Episode of the Week: 3x16 "The Offspring"

Discussion in 'The Next Generation' started by Jeyl, Oct 14, 2013.

  1. Jeyl

    Jeyl Commodore Commodore

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    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!

    CONCLUSION:
    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.

    STINGER:
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  2. BillJ

    BillJ Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Classic episode that stands with the best the franchise as a whole has ever produced.

    I really think you're reaching here and I don't know why?
     
  3. Jeyl

    Jeyl Commodore Commodore

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    Maybe it's more about how TNG will continue this trend with other female characters down the line. You think Tasha Yar got a good send off in the last episode? That will be changed later on. Or what about K'Ehleyr? Anyone like her? Or Sito Jaxa? And that's not even counting the female characters who will be used as moral punching bags. Oh, you think ensign Ro is going to amount to much?
     
  4. BillJ

    BillJ Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    I like all those characters and they got better send-offs than either Kirk, Data or the Enterprise-D. I'd rather them die heroically than be shuffled off to have babies.

    Every character is a tool to tell a story. They aren't real people.
     
  5. Jeyl

    Jeyl Commodore Commodore

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    What's wrong with people wanting to have children? Data wanted a child in this episode and you just called it "Classic episode that stands with the best the franchise as a whole has ever produced."

    These characters, while undoubtably not real are meant to elicit a real emotional response from it's viewers, especially in stories like this. If everyone who watched it only saw them as tools, why should they get emotionally involved? There's more to creating effective characters than simply writing them off as a tools.
     
  6. jimbotron

    jimbotron Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    This is another top-notch season 3 episode, but the core inconsistencies with The Measure of a Man are pretty glaring. Try watching them back-to-back, it's confusing. We see Picard on both sides of the argument in the same episode. First he calls it an invention, and then he tries to prevent a child from being separated from the parent.

    No mention of the first time a cast member directed an episode of Trek? (Trek movies excepted) Frakes broke the barrier, allowing many other Trek actors a chance to direct as well.

    True, but Lal did come up in season 7's Inheritance.
     
  7. Danny99

    Danny99 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    It was interesting to see Data trying to have a family, but the episode falls into the "evil admiral" trap. Once he shows up, it falls into the "look how enlightened our crew is" trap while the rest of the universe is staunch and inflexible. TNG seemed to do this a lot and it really brings down an episode that would've been stronger if that storyline had been dropped.
     
  8. Jeyl

    Jeyl Commodore Commodore

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    Indeed that is a very important landmark for television driven Star Trek. The first Star Trek regular cast member to direct a Star Trek "thing" I believe was Leonard Nimoy with Star Trek III, and Frakes was the first regular cast member to direct an episode for the series.... Now that I mention that, Jonathan Frakes is the only member of the Star Trek community to direct Star Trek productions for both film, television and video games.
     
  9. Kestrel

    Kestrel Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Ro amounted to a lot, I don't know why you'd bring her up. She betrayed Picard, but she was never portrayed as a monster.

    Sito's story was all about herself and redeeming the mistake she'd made - and for a Cardassian no less!

    Yar's death informed another female character, so it doesn't really count.
     
  10. JirinPanthosa

    JirinPanthosa Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I think The Offspring is a good episode but the attitude of the Admiral keeps it from being among the series best for me. The attitude of the Admiral contradicts the attitude of Starfleet for the rest of the series, and as OP mentioned treatment of Lal like a scientific curiosity owned by Starfleet contradicts Measure of a Man.

    Also I think the ending was a cop-out. This is the sort of episode you really shouldn't do unless you're prepared for the story fallout.
     
  11. Jeyl

    Jeyl Commodore Commodore

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    Actually it made it worse. We took what was this great moment for a character and all of a sudden decided "Let's just say some Romulan had sex with her, gave birth to an evil Romulan clone of herself and say she died later on." And what did it amount to? Some four and a half episode appearances and that's it. No conclusion to her character at all.
     
  12. Nebusj

    Nebusj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Actually, I think the inconsistency adds to the authenticity of the story. Picard has got high noble ideals, but like, I think, most of us when given a surprising new situation he wants to keep things as close to the status quo as possible. Given a bit of time his reason and the better angels of his nature that reason creates shine through, but, he can still be caught by surprise and in ways that aren't always creditable.

