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Monthly Archives: February 2002

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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Fusion

Summary: Enterprise spends time in a nebula, Archer realizes he hates all Vulcans and T’Pol gets mind-date-raped. The FX department wastes some gorgeous FX shots on a profoundly mediocre episode.

star trek enterprise fusionWhen ‘Unexpected’ first aired it seemed as if it might reign as the supreme and unchallenged ‘Spock’s Brain’ episode of Enterprise and ‘Fusion’ presents no real challenge to it. That’s mainly because, where ‘Unexpected’ was gleefully awful, ‘Fusion’ is just a mediocre reworking of TNG Troi episodes such as “The Price” right down to the haunting visions, the mysterious evil man and some gratuitous bed scenes. It’s dreary and predictable, especially when run at Enterprise’s molasses pace.

Enterprise has traditionally eschewed B plots and it is a sign of how little content Fusion actually has, that it needs a B-plot to keep the episode moving along and fill out the time. Possibly in an attempt to distract the audience from how predictable and trite the A story was, the writers chose an even more predicable and trite B story featuring ‘the son making peace with his dying father.’ One has to wonder how many TV cliches Berman and Braga had to sort through to find one of the hoariest cliches out there and execute it in the most cliched way possible. Is there even a single viewer out there who didn’t instantly know that Trip would attempt to bond with the obese Vulcan by telling him about some story from his own past or that at the end said obese Vulcan would have made the call? This goes beyond predictable and unoriginal and manages to achieve something like trite greatness.

The premise for ‘Fusion’ has Enterprise encountering an alien ship with technical difficulties resulting in some cultural exchange. It’s another plot that Enterprise might want to give a rest since it’s already been used in far too many episodes including the last episode, Shuttlepod One. The actual execution is something like a Vulcan version of TOS’s ‘The Way to Eden’ right down to one of the crew being the son of a high ranking ambassador. In fact at any moment you expect T’Pol to get out her lute while they start singing “Stiff man putting my mind in jail \ Judge bangs the gavel and says No bail \ So I’ll lick his hand and wag my tail.” Except it’s not actually bad enough to be funny or to inspire any emotion other than boredom and curiosity as to whether there might be something more exciting on PBS’s schedule tonight.

The T’Pol portion of the episode plays even more slowly if anything. The Vulcan has no chemistry whatsoever with T’Pol and the entire routine is completely predictably because TNG played it out with Troi over and over again. If Berman were to actually watch a few episodes of his own series, he might notice that the theme of substituting mental invasion for sexual invasion has been done to death on Star Trek and by done to death, I mean that reruns of these episodes could be used to solve the rat problems of several major urban centers.

Indeed the closest thing to a strength that ‘Fusion’ displays is that Archer actually seems like a strong character here and his final scene with T’Pol is one of those admissions that could spur some growth for his character. Indeed Fusion’s only good moments are, ironically enough, contained in its opening teaser and feature Archer as well. Some gorgeous FX shots wasted on what is essentially a bottle show made using recycled TNG scripts, which all in all seems like a rather futile attempt to save money.

Next week: T’Pol is haunted by her dead grandmother’s spectral lover. After all if B&B are going to recycle bad TNG episodes, Sub Rosa is undeniably the granddaddy of bad TNG episodes. (or Repeat Hell for another month.)

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Shuttlepod One

Summary: Enterprise produces its first breakout episode of the season as Reed and Trip fight for their lives in a damaged Shuttlepod running out of air.

Until now Enterprise’s first season has been less than stellar with more misses than hits and few episodes that are likely to be remembered star trek enterprise shuttlepod one half a decade down the road, but Shuttlepod One is likely to be this season’s breakout hit. It’s also the episode that comes closest to recapturing the Original Series style than any other episode so far.

The premise is simple enough. Two men, one shuttlepod and not enough air. And there are endless Golden Age SF stories on this theme, most focusing on finding ingenious ways out of the problem or killing each other. Shuttlepod One instead plays it as a character piece in which Reed and Trip, two officers with clashing personalities, fight and bond over the situation. The resemblance to TOS is certainly not accidental as much of the same material was also present in Gallileo 7, a story about a trapped shuttle, a conflict between a calm, logical officer and an emotional one and a solution involving dumping the engine’s fuel and igniting it as a distress beacon. Shuttlepod One mostly dispenses with the problem solving and instead focuses on the character relationships so that the solution comes as more of an afterthought than anything else. By causing the characters to believe that the Enterprise has been destroyed, it unleashes a well of desperation and anger that wouldn’t otherwise have been there.

