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Monthly Archives: May 2002

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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Shockwave I

Summary: When a trip to an alien colony results in its destruction, acting on a tip from the future, Archer launches a covert operation against a Suliban stealth vessel that goes disturbingly wrong.

star trek enterprise shockwaveTraditionally Star Trek first season finales have been more somber affairs, as with TNG’s Neutral Zone or DS9’s In the Hands of the Prophets they occasionally dealt with emerging threats, but avoided cliffhangers and high stakes action shows and major plot threads being unwound. But then again most Star Trek pilots have also been more subtle affairs than Broken Bow. This is a recognition that Enterprise is operating in a more competitive environment where there may be no second chances and so Shockwave, like its name, is not particularly subtle. Not only does it feature a cliffhanger, but in Best of Both Worlds style, it features a cliffhanger with a missing Captain, intrigue and plot twists resembling an X-Files episode more than an Enterprise episode.

None of these are bad things of course, nor should they be reserved for season finales. But they do make it hard to review the episode, mainly because unlike most Star Trek two-parters that feature an obvious dilemma and an obvious enemy, Shockwave features much less than half the plot of a two parter. Many of the episode’s key elements are up in the air, especially since unlike previous Star Trek season finale cliffhangers (e.g. Best of Both Worlds or Scorpion), the final plot twist leaves everything we knew until now up in the air. That alone marks it as a stylistic departure from Star Trek as we know it.

Shockwave also serves as a serious departure from much of this season by having Archer actually face a dilemma and deal with it so that it results in emotional growth and a display of leadership ability. Contrary to what many might have expected from Brannon Braga — who co-wrote the script — Shockwave’s use of time travel is subtle and even moving as Archer experiences something close to a religious revelation in his sleep as he takes refuge from his guilt and failure in a time before the disaster and puts his faith in Crewman Daniels: only to have that faith brutally shattered in the final minute of the episode. In that minute, Daniel’s temporal guidance of Archer moves from a Deux Ex Machina to an all too flawed technology in the hands of fallible humans.

For once, Archer’s awe and wonder at another ‘first’, namely traveling through time, is well done and even well acted. Poignant because that wonder will ultimately be shattered by the knowledge of its mundane cost. This is precisely the lesson that Archer refused to learn about space travel. Exploration has its price and quite a few of the explorers in the Enterprise opening montage knew that quite well. Yet Archer has remained fixed to a boy scout idealistic view of space leading to a naivete so thorough, it bordered on idiocy. Shockwave seems to have begun the process of tempering that naivete with harsh realism, that episodes like Fight or Flight and Silent Enemy began but never carried through.

Shockwave also features Archer attempting to form a command bond with T’Pol as someone he can emotionally, as well as tactically, rely on. Although T’Pol rebuffs him by refusing to ‘believe’ in time travel, she nevertheless plays that role when she tries to shake Archer out of his stupor and depression. That this scene takes place in Archer’s quarters heightens the sense of intimacy that is created. Especially as Archer once again puts his life, his ship and probably the future of the Federation in her hands. Despite the hype coming from Berman and co, this is the closest the two of them have ever been to a real Kirk\Spock moment and the forming of a Human\Vulcan bond worthy of mention in the same sentence.

Though the focus of Shockwave remains on Archer and to a lesser extent, T’Pol, Hoshi and Mayweather have a nice moment together as they discuss their future plans. post-Enterprise. Trip manages to top his shocked look in Two Days and Two Nights when Archer announces the mission’s cancellation and Reed underplays battle dialogue to an almost comic extent. Dr Phlox’s reaction demonstrates that he still needs to develop a genuine bond to Enterprise and its mission, something the writers might consider tackling in the second season.

While the actual Suliban themselves remain an underwhelming foe, in part for conceptual reason as well as poor makeup and effects, the true menace seems to come from their hidden operator and one hopes that the Suliban are simply a temporary proxy who will be replaced by more dangerous ones. The strongest elements of the raid remain the timing and precision of the actual action itself, while the Suliban clambering up the walls are more amusing, than menacing. The final shot was effective, but still a somewhat poor idea, in light of recent events and far too reminiscent of some of the aftermath footage. The scene could have been done just as well, and cheaper too by pulling out from the open window to show the top of San Francisco buried entirely by sand. It would have also been a more realistic outcome if Earth’s major cities had been sitting around deserted and unpopulated for a few centuries. John Logan’s SF film, The Time Machine pulled similar FX shots in favor of showing climactic changes overrunning the area.

