Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Starship Mine”

“Starship Mine”
Written by Morgan Gendel
Directed by Cliff Bole
Season 6, Episode 18
Production episode 40276-244
Original air date: March 29, 1993
Stardate: 46682.4

Captain’s Log. The Enterprise has arrived at the Remmler Array for a maintenance procedure known as a baryon sweep—it basically wipes away all the space gunk that’s accumulated over five years. Because the sweep is fatal to all organic matter, we open with the ship in a massive flurry of activity as folks prepare to evacuate. After Picard puts out some organizational fires—stasis units for Crusher, opening a transporter for Troi to aid in evac, etc.—he shares a turbolift with Data, who fills the silence with non-relevant conversation. Apparently, he has created a new small-talk subroutine, though Picard feels his current attempts are a little too non-relevant. He suggests that Data talk to Commander Hutchinson on Arkaria Base, who is a master of small talk.

On the bridge, Picard puts out a couple more fires with La Forge and Worf. The latter asks to be excused from Hutchinson’s reception that afternoon, and Picard allows it, wishing he could be similarly excused. La Forge then rushes to ask for the same thing, but Picard refuses, saying he can’t let his entire senior staff off the hook, and Worf beat him to it. Worf actually smiles in triumph.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Starship Mine

Picard briefly talks with Orton on Arkaria, confirming that they’re on schedule, and then he comes out to an empty bridge. He does a final walk ’round the command center, then leaves just as the team from Arkaria arrives to set things up.

At the reception, Hutchinson is proving himself capable of holding a lengthy conversation without saying anything, and Data is taking notes, and proceeds to babble at Crusher and Riker even as Hutchinson (“Call me ’Hutch’!”) is boring the crap out of Picard, La Forge, and Troi. At one point during an endless litany about the bird-watching opportunities on Arkaria, Hutch mentions horses and the trails they have nearby. Picard, clutching to this information like a drowning victim does a life preserver, says he would love to ride, and has just enough time to go back to the Enterprise and retrieve his saddle.

By the time he beams back, gets his saddle, and changes into riding clothes, there are eight minutes left before the sweep starts. While walking to the transporter, he notices an exposed panel with a cut junction. One of the team sneaks up on him—they should be off the ship by now—and threatens him with a laser. Picard manages to subdue him and runs to the transporter, ducking two other members of the team who are still on board, but doesn’t make it before main power goes offline and the sweep starts.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Starship Mine

Back on Arkaria, Data and Hutch continue to compete for the most boring conversationalist at the reception. Riker decides to save everyone by introducing the two and letting them go at it (to the extreme gratitude of Orton, who had fallen into Data’s verbal death spiral). Even as they go on, and on and on and on, La Forge notices something odd under the table with his VISOR. Orton and his aide then whip out their weapons and fire on both La Forge and Hutch, wounding the former and killing the latter.

On the ship, Picard drags his victim, whose name is Devor, to sickbay, and overhears his comm unit. Kelsey, the apparent leader, tries to raise Devor, and sends Kiros to find out what’s taking him so long. Picard asks Devor what’s happening, but he won’t talk. After administering a hypo to render him unconscious, Picard goes to a turbolift—where Kiros gets the drop on him and brings him to engineering.

Picard identifies himself as Mot the barber, acting as helpless as possible. Kelsey is not happy, and sends Kiros to find Devor, who is still missing. Picard then overhears Kelsey talking about a storage unit for trilithium resin, which explains why they’re still on board despite the sweep.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Starship Mine

On the base, Riker tries to figure out how to proceed. Orton’s made no demands, hasn’t communicated with anyone—Data hypothesizes that La Forge upset their timetable and they’re improvising. La Forge also needs medical attention, and Data says they can adjust his VISOR to use as a weapon to render everyone unconscious for a moment. Crusher starts to work on that, since Data fiddling with the VISOR would be suspicious.

Kelsey didn’t have the brains to frisk “Mot,” so he still has the laser he took off Devor, and he uses it to mess up the warp core. In the confusion, and after using the laser on the containment unit, he makes a break for it through the Jefferies tubes. One of the bad guys pursues. Picard reaches a dead end when the baryon sweep starts coming toward him. He goes through the floor to the deck, leaving his jacket behind, which distracts his pursuer long enough for the sweep to get him. (He also leaves his combadge behind for the bad guys to find, so they know he’s an officer, not a barber.)

Picard’s zapping the unit means they won’t be protected from the baryon sweep when it comes through engineering, so they have to leave—with the trilithium, which is horribly unstable. Neil—the tech guy—is intimidated by Kelsey into rigging up a control rod that will allow them to move it safely without it blowing up.

The baryon sweep makes phasers useless, so Picard goes to the best place on the ship for edged weapons: Worf’s quarters. While he gathers up a crossbow and some bolts, he overhears Kelsey telling Kiros that they’re moving the trilithium resin to Ten-Forward, the last part of the ship that’ll get hit by the sweep. Picard gets on the line and urges her not to do that, as it’s unsafe. The exposition fairy then arrives and explains that trilithium resin is a waste product of a ship’s engines that is spectacularly unstable and can be used as a weapon. Kelsey snottily points out that it wouldn’t risk exploding and killing everyone if he hadn’t messed with the unit, and Picard replies that he’d rather blow up the ship and die himself than allow the resin to fall into the hands of terrorists.

Kelsey and Neil head to Ten-Forward, while Picard—having cut the rungs off the ladder on their best route—is in sickbay coming up with cool stuff to put on the tip of the crossbow bolts. He uses one on one of his pursuers, but while kneeling down to take his laser, Kiros once again gets the drop on him. Meanwhile, Kelsey kills Neil, having grown tired of listening to him whine.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Starship Mine

On Arkaria, Crusher’s good to go, but they need a distraction, as the VISOR will emit a burst of light when they activate it for the pulse. So Riker hits Orton, and gets knocked around by his aide, which enables Crusher to activate it. A perimeter alert goes off, indicating that there’s a ship approaching. Crusher hits them with the pulse, and Data, the only one unaffected, grabs the weapons and tries to stop the ship.

