It's routine maintenance time for the Enterprise: they've pulled into the Remmler Array in orbit around the planet Arkaria for a baryon sweep. Prolonged periods of warp speed travel can cause exotic particles to build up in a starship's hull, and a full radiation sweep is necessary now and then to get rid of these particles. Since the plasma field that sweeps the radiation is lethal to living beings, the Enterprise needs to be vacant for the duration of the procedure.
So everyone is busy getting ready to go, and everyone needs something from Captain Picard. Doctor Crusher needs containment space aboard the station to preserve some of her organic samples. LaForge needs some additional shielding around the computer core to protect the ship's memory. Worf needs the command codes to set a timer that will power down the ship once everyone has disembarked. Data confuses Picard with his latest attempt to emulate human behavior by making small talk. And nobody wants to go to Commander Hutchinson's reception down at the local Starfleet base, since the man's reputation for boring-ness precedes him. Picard manages to solve almost everyone's problems; only Worf gets to bow out of the reception...because he asked first. All that done, Picard - as the Captain, he's the last to leave the ship - permits himself one loving gaze around the empty bridge, before the maintenance crew setting up the computer shielding barge in and get to work.
Down on Arkaria, Hutchinson's reception proves to be just as dull as everyone feared, as the senior staff of the Enterprise vigorously engage in a game of "Hutch Ball," passing the Commander off to each other in a desperate attempt to get away from his incessant chatting. The only real bright spot to be found is Data, who, taking Picard's sarcastic advice literally, has been observing Hutchinson for pointers on how to make his small talk seem more normal and natural, and starts imitating his mannerisms. Even Picard finds he can't take much more of this, and when Hutchinson mentions Arkaria's scenic horseriding trails, he sees his opportunity to escape. After all, he loves horseback riding. All he needs to do is slip back to the Enterprise for his saddle. He should have plenty of time before the system shutdown timer hits zero.
Once back aboard the Enterprise, having fetched his saddle (he really does have one; who knew?) and changed into something more riding-appropriate, Picard prepares to beam back down, when he notices something. There's an open panel in the corridor, and some of the wires have been cut. Picard has little chance to puzzle over this, as a maintenance crew member comes around the corner and assures him that it's nothing to worry about. Although he's suspicious, Picard tries to walk away, but the crewman attacks him instead. Picard manages to disable the man (with a Vulcan Neck Pinch!), and makes a break for it. He narrowly avoids an encounter with some other "maintenance crew members" having a suspicious conversation, and gets to the transporter just in time...for the system shutdown to kick in.
Meanwhile, back on Arkaria, Data has cornered the Arkarian station administrator Orton and is small-talking him to within an inch of his life. Riker, on the other hand, is holding the Hutch Ball. Seeing Orton's distress, he steers Hutchinson over to Data, and the two of them go off together. Wow, problem solved.
On the Enterprise, Picard drags his attacker (whose name is later established to be Devore) to Sickbay, wakes him up, and demands some answers. He doesn't get them, so Picard just tranquilizes him instead, and then he hears voices. Devore is wearing a communicator. A woman named Kelsey is asking him to report in, and when he doesn't respond, she sends someone named Kiros to go check on him. Picard takes the communicator with him and attempts to figure out what's going on. He doesn't get far, unfortunately, before he runs into Kiros: an Arkarian woman with a laser pistol, who takes him into custody.
On Arkaria, the crew watch with fascination as Hutch and Data appear to be trapped in some sort of loop: they've been talking for a very long time about nothing at all, and show no signs of stopping any time soon. And then Geordi notices some very strange heat signatures coming from under the buffet table. Orton comes up to him and immediately tries to pull him away, which in turn draws Riker over to them to ask if anything's wrong. All hell promptly breaks loose: the heat Geordi was detecting was from some hidden disruptor rifles, which Orton and a colleague immediately pull and fire. Hutchinson is killed, LaForge is wounded, and everyone else is taken hostage.
Meanwhile, Picard is taken to Main Engineering and introduced to Kelsey, the leader of a small gang of unsavory types who are doing...something to the warp core. Picard identifies himself as Mott, the ship's barber, and he's put under guard until they can figure out what to do with him. On Akaria, Crusher has gotten LaForge stabilized and the rest of the crew are assessing the situation. Troi senses that Orton is extremely nervous; Geordi detecting the hidden weapons screwed up whatever his plan originally was, and now he's working without a net. There might be a way that they can take advantage of that, if they're very careful.
By now, Picard has figured out what Kelsey's gang is up to: they're harvesting trilithium resin from the warp core. Trilithium resin being a highly volatile (and easily weaponizable) substance, they're moving very slowly and carefully. So much so, that they're not really paying attention to their prisoner. Using the laser welder he lifted from Devore, Picard causes an engine overheat to make the ship's fire suppressant systems kick in. In the chaos that follows, Picard destroys the portable force-field generator that they were using to keep themselves safe from the baryon sweep, then he makes a break for it. One of Kelsey's men, Satler, follows him, but Picard leads him smack into the approaching radiation, then heads to Worf's quarters to get his hands on some weaponry.
