Top Ten Best Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes #5
The Measure of a Man is Plato’s, Samuel Johnson’s, and Martin Luther King Jr’s favorite Star Trek episode of all time. Just kidding. Actually, each of these philosophical men have something to say about who “man” really is, and how he should rise above. Or something like that. The Measure of a Man from The Next Generation’s second season tries to show us something about humanity, through an android who is subject to our laws and our morals. When Data is thrown into a bad situation, he does what a good man would do, what a morally just and honorable man would do. He says, “Yeah, that’s not right. I’m not doing that. I’m out.”
Data is the perfect subject for moral discourse, because you’re always going to get a balanced argument from him or his crewmates, not a violent outburst. As if inspired by Martin Luther King Jr, Captain Picard defends Data during a trial about what will happen to him, because he simply can’t believe what is happening. He has to step in and I don’t blame him.
Brian Brophy plays Commander Maddox and he wants to dissemble Data to study him in order to create more. He sees Data as a tool, a mere machine like the Enterprise computer, not like a man and certainly not like a sentient being. He believes Starfleet could benefit from a whole mess of Data androids, one on every ship. His argument is compelling, but automating systems on a ship is different from making a living, breathing artificial intelligence do the dirty work. Isn’t it?
Guinan believes what Maddox wants is slavery. She simply has the best dialogue in the whole episode and Whoopi Goldberg actually underplays her role, inspiring Captain Picard with some casual conversation. It’s a very underrated performance. She tells it like it is! A whole truckload of androids running around subject to our whims? Well, you might as well get your whips and chains, bub!
With no officers aboard her new base, the Judge Advocate General appoints Commander Riker as the prosecuting attorney. I think Riker’s dialogue inspired Jonathan Frakes for this outing and he does a great job. He has to argue for Data joining Commander Maddox’s crazy experiment and he has to personally dislike it at the same time. Frakes actually pulls off this balancing act, mostly through his dialogue, which was written by attorney turned writer, Melissa Snodgrass.
One of the best scenes is when Riker discovers a great way to argue his case. He is researching Data on the computer and discovers his on/off switch, which Riker uses to demonstrate his artificial nature as an automaton that can be shut off by a man. Riker smiles when he sees this information on the computer screen. He then looks sad and his smile fades, because he realizes he could win. He looks down in a depressed way. It’s really a moving moment and Frakes sells it with no dialogue whatsoever. Whoopi Goldberg AND Jonathan Frakes giving great performances? Holy cow. I guess I’m feeling generous today.
The only thing I could criticize is that Data doesn’t argue for himself at the trial. He’s the model of nonviolent protest. He does give a speech about individuality in his quarters when Commander Maddox questions him about why he won’t join the crazy farm, so he’s not completely silent. At the end of the episode, he also thanks Riker for doing his best, because without him, he probably would have lost without a fight.
Depressed Riker: I almost cost you your life!
Data the Philosopher: Is it not true that had you refused to prosecute, Captain Louvois would have ruled summarily against me?
Data the Philosopher: That action injured you, and saved me. I will not forget it.
Thankfully, Riker fails to prove Data is merely a machine. I would have to say that this is one of the most philosophical and meaningful Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes ever made. It has the meaningful dialogue you love in Star Trek and some great performances too. There are little tidbits thrown in for fans and Patrick Stewart yells his head off about injustice, so you can’t go wrong with this one. It’s a classic.