With Brannon Braga as the writer of this episode, it would have been reasonable to expect the destruction of the Enterprise to be the result of some sort of temporal anomaly ala Timeless. Braga, though, seems well aware of his reputation and instead the only exotic phenomena are the fairly plausible and scientifically up to date micro-singularities. Instead Trip and Reed come to believe that the Enterprise has been destroyed because they notice some of the debris from a collision between Enterprise and an alien ship. This is probably the biggest plot hole in the episode, since it assumes that the Enterprise’s chief engineer could mistake some torn off hull fragments for the complete wreckage of the ship. Even with sensors down, visual inspection alone should have discredited that notion.

Still unlike the Golden Age SF stories, the competence of the characters is clearly not an issue here, but as in the TOS novel Kobayashi Maru, it’s a test of the way they face death. The decisions they make certainly aren’t very good and getting drunk towards the end probably isn’t much of a command decision either, but it’s not an unrealistic depiction of the way people can face desperate situations. Reed reacts with emotional detachment even as he makes some attempt to reestablish posthumous emotional connections with fragments of his past. Trip reacts with emotional displays and spur-of-the moment decisions. And as in Gallieo 7, it’s ultimately the emotionally withdrawn officer who makes the final risky gamble of jettisoning their fuel/engines as a last ditch effort to attract help.

While the basic plot is obviously not original and any number of shows have done similar episodes, Shuttlepod One is also the most intensive star trek enterprise shuttlepod one piece of character work and character growth we’ve seen so far, despite all the Archer and T’Pol materials that have been thrown at us so far. Indeed, the scenes with Archer and T’Pol in this episode only serve to deflate the tension of the isolated pod and gives us two Archer moments that are petty in ways we would have thought that he’d be beyond by now. But then of course there’s nothing like throwing two people together into a life and death situation to achieve character growth. Or at least that was the idea behind the fairly mediocre Andorian Incident and Shadows of P’Jem, which tried this same basic storytelling trick twice with Archer and T’Pol.

In addition to the character work though, Shuttlepod One offers plenty of nice touches from the mashed potatoes used as hull sealant (don’t try this at home kids), the gruesome turn that the shaving scene takes and the bourbon bet. It’s this kind of thing that fills out character interactions in ways that words can’t and it’s also why the Archer/T’Pol interactions in Andorian Incident and Shadows of P’Jem had no real depth to them. Hopefully though they don’t decide to try and get Archer and T’Pol drunk in order to hurry things up. After P’Jem’s rope scene, somehow that possibility doesn’t seem too far fetched.

Beyond the character work, Shuttlepod One is one of the few Enterprise episodes to have broken free of the usual TNG-lite and recycled Voyager material. It’s all the more surprising therefore that it was co-written by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, the people one could hold quite responsible for TNG and Voyager in the first place. Longtime Trek director David Livingston delivers shots of tight shuttlepod interiors that play on the sense of isolation and desperation and the FX sequences display empty space with occasional grey asteroid rubble and dirty drifts of debris. It all only emphasizes how far we’ve come from Voyager’s ‘Technobabble Saves the Day’ solutions and comfortable environments.

Next week: Behold the magic and mystery of reruns.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Shadows of P’Jem

Summary: Archer is held hostage a second time and Enterprise turns in another competent and professional, if uninspiring episode.

The title of Shadows of P`Jem refers to a previous episode, The Andorian Incident. Like that show, P`Jem features Archer and T’Pol held hostage, bad Vulcans and Jeffrey Combs’s Andorian character. Unlike it, however, Shadows of P`Jem is a more multi-dimensional episode that does a better job of showing some of the complex political undercurrents in the situation.

star trek enterprise the forgottenThe direction by long time Trek director Mike Vejar is competent and professional as always and the FX department offers some gorgeous shots of Enterprise. The exterior shot of Enterprise moving to an interior shot of Archer brooding is not simply good FX, but reminiscent of Voyager’s Good Shepherd episode in the way that it ties in the universe outside with the people preparing to face them inside the ship. The sets are nothing spectacular but they are plausible. Jeffrey Combs, who was a recurring character on DS9 as the Vorta Weyoun, shows that he can create an entirely distinct character in the Andorian commander Shran. P’Jem also recycles another Trek guest star, bringing back the actor who played the condemned murderer in Repentance as the rebel faction leader. The shot of San Francisco bay outside as seen through porthole windows in Starfleet command is a particularly nice touch.

The episode begins with fallout from Archer’s actions in Andorian Incident, which have angered the Vulcans and rightfully so. After all, Archer decided to intervene in a conflict between two races each more powerful than humanity. Not a very smart move to say the least, but Archer unsurprisingly doesn’t see it that way. While the Admiral worries about humanity’s role in the greater political situation, Archer seems to have no concerns about the real world, except for a deep and abiding grudge against the Vulcans.

