Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Offspring [3.16]

Data creates a new android life form modeled after himself, which he dubs Lal, his “child”.  Lal adopts the permanent form of a young human woman, and begins to integrate with the crew of the Enterprise.  Starfleet becomes interested in taking Lal away to train and educate her in an lab, which Data and Picard object to.  Lal grows in her understanding of herself and others, bonding strongly with Data and and even experiencing genuine emotions.  However, the emotions come as a result of deterioration in her systems, and Data is unable to save Lal from dying.

Written by Rene Echeverria. Directed by Jonathan Frakes

Previous Episode: Yesterday’s EnterpriseNext Episode: Sins of the Father

Comments:
The Offspring perhaps loses a bit of its strength by being watched in too close proximity to The Measure of a Man.  Thematically, it retreads a lot of the same ground, and can feel a bit repetitive when considered against that Season 2 classic.  But overall, it’s a strong story, and delivers a powerful emotional wallop – the best that the series has had so far.

Next Generation really achieved something special with its development of Data over the years, and this is a pivotal episode in that.  Data as a father, experiencing life anew through his child, is deeply engaging.  Brent Spiner is terrific – bringing out the depths of a highly emotional situation without betraying the character’s core qualities.  Hallie Todd also delivers an engaging performance as Lal.  As an audience, we are drawn into Lal’s life journey, through the awkward humor and the growing self awareness, all the way to her tragic end.  Jonathan Frakes makes his debut as a director here, and establishes a strong reputation that will last for the rest of the series run and beyond.

The show offers a nice use of Guinan, who doesn’t do anything too dramatic but at least is used as a character here and not as some sort of deus ex machina, moral guide, or source of plot exposition.  Most of the other regulars are not there to do anything but react and respond to the situation.  The only one who should be noted is Riker, who is barely in the story at all (presumably because Frakes was busy directing), but has that hilarious scene in Ten-Forward which plays to his ladies-man characterization.  Not the best line of dialogue, but perhaps the most memorable, is Data’s, “Commander, what are your intentions toward my daughter?”

The weakness of the story comes, as I mentioned already, is the weight that’s given to the whole thing of Starfleet wanting to appropriate Lal as their property.  They don’t actually say that, but that is essentially how Admiral Haftel behaves, and that behavior is a bit mystifying considering what we all went through in The Measure of a Man.  Naturally, Picard objects and objects strongly, but you end up feeling that it’s a bit “been there, done that,” and that Starfleet, or at least Admiral Haftel, is unbelievably thick-headed and obtuse over the issue.  We also get to watch Picard again come to the strong conviction that Data is actually right (particularly his delivery of the key, “The child depends on him,” line).  This is effective, but also repetitive.

The biggest dramatic mis-step is that in the end it’s Picard who refuses to obey the order to hand over Lal, when clearly it should be Data, or perhaps both of them.  Having Data appear to be willing to agree to such a plan robs a lot of the potential transformation the character has had over an episode’s worth of being a parent – especially after he was so willing to walk away from Starfleet forever in The Measure of a Man. Fortunately, it’s such a quick, understated moment that it’s easy to let go.

An in the end, all of these faults are not hard to overlook thanks to the strength of the ending, and of Lal’s ultimate development into an emotional being.  I for one had some tears, and would still rank this as one of the great Next Generation stories, in spite of its flaws.

Shout Out to the Past:
There are lot of unspoken references to The Measure of a Man.  Picard is immediately (and justifiably) suspicious of how Starfleet will respond to this new android life form.  Picard also mentions Starfleet’s mission to seek out new life, which directly references his courtroom speech.  And he even declares that the androids’ rights as sentient beings have been well defined, and that he helped define them.

When Troi chides Picard for the fact that he’s not a parent, I guess that’s a bit of a callback to The Child.

Set up for the future:
In spite of the fact the story ends with Data having incorporated Lal’s memories into himself, I don’t think it’s ever directly referenced again.

Guest Cast:
Hallie Todd plays Lal.  She went on to be a regular on Lizzie McGuire and Brothers.

Nicolas Coster plays Admiral Haftel.  He was a regular on Santa Barbara, and played Blair Warner’s father on The Facts of Life.

Observations:
• It’s a small but effective funny moment with Wesley at the start, knowing that Data’s door has been locked.

