Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers for the first three episodes of Star Trek: Picard – as well as for The Measure of a Man from TNG Season 2.
When I was compiling two lists of episodes to watch prior to the release of Star Trek: Picard, I only included The Measure of a Man, from The Next Generation’s second season, as an afterthought in one of my “honourable mentions” sections. Despite having seen some androids briefly in one of the trailers, and even after having seen Mars come under attack in the Short Treks episode Children of Mars, I still wasn’t convinced this episode would be important. I wound up including it in my second list of episodes, but not because of androids or Bruce Maddox, but because of how it showed an aspect of Picard’s character – his staunch defence of the rights of different life-forms.
We now know, of course, that Maddox has a key role in Star Trek: Picard, though whether he’s actually going to appear in person or is merely a narrative force is unclear right now. And of course we’ve learnt a lot more about synthetics and the development and subsequent prohibition of synthetic life. Thus, at this point, The Measure of a Man warrants a re-watch and a closer re-examination.
Watching an episode so long after its original airdate, and after we’ve seen so much Star Trek content that was produced subsequently, it’s worth trying to stay objective and be aware of where the three characters we’ll be focusing on are at this point in the timeline. Obviously Maddox was a guest star, and aside from a reference in the fourth season, was never seen or heard about again until Picard premiered. But Data and Picard are arguably different than we might remember considering how early we are in The Next Generation’s run. This episode aired before Q Who introduced the Borg, before Picard was assimilated, and before Data had really developed a strong personality that extended beyond his original programming.
The Next Generation operated differently to Discovery and Picard – it was much more of an ensemble show with each crewmember having their own stories and episodes, rather than focusing primarily on one character’s story. So Data and Picard, by this point in the show, still have significant parts of their backstories unexplored.
The episode opens, as many episodes of The Next Generation did, with Picard narrating his captain’s log. Nothing too exciting – the Enterprise-D is due to dock at a starbase, pick up and drop off some members of the crew, and switch out some science experiments that have presumably been running in the background. On board, we see Data, Riker, O’Brien, La Forge, and Dr Pulaski playing poker. Data seems confused by some of the “superstition” that the others apply to their playing – he can’t quite grasp the concept of “luck” in a game of chance. Again, it’s worth remembering how early we are in Data’s story! This might be the first game of poker he’s played, and just as he struggled with the others feeling lucky or unlucky, he was completely unprepared for bluffing – it’s such an illogical way of playing, after all.
In this moment, Data is still very much a machine, regarding the game as “simple”, based around mathematical probability and assuming that everyone will play logically. Having this sequence be the setup for an episode about taking him apart to find out what makes him tick is an interesting choice; we see Data at his most mechanical, but we also see in him an adaptability and a desire to learn and grow. The costuming choice to give Data a poker visor was also a great call – he’s approximating and mimicking human behaviour, but without fully understanding it.
Seeing Data easily outmanoeuvred by Riker – despite holding a better hand – emphasises how much he still has left to learn. Riker wasn’t betting on the strength of his cards, he was simply betting that Data would fold – Data thus missed a key element of playing poker. But he learns from this experience, much like a child would.
As an interesting aside, the next shot shows the Enterprise-D approaching Starbase 173. The model used for the Starbase was in fact a re-use of the Regula One station from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and is virtually unchanged in its appearance (except for, I believe, its scale in relation to the Enterprise-D). This model was itself a re-use from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. With CGI generally being so good nowadays, it’s almost hard to imagine a time when a single model would have to be re-used over and over again – and The Measure of a Man was not the last appearance of this model by any means.
Aboard the station, Picard is reunited with Phillippa Louvois, accompanied by a very romantic soundtrack. He seems very surprised to see her, and she is clearly an old flame of his – someone who he didn’t part with on good terms judging by their conversation! But the passage of time can be a great healer, and where other people may have held a grudge, Picard is amused, and maybe even happy to see her again. The credits roll, and then we’re back with Picard and Louvois, sitting down to have a longer conversation.
