WARNING: In a few lines, this article will begin relentlessly sweeping for spoilers about the TNG episode "Starship Mine". Anyone in the way of this sweep will be in danger of spoilage. Lots of nice moments -- and enough character bits to mostly justify some large plot holes. The idea was nice, to be sure; how well it came out in the wash is another matter. But first, of course, it's time for another synopsis:
The Enterprise is at the Roemler Array for a radiation sweep intended to remove excess baryons. In preparation, the ship is completely evacuated, as the sweep is fatal to living tissue. However, when Picard flees a boring party to get his saddle from his quarters, he finds that the crew making last-minute preparations for the sweep are not what they appear to be, and in fact appear to be terrorists.
Subduing one of the terrorists, Picard attempts to leave the ship for the station on the nearby planet, but fails; ship's power is cut off just at the wrong time. He returns to his "victim" and attempts to find out what's going on, but to no avail. He does, however, overhear others trying to get in touch with the other man (apparently named DeVoor), and finds that they're meeting in Engineering. He heads for there himself, only to be caught. Meanwhile, at the party for the senior staff that Picard fled, their benign hosts suddenly turn violent, shooting both Geordi and Commander Hutchinson with a laser weapon and holding the others hostage.
In Engineering, a woman named Kelsey (apparently the hijackers' leader) is checking on everyone's progress when Picard is brought in. Picard identifies himself as Mot, the barber, and pleads ignorance when asked what he's still doing on board. Kelsey, annoyed, puts Sadler (one of her technical assistants) on guard duty while she works with Neal (another tech) on extracting the trilithium resin they're after from the engines. Planetside, Riker and company begin planning to use Geordi's VISOR as a weapon, rigging it to deliver a hypersonic pulse that will knock everyone but Data unconscious.
Back on the Enterprise, the hijackers manage to grab the resin. Picard, however, uses a hidden laser-bore to create a diversion. He then destroys the field diverter intended to protect the hijackers from the looming baryon sweep, and flees into a Jeffries tube, with Sadler in hot pursuit. Picard evades him for a while, then finds himself staring right at the advancing sweep...
Sadler arrives only moments later, but finds only "Mot's" jacket. He removes it to find the hole Picard cut into the next floor, but is caught by the sweep before he can react. As the four remaining hijackers figure out (thanks to Picard's insignia) that Picard is a Starfleet officer and plan their escape, Picard picks up a crossbow in Worf's quarters. He communicates with Kelsey, urging her not to move the highly toxic resin and insisting that he'd rather destroy the ship than let "terrorists" like her have the resin. She, nonchalant, gets a very jumpy Neal to finish extracting the resin and store it as safely as possible, and then both head out.
Picard coats his crossbow bolts with some kind of toxin, then begins cooking up something explosive while talking to Kelsey, who is now quite annoyed at having found one route to Ten-Forward cut off. Both talk of the ship coming to take Kelsey and her team off the Enterprise, with Picard expecting to be on it. Riker, meanwhile, creates a brief distraction to assist Bev's preparations by punching out one of his captors. While he is subdued, Bev finishes the final modifications.
Picard takes out one of the hijackers with his crossbow and reaches for the hijacker's weapon, only to be caught by Kiros, the same one who caught him before. She informs Kelsey of her catch and arranges to meet her. Kelsey, after getting some information about the resin storage from Neal, kills him and goes to meet Kiros and Picard. As the hostages planetside trigger the pulse and let Data take charge of the situation, Picard tells Kelsey his true identity and offers himself as a hostage instead of the resin. Kelsey, however, is not interested in political gain, merely commercial gain -- and rejects Picard's offer out of hand.
In Ten-Forward, however, Kiros triggers Picard's final booby-trap, and an explosion separates all three from each other, from their weapons, and from the resin. Kelsey and Picard battle for both as the sweep enters Ten-Forward. She wins, beaming to her ship alone, but with the resin. Picard manages to contact Data at the last moment and stop the sweep, and observes that with the "control rod" he's holding separate from the resin, Kelsey's ship won't get far. The ship then explodes, and a heartsick Picard begins to take charge of the Enterprise again.
There, that takes care of that. (Sorry if it seems a little disjointed this time; it was a slightly disjointed episode.) Anyway, onwards to some comments.
"Starship Mine" is the third episode written in whole or in part by Morgan Gendel. The first was "The Inner Light", which so far as I'm concerned speaks for itself so far as quality goes. The second, however, was DS9's "The Passenger", and it's there that I think one can see a trend about Gendel's writing forming.
In all three, it seems to me that characterization is often good (and sometimes quite insightful to boot), while strict *plotting* and *plausibility* issues are medium-range or worse. In the case of "The Inner Light", the only real plot concern was in the framing sequence; TIL was a character piece through and through. As such, plot weaknesses were not, at least to me, an issue.
In "The Passenger", however, they were; and here, they also are. Both times, I feel, we're being asked to swallow just a *wee* bit too much before we can sit back and enjoy the show; and both times, there are too many unanswered questions in the end. For instance:
-- So what connection *did* Frick and Frack down on the planet have to the hijackers up on the Enterprise? It's clear they're in on it somehow, but not how. What were they getting out of it? Why should we care?
-- More importantly, it's not at all clear to me why the crew down on the planet had to be taken hostage AT ALL. It seemed from my perspective that the hijackers were planning to stay on board during the baryon sweep, grab the trilithium resin, and then leave without anyone knowing. If that's true, I imagine the bozos down on the surface were part of a contingency plan; but for what circumstances? Why? This may not be essential to understanding what happened, but it makes the "hostage" side of the plot seem awfully forced.
