Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Offspring"

***

Air date: 3/12/1990
Written by Rene Echevarria
Directed by Jonathan Frakes

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

After undertaking a project of unusual secrecy, Data stuns the crew by revealing that he has created another android, Lal (Hallie Todd), which he introduces as his child. Lal is activated and interacts with Data and the crew in a series of lessons designed to aid in the development of her sentience, cognitive abilities, and social understanding. Picard is somewhat taken aback at the revelation of Data's child, having not been consulted about the creation of a new artificial life on board his ship. He's unsettled by what Starfleet might do when it finds out about Lal.

Picard's fears turn out to be founded. Starfleet wants Lal sent to a starbase for further study, arguing that Data does not have the required expertise to ensure Lal's proper development. Picard argues back and forth with Starfleet, and refuses to separate Data from his daughter, until Starfleet sends out Admiral Haftel (Nicholas Coster) to make a determination of Lal's situation and whether her development would be best served remaining on the Enterprise.

I've always found the much-adored "Offspring" to be a solid, intriguing, but somewhat overrated TNG episode. It isn't without its problems. For one, the whole notion of Lal choosing her species seems to me like an idea that is little ado about nothing. The scene where Lal narrows down her choices in the holodeck seems awkward and truncated, and it arises from a point I find confusing: If Data's mission has been to study and become more human, why would his daughter be anything else? It's not like Data has spent his life trying to understand the Klingon or Andorian condition. But that's a minor point. A more significant one is the fact that Starfleet's position regarding Lal's development (they intend to separate her from Data) feels like an excessively forced point of conflict. Haftel is written as far too arbitrarily obstinate. His stance against Picard acts as if "The Measure of a Man" never happened (events of which Picard explicitly mentions).

Still, "The Offspring" has its heart in the right place and represents an interesting (albeit brief) journey. The fact that the story is about Data's rights and experiences as a parent at least centers everything on human issues rather than technological ones. And there's some fascination in watching Data and Lal grappling with basic human questions of learning and love (although I found some of these individual scenes to be a bit too "cute" at times). The building friction between Picard and Haftel is not resolved (which is ultimately a bit unsatisfying), but instead rendered moot when Lal begins experiencing unanticipated emotions, malfunctions, and ultimately death (described by Data as "total system failure"). Data's inability to feel emotion over the death of his daughter is simultaneously a blessing and a tragedy, and yet he was still able to derive an unparalleled enrichment to his life through Lal's existence.

One thing is certain about season three: It saw TNG introduced to what would become much of the core staff of writer-producers on Trek for years to come: Michael Piller, Ira Steven Behr, Ronald D. Moore, and now Rene Echevarria. "The Offspring" is also Jonathan Frakes' directorial debut.

Previous episode: Yesterday's Enterprise
Next episode: Sins of the Father

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17 comments on this review

robgnow - Fri, Aug 1, 2008 - 5:38pm (USA Central)
I feel that S3 of TNG was their best season... everything just seemed to come together finally and the writing staff was really cooking. But, I wanted to comment specifically on Hallie Todd who I thought did an utterly fantastic job as Lal in 'The Offspring'. I think there are very few guest stars whose characters you could picture staying on the show and being a welcomed addition. She is one of them IMO. And I find it heartbreaking when she tells Troi that she's afraid and points to her stomach, saying "this is what it means to feel". The tragedy of Data's not being able to really 'feel' the loss while the crewman around him (especially Troi, Geordi and Wes) are obviously grieving on his behalf is also a special moment.
impr - Sun, Jul 15, 2012 - 12:15pm (USA Central)
Kind of nice but I found the ending a bit contrived. It felt as just a quick way of getting rid of a character that wasn't planned to be a regular but then again, there really was no proper sense for Lal to die. Would have been nicer if she had stayed as a every once in a while regular, kinda like Guinan.
William - Wed, Aug 29, 2012 - 8:22pm (USA Central)
I always get choked up at the line: "Father, thank you for my life."

