Data has been acting unusually secretively since returning from a cybernetics conference. The reason soon becomes clear when he calls in Geordi, Troi, and (for whatever reason) Wesley to meet his creation: Lal, an android patterned after himself, whom he regards as his child.
Picard is at first hesitant (well, to be fair, furious) about this development, particularly about not having been told ahead of time, and is not particularly assuaged when Data points out that nobody else on the ship has to get his permission to procreate. He does grudgingly admit that Data is probably the best person to guide Lal into sentience, and that if the two of them have decided that they are father and daughter, nobody else has the right to tell them otherwise.
Starfleet, it turns out, does not agree. They decide that Lal should be moved to an advanced research facility, and specifically outside of Data's influence. And then send over an officious Admiral to ensure that this be so.
Meanwhile, Data is teaching Lal everything he can about humans and functioning in human society. In order to giver her better opportunity to observe humans in their natural habitat, he apprentices Lal to Guinan, where she spends her time serving drinks and wondering loudly why humans sometimes feel the need to bite each other. When Guinan explains about kissing, she decides to try it out on the first available candidate she sees - Commander Riker, just back from shore leave, and probably the only person on the ship who doesn't know what's going on by this point.
The officious Admiral arrives, his decision to remove Lal already made. But Lal, rather than having a stunted development, seems to actually have exceeded Data's abilities. Not only does she use contractions, but she also starts experiencing actual emotions. Unfortunately, the emotion is fear at the prospect of being forcibly parted from her father. Data and Picard have had no particular success at convincing the Admiral to change his mind, and he goes so far as to order
Data to hand Lal over. This breach of basic civil rights (which Data was granted back in "The Measure Of A Man"
) so offends Picard that he puts his own career on the line to oppose it.
The point turns out to be moot, however. Lal's emotions were apparently an early symptom of a fatal cascade fault. Data and the Admiral put aside their differences to try to save her, but their efforts are ultimately in vain. Lal dies after telling her father she loves him, but Data transfers her memories to his own neural net so she will always remain a part of him.
- Adult Fear: The horrible truth that the government has come for your child to take them away and perform experiments on them. Partially subverted in that Data is an emotionless android and thus cannot feel fear, but Lal and Picard certainly do.
Picard: Order a man to hand his child over to the state? Not while I'm his Captain.
- Call Back: "He was remarkable" referencing Bruce Maddox in "The Measure of a Man."
- Character Development: In episode, Picard goes from discouraging Data from viewing Lal as his child to his strongest supporter of his rights as a parent. The Admiral and Lal could also count.
- The Comically Serious: Lal, to her own confusion.
Lal: Then, without understanding humor, I have somehow mastered it.
- Constantly Curious: Lal, because she was just created.
- Directed by Cast Member: Jonathan Frakes, which is perhaps why Riker is barely in this episode.
- Also perhaps the reason his main contribution to the plot is to kiss the guest star...
- Double Standard: Data refers to the Admiral questioning his abilities as a first time parent and wonders if anyone questioned the Admiral when his first child was born.
- Exact Words: When Haftel states Data can only teach Lal so much, after a moment, she agrees. She then says once she learned all her father had to teach her, then it would be logical to go elsewhere.
- Face Palm: Another TNG example when Data talks about parenting with Picard, causing the captain to place both hands on his face.
- A Father to His Men: Picard, as usual.
Picard: Order a man to hand his child over to the state? Not while I am his captain.
- Grow Beyond Her Programmming: This happens to Lal, gradually. First she's able to use contractions. Then she outright feels genuine emotions...unfortunately. Her physical body can't handle the new inputs, and starts to shut down. Basically, her hardware crashes while trying to run a program too advanced for it.
- He Will Not Cry, So I Cry for Him: Data regrets that he cannot return Lal's feelings of love, so she says she will feel it for both of them.
- I Am Starfleet: The Admiral claims this as justification for his choices in removing for Lal.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Perhaps bordering on Even Evil Has Standards, but the character doesn't seem meant to be outright evil. But while Haftel is firmly entrenched in his prejudice against Data, that doesn't mean he won't try to help save Lal's life despite disagreeing about the sapience and rights of said life.
- Little "No": Picard's Crowning Moment of Awesome in this episode when he calmly but firmly tells Data to ignore any orders from Admiral Haftel to hand over Lal.
Admiral Haftel: Then I regret that must order you to tranport Lal aboard my ship.
Data rises and prepares to obey.
Picard: Belay that order, Mr Data.
Haftel: I beg your pardon?
Picard: I will take this to Starfleet myself.
Haftel: I am Starfleet, Captain. Proceed, Commander.
Picard: Hold your ground, Mr Data.
- Meaningful Name: According to the episode, at least, Lal is a Hindi word meaning "beloved".
- Overprotective Dad: Data, particularly with respect to Riker.
Data: Commander - I would like to know what your intentions are regarding my daughter.
Riker: Your daughter????
- Patrick Stewart Speech: "There are times sir when men of good conscience cannot blindly follow orders."
- Robot Girl: Lal.
- Soul Fragment: At the end of the episode, Data transfers what remains of Lal into his own neural network.
- Tearjerker: Lal's dying, Data's attempt to save her, and Haftel's description of the emotionaless desperation Data had going, moving so fast Haftel could barely see what was happening, all to save his child's life.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human? / Inhumanable Alien Rights: Haftel does not see Data as having full rights and Lal is nothing more than an advanced computer he wants to program to his own views. Picard, having helped define their rights in "Measure of a Man," becomes Data's defender to make sure their rights are not infringed upon.