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Star Trek Enterprise Season 1 Review – The Andorian Incident

“The Andorian Incident”

Summary: Enterprise does Hogan’s Heroes and Archer channels the spirit of Janeway.

Andorian Incident”Quite a few Star Trek fans became excited at the news that Enterprise was going to bring back the Andorians, but they might as well have not bothered since their appearance contained little more material and depth than the average Voyager alien of the week. The entire plotline pitting Vulcan non-violence and logic against Andorian arrogance and paranoia and human pragmatism and ruthlessness might have made for an interesting exploration of three races and three cultures; but instead we are given a Hogan’s Heroes plot in which Trip sneaks around looking for hidden radios under the noses of his captors. The Andorian culture is not explored, nor is their identity expanded on in any way. In fact, eliminate the Trek pre-history and the Andorians would just be another weird-looking Voyager alien of the week. Their only function in Andorian Incident is to play Colonel Klink to Archer’s Hogan, be violent and threatening and then suddenly passive. They have no depth or complexity, they simply exist and act to move the plot along.

We learn little about the Vulcans either, except for more awful ‘smell’ jokes. Considering that Vulcans have the discipline to suppress emotion, it’s doubtful that they would really be bothered by smells. Nor is this particular joke actually amusing in the first place. The final revelation is not expanded on in any way and the scene of the Vulcan monk being punched out is dubious at best, especially after we see an Andorian beat Archer and Trip at the same time, and we know that Vulcans are stronger than humans. This episode’s entire appeal is to the knowledge of Trek history but seems to be completely uniformed by it.

Produced from the pen of Fred Dekker, formerly the director of Robocop 3 and a veteran of Tales from the Crypt, Andorian Incident is a long journey to nowhere, of which every minute feels as agonizing as Scott Bakula’s torture at the hands of Jeffrey Combs, who seems to have become Star Trek’s filler alien actor. And Combs is allowed to do nothing to make his character stand out in any way, which essentially makes his role that of Andorian #2. This essentially disposes of the Andorian aspect of the Andorian Incident, which might as well not be there.

This leaves us with what is essentially a story about a hostage situation, that has been done a very nearly infinite amount of times on virtually every action series on television. The only thing original about this take on the material, is Archer’s transformation into Janeway as he fumbles for something to do, most of which consists of being beaten into a bloody pulp. His final decision to hand over the information to the Andorians smacks of Janeway’s arrogant and mindless interventionism in other people’s affairs and is downright bizarre in a universe where the humans are outgunned by superior races and their only putative allies are those same Vulcans Archer dislikes so much.

Archer’s first problem begins with the fact that he had no real role in intervening in the situation in the first place, especially if the monks did not want him to. His second problem is that his intervention was disastrous at best. As in Terra Nova, he seems borderline ignorant of elementary military tactics. For example, it is mind boggling to see Archer and Trip realize that the monks are being held hostage and so direct all their attention to one attacker, never even taking into account the possibility of other attackers or bothering to retrieve the downed Andorian’s weapon; almost as mind boggling as Archer leaving Reed behind in the tunnels on Terra Nova. The exact same organization we see on the part of Malcolm Reed, when dealing with the crisis, is the same kind of organization so thoroughly and bafflingly lacking in Archer’s actions. At times it seems as if the wrong man is in command here.

Archer’s final problem is the notion that he has any right to tell either side what to do. It’s not clear why he thinks this, but it seems a legacy of Janeway’s Voyager-era rampages in which she ordered around people on alien worlds, e.g. Natural Law. Except that Janeway at least had a powerful starship while Archer’s is vastly out-of-date. Nevertheless, Archer has insisted on involving himself in situations where he’s vastly outgunned. In Broken Bow and Fight or Flight, he at least took the right side and had some justification for his actions. In Unexpected however, he unnecessarily annoys the Klingons and squanders their debt to him and in Andorian Incident, he intervenes in the conflict of two races, either of whom could crush Earth without barely trying.