Louvois holds the rank of captain – putting her on equal footing with Picard – and her uniform matches his. She’s not the first woman captain featured in The Next Generation – there was at least one other in Season 1 – but she gets a significant amount of screen time here. She explains that she’s the JAG (judge advocate general – i.e. a military judge, or in this case a Starfleet judge) for this sector, and the way she talks about it makes it seem like a remote part of the Federation, far from any other Starbases. It’s the frontier!
We find out about Louvois’ history with Picard – she was the officer responsible for his court-martial after his previous command was lost. We’ve seen the Stargazer before in The Next Generation, in the episode The Battle, and we also know that Dr Crusher’s husband was serving on the Stargazer under Picard’s command when he was killed. Louvois says that a court-martial is “standard procedure” when a ship is lost, but Picard accuses her of being overly aggressive in her prosecution of him – and says that’s why she left Starfleet for a time. There’s a very complicated history here. Louvois calls Picard out on his arrogance – which to be fair, he actually was in this scene. But the chemistry and sexual tension between them is noticeable – there’s much more to their relationship than something professional or friendly.
After the awkwardness of seeing Picard called a “damn sexy man”, an Admiral approaches and Louvois excuses herself – but not before taking the opportunity to try to embarrass Picard in front of their superior. The Admiral introduces Commander Bruce Maddox, but they don’t immediately discuss Maddox’s proposal as the Admiral wants a tour of the Enterprise while it’s visiting his new Starbase. Maddox joins the Admiral on the tour, and they visit the Enterprise’s bridge. There is some discussion of the Starbase’s location being near the Neutral Zone, but the focus is clearly on Maddox, cutting to a close-up of him staring at Data.
Maddox interrupts the small-talk about the Romulans and the legacy of past starships Enterprise, clearly impatient. The Admiral tells Picard that Maddox is here “to work on your android”, then promptly leaves the bridge. Data, Picard, and Maddox have a conversation set to a backdrop of very tense music. Clearly all is not well. Maddox, it turns out, opposed Data’s entry into Starfleet Academy some years prior, claiming Data was not a sentient being and was thus not eligible. Picard asks what Maddox plans to do and he replies calmly that he is “going to disassemble Data.”
The way Maddox has been set up thus far is of someone who is impatient and impersonal – arguably lacking in empathy. He refers to Data as “it”, a term one might use for an inanimate object. Data is, anatomically speaking, male. In the second episode of The Next Generation’s first season, The Naked Now, Data sleeps with Tasha Yar and though we don’t see it on screen it’s confirmed that he is, for all intents and purposes, male. So Maddox dehumanising Data in this way, while subtle, shows us the kind of person he is.
Maddox explains his reasoning in the next scene – seeing Data when he first applied to the Academy sparked a desire in Maddox to learn more about the work of Dr Soong, Data’s creator. His intention is to dismantle Data, learning how he functions, in order to recreate him and produce copies. Maddox believes himself to be close to a breakthrough, and Data is intrigued at the prospect, in part no doubt because he’s been essentially alone as the only one of his kind. Riker, on the other hand, seems much more concerned. Data asks Maddox a technobabble-laden question, and when Maddox replies that he hasn’t been able to get the basics of a positronic brain working, Data’s tone changes from interest to concern – and after a couple more questions from both Riker and Picard, Data pipes up and says that Maddox’s research is inadequate. Picard says he will not allow Data to undergo the procedure, but Maddox has a trump card – Data is to be reassigned under his command.
In the next scene, Data arrives in Picard’s ready room and the two have a conversation about what to do regarding Maddox. Data says he will not undergo the procedure, but Picard is playing devil’s advocate – wondering aloud whether there is merit to Maddox’s idea. Data uses the example of La Forge’s visor, and claims that his status as a non-human is why Picard would even consider letting Maddox experiment on him. Picard dismisses him but is clearly troubled by the implications. He gets to work reading Starfleet case law regarding officer transfers.
