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Monthly Archives: September 2002

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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Carbon Creek

Summary: Three lost Vulcans visit a small human mining town and bond with its residents.

star trek enterprise carbon creekVulcans, Androids and assorted aliens have always been the straight men to the inevitable jokes of confronting the idiosyncrasies of the human past. Whether it was Kirk and Spock confronting automobiles, gangsters and boom boxes or Data finding his way around gold rush San Fransisco, they’ve been there to raise an eyebrow at our antics. The fictional device of the ‘alien’ is a way of examining the human condition through the eyes of the ‘other’ and the standard device of the alien confronting human culture has been mined for its comic moments and its insights into humanity.

It is no coincidence then that, traditionally, Star Trek series have featured a conflict and a dialogue between an alien character and a somewhat antiquated human character who seems more rooted in the past than the modern 23rd or 24th century as a way of getting to the meat of the human/alien split. From Dr. McCoy’s country doctor routine, Picard’s classical cultural erudition, Paris’s fixation on 20th century pop culture and now Trip’s combination of the first and the last, it’s been a fixture of Star Trek’s format.

Carbon Creek, though, disposes of this time travel format with a story about three Vulcans wandering around a cliched small town at a crucial era (you can tell because in a particularly subtle touch from the writers, the townsfolk can’t stop mentioning the arms race in casual conversation) who encounter and bond with two fairly cliched and warmly drawn humans. Since Carbon Creek fails to present any human obstacles or even negative human behavior, the only conflict has to come from the Vulcans. Being Vulcans, the resulting conflict is not particularly interesting.

Indeed, considering how ‘nice’ all the humans are, the Vulcans quickly lose any reason to mistrust them and the conclusion becomes inevitable. A more challenging episode might have had the Vulcans study a more nuanced picture of humanity while still recognizing human potential. Carbon Creek begins with the premise of the essentially worthwhile nature of humanity and ends up there, thus discarding any philosophical or intellectual questions leaving the episode as a quiet study of Vulcan interactions with a small segment of small town 20th century humanity.

As such, Carbon Creek has its moments. Aside from the lead footed references to the arms race, the episode plays out fairly well even even though there are no surprises. The comic moments from the Vulcan pool hustle to the Velcro are played well enough, but none of them are particularly memorable or really funny. Too much of the episode is oriented around the rather predictable sympathy of Mistral for the local humans or the cliched material involving the single mother and her October Sky son, rather than the smaller moments like Stron fixing the washing machine or T’Mir and Mistral looking for frozen TV dinners.

At the end of the day, Carbon Creek seems to have rather little reason for existing. Archer and Trip may be shocked by its revisionist history, but it’s a less than spectacular incident for the average viewer. As it doesn’t feature any of the Enterprise characters it doesn’t really serve to develop them. With a fairly one-dimensional view of humanity, Carbon Creek has little to say about the relationship between humans and Vulcans. And with a final note from T’Pol that brings into question how much of what happened really did occur, the episode begins to look like an episode about nothing. Casting doubt on T’Pol’s story helps the producers bypass any complaints about continuity, while showing the handbag suggests that at least some of it is accurate without going into detail about how much. But what does this leave us with at the end?

A story with a fairly predictable plot and contrived small town characters that has no real conflict or surprises. Some nice comic moments and an episode that never really catches fire, which doesn’t involve the main characters and in which nothing of any particular importance happens. Its closest parallel would be Voyager’s 11:59 but that at least had the small virtue of being one of the few Star Trek episodes to accurately predict the future by debunking Y2K. On the other hand, when you contrast Carbon Creek with the Star Trek novel Strangers from the Sky by Margaret Wander Bonnano, which also dealt with Vulcans crash landing on Earth before the official first contact, you discover a story involving main characters that took a darker, more realistic, nuanced view of humanity and the obstacles to first contact. Carbon Creek takes a sunny view of humanity that presumes that the biggest obstacle to first contact was Vulcan prissiness, which is unfortunately in line with much of Enterprise’s reflexive Vulcan-bashing. That’s unfortunate because Carbon Creek does feature some good performances but a story without any obstacles or complexity.

Next week: Romulans Mine Reed.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Shockwave II

Summary: Enterprise’s crew take back their ship, Daniels builds a temporal communicator out of a toothbrush and some loose buttons and Archer keeps appearing in T’Pol’s quarters.

