senior staff is about to be vivisected. I sincerely doubt that any captain of any ship, let alone Starfleet’s flagship, would put up with that, even if Data were a green ensign. The impression that’s left is that Maddox, despite his insistence that there should be no reasonable objection to his plan, is trying to railroad this thing through because he knows that they’ll object.

- The justification for Maddox’s attempted action, and not even allowing Data to resign his commission and leave Starfleet, are the so-called Acts of Cumberland, which are basically an ass-pull across space and time; they are never explained or quoted, and one wonders why laws passed in the early 21st century (i.e. now) have any holding in the Federation. Granted, the early years of the Federation haven’t really been detailed at this point in the franchise’s history, but this doesn’t jibe even with what little was known about the 21st century in Trek continuity (World War III, Zefram Cochrane, the post-atomic horror). Why would a law dealing with an android serving aboard a starship have been passed by any governing body at this point in time?

- Louvois is awful. She had previously prosecuted Picard, apparently quite aggressively, even though it was supposed to be “routine” in cases where a ship is lost (I don’t know if that’s done IRL; it seems like a weird thing for Starfleet, which is considerably mellower and more casual than contemporary military services), and expects him to not only have gotten over it but to appreciate her calling him sexy. Not only does she come across as terribly unprofessional, but it’s a distraction from the point of the episode itself. She then goes on to threaten to render summary judgment if Riker doesn’t prosecute, and her statement during the ruling seems to be for the purpose of casting doubt on her own judgment. The best thing about the character is that we don’t see her again.

- Maddox is likewise singularly unimpressive, for someone who wants to change the face of Starfleet and the Federation, and can get orders to command someone to report for their own disassembly in the process. He either smirks or pouts most of the time, and whines about how no one thinks of his career when they’re objecting to his plan. He was much better written and played during his brief appearance on PIC.

- Structurally,the episode is a mess. The poker game and going-away party are given too much time; Picard running into Louvois isn’t a great way of ending the teaser; there’s no particular reason for Nakamura (one of the few non-Badmiral admirals) to be there; it seems like forever until we get around to the trial itself.

- In the epilogue, Riker expresses remorse for the fact that he “almost won.” He shouldn’t have; his “prosecution” consists of demonstrating that: 1. Data has superhuman strength. 2. Data can detach a body part. 3. Data can be turned off. All of these are bogus, because a) Troi, La Forge, and Worf (arguably) all have superhuman abilities; b) if having a body part that can be detached makes someone a non-person, then I have bad news for a certain Ferengi war hero several years later; and c) let’s just get a Vulcan in there and see how Riker handles a neck pinch. For all that Louvois threatens to deliver Data to the chop shop if Riker doesn’t deliver, his arguments are pure weaksauce, and he seems to know it, as he doesn’t even give a closing argument.

- Picard gets a nice speech, but the rest of his defense is so-so; he goes through Data’s duffel bag and shows off his mementos, but that’s no real proof of Data’s personhood, as he could be simply imitating what “real” people do. Similarly, the fact that he had sex has no real relevance, as--and I’m just telling you what I’ve heard on the internet, here--mechanical contrivances for the giving of pleasure abound, even in our century. He could have brought up the Turing test (not that that doesn’t have its detractors, even now), but doesn’t.

- Luckily, he doesn’t really need a strong defense, because Maddox absolutely flops in his defense of his project and even why Data shouldn’t be considered a sentient being with rights. He was the associate chair of robotics at the Daystrom Institute, but he can’t even come up with an adequate argument for why he himself is a person while Data is not.

“So,” you may be thinking, or have thought some time ago, “why is this episode so beloved if it’s such a mess?” Because of the one thing that it does unequivocally do: it declares Data a person. It does so in apparent defiance of Federation law, and without strong arguments to support it (with one exception, that I’m coming to), and with Louvois’ rather wishy-washy summation, but it does. Someone pointed out in an earlier episode that Pulaski comes off poorly in general because, unlike Spock and McCoy’s bantering being that between equals, her disparagement of Data’s personhood codes more as someone bullying a child; even though Data isn’t one, he has very child-like aspects. (Oddly, Pulaski has little involvement in this episode.) Data is an early and strong fan favorite character, and any episode affirming his right to exist could hardly not be highly-rated.

