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

Season Index

28 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.
Dusty - Fri, Jan 2, 2015 - 4:31am (USA Central)
Most of the criticisms are correct; the episode is formulaic and somewhat contrived, and it confronts the issue of A.I. rights with little subtlety, raising questions it can't possibly answer in 45 minutes. But for all that, it's a strong and well executed episode that can't fail to personally affect the viewer. Lal is a remarkable character, and like others I would have liked to see her story spread out over more episodes. Confining a story with such amazing potential to one show means that everything is rushed: her development, the confrontation with Starfleet Research, and the end of her life. But at the same time, this compression is what makes the episode as powerful as it is. I won't forget it.

At the end, I also found myself thinking sadly of ST: Voyager and what a lost opportunity it really was. The idea that people could live on an isolated ship without contact with--or accountability to--the rest of the Starfleet is fascinating. A story like this one could have reached great heights on a program where the Starfleet conflict would not exist. In a way, that did happen with Seven of Nine, but the show embraced action and style while ignoring character development and the value of its premise almost completely. As a result, Seven made no more progress in four seasons of Voyager than Lal did in a single episode of TNG.
Robert - Fri, Jan 2, 2015 - 7:21am (USA Central)
@Dusty - I criticize VOY a lot for lack of character development and ignoring what little character development it did do.

BUT, "Seven made no more progress in four seasons of Voyager than Lal did in a single episode of TNG" is just plain false.

Although she too (like most of VOY) had to relearn certain lessons over and over (I guess VOYs crew is just thick as anything) she became a surrogate mother to Icheb, a surrogate daughter to the captain, a significant other to Chakotay (although seriously rushed, there was build up over 3-4 episodes), a close friend to the Doctor, made peace with her Borg upbringing, her parents mistakes, reached out to a relative on Earth, developed hobbies and really did try to explore the human condition, possibilities and relationships.

Could they (and should they) have let her go a bit further? I think so. Does that mean that she didn't have a satisfying arc? I would say she did.

There are those on VOY that did NOT have a satisfying character arc, but she's not one of them.
Dusty - Wed, Jan 7, 2015 - 5:44am (USA Central)
@Robert - Maybe that was the wrong way to put it. Seven did experience much more in the time she had (though I would question how much it added up to when almost every episode of Voyager seemed to happen in a vacuum). What I meant was that I found Seven's character arc to be no more satisfying than Lal's, even though that was contained within one episode. In a short period she improved on Data's verbal skills, confronted social difficulties, developed strong emotions, showed physical affection, broke down, and died. Seven took much longer to do all the same things, and when she did they were often temporary or seemed to happen irrespective of each other.
Dusty - Wed, Jan 7, 2015 - 5:47am (USA Central)
^ Minus the dying, of course.
Robert - Wed, Jan 7, 2015 - 6:37am (USA Central)
That is fair. One one finds satisfying often involves subtracting frustration with pleasure, and while Seven's episodes were often a pleasure character development on VOY (especially when ignored or forgotten) could be a source of frustration as well.

I found this episode very satisfying, although I had hoped it would leave a more lasting change on Data, especially since he absorbed her memories.

It also raises the question as to if it's possible to revive her, or if Data still desires children (it hints in a later episode he might, but is not explored). Although that would gut the episode. I was glad that like Picard's flute they do bring her up again in the future in either case.
Katie - Sun, Jan 11, 2015 - 11:46pm (USA Central)
I just think this episode has so many good scenes, and it was extremely well-written. Lal was acted extremely well.

This episode just got me so emotional while watching it, moving laughter to sadness.

The only blemish on the episode was the admiral, but even still, this episode is easily one of the best of the season. Despite the rushed ending, you have to be heartless to not feel anything when Lal tells Data she loves him and says, "Father, thank you for my life."
Luke - Wed, Jun 3, 2015 - 9:01am (USA Central)
Now this, unlike "Yesterday's Enterprise" is an instant classic. It's a wonderful follow up to the issues addressed in "The Measure of a Man" and has an emotional punch that just take your breath away. Seriously, I emotionally connected more with Lal in this one episode than I did with Yar in 22 or than I did with, say, Chekov in his 36 appearances (I don't think I emotionally connected with Chevok as a character until "The Wrath of Khan").

