Rewatching ST:TNG after a 20-year break.
Racing the Romulans to engage a starship-sized space creature near a pending supernova, the Enterprise takes aboard a first-contact specialist with a troubled past.
Civilian Tam Elbrum’s sensitivity to the thoughts of others makes him so impatient and arrogant with the humanoid crew (at one point even shoving Picard out of his customary space between the con and ops stations) that not even his scenes with a supportive Troi can make him sympathetic to the audience.
TNG has before told stories that require the audience to sympathize a bit too much with guest stars; but in this script, our dislike of Tam is by design. After we’ve pretty much accepted Riker’s assessment of him as an irredeemable wreck, we get a touching scene where Tam thoughtfully and even playfully engages with Data.
The original music, the organic design of the ship, the impending collapse of a star, the pew-pew with the Romulans, and even an explosion effect recycled from one of the Trek movies all contribute to a great science-fiction story about the connection between an emotionally fragile man and an ancient living starship.
A few long scenes in Engineering belabor the point that Space Things are happening somewhere on the ship while elsewhere the story slows down to develop Tam’s character. These scenes are filler, but it’s nicely choreographed filler, and from Lavar Burton’s mouth, the nonsense technobabble flows like fine synthehol.
But this is also Data’s story. Like a Dr. Watson, he asks the right questions that help the audience understand the extraordinary plot details; yet we’re invested in his puzzled reaction to Tam’s emotional connections — not only his connection to the living starship, but his outreach to Data.
In the denouement, when Data delivers a warm fuzzy line, I was so moved I vocalized an “Awww!” And there might have been some dust in my eye when Troi moved in to rest her head on his shoulder, joining him as he thoughtfully stares out at the stars.