Review – The Measure of a Man: Star Trek TNG S02E09
“The Measure of a Man” is one of the prime examples of what makes a great Star Trek episode. A compelling story which explores a moral dilemma, without directly preaching to the audience. I would go so far as to say that this is what makes great science fiction.
Bruce Maddox comes to the Enterprise to disassemble Data, with the hopes of discovering how he was made. When it is revealed that the risk to Data from this experiment may be death, Captain Picard forbids the experiment. Maddox counters using the authority of Starfleet. Picard lodges a legal challenge to stop the procedure, the heart of the challenge is that Data has the legal right to refuse an experimental medical procedure as a sentient citizen of the Federation. The rest of the episode explores the question; is Data a sentient being, or the property of Starfleet to do with as they please. Along with the core question comes the broader question, if others like Data are made, will they be second class citizens in the Federation?
The core of the episode is how will we treat “New life and new civilisations” in 2365AD? Have we learned as a species, or are we still making the same old mistakes?
Like Spock before him, Data is a character who is almost human. And through the distance between being almost human and completely human that the show can explore humanity from an outside perspective. Odo and Seven of Nine also fill this role in Ds9 and Voyager. Star Trek has always been a vehicle for exploring big themes by using a detached narrative. Race relations, existentialism, and what it means to be human underpin some of the best episodes of Star Trek, and The Measure of a Man hits the beats perfectly.
Through connection to the characters, even emotionless characters like Data, some of the most emotional scenes hit home. This episode has the advantage of being a legal procedural episode, allowing the normal close conversations between characters to be punctuated with grand monologues. It is a masterful story which even after I don’t know how many viewings still pulls on my hearts strings.
This is one of my all-time favourite episodes of Star Trek TNG. If you haven’t seen it you should, and if you haven’t seen it in a while maybe think about giving it another go.