Thanks to the communicator he took from Devore, Picard learns of Kelsey's plans. Since the field diverter is now useless, and the sweep is coming, they have to move. She orders Neil, her tech guy, to improvise a stabilizer for the trilithium container so it can be safely transported by foot, and then they'll head to Ten Forward, the last place the sweep will touch. Picard breaks into the conversation, warning Kelsey that the trilithium is much too unstable to move with some jury-rigged safety measure, and advises her to cut her losses and just leave. Kelsey's not about to back down, however, and since Picard accidentally left his combadge behind, she knows he's not just a barber. She sends her goons Kiros and Pommet to find Picard, and lights a fire under Neil to get that stabilizer done.
Back on Arkaria, the crew has devised a plan. Thanks to Riker distracting Orton at a convenient time, they can modify Geordi's VISOR to emit a high-frequency audio pulse, which will knock out everyone in the room except Data. And then they notice that Orton's consulting a nearby communications console: a ship is approaching. Possibly his getaway vehicle. Riker gives Data his orders: once they activate the pulse, take control of the situation and stop that ship.
Meanwhile on the Enterprise, the game of cat-and-mouse continues. Neil and Kelsey make their way to Ten Forward, with Picard doing everything he can to slow them down, including cutting the rungs out of a few crucial Jeffries Tubes forcing them to take a roundabout route. And Pommet and Kiros continue to hunt Picard. Picard manages to take out Pommet with a knock-out dart, but Kiros gets the drop on him. Once Kiros informs Kelsey of the situation, she orders her to bring Picard to Ten Forward with them. And then, once Neil lets her know what she needs to do to drain the trilithium from the container, she kills him. Poor dope.
On Arkaria, the crew's plan goes off without a hitch. Data disarms the unconscious Orton and takes over the console. On the Enterprise, Picard is brought before Kelsey, and he tries one last time to negotiate with her. Revealing his true identity as Jean-Luc Picard, he offers himself as a hostage in exchange for the explosive. But Kelsey's not interested. She's not a terrorist, it turns out. She's a businesswoman. And a practical one at that: there's a lot more demand on the black market for easily-weaponizable raw material than there is for a Starfleet Officer. The three of them walk into Ten Forward...and right into Picard's last booby trap. Kiros is taken out immediately by the explosion, and Picard and Kelsey end up grappling over the trilithium container. Meanwhile, the baryon sweep comes ever closer. Kelsey manages to fight her way free with the container, and beams out to the nearby ship that Orton had been waiting on. Picard is able to contact Arkaria Base Command (which is Data at this point), and gets the baryon sweep shut off before it kills him. Then he reveals that, in the struggle, he managed to get hold of the safety valve for the trilithium container.
Kelsey's ship promptly goes boom.
In the end, all is well: the Enterprise is safe, the bad guys are defeated...and Worf manages to find Picard's saddle.
Tropes featured in "Starship Mine" Include:
- Advancing Wall of Doom: The baryon sweep takes the form of a wall of green light that slowly but surely travels down the length the Enterprise, killing anyone it hits.
- Artistic License Physics: All atoms are made of baryons, so a sweep that removed them wouldn't leave much of the Enterprise.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: Any fans who had doubts that Picard was a badass fighter might want to watch this episode.
- Bad Boss: Kelsey. She doesn't bother to go back for Devore or Pommet despite the chance that they're still alive. And she kills Neil once she doesn't need him any more. More profit for her, apparently.
- Big "WHAT?!": Neil, when Kelsey decides to move the very unstable trilithium out of Engineering.
- Black Dude Dies First: Downplayed, as Devore is the first member of Kelsey's team incapacitated (non-fatally) by Picard. Of course, with nobody going back for him, he almost certainly dies in the sweep.
- Bond One-Liner: Picard gets in a few good ones in this episode. Notably:Data: Captain, there is a small ship leaving the scene. Do you know anything about it?
Picard: (looking at the stabilizer in his hand) I know they won't get far.
- The Bore: Hutchinson. Most of the episode's comedy comes from the crew's constant annoyance at his unceasing small talk (and attempts to dodge being a target of said talk). They eventually foist Data upon him to see who cracks first.
- Brick Joke: "Captain... you keep a saddle on board?"
- Continuity Nod: Mot the barber, who Picard claims to be, has appeared in a few earlier episodes. Like Picard, the real Mot is bald.
