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Tin Man

Review

Series : The Next Generation Rating : 3
Disc No : 3.5 Episode : 67
First Aired : 23 Apr 1990 Stardate : 43779.3
Director : Robert Scheerer Year : 2366
Writers : David Bischoff, Dennis Putman Bailey Season : 3
Guest Cast :
Carl David Burks as Russell
Colm Meaney as Miles Edward O'Brien
Guy Vardaman as Darien Wallace
Harry Groener as Tam Elbrun
Michael Cananaugh as Captain Robert DeSoto
Peter Vogt as Romulan commander
Moral :
Companionship : There's somebody out there for everybody... even if it is a giant super-powerful space hedgehog
YATI : This episode catches Geordi out disobeying orders and lying to a senior officer. When the Enterprise gets crippled by Tin Man, Riker orders Geordi to give the shields top priority. A little later we see LaForge busy fixing the sensors, after which he reports back to Riker that the shields are still down and he is doing everything he can to fix them.

Data claims that the sensor signal behind them must be a sensor malfunction or a ship because there is "no known natural phenomenon capable of travel at warp velocities". What about the Crystalline Entity they met in "Silicon Avatar"? That could travel at warp speeds. So could the Dikironium Cloud Creature in the TOS episode "Obsession". And so could the neutronic wavefront seen in ENT "The Catwalk".
Great Moment : Tin man's ripple weapon - a reuse of the special effects from the motion picture for V'Ger merging with Decker and heading off to higher dimensions, incidentally.
Body Count : The entire crew of a Romulan Warbird.
Factoid : The sounds heard inside Tin Man are actually the slowed down noises of pizza digesting inside a Human stomach, recorded through a stethoscope.

The footage of Tin Man forming a chair from the floor was created by filming a chair made of wax melting and then running it in reverse.

The "Gomtuu energy wave" is a reuse of the energy effect which accompanied V'Ger ascending to a higher life form in Star Trek : The Motion Picture.

This is the first episode to label the Romulan Warbird see in TNG and subsequent Trek series as a D'deridex-class ship. It also establishes that such ships are normally slightly slower than the Galaxy class.

Director Robert Scheerer was disappointed with how the episode turned out, noting that although it was an interesting episode he didn't think they really made Gomtuu feel like it was truly a living ship.

Nevertheless, the episode was nominated for an Emmy for the excellent special effects.


Plotline

The Enterprise is on a mission to create detailed exospheric charts of the Hayashi system, a tedious endeavour for the crew. Without any warning the USS Hood arrives at high warp, bringing new orders and a mission specialist to assist in the mission. The man is a Betazed named Tam Elbrun, who is notorious for having participated in the "Ghorusda disaster", in which 47 people were killed - including some close friends of Will Riker. Many have blamed Elbrun for the disaster ever since, though Starfleet cleared him officially. Captain Picard is ordered to co-operate fully with Elbrun. On their way to meet him Troi informs Picard that she knows Elbrun personally, as he was once a patient of hers.

Elbrun is an extaordinarily gifted telepath, even by Betazoid standards, who specialises in contact with alien life forms. However, whereas most Betazoids develop their telepathic abilities in adolescence, Elbrun was born with his fully active. As a result he has always struggled to fit in with other people. He reads thoughts constantly, frequently replying to questions before they have been asked and telling one person what another is thinking. Elbrun appears fascinated with Data, since he cannot read his thoughts telepathically.

Elbrun reveals that a long range Starfleet probe has discovered a life form at Beta Stromgren, a distant star system. The star is in the final stages of an alternating cycle of expansion and collapse, indicating that it will shortly go supernova. The life form appears to be a living starship of some form, a technology far in advance of the Federation. Elbrun's mission is to establish communication with the creature, which Starfleet has nicknamed "Tin Man". The secrecy and urgency of the mission is due to the Romulans, who are known to be sending two ships of their own to rendezvous with Tin Man.

During the trip Elbrun strikes up a friendship with Data, finding it relaxing to be in the presence of somebody who he cannot read. Data suggests that this may be because as an Android, he has no "real" thoughts to be read, but Elbrun suggests that perhaps Data is merely life of a different kind.

The Enterprise-D arrives at Beta Stromgren. They are immediately attacked by one of the Romulan Warbirds, which damages the ship before heading towards Tin Man. The ship, which would normally be expected to be slower than the Enterprise-D, has deliberately run its engines far above normal power, causing irreparable damage to them in order to get there first.

The Romulans try to communicate with Tin Man via normal means but are ignored. When they power up their weapons, a distraught Elbrun reads the minds of their crew and informs Picard that they have orders to destroy Tin Man if they cannot gain control of it. He broadcasts a telepathic warning to the creature, which he calls Gomtuu - which prompts it to release a gigantic energy wave which completely destroys the Romulan ship and badly damages the Enterprise.

As Geordi struggles to repair the ship Elbrun reveals that he has been in partial communication with Gomtuu for some time. It is indeed alive, an ancient being which has roamed the universe for many thousands of years. It originated from far away, perhaps even beyond the galaxy. Originally there were millions of such creatures, but Gomtuu has not seen another of its kind for millennia and thinks it may well be the last of its species. Gomtuu knows that the Beta Stromgren star will soon go supernova - that is why it is there. Some disaster happened in the past, killing Gomtuu's crew and leaving it completely alone. Without any crew or any others of its kind the ship is intensely lonely, and seeks to end its own life.