And the episode has other good points, as well. Data’s argument regarding Geordi’s eyes--why, if the good of Starfleet is the argument for his disassembly, doesn’t every human have them--is pretty sharp (and unanswered by Picard or anyone else). Ditto for his reference to the “ineffable quality of memory” that Maddox can’t guarantee will be restored. In return, Maddox’s argument about AIs taking on tasks too dangerous for humans is very similar to one made by Dr. Richard Daystrom in “The Ultimate Computer.” The bit where Maddox casually walks into Data’s quarters and starts thumbing through his possessions, without permission, is his most effective bit of characterization. And, finally, Picard and Guinan’s conversation about slavery is the best part of the whole episode, and gets directly to the point. Previously, someone brought up something from Memory Alpha that Whoopi Goldberg would occasionally tweak her lines to great effect, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case here.

So, do I think that the episode could have been saved? Sure… if you’re willing to go back to the very beginning of the series (and maybe even if you’re not).
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:38 AM on July 31, 2020 [11 favorites]

Almost any episode is fixable, and I don’t think that TMoaM is an exception. What I would have done, personally:

- At this point, Data isn’t a member of Starfleet. Yeah, I’m rewiring his character from Day 1. I’m going there because, because of TOS canon, it makes zero sense for an AI of unknown construction and programming to be admitted to Starfleet. All of TOS’ encounters with AI ended badly: the Korby and Mudd androids, Vaal and Landru, M-5, Nomad, and V’Ger. (I’m not counting DSC’s Control because that was a later retcon.) The last three were particularly catastrophic: M-5 destroyed a Constitution-class vessel and her crew of 400, and brought about the downfall of its creator, Dr. Richard Daystrom; Nomad committed genocide, murdering 4 billion people; and V’Ger nearly did the same, after destroying three Klingon cruisers, a staffed observatory, and Ilia. Despite Data’s obvious capabilities, there are a lot of reasons why Starfleet shouldn’t have taken a chance on him. But he’s still on the Enterprise, because… Picard is the one who found him, and Data sort of imprinted on him, and so he’s basically Picard’s servant, what British officers would call his batman. (Yes.) Here’s the thing: at this point in the series, there’s very little that Data has done up to this point that requires his being in Starfleet, except for taking command of the bridge when Picard and Riker are both off the bridge, and there’s plenty of officers hanging around in the background who can do that. He can operate conn or ops, under the rationalization that he’s a sort of “autopilot” (they’re letting a teenager do that most of the time, anyway), go on away missions, reinsert optical chips at superspeed, etc. Everyone (except Pulaski) treats him like a person anyway, even though he’s not officially a Federation citizen… then comes Maddox. This also means that he doesn’t have a box full of medals, but he still could have done the great deeds that he did without getting official recognition.

- Give a precipitating event for Maddox’s project, and getting it done quickly. Heck, I’ll give ya two: Lore’s little caper, and the Bug Conspiracy. The former is a great argument for finding out what’s in Data’s head, in case he’s got a sleeper program in there, and the latter is a great argument for having a non-parasite-vulnerable backup for Starfleet. Having a 9/11-type event precipitate severe actions has happened, by my count, at least four times in the franchise, but neither of these are quite on that scale… but put together, they make something of an argument for Maddox’s project.

- Instead of some undefined “Acts of Cumberland”, make the relevant law the Daystrom Act, passed in the previous century because of the M-5 incident, and define it thusly: “any artificial intelligence operating aboard a Federation or Starfleet facility or starship may be deactivated or disassembled for the safety of the crew, residents, Starfleet, and/or the Federation in general.” Maddox could argue that that would include for the purpose of making more androids for the safety of Starfleet.

- Speaking of whom: make Maddox a more plausible proponent for his project. He doesn’t have to be super-nice; the bit where he paws through Data’s stuff could stay, as an indicator of his real attitude toward his would-be test subject. But he should be able to put on a good face for the brass and the trial.

- Similarly, make Louvois better, less obnoxious and more level-headed and serious. In fact, consider making her a Vulcan, thus being supremely level-headed and logical in her reasoning and presentation. (I’m thinking of the Vulcan admiral who was in charge of Worf’s hearing in DS9’s “Rules of Engagement”, similarly an episode about a member of the crew being put on trial with the possible outcome being his death. A Vulcan could also administer the neck pinch to Riker that I mentioned earlier, although I have someone else in mind who could do that.)

