Season 2, Episode 9
Watchers: Mike & Jason
It’s another day and another friend is watching Star Trek with me! As you know, I hand pick which episodes I want to watch with folks and then work around their (and my) schedule. When my friend Jason agreed to be apart of the project I looked at my upcoming shows to watch and one jumped out at me instantly!
Jason estimates that he’s seen roughly half of the TNG- and mainly the later seasons. He had never seen “The Measure of a Man” before today! How is that possible, right? He certainly falls under the ‘casual viewer’ category. Back when the show was on he’d catch the occasional episode but wasn’t an avid fan. He knows the characters and acknowledges Star Trek’s cultural impact.
Now, on to the episode! We open with the very first poker game on the show. This will become a common scene in TNG as the show evolves over the next 6 seasons and it all started right here. It’s Data’s first poker game and as O’Brian says “time to pluck a pigeon”. I think this scene is written in to remind us that Data is on his journey to understand humanity and become more human. It also establishes him as a sympathetic character right from the beginning. I’m not sure why they chose poker for this. I’d think that gambling would long be a thing of the past at this point. But it’s not established that those chips have any real value. I mean, they don’t have money, right? In any case, it seems a little weird to me. But maybe that’s because I don’t play poker and find it a little alienating. I don’t get the lingo– like I have no idea what’s happening other than looking for clues in the scene. As Jason put it, poker comes across as “snobby” to some of us. But I think they were trying for the opposite effect– for the scene to give us a familiar common ground upon which we can better understand the characters. Sadly, that doesn’t work for all audiences.
Moving on, the Enterprise is in orbit around the newly established Starbase 173 where one of Picard’s old frenemies, Captain Phillipa Louvois, is stationed as the JAG officer. We soon meet Admiral Nakamura & Commander Bruce Maddox. Maddox instantly comes across as the “bad guy” of the episode when he starts checking out Data like the bridge is a trendy gay bar. I mean, he’s obviously undressing the android with his eyes– but we learn that this is because he wants to disassemble Data, study him, and make more androids. And thus begins our plot– does Data have the right to refuse such a violation or is he simply a machine and the property of Starfleet with no “human rights”. They have a hearing with Louvois as the judge, Picard defending Data and Riker prosecuting. After compelling arguments, Data wins the right to choose. Yay!
I’d say that the most compelling scenes are Riker’s argument, Picard’s argument, and the scene where Picard and Guinan chat in the ten-forward. In a way, Riker has the easy job. He has to prove that Data is a machine– which he is. He removes Data’s hand, has Data admit that he was created by a human, and even turns Data off as one would flip a light switch. Picard has the much more difficult task. Lucky the story was written by a lawyer and the argument that Picard delivers is really good television. He states that Riker’s points are moot because we too are machines- just of a different sort. He goes on to say that we cant prove that WE are sentient so we can’t prove that Data isn’t. In the end, he uses Guinan’s guidance to make the argument about slavery. If they make more Datas– a whole race of Datas who may be sentient we would be judged by how we treat that race. Picard ends with “Starfleet was founded to seek out new life: well, there it sits!” BOOM! Mic drop!
My only problem with this episode is, yet again, the misuse of Dr. Pulaski! The only person on board who has indicated that she doesn’t think of Data as a living being is Dr. Katherine Pulaski. She could have had a fascinating journey in this episode! Sadly, she disappears after the poker game. 😦
After we finished the episode, I asked Jason: “How do you think this specific episode would do on TV today? Does it hold up? How would today’s writers and producers do things differently?” Here is his response:
J: In short…. I think yes indeed Measure of a Man holds up to TV and society’s important topics today. Other than some stylistic differences (language, design, etc) I actually don’t think there’s much that would need to change.
Yes yes yes! I couldn’t have said it better. This is clearly the best episode of Season 2, and one of the best episodes of Trek period.