Next week: Summer O’Reruns.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Two Days and Two Nights

Summary: Four short films about Enterprise. The crew’s visit to Risa is broken up into a series of mostly comic sub-plots, some of which work better than others. The best and worst that can be said of Two Days and Two Nights is that it’s light entertainment, emphasis on the light. When Enterprise has thrown away so much Star Trek continuity, Risa seems like an odd thing to hang on to. But then again Risa itself was an attempt to hang on to some of the ‘free love’ aspects of TOS. And prior to Enterprise, Star Trek had done two Risa episodes. TNG’s Captain`s Holiday and DS9’s Let He Who is Without Sin. The latter is justifiably considered one of DS9’s worst episodes altogether while the former is considered a forgettable comic piece, remembered more because it introduced Vash than because of its dramatic or comic material. With such a legacy, Two Days and Two Nights doesn’t have to worry about standing in a long shadow or working too hard. Where Captain`s Holiday focused on Picard and Let He Who is Without Sin focused primarily on two crew relationships, Two Days and Two Nights throws the main crew into a series of predictable subplots, most played for laughs with varying degrees of success so that it could be called Four Short Films about Risa.

Archer receives the Picard story as his first officer sends him down to the planet in order to relax with a good book and he becomes enmeshed

star trek enterprise two days and two nights

Humanity has reached the stars, but its fashion sense is still in the dark ages

with a mysterious woman and intrigue. Unlike Picard’s story though, which played comically against his stuffy demeanor, Archer’s is a vaguely dark and dramatic piece that manages to produce a sense of isolation that would have been far more effective if it had resonated with Archer’s character in any way. It makes perfect sense that Picard would spend his time on a pleasure planet with a good book, but Archer is a more physical character who seems as if he’d be more at home with Trip in a bar than playing a poor man’s Picard. As it is though, Bakula puts in a better performance here than he has in a long time. But unless this story is meant to introduce the woman as a recurring character and to deal with the events as part of an arc which will have repercussions down the line, it seems like a wasted effort. High points include T’Pol’s gift to Archer and the well conveyed sense of isolation and loneliness.

Trip and Reed get the naval cliche story of the two sailors on leave who end up getting rolled in a sleazy dive. The two actors do their best with the material, but there’s really not much here. The high points include Trip and Reed retelling the events of Shuttlepod One and passing themselves off as Captains. The low points include pretty much everything else. Even the comic material is pretty slim and ends rather quickly. Furthermore not only does Star Trek appear to be unable to create an alien bar scene without it looking like a cheap version of the Star Wars alien cantina, but it really needs to cut down on the races of shapeshifters. DS9 claimed that there was only one race of shapeshifters, though we’d seen plenty more before, Enterprise has two in one season. And since we’ve seen some Suliban shapeshift, it might be a good idea not to throw those abilities around so randomly as it devalues the effect.

T’Pol and Dr Phlox on the other hand get the only really effective comic piece without ever having to leave the ship as Dr. Phlox goes into hibernation just as a crippled Mayweather experiences an allergic reaction to an alien painkiller. Billingsley overplays the material by a mile, but it still works quite well as Phlox wakes up from hibernation, staggers about and does his best to make mad scientists look conservative while T’Pol looks on disapprovingly playing the straight Vulcan. Better yet, it provides a whole other dimension to Dr Phlox who until now has played the role of a mostly dispassionate observer and now gets to indulge in the same kind of comic material as Voyager’s own doctor did on a regular basis. Though it is telling that this episode’s most effective comic piece relied on some pretty broad slapstick. Cutler returns to play the same quasi-nurse role as Kes did on Voyager. The story’s high points include Phlox ordering the ship to another star system to get fresh worms to Phlox’s response to T’Pol’s suggestion that he return to his quarters.

Finally there is Hoshi’s story, which is the least interesting of all four, in part because the two actors lacked any chemistry and gave performances bordering on completely flat, and partly because it doesn’t have much in the way of material. As Trip and Reed’s broad physical comedy is meant to be paired with Phlox and T’Pol’s broad physical comedy, Archer’s stranger encounter is meant to be paired with Hoshi’s stranger encounter. But where Archer’s story had subtext and complexity, Hoshi’s story is as sunny and placid as her own persona and about as interesting. It might have been interesting if Enterprise had followed up on the doubts and uncertainties Hoshi was dealing with in Fight or Flight or her later insecurities. While it does manage to reinforce her role as translator and its importance, the plot is structure as a flat line that runs consistently in the same direction where the other three stories had peaks and falls.