- For the prosecution: Dr. Katherine Pulaski. Sure, she’s “a doctor, not a lawyer”, but neither was Riker. At first, she’d be inclined to do it, but this could be a major character development moment for her, since she’d probably start out with Riker’s approach, but the more she got into it, the more she doubted what she’d previously believed, until she would refuse to make it part of her final argument because, as a scientist, she was dedicated to finding the truth, and she no longer thought that it was true that Data wasn’t a person; her only argument was that establishing AIs as people would result in a change in not just Starfleet, but the Federation in general, and did they really want to establish that precedent? It’s a fair question.

- For the defense: Guinan. We don’t know how old she is, really, although I believe that “Q Who?” establishes her as at least a couple of centuries old, so we don’t know that she doesn’t have a law license. Maybe she was a great lawyer once, and quit after she won a case by breaking the opposing side’s chief witness, a la the Caine Mutiny. And, as she delves into the case, she realizes that she could do the same with Maddox, but she decides to swing for the rafters and establish that precedent.

- Involve the other crew more. Ask Troi if it would be possible for someone to have feelings that she couldn’t sense. Ask Worf what it was like to be the first Klingon in Starfleet and have people give him the hairy eyeball. Have Wesley talk about how he wasn’t sure he wanted to be in a Starfleet that chopped up people just in case it might provide some useful information. See if La Forge still has working tear ducts as he’s talking about his friend. Give Picard a chance for a damn good speech. And have Guinan swing for those rafters when she asks whether the true measure of a man was not in some grand philosophical abstraction of what constitutes personhood, but in what they did and whether or not they were loved.

As I’ve said before, it’s easy to be a Monday-morning quarterback, and that Monday morning was over three decades ago. But it will always kill me, more than the occasional episode that’s an irredeemable stinker, when there’s one that could have been so much more.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:40 AM on July 31, 2020 [23 favorites]

I feel like after those two comments, what more is there to say.
posted by rocketman at 7:53 AM on July 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

Halloween Jack nails it all.

Aren't spin-off and reboot two different things? Spin-off is Joanie and Chachi going to college and reboot is recasting Richie and the Fonz?

- Louvois is awful. She had previously prosecuted Picard, apparently quite aggressively, even though it was supposed to be “routine” in cases where a ship is lost (I don’t know if that’s done IRL; it seems like a weird thing for Starfleet, which is considerably mellower and more casual than contemporary military services), and expects him to not only have gotten over it but to appreciate her calling him sexy.

I think it is still done today, but back in time, court-martial of the captain for losing the ship under any circumstances was standard procedure. Depending on circumstances, the captain could get a pat on the back or he could be broken.
posted by Fukiyama at 8:44 AM on July 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think it's a fair criticism that this episode takes a really heavy issue and glosses over not only a lot of nuance, but a lot of the more central issues that any serious thought should bring up. I might agree that it's overrated, except for I don't think any really talky episode of Star Trek ever lives up to that kind of analysis. So as far as good episodes, we'd be left with like, maybe Best of Both Worlds and Yesterday's Enterprise?

As much as I love Trek and TNG in particular, if this show were erased from our memory and then re-released with perfectly updated sets, effects, modernized dialogue and non-retrograde social awareness--it wouldn't be considered good. The plot mechanics are just too amteurish by today's standards, they are obviously written by the seat of the pants and never effectively edited. Not only do seasons have little or no internal consistency, but episodes often have jarring shifts or weird gaps indicating some kind of hasty rewrite was done either during shooting or so late before shooting that they didn't have time to think about what makes sense.

So, does Riker's prosecution make a lot of sense given the circumstances? No, totally legit criticism, what's even the point of saying Data is strong, with detachable body parts and and off switch? That doesn't mean he is or isn't sentient. How is it that Maddox is so unprepared and unable to explain the relevant distinctions between sentience and non-sentience? Why is Picard's defense so anemic until his rousing closing argument? What the heck were they doing for the first fifteen minutes of this episode, why not just start with Maddox ordering transfer?

And for the love of God, why is this just coming up now, after Data is supposedly a graduate of Star Fleet Academy (presumably an institute that requires sentience as an entry requirement), and after he's been a highly decorated officer, third in command of Star Fleet's flagship? The idea that his sentience and basic human rights are an open question at this point are laughable.

