“The Measure of a Man”
Written by Melinda M. Snodgrass
Directed by Robert Scheerer
Season 2, Episode 9
Production episode 40272-135
Original air date: February 13, 1989
Captain’s Log: The Enterprise arrives at Starbase 173 for crew rotation, dropping off of experiment modules, and general relaxation. Riker hosts a poker game that includes Data, O’Brien, La Forge, and Pulaski, while Picard comes across Phillipa Louvoix, who has started up a Judge Advocate General office on the newly established starbase.
Picard then meets up with Admiral Nakamura who introduces Picard to Commander Bruce Maddox. Maddox claims to have constructed a positronic brain, and wishes to disassemble Data and study him. Or, rather, study “it” — for almost the entire episode, Maddox refers to Data with that pronoun. Maddox was the one member of the committee who approved Data’s application to Starfleet Academy who voted against allowing him in on the grounds that he was not sentient.
Starfleet Command has transferred Data to Maddox’s command on the starbase. Not wishing to submit himself to the procedure, or to Maddox, Data resigns. Maddox claims that Data cannot resign, as he is the property of Starfleet.
Louvoix finds legal precedent that supports Maddox, and rules that Data is indeed Starfleet property. Picard challenges the ruling, but as this is a brand-new JAG office, Louvoix has no staff. Picard and Riker must serve as defendant and prosecutor, respectively — which means that Riker has to prove that Data’s not sentient, something he doesn’t even believe.
However, when the hearing starts, Riker does his job. He has Data bend steel in his bare hands (sadly, he does not change the course of mighty rivers), he removes Data’s forearm, and then finally he turns Data off.
Picard counters by asking Data about the items he packed when he thought he was leaving the Enterprise, establishing a pattern of human behavior — sentiment, memory, and so forth.
Then he calls Maddox to the stand, mentioning that he does not believe that Data is sentient. Picard asks Maddox to define sentience — his response is intelligence, self-awareness, and consciousness. In short order, Picard proves the first two. Maddox goes on to say that he intends to create “hundreds” of androids like Data, at which point they become a race. The question becomes then, how will humanity treat this race, this product of their genius? And what if Data also has consciousness, in even the smallest degree?
Louvoix says that they’re dancing around the big question: does Data have a soul? She has no idea if he does; she has no idea if she herself does. But he should be able to find out for himself, and so she rules that he has the right to choose. Data formally declines Maddox’s procedure, Maddox says he’ll cancel the transfer, Data asks him to continue his work and stay in touch in case his work actually becomes productive, Maddox calls him remarkable, and Louvoix points out that he finally stopped calling Data “it.”
Can’t We Just Reverse The Polarity?: Apparently, if you don’t know how to maintain the electron resistance across the neural filaments of a positronic brain, you can’t make one. Learn something new every day.
If I Only Had a Brain...: Data plays his first poker game, and is bluffed by Riker. He then has to fight for his rights, starting with Picard. When the captain points out the potential value of Data being experimented upon, Data asks why all officers aren’t required to remove their eyes and replace them with VISORs, since La Forge’s vision is superior to humans’.
Data has been awarded a Starfleet Decoration for Valor and Gallantry, the Medal of Honor with Cluster, the Legion of Honor, and the Star Cross.
His off-switch, established in “Datalore,” is discovered by Riker (who smiles when he first sees it, and then frowns when he realizes how much it helps his argument).
No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Data keeps a holograph of Tasha Yar, from the time they were intimate in “The Naked Now.” Louvoix’s expression upon realizing that Data is fully functional is classic.
Speaking of Louvoix, the sexual tension between her and Picard is thick enough to cut with a knife.
Syntheholics Anonymous: Guinan helps Picard realize that they’re not really talking about Data — and any other androids Maddox might create as a result of studying Data — being property, they’re talking about them being slaves.
Welcome Aboard: Several truly excellent guest stars in this one, from small — Clyde Kustatsu as a no-nonsense admiral, and Colm Meaney returning as O’Brien — to large — the delightful Amanda McBroom as Louvoix and the snotty Brian Brophy as Maddox.
I Believe I Said That: “It brings a sense of order and stability to my universe that you’re still a pompous ass.”
Louvoix upon being reunited with Picard.
Trivial matters: Data would continue to stay in touch with Maddox—the episode “Data’s Day” will consist of a letter to Maddox describing a day in his life.
In your humble rewatcher’s post-Star Trek: Nemesis novel Articles of the Federation, Maddox is on the other side of the argument, as he defends B-4’s right not to be disassembled before the Federation Council.
Data and Picard will again have to defend android rights when Data creates a daughter, Lal, in “The Offspring.”
The Stargazer court-martial referenced by Picard and Louvoix throughout the episode is dramatized in Christopher L. Bennett’s novel The Buried Age, which covers Picard’s life between the loss of the Stargazer and the launch of the Enterprise.
Admiral Nakamura will return in the episodes “Phantasms” and “All Good Things...” and would feature heavily in the A Time to... nine-book series by various authors (including myself) and make a brief appearance in the Destiny trilogy by David Mack.
Two other additions to the Trek universe in this episode: The poker game we see in the teaser becomes a recurring event, all the way to the final scene of the final episode. And we get the first of many mentions of the Daystrom Institute, named for Richard Daystrom, from the original series’ “The Ultimate Computer.”
This is the first of a great many episodes written by Melinda M. Snodgrass, who would go on to become a story editor and an executive script consultant for the show.
Make It So: “You wanted a chance to make law — well, here it is, make it a good one.” Quite simply one of Trek’s finest hours. Picard sums it up best during the hearing when he mentions that Starfleet was created to seek out new life, “well, there it sits!” I described “A Matter of Honor” as Star Trek at its Star Trekkiest, but that applies even more so here, as it’s an exploration of the human condition, and a fight for human rights, for all that the person making the fight isn’t actually human. But then, that has been how Trek has traditionally used its nonhuman characters, from Spock to Data to Odo to Seven of Nine to T’Pol.
Ironically, given writer Snodgrass’s legal background, the episode’s sole flaw is the procedure in the hearing. Picard isn’t given the chance to cross examine Data, Riker isn’t given the chance to cross examine Maddox, and Riker never gets to make closing arguments.
But that’s a minor nit in an otherwise brilliant piece that includes some classic scenes: the first of many poker games, Data’s going away party, every spark-filled scene with Picard and Louvoix, both Riker and Picard’s presentations during the hearing, and especially the Ten-Forward scene where Guinan shines a light on the true stakes of this hearing to Picard.
Warp factor rating: 9
Keith R.A. DeCandido really enjoyed writing an older, wiser Bruce Maddox in Articles of the Federation, because he really was a putz in this episode. That is but one of his many pieces of Star Trek fiction. His latest books include the fantastical police procedurals Unicorn Precinct and SCPD: The Case of the Claw. He’s working on sequels to both books for 2012 release: Goblin Precinct and SCPD: Avenging Amethyst. For more about Keith, go to his web site, from which you can order his latest books, and check out his blog, his Facebook page, and his Twitter feed, not to mention his twice-monthly podcast Dead Kitchen Radio.