Despite its flaws, however, Two Days and Two Nights is a pleasant departure in that it explores the ensemble cast in a series tjat has so far eschewed B-Stories and manages to put together a diverse collection of stories into one episode. In that it already exceeds past Risa episodes, which were far more monolithic and tended to play off one single joke over and over again. It’s light entertainment and as such it exceeds expectations.

Star Trek Enterprise episode reviews – Fallen Hero and Desert Crossing

Summary: A contrast of two episodes as we go from a subtle political drama with some important character development for T’Pol; to a fairly crude and incoherent adventure story that features T’Pol getting Archer and Trip out of yet another jam while antagonizing still more aliens.

star trek enterprise fallen hero

Fallen Hero

The doubleheader of Fallen Hero and Desert Crossing intends to combat the poor performance of CBS’s leftover Wolf Lake episodes aired on UPN these past few weeks and instead provides a contrast that highlights many of Enterprise’s best and worst qualities. Fallen Hero, an episode featuring some seriously questionable decisions from Archer, nevertheless is far superior to Fusion in providing solid and significant character development from T’Pol, the best Vulcan guest star on Enterprise yet and a great performance from both actresses. Desert Crossing is another episode with a muddled plot, Trip and Archer playing damsels in distress for T’Pol, and an awful guest performance (Clancy Brown) complete with a cheesy ethnic accent that would not have been out of place in one of George Lucas’s CGI characters.

The key issue remains plot. Fallen Hero has a compact and well organized plot full of tension and suspense that develops T’Pol by showing us the decisions that got her where she is today and something of the character of Vulcan society through the interplay between her and her role model, Ambassador V’Lar. Enterprise and the crew are fully involved in action scenes, instead of ‘Pulling a Voyager’ and standing on the sidelines trying to technobabble their way through another planetary rescue. Desert Crossing on the other hand stumbles between two disorganized stories, neither of which manages to be integrated with the other. On the one hand we have a political story in which a terrorist tries to enlist Archer to join his cause, which is dropped halfway to have Archer and Trip stumble around the desert until being rescued. It’s half Detained and half Shuttlepod One and neither half works. We learn nothing of any depth about the society involved and at the same time the desert scenes contribute nothing to the episode and unlike Shuttlepod One do nothing to develop either of the characters, especially since we got a variation of the same material a week ago in Vox Sola.

star trek enterprise desert crossing

Desert Crossing

It’s also another demonstration that Enterprise’s strength appears to lie in space based shows, rather than ground based episodes. Ultimately, it is rather telling that Fallen Hero can produce a greater sense of wonder by having Enterprise break a warp barrier in the middle of a battle than Desert Crossing can summon by having Archer encounter a whole new civilization. In space, Enterprise seems to be able to break new ground, while on the ground it seems doomed to repeat the exact same episodes that Voyager might have done and often did do. Indeed, you could have placed Chakotay in the Archer role without skipping a beat. After all, we don’t need Enterprise to show us a faux Afghani culture, we can see the real thing if we want to. It’s the exploration of space and the encounter of genuinely alien lifeforms that offers some real possibilities.

But one of Enterprise’s weaknesses this season has been the scarcity of strong and well developed guest stars with only John Fleck’s Silik and Jeffrey Combs’s Andorian Commander making any strong impression and both of these were recurring characters. TNG and DS9 on the other hand thrived on showcasing guest stars in strong performances such as The Defector or Duet. In Fallen Hero, Enterprise finally does something to remedy that as well as its weak portrayal of the Vulcans with the appearance of Ambassador V’lar, played with style and wit by Fionnula Flanagan (who has had at least two prior Star Trek guest appearances), who occasionally pushes the Vulcan boundaries a bit far, but never too much so. Though much of the Mazarian politics are left unclear, the real focus of Fallen Hero is on the interaction between V’Lar and T’Pol. For many recent Enterprise episodes, T’Pol has either been a convenient tool for rescuing Archer out of the latest mess he’d gotten himself into or an uptight Vulcan who needed to be humanized by learning to loosen up. In Fallen Hero for the first time we see her as a professional and a person facing a challenge to the values which caused her to choose her current path in life and that’s the kind of fascinating character development that Trip suffering from yet another round of hallucinations just can’t compete with.

