the Romulans need a little reminder of the Federation’s presence, so starfleet builds Starbase 173 close to the neutral zone. It also means they’ll be ready for problems like those that came up in Conspiracy. The Enterprise visits the starbase for port call and crew rotation.
This gives the crew some rec time, and they use it to play poker. Data is all read up on the game, and he has heaps of confidence since it’s simple. He enters into an adversarial relationship with Riker, who out bluffs him.
By facing off like that, Data learns there is something else to poker. Something ineffable.
Meanwhile Picard is sitting with a cup of tea in the new starbase’s coffee shop, enjoying the view of the Enterprise. This quiet time is interrupted by the arrival of Phillipa Louvois, a former lover and adversary. There’s talk of Picard breaking a chair across her back.
Instead they tea together. Captain Louvois, it turns out, is JAG officer for the 23rd sector.
Here’s what Picard thinks of her:
- he’s glad she’s back in Starfleet
- she’s prideful
- she shouldn’t have resigned
- she overzealously prosecuted him during the Stargazer court martial
- she always enjoyed the adversarial process more than finding truth
- she needed to learn wisdom
Here’s what she thinks of Picard:
- He’s a pompous ass
- He’s a damn sexy man
Admiral Nakamura and Commander Bruce Maddox interrupt because the Admiral is expecting a tour of the Enterprise. Picard takes him up to the ship, and everything goes fine. Before he leaves the admiral says Maddox has plans for Picard’s android.
Yep he talks as if Data isn’t a person.
Yep admirals are dicks.
Maddox and Data are old adversaries too. Maddox evaluated Data’s application to Starfleet and was the only person to oppose his entrance on the grounds that Data isn’t a person. The entire time Maddox refers to Data as “it.” Now he plans to study Data by taking him apart.
Picard meets with Maddox, Riker and Data. Maddox explains his plan. Data doesn’t think it’s safe. No one stops Maddox calling Data “it.” Picard says “no,” so Maddox plays his trump card: a transfer order. Data is now under Maddox’s command.
Picard and Data meet in the ready room. Picard doesn’t want to lose Data, but he wants Data to consider Starfleet’s POV. Wouldn’t it be great if many more beings like Data existed?
Data can’t stop looking at this like an individual. He says Geordi’s eyes are better than regular human eyes, so why aren’t all human officers required to replace their eyes with cybernetic implants? Because Starfleet would never subject a human to such a process.
Picard realizes Data’s right and kicks him out of the office. He pulls up all Starfleet transfer law. He’s going to figure out a way to keep his second officer. It’s gobbledygook to him, so he has to go meet Captain Louvois.
- you can’t stop the transfer order
- all starfleet officers accept risks
- she’s surprised to see Picard passionate about a machine
- Data could always resign from Starfleet. That’s what she did after all…
- Maddox cannot be trusted
- the risks to Data are unjustified and unfair
- he has rights
Before he storms out of her office, Louvois says to him, haha you asked me for help. Picard gets angry, but then she gets sincere. No, really. I’m glad. Picard’s like, I wish I could trust you.
Meanwhile, Data has to meet Maddox because Maddox comes right on into his quarters while he’s packing. Data says Maddox should’ve asked permission. Maddox picks up a book Data is packing and asks, do you really get this stuff?
- Your memories and knowledge will be downloaded and will remain intact
- Since you’re under my command, you will have to submit to dismantlement
- You can’t resign
- You can save the facts of my memories, but not the flavor
- I’m not going to be under your command because I just resigned
- I am a unique person. My existence adds to the substance of the universe, and if I am destroyed something unique and wonderful will be lost.
Maddox doesn’t get that Data has just demonstrated a better understanding of the stuff in that book than Maddox has. He storms out.
Maddox Raises the Stakes
Maddox challenges Data’s right to resign, which given their location means Captain Louvois’ office. She calls Picard in too. She doesn’t call in Data.