Indeed, Andorian Incident could easily have been a Voyager episode. It offers no insight into the races it depicts; its plot and the actions of its characters make little sense and the only joy in it comes from seeing Reed take command and nearly take care of business. Not only has Enterprise’s take on the Vulcans grown tiresome after a handful of episodes, but the series really needs to inject a certain amount of competence into the portrayal of its Captain and look for episodes based on material more original, than Hogan’s heroes.

Next week: Revenge is a dish best served cold and it’s very cold on an ice comet.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Andorian Incident

Summary: Enterprise does Hogan’s Heroes and Archer channels the spirit of Janeway.

star trek enterprise the andorian incidentQuite a few Star Trek fans became excited at the news that Enterprise was going to bring back the Andorians, but they might as well have not bothered since their appearance contained little more material and depth than the average Voyager alien of the week. The entire plotline pitting Vulcan non-violence and logic against Andorian arrogance and paranoia and human pragmatism and ruthlessness might have made for an interesting exploration of three races and three cultures; but instead we are given a Hogan’s Heroes plot in which Trip sneaks around looking for hidden radios under the noses of his captors. The Andorian culture is not explored, nor is their identity expanded on in any way. In fact, eliminate the Trek pre-history and the Andorians would just be another weird-looking Voyager alien of the week. Their only function in Andorian Incident is to play Colonel Klink to Archer’s Hogan, be violent and threatening and then suddenly passive. They have no depth or complexity, they simply exist and act to move the plot along.

We learn little about the Vulcans either, except for more awful ‘smell’ jokes. Considering that Vulcans have the discipline to suppress emotion, it’s doubtful that they would really be bothered by smells. Nor is this particular joke actually amusing in the first place. The final revelation is not expanded on in any way and the scene of the Vulcan monk being punched out is dubious at best, especially after we see an Andorian beat Archer and Trip at the same time, and we know that Vulcans are stronger than humans. This episode’s entire appeal is to the knowledge of Trek history but seems to be completely uniformed by it.

Produced from the pen of Fred Dekker, formerly the director of Robocop 3 and a veteran of Tales from the Crypt, Andorian Incident is a long journey to nowhere, of which every minute feels as agonizing as Scott Bakula’s torture at the hands of Jeffrey Combs, who seems to have become Star Trek’s filler alien actor. And Combs is allowed to do nothing to make his character stand out in any way, which essentially makes his role that of Andorian #2. This essentially disposes of the Andorian aspect of the Andorian Incident, which might as well not be there.

This leaves us with what is essentially a story about a hostage situation, that has been done a very nearly infinite amount of times on virtually every action series on television. The only thing original about this take on the material, is Archer’s transformation into Janeway as he fumbles for something to do, most of which consists of being beaten into a bloody pulp. His final decision to hand over the information to the Andorians smacks of Janeway’s arrogant and mindless interventionism in other people’s affairs and is downright bizarre in a universe where the humans are outgunned by superior races and their only putative allies are those same Vulcans Archer dislikes so much.

Archer’s first problem begins with the fact that he had no real role in intervening in the situation in the first place, especially if the monks did not want him to. His second problem is that his intervention was disastrous at best. As in Terra Nova, he seems borderline ignorant of elementary military tactics. For example, it is mind boggling to see Archer and Trip realize that the monks are being held hostage and so direct all their attention to one attacker, never even taking into account the possibility of other attackers or bothering to retrieve the downed Andorian’s weapon; almost as mind boggling as Archer leaving Reed behind in the tunnels on Terra Nova. The exact same organization we see on the part of Malcolm Reed, when dealing with the crisis, is the same kind of organization so thoroughly and bafflingly lacking in Archer’s actions. At times it seems as if the wrong man is in command here.