As they approach Ten-Forward, Picard plays another card: he identifies himself as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, valuable hostage. But Kelsey isn’t a terrorist, she’s just an arms dealer who stands to make a pretty penny from the resin.

However, Picard has one last trick up his sleeve—he put magnesite strips on the floor of Ten-Forward. Kiros steps on one and is knocked down, and Kelsey and Picard then fight over the laser, a fight that Kelsey wins. She is beamed off to the getaway ship, and Picard then frantically contacts Arkaria to shut off the sweep, which is now moving through Ten-Forward and about to kill him. It’s shut off in the nick of time, and then Picard watches as the getaway ship blows up, thanks to the control rod that he managed to remove from the containment unit not being there anymore.

Afterward, Picard fidgets in sickbay, as nobody can find his saddle. Worf eventually tracks it down in a maintenance locker, and Picard is relieved. And they all have a good laugh over Picard and his horse-riding fetish, and everyone’s totally forgotten about all the dead bodies….

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Starship Mine

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: A baryon sweep is inimical to organic life, but it will get rid of all that gunky buildup that gets in the grout. At least, we should pretend that’s what it is, since actual baryons are protons and neutrons, and are therefore in most, y’know, things. An actual baryon sweep wouldn’t leave much matter behind….

Also apparently warp engines emit trilithium resin as a waste product. I guess it’s supposed to be a residue from dilithium crystals—the dilithium breaking down to single lithium, and then three of them rebonding to form trilithium, maybe?—except those recrystallize, so where does the lithium come from? Ah, well, best not to examine it too closely….

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi is in her regular uniform in the opening, but wears the old purple one-piece outfit for the reception. She also questions the wisdom of Riker causing a distraction by getting punched in the face.

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data takes to small talk like a duck to water, and really puts his nose to the grindstone in making himself the perfect small-talking machine. Er, so to speak.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Starship Mine

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf proves the value of “it never hurts to ask” by getting out of the reception by the simple expedient of being the only person to think of asking Picard. This has the added benefit of giving Michael Dorn a light week after he was in practically every scene in the previous episode. Worf’s fetish for edged weapons proves useful for Picard as well….

I Believe I Said That: “You keep a saddle on board the Enterprise?”

La Forge, incredulous. The question will be repeated later by Worf.

Welcome Aboard: David Spielberg is delightfully awful as Hutchinson, playing beautifully alongside Brent Spiner, and most of the bad guys comport themselves okay, though only two stand out: Patricia Tallman—probably best known in genre circles as Lyta Alexander on Babylon 5, but also a longtime stuntwoman who’s appeared on TNG many times before in that capacity—is excellent as Kiros, the muscle of the group, who is tellingly the only one who ever actually gets the better of Picard; and Tim Russ, making his Trek debut as Devor, and who will play a Klingon on Deep Space Nine, a Starfleet officer in Star Trek Generations, and, of course, have the starring role of Tuvok on Voyager.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Starship Mine

But the episode’s Robert Knepper moment is a repeat: Glenn Morshower, who played Burke in “Peak Performance” and is probably best known as the rock-steady Secret Service Agent Pierce on 24, plays Orton.

Trivial Matters: Picard’s love for horseback riding was established in “Pen Pals.”

Trilithium resin will be used as a weapon by Captain Sisko in the Deep Space Nine episode “For the Uniform.”

Picard uses what looks like a Vulcan nerve pinch on Devor in the episode. Besides the retroactive hilariousness of him using it on a character played by an actor who will go on to play a Vulcan, it also means that apparently Picard picked up on some stuff after his intense mind-meld in “Sarek.”

Screenwriter Morgan Gendel’s original title was “Revolution,” continuing his theme of titling his episodes after Beatles songs (the last being “The Inner Light,” the title of the B-side to “Lady Madonna”), but it was changed because it was too similar to the third-season premiere “Evolution.”

Make it So: “How long can two people talk about nothing?” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s Die Hard on a spaceship! (Which is apparently how Morgan Gendel pitched the episode.) In the wake of that 1988 film, everyone and her sister was doing “Die Hard on a [whatever],” from Under Siege (“…on a sub!”) to Passenger 57 (“…on a plane!”), and this was TNG’s shot at it.

And it mostly works as a diverting little hour. It has some major issues, some in casting—Marie Marshall is less than engaging as Kelsey (she was much better as “Dodger” on Babylon 5), and the usually reliable Glenn Morshower is awful and stilted as Orton—but mostly in the cavalier way death is treated. Lip service is given early on to Picard sparing people’s lives—he doesn’t kill Devor when he has the chance, and he’s unhappy about another bad guy who’s taken by the sweep, but he quickly progresses to the outright murder of Kelsey. Plus, Devor, Kiros, and others he incapacitated were left to be taken by the sweep. On top of that, Hutchinson is killed rather perfunctorily and without any comment—or even notice beyond a single shot of a body under a blanket. Yes, he was annoying, but he deserved a lot better than to be utterly disregarded after he was shot.

Still, it has some wonderful moments, from Picard’s pretending to be the barber (and continuing to be identified as Mot till the end) to Data’s small talk to Picard’s first stop once he’s free being Worf’s quarters to get all the fun weapons to Pat Tallman’s general awesomeness. As long as you treat it like a dumb action movie, it’s fine.


Warp factor rating: 6

Keith R.A. DeCandido is not at all ready for it to be Thanksgiving already.


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