Friday, July 28, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 135 (The Quality of Life)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

The main mission of the Enterprise is to seek out new life. One of the recurring themes on Star Trek: The Next generation is trying to get a hold of what life is. In “Quality of Life”, Lieutenant Commander Data, an android, believes that a set of machines may have intelligence.

The Enterprise is sent to evaluate a drilling operation. Captain Picard has to send a recommendation to Starfleet as to whether or not the operation is worth it. Three exocomps, which are little machines designed to do tasks like fixing things, are thought of as tools. They’re new and experimental, but have the potential to greatly speed things up and keep things moving. Things get complicated when one of the exocomps stops what it’s doing and comes out of a shaft. Attempts to get it to go back are met with resistance.

Eventually, something in the tube explodes; apparently, the exocomp was trying to save its own life. This and other evidence leads Data to believe that the exocomps have intelligence. It takes Data a while to convince everyone that the exocomps are truly alive, mostly because life is hard to define. Things come to a head when the drilling station has to be evacuated. Data won’t let the exocomps go to the station and be sacrificed to save Picard and Chief Engineer La Forge. Data is willing to risk court marshal to save the exocomps.

Data gets to grow a little in this episode. Data puts the safety of the exocomps above his own. In a way, he’s also capable of anthropomorphizing; he truly wants to see a part of himself in the exocomps. He even asks Dr. Crusher what life is. Her definition is the basic definition that you might get in organic chemistry: eats, excretes, reproduces, etc. Data points out that fire could be considered life under that definition. It consumes fuel, puts out heat as waste, and is capable of making more fire. Also, Data would be excluded because he’s not capable of reproducing in the conventional sense.

It was an interesting episode, but it’s similar to “The Measure of a Man”, where a trial is held to determine whether Data is a sentient being or if he’s the property of Starfleet. In fact, the episode is even acknowledged. Data tells Picard that he felt compelled to help the exocomps despite the fact that Picard had stuck up for him in that episode. Data knew that trying to save them was the right thing to do. I wish that there was a follow-up episode; I’d like to see what became of the exocomps.

I feel that the episode was worthy of four stars. It had the potential for five stars, but didn’t quite make it. It’s not that I think anything in particular is wrong with it. It was a great episode. I just don’t think that the episode was among the best that The Next Generation has to offer. I would recommend this episode. It’s enjoyable, although those that haven’t seen the episode might not get some of the references and will miss out if they haven’t seen The Measure of a Man. (Coincidentally, this is episode 135; The Measure of a Man was episode 35.) 

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