- Data is a valued member of my crew, and a Starfleet officer
- He has rights
- Starfleet doesn’t ignore its own regulations when they become inconvenient
- We can’t just seize people to prove your pet theories
- Data can’t resign because he is a machine and property
- You think Data has human characteristics because he was made to look and act human
- My experiment could lead to us owning a whole bunch of Datas that can do dangerous things for us
- If you permit him to resign, you’ll destroy years of work in robotics
- You wouldn’t let the Enterprise computer refuse a software refit
Louvois likes number 5, so she’ll look at the law to determine whether or not Data is property.
There’s a going away party for Data. Wes is bossy about the unwrapping of presents. Dr. P’s looking chummy with Data. Geordi, however, is pouting. It’s just not fair, he says. Data responds, life is rarely fair. Now, tell me he doesn’t understand the metaphysics of things.
Captain Louvois uses the Acts of Cumberland to determine that Data is Starfleet property. She calls Picard and Riker back to let them know. Picard challenges. The problem is that they’re understaffed, so Picard will be defending counsel and Riker will be the prosecutor.
It’s either that or Data is a toaster.
All the Adversaries in One Room
Picard tells Data. Data sums up with one great line: from limitless options I am reduced to none. If a soul is just that bit of magic that happens when something simple becomes more than its parts, then tell me Data doesn’t have one. Picard assures him they will fight.
Riker’s doing his duty, formulating a case, studying hard, and then he’s got a great argument and he knows it. He beams. Then he’s sad. Some of the most subtle and moving acting yet to come Frakes. I mean even better than that time when Riker went looking for Minuet and she was gone.
The court convenes. All the adversaries are in one room, and here’s Riker’s argument:
Data is an android, a machine made by humans
- He’s a collection of neural nets, heuristic algorithms, software and hardware
- He has unnatural memory, unnatural computational speed, and unnatural strength
- A human can take his arm off
- A human can turn him off
It’s devastating. Picard asks for a recess.
A Side Note to Riker
Pinocchio didn’t have strings. That’s actually his defining feature.
From Individual to Race
Picard goes to Ten Forward where Guinan reminds him that he’s not actually worried about Data as an individual. This is bigger. An army of Datas would be a race, and if they’re property, you don’t really have to think about their welfare or how they feel. They’d be disposable.
Picard’s like, that’s slavery! We’ve been talking about slavery all along, haven’t we?
Guinan’s like, uh-huh.
Back in court, it’s Picard’s turn. He argues:
- Riker proved Data’s a machine, and we agree. But is this machine a person?
- Data has feelings despite not being programed to.
- his medals = pride and vanity
- his book = friendship and service
- his hologram = love
- The same requirements for sentience found in Picard are also present in Data.
- The implications go beyond the individual.
You know what? Forget this.
This part is so awesome I’m just going to quote it:
You see he’s met two of your three criteria for sentience, so what if he meets the third, consciousness, in even the smallest degree? What is he then? I don’t know, do you?
Well that’s the question you have to answer.
Your honor, the courtroom is a crucible. In it we burn away irrelevancies until we are left with a pure product, the truth. For all time.
Now sooner or later, this man, or others like him will succeed in replicating Commander Data. And the decision you reach here today will determine how we will regard this creation of our genius. It will reveal the kind of a people we are. What he is destined to be. It will reach far beyond this courtroom and this one android.
It could significantly redefine the boundaries of personal liberty and freedom, expanding them for some, savagely curtailing them for others.
Are you prepared to condemn him and all who come after him to servitude and slavery?
Your honor, Starfleet was founded to seek out new life. Well there it sits!
Captain Louvois finds that Data is a machine, but not Starfleet property. He is a person.
(The “he is a person” part is my interpretation of her saying that she doesn’t know if he has a soul. She doesn’t know if she has one. But he must have freedom of choice to explore that himself.)
Data formally refuses the Maddox dismantlement, and Maddox calls Data “he” when he cancels the transfer order. Picard takes Captain Louvois out to dinner.
Conflict Creates Truth
Riker did such a good job against Data in the hearing that he doesn’t feel right joining the celebration in the holodeck. Data comes in and says by doing what you did, you saved me, so please let’s party.
