Starfleet has observed a mysterious space object — believed to be a "living starship" and dubbed "Tin Man" — orbiting a star that's about to go nova, and sends the Enterprise to investigate and make contact with it. But the mission is a race: The Enterprise must reach and contact Tin Man before the Romulans do. Starfleet assigns a mission specialist to the Enterprise, Tam Elbrun (Harry Groener), a man with extraordinary telepathic skills, even for a Betazoid.
"Tin Man" exemplifies the balanced TNG episode. It's good, not great. It puts emphasis, in nearly equal measure, on its central character crisis (Tam's), the seeking out of Strange New Life (Tin Man), and a showdown with a familiar foe (the Romulans). Tam is an intriguing, flawed individual with unique problems — a loner who tries to push everybody away, and is borderline unstable. Troi knows him from the past (he was a patient) and his psychological torment is understandable; he hears every thought of every person on the ship, constantly. Put yourself in his shoes and you'd probably be hard-pressed to consider sanity as a likely outcome. Tam is in contact with Tin Man, which has even more powerful abilities for telepathy. Tin Man is in the TNG spirit of ancient, wondrous, and powerful forms of previously unknown life. Starfleet is curious of such things.
On the other hand, the Romulans would dissect Tin Man given the chance. After the terrific "Defector," in which the Romulans were both smart and ruthless, it's kind of a shame to see the Romulans reduced to such bland thuggery. I guess someone's gotta do it. When Tin Man destroys a Romulan ship while protecting itself, a second ship announces its right to claim vengeance on Tin Man. I don't understand what makes them think they could possibly be successful, but given that intention, I couldn't figure out why the Romulans then just sit there while Tam and Data beam over to make direct contact with Tin Man. Why don't the Romulans attempt to board Tin Man?
The episode's solutions are tidy in the sense that the story has a certain number of pieces (two, really) and they are destined to fit together. Tin Man once had a crew, but the crew died. It has since roamed the galaxy alone and now wants to die, hence it being parked in orbit of a star about to explode. Tam and Tin Man provide each other a symbiosis that was meant to be. Tin Man will no longer be alone, and Tam will have just one voice to contend with rather than hundreds. The episode is the first to be scored by Jay Chattaway, who in season four would eventually replace Ron Jones and go on to write music for Trek for the next 15 years.
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