Elbrun wants to go aboard Gomtuu, stating that he can do little more from this distance. Picard, however, is reluctant to allow this since he does not completely trust Elbrun. He points out that Elbrun warned Gomtuu about the Romulans without any thought of the potential danger to the Enterprise, reacting in Gomtuu's favour purely on instinct.

Picard discusses Elbrun with Troi and Data. Both agree that his intentions are good, but that his judgment may not be trustworthy. Troi especially states that his gorwing affinity with Gomtuu is such that if he is allowed to beam over to the living ship he may lose himself to it completely, and refuse to return. Data points out that with the second Romulan ship due to arrive shortly there really is little they can do but allow Elbrun to go aboard Gomtuu and attempt to complete his mission. Data offers to go with him in hopes that he can act as an intermediary, a bridge back to Humanity, and Picard agrees.

The second Romulan ship arrives and demands that the Enterprise-D withdraw. Its Captain states that he saw the destruction of the first Romulan vessel by Gomtuu on sensors and intends to destroy the creature in retaliation. Picard beams Data and Elbrun aboard Gomtuu in hopes of completing the mission before the Romulans act.

Elbrun is able to communicate successfully with Gomtuu, which lives in a symbiotic relationship with its crew. The two find a common purpose in one another, and Elbrun decides to remain with the living ship. Outside the star begins to go supernova. Gomtuu creates another energy wave, but this one merely throws both ships far from the star as it explodes. For a moment it appears that Gomtuu, Data and Elbrun have been killed in the explosion, but Data materialises on the Enterprise-D bridge, having been transported there by Gomtuu. With its sense of purpose restored by Elbrun, the living ship has departed to continue journeying the stars.

Afterwards, Troi and Data reflect on recent events. Data notes that whilst Elbrun and Gomtuu were both wounded and isolated as individuals, through joining they became healed. Their grief was transmuted to joy, and loneliness to a sense of belonging. Data notes that when Elbrun returned him to the Enterprise-D, he realised this was where he belonged.

Analysis

I like this episode overall, but I do feel it's somewhat flawed.

The idea of showing us some of the ramifications of telepathy is a good one, but to my mind they really don't go far enough. Trek tends to treat telepathy as if it's just something that some people do, with no real personal or societal ramifications. But really, that idea doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Just contemplate for a moment that Deanna Troi is an attractive woman who walks around the Enterprise in rather revealing clothing a lot of the time... and all the while has an intimate sense of the emotional state of the men (and women, for that matter) on board. Are we meant to think that people of the 24th century don't have the kinds of thoughts that this would provoke today? Surely not. Or are we meant to think that Troi is bothered by the inevitable cascade of lust that follows her around the ship and just hides it? If that were so, why wouldn't she at least dress more conservatively? (Which she does end up doing when she chooses to wear standard uniform after Captain Jellico pushes her into it.) Or, perhaps most interesting, are we meant to think that she enjoys feeling that reaction, and even actively seeks to promote it?

What would it say about a telepath, that they deliberately sought to provoke an emotion in you because they enjoyed feeling that emotion coming from you? Is that manipulative? Abusive? Today we have internet trolls that seek to anger people because they think it's funny, and we regard it as a rather childish thing. Is Troi doing that with her outfits? If so, why does nobody ever call her out on it?

Of course that's something of an aside since this episode isn't about Troi specifically, but the point I'm making is that Trek routinely depicts people with telepathic powers, but it never really explores the implications of people having those powers. In this episode they hint around the edges of the kinds of problems that might occur - Tam Elbrun tends to answer questions before they are asked. He tends to tell subordinates what Picard is about to order them to do. What if a telepath did this all the time? Is this regarded as rude? Are there any rules about what a telepath can and can't read from another person?

In "Violations" Jev was treated as a rapist because he read people's minds without their permission. In his case the act caused harm to the victim, putting them into a catatonic state. But Tam Elbrun does the exact same thing all the time - and so does Deanna Troi. The only difference is that they do it in a way that doesn't actually hurt the victim. But it's still entirely non-consensual... and nobody ever so much as thinks to object to it.

Still, we can't really criticise the episode for what it is not. The idea here is to explore the impact telepathy might have on an individual who can't control it fully, and Harry Groener does a good job of that. Tam comes across just as Data and Troi describe him, as a man with good intentions who lets his own sense of what needs to be done get away from him sometimes, occasionally with disastrous results. There's a vulnerability to him that keeps him sympathetic, even though he's the root cause of some of the problems of the episode.

What I don't think quite works is how his relationship with Gomtuu is a such a fix-all for him. He's always felt alienated from other people because he can read their minds so well... yet the solution is to be with Gomtuu, who solves that problem because the two share a telepathic link? That doesn't make a lot of sense to me. It's like a man whose problem is that he is overwhelmed with friends, and his solution is to make a very special friend.

I also agree that the "living ship" idea isn't all that well executed. The sounds inside Gomtuu are great, but the sinking your hand into the walls and having reverse-melty chairs? It just doesn't work all that well on screen.

All in all a decent episode, but nothing outstanding.

Special Edition

The remastered version has the usual upgraded image quality.
Copyright Graham Kennedy Page views : 10,833 Last updated : 14 Aug 2016