• No doubt the even more generic title “The Child” wasn’t used here because it’d been taken last season

• Picard’s reaction about not being told about what is going on is valid.

• The episode defends a number of values that I hold.  Picard says, “It’s a life, Data!  It can’t be activated and de-activated simply–” before cutting himself off.  Later, they talk about gender being a permanent and fixed thing that you carry with you for your entire life.

• Reference and appearance by an Andorian, even if it is a hologram.  Have we had one of these on the series before?

• There are lots of funny moments with Lal learning, as well as the touching experiences that Data has as a parent.

• Data turns Lal off in the midst of her questions – something many parents wish they could do.

• Cute lines from Lal:  “So without understanding humor, I have somehow mastered it.” Also, “They seem to be communicating telepathically,” and “He’s biting that female!”

• “Now why do I find that so hard to believe?” says Dr. Crusher about Data’s inability to give love.  She realizes what we in the audience already know, that in every way that really matters, Data already has emotions, or at least he expresses them.  Later, Lal is clearly emotionally distressed about her inability to feel emotions.

• Lal using a contraction – interesting – but is it really so significant if it has happened just this once?  And why is it such a hard skill for Data to master?

• Data expresses a classic 80’s-90’s Star Trek value:  that the struggle to grow is the important thing, more so than the goal of actually arriving anywhere.  I’d say there’s truth in that, but it’s not the whole truth.

• Ten Forward is the center of the ship’s social environment, and that everyone goes there, says Picard.  But it hardly seems large enough for 1000 people to visit regularly.

• Cool watching Lal tell Haftel off.  “You do not speak with respect.”

• There are actually three Soong-type androids in existence, of course, if you count Lore.

• A couple of people make the dopey argument that only parents can talk about parenting wisdom.  This is nonsense.  Again, there is some validity in this, but it’s also easy to overstate.

• Data’s defense speech is good.  “You ask that I volunteer to give her up.  I cannot.  It would violate every lesson I have learned about human parenting.  I have brought a new life into this world, and it is my duty, not Starfleet’s, to guide her through these first difficult steps to maturity, to support her as she learns, to prepare her to be a contributing member of society.  no one can relieve me from that obligation.  And I cannot ignore it.  I am her father.”  Too bad he seems ready to turn his back on this conviction a few moments later.

• Fortunately, though, Picard steps in with another good speech:  “There are times, sir, when men of good conscience cannot blindly follow orders.  You acknowledge their sentience, but you ignore their personal liberties and freedom.  Order a men to hand this child over to the state?  Not while I am his captain.”

• And even Admiral Haftel gets a decent one at the end:  “She won’t survive much longer.  There was nothing anyone could have done.  We’d repolarise one pathway and another would collapse.  And then another.  His hands were moving faster than I could see, trying to stay ahead of each breakdown.  He refused to give up.  He was remarkable.”

• Data has transferred Lal’s memories into himself.  So Data remembers kissing Riker, I guess.

Dialogue High Point
A lot of good dialogue, but the most powerful is the final exchange between father and daughter:

Lal:  I love you father.
Data:  I wish I could feel it with you.
Lal:  I will feel it for both of us.  Thank you for my life.  Flirting.  Laughter.  Painting.  Family.  Female.  Human.

Previous Episode: Yesterday’s EnterpriseNext Episode: Sins of the Father

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2 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Offspring [3.16]

  1. It’s a wonderful, touching episode. One notable thing: When Guinan is telling Lal about sexuality, notice that she doesn’t say “a man and a woman,” she says “two people.” This was an intentional choice on Goldberg’s part. The script originally did say “a man and a woman,” but she wanted to make it more inclusive. (Disappointingly, years later, Voyager would have the doctor go back to talking about “a man and a woman.”) It’s a very subtle, but very nice, touch, in an already-great episode.

  2. Really enjoyed this episode, and frankly who wouldn’t? I agree with a lot of your comments here, certainly that the emotional high point is the final exchange between Data and Lal right before her death. I also really enjoyed the earlier conversation they had, when Lal comes right out and asks why Data bothers to emulate humans at all, when it only reminds him of his limitations. His response not only reveals the core rationale of his continued efforts, but contains some wisdom for us as well.

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