After what must be some time, Picard visits Louvois in her office aboard the Starbase, and is clearly very angry about Data’s forced transfer. The usual calmness we associate with Picard is gone, replaced by a firey demeanour borne perhaps from a combination of frustration at the legalese he’s been trying to wade through and his previous conversation with Data. After all, Data did essentially say that Picard and Maddox are being racist (or species-ist) in their treatment of him. Louvois gives Picard a “nuclear option” for getting Data out of the procedure – his resignation. There’s no other way to stop the transfer, and as Picard doesn’t trust Maddox, this seems to be the only way. Again the complicated past between Picard and Louvois complicates their conversation, but the advice she gives him is sound. And as she’s the senior officer in the sector for legal matters, that should be it.
Back aboard the Enterprise-D, Data is packing his belongings, and pauses briefly over a hologram of Tasha Yar. Maddox enters the room while Data has his back turned, and picks up a book that Data had been reading. Barging in without ringing the door chime is another way Maddox demonstrates to the audience that he doesn’t regard Data as warranting the same rights or respect as a human or other life-form. He tries to reassure Data that his knowledge and memories will remain intact despite the procedure, but Data retorts that the facts may remain, but the feelings associated with them will be lost. He then uses the example of the poker game from earlier in the episode – that the moment-to-moment reality, the essence of his experiences, is not just a case of data and facts. Maddox, Data claims, does not have the necessary expertise to preserve Data’s memories and personality.
It’s at this moment that Data explains that he has resigned. Maddox becomes angry and tells him that one way or another he will serve under his command – and undergo the procedure. It’s clear that Maddox’s attempts at gentle persuasion were all for show; this is how he really feels. Believing Data to be a “thing”, an object not a person, he pays lip service to Data’s feelings while not understanding them or even recognising their existence. In the next scene, Picard and Maddox are in Louvois’ office, where Maddox has started a legal process to prevent Data leaving Starfleet, saying that as a non-sentient being he cannot resign of his own volition.
Maddox presents the argument that if he’s successful, every Federation starship could have its own Data on board, allowing for much greater exploration and potentially even saving lives. He’s “sick of hearing about rights” – a shocking statement in and of itself – and selfishly makes the point that this is his life’s work, and he doesn’t want it to be ruined by what he sees as the ignorance of Picard and Louvois. Data, in Maddox’s view, is “just” a machine, and because of that does not have the right to either refuse to undergo the procedure or to resign.
Picard has a great line here: “Starfleet is not an organisation that ignores its own regulations when they become inconvenient.” In Remembrance, the first episode of Star Trek: Picard, this is essentially his own reasoning for leaving Starfleet. He felt that they had an obligation to help the Romulans and failed to do so – ignoring their own regulations, and a promise made, because it had become difficult in the aftermath of the attack on Mars.
Maddox manages to convince Louvois that there may be law to support the notion that Data – like the Enterprise’s computer – is not a “person” in the legal sense, but is merely the property of Starfleet. Picard urges her to use the same passion she showed at his court-martial. Though Maddox and Picard don’t interact much here, as they mostly direct their remarks to Louvois, it’s clear that they have very quickly developed a loathing for one another. Picard feels Maddox is essentially ignoring Data’s rights as a sentient being, and Maddox believes that Picard doesn’t understand the issue and is unfairly getting in the way of his work.
Back aboard the Enterprise, Data is attending a farewell party. Riker, Troi, Worf, Pulaski, and Wesley are all present in Ten-Foward, and Data receives several gifts from his friends, but La Forge is sat alone, away from the group. He’s feeling very down about the whole situation. In this moment, we see Data at his most human – La Forge is arguably his best friend among the crew, and when he says he will miss him, he really means it.
Louvois summons Riker and Picard to tell them that, according to her research and legal precedent from 300 years ago, Data is legally the property of Starfleet and not a person. Picard challenges her ruling, but the fact that the Starbase is new and she has no one working with her threatens to cause a problem. The solution is that Picard and Riker will take on the role of advocates – Picard arguing for Data and Riker against him.
This is the point in the episode which is the most questionable, I feel, as a point of plot. Riker is chosen to prosecute Maddox’s case as a senior officer, but Maddox himself is of equal rank to Riker and would be a better candidate – especially as Riker states very clearly that he can’t advocate a position he fundamentally disagrees with. I’m no expert on the law, let alone on military law, but surely there must be someone else who could have taken on the position. Or, if not, it should have been possible to send for lawyers from elsewhere – Maddox’s experiment is not time-sensitive and could have waited for the case being resolved. As it is, however, Riker and Picard agree to proceed with the case.
