Plot Synopsis: Starfleet must determine whether Data is a sentient life form when transfer orders demand his reassignment for study and disassembly.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser here sets up one of the best recurring motifs in TNG: the poker game! Every single episode with a poker game, even if it’s a bad one, is guaranteed at least one interesting scene. There is even an episode where the poker game helps the crew figure resolve the plot! The poker scenes are always interesting and the one in this teaser is no exception. Plot A revolves around Data’s trial, there is no plot B. The plot opens with Picard doing a little verbal sparring with Captain Louvois, who turns out to be the one who prosecuted him after he lost the Stargazer, as we learned in The Battle. Then an admiral shows up with Commander Maddox in tow, and as they tour the Enterprise we learn what’s really going on: “Maddox is here to work on your android, please take care of him.” Turns out he was on a panel when Data first applied to Starfleet and was the sole voice of opposition, saying that Data was not a sentient being. Whoa. Things get worse fast, as Maddox announces, “I’m going to disassemble Data.” Maddox has built a positronic brain of his own and wants to study Data so he can replicate him, but when Data asks a couple of penetrating questions we get the sense that Maddox really isn’t that close to replicating Data. When Picard decides not to let Data submit to the procedure Maddox lays down the smack and says he’s already got Data’s transfer orders handy (the little jerkface), separating him from the Enterprise. A bit later on Data tries to resign, but Maddox has another ace up his sleeve and says Data can’t resign because he isn’t really alive, and thus is the property of Starfleet. Our compelling plot has taken shape! This episode is plot- and character-driven and just gets richer as the episode proceeds. It climaxes in a court scene that is memorable and will ultimately answer the question as to what Data is.
Favorite Scenes: Several. The teaser with the poker game, obviously. In itself it’s not spectacular, and I admit that I’m looking at that scene through the lens of what the poker games will do for the characters throughout the series. The first really good moment is when Picard is urging Data to submit to the procedure, which would render Data’s transfer moot, as well as possibly enriching Starfleet with a “Data” on every ship. Data declines. He then makes a clever point:
Data: Sir, Lieutenant LaForge’s eyes are far superior to human biological eyes, true?
Data: Then why are not all human officers required to have their eyes replaced with cybernetic implants?
Picard: *dead silence, he looks away from Data*
Data: I see. It is precisely because I am not human.
Picard: That will be all, Mr. Data.
It is this exchange that lights a fire under Picard that burns for the rest of the episode, and leads him to his brilliant defense of Data in the ensuing trial. Both of the trial scenes are utterly excellent, powerful, and they don’t pull punches. The pivotal scene and possibly the best one in the episode is where Picard and Guinan discuss the meaning of an army of Datas, and the truth of what the trial is really about is revealed.
Use of Cast/Characters: Picard is one of the major players in this episode. This episode serves to establish one of the prime reasons you would want to serve under this man: he takes personal responsibility for those that serve under him and will go to the mat for his crew, putting himself on the line and time after time he succeeds. Riker comes across very well in this episode also, being willing to do something he finds unconscionable in order to protect someone he cares about, and boy is he good. He also gets some character development as a poker player, and this will only increase as the series progresses. Data takes center stage here, getting more character development than just about anyone ever does in any episode! He displays many of his best attributes: innocence, curiosity, penetrating insight and maturity. If this were a typical episode on TV after his vindication in the trial he should have said or done something disparaging to Maddox, to satisfy the audiences’ dislike and defeat of the character. Instead he offers to continue a dialogue with him, and this will actually be noted in a future episode. His likability (which was already high) shoots off the charts here. Geordi has some decent scenes, mourning his friend’s leaving, but doesn’t have much else to do–the Blu Ray version does give him a bit more. Dr. Pulaski has almost nothing except during the poker scene, which is just fine. Troi has almost nothing to do, her only decent scene is in the Blu Ray version. Wes has a total of one scene and doesn’t get any development either. I’m not sure if Worf has more than one line in this episode. Guinan makes a huge difference in the plot of this episode and is in her role as an adviser, which is often the case, but she only has one scene. Amanda McBroom does a good job as Louvois striking all the right notes in her performance, and Brian Brophy does a comparable job as Maddox; he is easy to dislike without overplaying his hand.