One of my personal favorite episodes.
xaaos - Sat, Dec 1, 2012 - 1:44am (USA Central)
A heartfelt episode. Lal is simply adorable, just like her father. It's a pity the producers didn't keep her "alive" for the rest of the season, it would be a nice addition to the crew. Hallie Todd did a great acting. I can't say the same about the "Admiral", who did overplay when he and Data failed to save Lal.

For me, the best scene of this episode was when Lal met Riker and grabbed him kissing him. Riker's expression was hilarious.
Jay - Mon, Jan 14, 2013 - 1:54pm (USA Central)
I don't see how one can come to any other conclusion other than that Admiral Haftel "killed" Lal.

The dilemma that she faced so soon after coming to existence "killed" her. If she had a bit more time to exist and acquire life experience, she likely would have learned coping. Of course, the plot demands thins to be as they are, but the entire thing was so convoluted that I can't recommend this episode.

Jack - Sun, Jun 30, 2013 - 12:50am (USA Central)
Another case of a gratuitous "farewell" scene in Star Trek that undermines the way a death is other wise presented. Here we have Data's hands moving "faster than Haftel can see", all in an ultimately futile attempt to avoid inevitable death, or here, "total system failure", but Lol is nevertheless somehow stabilized long enough to say a proper goodbye. Wouldn't total system failure mean a cessation of all function?
Jayson - Fri, Jul 5, 2013 - 9:46am (USA Central)
I wondered if this episode wouldn't have been a bit stronger if the character of Commander Maddox accompanied the Admiral. I guess I was disappointed he never showed up in the series again after MOAM.
Steve - Fri, Jul 19, 2013 - 2:30am (USA Central)
This was one of the episodes (along with 'Remember Me') that really turned me on to TNG (the first two seasons did little for me). Like William, the line 'thank you for my life' really got to me.

There were a few things that I wish had been better, like Lal's blinking before she is 'taught' to blink; or the emotional reaction she has to soft furnishings (!) but in the greater story telling they are minor.
SkepticalMI - Sun, Jan 26, 2014 - 3:36pm (USA Central)
Jay, one could argue the opposite, and that Lal's death proved that the admiral was right. Data noticed an aberration (the stupid contraction thing), but all he could do was note the aberrations and look for a pattern. Instead of controlling the problem, however, it suddenly ended up worse and ended up causing Lal's death. Perhaps at the cybernetic station the advanced facilities could have caught the problem in time. Of course, it all happened so suddenly that there was no time to fix her, but the point still stands. Perhaps the confrontation with the admiral hastened her demise, but it's at least conceivable that the same problem would have happened eventually if Lal had stayed on the Enterprise, and at least conceivable that it could have been solved at Starbase Whatever.

As for the episode itself, I agree that it's overrated, mainly because it is so formulaic. There's really nothing surprising in the plot, and involves a few too many cliches. In particular, the overly obstinate admiral wasn't needed; the rational that Data could not accompany Lal to the station was completely unconvincing and was clearly there only to cause the plot to move forward. And frankly, there's a good chance the plot could have survived without this intransigence. But it gave Picard the ability to pontificate again, and I'm pretty sure that all admirals are contractually obligated to be stubborn and wrongheaded.

The episode also spent too much time hammering in the message that Data should be treated as any other parent. Yes, obviously that's the point, but it seems like every 2 minutes that point was being stated again and again. There was no subtlety involved in it.

And as a random aside, Data was willing to resign from Starfleet to save himself in Measure of a Man, but was all set to obey the admiral's orders until Picard stood up to him?

But those quibbles aside, the emotional punch of the last 5-10 minutes still makes this a darn good episode, and even though it seemed obvious in retrospect that she would have to leave the show, it was still gut-wrenching.
Susan - Fri, Feb 14, 2014 - 8:24pm (USA Central)
This is the only episode of TNG that ever made me cry. I dont think it will have that effect on me again, because I cannot unthink what I thought at the end of it this time.