But I don't agree with the conclusion that this episode is loved mostly because it's a love letter to Data, or affirms he is a real person. I think it's because there were 4-5 great moments where Stewart, Frakes, Goldberg and Burton make these characters feel like real people being the best they can be, woven together by a story that was just decent enough to get us to all those moments. I do sometimes wonder how this show which could be so slapdash and amteurish at some points can be good at others.

Okay, so between Halloween Jack and I, that's a whole lotta beans for one morning.
posted by skewed at 9:33 AM on July 31, 2020 [6 favorites]

The Blu-ray remastered version of this episode is extended with extra scenes. I only watch HD Trek on Netflix so I've never seen the long version of this one. Have any of you? What's extra about it? I think it's the only episode given the extended treatment on the Blu-ray because the HD team felt it was such an important episode that all of the courtroom stuff deserved to be included now that time slots don't matter anymore.
posted by Servo5678 at 9:58 AM on July 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

Star Trek CCG Card of the episode: Data's Medals. It's cool to see the props and attendant flavor text on the card but as Wesley points out, the game efect makes only a little trek sense, Data's an unlikely person to have gained his medals leading crews into battle. At this point in the show, at least...

He also mentions the Easter egg planted in the image of Gene Roddenberry's reflection, practically invisible on the physical card. The Q-Continuum set this card comes from was pretty much peak Easter egg for STCCG.
posted by StarkRoads at 10:47 AM on July 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'll stipulate to a couple of things: as I said before, I'm not terribly fond of the writer's other works, and this has been a bit of a hobby horse for me for some time. (Previous comments in other threads on the blue and purple raising some of the points that I've made in this thread are here, here, here, and here, and that's just from a quick sift through my own comments on this site.) The franchise whipsawed between AIs always being a menace (TOS) and a more nuanced view (every series since then, with the exception of S2 of DSC). This episode was progressive on the subject of AI for the franchise, up to that point--but it could have done better, both as a stand-alone episode and with respect to canon. (That Snodgrass and/or whoever else had a hand in this episode were aware of previous canon, to some extent, is obvious from the mention of the Daystrom Institute, the first such mention in canon. Incidentally, I'd encourage a rewatch of "The Ultimate Computer"; it's remarkable for William Marshall's performance and also for laying out some of the fears and resentments of computerization as existed in that era of American society.) Finally, if I've overdone things a bit in the length of my comments--even for me--it's because I knew that I was playing devil's advocate and had to thoroughly make my case. As it were.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:51 AM on July 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

Data's an unlikely person to have gained his medals leading crews into battle. At this point in the show, at least.

One of my favorite moments of this show is when Data finally assumes command. The anti-android sentiment certainly comes roaring back into view.
posted by rocketman at 10:53 AM on July 31, 2020 [5 favorites]

Halloween Jack, I don't think you need to make any kind of apology (if that's what you were intending) or explanation for those comments. One of the reasons I hold Star Trek, and this show in particular, so dear is that it benefits from being picked at.
posted by rocketman at 10:59 AM on July 31, 2020 [3 favorites]

Is that your longest Trek FF novel yet, Jack? ;)

I can't disagree with any of your points, really. Viewing it from the POV of a bona fide Trek canon completionist (I finally watched Star Trek Beyond!), it IS overrated, and for the reasons you indicated. I didn't feel the structure, or Louvois, were AS much of a mess, but I see why you say that. As for Snodgrass, I don't know anything else of hers except her TNG work…which apparently includes "Up the Long Ladder" :/ so.

But to offer another possible reason why this one is so beloved: I just skimmed back over the episodes we've gotten so far, and it could be argued that this is the first one that's actually thoroughly about a moral issue. Like, Data has never been my favorite character, and for a long time I was downright cool on him, but even then I thought well of this episode.

Maybe another way to put that is that this is the first episode that's actually serious, rather than awkwardly pretending at seriousness (a la "Farpoint" and "Symbiosis," for instance)? TNG does have that reputation for seriousness; maybe this is its real start. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a single moment in a previous episode with more actual weight than Picard and Guinan's conversation here. Heavy stuff for the glossy and shallow 1980s.