Fallen Hero also managed to bring a certain equality to the Vulcan-Human relationship by showing that the lack of trust from both sides is a fairly natural consequence of the nature of their relationship, instead of blaming everything on Vulcan duplicity. Both Archer and V’Lar endanger each other, the relationship between Vulcans and Humans as well as their missions, simply because they distrust each other not personally but racially. V’Lar is simply able to be more brutally honest about the nature of that distrust while at the same time demonstrating how difficult it can be to overcome it. It’s a far more realistic portrayal of the situation than past Voyager and Enterprise episodes in which interspecies differences can be overcome in a few hours leaving the starship to fly away happily ever after.

At the end of Fallen Hero we are left with a deepened sense of who Vulcans are as well as the certainty that they are most certainly not just another human ethnicity dressed up in some cheap latex makeup, and that is Star Trek at it best: not obvious analogies ‘ripped from the headlines’ or another hostage situation from the latest Aliens of the Week. Instead, Fallen Hero is the closest Enterprise has ever come to TOS’s Journey to Babel, complete with a parent figure for T’Pol, a showdown with an alien ship and a hidden interspecies diplomatic agenda. This is precisely the type of nuts and bolts Birth of the Federation material that Enterprise has so often promised and so rarely delivered, along with some real development of a major Enterprise character, thus making it even more of a refreshing change.

Written and directed by Star Trek first timers, Fallen Hero is proof that new blood can produce great episodes. Desert Crossing seems to be proof of the exact opposite. Written by Andre Bormanis, who has produced some of Enterprise’s best episodes previously (Silent Enemy), Desert Crossing seems to have been the victim of some radical rewrites that left the script lacking any real focus. Early on, the script appears to have the germ of a political statement but this is supplanted in favor of churning out yet another ‘Trip and Archer’ get in trouble episode that devotes a good deal of time to having Trip and Archer stumble around the desert, but doesn’t manage to do anything interesting with the material.

Shuttlepod One succeeded precisely because it put two unlikely characters together and had them work at cross-purposes to survive. Desert Crossing does precisely the opposite by putting together two characters who are best friends and who have been trapped together in dire situations before, only last week as a matter of fact, and limits the interaction to having Archer play nursemaid to a semi-conscious Trip. This might be considered character development if it told us something new about Archer or Trip, but it doesn’t. Instead it repeats a formula that most viewers have long since gotten tried of. It also tosses aside what little in the way of a story Desert Crossing ever had. The result is that the episode consists of a political analogy that never gets developed and a desert survival story that doesn’t get the kind of single minded attention that might allow it to connect with the viewer. T’Pol is left once again trying to figure out how to rescue Archer and Trip from the mess they stumbled into because they didn’t bother to find out the political situation in their host’s country.

Unlike the transitions from Andorian Incident to Shadows of P’Jem to Fallen Hero, the attempt to provide continuity by linking the events in Desert Crossing to Detained is artificial and improbable and Zobral provides no credible explanation for why he would have believed that Archer would choose to help him and why he needed to trick Archer into coming down to meet him this way. It seems like the product of another script revision that attempted to bring some sort of larger meaning to the episode by linking it to the continuing evolution of the Prime Directive. Archer does finally make a right decision by choosing not to get involved in a battle that has nothing to do with him, and even more shockingly does it for the right reason. Joining the wars of other races that don’t involve the human race in any way is a decision that should be made by governments, not individual Starship Captains. A principle that Voyager’s Captain Janeway never managed to figure out. Nevertheless, Archer seems as much influenced by outrage at Zobral’s trick than at any understanding of what’s going on. Indeed by the end of the episode he suggests that Zobral was on the right side, even though he’d never talked to the other side and his only understanding of the origins of the conflict came from three sentences of recruitment propaganda from Zobral himself.

Worse yet, Desert Crossing, unlike Fallen Hero has no credible alien characters. Instead we get an Alien of the Week whose primary alien characteristic appears to be a funny beard complete with an ethnic accent almost caricatured enough to qualify as offensive in the Jar-Jar Binks category. The basic alien culture appears to be lifted from recent news stories on Afghan culture or perhaps the first half hour of Rambo III (considering Star Trek’s research department, the last is a disturbingly credible possibility.) A caste system in action might have made for some interesting cultural material, but instead we got slow motion shots of Archer and Trip with their shirts off. The lack of a focus on character and a fragmented plot which wants to be both an action show and a piece of political commentary inevitably results in a poor episode, as Enterprise’s writers must have realized by now after some of their more recent failures.

