The Measure of a Man


The Measure of a Man

An old foil wants to take Data apart in an effort to study him and make more Datas. Data says there is a problem though, that might kill him. But the would be studier says that is not a problem: Data is not alive. Is he? And does that matter? It is up to Picard save the existence of Commander Data when we put The Measure of a Man in the Mission Log.

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  1. Kristian Marie Kbot McKee says:

    I just discovered this podcast after leonard died. It helps work go by and it feels like I’m having one of my favorite kinds of conversations (or hanging out listening) of all times. Star trek is so important to my life and the person I have become. Thank you so very much for doing this. I got so excited finding mission log…and listening to it at home with the husband (who is new to trek) is another bonding experience. I love when he hears something that makes him say…”hey, I remember that” or “yeah yeah, you were just talking about that”….and so on. I’m sure you guys will hear from me again. You guys are added to my list of modern heroes…..and if you go through the transporter ken….I believe you may be able to un sick yourself. Feel better!!!!!!

  2. Wildride says:

    “Well, we didn’t make or buy him, in fact he joined us voluntarily. So, that makes him property, right?”
    “Yes — Yes, it does.”

  3. I haven’t gotten to the “meanings, messages and morals” and “does it hold up?” part of this podcast yet … my drive to work isn’t quite long enough. But if you DON’T say this is among the best TNG episodes so far, I’ll be astonished. I was practically reduced to tears when I first saw this. I’ll finish listening on the drive home.

    I was particularly intrigued by your suggestion that Dr. Pulaski would have been a better candidate for the prosecution than Riker. Riker is a good choice, and I loved that he got the character development of being forced to betray a friend in order to save him. But PULASKI would have stood to learn even more … like why it’s NOT OK to treat Data the way she has been in the previous episodes. A wonderful observation on your part, and one that never occurred to me. I wonder if she would have learned something or just waved it off and said the court was being stupid?

    Are you familiar with a 1947 Heinlein short story called “Jerry was a Man”? It’s basically the same story as this, though the defendant is a genetically modified servant chimp on trial for whether he’s property or a free man. I think this question is something we’re going to have to deal with in the near future both for genetically engineered creatures and sentient machines. Spectacular that somebody’s thinking about these things before they become real. Shameful that we’ll probably end up making the wrong moral choices based on economic concerns despite this. Sigh.

    • Durakken says:

      I would have loved it if this was a two parter and made it somewhat of a flashback episode. Polaski would have been a great inclusion here for her thoughts on the subject. Also there are many more things that could have been touched on that just weren’t, like the fact that they have a treaty of sorts with a “being/civilization” that is made up completely of nanites and if Data isn’t a person then that civilization couldn’t be as well and therefor didn’t have to honor their agreement… which was formed less than a year ago. And what about Moriarty? Shouldn’t he have been brought out to speak on his behalf too?

      “Jerry was a Man” is a good short story and was made into a outer limits episode, which is where I first came upon it. Didn’t know it was a Heinlein thing until recently. Interestingly it was ruled he was a man by virtue of the ability to sing. I’d also recommend reading other Heinlein works which are quite interesting and touch on the concept of what is a “man” by way of the highly advanced semi-supernatural Martians and how it had to actually be written down in treaties and how it applied to others creatures.

  4. CmdrR says:

    ‘Measure’ is one of TNG’s truly great eps. The characters are all firing on all cylinders (hmmm, maybe they’re all androids???) and the dialogue sings (is this a musical??). OK, I’m just confusing my own damn self. Anyhoo… Frakes really starts to come alive as Riker around this point in the series. That’s a huge thing for me… Cause he’s my namesake. It’s also great to see Phillipia hit on Picard… Phillipa: “Some say love, it is a river that drowns the tender reed…I say love, it is a flower and you, it’s only seed…” Picard: “Make it grow!”

  5. PenskyFile says:

    A show that works better if you’re the type to focus on theme and less on plot mechanics. I think this is a second tier TNG episode, not quite the tops but very good especially for the second season. The major problems are mostly plot: the conflicts of interest that drive a lot of the drama are shoehorned into the story just to artificially drive up the narrative. Riker being forced into the role of prosecutor is fairly absurd, and Picard being former lovers (or something) with the judge is also questionable. Even Maddox should be demanding a new trial when this thing starts! Still, it’s got great speeches and fun performances. And the scene where Riker takes off Data’s arm and then deactivates him is wonderfully effective.