    Too much of this and you'd get a sloppy character, but I think the reflexive reaction of Picard here is just enough mud on the boots that keeps him more real.

    (It also serves the plot role of foreshadowing Admiral Jerkface's involvement and the change of heart that for Picard comes easier than for Jerkface.)
     
  13. bbailey861

    bbailey861 Admiral Premium Member

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    I was dismayed at Picard's initial reaction in this story - especially after "Measure of a Man". That notwithstanding, I liked the episode and thought that Hallie Todd did an excellent job playing Lal.
     
  14. Makarov

    Makarov Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Really like this episode. I don't find it too clashing with Measure of a Man. It always seemed to me the child aspect gives the stories a clear separation.

    I also don't think Lal's death is supposed to be "alright" - it was a total tragedy. Trope or not it seems like an appropriate end for the character.

    Also to say the episode is meaningless because it's episodic is really knocking TNG at it's core, since that's the nature of the beast.
     
  15. Jeyl

    Jeyl Commodore Commodore

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    I don't mind the episodic nature in general, I just don't like it when huge episodes like this goes unmentioned when it shouldn't. Even TOS had elements of continuity where events from previous episodes were brought up, and Season 3 of TNG does a lot in establishing elements that would later play major roles in the coming seasons.

    In Brothers, Data and Soong have this conversation.

    SOONG: I gave you the ability to choose whatever you wanted. To do whatever you wanted. Why Starfleet?
    DATA: It was Starfleet officers who rescued me.
    SOONG: Ah. So you decided to emulate your emancipators, huh? How disappointing.
    DATA: What choice of vocation would have met with your approval, sir?
    SOONG: Well, I often hoped you might become a scientist. Perhaps even a cyberneticist.
    DATA: To follow in your footsteps, as it were?
    SOONG: I see nothing wrong with that.

    Wouldn't Data's creation of Lal qualify as something a "cyberneticist" would do? I realize for Data that creating Lal was more than an experiment, but Data and Soong's conversation goes into that as well when they discuss the concepts of immortality and children. If Lal was such an important part in Data's life, why is there absolutely no mention of her here in Brothers? By all accounts, Data should be telling Soong that he is a grandfather and that through Lal, he was able to create genuine emotions.
     
  16. jimbotron

    jimbotron Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    True, but then Soong also didn't mention that he recreated his wife as an android who was capable of emotion, aging, emitting human life signs, etc. ;)
     
  17. Chensams

    Chensams Vice Admiral Admiral

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    This is one of my personal favorite episodes so I'm little shocked by the review. To each their own but you're reaching a little bit on the "women in refrigerators" analogy.

    I do agree with the issue with Picard. While the episode showed the metamorphosis of Picard's opinion to a more acceptable one at the end, the Measure of a Man did that already. It seemed out of place and not in character at the beginning. One would think Picard's initial reaction would be the one had later in the episode.

    Still, l love this episode and remember exactly where I was when I watched it the first time. I vividly remembering realizing "Damn, I love this show!!!"
     
  18. Makarov

    Makarov Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I agree it should've been mentioned in Brothers. But Picard lost an entire family in the Inner Light - far more traumatic and it's mentioned maybe a handful of times from then on.

    If you watch Brothers before this episode then it's not really a problem. I never really watch TNG in order anyway, it only matters with major major things like Pulaski and Picard's Borg encounter, most major events are forgotten immediately by the next episode.
     
  19. Jeyl

    Jeyl Commodore Commodore

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    Not quite the same thing considering that episode was written much, much later on in the series where as Lal was created in the previous season.
     
  20. Jeyl

    Jeyl Commodore Commodore

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    The whole general consensus regarding women in refrigerators is that you kill a female character off for the benefit of the male character, and that is exactly what happened here. The reason why I have such strong feelings when it comes to this trope is that even in Season 3, TNG is still not a female friendly show. The only two main female characters are still labeled as the on and off love interest to the two main male characters, and the other female character that had a position on the bridge who wasn't romantically attached to a male character was killed off.... twice.

    Speaking of Tasha,

    Data: My thoughts are not for Tasha, but for myself. I keep thinking how empty it will feel without her presence. Did I miss the point?
    Picard: No, you didn't, Data. You got it.​

    Lal's death is actually the second time a female character was killed off and Data got to grow because of it, so this trope is already a reoccurring theme. And if you think it gets better as the series goes on, you haven't been paying attention.