Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Starship Mine"

**1/2

Air date: 3/29/1993
Written by Morgan Gendel
Directed by Cliff Bole

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

High Concept 101: Die Hard on the Enterprise!

Actually, that's a pretty good one, and the setup is appealing: The Enterprise is vacated by the entire crew in order to make way for a baryon sweep, during which some bad guys posing as technicians try to steal trilithium resin from the warp core. Picard ends up as the only person on board (because he went back for his saddle, of all things) and becomes the starship's last line of defense. He must sneak around the ship and stop them from getting away with the resin, which in the wrong hands could be made into a weapon, exclamation mark!

I really like the idea of the baryon sweep as this slowly moving, deadly, implacable force that gives the story its ticking clock while also decreasing the real estate available for the cat-and-mouse games. So you have an action premise that seems like it would be reasonably adaptable to the decks of the Enterprise, you have Picard taking up arms (look, a crossbow, with poisonous — but not deadly poisonous — arrow tips!), and you have an amusing (if disposable) subplot aboard the planet where Data takes up the activity of small talk and ends up in a small-talk duel with chatty Commander Hutchinson (David Spielberg). What's not to like?

Well, some of the execution, unfortunately. The plot holds together fine, but "Starship Mine" is a pale imitation of Die Hard (and, honestly, how couldn't it be?) and suffers from some hacky moments and a weak villain in the bland Kelsey (Marie Marshall). There's a scene where Picard and Kelsey trade barbs over their communicators, and it's here where the riffs on Die Hard become (1) glaringly obvious and (2) a liability — because "Starship Mine" suffers when it makes us think of similar, better scenes in Die Hard. There's also the problem that an action premise like this feels watered-down when Picard has to be in a constant state of tempered restraint in his response; Star Trek has an inherently non-violent philosophy, which is kind of counterproductive to thwarting bad guys in this sort of plot. And the fairly laughable final fistfight in Ten-Forward suffers in no small part because of an especially atonal Jay Chattaway score (albeit one typical for this period of the TNG era). If ever a sequence needed to be carried by music (and isn't), it's this one — because the stunts sure aren't much to speak of.

On the other hand, as a wind-up action toy with these built-in restraints, "Starship Mine" works about as well as it probably could've. Motormouth Hutchinson always makes me grin (and killing him in the planet-side action was clearly a wink to the audience, even if I don't think Hutch deserved it). Picard posing as barber Mr. Mott is fun. An abandoned Enterprise turns out to have a fair amount of atmosphere for playing hide-and-seek. And the final scene where Picard is reunited with his saddle shows that this story knows that "light" is the right tone here. This is a guilty pleasure that maybe could've been more fun had it been guiltier.

Footnote: Tim Russ has a small part as one of the bad guys.

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33 comments on this review

David Clark - Thu, Jul 12, 2012 - 10:28am (USA Central)
I think the TNG cast was simply not suited for action oriented episodes. They never tried many, so this wasn't a liability for the most part, but when they did it, it usually didn't work. I also think that this was what finally did in the TNG franchise with the last two movies. Both Insurrection and Nemesis depended to a large degree on action to carry the movies forward, but fell flat. For sure the scripts were not that great, but I think this is due to the fact that it's just really hard to write action for these characters.

Anyway, I think this episode showed it in spades. My first reaction to remembering this episode after your review was that they should have put someone other than Picard as the one defending the ship. But then the question is who would be better for an action oriented episode? Unfortunately the answer is: No one.

Or think of it this way, keep the same plot, but put it on DS9 and have Sisko replace Picard. The action would have been much more fluid and entertaining because either Brooks as an actor or Sisko as a character simply does action better than Steward/Picard. Come to think of it, most of the DS9 actors/crew could probably have made for a more fluid episode.

I don't intend this as a critique of the actors, but more as a critique of the writers/producers for creating stories that were hard for the characters/actors to pull off.
bigpale - Thu, Jul 12, 2012 - 4:02pm (USA Central)
I loved this episode. It's a great guilty pleasure.

It's right up there with the Quark-centric DS9 epis that Jammer hates so much!
Patrick - Thu, Jul 12, 2012 - 10:58pm (USA Central)
@Jammer
The group of mercenaries are actually stealing trilithium *resin* in this episode.

Pure trilithium (whatever that is) is a major plot point in Star Trek: Generations--which also features Tim Russ in another non-Tuvok role!