As the scene ends, I think we see the real genius of setting up Louvois as having history with Picard. If he’d been facing off against a random, faceless judge or JAG, we would know the stakes but we’d be confident in his abilities and ultimate victory in the case. But knowing Louvois is a “hardball”, someone who prosecuted Picard aggressively in the past regarding his conduct on the Stargazer, it raises the stakes and there’s a real sense in this moment that Picard and Data could lose. Because we’ve always seen Picard to be a rule-following officer, an exemplar of Starfleet’s code of conduct, and an all-round upstanding captain and diplomat, knowing that Louvois went after him in the past makes her seem all the more aggressive in her handling of the law. We get the sense that things could end badly, that the one factor Picard has no control over in the case – the judge – is someone who will work hard against him and Data. This information, conveyed only in a few brief lines of dialogue in their earlier two encounters in the episode, has set the stage and told us all we need to know.
Data again visits Picard in his ready room, and Picard explains the ruling and the challenge he’s making to it. He offers Data the opportunity to select another officer to provide his defence, but Data declines – an important moment given the earlier conversation they had in the same room. We then see Riker studying the law in preparation for the case, feeling pretty rotten about what he has to do. He looks up Data’s technical schematics, smiling to himself as he thinks he’s found something – then his mood and the background music turn sour as he realises the implications. Riker doesn’t want, after all, to win the case. And getting caught up in it for a moment and allowing himself to feel excitement at a breakthrough ends up making him feel worse about the task.
At the hearing, Riker calls Data to take the stand. Could Data have refused, as he’s essentially being compelled to serve as both evidence and a witness for his own prosecution? I think that’s a matter of law again! And if he did refuse to take the stand, would there have had to have been another case to answer the question of whether he has the right to refuse to testify? Regardless, Data takes the stand and his commendations and decorations from Starfleet are listed by the Starbase computer (notably not the usual computer voice). Riker asks the simple question “what are you?” to which Data responds that he is an android. Riker pushes him for the definition of the word, which includes a sentence that androids “resemble” humans, but are obviously not, in fact, human. He then pushes Data on his creator, making the point that Data was artificially made.
None of this, really, seems relevant to the hearing. Data’s nature is known to all parties and his defence does not depend on proving himself to be anything other than an android. But for dramatic effect it’s important, as essentially the fact that Data was man-made is the entirety of the prosecution’s case against him. Interestingly, and completely unrelated to the events of the episode, Data states that his total memory capacity is “800 quadrillion bits”. If a 24th Century “bit” is assumed to be the same as today’s computer bits, that would put his memory at 800 petabits, or 100 petabytes as there are eight bits to one byte. While this is a lot of memory, it’s not as huge as it may sound even by today’s standards. It’s roughly an order of magnitude less than the most up-to-date estimates of the size of the data stored on the internet, for example. And that’s something which is growing all the time. It is, however, much greater than the capacity of a human brain or memory – though the comparison is an inexact one as we don’t store and process memories and information in the same form. But there are computers and servers in the world today which can store as much or more information that Data can – something which would obviously have been hard to conceive when The Measure of a Man aired in 1989, before the invention of what we know of as the internet today.
As Riker continues with his demonstrations, Maddox is seen smiling to himself – he seems to think the two of them have the case sewn up. Data is forced to bend a steel rod to demonstrate his physical prowess to the hearing, and Riker then removes his forearm and hand – apologising to Data as he does so. Riker then tries to explain that Data was made “to serve human needs”; that is his sole purpose. Of course, having already seen Data with his “brother” in the first season episode Datalore, we know this isn’t really true. Lore was a companion to the colonists on Omicron Theta, and Data was designed to be so too. Riker has also fallen into the habit of referring to Data as “it” in this moment, and as he continues his speech about Data he walks behind him – hitting a hidden “off switch”, which we’d previously seen Data show to Dr Crusher and others in the aforementioned episode Datalore.
