Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Offspring   Rewatch 
November 9, 2020 8:30 AM - Season 3, Episode 16 - Subscribe

Data successfully creates a new android, which he views as his child. However, the magnitude of his accomplishment quickly attracts the scrutiny of Starfleet, who wants to separate the child from Data and the Enterprise for study. Matters are complicated further when the child begins to develop beyond Data's abilities.

There are some things Memory Alpha's just gonna have to explain to you when he thinks you're ready.

Story and script
  • This was the first Star Trek episode written by René Echevarria. "The Offspring", which initially had the working title "Bloodlines", originated in a spec script written by him. Michael Piller recalled, "'The Offspring' was a great spec script, except it was, at first, barely about our people. It was really about a very brand-new, exciting female android that Data created out of his own image, and it was all about her. And I said, 'That's great. But it can't be about the guest star. It's got to be about one of our people. It's got to be about Data. It's not about Data's child as much as it is about how Data deals with being a parent. Everybody will be able to relate to that and empathize with the problems he has as a parent of a new child. Especially when that child is threatened by all sorts of outside forces.'" (Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Continuing Mission 1st ed., p. 114)
  • In one of the scenes with Guinan tutoring Lal about Human sexuality, a script line was changed in order to turn a strictly heterosexual explanation into a gender-neutral version. Research assistant Richard Arnold recalled, "According to the script, Guinan was supposed to start telling Lal, 'When a man and a woman are in love…' and in the background, there would be men and women sitting at tables, holding hands. But Whoopi refused to say that. She said, 'This show is beyond that. It should be 'When two people are in love.'" It was also decided on set that the background of the scene show a same-sex couple holding hands, but "someone ran to a phone and made a call to the production office and that was nixed," continued Arnold. "[Producer] David Livingston came down and made sure that didn't happen."
  • This was the first Star Trek episode to be directed by Jonathan Frakes and the first to be directed by a member of the cast (although Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner had previously directed films). Frakes recalled, "I went to [Rick] Berman and said I'd like to do a show. He said I'd have to go to school, and so I spent about 300 hours in the editing room and on the dubbing stage learning about that side of it. Editing was the side of things I felt weakest in. I naturally looked over the shoulders of all our regular directors and took some seminars, read textbooks and finally I didn't go away. Rick was kind enough to give me 'The Offspring' and I was thrilled because I got a Data show and those always work." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 193)
  • Whereas the Season 2 episode "The Measure Of A Man" dealt with Data and his rights as an android, this episode deals with his rights as a parent toward what would constitute a living being. In both episodes, Picard acts as Data's advocate. Picard reinforces this when, in argument with Admiral Haftel, he states that an android's rights and sentience are well-defined in Federation law, and that Picard himself helped define them. In fact, as Melinda Snodgrass (who wrote "The Measure Of A Man") pointed out, there were striking similarities between the two installments. (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 193)
  • There was serious consideration for a follow-up episode in TNG's fifth season, that would have involved Lore stealing Lal's body and trying to re-activate her with Dr. Soong's emotion chip, but for unknown reasons it was shot down. [5]
  • In this episode, Data incorrectly states that until the activation of Lal, he was the last of his kind. He may be under the assumption that Lore had been incapacitated in "Datalore". In addition, he does not yet know about the Juliana Tainer and B-4 androids, introduced in the seventh season episode "Inheritance" and the film Star Trek Nemesis respectively.
Poster's Log
Older fans may have recognized Hallie Todd, here playing Lal, as Penny Waters from the long-running Showtime series "Brothers". Younger fans coming to TNG late probably know her best as Lizzie McGuire's mom.

Nicolas Coster, Vice Admiral Haftel, is most well-known for several soap opera roles (including a long-running stint on "Santa Barbara"). I most recognized him for playing Blair's dad on multiple episodes of "The Facts of Life".

This episode is closer to what I wanted "The Measure Of A Man" to be. I prefer this one, actually - the reality of Lal's growth into her sentience is much more profound here than Picard's original arguments for Data's status were.

There's some clunky humor here (Troi's "A friend for Worf!" is kind of excruciating), but there's also a lot that is well handled ("He's biting that female!").

Hallie Todd manages to be both very robotic and emotionally fraught at the same time. The way she says "Troi" after bursting into the counselor's quarters in a tizzy is heartbreaking.
posted by hanov3r (13 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This episode is closer to what I wanted "The Measure Of A Man" to be. I prefer this one, actually - the reality of Lal's growth into her sentience is much more profound here than Picard's original arguments for Data's status were.

Yes, absolutely. And one of the great things about the episode was that it's not only a better ep than TMoaM, but is very effective as a sequel to it, and an installment of Data's arc; just because Data's right to exist and right not to be vivisected have been established (in part because of his service record) doesn't mean that AIs in general or Soong-type androids in particular have been accorded the same right. People in the Federation in general are probably pretty antsy about AIs proliferating (and arguably so, after the Lore incident), and even Data's great defender Picard is angry about not having been consulted.

However, that's not really justifying Haftel's approach to the whole situation. I was thinking about whether or not he counted as a true Badmiral, and even though his concerns may have been genuine, and he even showed some caring when Lal was starting to break down, his whole "because I'm the admiral, that's why" undoubtedly contributed to her crisis and mental disintegration. I felt like he should have been wearing ops gold, because his whole approach was such a complete example of Engineer's Disease; I kept wondering if he'd talked to Bruce Maddox and was really thinking, "Well, we're not gonna let this one slip out of our hands."

