This is sort of a mashup of first season's "Home Soil" and second season's "The Measure of a Man" (which is referenced). This time, however, it doesn't rely on a guest star serve as the stubborn adversary it pits Picard versus Data on opposite sides of the issue (or dilemma) with lives on the line. Unfortunately, this leaves the guest star (Ellen Bry) with very little turf of her own as Doctor Farallon, a character who basically echoes whatever the popular belief happens to be at any one time. But the real emphasis here is on Data. And Brent Spiner (along with Gates McFadden) is fabulous, allowing the story to slowly build up before the nice payoff.
First came "The Measure of a Man", to define Data as a life form.
Then came "The Offspring", where Data replicates himself and, in effect, makes a child. Everybody debates the legitimacy of his offspring too.
Now comes "Quality of Life", where Data fights on the behalf of the Exocomps. Little floating dodecahedron-shaped boxes that make cute, chirping noises to help us feel their plight when not replicating any tool needed to fix any task. Given the number of times the creators have used the "when does a computer become sentient" gimmick, each time with diminishing results may I add, how long before replicators would be deemed sentient, demanding fair wages and letting the crew starve to death?! Or would Geordi's VISOR develop a conscience? Hmmm, maybe that was an unused script for season 8, if not the original premise of feature film, "Star Trek First Contact"...
Geordi is surveying a space station that has a device that is a new form of technology for use in the mining. While conducting the survey a dangerous problem occurs on the power grid. Dr Fallon suggest using the exocomp.
Geordi is surveying a space station that has a device that is a new form of technology for use in the mining. While conducting the survey a dangerous problem occurs on the power grid. Dr Fallon suggest using the exocomp. The exocomp is a experimental robot designed by Dr Fallon. The exocomp is successful in fixing the problem. The exocomp is brought aboard the “Enterprise” for demonstration. Picard is impressed. Picard allows for the exocomp, to repair the mining station. The exocomp goes to fix the problem but refuses to complete the task. Is the exocomp alive?
Its hard not to love the exo-comps. Even though they are metallic they are still cute and cuddly!
That aside, the episode suffers from a benign plot, with nothing really happening or essentially of consequence. It does however work perfectly in providing the platform for debating the criteria that provide definition for what Life is. To that end, the main plot does work.
I did and still do find the arguments presented in this episode very interesting, though basic in their delivery. Cant be blamed given the nature of the source - i.e. the show runtime. I thought that Data's were sympathetic enough to be realistically viewed and Dr. Farallon does a good job of justifying why they shouldnt. With this argument being the mainstay of conflict in this episode, Id have given it a 5 mark. However, a slow start gives way to a clash filled middle act, when the exo-comps are introduced. Their use and the way the effected used to implement them are great. Not the best, but good enough for this episode. What I particularly liked were the way the exo-comps were tested and how they reacted to the tests. An enthralling middle act moves nicely into a tension filled final set of scenes as the exo-comps save Geordi and Picard from death by scarificing one of their kind.
Thus they prove their fulfilment of the criteria to be deemed life.
Probably one of my favourite episodes, because it is Star Trek in its purest form. An intelligent idea executed simply but effectively. The special effects budget was hardly touched (the flying exocomps look positively wobbly at times), the actors were given a chance to shine.
At the core of the episode there is the question "When is something a living thing?" For once, Dr. Crusher can do more than just diagnosing a medical problem. When Data has a question about ethics, he goes to see the doctor. In the best tradition of Star Trek, a science fiction story line touches today's ethical problems. (A doctor talking about when something is a living thing comes close to the entire abortion discussion.)
The episode isn't perfect. Especially in the beginning the technical mumbo jumbo can be quite distracting. By putting Picard and LaForge in danger when Data has to make a difficult decision, the writers take the melodramatic route. (Picard is Data's father figure, Geordi his best friend. Would the story be just as poignant if two lesser known characters were threatened by Data's action?) The lack of any court martial after the incident seems unrealistic.
Of course, the star of the episode is Data/Brent Spiner. Remember that Spiner cannot show emotion as Data struggles with his dilemma. As far as "successfully underacting" is concerned, any actor could take a lesson from Spiner.
As in "Home Soil" and "Evolution", a seemingly non-alive object shows sentience, putting the mission-of-the-week at risk. As in the other two episodes, there's a scientist so obsessed with getting results he is willing to destroy these creatures. And there's a quirk this time, because Data takes a hankering to these little R2-D2s and risks his career (as well as the lives of his two best friends) in order to protect them. You also get the "Geordi bickers with the guest scientist of the week" cliche.
The moral dilemmas in this episode were explored much better in "The Measure of a Man". This episode isn't unwatchable, but it's strictly filler.
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