  6. Scott Newland says:

    No, it’s not perfect, but it’s one of the all-time great Star Trek episodes. The finale is perfect, and the Riker-Data exchange at the end never fails to make me tear up.

  7. Durakken says:

    While I don’t think it needed to be a large discussion on the show as there were more important and cool things talked about in the show I do have to point out you have yet again brushed away or flat out ignored the sexism in the show.

    Picard is out of line when he says “The things I’d like to do to you,” but it is also out of character and straight bad writing there to be act like this is what men in authority are like. So it’s sexist against women when he says it but it is also sexist against men by the writer when she writes it for him to say. This continues on as well as it implies a violent nature of men with the next line. All this however could be argued to be “ok” because it is not overt.

    But then Louvois says “And a damn sexy man” I’m sorry but this is out and out something that could be prosecuted as sexual harassment and so that it doesn’t even get a mention is bothersome when if the roles were reversed you’d have said it was sexist, wrong, and harassment.

    I personally think its perfectly fine flirtatious banter, but within the context of what you guys have said in the past and the society we live in I think this should have at least rated mentioning… especially when a line that is pertinent later comes up and is in your conversation.

    “What about my rights to not ‘do what I want'” which is a common belief among many of the ideologues that push these extremist laws and judgements we are getting lately in the form of “You’re rights end where my feelings begin.” Madox is literally arguing “Data’s rights end because my feelings aren’t being attended to.”

    As I said before. I realize that there was a more interesting thrust to the show, but I think you should have mentioned these things, even if on passing,.. though at the same time perhaps even that would have lead down a rabbit hole and taken away from the larger, more important topics presented in the show as I can see how those lines could get into quite a lengthy commentary on their own.

    Another good show otherwise, both the episode of ST and the podcast.

    • Thanks for the comments. I think for me (and only speaking for myself), the context of the Picard/Louvois banter felt so very different from the kind of sexual inequality we’ve pointed out before in the show. Picard and Louvois clearly knew each other, had some kind of relationship and had some kind of established banter where this kind of interaction was OK – and seemingly OK for both of them. Picard dishes out a line that seems out of place, but it’s immediately defused with Louvois’ comeback. It felt less to me like a superior harassing a subordinate than it did old friends/lovers slipping back into their comfortable, personal banter.

      • Durakken says:

        As pointed out, I agree that this is perfectly acceptable banter, but I also know what plenty people would say about this when reversing who is saying what and/or considering the relative positions they have to each other and they’d say it was sexist. With TOS you took modern views into account to call them sexist, but aren’t do it here. In fact you’ve dismissed the sexism against men several times now… which is indeed sexist.

        I’m not going to argue that the TOS stuff isn’t sexist, because it is, however I find the difference to be that the TOS stuff isn’t as bigoted where as the TNG stuff is. This is largely due to the sexism done against men here is brought to the fore while in TOS the sexism against women was brought to the fore. I’ll save you the long guess as to why this is likely the case.

        On sidenote, can I ask why you guys suddenly stopped being on the nerdist website? It just sorta randomly stopped.

    • Aaron Lade says:

      I saw the Picard/Louvois banter as one of the rare instances where Picard is interacting with a colleague, instead of someone who is either under his command, someone who’s command he’s under, or someone for whom Picard is representing Starfleet. If I remember correctly they both have the same number of pips.

      I imagine lots of this type of thing going on when captains of ships gather at starbases and can, for the briefest of times, set aside the burden of command and just be themselves.

      • Durakken says:

        She is a Captain, however they are not quite the same rank. This is one of those things where it sorta shifts around. Basically, even though they have the same rank, Picard being the captain of the ship she’s on, the Captain of the Flagship, Ship with the greatest tactical advantage in the area, etc etc he out ranks her in just about every situation they could find themselves in, including legal matters aboard his ship, and possibly aboard the space station due to the situation they’re in presently.