Archer’s final problem is the notion that he has any right to tell either side what to do. It’s not clear why he thinks this, but it seems a legacy of Janeway’s Voyager-era rampages in which she ordered around people on alien worlds, e.g. Natural Law. Except that Janeway at least had a powerful starship while Archer’s is vastly out-of-date. Nevertheless, Archer has insisted on involving himself in situations where he’s vastly outgunned. In Broken Bow and Fight or Flight, he at least took the right side and had some justification for his actions. In Unexpected however, he unnecessarily annoys the Klingons and squanders their debt to him and in Andorian Incident, he intervenes in the conflict of two races, either of whom could crush Earth without barely trying.

Indeed, Andorian Incident could easily have been a Voyager episode. It offers no insight into the races it depicts; its plot and the actions of its characters make little sense and the only joy in it comes from seeing Reed take command and nearly take care of business. Not only has Enterprise’s take on the Vulcans grown tiresome after a handful of episodes, but the series really needs to inject a certain amount of competence into the portrayal of its Captain and look for episodes based on material more original, than Hogan’s heroes.

Next week: Revenge is a dish best served cold and it’s very cold on an ice comet.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Terra Nova

Summary: Enterprise explores the mystery of a planet whose human colonists have disappeared and gone feral.

star trek enterprise terra novaAn episode rather similar to the 7th season Voyager episode, Friendship One. Much of the same elements are there. The poisoned planet and its diseased underground inhabitants who blame humans for their plight, hostages being taken, an unreasonable leader and a somewhat more reasonable woman whom they manage to reach through a medical cure. The minor difference is that the settlers aren’t nearly as violent as the cave people from Friendship One, which makes them somewhat understandable and sympathetic characters. The key difference of course is that the inhabitants are actually feral children of the original human settlers from the colony covered in mud. This difference is also the only reason why Terra Nova works and Friendship One didn’t.

Or at least it works for a while anyway. Starting from the premise of a Roanoke colony whose inhabitants have gone missing, the episode makes for an intriguing beginning but as with Strange New World, the episode quickly deflates the mystery and moves on to dealing with the human elements of the problem. While this is an improvement over Voyager’s tendency towards technobabble and spatial anomalies, a little mystery can be good too. And the only mystery that remains involving the impact that brings the poisoned rain is deflated and resolved in an all-together un-mysterious manner.

Still Levar Burton’s (Geordi from TNG) lushly shot exteriors and the talents of the two actors playing the natives at overcoming the dialogue peppered with bad post-apocalyptic 80’s movie slang, help make Terra Nova work well enough as a good episode, even if not a particularly rewatchable one. Recovering from last week’s disaster, TN features some rather clever set design including a brief shot of a large armadillo like creature, whose shells are scattered around everywhere around the caves and turned into tools and food. It’s a cheap and subtle touch that goes a long way. A lesson Unexpected could have certainly used.

Better yet, Dr Phlox and Malcolm Reed who may well end up being Enterprise’s breakout characters get more screen time and the dreary and bland Trip gets less screen time. Reed has some very nice underplayed moments in the caverns and even Bakula himself shows some emotion and becomes genuinely distraught at the revelation of what the colonists have become. After the last two episodes where Bakula bordered on the robotic, it’s nice to see that he has some depth to play.

The ending is more than a bit of cliche. It’s the one piece of the plot that isn’t directly borrowed from Friendship One, but it is borrowed from about a dozen episodes of Bonanza. Still it’s a cliche that flows well enough with the general feel of the episode, which like most of the Enterprise episodes so far is charmingly earnest and sincere, if not particularly engaging or suspenseful.

Next week: Enter the Andorians.

Star Trek Enterprise Season 1 Review – Unexpected

“Unexpected”

Summary: An alien impregnates the always fascinating Tucker leading to wacky hijinks.

xyrillians star trek enterprise unexpectedUnexpected’s first problem is that it isn’t prepared to be either a straight-forward comedy episode or an in-depth exploration of inter-species contact; instead it tries to be both and fails. Star Trek has made such errors in creating episodes before, but what is distinctly odd about Unexpected is that it seems to split the episode in half, with the first half coming off as an earnest look at inter-species contact in the style that Enterprise has adopted over the past few episodes; the second half is a series of fumbled gags in the broad style of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Junior… without the subtlety.