(The more you know...!)
Latex Zebra - Fri, Jul 13, 2012 - 10:10am (USA Central)
Read the script to this the other day as I couldn't remember it. This seems quite a breezy episode. Especially the parts with Hutch which read pretty funny.
I'll have to check it out when I can.
Ospero - Fri, Jul 13, 2012 - 4:41pm (USA Central)
One of the issues with this episode is that probably its funniest guest character, Commander Hutchinson, vanishes off the face of the planet after the terrorists attack. We don't even get a confirmation that he's been killed; he's just not there anymore. Also, I blame this episode for starting the "Action Picard" persona that would eventually lead to all that glaringly out-of-character behaviour in "Nemesis".
Jammer - Fri, Jul 13, 2012 - 11:59pm (USA Central)
Actually, after Hutchinson is shot we briefly see a covered body at the beginning of the next act. Pretty sure that's meant to be Hutch.
Josh - Sun, Jul 15, 2012 - 1:15am (USA Central)
The script has this exchange (which was probably cut for time):
RIKER
What about Hutchinson?

BEVERLY
(grim)
There was nothing I could do for him.
Jammer - Sun, Jul 15, 2012 - 7:40pm (USA Central)
@Patrick. You are correct about the trilithium resin. I've corrected it in the review.
Jake - Mon, Jul 16, 2012 - 6:06am (USA Central)
@David Clark:

Oh, please! Knowing DS9, this episode would've ended with Sisko resolving the issue by talking to those stupid wormholes aliens.
You see, for all of Ira's hot air about how 'different' & 'believable' DS9 was, it was no less susceptible to cliches as the other Trek series.
Nathaniel - Tue, Jul 17, 2012 - 7:13am (USA Central)
"Oh, please! Knowing DS9, this episode would've ended with Sisko resolving the issue by talking to those stupid wormholes aliens. "

xkcd.com/285/
Nic - Tue, Jul 17, 2012 - 11:01am (USA Central)
I actually enjoyed this straight run-and-jump show, though maybe that's at least partly because I haven't seen Die Hard. I certainly wouldn't have wanted this type of show every week, but it was a refreshing light romp.
David Clark - Tue, Jul 17, 2012 - 2:46pm (USA Central)
@Jake

I agree that DS9 had its own cliches. That wasn't my point. My only point was that TNG never did action very well, and this episode has it on display. The only point of bringing up DS9 was by way of contrast, DS9 did action much better than TNG did. Hell, even Voyager and Enterprise did action better than TNG. Note, this does not make them better shows.
Eric Dugdale - Thu, Jul 19, 2012 - 7:28pm (USA Central)
@David Clark

Actually, this would have been a good episode for Worf, no?
Elliott - Fri, Jul 20, 2012 - 1:00pm (USA Central)
A completely forgettable and disposable piece of fluff.

Action or no, this is just a waste of time. Many of the commentators refer to the high-concept tone of this episode as "refreshing" or "a nice change of pace". Change of pace from what exactly? Interesting dialogue? Compelling ideas? Moving character interaction? Why do we need a "break" from those things? I'll tell you what I want, is a break from the white-milk monotony that Season 6 has become--"Chain of Command" and "Tapestry" were refreshing breaks because they were about something interesting for a change. This was silly made more silly by the completely contrived idea that Picard is an action hero. Any of the other captains would have been more suited to this kind of show, but in the end, the show simply did not have to exist. Seasons 6 and 7 should have been combined into one more unified and energetic season leaving out the clunkers like this one.

I will say to the episode's credit that the Data/Hutch scenes are always enjoyable. It's rather macabre to have poor stupid Hutch killed off amongst this fluffiness.

2 stars.
David - Sat, Jul 28, 2012 - 8:57am (USA Central)
@David Clark:

"Oh, please! Knowing DS9, this episode would've ended with Sisko resolving the issue by talking to those stupid wormholes aliens."

=( That doesn't seem fair at all. After the pilot they didn't appear again until Season 3, once in Season 4, once in Season 5, bit more in 6 and 7. I don't think they count as a DS9 cliche.
Grumpy - Sun, Jul 29, 2012 - 5:32pm (USA Central)
"...who would be better for an action oriented episode?"

I'm picturing Tasha Yar in a Season 1 episode. A single Yar-centric show would've rehabilitated her whiny character. Might even have been meaty enough to convince Crosby to stick with the show a little longer. However, human villains would've been totally forbidden in Season 1.
paul - Mon, Jul 30, 2012 - 6:17am (USA Central)
"=( That doesn't seem fair at all. After the pilot they didn't appear again until Season 3, once in Season 4, once in Season 5, bit more in 6 and 7. I don't think they count as a DS9 cliche."

Maybe they wouldn't have if they didn't become more prominent over that show's run and, thus, making its final season a disappointment.
Nick P. - Mon, Sep 10, 2012 - 3:48pm (USA Central)
@ Ospero, I agree completely with the "action Picard" problem. I always felt Picard as a character worked WAYYYY better on the bridge, which is of course technically, where he belongs. Compare this to season 2's "Q who", the scenes where he is on the bridge while the away team was on the borg ship are 1000 times more compelling to me than this boring drivel. I hate this episode. Jammer and I repeatedly complain about the poor state of music at this point in TNG, and this episode is exhibit 1.