        In fact she is outranked by most of the main cast of the show by the virtue of their command status on the Enterprise which how we should regard this rather than by her official rank with regards to this issue as the origins of the problem is not sexual banter between equal colleagues so much, though that is now consider sexual harassment, but rather someone having authority over you and make such sexual passes… which was the original intent of such laws being passed and were passed before TNG so this would have been sexual harassment by one or both of them depending on their authority in that given situation.

        The only real way to get around it is to argue that even though Picard has many outranking qualifications overall this is canceled and balanced by the fact that Louvois is the Single Senior JAG officer of the sector or whatever giving her as much authority to equal out against Picards. I don’t buy that though.

  8. Francis Fabian says:

    No doubt this has been mentioned but why didn’t they just make 1,000s of Datas by using the Transporter trick that holds copies of him??? Save all the R & D on Positronic brains etc.

  9. Walter Chmara says:

    I realize that with “Star Trek,” the emotional (or intellectual) message always takes a higher position on the totem pole than the internal mythology. But it still bugs me that Star Fleet had no problem with putting a uniform on Data, and allowing him to earn rank and position aboard a starship (the flagship, no less), so that he is empowered to give orders to biological crewmembers of lower rank than himself a long time ago, and when this incident rolls around, suddenly his sentience is called into question, and his personal existence threatened on the grounds that he is “property” rather than a decorated officer. Since one does not award medals to computers or phasers, the judge should have dismissed the case outright.
    But then there wouldn’t have been a story for this episode.
    I’m not saying that the points it made aren’t valid. I’m saying it could have presented those points in a way that doesn’t spit on common sense.

    • Good point, Walter. Maybe in the vast bureaucracy that is Starfleet, though, it’s not inconceivable that this one person (Maddox) with an axe to grind would spend time finding every last loophole and argument he can in order to get his way. Starfleet may have agreed on letting Data enter, but then the status of any/all people in Starfleet could, theoretically, be called into question if there is legal cause.

    • deaddropsd says:

      YES, totally agree. Way to backstab him. “Data is a toaster”. It was one reason I never liked how he was a LCDR already and still very naïve, inexperienced at so many human quirks, idiosyncracies. I would have preferred him as ensign that way it would be more believable. Terrible for Starfleet to sell him out like that and also w his daughter. Horrible. On a side note, I think it is always nice when they visit a Starbase and wish they had done it much much more. Picard’s speech is amazing. A real tour de force about what makes Trek better than most science fiction. Quality science fiction

  10. Bart Robinson says:

    Love the show! Definitely one of the highlights to my week is getting to geek out on the podcast, and then geek out more discussing it with my son. Yes, I have my son listening too. (Family tradition 😉
    I did want to mention the “No Money” thing. I think this might be one of those canon v. non-canon issues. However, you would be technically skipping your self imposed time line if you say there is no money.
    The first reference that I can find of the specific “No Money” thing is in First Contact, one or two in DS9.
    In The Neutral Zone episode Picard never actually says there’s no money. He basically says that we have matured and are not materialistic.
    Perusing your discovered documents and other web treasures related to the production of Star Trek, there are references to trade, commerce, etc. Even in TNG the first season episode one, Dr. Crusher charged a bolt of fabric to her room on the enterprise.
    Considering a time when energy is abundant, practically free and replicators can supply all of your basic needs from that energy. Our relationship to money, commerce and trade would have to drastically change. A point I think Mr. Champion alluded to in The Neutral Zone podcast.

    So in summation, there’s value in them poker chips.

    Thank you and Mr. Roddenberry so much for the show, and your time both in production and entertaining this post.


    • Thanks, Bart! What about Kirk in Star Trek IV? He’s pretty sure that there’s no money unless he’s just such a cheap date he always make the woman pay for the pizza.

      • Bart Robinson says:

        Touche Mr. Champion! But…eh…It could…eh…My ego at getting one upped…
        Actually, I think Mr. Durakken nailed it. It is one of those huge inconsistencies that always rears it’s ugly head.
        Thanks again for the show and your time. Hope Mr. Ray is feeling better this week, looking forward to today’s show.

