Star Trek The Next Generation: The Offspring

Troi: "Congratulations, Data! It's a girl."

This episode was almost a spiritual sequel to the brilliant second season episode "The Measure of a Man," which brought into focus the basic rights of a sentient artificial life form. "The Offspring" attempted to deal with the applications of those rights, in one of the most fundamental aspects of life: procreation.

Data was such a unique and wonderful character. If he was just a logical automaton then he would've failed in season one. Instead, much like Spock, his emotional range was expressed in nuance and action. His kindness, innocence, and compassion were his defining characteristics. In almost every way that mattered, he was one of the most human characters on this show.

Data's also basically immortal with a perfect memory, so the need for procreation feels almost irrelevant. Especially when you consider that he cannot 'feel' the requisite love necessary for the healthy upbringing of a potential offspring. Yet, Data was a remarkably good parent. He was attentive, endlessly patient, informative, and never embarrassed or humiliated by the ridiculous actions of his daughter.

Lal (Hallie Todd) was such a lovely character too -- clearly robotic, but also very human at the same time. Her struggles to learn and experience the new world around her were mostly painted with broad strokes, but there was enough in those moments to highlight the important stuff. Like what it meant to Data to emulate humanity, and the isolation and otherness inherent in their existence. Each scene established her presence in Data's life, and among the crew, making the audience care for her more and more as well, to the point where I didn't want her to go.

Perhaps her death was inevitable, but still very sad. Her final moments, feeling emotion and unable to process them, were simply beautiful. I think the visiting Admiral said it best:

"She... she won't survive much longer. There was nothing anyone could have done. We'd re-polarize 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."

Although it was the delivery of this line that got to me, it was also the absolute understanding and sorrow on his face that defined the whole point the plot was trying to convey. Throughout the episode he had been demanding and arrogant in his position that Lal be turned over to him and Starfleet research. It wasn't until he witnessed Data's actions, a father's love in the face of tragedy, before he understood the depth of Data's connection to Lal. It was an elegant solution to the conflict that even Picard couldn't solve, despite putting his own career on the line.

Because the episode had no B-plot to speak of, most of the focus was on Data, Lal, and Picard. Still, Wesley, Troi and Guinan all had some stand out scenes. Guinan and Wesley in particular had an opportunity to react to Lal's more humorous learning moments. Troi for the most part was almost a mother figure to Lal, without going that far. She basically 'did her job' as ship's counselor and helped Data and the Captain navigate the tricky emotional consequences of Data bringing Lal into the world.

But I think my favorite scene was between Data and Beverly about parenthood. Her reaction to his questions and her honest answers showed a level of respect that made what could have been an awkward or even silly conversation a memorable one, capped by her comment that she didn't quite believe he was totally emotionless. It stood in sharp contrast to Pulaski's constant remarks about Data's inhumanity, and reinforced the fact that he is a valued and important member of the crew.


Stardate: 43657.0
Location: Sector 396 charting the Selebi Asteroid Belt

This was the directing debut of Jonathan Frakes, who would go on to become a frequent Trek director. The fact that he was directing was evident from the start, because Riker was off the ship for a significant chunk of the episode. Although it did allow for the set up of Lal kissing Riker, and Data walking in on them, which was hilarious.

I've always found it strange that as advanced as Data is, he cannot use contractions. It has been used several times as a small plot device, like in this episode to denote the initial symptoms of Lal's eventual breakdown, but it was also a very odd choice for a character quirk.

Another actor (Leonard Crofoot) played the incomplete version of Lal. I've always found this makeup to be a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand it was kind of cool looking, but I don't think it was applied all that well. The face in particular was almost too odd looking. Why would the original die-cast of a humanoid face be so misshapen?

Lal's name is very appropriate, meaning 'Beloved'.

Lal is the third Soong type android on the show so far, including Data and Lore.

There are a couple of Star Trek novels that involve Lal, including at least one where she was brought back from the dead.

The Daystrom Institute was mentioned again. Which made me wonder what ever happened to Bruce Maddox. Would he have been a better antagonist for this episode than a random Admiral? Or was his character growth in The Measure of a Man strong enough that it wouldn't have been believable for him to return for this kind of situation?

One negative note about the episode: I wish they had used Geordi, as both a technical expert and Data's best friend. Sure, he was there when Lal died, but him being missing for most of the episode felt like a glaring omission.

Picard: "I fail to understand how a five-foot android with heuristic learning systems and the strength of ten men could be called a child."
Troi: "You've never been a parent."

Data: "I can give her attention, Doctor. But I am incapable of giving her love."
Beverly: (quietly to herself) "Now why do I find that so hard to believe?"

Picard: "There are times, sir, when men of good conscience cannot blindly follow orders. You acknowledge their sentience, but ignore their personal liberties and freedom. Order a man to turn his child over to the state? Not while I am his captain."

I remember way back when this show originally aired, I wasn't blown away by this episode. Watching it now, I find myself affected by the good writing, acting, and genuine attempt to explore challenging themes and character interactions.

4 out of 4 Race and Gender choices

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed bird who nests inside a movie theater projector, and loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

1 comment:

Great PurpleRobe said...

It was a wonderful episode, and Jonathan Frakes talked about the problems they had in casting. Like casting for Data himself, a lot of the actors came to the casting sessions with a pre-conceived "robot" characterization, causing Frakes to wonder 'have they *seen* this show?' Hallie Todd was perfect as Lal. She very quickly connected with the audience because of her palpable attachment to Data.

It was never explained how she was able to 'feel', only that her emotions were interpreted as a breakdown in her system. Later next season, Data and Lore will learn of an 'emotion chip' Dr Soong has made, but too late for the granddaughter of Soong.

One of my favorites of Season 3.