That all being said, it could have been better. heck, just the better soundtrack would have brought this up to a 2 for me, as is 1 star. .5 for the enterprise, and .5 for the sort-of humour on the planet.

BTW, I actually think, music aside, season 6 has been pretty good. Definitely better than I remember it. Way better than season 5.
Sxottlan - Tue, Sep 11, 2012 - 3:03am (USA Central)
I always wanted to see Die Hard on Trek, so this was basically aimed straight at me.

However, at that point in my life I was frankly looking for a little more carnage and action. I could usually depend on DS9 for that (we never saw any kind of "automatic" weapon in Trek until we were introduced to the Jem'Hadar rifle). It was a big reason I loved it so much at the time. And this episode promised much, but did not deliver what I had hoped.

I mean, it WAS interesting to see Action Picard every now and then. As we saw, he was more prone to that when he was young. But his character always seemed better suited to brief bursts of violence. Perhaps like a samurai. His charging right at the terrorist in The High Ground is more of what I'm thinking.

What was always kind of hard to reconcile with this episode was the seriousness of what was happening on the ship with the almost sitcom-like set up on the planet (it was a similar problem with First Contact). Picard running from the reception is one of the funniest bits we've ever seen with the captain.

And his last line in the episode is worthy of any 80s action film one liner.
Cail Corishev - Sun, Oct 14, 2012 - 8:25pm (USA Central)
I was 23 when this first aired, and I used to get so tired of Action!Picard. It wasn't that I didn't like him, but I liked the other characters too, especially Riker. Too often the rest of them got to sit on their thumbs while the oldest, baldest member of the crew had the adventures. The movies were even worse.

Now that I'm closer to Picard's age, his action scenes don't seem as ridiculous, but watching the episodes one right after the other instead of weekly also makes it more obvious -- "Sheesh, another one all about Picard?" Had it been more of an ensemble show, Riker could've been the one playing commando. It's easy to imagine most of the DS9 characters taking center stage in an episode like that, but TNG just wasn't that kind of show.
Rob - Fri, Nov 30, 2012 - 10:52pm (USA Central)
One thing I always found odd about this episode was that Picard makes such an effort to take out the Trilithium thieves in non-lethal ways, but he ultimately leaves them all to die in the Baryon sweep. I know he didn't have much choice, but taking out your opponents non-lethally only to lock them in a closet so the "death-ray" can take them out seems somewhat pointless.
Jay - Sat, Dec 1, 2012 - 11:04pm (USA Central)
@ Cail...yeah it seems these "action hero" episodes are relegated only to the 24th century captain characters....Janeway had her equivalent to this episode with Macrocosm.
tony - Wed, Mar 13, 2013 - 5:58am (USA Central)
@Nathaniel

Well let's see, they show up at DS9's first damn episode, they figure in boring episodes like "Destiny" and even that one episode where the Nagus 'regresses' to a more generous person, they infamously gave that deux ex machina ending to the arc which began the sixth season, & (for reasons we could care less about because Ira did) they send Sisko away at the series's end.
matt - Fri, Mar 15, 2013 - 6:09am (USA Central)
Agreed, Tony.
Those stupid aliens were as much a cliche for DS9 as the reset button was for Voyager
Josh - Fri, Mar 15, 2013 - 11:32am (USA Central)
I'm unsure why *any* appearance of the wormhole aliens, regardless of the context, constitutes a "cliche". That makes about as much sense as saying that the appearance of Q constitutes a cliche.

The reset button wasn't a cliche for Voyager - it was a recurring plot device that ensured that nothing that ever happened had any lasting consequences.

As for this episode, I agree that the Die Hard comparisons fall down mainly in the villain. Kelsey is not Hans Gruber, sadly, but I could see a more compelling villain (and more interesting characters on the planet) making it just about perfect.