The conclusions to two-parters, especially on Star Trek, have often had trouble living up to the expectations set by the preceding episode.

star trek enterprise shockwave2

Someone asked for the height genetic modification

Even the legendary Best of Both Worlds had fans complaining about its second half. In part this is because the two-parter on Star Trek has often been used as a cliffhanger in which the first episode sets up an impossible situation that is hurriedly resolved in the second half, rather than creating a story that plays across the extra time evenly. Shockwave 2 very clearly suffers from this problem.

The first part was the cliffhanger that ended Enterprise’s first season with Archer stranded a thousand years in the future and Enterprise surrounded by hostile Suliban vessels. But where S1’s build-up featured an intriguing plot with visits to the future, the destruction of an entire colony and competing agendas in which it was difficult to determine the truth, S2 is primarily dedicated to the crew replaying the breakout from Acquisition with Suliban substituted for Ferengi and with Archer fumbling around a not particularly futuristic library as a sidebar. Indeed some of the more interesting material in Shockwave 2 actually involves the debate within Starfleet Command and Ambassador Soval over the fate of Enterprise. (Though Enterprise once again casts Soval as a predictable villain, rather than a character with his own point of view.)

star trek enterprise shockwave II

Rarely has an actress' face expressed so well how stupid she thinks a scene is

Shockwave 2’s key dilemma is the capture of Enterprise and the crew taking it back, but it’s not done in any particularly interesting or original way. Even with its comedic take, Acquisition did a better job with the same material by turning it into a chase scene through the ship’s corridors. But even so there’s only so much that can be done with a Hogan’s Heroes premise and S2 seems to recognize this by throwing in Hoshi’s predicament as comic relief. But it only manages to serve as a jarring note in an otherwise dark episode. Furthermore the entire dilemma occurs because T’Pol very readily surrenders the ship, instead of playing for time. Much of the rest of the episode only exists to try and undo that damage so that S2 actually spends most of its time resolving a mistake made in the same episode.

And that is the problem. The entire plotline involving the capture of Enterprise’s crew looks like a busywork plot, something to keep the crew busy and build suspense while filling time in an episode that has no story. It’s telling that where Shockwave 1 told an engaging complex story and took us places we’ve never been before, Shockwave 2 does yet another version of “Take Back the Starship.” In fact, the basic plot here is so old that the movie Galaxy Quest spoofed it long before Enterprise was on the air, complete with crew breakouts, pointless duct crawling that results in ripped shirts, an engine overload and the evacuation of the alien soldiers. Only the fight between two officers is left out, and it has already been featured in Acquisition. Since Galaxy Quest was spoofing antiquated SciFi TV plot elements, this kind of recognition suggests that Enterprise either needs new plot elements or to find a new spin on the old it’s reusing.

Shockwave 1 ended with the memorable image of a wrecked city, but Shockwave 2 never really expands on it in any way aside from a few brief allusions to the Federation and the Romulans. Archer’s entire odyssey in the far future is indeed quite brief in terms of screen time, almost as if the producers thought that Hogan’s Heroes on Enterprise made for a more compelling story than a character being catapulted into the future. It’s a clear example of the series once again choosing throwaway action scenes over exploration and the sense of wonder of classic Trek. While executives may believe that action hooks viewers, action scenes are not what keeps Star Trek afloat. If Enterprise is going to do a better job of hanging on to its viewership than its older siblings, it is going to have to stay true to its premise in showing viewers something they haven’t seen before.

The shot of the ruined library is impressive and likely an allusion to a classic Twilight Zone episode (ironically appropriate considering the launch of a bastardized version of the Zone in a slot next to Enterprise) but really serves no point except as a means of dropping the continuity references, and of course to tell us what we already knew last season, that the future had gone to hell because Archer was removed from the timeline. Meanwhile Daniels producing a temporal communicator out of some copper wire and pieces of Archer’s scanner and communicator borders on the seriously ridiculous. Though it’s at least consistent since in ‘A Fistful of Datas’ wherein Worf managed to build a personal shield out of his communicator and a telegraph machine. Starfleet Communicators: is there anything you can’t build out of them?

