I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. Here, we’re in season 2 and discussing episodes nine and ten. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.
“The Measure of a Man”
Data is ordered to report to a starbase in order to be disassembled so that Maddox, a scientist, may create more androids. He refuses due to the risks of the procedure, but Captain Phillipa Louvois rules he is Federation property and so cannot resign. Picard challenges and Riker is forced to step in to prosecute Data in a courtroom to determine whether Data may be seen as property. Riker does his best and makes a stunning, dramatic case which even involves turning Data’s power off. Picard, after consulting Guinan, makes the argument that Data meets criteria of personhood and should be given benefit of the doubt. Louvois rules in Picard’s favor, ultimately overturning her previous finding. Data is not property.
I’ll say it now: I’m going to gush. This episode is one of those that has stuck with me for years afterwards. The elements are all there for a fantastic piece of dramatic television. Riker’s stunning prosecution of the case brings one of the most chilling moments in the series so far as he says “the strings are cut…” and refers to Data as Pinocchio. The examination of the contents of Data’s packed bag demonstrates his own concerns in a way that no arguments ultimately could. The stakes are also high, as Data is clearly a major element of the crew of the Enterprise.
These dramatic elements are balanced by thoughtful reflection. Data, early on, voices objection to losing the “feel” of his experiences in-the-moment. Philosophically speaking, Data is essentially appealing to phenomenological aspects of consciousness, and although the episode only touches on the metaphysics behind all this, ultimately the question of personhood is determined by elements such as these.
Undeniably, this episode is carried by both plot and character development, and viewers are forced to see Data in ways they had never considered before. Can a machine become a “person”? The fact that this episode has us asking deeper questions like this demonstrates its staying power and effectiveness.
The closing scene of this episode also does something rare: it manages to blend sentiment and mentality in a way that shows exactly what science fiction does best. When Data speaks to Riker and tells him that he knows prosecuting Data’s case “wounded him” “and saved me,” I admit tears sprung to my eyes. Riker’s self-sacrifice became a way to save Data’s life.
The plot never drags, the drama continues to build, and even knowing the outcome you can’t help but dive in and immerse yourself in the arguments and celebrate the triumph of Data’s right to choose. The philosophical questions the episode brings up are just icing on the cake. Overall, this is hands-down one of the all-time best episodes of the series and indeed of any show I’ve seen.
Grade: A+ “One of the all-time great episodes with so many big questions and threads to chase down.”
Wife’s Grade and Comment: A “It’s like a coming of age story for Data!”
The Enterprise is summoned to transport a head of state, Salia, to her planet. Salia is accompanied by Anya, her governess who is actually a beast-mode angry shapeshifter, which they don’t find out until later. Wesley falls in love with Salia and seeks advice for how to talk to her, which goes horribly. Ultimately, they fall in love, Anya tries to scare Wesley away, but everyone learns something.
This episode had all the makings of an all-time worst episode. First, it’s focused on Wesley. Strike one. Second, it doesn’t really have much in the way of a threat, which is what TNG generally thrives on. Strike two. Third, it attempts to talk about teenage hormones and love…. in an 80s sci-fi show. Strike three? Despite all that, I surprisingly didn’t hate the episode.
Wesley’s character had some good development (!) and although the episode at times bordered on some really annoying stereotypes (Wesley needs to “leave Salia alone”? She came into his quarters and kissed him!) it was at points enjoyable. Wesley is turning out to be not so hateful as I thought. So the episode really had a high upside. Unfortunately, it seemed “The Dauphin” never lived up to its potential. It largely turned into an episode about watching Wesley and Salia chase each other over the Enterprise. Despite the crew’s expressed fears over Anya’s abilities, it is hard to imagine that such a beast could not easily be disposed of with some phasers or just beaming her off the ship somewhere. Not much actually happens in this episode, which doesn’t necessarily make it bad, but it does force it to drag out a bit.
It would be interesting if they raised up Salia’s character again at some point in the future, and I don’t remember if she is, so I’ll give it a bit of a bonus for piquing my interest enough to care.
Grade: C “Surprisingly much better than the disparate parts, but still under-realized.”
Wife’s Grade and Comment: B “I liked the character development and the unexpected twists and turns.”
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