- That said, Generations did provide a Continuity Nod in exchange, as Picard is finally seen riding a horse in the Nexus.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Death by exposure to the baryon sweep is apparently not a pleasant way to go, judging from Satler's tortured scream, and Picard's almost remorseful expression when he hears it.
- Description Cut: When Riker asks where Picard is, Geordi tells him that Picard decided to go horse riding and is probably already on the trails. Cut to the Enterprise, where Picard is dragging Devore's unconscious body.
- "Die Hard" on an X: It's Die Hard on the Enterprise. Right down to Devore's line, "You won't kill me; you're Starfleet." In fact, The Fan Nickname for this episode is "Die Hard Picard." The official French title for the episode is "28 minutes to live", a reference to the French title for Die Hard 2 ("58 minutes to live"). Sounds like some translator was having fun.
- Disappointed by the Motive: Picard cannot stop himself from feeling pissed at the revelation that these people who have taken his crew and ship hostage are nothing but a bunch of thieves.
- Dwindling Party: The thieves, with the exception of Orton and his associate:
- Devore: Knocked out with the off-button hypospray by Picard and left to the baryon sweep.
- Satler: Lured by Picard into the baryon sweep.
- Pommet: Shot with a crossbow by Picard; not immediately killed (according to Picard), but still left to the baryon sweep.
- Neil: Killed through unknown means by Kelsey (probably shot) after fashioning a stabilizer for the trilithium resin.
- Kiros: Steps on an explosive painted strip planted by Picard in Ten-Forward; either killed right then and there or knocked out and then killed by the baryon sweep.
- Kelsey: Blown up (with her pilot) after Picard removes the stabilizer for the trilithium resin.
- Equal-Opportunity Evil: Kelsey's crew consists of three humans, three Arkarians, and two random Rubber-Forehead Aliens (plus whoever's driving the getaway ship), all united by their love of money.
- Failed a Spot Check:
- Nobody on Kelsey's team notices Picard when they first enter The Bridge; if they had, he couldn't have successfully posed as Mott the barber.
- Kiros and Kelsey fail to notice the lines drawn on the ground in Ten Forward as that is where Picard concealed the explosives. Kiros gets the worst of it for her troubles.
- Kelsey fails to notice that Picard removed the stabilizer from the container holding the trilithium resin. After Kelsey beams off, her ship tries to leave and promptly explodes.
- Meanwhile, down on the planet, Orton and his henchman somehow totally miss that their hostages are casually chatting about an escape plan, despite being just a few feet away.
- Funny Background Event: Hutchinson's reception has several. Data observing Hutch in action and imitating his facial expressions is just one of them. Also, Riker, clearly finding the whole affair intolerable, can be seen pounding back cocktails at every chance. And Troi's annoyed facial expressions when Picard uses retrieving his saddle from Enterprise as an excuse to escape the reception.
- Giving Them the Strip: Variation. When Satler catches up to Picard, he only sees his jacket. He realizes far too late that the jacket was concealing an access tunnel that Picard escaped to, and is promptly killed when the baryon sweep appears directly in front of him.
- Good Is Not Soft: Picard is a fair bit less compassionate than usual here, making no efforts to save the thieves from their various deaths in the baryon sweep and even setting traps and disabling safeties that will seriously injure if not kill them. You could argue some of them as necessary under the circumstances, and Picard shows obvious discomfort at points when he causes their deaths, but it's still far more brutal than Picard is usually depicted.
- Hates Small Talk: Orton, as well as anyone near Hutch. It's no surprise that Worf gets out of there preemptively.
- I Need to Go Iron My Dog: Picard hears the word "horses" and uses it to escape the reception. Played With somewhat, as Picard really was fetching his saddle and not just BSing something.
- Improvised Weapon User: Picard makes use of every tool at his disposal to fend off the thieves. Even the saddle comes in handy at one point.
- It Works Better with Bullets: Picard threatens Devore with a phaser, but Devore is quick to point out that it won't fire with the baryon sweep active.
- Just in Time: The baryon sweep gets shut down seconds before it kills Picard.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Kelsey gets blown up by the trilithium she steals.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: Kelsey kills Neil after he has outlived his usefulness, but later tells Kiros that Neil was killed by the baryon sweep instead. Kiros doesn't look like she buys it, but she doesn't call her out on it; most likely she's figured out her boss isn't above arranging another "accidental" death for a troublesome minion.
- More Deadly Than the Male: The two female members of Kelsey's gang are the most dangerous of them: Kelsey herself is cold-blooded and remorseless, and Kiros is the only member of her team that gives Picard any real trouble.
- Mr. Fanservice: Patrick Stewart kicking ass and crawling around in Jeffries Tubes while wearing jodhpurs and riding boots...
