Monday, March 13, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 68 (Tin Man)

I remember a lot of the episodes from Star Trek:  The Next Generation as being pretty good.  Upon rewatching them, maybe not so much.  One of the episodes I don’t particularly remember liking was Tin Man.  I think mostly it was the lack of a real story coupled with an annoying guest character.

The episode starts with the Enterprise being intercepted by another Starfleet ship.  They have new orders and a passenger.  The passenger will fill the crew of the Enterprise in on the mission, which is too important to risk communicating over normal communication lines.  The passenger is Tam Elbrun, a Betazoid that both Commander Riker and Counselor Troi know.  Riker recognizes the name from a botched first-contact mission.  (Elbrun supposedly missed an important detail, but Elbrun says the captain of the mission that ignored his advice.)  Troi recognizes the name as a former patient.

Elbrun is a special kind of Betazoid.  Betazoids are empathic, but develop this ability in their teens.  Elbrun had his empathic abilities turned on at birth.  As a result, he never really learned the coping mechanisms necessary to deal with the onslaught of emotions and thoughts that come with living in a society.  However, he’s a specialist in first contact and first contact is what this mission is about.

The Enterprise is to go to a remote location where a life form has been spotted near a star that’s about to explode.  It’s a big life form capable of serving as a ship.  The idea is to make contact to persuade this life form, dubbed Tin Man, to come back to the Federation.  The Romulans have a similar plan.  They want to bring back Tin Man to Romulan space.  In fact, they send two ships, overtaxing one just so they can get there first.

Well, Tin Man will have none of that.  He’s suicidal.  Tam Elbrun makes contact impossibly early, even by Betazoid standards.  He senses that Tin Man (actual name: Gomtuu) had a crew, but lost said crew to a radiation burst.  So, Tin Man decided to find the nearest soon-to-explode star and wait for the end to come.  He tells all this to Troi, but neither one decides to tell the captain.

Instead, they wait for the Romulans to arrive.  When the Romulans decide to kill Tin Man rather than let the Federation have him, Elbrun warns Tin Man, who promptly destroys the Romulan ship and damages the Enterprise.  Captain Picard is talked into letting Elbrun beam over with Data.  When the other Romulan ship gets there, they seek vengeance, which Elbrun and Tin Man won’t allow.  Instead of destroying a second Romulan ship, Tin Man sends both ships in different directions, far enough away that the exploding star can be seen without any harm coming to them.  Data is beamed back to the Enterprise to tell the crew that Elbrun won’t be joining them.

When I first watched the episode years ago, I remember being happy that Elbrun found a home.  He was someone that was tortured by thousands of voices bombarding him at once.  Now, he had one voice to focus on and it wasn’t so bad.  I do remember him being a little annoying.  Upon rewatching the episode, I realized that he was very annoying.  I think this is one of those cases where I became less sympathetic to the character.

Elbrun often completes other people’s sentences or responds to them without letting them speak.  We get a lot of quick, one-sided conversations.  Most of those conversations are about other peoples’ doubts about or criticisms of Elbrun.  This is someone who comes across as very tortured.  In fact, he takes a liking to Data simply because he can’t read the android.  It’s nice for him to have to actually talk to someone.  He comes across as overly childish, which may have been the point, but it’s annoying.

Data does get the chance to grow.  By dealing with Elbrun and seeing him go to Tin Man and find his place, Data realizes that his place is on the Enterprise.  He seems to understand what Elbrun is going through on some level.  I had forgotten about this, but it was a nice touch.

I remember wondering what happened to Elbrun and Tin Man.  We never find out, as the characters are never mentioned again.  I don’t know if I would have wanted a second episode, but it might have been nice to have a mention.  Maybe Elbrun could have sent Data a message or something.  The episode is unsatisfying, mostly for that reason.

Most of the episode is buildup.  We see the Enterprise racing against the Romulans.  When they get there, Elbrun serves mostly as a mouthpiece, telling us what pain Tin Man is in.  In the end, Tin Man and Elbrun just send everyone away.  We don’t get any idea of what happens next.  There’s no sighting by other ships or long range probes.  They don’t visit or send a long-range message that all is well.  Tin Man hasn’t seen another of his race in millennia.  It would have been nice to find out that Tin Man was reunited with his race.

If you’re looking for an episode to introduce you to the show, this isn’t it.  If you’re watching from the beginning, you might be able to tolerate it.  However, I wouldn’t make this the first episode you watch.  You could easily skip it without worrying about it.

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