-- (Thanks to Lisa for catching this one; I hadn't noticed it.) If Picard could use the hijackers' communicator to communicate with Data down on the station, why didn't he before? Why not get Data to beam him off and then handle everything in relative safety, or at least get Data to deactivate the sweep and come back on board with an armed group? There were easier ways to handle this...
Those are definitely the main ones, and really the only ones worth worrying about. I certainly have other questions (such as how exactly they obtained the resin, and the mechanics of their suborning the real sweep personnel), but those are ones that merely add to the chaotic nature of the threat, not ones that cause problems with disbelief. In any event, I think there's an argument to be made here that the plot, pure and simple, needed some help.
On the other hand, the execution of most of the show was very nice, both in a character sense and in the sense of just having a good time watching. :-) In some cases, we had an *effective* "Picard out of his element" story (unlike the aptly-named "Disaster"), and in others we just had some fun.
On the fun side, there was Data attempting small talk and being used as a verbal weapon against Commander Hutchinson. Don't ask me why, but I loved this. And although it's never made clear, I strongly suspect that Riker's the one who put Data onto the idea of learning small talk a week or so before this episode takes place. (Think about it; he was *far* too unsurprised when Data started in on him, for one thing; and he's the one who sicced Data on Hutch, for another.) Both Spiner and Frakes got to have fun mugging, we got to watch in grinning disbelief, and all in all it seems a net win. :-)
On the shipboard side, both Picard and the hijackers behaved very sensibly and smartly, with only one exception. I'll get the exception out of the way first: Why didn't anyone *search* Picard after they caught him? Now that that's over, I enjoyed seeing Picard and Kelsey scheming and counterscheming, and was interested to see this much more ruthless Picard. (In this case, however, unlike "I, Borg", Picard was ruthless out of necessity, not because of excess emotion.) Again, except for the one slight bit of idiocy in Engineering, Picard had as much success he did out of his own cleverness, not out of the hijackers' mistakes -- and that's sharp writing.
In particular, a lot of the things Picard did were set up rather subtly, which is a nice change of pace. Things like the crossbow and his diversion were obvious enough, but his boobytrapping of Ten-Forward was done very quietly -- all we'd seen him do beforehand was make up the explosive elements. And even *more* subtly, I had to go back over the final fight scene 'twixt him and Kelsey three times before I figured out exactly where he managed to grab the "control rod" to the resin storage. (It's the one time he's anywhere near it, while he and Kelsey are grappling for it, if you're planning to go look. You don't see him actually get it, but you see him grabbing the middle of the tank, and it looks like he pries _something_ loose.) The last example was some sharp directing from Cliff Bole, but a lot of this again was nice writing.
Finally, although a lot of the plot had problems, none of the *characters* really did. Worf's request to get out of Hutch's reception was quite in character, and even his quick smirk after managing it felt right. All the dialogue during the "happy" part of the reception seemed fine, although the running "you have a saddle?" gag fell flat after a while. And what little character bits we were given down on the planet after the hostage "plot" got underway were sound. (Not thrilling, but sound.)
So on the whole, the shipboard plot was very nice, well-planned, and well-executed, except for a few relatively minor things that hurt. The planetside plot is better left alone -- and fortunately, it mostly was.
The ending, unfortunately, left a lot to be desired. Some downtime for the resolution is all well and good, but it would be nice if it had some relevance to something in the rest of the hour. And as I've said, I don't quite understand the "saddle" run-on bit; it felt dull to me. I'd have preferred to see some explanation of the planetside angle.
Anyway, some short takes:
-- Given the eternal arguments brewing about sexism in Trek, it's interesting to note that the last two hijackers to survive Picard's traps were the two women, and that it was a woman that caught Picard ... twice. (Add to that the fact that the Picard/Kelsey fight scene was *extremely* hard-hitting on both sides if you wish.)
-- Science Oops of the week: Excess *baryons*? All right, I can accept that if there were particles that needed removing, they were probably baryonic. But given that the most common baryons by far are relatively common things like protons and neutrons, a "baryon sweep" seems likely to remove most of the Enterprise. C'mon, folks...
-- Another sharp moment: it was nice not to actually *see* Kelsey killing Neal. We know what she was going to do, so why bother showing it? (In that same scene, it's interesting to notice that no one other than us ever knows just what happened to Neal.)
-- Riker told Data to stop the incoming ship once the pulse knocked everyone else out. Why didn't he?
-- One other goof in characterization on Kelsey's part. Given how ruthless she is, why did she bother keeping Picard alive after he was caught the second time? If it had been me, I'd have said "Good. Kill him and meet me in intersection whatever," and been done with it.
-- So, I guess Commander Hutchinson just sort of...evaporated after he was shot and wounded. Lord knows *we* never saw him again; not even a body.
-- Nobody thought to *listen* to Riker and company wandering around planning an ambush? These guys really *were* a last-resort backup...
-- Next time Picard should claim to be the dentist. Then they'd back off, because everyone *knows* how good dentists are at inflicting pain. :-) (Sorry, just came back from a visit to the dentist...)
Hmm. Looking at this and remembering some of it, I'm starting to think that maybe this *wasn't* quite so strong as I originally thought. I think my original summation is pretty close: Nice moments, some good character bits, and lots of shoddy plotting. If you can overlook the holes, it's a hell of a ride.
So, the numbers:
Plot: 5. Great premise, nice execution for most of the *shipboard* side. The planet brings it down. Plot Handling: 8. If the planet bits were done as well as the ship bits, this'd be higher. Characterization: 8. Again, mostly very sharp.
OVERALL: 7. Nice piece of work, but not exactly top-drawer.
NEXT WEEK: Picard falls in love?
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) BITNET: tlynch@citjulie INTERNET: firstname.lastname@example.org UUCP: ...!email@example.com "It has a certain strange fascination; how long can two people talk about nothing?" -- Riker Copyright 1993, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note. This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.