“The Measure of a Man” is the ninth episode of the second season of the American science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, the 35th episode overall. It was originally released on 13 February 1989, in broadcast syndication.
It was written as a spec script by former attorney and Star Trek: The Original Series novelist Melinda M. Snodgrass. It was directed by Robert Scheerer.
Set in the 24th century, the series follows the adventures of the Starfleet crew of the Federation starship Enterprise-D. In this episode, the rights of the android officer Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) are threatened by a scientist who wishes to dismantle him in order to produce replicas of him. Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) fights in a Starfleet court for Data’s right of self-determination in order not to be declared mere property of Starfleet, while Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is obligated to argue on behalf of the scientist.
The script was accepted due to the impact of the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike, and resulted in Snodgrass being recruited as a staff writer and script editor. She would remain on the staff until the end of the third season. “The Measure of a Man” has been seen as highlighting themes of slavery and the rights of artificial intelligence. Similar subjects were discussed in a follow-up episode, “The Offspring“. “The Measure of a Man” received Nielsen ratings of 11.3 percent on the first broadcast. It was received positively by the cast and crew because of the subject matter, and has been considered by critics to be the first great episode of The Next Generation. It has also been included in lists of the best and most groundbreaking episodes of the series.
An extended cut was released in 2012, with 13 additional minutes of footage.
While the Enterprise is visiting Starbase 173 for routine maintenance, cyberneticist Commander Bruce Maddox (Brian Brophy) comes aboard to pay a visit to Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner), wishing to better understand Data’s positronic brain. It quickly becomes clear that Maddox has an ulterior motive of transferring the contents of Data’s memory to the starbase mainframe computer and shutting down and disassembling him to learn how to recreate the technology. Though Maddox promises to restore Data following his analysis and assures him his memories will be intact, Data is concerned that the procedure is riskier than Maddox is letting on, and argues that while the factual details of his memories will be preserved, the nuances of his experiences may not be. Data refuses, causing Maddox to turn to Starfleet to order him to comply. Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) supports Data’s position, and is advised that the only way for Data to evade the order is to resign from Starfleet, which Data does. Maddox, however, argues that Data is Starfleet property, not a sentient being, and as such does not have the right to choose to resign.
The presiding Judge Advocate General for the sector, Captain Philippa Louvois (Amanda McBroom), rules for Maddox, so Picard requests a formal hearing to challenge the ruling. Louvois agrees, and allows Picard to represent Data during the proceedings. However, due to a shortage of qualified legal staff, Louvois compels Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) to represent Maddox. Riker’s arguments portray Data as merely a machine constructed by man, and no more than the sum of his parts. In a striking final demonstration, Riker activates Data’s “off switch”, causing the android to shut down. Picard calls for a recess, during which he meets in Ten Forward with Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), who suggests that regardless of whether Data is a machine or not, Maddox’s plans for reproducing him would lead to a situation tantamount to slavery. Picard uses this to defuse Riker’s arguments, and turns the discussion to metaphysical matters of Data’s sentience. Picard points out that Data meets two of the three criteria that Maddox uses to define sentient life. Data is intelligent and self-aware, and Picard asks anyone in the court to show a means of measuring consciousness.
With no one able to answer this, Louvois acknowledges that neither she nor anyone else can measure this in Data and rules that he has the right to choose. Upon the court’s ruling, Data formally refuses to undergo the procedure. After the hearing, Data clearly holds no ill will against Maddox; Data reminds the scientist that his work remains intriguing, and offers to assist in further research after Maddox has had more time to study and perfect his techniques. Maddox, for his part, refers to Data for the first time as “he” rather than “it”. Later during a party celebrating Data’s victory, Data finds Riker alone in a conference room, ashamed of having had to argue against his friend in the hearing. Data cheers him up by telling him that his action was an act of self-sacrifice that gave Data the chance to win his freedom, as had Riker refused to participate, Louvois’ original judgement in favour of Maddox would have been final. The two then happily return to the celebration together.
Star Trek TV Series
You can find a full index of Star Trek TV series here.
Star Trek TV Series, Films, and Documentaries
You can find a full index of all Star Trek TV series, films, documentaries here.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Robert Scheerer.
- Writer(s): Melinda M. Snodgrass.
- Release Date: 13 February 1989.
- Running Time: 50 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.