Daniels, too, has become a significantly less interesting character. In Cold Front he was an enigmatic figure with suggestions that he’s not quite human in the conventional sense and that the Earth of the future is quite different and strange. In Shockwave he’s a bumbling incompetent who prattles on about having a quantum communicator in every high school desk, eating breakfast by the window and whose future just seems slightly more technologically advanced, but culturally is still exactly the same. It’s bad enough that the Federation is often just a futuristic America. But really now, suggesting that a thousand years of human civilization is just going to come down to the same society with slightly neater gadgets is a concept unworthy of Enterprise’s premise.

Shockwave 2 certainly has its moment of tension and spectacular battle scenes driven by increasingly advanced special effects. Blalock gives a strikingly good performance, though the collar she’s tortured with looks unavoidably silly. Her closing scene with Archer in particular suggests that the series has successfully achieved its version of the Captain \ Vulcan Science Officer relationship. Archer and T’Pol will never be Spock and Kirk, but if the producers don’t tamper with the basic chemistry, the results will be a good deal better than the relationship between any Captain and First Officer since the original series.

Silik never goes beyond the conventional villain, but delivers an enjoyable performance chewing the scenery. At once cunning, fearful and cruel in a performance reminiscent of Voyager’s Dr. Chaotica, Fleck distills the essence of the melodramatic pulp villain into every scene. The makeup may not let him have the facial mobility to really perform, but he does his best to compensate for it with gestures and voice acting that drips with every vile emotion possible.

Silik’s comeuppance as he prays to his futuristic masters is also enjoyable, but it’s one clever scene, an oasis in an episode with far too little imagination put into the story and far too many special effects. Shockwave 2 might have functioned better had the Starfleet material been shifted to another episode that might have had Enterprise return to Earth to stand trial for its actions thus providing time to wrap up the story and give the material the treatment it deserves. As it is the Starfleet section serves as a muddled postscript to a story that’s big on unoriginal action scenes and short on plot.

Archer’s speech is a particularly a awful example of grandiose words being put into the mouth of a character with no actual point to it. The sum total of Archer’s argument is that human beings make mistakes. But when stripped of the metaphor, it does nothing to defend Archer’s actions. It’s the classic lawyer’s generalization and appeal to some overriding humanity that does nothing to address the specifics of the case. Humans may fail, but does this mean that any action Archer takes should be excused based on the general imperfection of humanity? In a hearing dedicated to questioning Archer’s command decisions, it would be fair to ask which of those decisions he is admitting having stumbled on. Is he admitting that Enterprise’s frequent fights, his actions at the monastery or the freeing of the Suliban were mistakes? Or is Archer merely rendering himself beyond criticism by pointing out that all men err? It would have been nice for Archer to have staked out a clear position on either side.

With Archer’s speech the Producers seem to be responding to some of the criticisms made against Archer and laying out the series format as being one where the crew and its Captain make mistakes and do uneven work because “it’s their first day on the job.” There’s nothing wrong with that premise, it’s an interesting premise. But it would work if Archer questioned himself, solicited and accepted advice from his first officer on a regular basis and went into a situation without the arrogance and sense of entitlement to settling other people’s problems that has brought up all these issues in the first place.

All in all, Shockwave 2 functions well enough as an action episode, but as a conclusion to the promising Shockwave 1, it’s quite a letdown, spending most of its screen time entangling the crew in predictable action scenes without paying off on the more imaginative concepts of Shockwave 1.

Next week: The cavalcade of laughs continues as Vulcans wander around 1950’s Earth and reference Earth sitcoms.

Star Trek Enterprise Season 1 Review

A series’ first season is its defining moment. While the first season may be full of clumsy scripts, poorly thought out plots and insufficient characterization, it is the testing ground in which it finds its balance, its sea legs so to speak. In the first season the character relationships will not yet have really come together, yet certain patterns will have become noticeable that will shape the future of the series.

Certainly this is particularly true of Star Trek series, which take years to become polished enough to produce their best material, and so there star trek enterprise season 1 is no reason to expect Enterprise’s first season to have produced the great classic episodes that might one day become associated with the series. As such, any criticism of the first season must be written and read with this knowledge in mind.

