Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Tin Man

This week's Star Trek: TNG look-back comes to a trite, predictable episode that you're best off skipping...

This review contains spoilers.

3.20 Tin Man

The Enterprise’s mission is interrupted by the arrival of the USS Hood, which gives them a new assignment: take Tam Elbrun – a Betazoid emissary with hyper-acute telepathic abilities – into Romulan-claimed space so that he can make contact with an space-based entity known as the “Tin Man”. I’ll warn you, this sounds much more exciting than it turns out to be.

Elbrun associated with a famously botched first contact mission, which makes the crew uneasy. Especially Riker, whose friends died in the incident. It also transpires that Elbrun was one of Troi’s patients when she was studying psychiatry, so remember: everything that happens from this point on is partially her fault.

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The plan is for Elbrun to use his mind-powers to coax the Tin Man away from the star it’s orbiting, which is about to explode. Unfortunately, he’s barely-hinged and overwhelmed by the number of minds on the Enterprise. He snaps at Riker. He gets annoyed at Picard. And he punches a replicator in the face when it gives him lapsang instead of oolong (probably). He’s fascinated by Data, though, because he cannot read robo-minds.

Unfortunately, the Romulans have also noticed the Tin Man, and they’ve got the pedal to the metal trying to beat the Enterprise to it. Elbrun accidentally reveals that he’s already in psychic contact with the Tin Man, which he describes as “ancient and lonely”. So, if you’ve seen any science fiction ever, you can probably guess where this is going to end up.

Just as Riker and Picard are starting to realise that Elbrun is basically insane, a Romulan Warbird catches up with the Enterprise and a brief firefight ensues. The Enterprise is disabled and the Warbird speeds towards the Tin Man. Elbrun uses their psychic link to warn it, which makes it emit a huge burst of energy that destroys the warbird completely, and further damages the Enterprise. No-one is especially pleased about this, not least a huge number of Romulan families who are going to spend the rest of their lives wondering what happened to their relative.

Picard is annoyed at how Elbrun displayed no regard for the Enterprise’s safety and refuses to allow Elbrun more contact with the Tin Man until the ship is fixed. The continue to study the Tin Man from a distance, and Elbrun reveals that he knows more about it now. The being is known as Gomtuu (9 points in Scrabble) it used to be a living starship. It hasn’t encountered another of its kind in thousands of years, and it’s using the star’s supernova to commit suicide in a needlessly dramatic fashion (let it never be said that living starships don’t know how to make an exit).

Elbrun wants to be beamed to the entity, but Picard is understandably wary of this, given what happened last time Elbrun spoke to it. When a second warbird arrives, they basically force the issue and Data agrees to beam over with Elbrun as a chaperone. Once there, he realises that the ship misses its crew and is depressed over its lack of purpose in life. So Elbrun decides to give it one by being its sole occupant. The Tin Man flings the Enterprise and the Warbird out of the system and returns Data to the bridge before the pair fly off into the universe, the problem of Gomtuu’s loneliness and depression now solved forever. Wait, how long do Betazoids live for again?

TNG WTF: At least one Romulan ship is destroyed in this episode. That’s a lot of lives extinguished because they happened to turn up in the same sector as the Enterprise. Elbrun is notionally responsible, but the Federation lets him up and leave in a star-cucumber, never to be seen again. The Romulans seem awfully fine about this, and the destruction of their ship. How did it not result in interstellar war?!

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TNG LOL: Elbrun arrives on a transfer from Starbase 123. Or Starbase Placeholder as it’s known in the writers room.

Who’s That Face?: Tam Elbrun? More like RICHARD WILKINS III, the mayor from Buffy. It’s fair to say he’s got a lot less to work with in TNG, since he’s playing Chump of the Week. I believe this gives that Harry Groener the distinction of being the only Star Trek actor to eat another Star Trek actor in another series (the Mayor eats Principal Snyder, aka Armin Shimerman/Quark). Although if you can prove me wrong on that front, please do.

Time Until Meeting: 7:23. They’ve barely even finished rolling the credits.

Captain’s Log: Here’s the big problem with this episode: you can guess the ending almost as soon as the basic set up is established. Here’s an emotionally disturbed telepath who specialises in contacting non-bipedal life and hates living with other people. Here’s a lonely space dart, built to be a starship but lacking a crew, depressed because it has nothing to live for. How could this POSSIBLY play out?

It doesn’t really help that Tam Elbun doesn’t seem like a remotely believable character. Who would willingly select this maniac for anything even approximating a delicate task? As established, Troi mentions that he was once her patient, and frankly, treatment is what he needs. If anyone else endangered the Enterprise that recklessly they’d be locked up!

Even if you forgive that, the episode doesn’t have a lot to do with the rest of the crew. There’s a lot of Geordi tweaking some minor settings in engineering while attempting to fix the ship, and those scenes feel like someone’s idea of what happens in Star Trek, rather than what actually happens in Star Trek. The final scene sort of brings it around to “Data learns that his home is on the Enterprise”, but that revelation doesn’t really spring out of the rest of the story, nor is it a question posed at any point prior to the final scenes. It’s easy to use Data as a way to give the episode the illusion of a point (ah, Data. Is there anything you can’t learn? Except how to use contractions, I mean.) but in this case it comes across as massively trite and worse still, tacked on.

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