Friday, December 11, 2020

Star Trek: The Offspring

Episode: "The Offspring"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 3, Episode 16
Original Air Date: March 12, 1990

Data becomes a father.  He has built an android with a positonic brain like his own, transferring some of his own neural pathways to the new entity.  He names her Lal and he claims her as his daughter.

The news is shocking to Data's friends.  Picard is initially appalled that he wasn't consulted before Data embarked on the project.  Data defends his rights as a sentient being seeking to procreate and in time, the captain accepts Data's point of view.  The higher powers at Starfleet take a bit more convincing.

"The Offspring" is my favorite episode.  Lal's lightning quick journey from birth to emotional being to demise is amusing, touching, frustrating, inspiring and ultimately heart-breaking.  The final exchange between Data and Lal is one of the most moving passages in the entire franchise:

Lal: I love you, father.
Data: I wish I could feel it with you.
Lal: I will feel it for both of us... thank you for my life.

Data stories tend to do well in best episode rankings.  I have to admit they don't always work for me.  No matter the shifting dynamics around him, Data is a static character.  Others grow from the experience.  He learns but is ultimately unchanged.  "The Offspring" is an exception.  Data is always reaching to be more human and this is the story in which I feel he comes closest to reaching it, or at least appreciating the value in the aspiration itself.  Are wishing to love and loving really so different?  Yes, they are.  But the wish is a huge step forward.  In the end, Data physically embeds aspects of Lal's experience into his own brain.  In effect, he grows.

The episode is important for a couple of behind the scenes personnel reasons.  It is the first episode directed by Jonathan Frakes.  While I like to poke fun at Frakes's handsome woodenness on-screen, he has been both successful and effective behind the camera.  He is one of only two people - and the only cast member - to direct both a TV episode (22 of them, actually) and a movie (2).  "The Offspring" was an awfully good start.

"The Offspring" is also the writing debut for Rene Echevarria.  It was the beginning of a long association for Echevarria, a writer, producer and story editor for numerous TNG and DS9 episodes.  Not coincidentally, he has written several of the episodes I like best.  He brought a broad emotional range to Star Trek with ripples felt well into the current century.


Acting Notes

Hallie Todd (Lal) was born Hallie Jane Eckstein, January 7, 1962 in Los Angeles, California.  She was born into a show biz family.  Her mother, actress Ann Morgan Guilbert, would be familiar to fans of The Dick Van Dyke Show.  

In fact, mom was pregnant with Hallie during filming of the show, the physical manifestations cleverly hidden through costuming.  Todd's father, George Eckstein, was a writer and producer.  Todd got her training at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts.

Most of Todd's credits have been on television.  She had principal roles on Brothers, Going Places, Life with Roger and Lizzie McGuire.  In addition to Trek, she made guest appearances on Growing Pains, The Golden Girls and Murder, She Wrote.  More recently, she makes films with her husband and daughter, both writers, for their family-owned production company: In House Media Film Partners.

She has also written two books: Being Young Actors and Parenting the Young Actor.

17 comments:

  1. Certainly, the attachment between father and "offspring" is well-considered here. Even though Data could not generate it from within, he could explore it by downloading Lal's consciousness into his own. My favorite scene is when Lal lifted Riker off his feet and over the bar to kiss him.

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    1. I loved that, too, Geo. Since Riker was directing this episode, he must not have wanted to put himself in front of the camera too much. That one scene, where kind of plays the boob, is so much fun.

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    2. Yes, that's a great moment. The "What are your intentions with my daughter?" line cements it, too.

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    1. Me, too. I always smile when I see his name in the credits.

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  3. That was my favorite episode, for all the reasons about which you have written. When the Starfleet guy who wanted to take Lal away came out from surgery, his voice showed real emotion. The sound of his voice and the message will always stick in my mind.

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    1. Yes, that moment is a wonderful vindication for Data, too. His "I would like to assist you" line before the procedure is a nice one, too. That's the moment when I first sense he understands the gravity of the situation for Data.

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  4. I had forgotten this episode. It's kind of the basis for the whole Picard series, though.
    Probably, though, since I already finished Picard, I won't go back and watch this right now.

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  5. Yeah, certainly one of the best episodes of TNG. The emotional arc and the acting are top-notch (I'm with you, Susan... the way that admiral said one word -- "hands" -- gets me every time). But I think the plotting and pacing of the scenes is worthy of praise, too. Not a single second seems either wasted or rushed.

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    1. Yes. Agreed. Credit to Hallie Todd, too. That's a demanding part and she was all in.

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  6. What can I write, other than this episode is a masterpiece.

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  7. I’ve never been overly fond of it. Seems fairly perfunctory, a revisiting of “The Measure of a Man” in some respects and perhaps a bit too handy a package. There are other, similar episodes in the franchise that pull it off better.

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    1. "Measure" is outstanding, of course, but for me, it falls short of "Offspring." And the more I think about it, the more I think the credit goes to the Echevarria for the invention of the Lal character and Todd for her performance. The moment when she first feels pain takes us into new territory. We never see that vulnerability in either Data or Lore. Even when his life threatened in "Measure," Data's reaction is intellectual rather than anything approaching passion. It's an emotional struggle for the others but not for him. That's the character's limit, I get it. But in my own quest for a compelling story, I guess I prefer Lal's.

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