The result is neither consistently funny, nor consistently enlightening. It’s like a public speaker who spends 30 minutes talking about the global situation and then begins delivering 30 minutes of jokes about the global situation. Where “Strange New World” managed to weave comic situations seamlessly together with the drama of exploration, Unexpected plays like two different approaches to the same story merged clumsily together with Frankensteinian precision. This style of switched gears is unsatisfying and confusing at best and fails to resolve the earlier material. Up until now, Enterprise has set itself the goal of exploring the mechanisms of exploration itself. But with Unexpected, Enterprise takes a look at that mechanism and can’t deal with it and resorts to gags that make the Three Stooges routines seem underplayed.

Part of the problem is that the treatment of the aliens and their ship is so serious and the treatment of the events on the Enterprise and the resulting consequences of that visit is material for broad gags that even the writers of Junior would have been ashamed of. Neither Archer nor Tucker or the rest of the crew seem particularly disturbed by the idea of an alien parasite implanted inside Tucker and its potential chest-busting consequences. After all, this is a new lifeform with unknown potential health impacts. One would expect such a casual attitude from Dr. Phlox, but considering that such a delivery brings up images from ‘Alien’, you would expect the crew to treat it as something other than a joke and that Tucker would take the threat a little more seriously.

No one seriously seems to consider the idea of just removing this thing from Tucker’s body, presumably because that would touch off controversial political arguments the show’s producers are not ready to deal with; but wasn’t the whole point of Enterprise to get back to the legacy of TOS and among other things its political commentary? Instead of resorting to gags about Tucker’s extra nipples and child-proofing engineering, Unexpected could have actually had the courage to take a stand or look at the issues. Instead it moves from Phlox’s admonition to T’Pol’s about trying new things, Tucker’s earnest exploration of the alien holodeck and the wonder of meeting new and different lifeforms, to the kind of material that has made episodes like Spock’s Brain a byword for the bottom barrel of Star Trek.

Even the plot of Unexpected has striking resemblances to Spock’s Brain. Namely a crewmember whose body has been tampered with by aliens whom they must find to help that crew member, a broken piece of technology the aliens cannot fix and a resolution that involves an accommodation between two divergent parties. You can almost expect T’Pol to ask at some point, “Brain, brain, what is brain?”

Unexpected’s second problem is, oddly enough, technical. Even at its lowest points, Star Trek series generally had no shortage of resources for makeup and set design. Unfortunately something seems to have gone wrong, resulting in makeup and set design that dates back to the TOS era or an episode of Andromeda. Broken Bow’s Suliban makeup was rather weak, but Unexpected’s alien makeup is Halloween $9.95 dollar mask awful. The sets continue the retro impression with flat color cardboard walls, a sparky console raided from a local children’s science museum or an old episode of the Outer Limits and the holodeck’s iridescent wall was borrowed from ‘Lost in Space’. They’re not just tacky or bad, but mind-bogglingly so. I’ve seen fan-made Star Trek episodes with better production values.

Even at its worst, Voyager generally had high quality production values, and while production values can’t save a bad episode, they can make it more watchable and by contrast bad production values can make a bad episode even more unwatchable and highlight its bad points. Unexpected’s awful production values manage to achieve just that, making the Spock’s Brain resemblance all the more acute.

Finally Unexpected’s third problem are the Klingons. While the Klingons generally come off pretty well and they’re closing on a clearly hostile note suggests that they won’t be a pushover, nevertheless their in the first place indicates desperation on the part of the producers in resolving the storyline. Having begun with a straight-forward look at exploration, continued into male pregnancy gags, their resolution of having Tucker meet the alien and having him politely ask her to remove the parasite just doesn’t pack the necessary punch. Hence we have gratuitous Klingon footage: a common solution to problems of plot and story in the later Star Trek series. But simply bringing in an unrelated Klingon vessel and Klingon plot in the hopes of covering up the essential weakness of the resolution, only emphasizes it the essential weakness of Unexpected itself.

