TNG: S3E20: “Tin Man”

In which I like those little coincidences,  two broken souls find their other halves, and Starfleet maintenance hates Picard.

I am unreasonably excited that the 20th episode of a season is going out on the 20th day of a month. Oh, don’t ask why. Oh, don’t ask why.

The Enterprise is doing charting of a new system, which is tedious and the reason the Great Bird of the Galaxy made enlisted and cadets trying to earn course credits. Nobody seems to have told the background music, though, which is full of martial staccato. The Hood is approaching in a hurry, which is unexpected. In fact, the Hood was just near the Enterprise recently. Nearby assignments, perhaps, or even nearby sectors of responsibility. Captain Robert DeSoto takes some time to chew the fat with Picard and Riker before delivering the news that the Enterprise is needed in a hurry, but the orders are secretive enough that they couldn’t be transmitted via subspace.

I’m a little surprised that nobody trusts even military-grade encryption given the enormity of computer power available, since I would think it should be possible to make an encryption key long enough even to keep up with the fantastical computer power available. Then again, an encryption scheme is useless if you don’t trust the secrecy of the key itself, so maybe it’s not that surprising.

BEHOLD THE FACE OF MADNESS.

BEHOLD THE FACE OF MADNESS.

Also, the Hood is bringing a mission specialist anyway. A rather infamous Tam Elbrun who participated in a disaster of some sort. In fact, he was at the university when Troi was studying psychology… as a patient. We are, of course, filled with conidence in his abilities since they apparently let him out. Apparently, he’s a very gifted telepath and a First Contact specialist. Also, ex-bonkers.

He’s enormously surprised (but not displeased) by the existence of Data, and also in the habit of finishing other people’s sentences by reading their mind. So when we say ‘skilled’ telepath, what we more likely mean is ‘sensitive.’ He behaves as though he can’t turn it off or block it out very well, which I suppose is what drove him ’round the twist in the first place.

Riker gives us a rundown of how Tam Elbrun screwed up a first contact. Riker seems intellectually aware that Tam Elbrun was not at fault for breaking the alien cultural taboos, but blames him anyway for not warning the person who did. So getting those two in a room together will be pretty interesting.

Like I said. Pinecone.

Like I said. Pinecone.

Apparently, a long-range probe has discovered around a star that’s about to supernova an enormous pinecone designated ‘Tin Man.’ So far, it’s believed to be a starship, and a living one. Not a cybernetic organism, but an organic vacuum-native life-form. A Space Seed, if you will. Ba dum tsss. So far, all attempts at communication have failed, so mind-to-mind communication is the only chance they have left. Hence, Tam Elbrun. Also, there is a time crunch factor in that the Romulans think they own that sector of space. I imagine that the cease-fire agreement doesn’t specify in that direction. And the Romulans are sending two D’deridex-class cruisers to claim it. Picard is assigning Data to liase with Elbrun to prevent any omissions, and then Tam has an argument with Riker’s internal monologue and storms out.

So it turns out the reason Tam is special is that most Betazoids get their mind-reading with puberty. Makes sense – we know from Manhunt that telepathic abilities tend to correlate with extreme body changes. However, occasionally a Betazoid will be born with their telepathy switched on, and nobody has yet figured out how to effectively help those. Tam is one of the more successful cases, it seems, due to early detection and training.

Wes has found either a sensor ghost or another ship. Best guess is that it’s a Romulan ship that’s pulling too much power to remain cloaked. Note that my concerns about Starfleet security do not extend to how they handle this – there’s still the possibility of it being a sensor malfunction, but it does nobody any good to assume that’s the case, and Data puts Worf on monitoring it and triggering alert if there’s any change. It’s probably the best decision aside from launching some debris out of an aft-facing cargo hold to see if it bounces off some navigational shields.

Actually, they should launch a field of fine dust out of an aft-facing cargo hold to see if it bounces off some navigational shields.

Deanna goes to Tam to council him, and it develops that he never actually learned how to shut people out. That makes everything worse, if you’re a telepath. He opens out about the disaster – he got wrapped up in the alien point of view and may not have warned the Starfleet personnel strongly enough. Lately, he’s been hanging out with a species that thinks at a glacial pace, and he’s thrilled at the opportunity to actually talk to Data rather than just know everything about him. Tam’s point of view is a kind of fantastic way to explore the alien-ness of the Star Trek universe given the limitations of a rubber-forehead budget. Also, Tam is already sensing Tin Man, even though they’re days away at high warp. Not in communication, but in contact. Receiving, anyway.

