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Star Trek TNG - Season 6 - Episode 09

Star Trek TNG - 6x09 - The Quality of Life

Originally Aired: 1992-11-16

Synopsis:
Data risks lives in order to protect a "living" machine. [DVD]

My Rating - 7

Fan Rating Average - 5.15

Rate episode?

Rating: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
# Votes: 21 3 5 29 6 9 13 28 24 11 7

Problems
None

Factoids
None

Remarkable Scenes
- The discussion of Geordi's beard and beards in general. Personally, I like Geordi the best with a beard.
- Data beginning to believe the exocomp was alive.
- Beverly healing herself after being defeated in a sparring match with Worf.
- Data asking Beverly for the definition of life.
- Farallon: "One time I saw an exocomp enter a reaction chamber for no apparent reason and vaporize itself. Is that supposed to make me think that it was depressed and suicidal?"
- Beverly and Data discovering that the exocomp saw right through the test.
- Data objecting to sacrificing the exocomps to save Picard and Geordi.
- Data locking out the transporter to save the exocomps. I love how Data replies to Riker's anger to calmly.
- The exocomps noble sacrifice.

My Review
This episode takes a meager premise and makes it interesting. In the beginning of the episode wd have a simple space station with a radical new mining technique. A concept not unlike other TNG episodes dealing with one time guest stars. However, the introduction of the exocomps and the debate over their sentience is an intriguing one. And the debate over whether or not they're alive is even more fascinating than TNG: The Measure of a Man in some respects. Especially with Data's decision to protect the exocomps at all costs. I'm fond of how everyone is so easy to forgive Data and I'm equally fond of how much willing Data was to end his career with his extreme actions. The dialog in this episode was intelligent and was a general pleasure to watch.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From DSOmo on 2007-11-10 at 12:48pm:
    - During this episode, Data asks Crusher to define life, and Crusher sputters around for a while before finally coming up with an answer (sort of). During the first season she was a lot surer of herself. When asked a similar question in "Home Soil," she immediately answered that organic life must have the ability to assimilate, respirate, reproduce, grow and develop, move, secrete, and excrete.
    - Prior to a meeting concerning the exocomp, Picard makes a log stating that he has called a meeting of the senior staff. In the meeting, both Riker and Worf are missing.
    - The exocomps have the ability to replicate the tool attachment they need for a specific job. Normally, the exocomp dematerializes this attachment as soon as it completes the job. Very conveniently, an excomp "forgets" to dematerialize the attachment. This forgetfulness allows Data to see the tool and come to the conclusion that the exocomps are alive (which is needed to move the plot along).
    - When the bridge crew quickly runs through the options for rescuing Picard, Faralon claims that they don't have time to send a shuttle to the space station. Yet mere seconds before, Riker tells everyone they have twenty-two minutes! Twenty-two minutes isn't enough time to fly a shuttle next door to an orbiting space station? It's amazing the dance the creators go through to keep the tension up on this show. Of course, if the Enterprise sent a shuttle, the exocomps wouldn't be in danger, and Data couldn't save them, and so on, and so on.
  • From djb on 2008-05-29 at 3:55am:
    - I wonder why Riker, who outranks Data, wasn't able to override the transporter lockout. Of course, Data has been shown to be able to lock everyone out, even the captain (see "Brothers") but it didn't seem to indicate he imitated anyone's voice like he did before.

    - There's obvious continuity between this episode and "The Measure of a Man" but there's also a subtle reference to "The Offspring," in which Picard encourages Data to disobey the Admiral who wants to take Lal away, saying, "There are times when men of conscience cannot blindly follow orders." It seems Data has taken that to heart.

    - I find it weird that there isn't much of a difference made between "sentient" and "sapient" in this episode. Clearly the line has to be drawn somewhere when it comes to the importance of preserving "living" things. If, for example, I had to sacrifice my cat, who is sentient, but not sapient, to save a human friend, there wouldn't be much of a question, even if it were a difficult decision to make. And if it were a tree, there would be no question. The tree is alive by all definitions of the word, but it would be ludicrous to put a single plant on the same level of importance as a starship captain. Data's acting as if the AI exhibited by these devices might make him "not alone" is ridiculous, because simple self-preservation is certainly feasible without a positronic brain. Plus, even if the exocomps could be proven to be "sentient," they don't have positronic brains, and therefore would never make Data less unique no matter how smart they became.

    Somehow Data has come to the conclusion that the rudimentary intelligence shown by the exocomps, which is, at best, circumstantial evidence that they are anything approximating "conscious," is of equal value with two humans, one of whom saved him from being disassembled. Wouldn't Data take that into account? He seems to have jumped to conclusions, which is inconsistent with his programming. In fact, he seems very driven by emotion in this episode. It brings up a good question of where our the border between our thoughts and our emotions lies.

