Beverly Crusher: Now why do I find that so hard to believe?
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 the officious Admiral Haftel to ensure that this be so.
Meanwhile, Data is teaching Lal everything he can about humans and functioning in human society. In order to give 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 no particular success in 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.
Tropes in this episode include:
- 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.
- Badass Boast: When Haftel continues to dismissively refer to Data and Lal as androids, mere technological constructs, Picard stands up and reminds him that they are sentient, with rights, which he himself defined in court.Picard: Order a man to hand his child over to the state? Not while I'm his Captain.
- Bottle Episode: Written, along with "Allegiance" to counteract the budget overruns incurred by "Yesterday's Enterprise.". This episode takes place aboard the Enterprise, featuring a single new set (Data's cybernetics lab).
- "He was remarkable," referencing Bruce Maddox in "The Measure of a Man."
- Another reference to the same episode:Picard: They're living, sentient beings. Their rights and privileges in society have been defined. I helped define them.
- Character Development: In this 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. Definitely takes after her daddy.
- 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.
- Picard at first tells Data he would have preferred to have been told ahead of time he was planning on creating another android, Data points out that he never observed other crew members talking to the Captain about plans to procreate.
- Exact Words: When Haftel states Data can only teach Lal so much, after a moment, she agrees. She then says that once she has learned all her father has 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.
- Grew Beyond Their Programming: 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.
- Holding Hands: Lal learns about the practice of humans holding hands and holds Data's hand.Lal: I learned today humans like to hold hands. It is a symbolic gesture of affection.
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Played for laughs when Lal hauls Riker across the bar and snogs him. Riker retreats in flustered confusion.
- I Am the Noun: When Picard objects to Admiral Haftel's order to remove Lal from the Enterprise, and threatens to go to Starfleet over the matter, Haftel says, "I am Starfleet!", as if that settles things.
- Insane Admiral: Haftel at first, but then subverted when he put his differences aside and tries to help Data save Lal.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Haftel is one of the most unpleasant admirals we meet in the franchise, but when he says that there are only two Soong-type androids in existence, and that keeping them both in the same place means that with a single Romulan torpedo both could be lost forever, even Picard has to acknowledge that he has a point. Data himself had even made a similar argument in favor of creating Lal, as her existence ensures the survival of Dr. Soong's work should something happen to Data. But this is not enough to sway Picard or Data.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: 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. When he goes to tell the others that Lal won't last much longer, Haftel is practically in tears and speaks with admiration toward Data's attempt to keep her alive.
- Little "No": Picard 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 transport 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."
- Moral Dissonance: Once again, Starfleet behaves as the unilateral arbiter of sapient rights. Especially egregious in this case since Lal is not Starfleet personnel, as Data is, and thus there is all the more reason that any dispute over her rights should be taken before a civilian court and not dictated by a Starfleet admiral. Not to mention that, as Picard damn well knows (see above), Data has been accorded the rights of a sentient being, and thus believes that those rights should extend to Lal as well.
- Mr. Fanservice: A rare moment from Picard; when he is woken by a message from Admiral Haftel in the middle of the night, he leaves his robe wide open, showing off much of his chest.
- No Social Skills: Lal, because she's only a few weeks old.
- 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:
- One that's delivered by...oh, just take a guess.Picard: There are times, sir, when men of good conscience cannot blindly follow orders.
- Data gives one to Lal:Lal: I watch them and I can do the things they do but I will never feel the emotions. I'll never know love.Data: It is a limitation we must learn to accept, Lal.Lal: Then why do you still try to emulate humans? What purpose does it serve except to remind you that you are incomplete?Data: I have asked myself that many times as I have struggled to be more human. Until I realized it is the struggle itself that is most important. We must strive to be more than we are, Lal. It does not matter that we will never reach our ultimate goal. The effort yields its own rewards.Lal: You are wise, Father.Data: It is the difference between knowledge and experience.
- One that's delivered by...oh, just take a guess.
- Ridiculously Human Robots: Data designed Lal to have more natural looking skin and eyes, making her visually indistinct from other humans. She also learns to emulate human behavior to a far greater degree than even her father, using contractions in her speech to his amazement.
- Robot Girl: Lal. Aside from her movements and mannerisms, she appears fully to be a teenage girl; Data was able to synthesize more natural-looking skin and eyes than his own.
- Soul Fragment: At the end of the episode, Data transfers what remains of Lal into his own neural network.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: 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 "The Measure of a Man," becomes Data's defender to make sure their rights are not infringed upon.