They arrive at the star and Tin Man’s location, and the cloaked Romulan ship jumps out of hiding, fires on the Enterprise, and makes a run for Tin Man. They spent the entire journey running their engines past the redline in order to keep up with the Enterprise (why they were detectable at all) and their ship is irreperably damaged. However, they’re going to beat the Enterprise to Tin Man and their buddy, a day or so behind, will follow up on the contact.  Tin Man is extremely important. So much so that Geordi is cutting some corners of his own.

Since the Enterprise has no shields, she can’t be first to Tin Man, but they can take the time to study it and be better at it. Data and Tam retreat to Data’s quarters to study, where Data has reconfigured a workstation to give datafeeds at an appropriate speed. Tin Man appears to have internal compartments as a starship, but no crew aboard. We can now add Farscape to the list of shows Star Trek is making me want to watch again.

Tam and Data get onto the subject of telepathy and androids. Data speculates it’s because he doesn’t really think or because his medium is incompatible, except we know Lal felt real fear, and Data felt real arrogance that time when Ira Graves uploaded himself. For a professional analyst, Data can ignore some rather important datapoints.

I want one.

I want one.

When Tin Man doesn’t answer the Romulans, they arm to destroy it, and Tam broadcasts a danger message and Tin Man executes a perfect Death Blossom and blows up the Romulan ship. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go watch The Last Starfighter immediately. My blog will be here when you get back.

Okay, you’re back? Why are you looking at me like that. I didn’t say it was a good movie, I implied that you were an incomplete human being for not having seen it. Those are very different assertions.

Anyway, the Romulans blow up and the Enterprise, farther away, got knocked around by the blast but will probably be fine. Currently all they have is impulse power and are in far too close proximity to a potential supernova for comfort. Fun fact: Don’t be next to a supernova.

Tin Man calls itself Gomtuu, and it might come from another galaxy and doesn’t know where the rest of its kind are. It’s here to incinerate itself in stellar fire because it’s lonely. It’s lonely because something killed its whole crew, and Tam insists that in order to help out any further he has to go over there. I think we can all see where this is going. Tam can’t be around other people and prefers the company of things that think completely differently, and Tin Man needs a crew and companion. In fact, Troi is afraid that Gomtuu is trying to pull him in and that Tam might lose himself (in the music the moment you own it you better never let it go). Data offers to go with as a liason, since Data isn’t as disruptive to Tam’s thought processes.

The other Romulan ship decloaks, and unfortunately the Enterprise is in no shape to fight. She doesn’t even have targeting scanners, and the Romulans are hell-bent on destroying Tin Man. Data and Tam beam over, because I suppose Picard was able to talk the Romulans into not aiming weapons at the Enterprise itself. However, as soon as they beam over, Tin Man puts up its own shields.

"Hmm, disgusting yet oddly comfortable."

“Hmm, disgusting yet oddly comfortable.”

Gomtuu is made of some material that selectively passes matter – Tam can walk on it but it lets his hand through. Data cannot similarly pass. Tam makes his way to the control chamber and it extrudes a chair for him, ’cause they’re buddies now and Tam isn’t going back. Tam is going to save Tin Man, true enough, but they’re not going to actually bring it back to Starfleet. Well, maybe someday, although Tam is remargably pleased about only hearing Gomtuu’s voice now. Tin Man flings the Enterprise 3.8 billion kilometers from the star, which works out to about 25 AU, which I don’t think is actually far away from a supernova to be safe. I mean, if 1 AU from a supernova is brighter than a hydrogen bomb detonated against your eyeball, I wouldn’t want to be somewhere between the orbital distances of Uranus and Neptune either. Maybe the shields can handle it, but I wouldn’t want to be the one to test it.

Oh, and Tin Man transports Data back, and they wander back to a starbase, who I’m sure will look at the maintenance record and say “what the hell, guys. You just had a five-day refit like a week ago. Do you just look for rocks to plow through?”

Did we miss something awesome?