Imagination Connoisseur, Willow Yang, offers her review of the classic Star Trek: TNG episode, THE OFFSPRING.
Since you’ve recently read a letter on your show that mentioned The Next Generation’s The Offspring, I’m sending you my thoughts on the episode. What I particularly appreciated about The Offspring is how it is able to be both wonderfully humorous and entertaining while simultaneously posing some heady and insightful questions on humanity and artificial intelligence. If I have one criticism, it is that I felt the ending was a bit rushed. The character of Admiral Haftel was quite rigid and adamant in his views throughout the episode, only to do a complete 180 turn in the last five minutes.
I understand that he was moved by Data’s devotion and determination to save his child, but I found the way that his transition was executed to be too abrupt. I also thought that Data seemed to get over Lal’s death far too quickly. He claims that he does not experience emotion, yet he has exhibited attachment in the past, most notably keeping a hologram of Tasha Yar. And although he has downloaded Lal’s memories so that she can live on through him, that still doesn’t resolve the issue that he is now, once again, the only member of his kind.
On one hand, The Offspring works as a charming but also heartbreaking story about Data as he navigates around the perils of parenthood with the creation of his android child Lal. The episode contains some of my favourite Data moments from the series thus far. I really enjoyed the deliberation between him and Picard in the waiting room after the latter had learned of the former’s creation. The scene is both profound and yet also humorous.
Picard has a very human and understandable reaction to Data’s actions, being both angered that he hadn’t been consulted on the matter and also concerned over Lal’s existence and what ramifications that could have. Data, on the other hand, views his actions as being the normal process of all life forms. There is just an innocence, almost naivety, to his character as he rambles on about his confusion regarding parenting to an increasingly exasperated Picard that I find to be endearing.
The relationship between Data and Lal is a delight to watch. I loved Hallie Todd’s portrayal of the newly created android: she brings a sweetness and innocence to the character that makes her easy to root for. One memorable comedic scene occurred when Lal was observing a couple in Ten Forward, first expressing bewilderment when the two began smooching, and then asking Guinan some awkward question when the couple leaves the room. Although we don’t, unfortunately, get to see Data having to give his daughter “the talk”, we do see him take on the role of the offended father when he walks in on Lal kissing an unsuspecting Riker. This humourous moment transitions perfectly into a poignant one where Lal and Data discuss human behaviour and emotions, culminating with Lal holding Data’s hand. The Offspring does a phenomenal job of depicting the growth and transformation of a character as they evolve from learning basic actions like drinking or catching a ball, to studying human interactions and behaviours, to asking profound, existential questions about the purpose and meaning of life. In the span of less than 45-minutes we witness the entire course of someone’s life, from birth, to development, to their tragic end.
On the more philosophical side of things, The Offspring poses some very interesting questions regarding life and the meaning of existence. Data explains to Picard that he created Lal after realising that he is currently the only member of his kind. Survival of a species, the insurance that one’s heritable traits will be passed on and persist even after an individual has died, is perhaps the main driving force underlying all life. Although Data has exhibited an instinct for preserving his own existence, as evidenced by his refusal to undergo Maddox’s experiments when he believed they were unsafe for him, his sentience is just the beginning of his evolution as a life form. I love how The Offspring presents the next logical progression in Data’s understanding of life and humanity by having him being faced with existential questions regarding his purpose, and seeking a means to ensure the persistence of his kind even after his own existence has come to an end.
In many ways, I think The Offspring builds on the debate that was started in Measure of a Man by going even deeper into the social issues that people, human or artificial, face, and whether or not true equality can be achieved. Probably my favourite line came when Picard berated Data for creating an android without consulting him first, resulting in a confused Data stating: “I have not observed anyone else on board consulting you about their procreation, Captain”. On one hand, the line is a witty (albeit unintentionally so) comeback on Data’s part; on the other, it is also incredibly insightful. Is it fair that Data has to seek permission to have children while no such restrictions are apparently in place for other life forms? Is the government violating Data’s rights in intervening and trying to remove Lal from him?
As Data points out, Admiral Haftel was probably not a much better parent when he first had children. Why is the onus being put on Data to prove himself fit to be a parent whereas humans face no such scrutiny? The prejudices and problems that an oppressed individual or group faces typically cannot be resolved by a single case; rather, it is often a long and gradual progression with numerous roadblocks along the way. Picard recognizes Data as a sentient life form and has fought vigorously for his rights to autonomy, and yet, even he still doesn’t quite regard Data as a true equal who’s afforded the same rights and liberties that other crew members may take for granted. The Offspring has succeeded in forcing both Picard and myself to examine our own worldviews, to be able to see from the perspective of someone completely different from us and the struggles that they face, and that for me is its greatest accomplishment.
Live long and prosper,
– Willow Y.