Now, again, I agree that the way the episode addresses the moral issue raises some alarming questions about the Federation's history (and Data's; like, for a long time, I just assumed he got a field commission and then tested out of a bunch of stuff at the Academy, or otherwise didn't really "attend" it in the normal way, because of this episode). But even for those members of the "Measure of a Man" audience who actually care about things like the Federation's history, the fact that they apparently messed up Maddox's age is one example of that history still being kind of kludged together by this point—it is only the first half of season 2 for this show and of season 5 for the franchise (7 if you count TAS, but I don't think they did). Had this exact same story come about in, like, TNG's fifth season, I think the general fondness for it (mine included) would be way lower. OTOH, the fondness for Data might be too!

If the purpose of the episode is to establish something beyond the scope of the particular episode and the particular situation in it

Given how rushed things often were in this writers' room, I'm not sure that's a given w/r/t authorial intent, even if this episode did end up establishing quite a lot scope-wise. Occam's razor suggests that they took this story and ran with it (maybe partly because they'd started to figure out how dynamite their cast could be) to meet a deadline, and didn't fret too much about what came before, Daystrom-namedrops notwithstanding. (Not fretting about what came before, after all, is what's allowed these first two seasons to reheat so many TOS plots ^-^ ) Even if the AI-law history and Data's personal history sit under this episode like not so much a foundation as a quagmire, I don't feel that that takes away from the episode's inherent power. It irritates the Trek-continuity-seeker in present-day-me but fired the egalitarian in 1989-me, and still does in present-day-me, probably because egalitarianism itself is so visibly under attack these days.

This episode was progressive on the subject of AI for the franchise, up to that point--but it could have done better, both as a stand-alone episode and with respect to canon.

Yes and yes, but viewed by comparison with the rest of the TV landscape, it looks a lot more progressive. I don't mean that as weaksauce praise but rather as another attempt to reckon with its popularity.

But I love the batman headcanon! And I also love that someone someday will search Metafilter for "batman" and be very confused when directed to this thread, which was posted years before Disney acquired CBS and DC and started merging their various IPs.

I might agree that it's overrated, except for I don't think any really talky episode of Star Trek ever lives up to that kind of analysis.

This is interesting, skewed, and I look forward to keeping an eye on that as this show matures. One that leaps to mind is DS9 "In the Pale Moonlight," which one might forget is damn talky—ahh, but that one's arguably overrated for various reasons too. "The Visitor" is talky, though, and IMO is by no means overrated. Lot of talking in "Inner Light" too… Hm, maybe just the philosophically talky ones :)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 12:14 PM on July 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

"Data's Day" is pretty talky, and that's my favorite episode (though I would understand why others wouldn't be so fond of it). Hell, Chain of Command, Part II is *all* talk, and that's a legitimately great episode!
posted by rocketman at 1:41 PM on July 31, 2020

Thank you, halloween jack, for your excellent comments--I've always felt like there was something wrong with me that I didn't get why everyone was so in love with this episode. Parts of it enraged me (Lauvois and that general treatment of women in this show, the whole weird reason for the trial and forcing Riker to prosecute it) and parts of it, like the conversation with Guinan, were legitimately admirable, but overall it left me incredibly cold and I'd often get so frustrated in conversations where people raved about it and I had to sit there grinding my teeth.

skewed, you also make some great points. I was kind of dreading when we'd get to this one, fearing the slavering devotion, but it's turned out to be so much more interesting than that. I never loved most of the ones people hold up as the best (Inner Light, for example), I think the only one of my top five that makes it to the lists is Yesterday's Enterprise, or maybe Cause and Effect, I can never remember if other people hold those in as high esteem as I do. It's nice to not feel like, for once, the only outlier.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 3:59 PM on July 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

I also agree with Halloween jack, though I don't really agree that this plot is fixable with Data as the subject. As you get into, you'd have to change the entire show. Picard absolutely has to be the one on defense, you'd have to invent a reason why the notable diplomat and negotiator captain isn't, and we'd lose what I would suggest is one of the big reasons for this episode's popularity...

