Monday, March 13, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 64 (The Offspring)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major details of the episode.  If you’re not into that, you might want to hold off on reading this review.

On Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data is unique.  He’s an android made by Noonian Soong.  In fact, he’s one of two of Soong’s androids known to exist at the time of the 64th episode of the series.  (The other one is Lore, who is presumed deactivated, but more on that in a later episode.)  Data, after attending a cybernetics conference, decides to make another Soong-type android…without telling anyone.  He finally reveals his creation to Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge, Counselor Deanna Troi and Wesley Crusher.  All three are surprised, to say the least.

The android, who he’s calling Lal, isn’t finished.  He hasn’t given his child an appearance yet, preferring to let his child make the actual choice.  Also, Data has to finish copying the rest of his neural pathways.  (The technology to do so was what kept him from trying before.)  Lal chooses to appear to be a human female, becoming Data’s daughter.  Now comes the hard part:  raising Lal.  Data tries to put her in school, but she doesn’t fit in.  She’s too awkward for the older kids and she’s too smart for the younger kids.

Even though Data has no emotions, it’s tough for him to watch her stumble.   He eventually puts her in Ten Forward, the ship’s lounge.  She still has trouble, but she has Guinan there to teach her.  She still has trouble adapting, but she is learning and it’s at least funny to watch her meet Cmdr. Riker.  What’s not so funny is one Admiral Anthony Haftel, coming to assess whether or not Lal should stay under Data’s care. And when I say “assess”, I mean “put on a show to make it look like an assessment”.  He’s already made up his mind that she’s going back with him.

Once the show is over and Admiral Haftel has announced his decision, Lal is excused.  She runs to Counselor Troi claiming to be afraid, which she actually is.  Lal then goes back to the lab, where she and Counselor Troi wait for Data to show up and try to repair her.  The new emotion is too much for her new positronic brain, resulting in a cascading failure that Data can’t fix.  Admiral Haftel comes out of the lab to announce that she has a short time to live.

One of the things I hate is when a TV series introduces a character only to kill them off within the same episode.  Hallie Todd does great as Lal, especially considering that she’s given the one episode to appear in.  It’s just that you kind of know going into it that she’s not going to live past the closing credits.  It would have been nice to see her grow a little.  The thing is that you don’t even have to kill her off.  You could have her appear in a few episodes, then eventually go off with Admiral Haftel.  Have Data win the battle, but let Starfleet study the new android when the time is right.

On that note, I find it odd that Data was eventually willing to give up.  When the Haftel announces that he’s taking Lal back, Data gives this whole speech about how he wouldn’t be a good parent if he just released his child into the custody of the first person to ask nicely.  Then, Haftel orders Data to release Lal into his custody because he’s ordering it.  Data just turns to get Lal; Captain Picard has to order Data not to do it.

Ultimately, it’s a good episode, even if it’s not perfect.  It deals with what it means to be a parent.  Just because Lal wasn’t ‘born’ in the conventional sense doesn’t make Data any less of a father.  For that matter, what’s a child?  Even though Lal appears to be a grown woman, she still has a lot of learning to do.  (On that note, why does a multi-species society like the Federation have such a hard time grasping that children will often look different from one species to the next?)  It’s definitely one of the episodes to look forward to. 

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