    • Durakken says:

      The problem is that the show is inconsistent and the no money thing is largely myth based in popular culture. In the show there is clearly money of some kind. Though I think it would be in a scheme that many of us wouldn’t quite consider the same as money. There is definitely no “coined” money. I would guess there is no stock market. A big problem with figuring it out is that I’d bet that money is considered only for luxery…in which case, what is a luxery and what isn’t? Is coffee a luxery? Are display screens luxeries? Are most people content with the basic non-luxery stuff they get that they just don’t do anything else or get involved with a number of luxeries? We know of at least 2 luxeries Holodeck time and random bolts fabric.

      Another source of currency that is Federation based, but seen nowhere else is the Replicator Ration on Voyager…which we see instantly used/treated like money when dealing with betting.

  11. Muthsarah says:

    Wow. I’ve been a Trek fan over half my life, but I’ve never actually put much THOUGHT into the series(es), I’ve just loved watching them over and over as comfort-food entertainment. You guys must be able to write doctorates on them if you can go this deep. I’ve never attended cons or purchased the reference tomes of Trek lore, but I still felt I at least knew the episodes themselves, their messages and symbolism, and had a good grasp of which episodes are and are not worth revisiting (often). But even in “Measure of a Man”, one I thought I knew pretty well, I picked up almost none of the subtext and plot holes you have. That Pulaski idea…that woulda changed everything about her character. Everything. (For the record, I don’t hate her; I enjoy her abrasiveness, I just feel bad that the show never really did anything with her…or with Beverly for that matter).

    Mission Log is my new love/thing that makes work bearable, and over…maybe three weeks, I’ve caught up with the TNG reviews and have started into TOS. I think it’s safe to say I won’t be able to go back to ANY of the episodes again without thinking about some deeper message I never noticed, or nitpicking “why didn’t they do THIS instead”. Unless I forget or something.

    I guess that’s a good thing. I…hope that’s a good thing.

    If an episode like MoaM can have so many plot and character-based flaws to it, but still be easily one of the best (of a good series), I gotta wonder how many of these flaws are just products of the time, or if they would have been considered flaws of the story even then. Would it be a big deal if a show today did something like arbitrarily conscript Riker to be the prosecutor? Or ignore Pulaski’s take on Data? Or seemingly ignore that Data joined Starfleet willingly? What about the less-esteemed episodes of Season One that you gave a pass (“Where No One…”, “Heart of Glory”) despite major plot elements that don’t make sense, or build-ups to finales that have no tension because we know what could or could not happen ahead of time. Or just everything about the plot of “Datalore”. Do they work because the’re Trek, or because they’re of the 80s? Or would they work if they were made the same way today?

    Not trying to ruin the fun for anyone (especially myself), but I’ve never really analyzed Trek on a level near this deep; read a few scripts, a few novels, no big whup. I’ve just always loved the series(es). Don’t even remember how that came to be anymore, I just love them now because I loved them when I was younger and never stopped, and it never got more complicated than that. Guess I’m more of a McCoy.

    • Many, many thanks for the nice word about Mission Log! I think you’re right about something we’ve noticed in Star Trek – that very often the shows are greater than the sum of their parts. You can have a show with plot holes, “mistakes” etc., but in the end the characters and story add up to something powerful and lasting. Star Trek has shown a unique ability to survive even its worst moments – likely because we are so invested in the characters and the premise.

  12. Jeff Haws says:

    The Questor Tapes

    This may not belong here. Since this episode was just recently done on Mission Log, I found it worth mentioning. I was at Nowescon38 the last weekend. I found a DVD of a movie pilot for a series that I loved as a teenager. The Questor Tapes. Gene Roddenberry.

    The last time I watched it was years ago on youtube – a very scratchy VHS conversion. I know that John has mentioned the film in the past as well.

    Thanks to all my time listening to Mission Log – after watching the first 40 mins of the DVD I was awe struck by the similarities between Questor and Data. Quester was missing some programming including emotions. So part of his “quest” is to get that part of his programming back. You can really see the frame work of Commander Data in this character. Especially when you realize that the writer/producer was none other than Gene Roddenberry. it was obviously a theme that Gene liked to play with.

