STAR TREK At 50: The Next Generation - The Offspring

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Martin Rayburn finds a very personal connection to The Offspring.

The Offspring is not an episode that tends to feature on many people's 'best of' lists when it comes to Star Trek: The Next Generation - I'm guilty of that too, as it didn't feature on mine - but it's one which I've always liked a lot and have recently found an even deeper love for.

Season 3 was the year, for me anyway, when the show really found its feet, with the cast appearing much more comfortable in character and the writers scoring a multitude of successes. However, I say that with hindsight, as The Offspring was actually one of the very first episodes of The Next Generation I saw. The show was not broadcast on UK television until quite some time after the US and so I'd rent VHS tapes from my local video rental store. They had a highly limited selection which defied any logic. They had the feature length pilot, a couple of season 2 tapes and a double bill of this and Yesterday's Enterprise.

The Offspring sees Data create another android. His child. He gifts it with intelligence and freewill, much like himself, and allows the android to chose their own sex. Initially Picard isn't overly happy with this and scolds Data for creating another life-form without first consulting him, but Data points out that other crew members do not consult the Captain with their plans to procreate. Picard's reaction is a typical one of someone being faced with something he doesn't want to deal with and doesn't fully understand, and so he reacts accordingly. However, over time, Captain Picard learns that he in fact is wrong about his judgment of the situation. This journey from ignorance to enlightenment is exactly how an educated, thoughtful person can evolve their positions when more facts are discovered.

The android, named Lal, selects the appearance of a female human. Data now has a "daughter", and like any good parent sets about guiding her and teaching her about the world around her. That is until Star Fleet insist that Lal is taken to a research station away from Data, as they believe they can raise her better. Fortunately Data now has Picard in his corner, and the Captain disobeys a direct order by refusing to hand Lal over, feeling the child should be able to choose what she wants.

As well as featuring excellent performances, especially from Brent Spiner as Data, Hallie Todd as Lal and Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard, the dialogue between the characters is exceptional. The Offspring also presents many interesting philosophical and ethical issues, such as when Admiral Haftel from Star Fleet simply can not comprehend a loving bond between two artificial life-forms, and so we explore one of the main concepts that Star Trek has always tried to convey; that certain rights are universal, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, etc. As Guinan points out, affection is something that happens between two individuals, whether that's an android father/daughter bond or a same sex relationship, just because someone can't comprehend it it doesn't mean that it's any less real.

The ending of this episode, where Lal begins to fail, is so very touching, even more so to me now.

There's a moment when Lal thanks her father for giving her life. My own father passed away last year and, although we'd not been close for some time, I had the chance to do the same thing. Rewatching this episode is a good reminder that, for all their faults and imperfections, parents nearly always mean well in bringing us into the world and giving us the gift of life. The majority of them only want the best for us, they may have their hopes and dreams for us which don't always align with our own, but giving us the freewill to chose our own paths in life and by letting us walk wherever that path may take us, well that's the biggest gift of all.

By day, an ordinary bloke in a dull 9 to 5. By night, a tired ordinary bloke. Martin still hasn't worked out what he wants to do when he grows up. He is currently 49.

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