    It's true that the exocomps exhibited self-preservation behavior, but that is a far cry from sapience. Even following Crusher's loose definition of "alive," these exocomps didn't reproduce or grow. They also didn't consume food any more than a tricorder would. Neither do they obviously exhibit self-awareness. Their self-preservation tendencies could be nothing more than good AI. As indicated in the episode, they have heuristic programming, writing itself as it learns more, and for all we know, this program came to the logical conclusion that self-preservation is most conducive to the unit executing its function properly. Clearly, unlike Data's designer, their designer did not intend for them to become "alive," even in the loosest sense of the word. (This, of course, brings up the whole debate of Intelligent Design, but that's a whole different can of worms.)

    Indeed, I wonder why more effort wasn't made to discover to what extent these exocomps could exhibit life-like behavior, why no one bothered to try to communicate with them outside of the typical "enter command" protocol, and why no one asked exactly HOW they became "sentient." It reminds me of "Evolution", where a science project "accidentally" became intelligent, and all of a sudden has to be preserved and protected, even when it threatens the ship. One wonders, then, since the Federation is committed to seeking out new forms of life, why there isn't a comprehensive working definition of life, along with a set of tests to gauge whether or not something is alive, so this quandary doesn't come up every time some device exhibits seemingly intelligent behavior.

    - This is trivial, but I like the "beard" continuity between this episode and the previous one. It's true that the producers intentionally kept this series episodic, with not much overlap from episode to episode, but some more continuity on non-plot points like this one would have been nice.
  • From 2 Of 14 on 2008-09-05 at 6:53am:
    This episode has some excellent aspects such as great ideas, great production values, etc. However, I just cannot get my head around Data deliberately disobeying direct orders from his commanding officer by locking the transporter. To me, this is a major problem in this episode.

    Data’s reasoning that the exocomps are just as valuable as two human lives is totally believable; he is an android and we understand that he sometimes arrives at conclusions many people would not understand or share, that is part of his appeal.

    But to directly disregard direct orders from his commanding officer in this way is just bizarre. In an organisation like Starfleet following orders would be essential, such a complex starship cannot operate without a high level of discipline. A commanding officer is supposed to be so highly trained and experienced that if they make decisions affecting the lives of their crew they should expect them to be carried out, not necessarily without question, but certainly without such blatant refusal.

    Data knows all this; in "Redemption II" when Lt. Cmdr. Hobson questions Data’s orders, Data threatens to relieve him of duty.

    If I was Picard or Riker after this incident I would feel very uncomfortable having Data in such a senior position and would not want him on board the ship in such a capacity.
  • From JRPoole on 2008-09-11 at 11:49am:
    Thie episode trots out a few standard Trek themes that are starting to get a little cliche by this point in TNG: the definition of life and/or sentience, Dats's humanity, moral conundrums, and scientists blinded by ambition.

    We don't really get anything new here, but these ideas are all handled servicably, and this episode is intriguing nonetheless.

  • From Rick on 2014-03-13 at 1:24pm:
    Huge problem in this episode (which is otherwise a great one): If the scientist and Riker do not buy that the exocomps are lifeforms, then why do they need to disconnect their command pathways? They both tell Data that they arent lifeforms and Data responds by saying that because they are lifeforms they will not accept the commands that will kill them. Then Riker and scientist decide to disconnect the command pathways? Isnt this directly admitting that Data has been right all along and that they are going to kill the exocomps anyway!!!???
  • From El Goopo on 2015-03-02 at 1:16am:
    People really don't like this episode, do they? Talk about being unwilling to think things through..

    >Very conveniently, an excomp "forgets" to dematerialize the attachment.

    Or perhaps it didn't forget, and was intentionally letting Data see it? Works just as well.


    >Twenty-two minutes isn't enough time to fly a shuttle next door to an orbiting space station?

    This is the most minor of nits, for an episode that was clearly not about shuttles. Most problems in stories could be solved far more sensibly without tacked-on conditions to rationalize how the story gets where it has to go.


    >Data's acting as if the AI exhibited by these devices might make him "not alone" is ridiculous

    Data was their advocate, not because he knew they were intelligent, but because a possibly sentient life form was being forced to die, put in the same position he himself was in earlier in the series. Given that the Exocomps never reappeared, he was probably wrong... but not in principle.


    >Their self-preservation tendencies could be nothing more than good AI.

