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The Offspring

Review

Series : The Next Generation Rating : 4
Disc No : 3.4 Episode : 63
First Aired : 12 Mar 1990 Stardate : 43657
Director : Jonathan Frakes Year : 2366
Writers : Rene Echevarria Season : 3
Guest Cast :
Diane Moser as Ten-Forward crew
Guy Vardaman as Darien Wallace
Hallie Todd as Female Lal
Hayne Bayle as Ten-Forward crew
James G. Becker as Ten-Forward crew
Judyanne Elder as Lieutenant Ballard
Leonard John Crowfoot as Neutral Lal
Maria Leone as Ten-Forward crew
Nicolas Coster as Admiral Haftel
Moral :
Family : It's not just about blood
YATI : Just how can Admiral Haftel come in and try to confiscate Lal? It's already been decided in "The Measure of a Man" that androids have the right to choose their fate.
Great Moment : Of the many Great Moments, my personal favourite is when Admiral Haftel comes out of Data's lab after they 'operate' on Lal and describes Data's frantic efforts to save her.
Body Count : One, Lal herself.
Factoid : After he first asked Rick Berman if he could try directing an episode, Frakes was told to go and learn the ropes. He spent over three hundred hours watching editors, other directors, going to the dubbing stage, attending seminars and reading up on the subject before being allowed to try his hand on this episode - the first time an actor from a Star Trek show was ever allowed to direct an episode. The makers were so pleased with the results that Frakes became a regular director on Trek, with credits that include "First Contact" and "Insurrection".

Michael Dorn has named this as one of his two favourite episodes, the other being "The Drumhead", another episode directed by Jonathan Frakes.

In the original script, Guinan's description of Human sexuality begins "When a man and a woman are in love..." Whoppi Goldberg refused to say the line since it implied that love was limited to heterosexual relationships. In addition, at one point it was planned to have a same sex couple holding hands in the background of Ten Forward. When word got back to the producers, one of them came down to the set to watch filming and ensure that this did not happen.

Plotline

Data bring Wesley, Geordi and Deanna to his lab for a surprise unveiling - after attending a recent cybernetics conference he has implemented some new techniques to create a new android with a positronic brain like his own. He dubs the android "Lal", and refers to it as his child. When news gets back to Captain Picard he voices some objections to the action, asking Data why he didn't consult with him before moving forward. Data, surprised, notes that the rest of the crew procreate as they please without reference to the chain of command, so he didn't see why he would be treated any differently.

Data has built Lal with a customisable exterior, allowing it to choose whatever species and gender it wishes. After a prolonged consideration on the holodeck, Lal settles on a Human female. Over the following days Lal begins to learn how to interact with Humans. Data teaches her himself, but also allows her to experience both school and the social atmosphere in Ten Forward. Despite some misunderstandings Lal gradually begins to learn the basics of Human interaction. Remarkably, although her positronic base programming was based on Data's own, she surpasses him by overcoming his built-in inability to use Human speech contractions.

When Starfleet learns of Data's actions, Admiral Haftel arrives to evaluate Lal. The Admiral appears determined to transfer Lal to Starfleet Research. Both Picard, Data and Lal herself are against this, but Haftel is unmoved by their arguments. His attitude leaves Lal confused and apparently frightened, sending her back to Data's lab to seek help - a safeguard he programmed into her.

Admiral Haftel orders Data to release Lal into his custody. Captain Picard refuses, viewing it in terms of ordering "a man to hand his child over to the state" The argument is cut short when Troi calls to inform them that Lal appears to be malfunctioning badly. Her emotional outburst was a symptom of cascade failure in her positronic brain. Data attempts to repair the damage, accepting Admiral Haftel's offer to assist. Hours later an exhausted Haftel walks out of the lab, chagrined at the monumental effort Data had made to try and save his child - in the end, his hands moving so fast that a Human could barely see them. However, the effort proved to be in vain. Lal's positronic failures outrace any attempt to repair them, and she begins to shut down. In her last moments she tells Data that she loves him, and thanks him for the experiences of her brief life. Data, lamenting that he is unable to return the emotion, watches as she dies.

Afterwards he reports her death to the crew and tells them he has downloaded Lal's memories into his own brain, making her experiences a part of him forever.

Analysis

One of TNG's more cerebral episodes, and one of the better ones. Props go to Brent Spiner for his performance as Data. TNG loved to put him in very emotional scenes only to have him calmly declare that he had no emotional reaction to them. And Spiner always played it so beautifully, because he [i]didn't[/i] quite play it as the emotionless android. You always got the impression that somewhere down there, under it all, Data really did have feelings and just didn't realise it.

Special mention also goes to Hallie Todd as Lal, who does a wonderful job being a "Data kind of android" without just copying Brent Spiner's acting. Lal is simultaneously less Human than Data and, as the episode goes on, more Human than him. It's a tricky balancing act to pull off, and she does it very well.

And Frakes does a good job here too. I don't recall the episode being notable for fantastic direction, but then I wouldn't claim to be expert enough at film to even notice fantastic direction in any great detail. But it certainly doesn't come across as having weird performances, odd pacing, strange choice of camera angles, etc. To my layman's eyes, it seems like Frakes did an excellent job on this episode, and certainly the producers must have agreed since he went on to do many more.

If there's one flaw to the episode it's that it really does retread the ground of "The Measure of a Man" to some extent. But that's a very minor flaw, really - the legal issues here are interlinked, so it seems to me, since having a right to bodily autonomy for androids would seem to preclude their having their children yanked away from them at Starfleet's whim. But then, normal Humans have rights and they can still lose their children if they are not raising them in a socially acceptable manner. Haftel doesn't simply assume he has the right to take Lal away because she is an android as such. Rather, he probes the conditions under which she is being raised and deems Data an unfit parent. So that does make sense, in the context of the Measure of a Man ruling.

Of course, we can question the reasoning behind having a Starfleet Admiral make this kind of inquiry. Would cases of child neglect,etc, fall under Starfleet's jurisdiction, or would they be the responsibility of the civilian authorities? Oftentimes it seems like the Federation doesn't even have other authorities outside of Starfleet, they seem to do everything from act as the police, court system, even sit on the governing council. But that's a minor gripe, really. From the story point of view all that matters is that Haftel represents outside authority.

Props also to the episode for making Haftel an ultimately reasonable man. So very often Starfleet officers show up to be an impediment to the crew, often taking it to absurd levels where their behaviour can only be characterised as utterly moronic (Kosinski) or plain evil (Cartwright). Haftel is in opposition to our characters, but he is opposing them for what seem to him to be good reasons. And importantly, his viewpoint really [i]could[/i] be thought of as reasonable. For all we know, Lal could actually be better off at Starfleet Research. At the very least, it's certainly reasonable that he could honestly believe this to be so.

And to underline the point, when Lal is in danger Haftel immediately puts aside all thought of the conflict and offers to assist Data in any way he can, an offer that Data instantly accepts. Both are genuinely acting in what they feel is Lal's best interests, and if that means working together then they are more than happy to do so. It's an excellent choice, and it benefits the episode greatly.

Special Edition

The remastered version has the usual updated resolution, but no great changes otherwise.
Copyright Graham Kennedy Page views : 9,121 Last updated : 10 Aug 2016