Saturday, February 26, 2011

Have Some Kids, Lose Them To The Government: "The Offspring" Is Preachy, But Interesting!

The Good: Good acting, Interesting characters, Competent direction
The Bad: Idiotic plot development via the visiting admiral
The Basics: Despite problems with an almost absurd separation plot, "The Offspring" succeeds in developing Data and establishing Jonathan Frakes as a director.

Star Trek, as a franchise, is very good to actors. It allows actors to have a solid career and many of the actors benefit from being able to take on new projects as well. Leonard Nimoy, for example, began his directing career by directing Star Trek III The Search For Spock (reviewed here!). In a similar vein, Star Trek The Next Generation allowed its actors to direct and that tradition began with Jonathan Frakes directing "The Offspring."

"The Offspring" finds Data creating a child. No sooner has his creation, Lal, determined her gender and appearance, than she becomes the focus of a StarFleet investigation. As Data watches Lal develop, StarFleet becomes concerned that Data's child is something of a security risk. An admiral arrives and a philosophical debate begins weighing the risk of having two Soong-type androids in the same place versus Data's rights as a parent.

This is an episode that is stretching out in a great many directions and as a result might come across as scattered. The basic idea is a solid one: Data wishes to procreate and a conference prior to the episode supplies him with the technical expertise to allow him to create a child.

The problem is what to do with that concept. Apparently, the idea of Data simply be a father and exploring that is not enough to hold for the full hour. Instead, the plot becomes an almost absurd conflict between StarFleet and Data. The idea that StarFleet would be so vigorous with separating Data and Lal reads as ridiculous. Near the end, when the Admiral finally attempts to aid Data, it seems even more trivial.

Outside this rather integral flaw, "The Offspring" does some good work. Data makes an essential step in his exploration of humanity and it makes a great deal of sense when one considers his chronological age. It was pretty sharp of the writing staff to put "The Offspring" in the rotation where it ended up.

But more than simply developing Data, "The Offspring" creates a wonderful character, Lal. Lal has a wonderful run of it and her brief exploration of humanity is well worth the time.

"The Offspring" very effectively combines the tension of the StarFleet desire to protect its investment in Data with the humor of Lal's development. The episode uses some pretty basic physical comedy, such as Lal missing a ball tossed to her and then the delayed reaction of attempting to catch it.

And Jonathan Frakes makes an auspicious debut to directing. Riker has a diminished part in the piece, so Frakes has the chance to devote himself to making this episode work. His preparation pays off. "The Offspring" looks and feels like any other episode of Star Trek The Next Generation, but with a bit more attention to the subtlety of the movements of the characters. Brent Spiner, who has always had an excellent sense of physical expression is held on longer than some less astute directors in other episodes.

More than that, "The Offspring" offers a lot for those who are not fans of the series. This is a great, if accelerated, look at how humans develop and it has the dramatic impact of exploring the horrifying question of how much power the state ought to have over parents and their offspring. And it does that quite intelligently.

As a bonus, this is nice for fans of Star Trek The Next Generation. Seeing Data move along in a natural way works quite well. And the resolution to the episode is a huge step in the character's development. Fortunately, there is enough here to come back to again and again.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the third season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode and film reviews, please visit my index page on the subject!

© 2011, 2008, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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