At the same time the basic identities of the characters, the style and feel of a series do tend to become set in its first season. Essentially, the first season of a Star Trek series serves a similar role as pilots do to many other series. It produces patterns which may be modified somewhat, but still influence and define the show’s future. Attempts to redefine the show’s dynamic (witness Stewart’s attempt to transform Picard into a man of action) may fail and ring flat.

So while plot arc-intensive episodes like “Cold Front,” “Shadows of P’Jem” and “Shockwave” may grab the audience’s attention, the real impact of Enterprise’s first season will likely be felt in the more character centered episodes like “Shuttlepod One,” “Fallen Hero” and “Fight or Flight.” Despite any impressions to the contrary, plot arcs are created on the spot and even when a series bible exists it is frequently modified by the writers and producers. Characters, on the other hand, become fixed beyond a certain point so that the writers come to discover that they are dealing with a set mould that is difficult if not impossible to change. In sum, the failures and successes of the future of a series are rooted in the patterns that can be noted in its first season. There are many patterns emerging now.

One is the question of setting. With its emphasis on space exploration, Enterprise functions far better in stories set in space than in those set planetside. With episodes like “Fight or Flight,” “Silent Enemy,” “Fallen Hero”, “Shuttlepod One,” “Breaking the Ice” and “Cold Front,” Enterprise demonstrated that space-based bottle shows play to its strengths. These are its emphases on isolation, exploration, unknown threats and personality clashes. On the other hand, there is something about planetside stories that causes the writers to revisit every cliché from the past four series resulting in clunkers like “Terra Nova,” “Strange New World,” “Rogue Planet,” “Civilization,” “Oasis” and “Desert Crossing.” A promising episode like “Dear Doctor” had a strong beginning when it was set in space and collapses into a Voyager retread when it touches the ground. Where space provides the chance to break new ground, visiting a planet or an alien culture results in another retread from the cliché factory.

This is more than a random question of space vs. planets, though. “Two Days and Two Nights” was a strong planetside episode and “Unexpected” was an extraordinarily weak space episode. They demonstrate that Enterprise’s strong episodes are produced when the show focuses its energies inward on the characters and situation in the appropriately named ‘bottle shows.’ But Enterprise has a good deal of trouble creating believable alien cultures or imagining the pre-TOS state of the galaxy. It is a flaw that will need to be addressed, since if Enterprise is to play a part in birthing the Federation, it cannot remain isolated in space forever.

Another pattern involves Archer’s behavior. From “Broken Bow” to “Shockwave” he has come off as man whose responsibilities outweigh his abilities. In his best moments the writers have managed to transform this into a positive trait as a character arc, but in the far more frequent weaker moments, it highlights his inadequacy. On a situational basis from episode to episode, Archer’s character has come to be defined by a combination of naivete, self-righteousness and a propensity for getting captured. All three of these issues go directly to the question of his incompetence and nothing will kill a character in a commanding role sooner than a belief that he is incompetent as this leads viewers to question every decision he makes. Even the clearly legitimate ones.

Worse, it leads to an attitude of contempt towards the character of the type which doomed Captain Janeway. Shows live or die by their leading character: for better or worse Archer is Enterprise’s main character, ensemble cast or not. Viewers will relate to the show based on his behavior and his attitude. If they don’t like it, they will change the channel. Ideally, Star Trek Captains have been people to be admired. Archer does not manage to meet that standard. The Producers would find it a very good idea to take a long hard look at what isn’t working and fix it before Archer becomes an objection of derision in the Janeway mode.

Like Kirk, the producers have meant Archer to walk the line between explorer and military man. Where Picard was the explorer and Sisko the military man, Archer is once again meant to be the synthesis of both. But a similar intention existed for Janeway and went mostly unfulfilled. While much more credible work has been done in giving Archer such a background, the synthesis remains less than entirely convincing.

The premise of Enterprise has Archer facing both a military challenge in the form of the Suliban and the challenge of exploration in moving into a strange and unknown universe. The Temporal Cold War combines both challenges in one, and in episodes like “Shockwave” it is where Archer comes closest to combining both aspects of his personality: the explorer who looks at the universe with awe and the military man who views it as a threat. There is an essential schism in such a point of view that must be bridged. The Original Series did so by throwing a strange variety of threats and experiences at the viewer, so that the threats were awe inspiring and as much forces of nature (Trelane, Nomad, Khan) and the experiences were in and of themselves threatening (The Guardian, The library, the giant amoebae.) But while the Temporal Cold War qualifies as the extraordinary, too much of Enterprise qualifies as the ordinary.

