Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 2, Episode 9
Original Air Date: February 13, 1989
|via Memory Alpha
"The Measure of a Man" is a popular choice for all-time best lists and has, in fact, been called TNG's first truly great episode. It is certainly one with reach beyond Star Trek. The parallel drawn to human slavery provides a provocative historical perspective, of course. Additionally, the story has been referenced in real-world computer ethics academia. Within big-franchise sci-fi, I perceive influence - from Data in general and from "The Measure of a Man" specifically - on The Clone Wars. As I have written before (here, among several posts), the most interesting stories in that series revolve around the plight of the clone troopers themselves in their complicated relationship with the Jedi who lead them. The issues are rarely if ever confronted as directly as they are regarding Data but the moral tension is implied throughout. Perhaps the episode "The Deserter" relates most closely.
As for being the best so far, it's a strong candidate but not a slam dunk for me. In "Elementary, Dear Data," I find Moriarty to be a more appealing adversary than Maddox and nothing in "The Measure of a Man" offers the same visual dazzle as the Sherlock Holmes-scape of the earlier story. However, this week's episode presents the strongest statement yet for the moral compass of TNG - certainly compatible with TOS's but different in important ways. With the more developed principal characters, TNG allows for a deeper exploration of the challenges for the individual in a pluralistic society. Data's arc has, to this point, brought the most opportunities for such questions but we've seen it with others, too: Worf reconciling his Klingon identity with the life he has lived among humans, Geordi's conflicted feelings about his disability, Deanna's choice to keep her baby as well as her sense of responsibility to her family and culture, Beverly's parenting challenges and so forth. For TOS, the moral dilemmas generally revolve around confronting the new. In TNG, while we still get the awkward alien encounters from time to time, the more interesting stories involve our heroes' struggles with more personal matters. While the specific threat to Data's autonomy is new in this story, the prejudices behind it are not.
The story opens with a poker game, the first of many over the TNG run. These games offer important character insights and critical lessons for Data in understanding human nature. This time, Data falls for a bluff by Riker, greatly confusing for our favorite android.
|via Memory Alpha