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Star Trek The Next Generation: Tin Man

Beware the glowing space pine cone
Data: "Is that the purpose of existence? To care for someone?"
Tam: "It is for me."

This is a frustrating episode. There were some intriguing ideas and some darned good acting by Harry Groener and Brent Spiner in particular, but it had such a predictable ending.

Let's start with Tam Elbrun, a raging telepathic jerk, played by the beloved Mayor of Sunnydale back when he was much younger and thinner and wearing black Betazoid contact lenses. Tam is a character that has been done a number of times, a supertelepath who is emotionally disturbed and socially inept because his conscious mind is being drowned out by everyone else's thoughts. Sort of like a male Sookie Stackhouse.

And yet, his telepathy makes him a genius at first contact. So Starfleet puts up with him, in spite of his involvement with the Ghorusdan Disaster, whatever that was. (It sure doesn't sound good.) Should they be taking this erratic loose cannon of a telepath to a neighborhood where there is a powerful alien, an incipient supernova, and some testy, combative Romulans that Tam actually forgot to mention during the initial briefing? Probably not, but they do.

Then we have Tin Man, a living ship (a concept that will be a huge part of the series Farscape a few years down the line), a being so old and lonely that it was hanging around a soon-to-be-supernova because it wanted to die. It was obvious from the start that Tam and Tin Man/Gomtuu would end up together, fulfilling each other's most basic needs -- peace and quiet for Tam's mind, a new crew for Tin Man to serve. Although I did like the way Tam was so much calmer on Gomtuu, caressing its walls to the point of merging with them, the way Gomtuu created a chair out of the floor for Tam.

But what really saved this episode for me was Data taking another step into personhood. Picard, understandably concerned about Tam interacting with the Enterprise crew, paired Tam with Data, who could not be read telepathically and could not be distracted by constant complaints and world class rudeness. I liked that Tam liked Data. I particularly liked that Data quietly revealed to Tam his theory that Tam couldn't read him because there was nothing to read but "mechanisms and algorithmic responses", i.e., a suggestion by Data himself that he has no soul. Tam responded that Data was just different, and there was nothing wrong with that.

During a visit to Data's quarters (Spartan, much like Faith's motel room), Data revealed that he has tried unsuccessfully to sleep, and we see that he is actively working on a painting. And Data did an excellent job as a bridge between Tam and the crew, and helped Tam find his place with Tin Man. Tam could see the humanity in Data, like the audience already does. The ending, where Data revealed that he had realized the Enterprise was where he himself belonged and Troi hugged him, was just lovely.

Interestingly, I thought Tam was an example of a Betazoid character that Troi could have been, a genuine telepath who could give Picard real information instead of impressions and feelings. Troi mostly functions as a psychologist with some psychic ability. Oh, well. Unlike a lot of Next Gen fans, I'm fond of Troi. She is who she is. But Tam is who she might have been.

Bits and pieces:

-- Stardate 43779.3. The Hayashi and Beta Stromgren systems.

-- Tam was brought to the Enterprise by the U.S.S. Hood, whose Captain DeSoto served with Riker.

-- We learned that some Betazoids are born telepathic instead of having telepathy develop in adolescence.

-- Tin Man reminded me of the Doomsday Machine, only a lot cuter. ("The Doomsday Machine" is my favorite episode of original Star Trek.)

-- The skirmishes with the Romulans seemed like they were put in there just so we could have a space battle. Because a first encounter with a fascinating alien isn't exciting enough.

-- Did they have to give Harry Groener that costume? He looked like a refugee from Sherwood Forest.


Tam: (describing the assaults on his mind) "It's like a tide that never ebbs. I could drown."

Picard: "Being first at any cost is not always the point."
I really liked that.

Data: "Tin Man is a living being which has been bred or has adapted itself to serve a purpose. I find that interesting."
Tam: "Why? Must living beings have a purpose? Or do we exist for no reason but to exist?"
Data: "I do not believe I am qualified to express an opinion."
Tam: "Data, you're uniquely qualified. You think a great deal about humanity and you're an honest researcher. You don’t treat anything as trivial or irrelevant. You want to try it all."

Data: "Through joining, they have been healed. Grief has been transmuted to joy, loneliness to belonging."
Troi: "Data, you do understand."
Data: "Yes, Counselor. When Tin Man returned me to the Enterprise, I realized this is where I belong."

Well written and acted, but it could have been better. Two out of four pine cones,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. I’m surprised that there doesn’t seem to be any etiquette about telepathic contact among Betazoids. Both Luxanna and Elbrun speak other people’s thoughts out loud. It seems to me that Betazoids would have had to learn not to do that when dealing with non-telepathic races, lest they be shunned.

    Speaking someone else’s thoughts aloud is a HUGE invasion of their privacy; I find it hard to believe that there’s no such thing as telepathic ethics or at least telepathic etiquette.

  2. I heartily agree with Corylea before me on the idea that some kind of rules/law/etiquette would be crucial for telepaths in the Federation!

    And also have to concur with your review, Billie. I do really like the actual 'Tin Man' concept itself, and Spiner is is up there with Steward for me.

    I never knew that Troi wasn't that popular among fans? I've always liked her, although liked her best when she finally gets her uniform later on. She's not always written the best, but she's still a good character and Sirtis does a solid job.

    1. Morella, Troi was not popular with fans. I always liked her, too, and I hated the skin-tight outfits. It was so nice when she finally got a uniform.


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