I'll just point out three lines that really sum up why this episode is so good - "Order a man to hand his child over to the state? Not while I am his captain," "His hands were moving faster than I could see, trying to stay ahead of each breakdown. He refused to give up. He was remarkable" and "I will feel it for both of us. Thank you for my life." Holy shit, man! Right in the feels!!

The only problem I have with "The Offspring," and many others have already pointed it out, is the admiral. I'm going to leave aside the fact that he really does come off as needlessly hostile and confrontational, because he does gets called on the carpet for it by Picard and eventually learns his lesson. What really bugs me about him is that he wraps his justification for taking Lal in the guise of "research regulations." What exactly are these regulations that make it possible for him to just arbitrarily swoop in and commandeer Data's "research"? Does Starfleet have a policy that any research done by any of its members must be subject to strict oversight by Starfleet committee? If that's that case, then I finally understand why most of the scientific research we see done on this show is performed by people who aren't in Starfleet - they can actually get some work done without having to worry about these busy-bodies constantly sticking their noses where they don't belong.

As a side note - I just what to point out that since Data incorporated all of Lal's memories into his positronic brain, that means that Data now knows what it's like to sexually assault Riker. That's kind of funny and yet kind of disturbing at the same time. LOL!

Nic - Sun, Jul 5, 2015 - 7:45am (USA Central)
I agree with most that this was a good episode that could have been so much better given its premise.

Lal's death was contrived to be sure. If this story had been pitched in a season or two later, I'm sure the writers would at least have considered making Lal a recurring character.

Haftel struggles for the whole episode to make his points; even he doesn't seem to believe his own arguments. His role should have been excised entirely, OR, what would have been a very bold choice, Lal could actually left Data and gone to Galor IV. I think that somehow would have been more tragic than her random death.
Fleetlord - Tue, Aug 18, 2015 - 11:08pm (USA Central)
Regarding the "Measure of a Man", I don't find that to be a plot hole at all. It has been established that a significant portion of Federation society (maybe a majority?) including a lot of powerful Starfleet brass, view androids as tools, not sentient life. That's not the kind of social prejudice that just goes away after one season. "Measure of a Man" was a significant victory, but it didn't settle the argument any more than Martin Luther King's speeches or even the Civil Rights Act ended all racism forever.
Pam - Wed, Sep 2, 2015 - 12:02pm (USA Central)
I found this episode overly mushy, entirely unsubtle, and the acting on almost everyone's part as wooden and unfeeling as the android who was the central figure. The plot, acting, and script bang the viewer over the head with the obvious, cliched themes. I found myself rolling my eyes at almost every interaction, and couldn't wait for this one to end. It was too much story packed into 40 minutes. It may have been better without the admiral business, which was a real distraction from the main event. But as it stands, this has to be one of my least favorite episodes of the series so far. I do not understand the undying love that so many have for this one. I may have to go back and watch "Measure of a Man" to get the bad taste of it out of my mouth.
Diamond Dace - Sat, Sep 5, 2015 - 8:03am (USA Central)
After the big ticket sensibilities of Yesterday's Enterprise we get to this wonderfully affecting little story. Having previously established a set of rights for Data's character, we now push on past them to examine a whole new set of parameters. These cover Data's urge to reproduce and improve on himself as the sole being of his kind.

In accepting the limitations of what can be covered in an hour's TV, we find an engaging and beautifully acted character in Lal. Data's reaction to Lal as a parent is equally engaging - leading to an emotionally charged finale as Data recognises that Lal can experience feelings that he cannot. It is an emotionally involving moment of the like we have yet to see in the series so far.

Yes, the Haftel character is unconvincing, but the episode needs an antagonist to push against. An excellent 3.5 stars.

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