    Rewatch Measure of a Man and revisit the "sentience" criteria - would you condemn something that might be sentient because you think it doesn't qualify? The point is to not be hasty and condemn possible life, not assume it's not life because you can't bring yourself to believe it at the time.


    >But to directly disregard direct orders from his commanding officer in this way is just bizarre.

    "To seek out new life" is the Enterprise's primary mission, spoken loudly right in the title sequence each week. If you saw that your CO was about to sacrifice the greater mission to save two lives, would you not want him to listen to your arguments before saying "yes sir" and pressing on?


    >If I was Picard or Riker after this incident I would feel very uncomfortable having Data in such a senior position and would not want him on board the ship in such a capacity.

    Kind of a ridiculous notion to not trust your subordinate simply for doing something you yourself have done more often, and possibly for lesser reasons than violating your primary mission. Heck, Data hijacked without even knowing it just to go see his father, and they still trusted him after that massive security vulnerability was exposed. Why would this be any worse?


    >If the scientist and Riker do not buy that the exocomps are lifeforms, then why do they need to disconnect their command pathways?

    If your computer isn't responding, do you assume it has achieved sentience, or that it has crashed? No, you reboot it. Similar principle here. Farallon was just a step further, and refusing to accept new facts that pointed at it being more than a "bug", but the story pointed that out.
  • From Rick on 2015-10-26 at 11:22am:
    El Goopo:

    I agree with all of your responses, as people tend to see problems where there really arent any, except for the last one in which you question the problem I brought up.

    The entire premise of the second half the episode is that if the Exocomps have a sense of survival then they are sentient. Or at least there is a high probability that they are sentient and they shouldnt be mistreated until that hypothesis is confirmed or refuted.

    Data explicitly says to Riker, "If I am correct" that the Exocomps are sentient, they will refuse this order because it is too dangerous. Then Riker orders that the command pathways to be shut down, which means that he thinks they will refuse this order too. So are you saying there is a computer bug that only makes the Exocomps refuse orders that are dangerous? That was not programmed into them so it doesnt really make sense that they would develop such a "bug". And besides my speculation, as I already stated, that survival instinct to refuse dangerous orders so heavily suggests that they are sentient that you cannot mistreat them until you find out for sure. So even if Riker thought it may be a bug, he cannot and should not shut down their command pathways until he is sure.
  • From Axel on 2018-06-17 at 1:21am:
    So, these poker games the senior staff plays: you have a Betazoid who can sense emotion, LaForge whose VISOR apparently helps him tell when people are lying, and Data, who can count cards. Yet somehow Riker and Crusher are the ones that always win? Riker must be a phenomenal bluffer.

    Anyway, Data doesn't suggest that the exocomps are exactly like him. He suggests they are possible progenitors. When did he actually become a life form? He's not sure, which is why he's so interested in the exocomps. They might show him an earlier stage of his own existence as he was being assembled by Soong.

    Also, the self-preservation isn't the only reason Data suspects they might be alive, although that gets talked about the most. His evidence that it might have been deliberate self-preservation is because he sees they are rapidly forming new circuit pathways. If that's happening, it's a sign they might be developing self-awareness and a rudimentary intelligence, both signs of life. It also means they might continue to become more intelligent. The possibility of growth is too much to ignore.

    As far sacrificing Geordi and Picard for the exocomps, he said it wasn't an easy decision. As Picard says, it was a human decision. As with all human decisions, some people may disagree or have done it differently. The whole point though, to me, is that Data has to make this call quickly and still adhere to his ethical subroutines. It was a growth moment for him as well.
  • From QuasiGiani on 2018-06-20 at 1:28am:
    "Huge problem in this episode (which is otherwise a great one): If the scientist and Riker do not buy that the exocomps are lifeforms, then why do they need to disconnect their command pathways? They both tell Data that they aren't lifeforms and Data responds by saying that because they are lifeforms they will not accept the commands that will kill them. Then Riker and scientist decide to disconnect the command pathways? Isn't this directly admitting that Data has been right all along and that they are going to kill the exocomps anyway!!!???" -From Rick on 2014-03-13 at 1:24pm

    Yep. Yes. Exactly.

    Riker... ...dis-apoint-ted (or as Data basically said: fuck you).

    ...

    Also -- on a much more serious and substantial level than these squabbles and frittatas about slavery and life-sacrifice -- Dr. Beverly Crusher never really appealed to me (so much, {I mean, who am I kidding}) but in this episode she was undeniably beautiful to my eye (and her character's character was particularly nice as well). Both of these are separate and both of these are just maybe slight improvements but enough to qualify as quantity elevating quality.

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