Picard's final speech. IMO that is the moment that Picard as a character becomes truly crystalized, not that he hasn't been great in the past. Is it a speech that is full of holes? 100%. Does it address the question at hand? Not really. Is it delivered incredibly. You betcha.
In addition to that performance, I have a kinda snarky sounding reason that I don't mean in a mean way: This is one of the easiest episodes to point to if you need a Star Trek episode that is 'smart'. Much less so now, I feel, but there was a time when being into Trek was joined with being 'smart' in a culturally significant way, the de facto sign that someone is a nerd. But most of Trek is honestly, kinda basic and at some points plain ol dumb, and if you're in a position to present the 'best' Trek episode to people assuming it's a show about being smart, I'm guessing that a lot of people will reach for this one over something better plotted and written, but with less talky big words nerd cred.
posted by neonrev at 4:37 PM on July 31, 2020 [4 favorites]

He nearly killed 'The Measure of a Man' because according to Gene there were no lawyers in the 24th century because if people had criminal intentions they 'had their minds made right'.

If Roddenberry actually said this I think it's just more evidence that his mind was fading by this point. There were certainly lawyers in the original series and in Encounter at Farpoint Picard memorably quotes Shakespeare's "First we kill all the lawyers" thing to express his disgust at the barbaric 21st Century "court" that Q transports him to. TOS did a whole episode about the evils of criminals having their "minds made right." Maybe Roddenberry meant that would-be criminals were re-educated in a benign way? It's possible he wasn't quite saying what Snodgrass thought, but he was getting pretty addled by that point.

I enjoyed Picard well enough while I was watching it, but the more I think about that show the more stuff bothers me. The Red Letter Media guys did a series of scathing reviews of the show, raising a lot of fair points, and one of those points was that the way androids are treated in that show really doesn't square with what happens in this episode and the rest of the TNG era. In this episode, Data is declared a sentient life form, deserving of the same rights as anybody else in Starfleet. The specter of android slavery is raised, and the horror of it is enough to shame everybody into doing the right thing. In Picard all android rights are gone and Starfleet just has android slaves. And when those androids are re-programmed to kill a bunch of people on Mars, Starfleet decides to destroy all androids. Starfleet has often been depicted as kind of a soft antagonist for our heroes, a stodgy institution for our guys to rebel against, but it's really hard to picture them as slaveholders, or to imagine them embarking on robo-genocide. (It also seems highly unlikely that they'd all suddenly be dropping f-bombs all over the place or that Picard would be such a pariah that he couldn't get any admirals to sit still and listen to him. I mean, where the hell is Nechayev? But those are nerdy gripes for another day.)

Note that I say all that as somebody who was just so freaking glad to have Jean-Luc Picard back, and I'll be right there for season two even if I'm grumbling about how they did Data and the rest of droid-kind dirty!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:53 PM on July 31, 2020 [4 favorites]

"Data's Day" is pretty talky, and that's my favorite episode (though I would understand why others wouldn't be so fond of it). Hell, Chain of Command, Part II is *all* talk, and that's a legitimately great episode!

I could be misremembering, but Data's Day seemed to have a lot of stuff going on, albeit not much in the way of action. Chain of Command II is maybe the most talky, and while I think it clearly has some great, great elements, I remember being generally 'meh' on the episode as a whole. I guess we'll have to see how they stand up on rewatch. :)

One reason I'm enjoying our rewatch is that although I've seen most every episode of TNG at least once and many twice just within the last 5 or so years, I haven't really watched any of them carefully, mostly just as background noise and not in groups. These threads are a fun way to encourage attentive viewing, and any careful review of a modestly-budgeted syndicated sci-fi show from the 1980's is going to reveal some serious flaws. But it's been thirty years, I still love it as a whole, and my favorite parts I love fiercely. This is one of those episodes I love, and a scathing analysis (made all the worse for not being unfair or inaccurate) isn't gonna change that. And anyway, I'm hardly one to insist on my own unassailable taste, I'm on record in these threads as having unironically enjoyed *The Naked Now*. Just as no one talks shit about Darmok, I'll keep my composure.

Picard's final speech. IMO that is the moment that Picard as a character becomes truly crystalized

Agreed, there is no iconic line or shot here for Picard, but I think they build on what Stewart does here and cater the character more and more to his strengths. For better or worse, they go back more or less to this same well in The Drumhead, another questionable episode that I'm in the tank for because it's just Patrick Stewart's Picard turned up to 11.
posted by skewed at 6:16 PM on July 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

I agree with all the criticisms of this episode, it really doesn’t make any sense that Data could retroactively be denied basic rights. It’s not consistent with what we know of Starfleet and The Federation’s values at all. And also Riker for the prosecution is obviously in conflict of interest, like what the fuck?