And, ultimately, this might have been one of the saddest Trek episodes ever. It's not the only one involving the death of a child, but the one in ENT was a baby and not aware of its own impending death, and the one in DS9 was grown and didn't really die so much as just change their own history. (MeMail me if you want to be spoiled.) I think that probably more than a few of us had the experience of being the kid who was just too weird for the other kids, and found out about social norms the hard way.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:15 AM on November 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

even Data's great defender Picard is angry about not having been consulted

And Data's response is perfect - of course nobody consults the captain when they choose to become parents.

I agree this is a tremendous episode, and hard to believe it's the first directing effort for Frakes. Really competent work.
posted by rocketman at 9:24 AM on November 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

In the days after Nemesis and Data's ignominious demise I imagined an alternate reality where Lal's cascade failure was faked in order to keep her out of Federation hands. Later, Data made use of his copious amounts of vacation time to take her to a remote planet in a nebula hostile to organic life. There he reactivated her and together they founded a secret civilization of Soong-type androids. This civilization is also where Lore eventually ends up, still acting like an agent provocateur, but now soundly outnumbered by his improved nieces and nephews. After Data's death he mellows out a bit and finally takes responsibility for keeping this new species safe and hidden.

Of course STP had to come along and fuck all this up thoroughly, with a different set of circumstances leading to a similar but much dumber explanation.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 9:30 AM on November 9, 2020 [5 favorites]

Is Haftel the most bad of the Badmirals? Because, I mean, he's awful. His third-act about-face isn't enough to redeem him as far as I'm concerned. In fact, he's almost cartoonishly antagonistic early on, which one could justifiably count as a knock against this episode overall.

But Hallie Todd's performance here is so good, and demands to be watched with care, to catch each of the many very subtle moments of physical comedy.

And, ultimately, this might have been one of the saddest Trek episodes ever.

Yeah, it's up there, for sure. In my book, the top one on that list has gotta be DS9: "The Visitor."
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:00 AM on November 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

And Data's response is perfect - of course nobody consults the captain when they choose to become parents.

No one consults the captain, unless they are someone with Data's history living in a society where AI is viewed the way it is in ST. Data creates an android but doesn't put a whole lot of thought into the aftermath of turning it on.

Over all this one is really good. Lal is a cool character. Her interactions with Guinan are a lot of fun. If the episode had been more of that, it would have been even better.

The one false note for me though is in Ten Forward when Lal kisses Riker and Data asks what Riker's intentions toward his daughter are. That moment and putting Riker on the spot has always felt wrong to me.
posted by Fukiyama at 10:53 AM on November 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

Only a few cards of the episode from the Star Trek CCG, but they're significant:
Premiere('94): Data. The man himself. Awesome stats, awesome skillset, a nice image with some pathos.

Q Continuum('96): Lal; Soong-type Android; U.S.S. Excelsior; System-Wide Cascade Failure. the non-aligned android is a stand-out, effectively letting any affiliation dial in a needed classification on the fly. A key card which even a budget deck could reasonably include, perhaps in multiple.

Captain's Log('06): Lal, Beloved; Soong-type Android. Look familiar? The new versions eschew having a permanent skill changes on the cards to somehow keep track of, in favor of making it a temporary effect in android-focused decks. In addition to the Soong related androids like Data, Pinocchio there's Ruk, Old One Servitor at your disposal.
posted by StarkRoads at 11:04 AM on November 9, 2020

Interesting link between Lal and Rayna in "Requiem for Methuselah" in the original series. Neither android could handle the stresses of emotion.
posted by zadcat at 11:41 AM on November 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

more like Admiral Hateful amirite
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:39 AM on November 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

I wasn’t aware of a show called Brothers, so I looked it up and I feel like I’m having a Mandela Effect moment. In the 80s, there was a sitcom that ran for five seasons and 115 episodes about “two conservative men supporting their younger brother when he comes out as gay, helping him navigate being openly gay in 1980s Philadelphia”!?!?

I know that Showtime was minuscule in the mid-80s, but I still feel like I should’ve heard about the show before now. I was a tv-addicted tween at the time and I’ve been a rabid devourer of pop culture ever since.

Everything I read about it says that it was comparatively progressive and didn’t rely on lazy stereotypes. So is this a case of a show so ahead of its time it’s been unfairly forgotten? Or am I just one of today’s lucky 10,000?
posted by Ian A.T. at 4:11 PM on November 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

I had no knowledge of it before now myself, Ian A.T.; I had relatively little exposure to cable (only having subscribed to basic cable very briefly in the early aughts, and only occasionally getting glimpses of it at college, where the dorm's basic cable was almost always tuned to MTV, or at the houses of others).
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:54 PM on November 10, 2020

I think Brothers got some off-cable syndication, since I don't think we had Showtime in the mid 80s. Lots of episodes appear to be available in the US on YouTube, if you want to check it out.
posted by hanov3r at 8:11 AM on November 11, 2020

Guinan headwear watch: First appearance of the octagon, green this time.
posted by Kyol at 7:11 PM on January 17, 2021

Also, good gravy, Troi, when Lal comes into your room and starts pouring her heart out about her situation _maybe just maybe_ this is the time to be the ship's counsellor for once? Huh? Eh? Whaddya think? Couldja maybe do something there other than just watch her walk away? Oh well.
posted by Kyol at 2:25 PM on January 18, 2021

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