Season Three - TNG

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Offspring

Written by Rene Echevarria
Directed by Jonathan Frakes

The android Data (Brent Spiner) returns from a Starfleet cybernetics conference and immediately retreats to his lab. Unbeknownst to the rest of the crew, Data uses the newest breakthroughs in technology to create “Lal”, a cybernetic being whom he considers to be his child.

This is a great episode on many fronts, but particularly from the angle of questioning just who knows best when it comes to parenting.

There are some very funny moments in the beginning. Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) tries to admonish Data for doing this without telling him and Data responds that no one else on the Enterprise consults him about their procreation. It’s a conversation that Picard approaches from one direction and Data from another. Data sees it all about parenting while Picard sees it as something akin to a research project. The two conversations never really meet and it’s a fun watching the scene play out.

Lal (portrayed by Hallie Todd) is allowed to choose its species and gender. It chooses to be a human female. In an attempt to have her learn some social skills, Data enrolls her in the school on the Enterprise, but she doesn’t quite fit in. Data consults with Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) on the matter and she agrees to let Lal “wok” in the 10-Forward Lounge aboard the Enterprise and guide her along.

However, once Starfleet learns that another cybernetic being like Data has been created, it is decided that she should be removed from the Enterprise and placed with “experts” who can guide her growth better.

This is where the episode really gets interesting, for it takes on a role akin to the government deciding it knows best about parenting a child. When Admiral Haftel (portrayed by Nicholas Coster) comes aboard suddenly Data is justifying and defending his parenting choices – such as allowing Lal to learn and observe human behavior in a “bar”.

Haftel takes on the role of a modern-day CPS worker who comes in knowing what is better for the child. It is a wonderful contrast that goes by many viewers because of its subtlety and because we are dealing with androids. Even though both Lal and Data are acknowledged as sentient beings, they are still expected to bow down to what Haftel – and Starfleet – think is best; turning Lal over to the so-called experts at Starfleet. Haftel believes that their knowledge as “experts” is better for Lal than remaining with the only other being like her in the universe, Data.

In this whole scenario, no one seems to take into account what Lal and Data want, except Picard. Picard defends Data’s choices and his skills as a “parent”. It is Picard who puts the question to Lal of what she wants while Haftel talks about her as if she isn’t even in the room.

What Haftel and Starfleet never take into account is the question of if removing her from her current environment is more disruptive to her than any possible flaws in Data’s parenting skills. This has dire consequences as for the first time Lal experiences an emotion – fear at being taken away from her father. Her cybernetic systems see this as a malfunction and despite Data’s efforts, she “dies”.

This episode really does a good job at hammering home the fact that when a child’s life is not in immediate danger, what right does the state – or anyone – have to question someone’s parenting skills? And can the damage be worse by interfering instead of leaving it alone?

The performances are excellent. Brent Spiner does another fantastic job as Data and shines in the role. It is performances like these that have seemed to be missing in the more recent films. Patrick Stewart gives Picard an almost grandfatherly performance here as he wavers between duty and what he believes is right. His protectiveness of both Lal and Data is evident, even though he was not happy with the situation in the beginning. Hallie Todd is excellent as Lal and I can’t think of anyone who could have done a better job. A well-known actor or actress might have been distracting in the role.

The only flaw I find is that if it were so easy for Data to create another cybernetic being, why wouldn’t Starfleet just follow his model and create another at the research station rather than abducting his? During the rest of the series, I can’t recall hearing about Starfleet creating another Data-like android at all. There are also bits of overlap in the arguments about Data and Lal’s rights with the second-season episode The Measure of a Man. If at times it seems to the regular Star Trek viewer that we’ve heard these arguments before, we have.

These are minor quibbles in an otherwise excellent episode. It’s a great one for a casual viewer to watch and get a feeling for what has made Star Trek: The Next Generation a great series.

Previous episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Yesterday’s Enterprise

Next episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Sins of the Father

15 replies »

      • I don’t (or as Data would say, do not) believe the early DVDs have it. The interview with the original writer of “The Offspring,” Rene Echeverria, is in one of the long documentaries that CBS Blu-ray added to the final disc in that season. That’s when I found that for a while, many scripts were submitted by first-time writers (like Echeverria) and/or fans whose spec scripts were accepted under Michael Piller’s “open door” policy. He says the script had to be rewritten by others because it had a great concept but meh execution. Piller (RIP) had a hand in it, as did a few others who loved the Lal-Data story.

        Luckily, Echeverria was a quick learner and eventually got a gig as a staff writer. But he almost did not make the cut!

      • Yeah, I remember him being a good writer. This is also how we ended up with Brannon Braga though, too. He was less than stellar with his stories and had a lot of contempt for his fellow fans.

