2/25/13

Star Trek: Asterisk "The Measure of a Man"

Vital Information
Series: The Next Generation
Episode: S02E09
Air Date: February 13, 1989
Written by: Melinda M. Snodgrass
Directed by: Robert Scheerer

Premise
Data's personhood is put to the test after another douche-bag scientist wants to strip him for parts and study his insides.

Review
It starts off with Data dealing in a poker game among the senior staff and O'Brien. Turns out Data has done a lot of studying on the game and is confident that he will play it well. But Riker beats him with a bluff and he's confused. He totally wasn't expecting that. Meanwhile, the Enterprise pulls up to the newly built Starbase 173 where Captain Picard meets Captain Phillipa Louvois who he had known from that one time she prosecuted against him for the loss of the Stargazer. While they reminisce  Commander Maddox comes up and says "Hey, here's a wacky idea. Let's disassemble Data since he's not a sentient life form."

Obviously, this doesn't go over too well with Picard, but Maddox goes on. He says he wants to study the positronic brain that Noonian Soong created to put in Data's head. Data's intrigued by the idea until he learns that Maddox wants to dump all of the information in his brain into a computer and deactivate Data in an attempt to create more Soong-type androids. He would basically be killing Data. And that's the real issue here - would he be killing Data if Data wasn't alive to begin with? Is he alive? Is he sentient?
Look at that face! How could you disassemble that face?
When Picard tries to get him to submit to the tests in private, Data makes the comparison that forcing him to undergo a dangerous test for the betterment of Starfleet would be like forcing all officers to replace their biological eyes with Geordi's VISOR. Picard agrees and then they start to fight back. Unfortunately, Louvois, who would be the mediator of the debate, gives a summery judgement that Data is, in fact, the property of Starfleet, and if Picard wanted to challenge that judgement, Riker, as the next senior officer, would have to take Maddox's side. And so, at the reluctant agreement of Riker, the court case begins.

Riker does all he can to study up on Data's technical specifications and prove that he's just a machine. It is, however, difficult when you consider the machine to be your friend. When they start the hearing, Riker takes Data's hand off and shows it to the court. He submits that he is a machine, made by a man and able to be turned off by a man. In a dramatic gesture, he flips Data's switch and Data is turned off. Cut to commercial.
"I'll just wait here, then."
In a recess from the hearing, Picard goes to 10-Forward and ends up talking over his predicament with Guinan who always give cryptic, but wise advice. She says that, when it comes down to it, the real issue is that Starfleet intends to create a race of subservient people, or "disposable creatures". And that's when Picard sees how he will win the argument. He goes back into the courtroom and says that, yes, Data is a machine, but so are we; just machines of another sort. He says that Data is created by a human, but so are children put together from the actions of two parent humans. The real issue is whether Data is sentient and, by Maddox's own definition, sentience requires intelligence, self awareness and consciousness. Data exhibits at least the first two.

Picard goes on to make a grand speech that sooner or later Maddox, or someone like him, will create more Soong-type androids whether Data submits or not. The question, are we prepared to make these androids into a slave race? He says that Starfleet's mission is to seek out new life, and, pointing to Data, there it sits! Louvois finds in Data's favor saying that they have delved deep into metaphysics in this hearing. The real issue is whether Data has a soul. She doesn't know if he does, but she doesn't even know whether she does herself. And that Data should live his live in the pursuit of the answer to that question, just like every other sentient being.
"I formally request for you to 'frak off'."
Maddox promises to take back the transfer request and Data is safe. Back on Enterprise, the crew has a celebration in the holodeck, but Riker hasn't joined them. Data goes to find him and Riker says that he's feeling bad about doing so well in his defense against Data. Data says not to worry about it because if he hadn't have agreed to serve as prosecutor, Data wouldn't have had a chance to defend himself. That decision actually saved Data's life. And they lived happily ever after and learned a valuable lesson about motion servos.

Overall Thoughts
So Data is now officially recognized as sentient. This is good news for Data fans. And if you're a fan of The Next Generation and not a fan of Data, what kind of Trekkie are you? This is a pretty interesting courtroom drama because, as opposed to normal courtroom dramas, it actually delves into the personhood of a machine. There's nothing wrong with a normal courtroom drama, but this one steps it up to another level, and I love it. Especially since it gives so much screen time to Data. Thumbs up on this one!