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The Trek Nation - Tin Man

Tin Man

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at September 5, 2008 - 9:19 PM GMT

See Also: 'Tin Man' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: The Hood approaches at high warp with secret orders for the Enterprise crew and a mission specialist, Tam Elbrun, a Betazoid who deals with first contacts. Riker is not happy to have to work with the man responsible for a disaster that resulted in a Starfleet captain's death. Elbrun explains that their current mission is to contact a creature called Tin Man - an organic being the size of a spaceship - which is in orbit around a star about to supernova. The star is in a region of space claimed by the Romulans, and Romulan ships are en route as well. An unhappy telepath since childhood, Elbrun confesses to Troi that he is already in contact with Tin Man. When the Romulans approach the creature with hostile intent, Elbrun sends Tin Man a warning that results in the destruction of the warbird and damage to the Enterprise. But Tin Man reveals to Elbrun that it intends to die in the solar explosion, having lost its crew and all of its own kind. To save Tin Man, Picard reluctantly agrees to let Elbrun beam over with Data to establish direct contact. When a second warbird attacks Tin Man, it breaks orbit and flings both the Romulans and the Enterprise far into space just before the star goes supernova. Upon his return, Data explains that he believes Elbrun and Tin Man have established a symbiotic relationship that has healed them both.


Analysis: "Tin Man" plays better than it reads, in large part because the acting is solid and features characters outside their typical roles. Troi is the Enterprise crewmember in the most important position, and though she's doing her accustomed job as counselor, she's working with a Betazoid whose abilities far exceed her own - someone who can guess her every question, whom she must treat as an equal rather than a patient. Riker is unusually angry at having to ferry an officer he doesn't trust into a situation full of unknowns, and Picard must allow a stranger to lead his entire crew into a dangerous situation.

Tempers are short. Elbrun has difficulty being confined on a ship with so many humans. Picard and Riker are angry that Tam doesn't seem properly concerned about the Romulan threat. LaForge and Worf are stuck trying to keep the ship functioning after the initial defensive assault by Tin Man. Though it's a bottle episode, the storyline isn't all that predictable, which makes it more dramatic than some of the plottier stories with lots of overt conflict.

We learn a bit more about Troi and Betazoids just by seeing another one on board, though Tam Elbrun isn't at all a typical one. As Troi explains, he was born with the empathic abilities that most Betazoids don't develop until they approach adulthood, so he has been subject to hearing the thoughts and emotions of others since he was far too young to block them. The situation has made him fiercely private and temperamental; he has no patience waiting for people to say aloud things he has already sensed in their thoughts, and he dislikes being close enough to anyone that he can pick up stray musings. Troi met him as a patient while she was studying psychiatry, but it's clear that she has no answers for him about how to face his unique challenges. Unlike Riker, she doesn't blame him for the disastrous previous mission that cost Starfleet lives - something Elbrun claims would not have happened had the Starfleet officers listened to him - but her efforts to encourage him to get to know the people on this mission seem misguided, like the rote recitations of a counselor rather than anything that can really help him. She is savvy enough to realize that he is already in contact with Tin Man before he boards the Enterprise, and loyal enough not to tell Picard until she believes the ship is in danger.

Tin Man has nearly the opposite problem, as Elbrun discovers - a powerful telepath, it has witnessed both the extinction of its kind and the deaths of its crewmembers. In some ways it's like the Horta from the original series, unique and in pain, unwittingly posing a danger to humans who are more fearful than understanding of it. Starfleet wants to seek out new life and new civilizations, but it also wants to protect itself, and just as the Romulans would prefer to see Tin Man destroyed than allied with the Federation, there is wariness about this unknown being. The Romulans make several strategic blunders, first failing to realize that Tin Man is intelligent, then concluding that it is both self-aware and hostile when it destroys a warbird in self-defense. Starfleet is lucky in this regard, because it gives Elbrun time to understand the suicidal leviathan and come to see the parallels between their situations.

Data plays intermediary between Elbrun and the crew, with some very interesting results for his character. At first, he is concerned because Elbrun can't read him at all, which he thinks means that his thoughts consist merely of algorithms rather than the spark of human intelligence. Elbrun is comfortable in Data's spartan quarters and the two strike up a friendship based on Elbrun's appreciation of Data's differences and Data's unwillingness to judge Elbrun according to the standards that make Riker distrust him. When Troi expresses concern that Elbrun will lose himself in contact with the alien, Data volunteers to beam over with him to serve as a bridge back to Starfleet. He has his own agenda: he wants to know what Elbrun can sense of the creature's reason for existence. Elbrun's discovery that Tin Man felt itself devoid of purpose after the death of its crew leads Data to ask whether the purpose of existence is to care for someone. In a way, he seems envious of Elbrun's ability to connect so completely with another being. In the end, Data tells Troi that he has learned that he belongs on the Enterprise just as Elbrun belongs with Tin Man, and Troi hugs him.

The ending is a bit overly neat: not only do Elbrun and Tin Man (which calls itself Gomtuu) fit together like Shel Silverstein's Missing Piece, but they conveniently disappear before Starfleet can talk to the new entity they create in symbiosis about its plans. Data seems certain that Elbrun is now healed of his inner turmoil, but with the power of Tin Man welded to his impulse to do good, there could be some dangerous meddling in other cultures. Instead the writers opt for a very Next Gen ending, in which it is presumed that Elbrun and Tin Man will simply explore the wonders of the universe together while Data enjoys a deeper bond with his crewmates. The fact that it's a feel-good ending doesn't really detract from the story, but it's too bad we don't get to see Tin Man during some of the turmoil that will afflict the galaxy during later Star Trek missions.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for TrekToday. An archive of her reviews can be found at The Little Review.