Data was saying Lal so enriched his life that he added all her memories to his own. It never occurred to me before, but I have 2 boys, who became teens since the last time I saw this episode, and I had the sudden thought "Yeah, then I'd know FOR SURE why we go through so much kleenex, so no thanks."

I'll never watch this episode again now, well, at least not until after my lobotomy next week....
Rikko - Sun, Feb 23, 2014 - 10:14pm (USA Central)
While I liked the concept and the guest actress, I think it was a bit rushed.

I agree with impr and xaaos when they say it'd have been better to have Lal for the rest of the season, as a semi-regular character. I could get behind the idea of a season-arc for Lal, ending exactly the same way it did here. That way, you've a slower introduction, time to get to know her and more reason to feel sorry for her unavoidable demise.

But we're talking of a drastic format change for TNG. Alas, this is what we get, and I wasn't as moved as something that lasted, say, at least two episodes.

@ Susan: No, you! LOL!
Tom - Wed, Apr 9, 2014 - 1:07am (USA Central)
This was a moving episode and it asks an interesting question: does Data have the same right of procreation as humans and what does procreation mean for a robot?

I agree that the confrontation seemed a bit forced. Why does Starfleet want to take Lawl away so soon? If they recognize Data as a lifeform (since Measure of a Man), then shouldn't he also have rights as a parent? They should have found a better reason why Starfleet wanted to take her away. And the admiral wasn't super convincing in my opinion.

Some of the arguments he used are pretty weak too: "there are only two Soong style androids", yet they never cared that Data could also have died? "you're not a parent, I am. There comes a time when every parent must part with his children." First, she is only two weeks old, or barely older. As Picard says, that just might be a little too soon. And what kind of parent would argue for taking children away from their parents?

It also seems forced when the admiral seems moved by her death. It makes no sense that he suddenly has empathy for her.

Oh, and a minor point is the whole thing about using contractions. It's completely ridiculous that Data can't use contractions. He needs help from Google Translate.

Jay - Wed, Apr 9, 2014 - 3:26pm (USA Central)
Is SkepticalMI suggesting that being able to say contracions killed Lol?
Peter - Sat, May 10, 2014 - 8:56pm (USA Central)
I just re-watched this episode, and although I agree with much of what is written here, I still think this episode is one of the strongest of this series if only because it did give a very strong emotional tug to the audience and it does make you "think" which is one of the recipes to supposedly making a TV show a great TV show.

That being written, I agree that much of what was argued and set in stone in "Measure of a Man" was simply taken away and gotten rid of via Haftel's position that really shouldn't (I'm taking the Lal contraction idea) have been there -- AT ALL.

I also do agree that Lal's creation and subsequent life (and still death?) should have been the first several episodes story arc for the whole entire franchise (and not have waited for the story arcs we were about to get from DS9 -- most of which weren't bad, or from Voyager -- which had a mixed record with their story arcs -- or even Enterprise -- which probably had the most uneven story arcs.) Imagine if while Roddenberry was still alive (which if memory serves me he still was when "The Offspring" was written and later presented) a story arc had been created around the character of Lal, her creation and yes, "growing up" and perhaps later difficulty that the Federation might have had about two androids staying aboard the flagship of the Federation -- that YES, could have met with some disaster at any time! (NOT that it would with long term consequences -- because the ship was the show itself -- but just imagine if that might have happened -- it would have been interesting as well if Haftel had mentioned The Borg to Picard & Data in his arguments about taking Lal away and not just the Romulans, because the Federation even at that point that they might have to deal with The Borg at some point soon and yes, in that third season or at least the end of it, THEY WOULD!) Yes, this whole episode really begged to be expanded to become the first long term story arc presented in all of Star Trek television history. I know of course at that time in late-1980's and early-1990's very few shows existed that did that and most of those were either cop shows ("Hill Street Blues" that had ended or medical dramas, "St. Elsewhere" that had already ended by that point in time; but then again at that time there was already long term story arcs presented on "L.A. Law" which was unique for that point of time -- one of those on that show even involved former "Star Trek" alumni -- from both series -- TOS and TNG, Diana Muldaur, and the comedy "Cheers" was also doing successful long term story arcs, not to mention how well the dramady named "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd" were doing the same -- so, why couldn't have "Star Trek: The Next Generation" have done so with the character of Lal to make her existence in the Star Trek universe be even more special?)
msw188 - Fri, Aug 15, 2014 - 6:34pm (USA Central)
I have been recently rewatching TNG for the first time since it was on the air. I'm following a friend's guidelines for skippable episodes, plus my own childhood memories.

