Date: March 16, 2020
Season 2, Episode 9
Setting the Stage: This was the last of my four episode marathon on Saturday, which I watched via Netflix. Before I started this challenge, my husband and work mom wanted to come up with a list of “important” episodes for me to watch to get me up to speed. I told them I couldn’t do that and came up with this ridiculous quest instead. I mention that because this episode would have made that list. One day I’ll have the husband guest post that list, but today is not that day. I’m listening to Menos el Oso by Minus the Bear tonight while Professor Zoom snores at my feet.
Data: You had nothing!
La Forge: He bluffed you, Data.
Data: It makes very little sense to bet when you cannot win.
Riker: But I did win. I was betting that you wouldn’t call.Oh how I miss Texas Hold ‘Em nights…
This episode begins with a game of poker between La Forge, Pulaski, Riker, O’Brien, and Data. No sooner does Data mention how easy poker sounds he loses to Riker. On the Star Base we pan to Picard running into an old flame who happens to be a lawyer, sound familiar? Louvoix was the prosecutor when the Stargazer was lost as it’s routine to do a court martial when a ship has been lost. Admiral Nakamura and Commander Maddox interrupt their reunion as they have come to inspect the ship and, apparently, Data.
Maddox keeps referring to Data as “it” and wants to dissemble him in order to learn better and make more “Datas”. Maddox even has transfer orders from Starfleet command, so Data has no choice but to resign from Starfleet or be picked apart by a man he does not believe to be ready for the task. The crew throws an away party for Data but La Forge is sad because his friend is leaving and it’s super touching. However there’s a ruling that Data cannot resign because he is the property of Starfleet, so a hearing is held. Due to the understaffed new JAG office, Picard has to be the defense lawyer, Riker will serves as the prosecutor, and Louvoix will be the judge. Riker understands his duty but is clearly upset at having to go up against his friend and comrade.
Riker comes out with guns blazing and not only has Data remove his hand but also turns him off. It’s such a compelling argument that Picard heads to the bar for advice from Guinan during the recess. They discuss the idea of disposable people and slavery and it pumps up Picard for his turn at the hearing. Picard first calls Data back to the stand, I’m not sure why he didn’t do this as a cross but whatever, and tries to help Louvoix understand Data is more human than his programming would suggest. Next he calls Maddox to the stand as a hostile witness and is glorious in his examination.
Louvoix is so impressed and understands she is setting precedent so she rules that Data is not the property of Starfleet. Data tells Maddox that he would be happy to work with him once he’s ready and Maddox begins to understand he might not know everything he thought he did.
So we all know I drink the “Data Kool Aid” but I don’t think my bias is showing when I say how excellent this episode was. It’s a real problem we still face today and have explored in various multimedia formats. The entire hearing reminds me of Bicentennial Man, another movie I loved. Artificial Intelligence is such a fascinating subject and also one that has moral and ethical implications. If we develop one entity, or thousands, we have a responsibility to not treat it as lesser simply because it is providing a function for us. There are so many good points in this episode, like Data pointing out that although La Forge’s visor has superior vision, not every officer is equipped with it. Another is this beautiful bit by Picard:
Picard: Commander Riker has dramatically demonstrated to this court that Lieutenant Commander Data is a machine. Do we deny that? No. Because it is not relevant. We too are machines, just machines of a different type.
Commander Riker has also reminded us that Lieutenant Commander Data was created by a human. Do we deny that? No. Again it is not relevant. Children are created from the building blocks of their parents’ DNA. Are they property?Picard asking the damn good questions.
In fact, Sir Patrick Stewart hits the ball out of the park in this acting challenge. He makes me feel every emotion he’s feeling and I’m compelled to his side of the argument, even after Riker’s stirring performance. If you watch closely, you can see Frakes staring at Stewart in adoration while he is delivering his soliloquy, and it’s adorable. I also now want to watch an entire TV show with Stewart as a defense attorney in a courtroom drama… make it so! Anyway, this is a 10/10 would recommend.