It is axiomatic that Science Fiction should be at least two steps ahead of current science. Not the current accomplishments, but the current ideas, otherwise it merely becomes a dramatized Nova production. Good Science Fiction goes beyond a science textbook and into the realm of the extraordinary. Yet Enterprise has shown us few extraordinary things thus far. Enterprise has attempted to portray the intermediary stage of exploration and discovery as extraordinary, and at times in episodes like “Breaking the Ice,” it has even succeeded. But paradoxically it has come closest to successfully dramatizing the challenges of space exploration in its military episodes such as “Fight or Flight” and “Silent Enemy.” This is indeed in keeping with the Original Series tradition of episodes like Balance of Terror. The beauty of these episodes and the “Gallieo 7” redux, “Shutlepod One,” has been their simplicity. And for better or worse simplicity has been the watchword of Enterprise.

From its opening titles depicting a linear acceleration of human exploration untroubled by any historical ambiguities, to its approach to moral dilemmas (e.g. Phlox’s dissenting voice being smoothed out of “Dear Doctor” in favor of mutual agreement), Enterprise has tended to choose a simplicity suffused with idealism over complexity. In each episode the viewer is meant to know exactly how he or she should feel about the events and the characters in it through dialogue that is thoroughly unsubtle in conveying a simplistic homogenized universe. There are ways in which Enterprise resembles Star Trek’s Original Series, but unpredictability is generally not one of them. That is a problem.

In its time the Original Series was a controversial show and even today many of its episodes remain intellectually and politically challenging. The same simply cannot be said for Enterprise. Indeed Enterprise seems to have been created as a ‘safe’ way of doing something different while still maintaining the apron strings to the franchise. As such, Enterprise has the same relationship to the Original Series as Voyager had to the Next Generation. Conceptual spin-offs from successful series that in the transition lose many of the rough edges that made the original shows worthwhile. In revisiting an earlier era, Enterprise is relying on nostalgia to fill the gaps created by its lack of adventurous storytelling. Archer is the embodiment of that nostalgia.

He’s Kirk without any of the bad habits that wouldn’t play as well to a 21st century audience. As with Voyager, most of those questionable star trek enterprise season 1qualities have been passed on to a proxy character. Tom Paris on Voyager, Trip Tucker on Enterprise. But this has the effect of rendering the Captain into an unrealistic person. A character’s strength comes from his ability to overcome character flaws or to function despite them. Characters with deep personal flaws make for compelling viewing and paradoxically are more respected. Kirk’s misogyny and reflexive hostility, Picard’s arrogance and anti-social isolationism made them compelling and interesting characters. It allowed us to view them as complete and well rounded individuals. On the other hand the attempt to make Janeway and now Archer into commanders capable of anything, while staying celibate and being beloved by everyone turns them into candidates for sainthood and little else.

Archer’s characterization as a naive and self-righteous man with a big Starship setting the wrongs of the galaxy right, often without first bothering to check who’s wrong and who’s right, negates the premise of Enterprise as an under-powered Starship exploring a strange galaxy as beautifully expressed in episodes like “Fight or Flight” or “Silent Enemy,” rather than the classic mighty Federation throwing its moral and physical weight around. By negating this premise, Enterprise is transformed into Voyager Mark 2 with minor differences in uniforms and starship design and Archer’s character is key to this aspect of the premise.

Perhaps the casting of Bakula himself was a mistake. From Shatner to Stewart to Brooks to Mulgrew, Star Trek’s Captains have been larger than life characters who might chew the scenery but nevertheless dominated the scene. They might be accused of many things, but they were never boring and Archer simply is.

In retrospect Bakula may not have been the best choice to serve as the focus for that kind of energy and worse yet he has chosen to play the character as increasingly laid back and good humored. Even his fits of anger seem half-hearted. This is a style that might work for SG-1 where Richard Dean Anderson’s sardonic delivery compensates for the weirdness around him, but on Bakula it lends a dreary air to a show that is already paced too slowly and has a shortage of interesting and exciting characters.