But dramatically, damn.
posted by rodlymight at 8:37 PM on July 31, 2020 [3 favorites]

Yeah, this is an episode that only makes dramatic sense. The question of Data's personhood would have been decided when he applied for entry to Starfleet Academy, I can't imagine he would have served honorably for years only to then be taken apart against his will.

I like Halloween Jack's Civilian Data idea, but I think it wouldn't even have to be a "Data is Picard's valet" thing, there's a huge number of civilians on board and I think it would have been neat to have Data as a touchstone for the civilian population. He's just there because he wants to see the universe and living aboard one of these newfangled Galaxy Class ships seemed like his best move. Over the course of the first couple of seasons Data's talents are recognized by the Starfleet crew and he's given honorary duties, then finally he's encouraged to apply to Starfleet Academy and that's when we have the courtroom episode as Starfleet decides if he's eligible or not. Basically, replace Wesley's arc with Data.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:17 PM on August 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

but I think it wouldn't even have to be a "Data is Picard's valet" thing

*Data grabs Mr.Encyclopedia's shirt*
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 8:34 AM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

The way this episode (and The Picard Show) casts a different light on Starfleet and projects a difference between the ideals of the crew we follow and the society they live in...seems somewhat relevant to today. Notwithstanding the inconsistency with the stated premises of the series in general.
posted by StarkRoads at 11:57 AM on August 2, 2020

We have been told, over and over again, how enlightened the Federation and its citizens are, and how Starfleet exemplifies the very best of the Federation and its citizens and how selective their admissions process is and yadda yadda. But all of that gets kicked to the curb because some AI boffin has a neat idea for a project that he wants to try.

That's what always bothered me about this episode, as well. It throws a lot of painstakingly-constructed world-building out of the window very quickly, without much justification. Skilled writers can do this, but it has to be done well to get the viewer to buy into the changes being made, and that doesn't happen here.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:54 PM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is basically the complaint that I've heard TNG writers had: that the Federation, as it is supposed to be, pre-emptively shuts down a lot of dramatic conflict. (And regarding the lawyers thing, that Roddenberry's idea of a more perfect society was let's say idiosyncratic. (And also the lawyers thing seems extra weird considering what we've heard about his lawyer Leonard Maizlish.)) And then some writers just wrote that dramatic conflict anyway, without concerning themselves too much about how it affected the bigger picture of the show.

Of course, the weirdest thing to me about this episode is how much it doesn't figure into Voyager's "Author, Author". (Though, arbitrarily treating holograms different than androids is also something that carries on to Picard, so at least it's consistently inconsistent).
posted by ckape at 11:04 PM on August 2, 2020 [4 favorites]

Of course, the weirdest thing to me about this episode is how much it doesn't figure into Voyager's "Author, Author". (Though, arbitrarily treating holograms different than androids is also something that carries on to Picard, so at least it's consistently inconsistent).

The 'if Pluto is a dog, then what is Goofy'? of Star Trek.
posted by StarkRoads at 7:35 AM on August 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

I mean fundamentally the episode makes no sense. Having Picard and Riker act as pseudo- lawyers is the equivalent of bringing in a gardener to balance the warp engines. They have no relevant skill in making legal arguments, and it shows. And even more, having an officer and his superior argue opposite sides of a legal case is all kinds of inappropriate. There is no way one could say it's a fair trial under those circumstances.

In fact, maybe that's why Riker's arguments were so lackluster. Every time he thought of something, he looked over at Picard, and "Oh yeah, better say something stupid."
posted by happyroach at 10:51 PM on August 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

Speaking of real vs. fictional lawyers, LegalEagle (an actual lawyer who mostly does civil cases, I think) has a YouTube channel where he analyzes mostly fictional cases (he also did a two-parter on Tiger King that was really interesting); here's his analysis of TMoaM. Had some of the same problems with it that I did, although he also respected some of the arguments used, and raises a number of procedural issues; gave it a C+ overall.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:29 PM on August 12, 2020

Guinan headware watch: Purple circle
posted by Kyol at 5:14 PM on January 10, 2021

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