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Retro Review: Starship Mine

Posted by Michelle - 14/05/10 at 01:05 pm


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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Season: 06 Episode: 18 (s06e18)

Original US airdate: 03/29/1993

Picard is trapped on the deserted Enterprise with a band of thieves trying to steal toxic engine residue.

Plot Summary: The Enterprise docks at the Remmler Array for a scheduled baryon sweep to remove dangerous particles that have accumulated while traveling through space. Because the baryon sweep itself is lethal to humanoids, the ship is evacuated to the base on the planet below, with most of the senior officers attending a reception with the self-absorbed Commander Hutchinson. To escape the small talk, Picard makes plans to go horseback riding and returns to the Enterprise to retrieve his saddle, only to witness a technician still on board who is acting suspiciously. After knocking the man unconscious, Picard tries to leave the ship, but the primary power systems are shut down as the baryon sweep begins. Picard drags his attacker to sickbay, sedates him, and takes his communicator, but he is captured by a woman who takes him to engineering, where he learns that a group of six is trying to steal trilithium resin – an engine waste product used in weapons. Assuming that his captors are terrorists, Picard stages an escape, leading a pursuer into the deadly energy of the baryon sweep. Meanwhile, at the base, station administrator Orton leads an attack on the Starfleet officers, killing Hutchinson and injuring LaForge. Crusher believes that she can use LaForge’s VISOR to emit a pulse that will knock out everyone but Data, but she requires a distraction to do so, which Riker provides by starting a fistfight with one of the guards. Arming himself with a crossbow and homemade poison, Picard tries to negotiate with Kelsey, the leader of the criminals. He is forced to shoot one of her lackeys and leave the man to die as the baryon sweep approaches. However, he is captured again and taken to Ten Forward, from which Kelsey has herself beamed to a waiting ship while the baryon sweep approaches Picard. He is able to tell Data to deactivate the sweep just before it reaches him, and Kelsey’s escape vessel explodes since Picard removed the safety clip from the container of trilithium resin just before she beamed away.

Analysis: While it’s fun seeing Picard singlehandedly foil a threat to himself and his ship – though not a very impressive one, since these criminals decline every opportunity to kill him even after they’ve demonstrated they’ll kill one another – there are so many plot holes in “Starship Mine” that it’s hard to take the story very seriously, particularly in retrospect. I can write off Kelsey and her gang as idiots who didn’t plan things out, since they seem to be new at this weapon-material-stealing business and don’t have any real backup plan when they encounter resistance on the ship. But Kelsey and her gang must be in league with Orton and his gang at the base, and that’s where the episode falls apart. The aliens who run the station apparently have a longstanding relationship with Starfleet, since LaForge talks about docking for the baryon sweep as if it’s something starships do all the time. Everyone knows Commander Hutchinson’s reputation; he must have had the job for a while. So why would these aliens put themselves in league with a bunch of petty mercenaries who scarcely know what they’re doing and obviously haven’t worked together all that long? Why risk not only their own jobs and lives, but a peaceful and presumably lucrative relationship with Starfleet? If this trilithium resin is worth so much, if it would be of interest to Romulan dissidents or Bajoran freedom fighters or Cardassian thugs or Turkana terrorists, wouldn’t the base administrator have chosen for his allies a group of far better equipped, more sophisticated thieves, or even his own men?

This storyline doesn’t bother with things like motivation or logic, so while it’s pretty tightly plotted in terms of keeping the tension and action moving, there’s very little to think about afterwards. Kelsey’s not so much a character as an archetype of the Amoral Avaricious Mercenary, though it’s unfathomable why she doesn’t kill Picard once she reveals that she has no interest in him as a hostage and forces him to open the doors to Ten Forward (which she isn’t smart enough to guess he may have booby-trapped). The rest of her team is even less interesting; there’s the guy with the bad moustache whom Picard abandons in a Jeffries tube to be killed by the baryon sweep, the guy with the suction cups on his face whom Picard abandons after shooting with a crossbow to be killed by the baryon sweep, the guy who sabotaged a comm panel (Tim Russ, later Voyager‘s Tuvok) whom Picard knocks out and abandons in sickbay to be killed by the baryon sweep, the seemingly clever woman who twice captured Picard whom Picard catches in his booby-trap and abandons there on the floor to be killed by the baryon sweep…is it just me, or does this sound like a shockingly high body count? I’m not blaming Picard, who is trying to save his own life and his ship while at the same time keeping a potentially deadly weapon out of the hands of unknown terrorists; I’m just pointing out that usually he’s far more creative, and able to save himself, his ship, and his assailants, at least for long enough to find out what the whole crisis was about.

Maybe it’s just that Orton hates Hutchinson’s guts after having to listen to too much of his small talk, but for a character who starts out as comic relief, his death is pretty shocking. Data’s been poking fun at this guy, first behind his back, then right to his face, though I’m sure Data rationalizes it as studying human behavior rather than mimicking and mocking. Often such a buffoon turns out to be a villain or at least the idiot who let the bad guys through the door because he was too self-absorbed to notice their agenda, but we get no indication that Hutch had any more reason to suspect Orton than anyone on the Enterprise crew. Orton isn’t only guilty of sabotage, theft, and a plan to aid terrorists; he’s responsible for the murder of a Starfleet officer and the attempted murder of another. I’m going to accept that resin is worth a bloody fortune for him to take such actions to obtain it, since every one of those crimes probably carries a life sentence in the Federation. So how come he picks Kelsey, who doesn’t know the first thing about transporting the resin without the help of a scientist whom she kills as unnecessary baggage as soon as he tells her what to do? What makes him think someone like her has any intention of sharing the profit once she sells the resin, considering that no one knows her name or face and she can disappear far more easily than a station administrator? For that matter, what makes Kelsey think Orton doesn’t plan to do away with her once the resin is safely off the Enterprise? I might buy this level of foolishness from a Ferengi with someone’s fingers wrapped around his lobes, but this is all the silly skulking with none of the wit.

We root for Picard, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth when he appears so unconcerned about the deaths of so many people. I kept waiting for him to try to make a deal with one of Kelsey’s lackeys, to point out that obviously she doesn’t intend to protect any of them and probably won’t share any profits, to find out who they are and why they’re involved in such a scheme and offer alternatives if not make the “think of what Starfleet has done for you” speech. That never happens, and in the end, he’s more distressed about the potential loss of his saddle than the loss of life. Crusher seems far more heroic to me figuring out a way to knock out the thugs on the station without risking anyone’s life but her own if they figure out what she’s up to. As for questions like why Orton doesn’t keep close tabs on Picard and realize that he’s gone back to the Enterprise, or why Orton doesn’t have a way to communicate with Kelsey in case of just such problems with removing the resin as she and her team encounter…well, the episode can’t be bothered with those details any more than Orton can. Picard may be enjoyable playing John McClane, but without a Hans Gruber as adversary, there’s no joy in the victory.

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