Where Bakula’s casting was a much praised choice, Blalock’s casting was greeted not too positively by many, including myself. Nevertheless, she has done a very capable job in a somewhat ambiguous role. Still, the T’Pol character often hovers too close to being Seven of Nine Mark 2. The costume, which is completely unnecessary, tends to invite this comparison as does the series’ all too often treatment of T’Pol’s Vulcan nature as a flaw that must be corrected by exposing her to ‘normal’ human behavior in the Seven of Nine vein. But this mistake leads into the more fundamental mistake at the heart of Enterprise’s premise.

There are few writers who aren’t aware of the dictum that conflict is necessary to drama. While this has some truth to it, conflict tends to be more overused than underused. There are few dramas that have too little conflict versus. dramas that have too much conflict.

In part this is because conflict is used to cover up bad work. To produce artificial excitement and suspense in circumstances and situations that lack it by introducing artificial obstacles. Thus a producer might decide that a cop show needs an obstacle and so introduces an obnoxious Captain who interferes with the police work. Enterprise has attempted to do something similar by re-imagining the Vulcans as obstructionist imperialists and giving Archer the goal of succeeding at exploration, despite the Vulcans.

Yet this is an innately flawed concept. Enterprise was an attempt to return to an Original Series style of exploration, which needed no situational obstacle except the limitations of technology and the danger of the universe itself. Relegating the triumph of the exploration of space to a quest to prove the Vulcans wrong reduces it to a crude contest whole ultimate outcome is already known to the audience and relieves it of the joy of exploration.

Placing such a Vulcan onboard is a pointless move, as Star Trek under Rick Berman has a tradition of creating premises with sources of conflict and then smoothing away characters who serve as sources of conflict–witness the premises of DS9 and Voyager that involved large numbers of non-Starfleet crew members serving on board to provide conflict, only to see that conflict become filed away rather quickly. The same phenomenon is occurring with T’Pol at an even more rapid pace as she has gone from being a source of conflict to a staunch ally in less than a season.

The best conflict comes from differing viewpoints defined by fundamental differences in character, as McCoy versus Spock. This type of conflict can quickly be reduced to a cliche as was done when Worf began to approach every situation from a martial viewpoint. It bogs characters down and makes them entirely predictable. If we know what a character is about to say every time he opens his mouth, the character has become an uninteresting cliche. At the same time creating contradictions and depths in character relationships keep them fresh.

T’Pol for now has not really formed consistent relationships or become a cliche, in part because her writing suggests that the producers are unsure of which way exactly they’d like her to go. At first she was the obstacle onboard as an extension of the larger Vulcan obstacle placed in the Enterprise’s path. She then became Enterprise’s ally and Archer’s confidant. She must however be far more than another Major Kira or Commander Chakotay.

Unfortunately much of the rest of the crew also falls into the category of undeveloped cliches. Even in their tightest bonding moments, how far have Reed and Trip really gone from the stereotype of the quiet introverted Englishman and the brash extroverted Southerner? Yet they are the most developed crew members after the Captain and T’Pol. In retrospect, “Shuttlepod One”‘s lasting impact has been to provide the two with a bonding moment to serve as the basis for a lasting friendship, much as similarly themed “The Chute” did with Paris and Kim on Voyager.

Reed and Trip certainly have more energy than Paris and Kim ever did, and the two actors in question are also far superior. It would be a shame if the emotional vulnerabilities uncovered in “Shuttlepod One” were as thoroughly forgotten as they were on Voyager in the post-“Chute” episodes, in favor more goofy scenes of the two prowling around bars. Friction and conflict can be used to build relationships more complex and interesting than friendship. As natural antagonists the two are interesting, as friends they’re more of a punchline. Both the actors and the characters deserve better. Hopefully in the second season the show can manage to hang on to both of these elements, rather than discarding their clash of viewpoints as merely a stage in their bonding process.

By contrast, Hoshi and Mayweather are little more than a character outline that can be summed up in one sentence, one sentence would suffice for the both of them too. The attempt to develop Mayweather as a Boomer has clearly failed with “Favorite Son” and should not be revisited. It is hard to say whether it is a case of a weak character or weak actor or both. But it does seem as if Mayweather has become the Ensign Kim of the crew, though without the disastrous relationships since Trip already has a premium on that. Hoshi is a pleasant but also undeveloped character whose main characteristic references the most damning moment of another minority female communications officer from a far earlier series proclaiming, “I’m Afraid, Captain.”

