Now that I can review some of the early episodes of TNG we have a problem. You see while TNG is considered good (look to the fan wars of Kirk vs. Picard) the early seasons were… bad, I could list the episodes that were bad but then I’d list most of the first two seasons (since I can only review those two by my rules till 2030). But there is one bright spark in this blackness, an episode widely considered the first great episode in the show’s run.
So a little elaboration. Fans had mistaken Star Trek’s finer points to have all been Roddenberry, not helped he himself lied and claimed he created a lot of things he didn’t like the Klingons. So when TNG came around, we got to see him at full control… or more precisely a guy he left in charge who adhered so strictly to Roddenberry’s vision it nearly killed the show (any Treky that complains that a Star Trek series betrays Roddenberry’s vision, go watch the first two seasons of TNG and the motion picture, then look up who actually made the parts you liked) This drove away actors and nearly killed Trek for good. Oddly TNG had ignored the lessons the movies had learned, just ignore Roddenberry and make a good story.
Season 2 as well as still being under Roddenberry’s thumb had an additional issue – there was a writers strike going on. It lead to the final episode of this season being a really bad clip show episode (not a clip show, a bad clip show) but fortuitously it also meant this script got used. (It was also around this time in Trek that Star Trek 5 the Kirk fan fiction writer by Shatner was released.)
We open with a poker game, Data (the android) is playing with several of the main cast. However he then loses because he folds on what commander Riker reveals to be a bad hand. Data is perplexed as he could not understand the idea of betting on something that couldn’t win.
The Enterprise is arriving at Starbase 173 for crew rotation and we are introduced to Commander Bruce Maddox. From his introduction we can see him constantly looking at Data and we find he was the only member of a Hearing that voted against allowing Data into Star Fleet. He didn’t consider him a sentient being but a machine. In fact he refers to Data as it rather than he. But we find he is not acting out of malice but is enamored with, and a researcher into, the works of Dr Sung, the man who created Data. He wants to dismantle Data so he can learn his secrets and create more.
Data though somewhat impressed by the progress of Maddox refuses. He feels Maddox cannot safely insure that Data will survive the process. However,Maddox who does not see Data as a sentient being, goes to find ways to have him transferred to his research group to do the procedure.
A strength of the episode is that,as mentioned, no one is actually hateful about the other. Maddox though the antagonist is not a villain, he just sees Data differently than we who have spent time with him have, seeing him as a machine.
The high point of the episode comes in a court Hearing where sides have to make their arguments towards Data’s rights – if he is to be considered Property or a free individual. Riker is forced to put forward a full and proper case against Data or as Captain Phillipa Louvois the new head of the Starbase puts it she will outright rule Data property. While it is Picard who has to put forward the case for Data to be considered a true individual with full rights.
While the Hearing is the high point of the story with first Riker putting up a devastating case against Data followed later by a powerful and impassioned case by Picard (helped by Guinan once again proving she does Diana Troy’s job far better than her… Trekys know what I’m talking about) the episode is full of great little moments. Remember the start of the episode has Data make a very machine like error due to lack of creativity, yet in the rest of the episode we are seeing people arguing for his rights not to be considered just a machine. Small scenes from one facial expression leading into another convey moments far better than some pieces of dialog ever could and the complexities of what people are having to deal with. Indeed near the end one of the realizations has people come to terms with the fact they are dealing with issues far greater than Data’s right to refuse someone.
Early TNG is a mess (though it p*$$*d me off that when people trying to big up Kirk in the argument always ALWAYS bring up things that happen in early TNG when it was bad rather than what happens later) But there were moments when the series started to show what it could and ultimately would become and this is one of them.