  1. We also got Ron D. Moore that way.

    Braga (and I’m being honest here) isn’t as bad a writer as many believe. He’s not the best writer, but he did not do as badly as say, Maurice Hurley, the first season producer who practically forced Gates MacFadden to leave the show for one year. The only good thing HE did was invent the Borg. Braga is more uneven than Ron D. Moore, Rene Echevarria, or Michael Piller, but he did do some good work, especially in tandem with “Battlestar Galactica” reboot co-creator Moore. Had Paramount not wanted a Star Trek: The Next Generation movie in 1994 with a bunch of checkboxes to fill, Generations might have been better. Is Braga abrasive, especially with fans? Perhaps? But I think the abrasiveness flew both ways, especially in the early days of the Internet. I’m on the fence about him…maybe it’s because I, too, am a fan and a writer.

    • I have a weird feeling that Moore was the one who sent me the anonymous email about one of my DS9 reviews where I called them out for stating in the commentary that they cast the female roles based on who looked good in the uniforms. Don’t forget back then there weren’t very many review sites out there and for some reason that caught someone’s attention behind the scenes. They told me I was insignificant and didn’t know what I was talking about, but I got under their skin enough that they felt they had to send that email. So the fanboys becoming writers isn’t necessarily a great thing. I think they’ve learned to temper it in the years since.

      I wasn’t impressed with Moore’s Battlestar Galactica, likely because I was such a fan of the original series. I mean, I liked it a lot, but it was really a totally different show and should have been presented that way. He’s done great with Outlander, in my opinion. I think he learned a lot in 20+ years.

      • I was so disappointed in the original version of BSG. Partly because ABC totally botched it by scheduling it the way the network did, but mostly because they totally screwed up Glen Larson’s original concept of making a few well-written TV movies and turning it into a regular TV series.

        I was a fan, don’t get me wrong. Had it gone the way Larson conceived it, and had it not had the usual budgetary issues that space shows had back then, it would have kicked ass.

        But…once it became a weekly series and had to appeal to wide audiences, it was…disastrous.

        To top THAT off, ABC canceled it after only one frustrating season, and then when fans asked for its return, we got the even messier Galactica 1980.

        I have never had any interaction with any Star Trek writer(s). I think that Ron D. Moore was still young and asshole-y in the early 2000s, so I would not be surprised if it was he who sent you that email.

        I have never watched Outlander, but if his writing and producing talent has improved,, then he’s probably matured.

      • Well, ABC wanted “something like Star Wars” on a television budget, so that’s what we got. The original book was a lot different too – the Cylons were lizard-like creatures with armor. Throwing the kid and the cybernetic “dog” in there was really bad. Then there was strife because Dirk Benedict was the most popular character. I think I was just the right age for it when it came about and I always did love it. I was one of the letter-writers that brought back the disastrous Galactica 1980. I give Moore credit, though, for bringing Hatch into the cast. Hatch put a lot of his own money into lobbying for a reboot prior to Moore’s vision getting the go-ahead.

        I can’t say for sure who it was and it was on my old Netscape email, so I don’t have access to it anymore. But someone was very upset at being called out for that comment. When I get to that season review, I’ll have to see if I specifically said who made the comment.

        Outlander is really good. Loreli might like it more than you :^

  2. I really wanted to like the original BSG. I watched every episode that I could, including the series premiere, which was interrupted by the signing of the Camp David Peace Accords between Israel and Egypt. And I bought at least three of the novels. I was 15 when the Larson version of Galactica came out, and I thought the concept was good.

    That having been said, ABC’s insistence that the show must be family-friendly watered down Larson’s concept significantly, I’m not an expert on the series, but I recall reading somewhere that the original concept was more serious and aimed at grown-up viewers. ABC, as you rightly point out, wanted “Star Wars for TV” – which led to a big tussle with Lucasfilm that also involved Universal, which financed the series – and Larson’s “occasional TV movie concept” became a “regular” series, which the network hobbled by scheduling it badly and often pre-empting it for sports events and other programming.

    Because of that, I’m not as enamored of the original series. The addition of Boxey and the robot daggit (Moffit II, was it not?) was too much for me to tolerate, even as a young teen. Plus….they killed off Jane Seymour! (I gotta admit…I had a huge crush on her…)

    • Yes, it was Muffitt. Jane Seymour wasn’t signed long-term, so she wasn’t sticking around. I met all of the original cast who were still alive in 2000. It was pretty cool. It had a really big cult following too.

      • Yes, a building fell on it.

        In the novelization, Boxey wasn’t even Jane Seymour’s son. She was a news reporter doing a story and came across him alone searching for his beloved dog while the attack was happening.