Saturday, August 05, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 144 (Starship Mine)

Note:  This review gives away some details, including the ending.  If you don’t like spoilers, you might want to wait until viewing the episode to read the review.

When a good movie comes out, you get copycats.  You can’t have one alien-invasion movie without five other movies trying to steal there thunder.  It’s been noticed, for instance, that after Die Hard came out, a bunch of movies were pitched as Die Hard with a Twist.  You had Die Hard on a plane or underground or in a parking garage or whatever.  They might as well have called this episode Die Hard on the Enterprise.

The Enterprise is docked to have maintenance done due to baryon buildup.  What’s a baryon?  No, it’s not slang for a Barry Manilow fan.  It refers to subatomic particles made up of three quarks, such as protons and neutrons.  Apparently, the Enterprise has too many of these or something.  (I think the writers may have misused the term, much like people tend to misuse ‘chemical’.)

Either way, no one can stay onboard.  The first few minutes of the episode, Captain Picard is answering questions.  Dr. Crusher, for instance, is worried about some genetic material she’s running tests on.  The station didn’t make the right kind of accommodation.  Interestingly, no mention is made of Data’s cat or Picard‘s fish.  I’m assuming that the station has some sort of kennel or pet spa or something for crewmembers with pets.

Data is trying to make small talk with the captain to no avail.  As an android, he doesn’t have the same instinct for it as humans.  Picard recommends that he talk to the base’s commanding officer, Commander Hutchinson.  Hutchinson is hosting a reception for the ship’s senior staff.  It turns out that Hutchinson (you can call him Hutch) tends to corner people and bore them with inane trivia.  It’s kind of funny in that no one likes it.  In fact, Worf is able to get himself excused.  (Picard shuts down La Forge’s attempt, saying that he can’t have the entire senior staff miss out on the party.)

When Hutchinson mentions trails on the planet, Picard takes the opportunity to excuse himself.  He goes back to the ship for his saddle, as no serious rider would be without one.  (I’ll bet if Picard had a horse, he’d name it McGuffin.)  Picard plans on leaving the ship before the maintenance starts, but is delayed by one of the workers.  It seems that its taking longer than expected.  In reality, the crew is trying to steal some trilithium resin.  They’re not terrorists, per se.  Instead, they’re mercenaries that are going to sell the stuff to terrorists.

Oh, and the people staffing Hutchison’s party have guns.  When La Forge notices the unusual heat signature the guns are putting off, the staff takes everyone hostage, firing on La Forge and Hutchison.  Why?  I don’t know.  I don’t imagine the terrorists foresaw the need for hostages.  It was entirely unnecessary, as Data was doing a great impersonation of Hutchison.  It was amusing to see the two of them talk to each other.

Picard is able to subdue the terrorists and Data is able to incapacitate the captors.  In the end, Data is able to shut off the baryon sweep at the very last minute.  (Actually, the only reason for the bridge crew to be taken hostage is to draw out Picard’s pleas for help.  I never noticed that, even after several viewings.)

There are a few things I don’t get about the episode.  First, I never understood the title:  Starship Mine.  Is it a way of saying that the mercenaries are mining trilithium resin?  Is it because Picard is acting in a possessive manner towards the ship?  Picard does look longingly at the ship before he leaves.  It’s not like the ship is going anywhere.  Picard didn’t even look at the ship like that in Chain of Command, and he had been relieved of command in that episode.  Here, it’s just a little weird.

Another thing I didn’t get was what the point was supposed to be.  Many of the episodes have some hidden meaning.  It might deal with addiction or having to step up and take charge.  Not all of the messages are that obvious.  From what I can tell, the producers decided to go with an action episode.  There doesn’t even seem to be a strong crime-doesn’t-pay message.  It’s just Picard crawling through the ship and trying to outsmart the bad guys.

I do want to comment on the methods that Picard used to keep the mercenaries at bay.  He did managed to subdue a lot of them, but even then, many of them died.  He left one to be taken out by the baryon sweep.  Granted, the guy could have escaped.  However, the mercenary was still killed in a manner presumably so gruesome that it had to be shown off screen.  Also, the leader of the mercenaries is killed when trying to escape.  She’s dealing with a material known to be unstable, so it’s a foreseeable consequence that her ship would blow up.  However, it’s implied that Picard tampered with the storage device.  I find that just a little disturbing.

It seemed a little drawn out.  I mean, there had to be an easier way to get trilithium resin.  You have to get it from a ship?  And the flagship of the Federation, at that?   It’s a bit bold, if you ask me.  If they are mercenaries, it might make sense to set up a fake hazardous-waste disposal company and sell the resin they weren’t really disposing of.

This is one of those in-between episodes.  It’s not the best of the episodes, but it’s not the worst episode, either.  Is it worth watching?  If you’re binging on the series,  I’m not going to tell you to skip this one.  At least it’s enjoyable on the first viewing.  You also get to see Tim Russ before he became Tuvok.  If you get streaming or have the season set, go for it.  If not, don’t go out of your way.

IMDb page

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