The Enterprise is assigned to work with Tan Elbrum, a disturbed alien communications expert, to make contact with “Tin Man” – a living organic space ship that has been discovered near a star that is soon going to go nova. The Romulans are also interested in Tin Man, but it turns out that Tan Elbrum, a Betazed, has been in limited telepathic contact with the being, who is really called Gomtuu. Gomtuu’s crew has been killed, and the being is lost and without a purpose as a result. Elbrum and Gomtuu both discover new purpose with each other and leave before the star goes nova.
Written by Dennis Putnam Bailey and David Bischoff. Directed by Robert Scheerer.
Tin Man is quite a successful episode. It follows after a fashion that we’ve seen in a lot of the stories – such as Loud as a Whisper, The Outrageous Okona, and The Hunted – where the focus is really on a guest character. But I felt like this story worked better than those other ones did, possibly just because Tam Elbrun is actually a well developed character who the audience gets to learn about and discover as the episode goes along. The fact that there are some interesting science fiction concepts inherent in Elbrun’s relationship with Gomtuu also keeps the show interesting. And some genuine space action with the Romulans doesn’t hurt either.
I’ve heard some unusual thoughts on what sort of parallel is being drawn by Elbrun, but for me the most obvious is the gifted savant who is so easily misunderstood by, and is ultimately disconnected from, the society around him – sort of along the same lines as Ender Wiggin from Ender’s Game or those genetically engineered misfits who showed up in Deep Space Nine a lot later. I like the way that Elbrun is played as a conflicted, somewhat confused character who is at the same time not completely unreasonable. I also fully expected at the start of the show for their to be some sort of romance involved with Troi (perhaps misremembering this episode with The Price) and was grateful that that turned out to not be the case. Still, it does turn out to be Troi and Data who are able to make the best connection with our social misfit of the week. This has become normal for the series, and possibly a bit repetitive, but it does make internal sense here, with Troi being his former psychologist and Data being “unreadable” to him.
The “Tin Man,” or Gomtuu, is an interesting idea – a sentient being who takes on the role of a vessel for a humanoid crew. It’s a little reminiscent of the space jellyfish in Encounter at Farpoint, but still sufficiently different enough to avoid being derivative. I don’t have any great regrets about not seeing Elbrun and Gomtuu again in the series, but the creature is certainly powerful enough that they could have become major players in some of the future Federation events. Imagine if they had decided to get involved in planetary affairs in a way that was contrary to Federation interests? It could have made for some interesting stories.
The Romulans are involved again. They certainly make more effective standard antagonists than the Ferengi did, but you can feel that they’re appearances will get a bit tired if the series doesn’t do something with them soon. I think it’s not until the tail end of Season Four that they start having really serious storylines, so we’ll see how well they hold up until then.
The script makes a game attempt to keep the regulars involved, but ultimately none of them have much to do beyond do their best to get on with the mission (though Riker does get to be grouchy at Elbrun for a past failure – a storyline that ultimately goes nowhere). The most interesting moment is Data pondering whether or not he has a mind to be read. It’s a nice touch that ties in thematically to the plight of the “original” Tin Man and his friends from the Wizard of Oz. It’s too bad the episode didn’t make more of that, but it’s nice that the touch is there.
Shout Out to the Past:
• The USS Hood appears again. It was the ship that Riker and some others came over to the Enterprise from back in Encounter at Farpoint.
• There is a brief reference to the Borg while the characters are trying to understand the Tin Man.
• I remember Michael Cavanaugh (Captain DeSoto) from the Starman TV series, where he played George Fox, one of those thankless roles who chases the main character every episode.
• Harry Groener, who plays Tam Elbrun, appeared in a couple of episodes of Enterprise as Nathan Samuels.
• This is the first and only appearance of the Hood‘s commander, Captain DeSoto. He only appears in the pre-titles sequence. That means that when his “guest starring” credit appears, it comes after his final appearance in the show. I haven’t ever noticed that this has happened before on the show.
• Good and logical response from Tam upon meeting Data.
• They give some interesting background on Betazeds in this story – about their telepathic abilities developing at adolescence.
• There is the first reference to “47” that I’ve noticed on the show. This may have just been a “genuine” reference, and not an in-joke, as they mostly began in the 4th season according to online sources.
• It is nice to see people working with Geordi in engineering. But it’s awkward that none of them are allowed to talk. It means Geordi has to constantly talk to himself or to the intercom.
• There is an interesting unspoken response from Brent Spiner as Data when Tam is looking at his paintings.
• The special effect of when the Tin Man attacks is pretty cool.
• It’s not focused on in the way it’s shot, but Wil Wheaton’s facial reaction to the Tin Man attack is great.
• Touching little realization from Data at the end of the show.
Dialogue High Point
Picard tells his difficult passenger off:
And if you will be still, Mr. Elbrun, you may learn…that being first, at any cost, is not always the point.