Star Trek: The Next Generation: Tin Man   Rewatch 
November 23, 2020 9:25 AM - Season 3, Episode 20 - Subscribe

The Enterprise races against Romulans to make first contact with a powerful entity code-named "Tin Man."

Memory Alpha's the indispensable man. The Federation's finest specialist in communication with unknown life forms.

Story and script
  • Writers Dennis Russell Bailey, David Bischoff, and Lisa Putman White based this episode on a short story titled "Tin Woodman" that Bailey and Bischoff wrote in 1976. It was first published in the December 1976 issue of Amazing Stories, and served as the basis of a novel of the same name published by Doubleday in 1979. The original story was nominated for a Nebula Award in 1977. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion 2nd ed., p. 123)
  • On the back cover of the 1982 re-print of "Tin Woodman" (five years before Star Trek: The Next Generation was produced), Publisher's Weekly describes the novel as "…a mixture of Moby Dick, The Caine Mutiny, and Star Trek… a good adventure story."
  • According to Bailey, the trio were inspired to write a script for the series after watching "Samaritan Snare", which he considered "the most abysmal piece of Star Trek ever filmed." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 180)
  • The ambient sounds that Gomtuu made were derived from sounds recorded from sound effects editor Jim Wolvington's stomach through a stethoscope while he was eating pizza. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion 2nd ed., p. 123)
  • The growing chair was created by reversing a time-lapse film of a wax chair melting. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion 2nd ed., p. 123)
  • Gomtuu's attack special effects is a reuse of V'Ger's "evolution" in the ending part of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It has been edited to fit the scene in this episode.
  • This episode is the first one to mention the name of the D'deridex-class Romulan Warbird.
Poster's Log:
Harry Groener, here playing Tam Elbrun, would become familiar to another fandom as Mayor Richard Wilkins of Sunnydale on the series "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer".

Lots of awkward exposition in this one, including Riker's conversation with LaForge about his (misdirected) anger over Elbrun's involvement with the Ghorusda incident and Crusher's speculating about how difficult it must be for young telepaths to deal with all those other minds.

Elbrun consistently calling Troi "Dee" is kind of endearing. I think that's the most intimate form of address we see used with her, perhaps more intimate than "Imzadi".

The interactions between Data and Elbrun feel pretty authentic, for lack of a better word. Data's obvious-but-unspoken annoyance at Elbrun checking out his painting is a nice step forward for him in terms of both actually reflecting how a human might feel and understanding the social nuances enough not to bring it up.

I might have rolled my eyes at the bridge crew not being able to put together "we are faster than the Romulans" with "they're doing something that's draining some cloaking device energy" and come up with "they're overloading their engines to keep up with us". The Romulan "shadow" matching the Enterprise's course and speed is a nice call back to our introduction to the Romulans in TOS: Balance of Terror.
posted by hanov3r (13 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I like the broad strokes of this episode, a race against the Romulans and a star that's going to explode to get to a strange and mysterious object in space with a wild card hanging around to make contact when the time comes. No more piddling around along the Neutral Zone: this episode sends out the ship to do its thing with unknown stakes that are in theory more interesting than some planet that could be a base for an invasion or whatever.

As hanov3r notes, there are some good things, some not so good things. For me, Tam gets to be a little too much at times. I do like the concept of his character, a full telepath who messed up an earlier mission.

The end where Data describes how Tam has found his place and how Data's place is on the ship with his crewmates has never quite worked for me.
posted by Fukiyama at 10:07 AM on November 23, 2020

This and "Hollow Pursuits" combine for another themed two-fer for this week, what you might call "Talented Misfits." If "Allegiance" with its aliens who seemed to form a sort of nonhierarchical gestalt demonstrate the potential advantages of being born telepathic, this ep shows the potential drawbacks; even in a society of mostly fellow telepaths, the guy who understands radically-different lifeforms is misunderstood and alienated. I think that Harry Groener (I'm not a big Buffy fan, so I still think of him mostly as Ralph from Dear John; he also shows up a couple more times in Trek) does a bang-up job, not afraid to cut the pathos a bit by making Elbrun grating at times. Another aspect of Elbrun's interactions with Data is that he gets to experience interaction with Data the way that most non-Betazoids experience interaction with most people. Between this and Data's acting as an interlocutor for humanity during Q's brief time as a human (Quman?), he's sort of carving out an interesting niche for himself.

As for Gomtuu, I found myself wanting to know more about them--are they a genetically-engineered being, or just happened to evolve a symbiotic relationship with its former crew? The Living Ship trope is pretty venerable, and covers both cases. (It's arguably true for the pilot of this series.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:47 AM on November 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

My daughter and I refer to this one as the "Space Yam" episode.

I've always really liked this one. As an extreme introvert, I've always felt that Tam Elbrun represents that side of the human experience: being around others is totally exhausting, and what he wants and needs is to just be alone.

Riker's awkward "anger" shows up from time-to-time, and while it always feels odd, they pay it off with a great joke in the DS9 episode Defiant.

As for Gomtuu, I found myself wanting to know more about them

Sometimes there are things in TNG that I'm just willing to let be... weird. A giant living creature, in space, that looks like a yam? Sure, whatever. I'll roll with it.

I love the special effect of the "wax" chair appearing in reverse. Neat stuff.
posted by rocketman at 12:04 PM on November 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

It looks like they must have got a great deal on tiered/ruffley fabric because it appears they used it to make Picard's ghastly Strictly Ballroom deep-V crossover top in Captain's Holiday and Tam Elbrun's pants in this one (just a different color). (I'm sure they weren't the same, it just made me laugh, okay?)

