October 11, 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Offspring"

Commander Data surprises his fellow officers with the revelation that he has constructed a new sentient android: his child Lal. While Data attempts to learn how to be a good father, a Starfleet admiral comes to the Enterprise intent on taking Lal away for study.

"The Offspring" is an episode produced with the best of intentions, and with a really solid concept at its core, but it falls apart for a variety of reasons. In the end it's an episode that I want to enjoy, rather than one that I actually do enjoy.

That's a pity, because quality aside this is a pretty significant episode of The Next Generation. It marks the debut of writer Rene Echevarria: he would go on to write another 17 episodes of The Next Generation, 23 episodes of Deep Space Nine, and would act as story editor and executive story editor of The Next Generation's final two seasons. It also marks the directorial debut of Jonathan Frakes. Not content with playing Commander Riker, he begged executive producer Rick Berman to give him a chance behind the camera. He subsequently directed another seven episodes of The Next Generation, three each of Deep Space Nine and Voyager, and the feature films Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection, Thunderbirds and Clockstoppers.

The parts of the episode that work are the ones specifically involved Lal: Data has not simply recreated an android in his own image, he has created one that's more sophisticated. Watching Lal get progressively more nuanced and emotional, until ultimately her system overloads, is a great plot that's well expressed.

The part that doesn't work is the attempt to generate a drama out of Lal potentially being taken away by Starfleet to study. The episode treats it as a genuine risk - indeed Picard risks demotion by refusing an admiral's orders to do it - yet we know as viewers that it's nothing of the sort. We've been through this dilemma, in Season 2's "The Measure of a Man". We remember it pretty well, not in the least because it was the single-best episode of the first two seasons. That episode firmly established that sentient androids have equal rights to sentient organisms, so the idea that Starfleet might spirit Lal away is farcical. What makes it worse is that Picard actually brings the events of "The Measure of a Man" up, so any chance viewers might have forgotten that episode are pretty much blown out of the water.

The episode also fumbles the final scene, which should be an easy home run. Data's daughter has died, but he's the only person on the ship not emotionally affected. A scene is attempted, but it pulls its punches. This had the opportunity to be a moving tragedy, but instead it feels as if Data's unplugged a toaster.

So an admirable intent is let down by a sloppy and unconvincing execution: both Echevarria and Frakes will go on to make great television, but they simply don't make any here. It leaves Season 3 with nine good episodes out of 16, and a quality ratio of 56%.

1 comment:

  1. This episode made me cry on first broadcast. But then that's what it's striving for and I was an impressionable teenager.


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