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Data decides to procreate... anyone want to wager that his android child lasts the episode...?
Riker’s away for a while, so everyone’s wondering who is going to do the stupidest thing in his absence. It turns out that it’s Data, who for no sensible reason at all has decided to make an androgynous android and call it his ‘offspring’. I’m sure he would have called it his ‘child’, but Troi already used that episode title last season and the writer’s thesaurus is always at hand! Anyway, it’s all fun and games on the Enterprise with Lal until Admiral Grumpypants arrives to take her away, causing her to have a digital nervous breakdown. That’s okay, though, because Data vampirically absorbs all her memories, which thankfully is not an option most parents get.
Why is Riker away from the ship...? The answer is that Jonathan Frakes has his directorial debut with this episode! Frakes had approached Rick Berman about directing, who told him he’d have to ‘go to school’, so he spent hundreds of hours in the editing room and so forth to learn the ropes. Eventually, Berman was happy to hand him a bottle show to direct, the first big step in a directorial career that eventually came to eclipse his acting.
This is René Echevarria's first screenplay for Trek, although he went on to write 18 TNG episodes and a further 23 episodes for DS9 - not to mention producing a good number of sci-fi and fantasy shows in his later career, including Dark Angel, The 4400, Terra Nova, Carnival Row, and... erm... Teen Wolf. Like Ronald D. Moore, he got his break submitting a spec script, and this is the episode that resulted. Originally called “Bloodlines” it transformed greatly after Michael Piller decided to take the story - and Echevarria - aboard. As Echevarria admits, a large part of that decision was because TNG always needed episodes taking place on the already-built sets like this one in order to save on costs. Piller did require some significant changes though:
“The Offspring” was a great spec script, except it was, at first, barely about our people. It was really about a very brand-new, exciting female android that Data created out of his own image, and it was all about her. And I said, ‘That’s great. But it can’t be about the guest star. It’s got to be about one of our people. It’s got to be about Data. It’s not about Data's child as much as it is about how Data deals with being a parent. Everybody will be able to relate to that and empathize with the problems he has as a parent of a new child. Especially when that child is threatened by all sorts of outside forces.’
The draft script also had a subplot with the Ferengi, as well as having the Enterprise’s computer as Lal’s ‘mother’, but all this fell out with the rewrites.
Amazingly for an episode about making an android, it’s surprisingly light on technobabble, although there is one mention of ‘sub-micron matrix transfer technology’ to justify being able to make Lal in the first place. Equally amazing is that there is a great deal of charming humour in the final screenplay, something that TNG often struggles with, but delivers brilliantly in this episode.
This is Hallie Todd’s episode as much as it is Brent Spiner’s, and Lal and Data have almost all the scenes.
Todd is charming as Lal, and works brilliantly with Spiner too, who is having a blast with the premise. Todd isn’t the only one to play Lal, however, as Leonard Crofoot plays the androgynous version of Lal, albeit with no on-screen credit for doing so. A shame, since Crofoot had to endure long hours in make-up and a great deal of tedious standing around to make the holodeck scenes, all without acknowledgement.
Hallie Todd was to land a choice roll in Disney’s Lizzie McGuire, where she played the mother, Jo, over both seasons. She also had a recurring role in the long-running (but mostly forgotten) sitcom Brothers, which was the stepping stone that got her the gig on TNG.
As is often the case for Data-focussed bottle shows, it’s an ensemble cast affair and everyone has a little something to do. Marina Sirtis’ Troi is rather clunky in her scenes, alas, but everyone else does fine, and the comedy lands well throughout. Patrick Stewart goes all-in as Picard in Act one, with a brilliant intensity that he then turns around in the later Acts to a sensitivity that feels well-earned.
Hat tip to Nicolas Coster as the villain of the piece, Admiral Haftel, who basically has to play Brian Brophy’s role from “The Measure of a Man” but as an Admiral. He works well in the role, but there’s not a great deal for him to do here except scowl.
Apparently, there was some kerfuffle over the scenes in Ten Forward with Guinan. The draft script had a line where Guinan was supposed to say “When a man and a woman are in love...” but Whoopi Goldberg refused to speak that line. “This show is beyond that,” she said, “it should be ‘when two people are in love...’”.
There was even talk about having a same-sex couple holding hands in the background, but producer David Livingston was called down to the set and prevented that from happening. Please don’t judge him too harshly about this: in 1990 it was impossible to engage with gay issues on network television without serious repercussions owing to the conservative political stance of advertisers at that time. Indeed, just a few weeks before this show aired, an episode of thirtysomething was pulled from ABC (and in fact never aired in the US) because it showed two gay men in bed together, just talking. Change did come in the 1990s, but it took time.
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
As a bottle show, there’s not much here for the SFX team other than some all-too-familiar stock footage of the Excelsior studio miniature and Crofoot’s androgynous make-up for Lal’s debut.
However, there is one magnificent scene in the holodeck when Lal is choosing her appearance and gender. For the first and only time in TNG, we get to see an Andorian - with brilliantly silly hair!
Gene Roddenberry had decreed ‘absolutely no antennae!’ for TNG, because on classic Trek the hot studio lights kept melting the glue causing them to fall off the poor Andorians time and time again. But because it was only for a few seconds, he let this one slide.
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