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We stared into the untempered schism and all we saw was this dodgy CSO effect

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

6 Comments

  1. them0vieblog.com
    December 14, 2014 @ 11:14 pm

    Here's the thing I like about The Measure of a Man as a Picard episode.

    Picard has had a massive blind spot when it comes the Data's personhood. Compare Picard's treatment of Data in Datalore to his treatment of Worf in Heart of Glory. In Heart of Glory, a bunch of Klingons show up, and Picard trusts Worf implicitly and unquestionably. In Datalore, another android shows up and Picard makes a big speech to the bridge crew about how it is perfectly acceptable to question Data's loyalty, even though he is less subject to sentimentalism than his human or Klingon colleagues.

    In fact – and this is a detail that becomes clearer (and actually explicit) in the extended cut – Picard is quite happy for Data to submit himself to the procedure at first. (He actually asks in the extended cut, but dances around it in the broadcast episode.) It isn't until Data explicitly asks him if he would expect human crew members to undergo similar procedures that Picard realises how blind he has been.

    For what it's worth, Picard's bias is also visible in The Offspring, where Data correctly points out that his response to Lal is somewhat hypocritical because he would not ask the same of an organic crew member. And there is also an element of it in Quality of Life.

    There is a sense that The Measure of the Man is the first episode to question Picard's unwavering loyalty to the state and his own somewhat patriotic attitude about human superiority. (It also comes up in Q Who?, which is basically about Picard's arrogance and over-confidence.)

    The second season begins to treat Picard as a person rather than a simple ideal, and the show gets the stronger for it. (I like that a large part of Time Squared is Picard responding in horror to the idea that he would ever abandon his crew in their hour of need, because his self-image is that important to him.)

    Cheers,
    Darren

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  2. Daru
    December 15, 2014 @ 12:04 am

    I do like this episode, and at the same time I don't disagree with any of the problems you raise Josh. The reason I like it is really down to this blog and your writing. What's good in the episode for me is that it takes another step in portraying Starfleet and the Federation as problematic – any story that contributes to that, I enjoy, as well as building up the Enterprise crew as a utopian ideal, set up against their authorities.

    Good points above from them0vieblog.com on how the story challenged Picard also.

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  3. Adam Riggio
    December 15, 2014 @ 8:45 am

    I sometimes think that Picard in his younger days was a lot like Kirk, and that dashing young Ensign Picard would take any shore leave or starbase opportunity to explore the local female inhabitants. Eventually, as he accustomed himself to the responsibilities of command, he calmed down. He can still bring his sexy charms to a situation should it require them (can't wait for your take on Captain's Holiday), but mostly lives a sedate personal existence as Captain.

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  4. Adam Riggio
    December 15, 2014 @ 9:04 am

    There's something about the courtroom drama that truly is so utterly unrealistic, precisely because a real courtroom can't be nearly as dramatic as our dramatic conventions require.

    I do want to say, though, that for me today, the most important point in the episode is Data and Riker's scene at the end, even though the drama between them was entirely manufactured for the sake of drama alone. Riker feels awful because he presented such a good case against his friend that it almost got Data killed. But Data understands that if Riker had not presented such a good case, or refused to serve in this role at all, the court's default judgment would have killed him anyway. "That action injured you, and saved me. I will not forget it."

    The whole episode is about whether Data is morally equivalent to a human, and this last scene showed how Data was actually superior to humans ethically. Humans are resentful creatures, and Riker was right to have expected resentment and anger from Data because his actions were visibly a betrayal. But Data isn't human, so can understand that Riker's actions were necessary so that Data would have an opportunity to defend himself and set precedent for Federation law. Data's moral sense is beyond the human tendency to resent and rage at direct harms. He's already better than human.

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  5. K. Jones
    December 15, 2014 @ 9:42 am

    This is one of my favorites for good reason, but your criticisms are all on point.

    I like it as a Picard episode because I'm not sure we'd seen him take this hard a stand on anything before, and we also hadn't really seen his connection with Guinan yet, nor for that matter Stewart and Goldberg's chemistry. There are two scenes in this episode acted so beautifully that they actually can hurt me in my chest if I come across them not having seen the episodes in a while, and the first is obviously when you watch Stewart's face as it dawns on Picard just what Guinan is implying. There's few heavy moments in all of fiction on film that wrench my chest as much as that (maybe four or five, and most of them come from Star Trek).

    But the other one is Jonathan Frakes, and I've talked before about how the reason Data really works is because of how the others react to him (one reason why I'm not entirely spiteful of his final fate in Nemesis, other than how it's an awful film). I can't argue that Riker prosecuting seems like hollow melodrama. I'm not even sure what the hell function it serves to (albeit, against his will) set Riker against Picard. What contrast is it showing? But the scene where Riker sits alone studying Data's schematics, realizes he's found the argument he needs … then realizes what that means … is wonderfully emoted. And then even after his devastating prosecution, the way any time the camera pans to Frakes you can see Riker's disgust at the entire affair written in his body language is right on the money.

    Riker intuitively lives and breathes Enterprise values. It's almost instinctual for him. No wonder he won't take a promotion. But how much of that is the Enterprise being where he wants to be … and how much of it is that the Enterprise is what it is because Riker is the XO and is the one setting the tone? Infusing the Enterprise with his values? An XO is more hands on. Arguably, a ship is more the XO's than the Captain's (and certainly the crew are). Symbolically, Riker must be the Soul of the Enterprise (sidenote: this puts his jazz skills in a new light, amongst other things, like his connection to the ship's intuitive counselor).

    Anyway, Riker's clearly the secondary character here, even moreso than Data. And historically I'm pretty fond of stories that go the "Picard & Riker Show" route. I like ensembles better, but they have a good dual dynamic. The reason this run of two episodes – Matter of Honor and Measure of a Man appeal to me as much as they do is that they serve as a high and a low for Riker, and showcase first his friendship with Worf, then Data.

    Plus I always like a bit of Cartesian skepticism to creep into anything.

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  6. K. Jones
    December 15, 2014 @ 9:50 am

    A little post-post reflection; as "Soul of the Enterprise" this opens Riker to be the most perceptive (or second-most perceptive, given Troi's capabilities – Worf is another candidate because he comes from a culture that's a pastiche of pagan warrior cultures and is mildly (and often rightly) superstitious) to be sensitive to magic. The fact that he plays a horn, no less, quite probably supports this. Or for that matter the fact that Q believed him to be a candidate for Q. I'll be watching for this much more closely now, and probably reconciling the fact Riker is usually my favorite (when O'Brien's not around) with my own connection both cultural and reflective on magic, and its use in storytelling.

    For Riker, who is the Soul and who then can connect with other souls – it's a matter of instinct and sense to know that his friend Data has a soul. He can sense it in his bones. Their souls have touched.

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