Picard and Louvois are both shocked by this, and Riker sits back down. He clearly thinks that this is a case-winning move, and the look of shame and self-loathing on his face confirms that. Maddox smiles, smugly. Picard requests a recess and tells Guinan, back on board the Enterprise, that Riker’s words in the hearing “almost” convinced him of Data’s status.
Guinan’s response, that if Data is ruled to be merely property, it could pave the way for “whole generations of disposable people” warrants a closer look. And we have to step back and consider The Measure of a Man and its place in our own history. In 1989, we’re 25 years out from the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act which put an end to legal segregation in parts of the United States. In living memory for a significant portion of the audience was segregation – itself a hangover from the days of slavery. And this line, delivered in a very calm manner by a black woman, absolutely references slavery without her ever using the term by name. The implication for Picard is clear – if he loses the case, and androids are ruled to be property and not people, it’s the first step to the creation of a slave underclass in the Federation.
This moment changes the way Picard approaches the case. The word “property”, he believes, is merely a euphemism for slavery. And he returns to work with a renewed sense of purpose. Again, given his state of mind in the first three episodes of Star Trek: Picard, I’d direct anyone who says that Picard “would never get depressed” to look to this moment and others from The Next Generation to see how he can become defeatist and sit in self-pity. It took Guinan here to give him the kick he needed, just as it took Dahj to snap him out of how he’d been feeling in Remembrance.
Back at the hearing, Picard says that humans are simply “machines of a different type” to Data, and his mechanical status is not relevant to the case. Picard asks Data to return to the stand, and presents him with the bag he packed earlier in the episode – demonstrating that Data has a semi-emotional attachment to things like his medals and a book gifted to him from Picard. The final item from Data’s bag is the hologram of Tasha Yar, and after some gentle prompting from Picard, Data discloses he and Yar had been intimate – to the surprise of Louvois and Maddox.
Maddox then takes the stand, and Picard runs him through three tests for sentience. This is also, by the way, the first time the Daystrom Institute is named on screen. Maddox lists three criteria for sentience – intelligence, self-awareness, and consciousness. Picard proceeds to quiz him on why these apply to him – a human – and not to Data. Maddox is forced to concede that Data is intelligent and that he’s self-aware, as Data’s intelligence was never in question and he’s clearly aware of his place in the hearing and the potential consequences it could bring.
Maddox then talks briefly about his plans to disassemble Data – to rebuild him and thousands more like him. Picard challenges that by doing so, he will be creating a race of beings – a race that meet two of Maddox’s own criteria for sentience. If there’s even a chance that Data could meet the third, would the Federation have created a race of slaves? This is where we see Picard at the most passionate he gets, not just in the context of this episode but in almost all of his appearances in Star Trek to date. Aside from the emotional reaction he has to the Borg in First Contact, I can’t remember seeing him more energetic and involved. He cares for Data’s rights, but his conversation with Guinan shifted his whole perspective on the case, and now he has an even greater passion and reason to win. He admits to the court that he doesn’t know whether Data has consciousness, nor what that would mean if a race of Datas were created from Maddox’s work. But the implication he makes, as Guinan did earlier, is clear – they’re on a cliff-edge, with slavery at the bottom.
Picard also turns on its head the Starfleet mantra – “to seek out new life”. “There it sits,” he says as he gestures to Data. As he concludes his speech we see Riker smile for the first time since the hearing began. He’s never seen Picard so animated, and he clearly thinks the argument is a case-winner. And in short order he’s proven right. Louvois says she must allow Data the freedom to explore his life and consciousness for himself, and without explicitly ruling on his “personhood”, she rules that he is not the property of Starfleet and that he has the right to choose.
Maddox and Data have a moment of semi-reconciliation at the end of the hearing, as Maddox cancels the order to have Data transferred, and Data tells him to keep working and suggests that he may be able to agree to the procedure in future when more work has been undertaken. Maddox, disappointed by the ruling no doubt, appears to have had his opinion and perspective on Data shifted at least slightly by Picard’s argument – emphasised by his use of the word “he” right at the end.