While Dr. Phlox had the most potential from the outset he really has mostly remained on the sidelines as far as character development is concerned. Occasionally he steps out from the sidelines to guide the action as in “Vox Sola” or “Terra Nova,” but this tends to reduce him to a Deus Ex character.

The key problem is that he lacks motivation. The motivation to be on Enterprise, to be a Doctor, to be or do anything. All he has is a mild curiosity and affability that is pleasant and his status as an alien that so far has mainly served to produce comic relief as it did in “Two Days.” Traditionally, Star Trek’s non-humans have been reduced to wanting to be human (Data, EMH) not wanting to be human (Spock, Worf, Odo) or being faintly curious and bemused by humans (Neelix, Garak.) For now Phlox appears to belong to the latter category, yet only time will tell if he becomes a Neelix or a Garak.

Finally there is the premise of the 29th century villain and a temporal cold war. While this is an interesting idea, interesting ideas do not necessarily translate into effective premises, especially considering that Enterprise was an attempt to deal with the Birth of the Federation. Rather than dealing with the struggles of the time Enterprise has saved its biggest ammunition for an intangible enemy that does not relate to this era. That is unfortunate as the struggles of Earth to come to terms with itself and its place in the galaxy has more story material than a temporal cold war does.

The premise of Enterprise appears to be an attempt to combine two incompatible premises into one. As a result, the first season of Enterprise can be split down between the bulk of episodes featuring various Aliens of the Week and Dilemmas of the Week and recurring storylines involving TOS races and a few key episodes involving the Suliban, who come off as not particularly interesting when compared to the TOS races and even to some of the Aliens of the Week; even as they take the emphasis of the series off the Birth of the Federation and into X-Files territory.

That brings us to our fifth and final key mistake, the Suliban. In part the problem of the Suliban is that of Species 8742, it confuses concept with effect. Enterprise expects us to find the Suliban interesting because they can shift their shape and have lots of fascinating special abilities. This does not remotely make for an interesting species. When first introduced, the Klingons were little more than short men with funny faces. What made them compelling was their ruthlessness, directness and fervor. So too with the Romulans and the Cardassians, key characteristic traits of those races emerged and defined them. The Suliban have no such characteristic. When we think of a Suliban soldier, we think of abilities rather than character. “Detained”‘s attempt to compensate for that by giving the Suliban a backstory proved that they were about as interesting as Voyager’s average Species of the Week.

While those characteristics were driven as much by the actors as by the writing, Enterprise has saddled the Suliban actors with makeup that retards facial expressions. This prevents the actors from being much of a presence, so that John Fleck has to do most of his acting with his voice. It’s a triumph of effect over concept. The Suliban may have some excellent special effects behind them, but no worthwhile concept and so like Species 8742, they lack screen presence as a major enemy.

With season two, Enterprise has a chance to learn and grow from some of its mistakes and build on its strengths. It has produced some strong space episodes and must now learn to break new ground in dealing with planetside episodes and alien cultures, just as it has done in space with episodes like “Fight or Flight,” “Shuttlepod One,” “Shockwave” and “Silent Enemy.” Progress and development will not occur by repeating the past mistakes of the franchise, but by breaking new ground.

Enterprise has set the basic mould for its cast of characters, some are featureless and others have a troubled development arc ahead for them. Aspects of Archer’s character need to be rethought. T’Pol has emerged as a strong character but what has been gained will be lost if she is allowed to become a Seven clone. Dr. Phlox still remains the most intriguing character of the series but he needs development, a goal and a purpose to fulfill that promise and produce the kind of compelling episodes his character is capable of. Viewers have compared Phlox to Garak. Yet without the secrets, the guilt and the mixed motivations, episodes like “The Wire” would have been impossible. Phlox needs to become a more complex character, rather than the comic relief he has too often strayed into.

Like TNG and DS9, Enterprise needs to rethink some of its premises. Early on, TNG made a disastrous attempt to be TOS. DS9 then made a disastrous attempt to be TNG. Both shows recovered from that by the second season. With season one behind, it is time for Enterprise to find an identity hidden amid the choices made in its early days.

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