I do think that "action" Picard worked pretty well, especially because it was more about his ingenuity and knowledge that let him succeed. In some ways this is more in keeping with John McClane in the original movie.
Sintek - Sun, Jun 16, 2013 - 4:31am (USA Central)
What is it about DS9 specifically that gives so many a raging hardoff? Is it because, unlike TNG and Voyager, it can't be followed while playing in the background?
T'Paul - Mon, Jun 17, 2013 - 10:02am (USA Central)
Absolutely loved the Data small talk scenes... made the rest totally worth it.
Adam - Mon, Jul 22, 2013 - 1:04pm (USA Central)
I love the fact that Tim Russ's character was put down by Picard with a Vulcan nerve pinch.
Glenn - Sun, Jul 28, 2013 - 12:52am (USA Central)
Never having seen Die Hard, I didn't even have that storyline to bolster my impression of this episode. Way too many plot conveniences and improbabilities make for a (mostly complete) waste of time. Bummer.
mephyve - Mon, Sep 2, 2013 - 7:32pm (USA Central)
Nice episode. A few bothersome points. Data was afraid of a phaser. The two dumb terrorists let the officers of Starfleet's flagship walk around freely enabling them to devise a plan. And then there's the captain of the flagship, the same guy who challenged those three big aliens by himself and yet he gets whupped by one skinny human chick.
Anyway it was an entertaining story, Captain Picard became the fly in the ointment of an elaborate heist because he wanted his saddle . The best part though was Data's dabbling in the art of small talk. Quite hilarious.
William B - Thu, Sep 19, 2013 - 3:37pm (USA Central)
I like this episode, I think, though it suffers both from a lack of meaning (obviously) and that it's a little low-octane as an actioner. This time I caught what the arc of the episode is, which I hadn't really before: Picard starts off trying to keep all the terrorists/thieves alive, devising non-lethal traps, etc., and at the very end of the episode he brings out the big guns -- he uncaps the resin container knowing that the lead space-pirate's shuttle will blow up. This is a bit un-Trekkian, perhaps, but I think the idea that Picard recognizes as the episode goes on that lethal measures are the only way he can get off the ship and to prevent the trilithium resin from getting away, which is his highest priority, generally works. The episode relies, too, on the idea that Picard knows the ship very well, and I like some of the details on that level -- e.g. Picard going to Worf's quarters to grab some weapons, and I especially like that this point is not explained in dialogue. Reading up on the episode on Memory Alpha, apparently Morgan Gendel thought of this as a love letter from Picard to the Enterprise, and the rest of the writing staff didn't really buy it, thinking that it was more of a Kirk-Enterprise thing than a Picard-Enterprise one. I think I agree, ultimately; Picard loves his ship, but do we need a whole episode about it?

The small talk scenes are a lot of fun, and I generally liked Riker et al.'s plan to take back control; it's true that the aliens should really have not let them go around talking, but I think the episode did tackle this at least a bit by suggesting they were in over their heads and hadn't intended this to happen.

Overall, the episode is a high 2.5 from me.
Smith - Mon, Feb 17, 2014 - 12:25pm (USA Central)
Fun episode. Piller hated this episode (too violent...eg hitting women) and he/Berman heavily censored the story. Would have been fun to see the original. Moore was an uncredited writer and he made an interesting comment that Piller really constrained the staff to "character" stories and that this was an exception that got through (thankfully). Action up top and comedy on the planet. Makes one second guess Pillar's role as an executive and perhaps would explain why the writers would later revolt against him.
SkepticalMI - Sun, Aug 10, 2014 - 4:02pm (USA Central)
Poor Tuvok, he must be the unluckiest secret agent ever. I mean, we know his undercover op in the Maquis ended when his ship got transported halfway across the galaxy, which is rather unfortunate. But what about his mission before that? A highly sensitive, delicate operation to infiltrate a terrorist operation by posing as a trilithium smuggler. And at a critical juncture, the point where he could see who is interested in obtaining this trilithium resin... he gets a freaking saddle thrown at him by a starship captain. So close...

What? We don't see Tim Russ' character get killed. And sure, he looks human here, but we know cosmetic surgery exists. And it makes the episode I bit more fun. That's the way I choose to remember it. Too bad the Voyager writers didn't decide to make it canon.

As for the episode itself, it's good fun as long as you turn off your brain. If you turn on your brain, it ends up making no sense of course.

After all, look at Kelsey. She killed her nervous tech guy for... what? Being annoying? To cut down on the loot to share? Who knows? What we do know is that means she has no moral concern with killing, no concern in the slightest. So this story should have ended 5 minutes in. Picard brought in to Engineering as a prisoner. Kelsey kills him and gets back to work. Game over. Later, Picard gets captured again. Kelsey asks if he's alive, and is pleased when the answer is affirmative. Why? She's not going to take him with, and the Baryon sweep would eventually kill him anyway. So what difference does it make? Twice Picard should have just been killed if the smugglers were smart. Twice he was allowed to live. Kelsey deserved to lose just based on stupidity.

And, of course, there was Riker and company's brilliant subterfuge on the surface in clandestinely plotting their escape. Anyone else reminded of Monty Python and the Holy Grail? The scene where the kid in the tower who didn't want to marry the lass with huge tracts of land was "secretly" shooting his arrow asking for help while the guards just smiled? The difference, of course, is that in Python it was played as absurdist comedy, while here it was actually intended to be serious.

Still, it was an enjoyable action/comedy, a nice breather from more serious episodes. I don't mind a little ActionPicard; he is the main character of the show after all. It was still done in moderation (until the movies of course), so why not?

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