Plot Synopsis: Data successfully creates a new android, which he views as his child. However, the magnitude of his accomplishment quickly attracts the scrutiny of Starfleet, who wants to separate the child from Data and the Enterprise for study. Matters are complicated further when she begins to develop beyond Data’s abilities.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser here is brief but conveys really everything needed to provoke our interest. Data made a freakin’ baby! Plot A is about Data and Lal, there is no plot B. The majority of this plot is taken with Lal learning her capabilities and Data’s relationship with her. It’s well-paced, grounded and never dull. The last 15+ minutes concern Starfleet attempting to remove Lal from the Enterprise and Data, and take her to a research base. This where the emotional punch of this episode comes. No real plot holes, or even any flaws here.
Favorite Scenes: All of the scenes involving Lal learning are great. They are fun, interesting, and occasionally touching–and what parent wouldn’t want to switch off their kid on occasion? Things reaching their philosophical high point when Data and Lal talk about the importance of “striving to be more than we are” in the face of their limitations. My other favorite scenes both take place at the end: the observation lounge scene where Picard stands up for Data to Admiral Haftel, and the death of Lal herself. The emotional impact of Data and Lal having their last conversation is powerful. It’s impossible to capture by quoting the scene, but I’ll try anyway:
Data: Lal, I am unable to correct the system failure.
Lal: I know.
Data: We must say goodbye now.
Lal: I feel–
Data: What do you feel, Lal?
Lal: I love you father!
Data, after a heartbreaking moment: I wish I could feel it with you.
Lal: I will feel it for both of us…thank you for my life.
Use of Cast/Characters: Data takes center stage in this episode, as you’d expect. His acting is so subtle, so heartfelt, and at the same time he never breaks character and shows outward emotion. I don’t really know how he did it, but Patrick praised Brent’s performance as one that should have garnered him awards. Picard is excellent again as the captain, shining most brightly when standing up to Starfleet itself to keep a family together. I sound like a broken record at this point, but isn’t he the kind of commander you’d want if you were in Data’s place? Riker has a total of one scene (albeit a funny one), and Doctor and Wes Crusher have about the same amount of screen time. Worf gets a couple of lines I think, and poor Geordi has none at all. Guinan has a scene or two of her own, which is nice. Nicolas Coster plays Admiral Haftel and does a good job overall. Hallie Todd plays Lal, and she does a great job. She’s not quite as subtle as Spiner, but she gives a very solid performance throughout and is a pleasure to watch.
Blu Ray Version: This episode has a commentary, if you are interested.
Nitpicks: When Picard is sleeping in his quarters, do we need to see his nipple sticking out? Also, does Admiral Haftel really need to staunchly refuse Data coming to the research station as Picard proposed? Seems to me a good compromise, giving how much resistance he was getting from everyone. That’s not really an option for the show, since Brent Spiner still needs to be on it, but maybe a more cogent argument could have been given than “effective isolation.”
Overall Impression: This is an outstanding character-centered episode. One could argue that this is simply a reflavoring of The Measure of a Man, but that would be doing this episode a great injustice. What I love here is that this episode evokes genuine sentiment, without getting sentimental. It’s entertaining without relying on special effects or overly-dramatic scenes. It’s a very personal story of a father/daughter relationship, and that dynamic wins us over. I also enjoyed that the antagonist is not two-dimensional. He actually presents some solid arguments for his position, and when things change he asks to help–and Data accepts. Episodes like this one are why TNG is my favorite show of all time. I rate this episode 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: The script for this episode was a spec script, which means a fan wrote it and sent it in, by the name of Rene Echevarria. He got hired and would go on to write 17 more episodes for TNG, and 23 for DS9. Leonard Crofoot played Lal-as-mannequin, and this wasn’t his first appearance. Go back and watch Angel One; he played Trent, Beata’s personal secretary. He also appears in the Voyager episode Virtuoso. According to Michael Westmore, the make-up designer, the most memorable character make-up wise for the entire series was mannequin-Lal.
We had a headpiece that covered his entire head. There were chrome silverized contact lenses made for him. The biggest thing was we made a gigantic diaper. A big, rubber diaper that we glued him into. It took four hours to put him into it. And it took two or three hours to clean him up at night. And I literally had a makeup artist get in the shower and scrub with him. Once all this rubber was on him, his entire body was coated in a copperish gold paint that we never had to touch him up during the day. He could touch things and it wouldn’t rub off. That’s why it took so long to clean him up at night.
This is also the first time a cast member directed an episode, and it was Jonathan Frakes. He would, of course, go on to direct more episodes, movies, and is a regular director these days. He tells how he studied and begged to direct an episode until Rick Berman relented. According to Frakes, after the clapper finished the first take everyone on the set started applauding and they gave him an old-fashioned, signed megaphone. For any Lizzie McGuire fans out there, you may recognize Lal because Hallie also played Jo McGuire, Lizzie’s mom. Finally, this is one of the few TNG bottle shows, where every scene takes place on the ship. Michael Piller considers this one of his three favorite episodes, Michael Dorn said it’s one of his two favorite episodes, Frakes says it’s one of the best TNG episodes ever written, and Spiner said it was “maybe as good as we got.”
Missable/Unmissable? One of the finest episodes of the season and probably the series. Unmissable. The tradition continues with the next one as well.