Blu Ray Version: The film grain is fairly noticeable here. It’s strange, I learned that the film stock from season two is different from season one. I don’t know if it is more difficult or more degraded or what, but for some reason there is more grain in season two than there was in the previous season. There are several additional scenes in the Blu Ray version and I’ll discuss them here. There is a nice scene that was cut where Data is in engineering and he gives his Holmes pipe to Geordi. In the scene where everyone is presenting Data with parting gifts, Pulaski doesn’t. She literally says “I’m gonna give you something far more valuable: my advice.” Her big advice? Since he’s leaving Starfleet she advises him to try “ground-side living.” LOL, what a douche. Later on Riker and Troi have a little philosophical discussion about whether Data is more than “software and nets and chips.” It gets better as Maddox himself shows up and mocks Data. Worf is about ready to murder him when Riker escorts Maddox out. There is another little scene where Picard is fencing and Riker enters to tell him that he’s going to do everything he can to win since he’s in this position. Picard finishes off his opponent and says so is he. It’s immediately followed by a scene where Picard is interviewing Data, attempting to help him and not doing a great job. There are a few additional facts we learn about him: Data is 27 years old, he entered the academy in ’44 and graduated in ’48. There are a few extra lines sprinkled throughout the episode, most of which are neither particularly good nor bad. The last scene has an example of the good and bad of extra scenes, though. Data calls Riker “Will” which I think is inappropriate, but then talks about what he learned from Riker’s example and proposes a very provocative thought: that at times it is necessary to deny one’s nature and sacrifice one’s personal beliefs to protect another. It’s a line worthy of this episode, and I’m glad it’s now included in it. All told there are 8 extended or deleted scenes for this episode. Overall the extra scenes are a mixed bag: a couple do add to the rich texture of this episode, others I’m just fine with having been left out.
Nitpicks: The teaser here in the poker scene is just too dark. Luckily in season 3 we won’t have to put up with dark scenes all the time like this. About 10 minutes in when Picard, Riker and Data all go to the lounge, who’s in charge on the bridge? About 12 minutes in Frakes pulls the Riker Maneuver, and this time it doesn’t really bother me because I don’t have time to worry about it, bigger things are happening. There is a Blu Ray scene where Data refers to Wes as his ‘star pupil’ which makes no sense, then smiles in a way that is completely out of character. Not much else.
Overall Impression: Finally! An episode that shows what can happen when TNG really flexes its muscles. The importance of this episode can hardly be overestimated. Patrick, Frakes and Spiner all give top-notch performances, but the real star is the script they had to work with. Paul Newman once said “give an actor a good script and he’ll move the world.” This is evidenced by this episode, which is one of the touchstones of the entire TNG franchise. I absolutely loved this one, it’s the finest episode of the first two seasons and it still gets me whenever I see it. Everything works, even the underlying possibility of a “what-might-have-been” between Picard and Louvois and the reference to Data’s tryst with Tasha Yar, and there is certainly social relevance here in spades. We even get to take a shot at defining life! There is lots of conflict in this episode: between the crew and Maddox, between Picard and Riker (which almost never happened), between Riker and himself, and between Picard and Louvois. Is the original or the extended version better? I’m not sure, but I like them both and it won’t influence my rating. I rate this episode 5 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: What’s funny is this script was found during the writer’s strike due to the need to use already existing scripts. If there had been no strike who knows if this script would have even been used? Melinda Snodgrass, who wrote this episode (and is an actual attorney), said the idea was based on the Dred Scott decision: is a runaway slave property? This episode actually contradicts a line in Where Silence Has Lease, where Pulaski stated that Starfleet lists Data as alive. If you pause at 26:18 you’ll see a listing for a Kei: Yuri submodule, yet another reference to Dirty Pair. This episode features the somewhat strange “interim” design of an admiral’s uniform, before they’d settle on a standardized version later on. If the starbase looks a little dated, it’s because it’s the one they used way back in Wrath of Khan when it was called Regula I. Klyde Kusatsu who played Vice Admiral Nakamura will show up again in two later episodes, Phantasms and All Good Things… This episode was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in the category of “Best Episodic Drama”. Entertainment Weekly ranked this episode #6 on their list of “The Top 10 Episodes” to celebrate the 20th anniversary of TNG. The book Star Trek 101 lists this episode as one of the “Ten Essential Episodes” from TNG.
Missable/Unmissable? Utterly unmissable. This is the apex of the first two seasons; if you like Star Trek (and even if you don’t) you need to see this episode. Don’t watch the next one though, it sucks.