The current focus of that grudge is the Vulcan High Command’s recall of T’Pol. Archer even declares that the Vulcans took something valuable away from his father by not letting him live to see the launch of Enterprise and that they’re now doing it again by taking T’Pol away. It’s a rather bizarre turn of phrase, as is Archer’s attachment to her. She’s been on board for half a year and crew transfers are not unusual in any service. How long does he expect her to stay, anyway? But this follows a common pattern in which Archer leads with his heart and not with his head. Now Faith of the Heart may be the theme song for the series, but it’s not a great command style — though in Shadows of P`Jem it does reap some benefits for Archer when Shran feels sufficiently indebted to Archer for his similarly impulsive action in Andorian Incident and decides to mount a rescue attempt.

Most of this material is meant to serve as background for a T’Pol episode in which she responds to Archer’s insistence for an emotional affirmation of his feelings with the usual Vulcan sideline answers we’ve gotten to know quite well from the Kirk\Spock moments of the original series. The producers seem unsatisfied with that dialectic and so they’re placed in another hostage situation and this time they’re tied up too. Of course this is pushed well beyond the bounds of good taste during the mostly unnecessary rope scene to the point that it seems to border on the edge of fanfic. The producers at some point are going to have to decide if they want the Archer\T’Pol interaction to be based on the loyalty and friendship of the Kirk\Spock model or if they want to capitalize on their idea of sexual tension. But they have to understand that they can’t have both. As a result, some of the episode’s strongest T’Pol scenes don’t involve Archer but her interaction with Doctor Phlox in the mess hall and the terrorist in the camp.

Still the episode manages to produce some foreshadowing and intriguing, if minimalistic, political content. The Andorian/Vulcan political intrigue is clearly more than just border tensions, something Archer might have done well to realize before he turned over P’Jem to them. The Andorian culture also seems to have a strong sense of honor in addition to their militarism. However the producers should be careful when fleshing out this relatively sketchy original series race to give them characteristics that contrast with the Klingons, or risk having the Andorians become Klingons with blue skin and antennas.

They might also learn from their mistakes on Voyager and Janeway’s lack of credibility. Now anyone who’s seen a Voyager episode knows the pattern in which Janeway does something foolish but everything turns out alright in the end. This pattern is repeated again in Shadows of P’Jem. It’s almost shocking to realize that Voyager’s response to a hostage situation in Friendship One was actually competent and professional compared to the ineffectual bumbling of the Enterprise crew in Shadows of P`Jem. Trip unquestionably comes off worst of all when he spends his encounters with the Chancellor and the Vulcan Captain yelling aimlessly at them instead of coming to the meeting with a strategy and attempting to elicit some sort of cooperation and keep the lines of communications open. It’s a natural reaction for a worried family member or friend but it’s also borderline idiocy in a starship officer who’s in the direct chain of command.

Trip then tops it off when he inexplicably goes down to the planet in full Starfleet garb, sending the remaining two ranking members of the bridge crew to search for the shuttle pod instead of bringing down an entire armed security team into hostile territory. Some of this bizarre behavior might be explained if Trip never received any tactical training or if Earth has been so devastated that it didn’t have an operating military organization in half a century.

The behavior of the Vulcans only adds to the impression of an alternate universe since their actions and attitudes have no correlation with anything we have seen in Star Trek up to now, even clashing with their behavior in Andorian Incident. They seemed completely unwilling to defend P’Jem and the monks, even after it was exposed as a listening post and there was no further need for secrecy, yet they’re prepared to launch a raid and get in the middle of a civil war on an alien planet? Between fleet movements, propping up alien governments, hard line militaristic attitudes and commando units complete with explosive launchers, the Vulcans seem more like an Empire than anything else. It’s as if all the strategic and tactical know-how humans once had and regained in the post-Enterprise era was transferred over to the Vulcans. Shadows attempts to compensate for this by once again painting the Vulcans negatively but this does little to change the fact that the Vulcans knew what they were doing in a situation that didn’t require technological acumen so much as a basic grasp of strategy and intelligent decision making.

But this only sums up an episode where everyone but the humans know what they’re doing. Both the Vulcans and Andorians have an efficient rescue plan set to go. Even the hostage takers know what they’re doing. Only the humans proceed to bumble around, bluster and finally walk away without a single success. In point of fact, everything that is achieved in this episode from T’Pol’s second chance to the Captain’s rescue is accomplished through the aliens. There are necessary plot reasons for this, but it just isn’t particularly smart storytelling because it’s hard to respect the abilities of incompetent people. The premise of Enterprise must be based on more than just the enthusiasm of the Enterprise crew but also a certain degree of ability. Enterprise has recycled the idealism of Pulp SF heroes, but has forgotten that one of their hallmarks was competence, without which, your characters are reduced to buffoons bumbling around in a world they’re not prepared to handle, yet surviving anyway. That’s not drama. It’s comedy.

Next Week: Two men. One shuttlepod. Let the slash fanfic begin.

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