The growing chair was created by reversing a time-lapse film of a wax chair melting.

Man, even though I grew up in the era of practical special effects, the solutions they came up with never cease to amaze me.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:24 PM on November 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

As for Gomtuu, I found myself wanting to know more about them--are they a genetically-engineered being, or just happened to evolve a symbiotic relationship with its former crew? The Living Ship trope is pretty venerable, and covers both cases. (It's arguably true for the pilot of this series.)

Of all the things that have never been revisited in later Star Trek episodes, Gomtuu is one of the ones I wish for the most. Like, what if Voyager ran into Gomtuu headed the other direction? I bet they could have brought Harry Groener back to play Tam again. Maybe, given how much Lower Decks loves to dredge up old Trek errata, there's hope for more Gomtuu yet.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:25 PM on November 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

It would probably have been too much plot for a single episode of TNG, but the stakes in "Tin Man" would have been higher if it was actually possible for Gomtuu to go with the Romulans. Instead, Picard pretty much says outright that Tin Man won't go with the Romulans. It would have been interesting if the Tam's backstory involved a rival Romulan first contact specialist (as opposed to the whole "Tam screwed up" backstory that would be reused for Ro and Paris). Instead, the Romulans are the usual bad guys who are intent on destroying what they don't understand.
posted by Stuka at 9:31 PM on November 23, 2020

Re: the fabric for Elbrun’s pants - if I could dress like him everyday, I would. That outfit looked COMFORTABLE.
posted by hanov3r at 9:55 PM on November 23, 2020

This episode is also notable for giving us some good Betazoid worldbuilding—much better than we will get in a lamentable upcoming episode where we actually visit Betazed.

I agree that Tam's a bit much, but then, he's supposed to be—and Buffy Mayor here gives one of the strongest guest performances on TNG so far. The rest of the script has just enough issues to make it clear that this was really supposed to be all about Tam, and ordinarily that's poison for an ensemble show like this. I think I made similar remarks about the Okona episode, where it truly became Love Boat in Space because we're not really getting any good stuff with our crew, just an hour of focus on Space Randos we'll never meet again. One almost senses that maybe they planned for a bigger-name guest star as Tam? but the fact is, Groener nails it.

I too am an introvert, even moreso back when this first aired, and this episode didn't just resonate with me; it haunted me. It almost offended me, as in, "How dare you open me up and put me on your screen like this without me knowing? And am I as annoying as Tam?" [Narrator: He was more annoying.] And after seeing it at least ten times, it's still affecting, even if upon analysis it's not among my top TNGs.

Messed-up Betazoids previously on MetaFilter: VOY: "Meld" FF thread, in which Tam is mentioned
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:40 AM on November 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

While this isn't a great episode, it is one of my favorites. I relate to Tam strongly as an introvert. In addition, I "sense" other people's emotions and they impact me. Not in the Troi sense. More like I get very uncomfortable when people around me are feeling things very intensely. It doesn't matter what the emotion is. I used to be very robotic in my own emotions. I was a really good Spock. I didn't feel other people's emotions, I just got this very weird, unfun, anxiety like response. I know I'm not explaining this very well. Sorry.
posted by kathrynm at 6:53 AM on November 24, 2020 [6 favorites]

I know I'm not explaining this very well.

This may be one of the corners of the internet, or even MeFi, where you don't need to.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:29 AM on November 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

Strike up the pan flutes, it's time for cards from the episode in the Star Trek CCG:

Premiere('94): Supernova; Incoming Message - Federation; Investigate Anomaly; Investigate Sighting; Tallus; Tam Elbrun; Worf. It ain't even a Worf feature episode and yet this is where his card's from! Providing Fed players with a much needed Security and the same Honor/Navigation/Diplomacy from your Riker and your Picard. Synergy.

Alternate Universe('95): Gomtuu. A card that hurls. It seems weird to say that Tam Elbrun is its 'matching commander' yet there it is.

Blaze of Glory('99): Plasma Torpedo. The generic Tactic for Romulan decks.

Enhanced Premiere('00): Investigate Anomaly II; Investigate Sighting II. Same missions, worth fewer points, with built-in Outposts.

Second Edition ('02): Investigate Sighting. Pretty much the same as in 1E.

All Good Things('02): Robert DeSoto. A late 1E broken-link fixer, to the U.S.S. Hood, a wimpy little Excelsior class.

Call to Arms('03): Gomtuu Shock Wave. An absolute staple, highly effective against low Integrity factions like Romulans and Cardassians. Telepathy ain't all that easy to come by, a lot of decks ran maybe one to protect against this.

Strange New Worlds('05): Exceed Engine Output. Keep that ship movin' -- for a price.

Captain's Log('06): Tam Elbrun, Prodigal Telepath. OK ability, I didn't personally run a lot of interference decks where he'd be good.

When I follow the set by set format, some of these posts run kind of long! Next episode is a doozy but it's so cool.
posted by StarkRoads at 9:29 PM on November 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thanks Halloween Jack.
posted by kathrynm at 5:26 PM on November 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was delighted to see Mayor Wilkins himself show up - and then I was even more delighted when he called Data’s quarters Spartan, because his Buffy character has a pretty important line where he calls someone’s living situation Spartan. Weird coincidence or Buffy making a reference to this episode, who knows?
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:06 AM on January 1, 2021

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