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For once, the Enterprise isn't dinking about on some far-away planet, instead parking its aft at a local starbase for crew rotation and resupplying/offloading. Data gets his first taste at poker (which he fails at, due to Riker's impenetrable bluff), while Picard meets and catches up with an old friend/foil of his, Phillipa Louvois, currently assigned as a JAG officer on the station. After bleeding out some bad blood and sexual tension between them (seems like Louvois was Picard's love interest, before she tore him apart during the court martial hearing held for him losing his previous command), they're confronted by a Starfleet admiral and a slimy-looking commander, the latter of whom has an unhealthy interest in Data.
Apparently, they have some bad blood between them as well; the commander, named Maddox, was the only one on the Starfleet council to reject Data's admission to Starfleet, out of his insistence that robots aren't alive. However, now he's interested in learning Data's secrets, determined to use him as a template to build more androids like him for manual labor. Interestingly, both Picard and Data are actively interested in this proposal...until they determine that Maddox doesn't have a lick of the mechanical ingenuity needed to avoid harming Data during his dissection. They refuse, but Maddox, being the dick that he is, anticipated their refusal and whipped up transfer orders forcing Data into his negligent care.
Torn, Picard is forced to swallow his pride and ask for help from Louvois, first asking for a way out of the transfer (Data resigning, which resulted in an unusually poignant argument about why Cybernetics Eat Your Soul), then demanding a hearing be held after the out provided turns out to not be possible due to laws set two centuries ago. Because of a lack of staff on-hand, Louvois assigns Picard as the defense and Riker as the prosecution, completely ignoring Riker's protests over the apparent conflict of interest by threatening to stand on her ruling if he doesn't. Then, during the trial, Riker uses a argument about the non-sentience of Data by showing us that Data is a robot, including having him bend a steel bar (while Louvois ignores Picard's justified objection that there are organic, sentient beings with the strength to bend the bar just as easily)... Riker then shuts Data off, proclaiming "Pinocchio is broken; its strings have been cut."
Picard is about to give up, when a talk with Guinan convinces him to start anew...this time by using the argument that creating a legion of Datas for labor use would bring about Unfortunate Implications that the Federation claims to have moved past. Convinced, Louvois decides to rule in favor of Data, and the show ends with Data refusing the procedure (though encouraging Maddox to continue his research, to make it safer), and thanking Riker for doing what he had to do to ensure Data's personal freedoms.
This episode contains examples of:
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Between Picard and Louvois.
Picard: If we weren't surrounded by all these people, you know what I'd like to do right now?
- My God, What Have I Done?: Riker's reaction after he turns Data off. Later he tries to Opt Out of the party because he very nearly won the case, but Data finds him and forgives him, knowing he hadn't had a choice but to try his best.
- Patrick Stewart Speech: One of the most memorable of the series.
Picard: Are you prepared to condemn him, and those who come after him, to servitude and slavery? Your Honor, Starfleet was founded to seek out new life; well, THERE IT SITS!