Lynch's Spoiler Review: "Starship Mine"
Review by Tim Lynch <>


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.


Picard falls in love?

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
BITNET:  tlynch@citjulie
UUCP:  ...!ucbvax!
"It has a certain strange fascination; how long can two people talk about
                        -- Riker
-- Copyright 1993, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...


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