Thus Enterprise’s doubleheader provides us with a nice contrast that exposes some of the flaws of Enterprise episodes and demonstrates the elements that cause one episode to succeed and the other to fail.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Vox Sola

Summary: Archer gets captured yet again, this time by a giant ball of CGI goo, and reminiscences about water polo. Vaugh Armstrong plays yet another alien. Enterprise wastes another forty minutes.

The most interesting thing about Vox Sola is not its plot, its characterization or even its special effects, but its title: it all goes downhill from star trek enterprise vox solathere. Every Star Trek series has done its usual ‘Alien invades the ship’ episodes and with little in the way of a story, Vox Sola adds one of the more mediocre examples of the genre. What little in the way of a plot exists follows the usual Enterprise formula of 5 minutes of story and 40 minutes of episode accompanied by the most unadorned and unoriginal plot cliches. Indeed, virtually anyone who has ever seen more than two Star Trek episodes knows quite well that the gimmick meant to disable the alien will cause it to begin hurting the hostages thus forcing the rescuers to abort the attempt. Even many of Enterprise’s worst episodes have tried to reinvent the cliches they’ve used, Vox Sola though makes no such attempt and is simply satisfied to artlessly regurgitate them.

Of course no awful Enterprise episode would be complete without featuring Archer in captivity yet again. At this point, like many Star Trek fans, when I think about the next six years of Enterprise still to come, I hope and pray that Archer is never taken prisoner by anybody, or anything ever again. The attempt by the producers to butch up Archer by getting him involved in sports backfires a bit when they decide that his sport of choice is water polo. Though it does bring Vox Sola as close as it ever comes to comedy when in a truly surreal moment engulfed by a mesh of goo that looks like congealed ropes of milk that’s gone bad, Archer inspires Trip to go on fighting by recounting his courageous water polo victories against all odds. It seems bad enough that they have to lose their lives, do they really need to lose the last remnants of their dignity too?

It’s a testament to how little the main threat of the episode matters that what little suspense the episode has comes not from the actual alien invader, but by way of the friction between T’Pol, Hoshi, Reed and Phlox which itself lacks bite and feels thematically out of place this late in the season. The alien manifesting first as some fairly mediocre T2-era virtual CGI goo and then as buckets of real goo that Bakula is slathered in, possibly as penance for his acting, barely manages to hold the interest of even its victims let alone the audience. Its means of introduction via a failed first contact with an alien race, which finds public eating as distasteful as public copulation, would probably have made for a far more interesting episode. But then just about anything would have produced a more interesting episode than Vox Sola which is essentially an abbreviated and glacially-paced version of some of the most dreary TNG and Voyager episodes ever made.

From questionable continuity references for the sake of appeasing the fans (how likely is it that Reed was really the first human to implement the force field?), to slowly developing ‘plot twists’ you could see coming a mile away (so we’ve got a great plan for crippling the alien but it’s only halfway through the episode, gee wonder what could go wrong), and to Archer once again aimlessly stumbling around the galaxy, Vox Sola manages to encompass much of what is wrong with Enterprise and none of the positive factors. At times it seemed as if Vox Sola might actually give Enterprise that sense of continuity we haven’t seen since Silent Enemy with its movie night, but the two crewmembers we meet are only disposable redshirts. It might be a good idea for Enterprise to take a lesson from its predecessor Voyager and actually begin cultivating recurring crewmembers (and no, occasional references to Chef don’t count) to produce that sense of community and to actually make the viewer care about the redshirts. It would also be more helpful if Enterprise’s decks had a little more life and color to them. And of course it would have been helpful if Vox Sola had a little more life and color of its own.

Based on a script by Robocop 3’s Fred Dekker and the inevitable Berman\Braga story (which makes one wonder if the writers can’t come up with an unoriginal idea without the help of the producers) with some desperately flashy camera angles by Roxann Dawson, Vox Sola is simply what happens when you drain every possible ounce of creativity, drama and originality out of a script. It’s not a bad episode, because bad implies some thwarted aspiration. Whether it’s the Captain turning into a salamander and mating with her pilot or the Enterprise turning into a Mayan temple; truly bad episodes are those that are prepared to take risks and are therefore interesting even if they aren’t watchable. On the other hand dreary fare like Vox Sola is neither interesting nor watchable. It’s simply a wasted forty minutes.

Next week: Looks like Archer gets captured again. Now there’s a shocking episode premise.

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