The result is an episode that is a muddle of different sections, none of which fit properly. A Frankenstein’s monster of an episode combined with a set that looks as if it could have been used for the original Frankenstein movie.

Next week: A mysterious planet hides a mysterious secret. Find out what the mysterious solution to the mystery is… next week.

Star Trek Enterprise Season 1 Review – Fight or Flight

Summary: Hoshi adjusts to life on a Starship and Captain Archer struggles with the nature of the mission of the first Starship to explore deep space.

fight or flight star trek enterpriseIn a way, Fight or Flight may be one of the best demonstrations of the paradigm shift that is Enterprise. It is not the kind of episode that any prior Star Trek series could have done, because ultimately every Star Trek series has viewed its characters as semi-mythological creatures beginning with TOS’s perfect trio. Fight or Flight instead spins the viewer around and looks at its crew as being simply biological organisms in an artificial environment.

From the moment the episodes begins with a worm taken from its native home and dying in its glass cage, even as Hoshi Sato struggles with her adjustment to life on a starship; it is a study of the crew as biological organisms in a foreign environment. The first human starship serving as a test tube and the first real thrust of the human race into the foreign environment of space. Fight or Flight uses Dr. Phlox and T’Pol as the resident aliens to drive the point home over and over again to the humans.

Phlox views Enterprise itself as a laboratory with the crew as his subjects, as his mealtime chatter demonstrates. From his messy and strange sickbay to his views on the crew, Phlox’s perspective is experimental and advocates exploration for the sake of the new things that will result and what the encounters will reveal about the real nature of the subjects and their capabilities. T’Pol on the other hand has nothing but distaste for the biological and prefers a Vulcans sense of order. From that perspective humans simply don’t belong in space. They’re a foreign substance coloring outside the lines. We know who will win this argument, but that doesn’t make watching it any less compelling.

Fight or Flight’s title, a reference to a biological impulse, ultimately refers also to this test of the human presence in space. Unlike every previous series, what is at stake, really is the future. Captain Archer’s role is to pave a way for the human presence in deep space, but it is also to define it, by doing so. Every single decision, every single act and the entire nature of Starfleet itself does not yet truly exist, but must be defined by the decisions the first explorers have made. Much as the standards and practices of the United States of America were born often out of necessity and by men working more for the present, than the future, Archer’s actions are creating precedents that will resonate through the future yet unborn.

In Fight or Flight, Archer’s key decision will define that human presence in space as a positive one, as a means of bringing a human-centered moral order to the stars. And though Fight or Flight is a biological term, Archer’s decision is ultimately a moral one. It is a third choice, not flight but not to fight merely for the sake of fighting, but to define space through the moral imperatives of human character, rather than letting space define them as biological organisms would. And Starfleet and the Federation, those characters of future shows who seem more mythical than real, are defined by that third choice and their world is created out of it.

Hoshi’s trouble adapting to life on a starship is cast as a biological struggle, by identifying her with a worm, perishing out of its natural habitat. But that aspect of biology which is shown as a weakness, by the end of the episode is revealed as a strength; the ability to transcend the native environment. And what holds true for Hoshi, also holds true for the Enterprise and the human race. With Broken Bow, the human race has broken out of the test tube and with Fight or Flight, it has begun to reshape the external environment according to its own innate nature.

Star Trek has often been criticized for appearing as an unreal utopia with no connection to real life and Enterprise has made its mission to provide that connection. Where Star Trek has shown us strange new worlds, Enterprise has shown us the microscopic mechanisms that go into the act and practice of exploration itself. It is the equivalent of a medical show set in a busy and bloody emergency room, to one that shows us the first years of medical school, the first incision on that first cadaver. In Fight or Flight, this connection is viewed at the biological level and the way our moral nature provides the mechanism to transcend that biology and our world into the distant world of the Federation.

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