Mark Watches ‘The Next Generation’: S03E16 – The Offspring

In the sixteenth episode of the third season of The Next Generation, this is unnerving and touching at the same time. I AM A MESS OF CONFLICTING EMOTIONS. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

Trigger Warning: For cissexism, consent.

There are parts of this that I love, and then there are parts of this that made me relentlessly uncomfortable. As a whole, it’s a fascinating attempt to address some of the ethical and moral issues around Data and androids. LET US DISCUSS.

Lal

Okay, I honestly spent most of this episode convinced that Data had named his “child” LOL. That’s my own problem and less of one I could blame on anyone else. I think that Lal is an odd choice for a name in general, and that contributes to many of the awkward elements of this episode. The original version of Lal? Utterly horrifying to look at. Like, there was some uncanny valley shit going on there that was not at all okay. As Data begins to help Lal come into being, the writers drop an unnecessary amount of gender essentialism into the story. It still astounds me that people think that with the variety and openness of science fiction – particularly science fiction set in the endless reaches of space – that the gender binary is something that exists everywhere for all time. Surely, just based on the odds alone, there’d be more than just female and male? And yet, Lal parades about the Enterprise, identifying people by their supposed gender, all so they can eventually choose who they want to be. Oh my god, that scene in the Holodeck is just… good lord. Really not fun to watch? It’s just so weird in a way that doesn’t really help the story, you know?

The Ethics of Creating Life

I do like the moral issues brought up by this episode, and that’s probably the most compelling part of “The Offspring.” Does this count as creating life, or is Lal nothing more than an invention? If Data counts as a life form, then it’s understandable that Lal does, too. I also got why Picard had such an objection because CHILD HATE. Okay, I’m poking fun at him, as he clearly doesn’t hate children. He’d just rather they have nothing to do with him? Regardless, I found it really charming that Picard came around to supporting Data, so much so that he was ready to do anything to help Data short of defying Starfleet Command.

This is all complicated by the fact that Lal, unlike Data, becomes far more sentient than him, developing to a point where she starts to exhibit human emotions. In many ways, Lal is more advanced than Data is, which presents a problem: can Data actually teach Lal properly? Once Starfleet gets involved, this becomes the central question. Starfleet is convinced that Lal is not sentient or worthy of that sort of respect, and Haftel speaks of Lal as if she is nothing more than a machine or an experiment. It’s clear to the audience that Lal is anything but this, particularly in that scene with Deanna Troi where she begins to exhibit signs of fear.

But I’m jumping ahead of myself. Data can provide an educational basis for Lal’s learning, but like his role in “Deja Q,” he’s still a nonhuman entity trying to teach another nonhuman entity how to be human. He’ll always be limited, but I believe that Lal’s immersion within the crew of the Enterprise would have provided what Data lacked. What better place to learn about human behavior than within a ship full of hundreds of humans?

Rights

Actually, now that I’m thinking back on this episode, I think it’s a lot stronger than I had originally thought. God, all the shit about Lal’s right to exist? Data’s need to act as the parent in this relationship? Picard refusing to hand over a child to the state??? Goddamn, this is some heavy shit, and it was refreshing to see how willing the writers were to delve into it. (I blame my initial perception of this episode on the fact that I started getting a migraine about halfway through this episode.) The show overwhelmingly concludes that Lal deserved all the rights afforded to sentient beings and that Haftel was wrong to try to pry Lal from her father.

The unfortunate thing is that the very act itself was so traumatizing that Lal’s positronic brain overloaded. I can’t say I expected Lal to outlast this episode, but I did not anticipate this story taking such a grim route. The final moments of “The Offspring” suggest some emotional development on Data’s part, but only because the experience of losing a child might have been traumatic to him. It’s just so sad, y’all! WHY MUST YOU HURT DATA THIS WAY?

I guess it’s pretty cool to have the review-writing process change my perception of an episode, so there’s that! This was remarkably solid, and I’m so pleased that The Next Generation is definitely getting better.

The video for “The Offspring” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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