    Even the search for the android in the beginning of the film is fraught with the dread of “what it can do and we want it for our own needs”.

    So if you want some interesting 70’s Sci-FI by Gene and want to see the seeds of commander Data I suggest checking this film out. Sadly I do not see the full movie on youtube anymore.

    Bonus: Walter Koenig has a couple scenes for about a total of 30 seconds of screen time.

    • Fantastic! Yes, no doubt Gene was still thinking of Questor when laying out the plans for the Data character. If a reboot of Questor were to happen, I could see a guy like Spiner in the role.

  13. Aaron Lade says:

    I’ve recently discovered this podcast, and can’t effuse enough about the high quality of work everyone involved brings to the final product. Mission Log is a joy, and I look forward to re-watching and analyzing all of Trek with you. I’m keeping current with Next-Gen and going through TOS (which I’ve never given the proper amount of respect to previously) concurrently. As a happy accident, I watched/listened to The Corbomite Manuever right before Measure of a Man.

    In this episode, there is one item that I would disagree with you on, and that is the problematic age of Commander Maddox. Rather than being older and more established, I see him being in his early to mid 30’s as the perfect age. I liken him to a Silicon Valley start-up, change the world, my ideas are better than whatever has come before me type. He truly believes that Starfleet should have more androids, and sees them as wonderful machines but not people. I sincerely doubt that there would not be others that agree with him, especially in the specialized field of android robotics.

    • Hi Aaron – thanks for chiming in, and thanks for the compliments on the show! Totally agree with you on the assessment of Maddox’ character. He fits the type – young, uncontrolled, etc. Our take was more about the timeline. Since we know that Data joined Starfleet upwards of 12 years prior, that would make Maddox really young as someone with the power to approve or disapprove someone’s entry.

  14. Jenny Jackson-Smith says:

    I’m late to the conversation, I know, but this episode is damn near perfect… I have been rewatching all of TNG on my brand spanking new blurays and season two is somewhat of a delight because it is one that I haven’t seen very much (Dr. Crusher was always my favorite character…so I kind of dismissed this season). I watched this episode last night and then literally rewound and watched it again… it is just amazing.

    And I do have to say that out of all of the amazingness, there was one thing that impacted me on several levels. The conversation between Picard and Guinan in 10-Forward — there were so many levels to that that I kind of want to discuss. First, there was the obvious thing that I honestly don’t think I picked up when I first watched this episode however many years ago — what she was saying about the best case scenario if they Data actually went through this procedure and everything was fine and they made many of him and he survived… if they still considered him property…well, that would end up with his ‘people’ being slaves…even though they talk about this at length, it somehow didn’t even resonate the first time I saw this episode, i saw it more as a fight for Data’s life.

    But then there were the more meta aspects of this conversation… the fact that it was a black actress bringing this up… even though she is supposed to be from a different species, made it more impactful…but then even more so because that actress was Whoopi Goldberg… and she is a black actress whose life was impacted by seeing a black actress on a TV show as a child, impacted to the point that at the height of her success as a movie star she asked to be on a television show (which, at the time was considered a step down)…the meta-levels of that just had that discussion resonate so much on so many levels.

    i know you had some…concerns, or maybe reservations about Whoopi on the show, the fact that she could just ask and be given a role, but I always thought it was such a nice tribute to the legacy of Star Trek. It made things sort of come full circle in a small way. And her role works, for me, anyway…especially in a scene like this where she essentially talks about race relations and how one group of people viewing another as less than can have such an impact… it works on multiple levels.

    Anyway…all of that to say, I think this episode is fantastic…

  15. VaguelyInappropriateLibrarian says:

    It seems like something that is not addressed in the episode (because it isn’t really the point and would destroy any dramatic tension) is the accuracy of the replicator. Couldn’t Maddox just make a copy of Data (positronic brain and all) and study that instead? It’s not as if the replicator has to somehow “breathe life into him” – it just needs to make a sufficiently detailed copy and print it out.
    The episode could even have kept the trial, only in this instance it would have been more obviously the broader argument about lifeforms like Data that Picard later introduces.