Picard invites Louvois to dinner – as they reconcile too. Back aboard the Enterprise, Riker has declined to attend a party in Data’s favour, feeling that he came too close to costing his friend his life. But Data reminds him that if he had refused to participate, the ruling would have been made against him, and the episode ends with the two of them heading to the party.
So, when considering Star Trek: Picard, what do we get from The Measure of a Man? Obviously we see Dr Maddox, some thirty-five years prior to the events of the new series. We see his attitude toward androids – he considers them to be tools, not people. But we also see his attitude shift right at the end, swayed by Picard’s argument and the time spent with Data over the course of the episode. Maddox, despite moments of smugness, isn’t a classic villain. Instead, the episode shows what is basically a difference of opinion. Maddox, having studied androids from a theoretical standpoint for years, but with no practical real-world experience in living and working with Data holds the opinion that Data cannot be sentient. But Picard, Riker, and others, despite not having the same technical background as Dr Maddox believe Data to be their friend despite his synthetic nature. The episode thus shows the difference between theory and practice – and why practice is usually better and more appropriate!
Maddox obviously continued his work, as Data encouraged him to do. In the episode Data’s Day from Season 4, he dictates a letter to Maddox, confirming this. However, by the time of Star Trek: Nemesis, which takes place around fifteen years later, Data is still believed to be the only extant android – Lore having been disassembled. The discovery of B4 – an earlier version of Data – in that film is thus presented as a big deal. However, as we now know from Short Treks and Star Trek: Picard that teams of androids – albeit rather basic ones from a personality point of view – were working on Mars only a few years after Nemesis, Maddox must have been quite far along in his work by that point. It’s also possible that the discovery and disassembly of B4 provided Maddox with some of the missing pieces of the puzzle that he’d hoped to gain by dismantling Data.
Watching The Measure of a Man divorced from all thought of Picard is difficult, especially as we’re partway through the first season of the new show. But taken as a standalone episode, it’s an interesting piece of drama, the kind Star Trek has always been good at. Without any battles, explosions, or really any action at all, the episode manages to be riveting, especially in the hearing scenes. And of course it’s a great example of Star Trek using its science fiction setting to talk about real-world issues. In this case the issue was slavery rather than artificial intelligence, but looking back on it knowing the way technology has changed since, it can absolutely be viewed through than lens too.
Maddox was, aside from his single reference a couple of years later, a one-off character who served a fairly one-dimensional purpose for most of the episode. Bringing him back in a big way for Picard is something I absolutely was not expecting, and whether we get to see him on screen or not, his influence is all over the show. The Measure of a Man is not required viewing for Picard. The new show is structured and written in such a way that the role Maddox takes in the story could be swapped out for any other name and the story would be identical. But it does provide interesting background and backstory.
Having had Maddox’s name dropped multiple times across the first three episodes, I would be surprised to learn we aren’t going to see him at all. A single reference would’ve been a cute throwback to The Measure of a Man and Data’s Day; a wink to returning fans. But with him being set up as perhaps the creative force behind Soji and Dahj, and with tracking him down being the driving force for the current storyline, I think he practically has to appear – at least in some capacity, even if it’s just in recordings – before the end of the season.
The legal precedent laid down in this episode was clearly not applied throughout the Federation. In the Voyager episode Author, Author, not only does The Doctor – a sentient hologram – have to undergo a very similar legal hearing, but we learn that thousands of Emergency Medical Holograms are being used as labourers in mines and on vessels across the Federation. And of course, in Picard we see that Maddox had been somewhat successful in creating his “slave race” of android labourers. There are disturbing implications there, which I wonder if the show will touch on in later episodes.
I enjoyed going back to The Measure of a Man. I wouldn’t like to guess how many times I’ve seen it already; as with most of the rest of The Next Generation and its spin-offs I’ve watched and re-watched it on a number of occasions.
The fourth episode of Picard premieres tomorrow here in the UK – though if you’re in America you may have seen it already! I’m looking forward to seeing if Picard and his new crew stay on Maddox’s tail as they head to Freecloud.
The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Picard – are the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.