Friday, March 9, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 6: Starship Mine

The Next Generation, Season 6
"Starship Mine"
Airdate: March 29, 1993
143 of 176 produced
143 of 176 aired


While the Enterprise gets scrubbed of built up baryon particles, the crew enjoys the hospitality of the planetary base below. But when Picard returns to the ship to retrieve a personal item, he is shocked to discover a plot to steal a dangerous byproduct from the ship's engines. It is up to him to stop it, at whatever cost.

Shut down all the garbage mashers on the detention level!


Matthew: The "change of pace" episode is a funny thing. When done well, it can remind you of why you love a show so much. When done poorly, it makes you wonder whether something you love has "jumped the shark." So what differentiates the former from the latter? I think this episode has the qualities of the good change of pace all over it. First of all, though it might be a change in story type, it is not a fundamentally different tone, and it respects the characterization that went before. Nobody acts radically different than they have before, just because the episode requires them to. It feels organic and real, even when it is different.

Kevin: I agree. We've seen all the characters in some variation of the action episode to date, and usually the episode is at least highly entertaining, if not maybe a little light on the plot. I think you make an excellent point about characterization. A lesser show would have just had the characters adopt one of the list of tropes of an action story. Picard always chooses the least fatal option, and tries to negotiate a resolution. Riker uses his natural bravado. Crusher has the same demeanor as when she is performing surgery. It anchors the change of pace in a show we all know and love.

Matthew: The second aspect of a good change of pace is that it doesn't rely on the simple fact of changing things up to constitute the entertainment value of the show. It tells a worthwhile and complete story in its own right.  "Starship Mine" certainly does this, it tells a complete story with unassuming intro, comic relief, plot thickening, climax, and denouement. What's really nice about this "change of pace" is that it's not just comedy or just action. It functions very well as both. The comic scenes before and during the party were really funny, in the best way - they don't try too hard, they just show character traits we know (Data's earnestness, Picard's hatred of pomp and small talk, Riker's affable nature and womanizing,Worf and Geordi's cameraderie) and display them to humorous effect. The action scenes also are pleasing, because they don't try to do too much - a few fistfights and an explosion at the end are all effective. Also, it's not just action for action's sake - it is action that develops Picard's character. The overall variety of scenes in this episode is quite entertaining.

Kevin: I like the overall restraint. We don't get unnecessary acrobatics by Picard. Even the setting is nicely mined to have a subdued effect. Unlike Lens Flare McGee and his Traveling Cavalcade of CGI Explosions, the darkened corridors of the Enterprise and mazes of Jeffries tubes really serve an atmospheric and interesting story. Even little notes like Picard getting weapons from Worf's quarters really make the episode sing. It shows how well Picard knows both the ship and his crew.

Matthew: I don't think this is a perfect story, inasmuch as the behavior of the natives/aliens/whatever on the planet made little sense. Why were they willing to kill Federation personnel? Were they connected to the mercenaries? Presumably they were, but there was no dialogue indicating this connection. Orton seemed to have served with Hutchinson for a long time, but gunned him down in cold blood. Was profit really his motive? Does his species lack humanoid empathetic response? Were there really no other Starfleet personnel on this base to counter the hostage takers, since this is a base where galaxy class starships are basically abandoned and scrubbed? Also, what did the other 1,000 crew aboard the Enterprise do? They had to be far enough away from the base to not interfere with the hostage taking (indeed, they seemed completely unaware of it). This isn't the hardest sci-fi story in the world, it could have taken place on a train or a cruise ship or a skyscraper.

Kevin: My problem is with the set up. Why the artificial construct of the countdown? Why can't Picard just order the computer back on? They aren't fatal to the story by any stretch, but it does make the set up a little contrived.


Matthew: This is a Picard action showcase, and Stewart does a nice job making Picard's annoyance, then his guile, then his action hero moxie, seem quite real. I also liked Frakes "creating a diversion." As for the rest of the crew, Spiner sticks out for being used well here. It's the perfect amount of Spiner humor, really. The scenes don't go on for too long, they fit with established characterization, and the comedy itself is not crude or low. It's comedy of manners. Spiner humor, in my opinion, is a spice. You don't make a main dish entirely out of spices. The proper amount is an accent that punctuates the rest of the show.

Kevin: All of Picard's reactions read as appropriate for the circumstances. It never read as absurd or out of character. His eventual victory depends on his knowledge of the ship and crew, and it was nice to see him try non-lethal responses. And Spiner's small talk always slays me. The riffing with Hudson was genius. And we've talked about it before, but I love Gates McFadden's prop work. With the same skill as Burton, she really handled the VISOR like it was a real object.

Matthew: I really enjoyed the mercenary cast. This is of course Tim Russ' intro to the franchise, and it's easy to see why he was brought back. He had an icy steel that was chilling here, and would serve his Tuvok well later. The whole coterie was well drawn by the actors. Marie Marshall was really good as Kelsey, the leader, and I wish they had brought the actress back in another capacity. She could have played a hell of a Bajoran, or even Cardassian. Tom Nibley seems like one of those guys you've seen everywhere, but in fact he isn't. He played Neil, the rushed technician who was trying to keep the trilithium safe. Tim De Zan was the perfect red-headed guy you don't really trust with anything. Only Patricia Tallman was kind of meh, but then, she was a stuntwoman by trade.

Kevin: I love Kelsey as well. She had all the right bravado of a villain without any of the comic overacting you can see in action story. The team was comprised of tropes, but they were all acted so well that it completely works. I have a bit of a soft spot for Patricia Tallman, as I think they didn't give her much to do, and I always liked her character of Lyta Alexander on Babylon 5.

Production Values

Matthew: The Remmler array looked cool. I might have liked to see a support structure next to it, like where the workers operate it or perhaps where ships can dock physically. The baryon sweep also looked neat, and the final scene in which it sweeps through Ten Forward was a good use of the set, with Picard climbing up the angled window.

Kevin: I am waiting with bated breath for the Blu-Ray of this episode. The array is awesome, and wonderfully detailed. It would have been easy to set it in a starbase or the crab-arm array from previous episodes, but the new model really pays off. I also liked the camera work in the final scene. I never really noticed the angled struts until this episode. I always love it when they can show me something familiar in a new way.

Matthew: The matte painting of the base looks great. It's a re-use, but it's a nice re-use. I liked the set decorations and hors d'oeuvres dishes on the Arkaria base. The equipment that the mercenaries were using looked nice, such as the laser drill, the containment chamber, and the reappearance of the Varon-T disruptor. Finally, the ship itself was a star in this episode - we've always liked abandoned ship shows, because they tend to show off the sets well. This is true here.

Kevin: The mercenary ship seemed a little underdone, but I'm not too broken up about it. I agree the abandoned ship always looks awesome, though I do wonder that with the power off where all those pin lights came from. I understand it's television and you can't do an episode in pitch darkness, but still, it always nagged me.


Matthew: The lack of hard science fiction and a few unaddressed plot questions hamper this, but only slightly. It's a lot of fun to watch and I always get a kick out of it when it comes up. It never leaps to the fore of my mind when I think of the "Best of TNG," but it's above average by any measure. It's a 4.

Kevin: I am actually surprised by your rating, Matt. I figured the action over science fiction focus would put this squarely in a 3 for you. I agree with the four, though. They changed the situation the characters were in, but not the characters themselves, and the guest acting was awesome. Coupled with some nifty and novel shots of the inside and outside of the Enterprise, this definitely makes into the upper tiers of episodes. That makes an 8 from the both of us.

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