  16. Will Wright says:

    This episode made the 1st “Best of TNG” DVD, and seems to be in good company.

  17. Cygnus-X1 says:

    @John Champion

    You and Ken made the point that Riker could just have thrown the trial in Data’s favor. But, there’s a line from Philipa where she says that if she even suspects that Riker is not trying his best, she’ll rule then and there in favor of Mattix.

  18. Cygnus-X1 says:


    John, you made the point about this episode promoting a philosophically Materialist worldview. To that I would add that, if memory serves, this is the first episode in TNG up to that point which promotes the Secular Humanism that GR was known to have adopted as his own worldview. The statement made by Picard—and tacitly accepted as fact by the other characters as they fail to challenge it—that a human is just a fleshy machine with nothing like a soul, is a strong advocacy for Secular Humanism. There is no imposed ambiguity about the worldview being promoted in this episode as there was in TOS “Who Mourns for Adonais,” which I assume is attributable to GR having complete creative control with TNG. And whether one agrees or disagrees with the worldview being promoted (and, specifically, with the assertion that humans are not meaningfully different from machines), this is a meaty, compelling episode pregnant with meaning that challenges the audience to re-evaluate their own worldview—and THAT is what Star Trek was meant to be from the very beginning, and what makes Trek special and unique when it does it well.

    • Well said.I mean they definitely put a finer point on it here than anywhere else so far, and I think it definitely fits in with the softly secular ideas that permeate the stories anyway. It’s a strong statement, and it’s this kind of story that kicks off more of that intellectual challenge in episodes that followed.

  19. Michael Richmond says:

    Was this the episode where Pinocchio became a real boy, or where Pinocchio realized he was a real boy the whole time? 🙂

  20. Low Mileage Pit Woofie says:

    This is a strange episode for me, chiefly because I can’t think of the character of Louvois without… VENOM. Real bile. Maddicks was a jerk, but he wouldn’t have gotten as close as he had to potentially killing Data if Louvois hadn’t allowed the hearing to go ahead. Not out of a sense of justice or fairplay, but because she was bored and thought it would be an interesting case. And then making Riker operate on behalf of the defence… had I been Riker, and proved too successful, I would have had words with Louvois. Four letter ones…

    And if they had ruled in Maddocks’ favour, would Data had meekly gone along? Or would his imperative to protect Dr Soong’s legacy have compelled him to turn fugitive? Would Starfleet have sent the Enterprise in pursuit?

  21. Liam McMullin says:

    You guys blew my mind with the idea of Pulaski as prosecutor! That’s a fun idea to toy with and I don’t recall ever hearing it suggested by anyone.

  22. David Grant says:

    The mere fact that Data refused to allow himself to be disassembled shows that he is sentient. He has self-determination. You speculated that the Enterprise computer may also be sentient, but it has been able to speak since day one and has never complained. However, parts of the computer system have displayed sentience. Holodeck Moriarty was deemed sentient and although he was only a program, Picard allowed his program to keep running.

  23. KatieN says:

    This is probably the best episode of TNG so far. It takes interesting messages and an engaging story line and then hammers away at it. The sets and costumes are simple, only a few characters are involved, and there is virtually no action, but this episode grabs you completely.

    It felt like someone with a beautiful voice, singing a beautiful song acapella.

    It was pretty shocking that Star Fleet could label a being as sentient but then not grant bodily autonomy. Apparently, personhood can be withdrawn when civil rights become inconvenient.

    I’m surprised that you guys didn’t bring up the tie-in to abortion. The ‘government’ says that Data must undergo something physically traumatic in order to create more life forms. Data refuses and goes to court to defend is right for bodily autonomy or, as he says exactly in the episode, “to choose.” The court decides that he cannot be forced to create more life and has full control over his own body.

    Based on the decision, even if more Datas *could* be created, actual Data has the right to decide what will be done with his body.

    These interesting questions about our rights to bodily autonomy (reproductive or other) ran parallel to the examination of sentience and consciousness. They managed to weave those two discussions beautifully. Dang, this was a good episode.

    • That is… an excellent point. That we had another hour to get into even more of the issues raised by this one. Thank you for contributing to the (ongoing) discussion!