- My God, What Have I Done?: Mixed with I Did What I Had to Do. Lives were lost on Picard's quest to retake the ship, and it visibly takes a toll on him. Of particular note is when he lures Satler into the Jeffries tube, and as Picard makes his getaway, he hears Satler scream in agony before dying. Picard looks pretty upset about it... but it was either him or Satler.
- Nothing Is Scarier: The effects of a baryon sweep on living tissue. Just ask Satler... oh wait.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: While pretending to be Mott, Picard plays it scared and dumb.
- Oh, Crap!:
- Picard has this when the Enterprise shuts down just as he is trying to escape.
- Orton has a subtle one when LaForge detects the hidden weaponry. This forces him to pull out said weaponry and hold the senior staff hostage, killing Hutchinson in the process.
- Satler has a big one when the baryon sweep appears inches away from his face.
- Neil has one when Kelsey pulls a You Have Outlived Your Usefulness on him.
- Riker has a brief one during the reception when Hutch gets him in his sights. He almost does a Spit Take.
- Picard has a look of utter terror on his face while he's trying to contact Arkaria Base to get the baryon sweep shut off. Thankfully, it does, seconds before it hits him.
- Only in It for the Money: Kelsey just wants the trilithium in order to sell it on the black market. This disgusts Picard even more than her actually being a terrorist would have:Picard: Profit. This is all about profit.
Kelsey: I prefer to think of it as commerce.
- Pass the Popcorn: When Data and Hutch are paired off and start their Seinfeldian Conversation, Riker and LaForge settle down to watch, sharing some unidentified finger snacks (they look like colorless M&Ms).
- Plot Armour: Hutchinson and LaForge both get shot in pretty much the same area. Geordi is later seen being treated by Crusher, while Hutchison is on the floor under a sheet. Was his small talk really that annoying?
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!:
- Worf pulls this before the reception even begins. Geordi also tries it, but Picard shoots him down.Worf: And, Captain, permission to be excused from Commander Hutchinson's...reception.
Picard: Permission granted. Wish I could excuse myself as well.
Geordi: Uh, Captain, permission to be excused—
Picard: Mr. LaForge, I cannot excuse my entire senior staff! Mr. Worf beat you to it.
Worf: (smug grin)
- Picard does so himself once he finds out there are horses near the outpost.
- Worf pulls this before the reception even begins. Geordi also tries it, but Picard shoots him down.
- Seinfeldian Conversation: Data and Hutch engage in one at the party. It gets so bad that Riker openly wonders how long two people can talk about nothing.
- Self-Applied Nickname: Commander Hutchinson starts all of his one-sided conversations by insisting you call him "Hutch."
- Shoo Out the Clowns: The comedic sub-plot with Commander Hutchinson goes out the door alongside the poor guy's soul the moment he (and Geordi) are blasted by the bad guys to show they mean business.
- Smug Smiler: Worf is this, briefly, after being the first one to ask (and only one to receive) permission to skip the reception.
- Space Is an Ocean: Another parallel is brought up in this episode. The process of cleaning a starship's hull of exotic particles is pretty much the equivalent of dry-docking an oceangoing vessel to scrape the barnacles off.
- Spanner in the Works: Kelsey's heist was actually pretty well thought-out. Her team would have pulled it off without anyone knowing it even happened, if not for: 1) LaForge's VISOR alerting him to hidden weaponry; and 2) Picard being on the Enterprise when he shouldn't have been.
- Stock Footage: The matte painting depicting Ankara Base is a reuse of the Darwin Research Station painting from "Unnatural Selection".
- Talk About the Weather: Data creates an entire subroutine for small talk, leading him to try some of this on Picard in the turbolift. There's lots more in store when he meets Hutch. (And some of it really is about the weather on alien planets.)
- Too Dumb to Live: Satler does a pretty crappy job of keeping his eyes on Picard. Not to mention chasing Picard in an area being exposed to the baryon sweep.
- We Need a Distraction: Riker takes one for the team to distract Orton while the others work on modifying La Forge's VISOR.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Hutchinson is implicitly killed when the thieves take hostages, but the episode is more ambiguous about the fact than it needs to be. After he and Geordi are shot, Beverly is only seen treating Geordi's wounds afterwards, while there's a body on the floor covered by a sheet that the viewer is evidently meant to presume to be Hutchinson.
- Would Hit a Girl: Picard's not above throwing down with Kelsey in the climax. To be fair, she did start it.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: Picard has just knocked out Devore and is about to use the transporter to beam down to the surface with his saddle when... the power is shut down.
- You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Pommet has green hair.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Alas, poor Neil. This is why Scotty never told anyone how long repairs would really take.
- You Wouldn't Shoot Me: When the phaser proves to be useless, Picard threatens Devore with a laser welder to get him to talk. Devore isn't cowed, not buying that Picard would be willing to use it on another living being. He's right, so Picard just knocks him out with a hypospray and leaves him to die in the sweep.