6/3/13

Star Trek: Asterisk "Tin Man"

Vital Information
Series: The Next Generation
Episode: S03E20
Air Date: April 23, 1990
Written by: Dennis Putman Bailey and David Bischoff
Directed by: Robert Scheerer

Premise
All Tam Elbrun wants to do is make first contact with a living starship on behalf of the Federation. But the Romulans and an exploding star get in the way.

Review
While on a routine mission, the Enterprise picks up a transmission from Captain DeSoto saying that they've got more important things to do than routine missions. DeSoto informs Picard that Tam Elbrun is on his way over and he'll explain the mission details because they're afraid Romulans might be listening in. Tam is a Betazoid and he's a very gifted telepath even by Betazoid standards. While most Betazoids come into their powers in puberty, he was born with it and has heard the thoughts of billions since he was a child. His specialty is in making first contact with alien species, and his mission on the Enterprise is to do so with a being they've nicknamed "Tin Man."

Tin man is a starship-sized living being in orbit around a star that's about to explode unless they can communicate with it in time to get it safely within Federation borders. It's not any old first contact mission, it's a rescue mission. While they're on their way, Riker expresses doubts about Tam because he was involved in some disaster where 47 people died. Troi says that Tam was one of her patients when she was studying at the Betazed School of Psychology. Tam does act a little eccentric, but it's mostly just because the thoughts of every frakking thing in the ship are bombarding his brain.
What? No, I didn't say anything.
In an interesting turn of events for Tam, he is unable to read Data's mind. The serenity that this offers Tam allows the two of them to become quick friends. They hang out almost the entire way to Tin Man when Tam isn't hanging out with Troi. When he's with other people he tends to annoyingly finish their sentences. In fact, he picked up on Riker's doubts immediately and said that if anyone had listened to him, the 47 people would have lived. But with Data, he's able to carry on normal conversation and learn about him like a normal person would learn about another normal person. And Data is able to explore whether his positronic brain is inferior or merely different.

When they get to the place where the exploding star is, Tam regretfully forgets to inform them that Romulans have claimed the territory and that they'll be wanting to make first contact first. Which is why Worf is on the look out for an echo on the sensors that could be Romulan. When they arrive at the star itself and have Tin Man in their view, Tam immediately comes up to the bridge to see. This creature has been calling out to him for months and now he can actually reach back to him. He can read Tin Man's mind and communicate with him. And then SUDDENLY ROMULANS.
YOU ARE NOT PREPARED
The Romulans come, attempt to communicate, fail, and then try to destroy Tin Man, but Tam is able to reach out to him in time to warn him and Tin Man explodes with energy that destroys the Romulan ship and knocks the Enterprise on its ass. While the Enterprise tries to get herself back together, Tam and Picard consider their options. And Tam is insistent that he boards the Tin Man. He says Tin Man is indeed a starship and its crew with whom it had a symbiotic relationship had died years ago. It was purposely by the dying star because it wanted to die since it no longer had a purpose. Reluctantly, Picard allows him to go aboard, but sends Data along with him as an intermediary.

When Tam and Data get on board Tin Man, Tam is bombarded with Tin Man's thoughts at first, but then it holds back and Tam is, for the first time, offered serenity and companionship all at once. Meanwhile, another Romulan ship shows up to take vengeance for the first Romulan ship that was destroyed. The Enterprise tries to hold it back as much as possible, but the first burst from Tin Man was enough to take the Enterprise too far down. The Romulans advance and the star is about to explode, but Tin Man bursts with energy again and safely knocks the Enterprise and the Romulans out of the way. From a safe distance they watch the star explode. Which is unfortunate, because Data was on that Tin Man near that star...
Get used to watching Data die.
Well, a matter of seconds later, Data materializes on the bridge and passes along a message that Tam has decided to stay on the Tin Man. For the first time in his life he knows what it's like to care for someone and it for him. Data says his survival is difficult to explain... I expect that's just sloppy writing. Later on the observation deck, Data stands alone as Troi comes to visit him. Data explains that he was witness to something "remarkable". Both Tam and Tin Man were individually wounded and isolated, but with their joining, they had both been healed. Their grief transmuted into joy, loneliness into belonging. All this from an android who can't feel any of it.

Overall Thoughts
This was a very moving character piece; a departure from ordinary Trek where we learn more aspects about the crew. Instead we explore the mind of a different individual who only has one purpose: to find purpose. It's great to see when he does and one feels a bit of attachment to Tin Man, as well. All that being said, I'm not sure if this is an episode to put on an essentials list. As I said, it focuses on a character who's not a part of the main cast and an object who never shows up again. It's cool as a single piece, but I think you can skip it if you just want to run through Star Trek.