The Measure of a Man
The Plot: The Enterprise gets a visit from brash young Captain Maddox, who's come to pick up Data. Maddox has requested that Data be transferred to his command so that he can have everyone's favorite feckless albino android dismantled and studied, with the ultimate goal of reproducing him. Starfleet has greenlit this project because ROBOT ARMY. When Maddox kinda hems and haws on the issue of whether he'd ever get around to putting Data back together again, Data decides this is not cool. Picard tries to block the transfer, and JAG officer Philippa Louvois is shipped in to mediate the issue--but she just happens to be an old friend/probable flame of Picard's! Tension!
Told that he must obey the transfer as a Starfleet officer, Data resigns. Maddox argues that Data can't resign because he's Starfleet property. There's only one way to settle this, and that's with a big courtroom scene. The question: is Data an individual or a machine? Riker, ordered to argue for the prosecution, pulls some flashy stunts, like switching Data off to illustrate that he's just another appliance. Picard, defending Data, points out the individualistic, sentient behavior Data has displayed during his tenure on the Enterprise, such as boning Tasha Yar. But Riker's put together a hell of a brief, so Guinan helps Picard come up with his winning argument: that treating Data as property would be akin to slavery, doubly so if Starfleet goes ahead with constructing a race of Datas. (She doesn't add that this would almost inevitably result in a horrific Terminator-style robot rebellion, because that's the way these things always turn out.)
Louvois sides with Picard, and Data is granted the status of a sentient being under Starfleet law. Maddox slinks off amid boos and hisses, realizing that he needs to boink more hot judges of a certain age before he tangles with Picard again.
Thoughts: Okay, all nerds know this episode rules. And it ran immediately after A Matter of Honor, the boss Klingon episode! Sure, things kind of went downhill after that, and by the end of Season Two we were into the infamous clip show "Shades of Gray," but for two weeks there TNG was really on a roll. This was a great early showcase for Data, after the writers spent the first season inexplicably unaware that he was one of their best characters, and it remained one of the most beloved Data-centric episodes for the rest of the show's run. Which is something, because they ended up doing a lot of Data-centric episodes.
"Measure of a Man" holds up well even though it's a textbook example of the standard early TNG plot: a problem based on an abstract ethical dilemma arises, and Picard talks at it for an hour until it goes away. The ethical issue here isn't even one of the more interesting ones; it's not like we're ever in any danger of siding with Captain "Biggest Asshole in the Alpha Quadrant" Maddox and his plan to callously dissect the most endearing character on the show. As we nerds are very much aware, no well-intentioned plan has ever involved the construction of a robot army.
Still, it's all very dramatic, and the case proceeds in a satisfyingly thoughtful way. Data's decision to resign from Starfleet rather than go along with Maddox's plan is a nice touch, and it allows for a great scene of Data packing up his belongings (which are sparse, as this was before he acquired a cat and a bunch of paintings and all the other geegaws he had crammed in his quarters by the end of the show). Forcing Riker to argue against Data's humanity is another awesome twist, even though it makes no logical or legal sense. And at the end we get to see Captain Maddox spanked like a redheaded stepchild.
Incidentally, this entire problem could have been averted if Maddox wasn't such a dumbass. Like, instead of dismantling the superintelligent android, he could have asked the superintelligent android to HELP WITH THE PROJECT. Data's actually really into it until he finds out that he has to die. A couple of seasons later, Data gets it into his head to build another android, and he just up and does it, all by himself, because, duh, superintelligent. (Of course, she breaks down pretty quickly. But she's probably better than anything Team Maddox would've made.)
Next: "The Dauphin." Wesley has a shapeshifting girlfriend! Like I said, TNG had two really good weeks.
Too Short a Season
Hide and Q
A Matter of Honor