Melinda Snodgrass' writing career in TNG started out really strong but ended being a very mixed bag down the road. While she improved somewhat in Season 3 after her dreadful second episode "Up the Long Ladder", there were other elements in play that just weren't working out for her. Almost all the creative staff had left including Maurice Hurley (Yay for us, boo for her), Gene still had an iron fist on a lot of the projects and some of the actors were weighing in on her writing. And while "The Offspring" is not an episode she wrote (though she did do some re-writes), it's the episode I regard as "The Straw that broke the camel's back" that lead to Melinda's departure from the series. It's essentially "The Measure Of A Man" again only with less long term meaning and more of the episodic structure that renders it almost meaningless. Despite that set up, there are a lot of things that work well in this episode, but it all comes crashing down in the end which I'll get into later.
Our episode opens with Troi, Wesley and Geordi being introduced to Data's newest creation named Lal. Only this isn't any kind of experiment or simple creation that Data has created. He calls Lal his child and Lal likewise calls him father. Hmm.
Than we introduce Picard's role into this episode, and it's a mess to say the least. If this was a story taken on it's own with no connections to any episode that came before it, these scenes with Picard could have worked. But when you take everything that has happened in TNG into account, Picard is acting almost completely out of character. For example, here is Picard's last line in defense of Data being a form of life.
Picard: And the decision you reach here today will determine how we will regard this creation of our genius. It will reveal the kind of a people we are, what he is destined to be. It will reach far beyond this courtroom and this one android. It could significantly redefine the boundaries of personal liberty and freedom, expanding them for some, savagely curtailing them for others. Are you prepared to condemn him and all who come after him to servitude and slavery? Your Honour, Starfleet was founded to seek out new life. Well, there it sits. Waiting.
And the very first lines of Picard from this episode?
Picard: I insist we do whatever we can to discourage the perception of this new android as a child. It is not a child. It is an invention, albeit an extraordinary one.
So one moment Picard is doing his best to show Starfleet that Data shouldn't be treated as a 'thing', and here he's essentially telling everyone to do whatever it takes to insist that Data regard Lal as a 'thing'. Again, if "The Measure of a Man" never happened, this could work, but since I'm the kind of viewer who likes to believe things matter, this doesn't work at all. Not even the little mention of the trial does a good job at rectifying this behavior.
To make things even more awkward, Lal isn't even the first so-called life form that someone onboard the Enterprise has created without telling anyone. Remember the episode "Evolution" where Wesley created an advance race of sentient nanites and only told people about it after it started to become a big deal? Those little buggers not only threatened the Enterprise, they actually tried to MURDER someone. After Picard reached an understanding with them, he was more than happy to give them a planet of their own. Now with Data's creation of Lal, who's only scary moment was her randomly grabbing and kissing Riker, is a situation that's being treated like a young teenage girl getting pregnant just for the heck of it.
And things get even more predictable with the arrival of "evil starfleet admiral" who wants to take a scared Lal away from Data and dissect her innards for science!
I should point out that despite a lot of these problematic moments in this episode, everything involving Data, Lal and the rest of the crew work out very well. Hallie Todd delivers a wonderful performance as Lal and the dialogue is top notch. Which is why it all comes crashing down at the end.
After being told that she will have to leave the Enterprise, Lal gets scared and starts to malfunction. This malfunction is so catastrophic that Data is incapable of repairing it, and Lal dies right after telling her father that she loves him. Yep. A great female character is introduced and killed off, and if you count last week's episode, this makes it the second time in a row. But what really brings this episode down even further than that is this closing line by Data.
Data: I thank you for your sympathy, but she is here. Her presence so enriched my life that I could not allow her to pass into oblivion. So I incorporated her programs back into my own. I have transferred her memories to me. #@&!#)(*UR%)#!(%$*!)_@(b(##)e*!Uw@$)%&ar!#(*e$_o)! f(@n#_ew$~52!!!!!!!!!!!
The uh... "Women in Refrigerators" is a trope that's used to describe situations where "a woman is either de-powered, raped, killed or cut up and stuck in the refrigerator in order to progress the male protagonist's story line." Well, not only does Lal's death fit that bill, the episode itself actually spells it out for us. Lal is dead, but that's ok because Data got to benefit from it!
A nice premise with a lot of great moments that is sadly undermined when coupled with everything that has happened before it and more so by it's episodic nature. Even though this episode is regarded as a favorite by Frakes and Dorn, Rick Berman apparently didn't like the episode since his Data centric story "Brothers" would not only make no mention of Lal, the very premise would have you believe she never even existed. So, another one bites the dust.