Revisiting Star Trek TNG: The Offspring

Review James Hunt 4 Jul 2014 - 07:37

There's more sentient life to be found in James' latest Star Trek: The Next Generation lookback...

This review contains spoilers.

3.16 The Offspring

As the Enterprise is charting an asteroid belt (TO BOLDLY GO!), Wesley, La Forge and Troi are heading to Data's lab to see what surprises he's got in store for them. Dangerous territory indeed, because he might have written a new poem or something. As it is, they don't have to wait long: when they arrive at the lab, he quickly introduces them to Lal, his new robo-child, which he built after attending a cybernetics conference.

Naturally, everyone flips out. Partly because Lal is the first android to be successfully fashioned after Data, and partly because they object to Data essentially knocking together new sentient life out of spare parts found in the ship's garage. When Picard says he'd rather have been informed in advance, Data points out that no-one else has to inform the captain when they wish to procreate, displaying a level of wilful ignorance typical of androids.

Later, Data and Troi help the freakishly androgynous Lal choose a gender and appearance. After selecting Human Female, Lal returns to her quarters with Data and he attempts to teach her about aesthetics and upholstery while she recites the dictionary definitions at him. Wesley advises she go to the ship's school, like he did in one episode, but that turns out to be a disaster when the other children mock and ostracise her. Thanks a lot, Wesley!

After school, Lal keeps asking Data questions so he switches her off, earning the jealousy of parents everywhere. Meanwhile, Starfleet has heard that one of their guys has created new Robo-Life and are understandably keen to get a slice of that action. Picard fights to keep their grubby Admiral hands off Lal (because whenever an Admiral shows up in Star Trek it's inevitably bad news for the regular cast). While Data struggles to connect with Lal despite his lack of emotions, Admiral Haftel tells them to stay put while he catches the first ship to their location. Well, good job that asteroid belt wasn't going anywhere.

Having given up on school, Data leaves Lal with Guinan, who teaches her about basic humanoid affection and then hires her as bar staff. Here she is, brain the size of a planet, and they're asking her to serve drinks. When Haftal arrives he's suitably sickened by this and announces that they're taking Lal back to the Daystrom Institute where she can grow up the same way Data did: in a controlled environment that will ill-equip him for a world where people use colloquialisms and metaphors.

Meanwhile, Lal is evolving beyond even Data's original capabilities. She can now use contractions in her speech, which Data is inexplicably unable to do (except when he does). Although Haftal wants to take Lal away, Data and Picard refuse to allow him. When they ask Lal, she wants to stay, and becomes upset when pressed otherwise. Haftal remains insistent and Picard's just threatening to take it all the way to the top when Troi, who was looking after Lal, realises she can sense genuine robo-emotions from the girl. Data, Picard and Haftel are still arguing when Troi interrupts to say that something's gone wrong with Lal.

Indeed, she's auto-piloted her way back to the Lab, which she's programmed to do in case of malfunction. Data diagnoses a cascade failure. The worst type of failure! It means Lal's positronic brain pathways will soon collapse if she's not repaired immediately. Data and Haftel try, but it's too late. The damage is too devastating, and Lal dies (if you can call it dying) seconds after professing her love and gratitude for her father.

Back on the bridge, Picard and the others give Data their condolences, and he reveals that she will live on as part of his brain, since he absorbed her memories and experiences because that's totally not insane and weird. He claims to be unaffected, thanks to his cold, unfeeling robot heart. But as he looks into space, we can tell he feels the loss. If not of Lal, then of several days' asteroid-charting.

TNG WTF: Oh look, another episode of TNG where someone accidentally creates new sentient life. At this rate, there's no need to actively seek out new life as part of their mission, they can just hang around in one place and new life will happen as a by-product of the crew's hobbies.

TNG LOL: Riker's brief appearance in this episode, attempting to chat Lal up before being told who she is, is hilarious. Although it does beg the question of how young someone would have to look for Riker to keep it in his trousers.

Mistakes and Minutiae: Data claims to be the last of his kind, but he's wrong. There are three more androids out there, two of which look identical to him anyway!

Time Until Meeting: Lots of one-to-ones in this episode, but it's not until 32:50 that Haftel, Picard and Lal sit down at a table together. Unusually late!

Captain's Log: Despite the majority of this episode being slow-moving, meandering and repetitive, there are actually some good moments here. Picard standing up to Haftel, Haftel helping Data try to save Lal and Data & Lal's final moments together.

It's a shame that, philosophically speaking, it's a retread. Having established that Data is due the full rights of any organic sentient being (something reference in this episode) the admiral just ignores the lot of that, treating him like a piece of furniture that can be shunted around. It works in the context of the story, but if that's the case, maybe don't go acknowledging that you already had this argument once before?

Watch or Skip? Eh. It's watchable, but it's also a second rate version of Measure Of A Man.

Read James' lookback at the previous episode, Yesterday's Enterprise, here.

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