This was the first episode that I had no memory of, and really gutpunched me hard. I know a lot of people prefer Measure of a Man, but I actually think this one is stronger. Both episodes tug at disbelief when the 'plot' is examined, specifically the way the conflicts arise. But in both, the conveniences allow for the best possible use of the 40min available, in my opinion.

Part of what makes me like the Offspring more is that there is a more tragic note, beyond Lal's death. I'd like to copy and paste a post I made at a forum:
***
I mean, "Is Data property?" is a fantastic ethical question to explore, but doesn't quite hit home as hard as "Do Data and Lal constitute a parent-child family?" I can't quite pinpoint why.

The first question has a bit more of a logical flavor to it; the question passes from one of definition to one of future legal and ethical implications. All of this is eminently understandable to Data, as is the issue of self-preservation. But the question of family carries a lot more emotional weight to it that Lal ends up understanding better than Data. As my friend put it, 'Data not being able to really be sad makes the whole thing sadder.'
***
Also, if the central conflict is ignored, Measure of Man is nothing, but Offspring still offers some great scenes. Data and Picard at the beginning. The utter sadness of seeing Lal try to go to school. Guinan being an awesome teacher for Lal instead of some kind of mysterious 'mystical being'. The concept that Data does care for Lal, despite the fact that he is unable to consider this care "love".

I will grant the complaint that the episode lacks subtlety. The themes and emotions are direct and blunt. Much like Data himself. I think it works, especially given the time crunch. I also agree with people who complain that the ending feels a bit contrived, but it doesn't affect my enjoyment of the episode.

As of now in my rewatch (early season 4), this would be the only 4-star rating besides Best of Both Worlds 1.
dgalvan - Wed, Sep 10, 2014 - 5:05pm (USA Central)
I was age 7-14 when I watched most of TNG on TV, and hadn't re-watched most of the episodes since then. Now, as an adult re-watching TNG via Netflix, I take very different emotional insights from these episodes than I did when I was a kid. Generally because I have had 20 years of life experience since TNG ended, and particularly because I am now a parent.

The scene where Lal tells Data that she loves him, and his silent reaction shows he genuinely appreciates the sentiment, but tragically cannot feel the same thing for her, nearly brought me to tears. Brent Spiner handled that beautifully. The anguish of not being able to give your child something they need is very relatable.

Also: when Dr. Crusher gives Data the advice that "children just need support and love", and Data responds that he can give Lal support but not love, I now, as a parent, take Beverly's full meaning when she says: "Now why do I find that hard to believe." Because I now understand something that Data, at least in this scene, did not: Love is not just an emotional feeling (which Data cannot experience), it is an action (which he can). Making selfless efforts for someone else (as he did in constructing Lal, tutoring her, and working to save her when her systems failed) is an act of love, and Data demonstrates in this episode that he is indeed capable of that kind of love.
msw188 - Wed, Sep 10, 2014 - 7:29pm (USA Central)
627 thumbs up to dgalvan's comment above, especially the third paragraph. See also my comment on the In Theory review for more of my thoughts on this matter.

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