35 – The Measure of a Man

Grade: B

The Measure of a Man (1989) on IMDb


While the Enterprise is docked at the recently-built Starbase 173, some of the officers have started a poker game. Meanwhile, Captain Picard meets an old love interest who happens to be a JAG officer. Finally, a Starfleet Admiral introduces Commander Maddox to Captain Picard, and casually tells him that Maddox will be removing Data off the Enterprise.


In my opinion, this is by far the best episode of this entire series, up to this point, and the next-best episode isn’t even close. Finally the writing and acting are excellent, and much better than what we’re used to seeing from this series up to this point.

It starts off quickly, establishing the characters and setting up the situation. Only within a few minutes, we know that Commander Maddox wants to take Data apart, study how he works, and attempt to make other androids, based on his construction. Obviously, this is a very troubling concept to Data and the rest of the Enterprise crew. But even though this is a pretty early episode, by this time in the series, we’ve seen enough of Data to also become emotionally involved in this storyline. It probably would not have been as impactful if it had come earlier in the series.

The script in the first 30 minutes or so of this episode is very good – probably the best of the entire series up to this point. The writer made a point of having Commander Maddox repeatedly refer to Data as “it” instead of “him”. After a while, it gets to be a bit old, but it also helps firmly establish him as the villain in this episode. By the end of the show, I disliked him as much as any villain in the entire series.

Note also when Picard is forced to ask help from the JAG officer we’ve never met, but who obviously has a romantic history with Picard from sometime before this episode. It’s a great use of background information. Another excellent scene is when Picard meets with Guinan on Ten-Forward to discuss the trial. Guinan’s points about creating a race of beings whose only purpose in life is to serve others are excellent. I wish Picard had used these same arguments in the trial, but I’ll say more on that a little later.

The last scene in this episode may be the best one of all. After the trial is over, Data asks Riker if he will be joining the party with the rest of the crew. Data’s response about not easily forgetting how Riker sacrificed a bit of himself to help Data is very well-written and really helps cap off a very good episode. Nevermind that Data is an android and his computer brain won’t forget anything at all. It’s still a very good scene, and it helps make Data seem human.

Though it has a lot of really strong points, I had to rate this a little lower because once the trial begins, the writing sags a bit. Since this episode aired, there have been a lot of television series that take place in courts. And it was pretty noticeable to me that the writer knew how to set up realistic characters, a compelling storyline, and very interesting dialogue. But once the trial started, the writing became a bit too simplistic. I though this could have been done a great deal better.

Really, I was both surprised and disappointed that the judge is the one who pointed out what the real issue was in this trial, and that neither Riker nor Picard attempted to make this point during the trial. The entire time I was watching the trial, I was waiting for Riker to introduce evidence that Data was a piece of property, in the same way the Enterprise computers, warp drive and holodeck are property of Starfleet. But instead, he focused on proving that Data is a machine. Earlier in the episode, the judge warned Riker that if she could tell that he wasn’t doing his very best to win this case and give custody of Data to Commander Maddox, she’d stop the trial and summarily rule in Maddox’s favor. If she were a real judge instead of a character in a TV show, she would have seen this immediately, once Riker had closed his case.

Similarly, I expected Picard to prove that Data is not property because he’s a sentient being with the right to make his own decisions. I think he may have tried to do this, at least a little, but I was surprised that he didn’t use any of the arguments that he learned from Guinan, earlier in the episode. Instead, he won the trial only because he showed that Data had been intimate with Tasha Yar. I’m personally not sure what difference this would make. After all, Yar could have been intimate with a holodeck character just as well as she was with Data. This really shouldn’t have been the key to the trial. Instead, Picard needed to find a way to show that Data’s decisions are not just a series of memorized responses. That he in fact does think for himself, that he’s capable of learning, and that he should be allowed to refuse the request to be taken apart. I was expecting to hear Picard refer to “I think, therefore I am.”

Dr. Maddox makes the argument that Data can’t resign from Starfleet because he’s a machine. Well, if that’s true, why is he in Starfleet at all? Did he choose to join or was he “acquired” like a piece of equipment? Data makes the point that he chose to join Starfleet. So if he can choose to be in Starfleet, he certainly can choose to resign – he can’t have one without the other.

But nobody makes this argument. To me, it seems like a slam-dunk. Prove that he chose to join Starfleet, and you have the most convincing argument that Data is a sentient being with free will. Again, if he can choose to join, he should also have the ability to quit – just like any other Starfleet officer. And if he can choose to join Starfleet, he should also have the right to refuse to subject himself to this crazy unfounded experiment by this overzealous Commander. Again, this argument was never made.

Compared to the rest of the expertly-written script, the trial really sticks out. There are some great arguments about whether or not Data is actually a sentient being, and I’m sure we’ll never know the true measure of his sentience, but there has to be more to the argument than just having a romantic relationship with another character. So because of this, I don’t rate this episode as high as some other episodes that don’t have a major flaw like this. But hey, it’s nice to finally have an episode that I don’t mind watching multiple times.

Of Note

This episode reminded me a lot of the Original Series episode called “Court Martial” when Kirk is on trial for the death of Ben Finney. In that one, Kirk’s former love interest is the prosecuting attorney and not the judge. And when Kirk is on the stand, his attorney asks for his entire record to be read to the court for the same reason Picard asks the court to continue with Data’s commendations. It’s a great nod to the classic episode.