Then Data gives Riker a look that says, conflict isn’t a bad thing, sir. You see we approach the universe with one idea of how it works and we encounter something that contradicts that notion. At which point, the contradiction and our ideas fight it out, leading to a synthesis. A new truth. A better understanding of the universe. That’s what happened when we played poker, and that’s what happened at the hearing. By being the adversary even though it was hard, you helped create the truth that I am a person. So thanks for that.
Morals, Messages, and Meanings
- Conflict is a good and necessary thing because it formulates how we understand things.
- Don’t hate the player, hate the game. That is we can be in conflict with each other and still be friends.
- A wise person sees conflict as means to reach truth, not a sport to win at.
- We should approach the other openly, giving them the benefit of the doubt by protecting their right to choose.
- We should think about how we will be judged.
- Don’t let a pursuit of science prevent you from seeing the unquantifiable.
- Admirals are dicks.
- Hide your off switch.
What’s a Person?
Since beginning this project of reviewing Next Gen episodes, I’ve been developing a list of characteristics that an entity should have to be a person. It goes like this:
3) a will
4) the ability to transcend its programming,
5) and/or any other attribute that provides a doubt about their lack of sentience
This episode mentioned only three: 1) intelligence, 2) self-awareness, and 3) consciousness. I’ve been thinking that self-awareness was included in consciousness, but it seems the difference is consciousness entails only awareness of the outside world. Not one’s inner world.
It’s an interesting and important distinction, so I’ll go ahead and amend my list thus:
4) a will,
5) the ability to transcend its programming,
6) and/or any other attribute that provides a doubt about their lack of sentience
Until now, I’ve been assuming that sentient being = person, but this episode made me doubt this. After all Maddox couldn’t prove that Picard was sentient, nor did he feel the need. He took it for granted because the community had already decided Picard was a person.
Data might be a sentient being, but if the community had not acknowledged the fact, he would’ve lost the right to exercise his will because he wasn’t deemed a person. So it seems personhood is a relationship between a sentient being and the community.
I wonder if I can say that more clearly. An entity’s sentience is a fact. Her personhood is a relationship to the community.
I guess a relationship can be good or bad, and in this case a bad relationship would be one in which Data is forcefully dismantled and lost in the interest of understanding how he was built. A good relationship would be one in which he could decide whether or not to let it happen.
So an entity’s sentience is a fact. If the community has a good relationship to her, she’s a person. If it has a bad one, she’s property.
Who decides what’s good?
Someone or something must because we will be judged based on those relationships. Here’s some more awesome Picard:
A single Data is a curiosity, a wonder, but a thousand Datas, doesn’t that become a new race? And aren’t we going to be judged as a species about how we treat these creations?
In the interest of shortening what has already become much too long a post, I’m going to ask you grant me this without explanation. Moral correctness comes from the community. Ethical correctness comes from outside. From somewhere ineffable.
Picard is saying that a community has an ethical obligation to treat a sentient being as a person.
He’s saying that because he’s awesome, and I buy it. Since every sentient being deserves to be treated as a person, I’m going to continue to use sentient being = person.
Does it hold up?
This episode would stand up against anything on TV now.
The acting is stellar. I’m cynical and old, and I teared up during Picard’s speech.
Patrick Stewart was zoned in, and this was in his wheelhouse.
Jonathan Frakes puts in his best performance yet.
Brent Spiner played Data like a spiritual leader, but it was necessary as the Data scenes of pure humanity counterbalanced the scenes in which others doubted his humanity.
Whoopi Goldberg’s presence in the one scene she’s in is unforgettable.
The writing is fantastic, and the dialogue subtle and meaning laden. Never have the A plot and B plot melded so seamlessly.
The directing is good, and the special effects (I mean the shots of the Enterprise outside Starbase 173) are wonderful.
I didn’t think Elementary, Dear Data could be outdone, let alone so soon, but we have a new champion. The best episode of Next Gen yet. It’s the episode you recommend to people who’ve never seen Star Trek.
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