Star Trek’s Most Hated Villain Was Right About Its Most Beloved Hero

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

Would you believe that one of the most hated characters in all of Star Trek only appeared in one episode? In the famous The Next Generation episode “Measure of a Man,” fans learned to instantly hate cyberneticist Bruce Maddox when he argued that the android Data should not have the same rights and privileges as the rest of the crew. Here’s the thing: while I don’t agree that Data should be forcibly dismantled like Maddox wanted, The Next Generation is filled with examples proving that Data should have special restrictions placed on him thanks to his fantastic abilities.

Brothers Showed How Dangerous Data Can Be

The most prominent example of this occurs in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Brothers.” Data receives a command to return to his creator that he cannot possibly disobey, so he ends up commandeering the Enterprise by changing its course, forcing everyone to evacuate the bridge, and then mimics Picard’s voice to lock all the controls down. As the cherry on top of this trick, Data disables the transporters (preventing someone from beaming to the bridge) and moves force fields around the ship to help him move freely while restricting the rest of the crew.

Data Could Harbor More Hidden Commands

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At this point, Star Trek fans who love Data are screaming at me that the events of this episode aren’t the android’s fault: his creator, Dr. Noonien Soong, secretly implanted him with a command that the artificial officer could not ignore. In many ways, though, that proves my point. Not only is this one officer able to take control of the ship whenever he wants, but we may never know what other secret commands his creator implanted that will put lives in danger (when Data commandeered the Enterprise, it was on its way to a Starbase to save a sick child).

In retrospect, this Star Trek episode could have been even worse. With Data unable to fully control his actions, he might have done more than force the crew to evacuate the bridge. Honestly, nothing mechanically prevented Data from flooding the entire ship with lethal gas, beaming everyone into space, or otherwise killing all of those pesky organics who were trying to stop him.

Data’s Evil Brother Poses A Big Threat

”Brothers” is the most prominent Star Trek example of the risks Data poses to Starfleet, but it’s certainly not the only one. The two-parter “Descent” shows how Data could be emotionally manipulated by his evil brother Lore, and this results in him joining forces with rogue Borg as his brother vows to “destroy the Federation.” The android eventually returns to his senses, but not before he comes frighteningly close to torturing Geordi La Forge, his best friend.

Nightmares Make Data Hostile

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While it’s not quite as scary as the previous episodes, the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Phantasms” further proves how dangerous Data can be. He begins experiencing strange dreams that Troi encourages him to explore, but this results in Data attacking Troi in real life in the same area (her shoulder) where he had seen creepy creatures in a dream. Fortunately for Data, this reveals the existence of predatory creatures that his dreams help defeat (it’s a long story), but that doesn’t change the fact that the android is just one nightmare away from attacking his fellow crew at almost any time.

Data Is The Guy That Could’ve Possibly Drestroyed The Enterprise

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All of this brings us back to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Measure of a Man.” As fans, it’s easy for us to agree with Picard’s righteous anger as he argues that Data should be treated as a person rather than a machine. However, subsequent seasons proved that Data should have been treated as a machine insofar as Picard and Riker clearly needed remote ways to shut him down or other methods of preventing the android from threatening the ship and its crew.

This becomes that much crazier when you consider that one of the scariest things that can happen in Star Trek is bad guys taking over a ship. That’s what made The Wrath of Khan so compelling: with a Starfleet vessel of his own, Khan could have wreaked pure havoc across the cosmos. But The Next Generation made it clear again and again that Data is one bad dream or weird emotion away from taking over the Enterprise and potentially putting countless lives at risk.

Bruce Maddox Made Some Good Points

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Before the Star Trek fans set phasers to kill, I want to emphasize that Bruce Maddox is still a tool for wanting to forcibly dismantle Data and otherwise treat him like just another piece of Starfleet machinery. However, Picard was clearly naive and foolish for arguing that Data should be treated like just another officer with no special safeguards or security precautions in place. 

Of course, it’s possible that Picard had his own regrets about his defense of Data. Ever wonder why he’s suddenly so cool with android servants in Star Trek: Picard after his passionate defense of Data in “Measure of a Man?” It turns out your pet android can only hijack the ship, attack the crew, and declare war on the Federation so many times before you acknowledge that Maddox might have had a few good points about treating these walking wonders more like machines than men.