Tuesday, July 19, 2011

An Obvious Bit Of Moralizing Is "The Quality Of Life"

The Good: Moments of character, Acting, Moral
The Bad: Plot, Guest character, Somewhat campy special effects, Somewhat overdone debate
The Basics: When Data senses another artificial life form may be in danger, "The Quality Of Life" is debated.

Star Trek The Next Generation was especially good at putting forth intriguing moral questions. In "The Quality Of Life," the series tackles what the nature of life is, especially as it pertains to artificial life forms, like computers and robots.

When the Enterprise arrives at an experimental particle fountain project, they meet Dr. Farallon. Farallon has been having difficulties with getting the Federation to support her mining project when she tries to turn around the project. She has invented something called an Exocomp. The Exocomp is a robot that adapts and grows with each experience it has, adapting to improve itself continually. Data soon realizes that the Exocomps working in the particle fountain have evolved to a point that they may be a life form. When Farallon is willing to put the Exocomps' lives in jeopardy, Data takes a stand to keep them alive and make sure their rights are respected.

"The Quality Of Life" asks some good and important questions. At what point do machines become life forms? At what point does our sacrifice of tools become murder? What boundaries need to be set for scientists as they create new machines and operating systems? At what point is using machines enslaving a race? These are difficult questions and this episode not only poses the questions, but it actually does a good job of seeking to answer them.

This debate essentially takes the forms of Commander Data versus Dr. Farallon. Farallon takes the classic argument that machines are machines and tools for the use of "humanity" to make life easier. Data takes the more progressive approach that essentially states that computers and technologies that are made to think and reason become life forms and need to be treated as individuals with rights.

Outside having a viewpoint that completely excludes one of our favorite characters, Dr. Farallon is a rather unlikable character. She seems remarkably self-centered and to embody all of the worst aspects of being ambitious. In addition to that, Farallon is played by Ellen Bry, who is rather bland in the role. The character is written as intelligent and ambitious, but she comes across as less crafty and more matter-of-fact. In the end, she's one of the less memorable guest characters and guest actresses the series brought on.

On the other hand, Brent Spiner does a great job of taking what could be a tired debate and making it feel new. Spiner has played Data debating the nature of life in "Measure Of A Man" (reviewed here!) and here he manages to portray Data in a different way. This time he expertly makes passionate arguments completely devoid of emotion, which is necessary for the character. As a result, we have the feeling that Data is evolving and the choices he makes show a real sense of growth. Spiner is pushing the character forward while staying true to what the character is supposed to be.

It's Spiner's acting and Data's character that comes through as the best in this episode. He is supported by Patrick Stewart, who plays Picard as both angry and understanding. He has a sense of movement throughout the episode and gives a great performance opposite Spiner, increasing the bond between the two characters by a more relaxed body language in important moments following tension. Picard makes a character leap that is hard to describe as anything other than love for Data when both his life is put in mortal peril as a result of Data's actions.

This is probably a better episode for those people who enjoy philosophy and science fiction than those who specifically enjoy the Star Trek universe. Why? Those who are fans of Trek have heard arguments like this over and over again. That does not make them less compelling, it just makes it harder to find it new and original, even though the Exocomps are different from Data and that is stressed in the episode. This is definitely an episode that may be enjoyed by the entire family, but is likely to only be truly appreciated by an adult mind for the various philosophical aspects of it.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode reviews, be sure to visit my index page by clicking here! There you will find reviews organized chronologically by series!

© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment