Summary: Enterprise goes western as Archer and Co. help some townsfolk…err deuterium diners fight off some bandits…err Klingons.
Enterprise has encountered the Klingons three times so far. But each encounter, including the overhyped “Sleeping Dogs,” was essentially conducted in the 24th century ‘grudging allies’ mode. “Marauders” is the first violent, or at least semi-violent, encounter between the proto-Federation and the Klingons. Though, of course, “Marauders” takes great pains to emphasize that the Klingons are rogue bandits who don’t answer to the High Council and the Federation never identifies itself as such because the series is seemingly unready for a state of open hostilities with the Klingons.
Star Trek series have used this essentially Western plot for some time now, most recently in TNG’s Insurrection and Voyager’s “Homestead” (Both of which also featured a Shane-like relationship between a crewmember and a boy). The basic plot is a simple formula that works time and time again. Setup the hapless townsfolk, the gang of varmints who exploit them and the rescuer(s) who stage a showdown with the black hats. There are limited ways to tweak this basic plot, though the Original Series’ “Errand of Mercy” did so with another Klingon showdown in a rather innovative way that redefined the basic relationship with the Klingons and raised questions about the real differences between Our Heroes and the Klingons. “Marauders” returns to the basic plot efficiently enough, at least until the final showdown.
Mike Vejar’s smooth direction lays out the deuterium rig-cluttered desert atmosphere and manages to really bring the town to life and give it dimension and history, even if the script reduces the characters to the same formulaic roles as in “Homestead” and Insurrection. All in all, “Marauders” may well tie Roxann Dawson’s work on “Dead Stop” for the best directed Enterprise episode, of both seasons.
The episode begins with the now-familiar notes of continuity as the episode follows up on the chain of events that began with “Minefield,” continued in “Dead Stop” and hit a low point in “A Night in Sickbay.” This time out the crew is looking to replace the deuterium they used as a bomb in “Dead Stop” (nitpickers will probably point out that in that episode, Trip said they could spare the deuterium and now Enterprise appears to be running dry). They discover a small mobile settlement that pumps the substance out of the ground with what look like futuristic oil rigs–the more technically knowledgeable nitpickers will probably find fault with the entire technological premise of the episode, which treats the deuterium as a futuristic version of oil. From here on in, it isn’t long until the Klingons show up.
Archer discusses the issue with T’Pol, who fails to disagree with him. While the Enterprise Vulcans are clearly more militaristic than those of the Star Trek universe, T’Pol seems rather blasé about the prospect of a fight. Up to now T’Pol has provided an opposing point of view as a valuable part of any discussion; hopefully this is not being truncated because of some brewing romance arc between the two characters. Archer’s arguments essentially recap some of the basic debate from the first season’s “Fight or Flight,” right down to the formulation that asks what the right thing would be to do if the aliens were human. His argument countering any Prime Directive objection is out of place since Starfleet has no Prime Directive of its own at the moment and hasn’t accepted the Vulcan Prime Directive. Based on a short-sighted studio directive with the intention of reducing crew conflicts, “Dear Doctor” rewrote Archer’s scene to have him invoke the idea of a Prime Directive, but it’s hardly Starfleet policy. And half the fun of a pre-‘Original Series’ series should be the lack of such constrictions. It’s certainly odd to see Archer worrying about the Prime Directive in a situation where 23rd century Kirk wouldn’t have given it a second thought.
Archer shares the first of two good scenes with the settlement leader as he convinces him that he needs to defend his colony while repairing a crawler. The training scenes also proceed well with a variety of nice little touches like the colonists discussing their lizard problem and Hoshi giving a firearms lesson. All except T’Pol’s ridiculous martial arts segment, however, which involves teaching the colonists how to dodge Bat’leths and only foreshadows how ridiculous the final showdown will be. Archer’s second scene with the settlement leader references some more continuity and the character manages to argue realistic justification for his behavior without invoking any pregnant gazelles, while Trip’s scenes with the obligatory youngster just demonstrate once again that Star Trek can’t do kids or pets and should probably stay away from both.
The only real flaw of “Marauders,” however, comes oddly enough in the showdown itself, which normally would be the eye-candy payoff, but turns into some sort of strategy as bizarre as a Rube Goldberg contraption. The key problem can be traced back to Enterprise’s desire to avoid open hostilities with the Klingons, which requires a non-lethal solution. Archer formulates the issue as ‘standing up to a bully’ because presumably the hypothetical bully is really weak and afraid of a fight. You have to wonder which show the writer was watching: Klingons like fights, they pretty much live for them, they spend their free time fighting and arm wrestling over daggers. Their elections end with a corpse on the floor. This formulation might have been plausible for some alien race of the week, but it’s laughable when applied to Klingons.
The actual showdown is even more more so. The entire strategy here was to lure the Klingons to the deuterium fields by moving the entire town and disguising the deuterium fields. This is a plot roughly equal in cleverness to Blazing Saddles creating an entire fake town to lure the villains in. But Blazing Saddles was a comedy and a spoof of Western cliches, “Marauders” doesn’t have the same excuse. After all, it’s Andromeda that wants to be like a Mel Brooks movie, not Enterprise. Yet the entire showdown plays out like a comedy routine, not something that anyone would survive even in the Star Trek universe.
The crew rule out dealing with the Klingons themselves because then the settlers would be helpless against anyone who else came along. Although since the Klingons are rogues and no one else has ever come along before, there’s no real reason to believe that anyone would. The episode assumes that dealing with the Klingons is some sort of impossible task, yet the Klingons beam onto the same platform every single time with their weapons holstered. A child could plan a successful ambush under those conditions and one that wouldn’t require dragging a town around the desert. A bomb under the platform would take care of the Klingons or a ring of armed men surrounding the platform and waiting to gun down the Klingons as they arrive. Instead Marauders has the townspeople running around under the guns of the Klingons. Now, mind you, the episode claims that Klingons are nearly unstoppable and invincible warriors and two dozen armed men are no match for them in a fair fight. Apparently they’re completely helpless when rocks are being thrown at them and wires are being raised to trip them up. The only thing the settlers seem to forget is to leave banana peels out where the Klingons can slip and fall on their backs.
The goal of this encounter is to apparently make the Klingons really mad before surrounding them with fire, thus frightening them into leaving. Apparently the Klingons are too dimwitted to beam out and transport back down to another location and slaughter everyone responsible. But apparently they’ve been so terrified by the courage the settlers displayed in throwing rocks at them and tripping them up with wires, that they’ve decided to leave and never come back for fear that next time out they’ll have to deal with the banana peels. And if four Star Trek series have taught us nothing else about Klingons, it’s that they panic and retreat at the first sign of trouble. John M. Ford’s classic Trek novel, ‘How Much For Just the Planet’ featured just this storyline with cream pies substituted for banana peels and tuxedos for ropes and it’s a hilarious and offbeat work, but the “Marauders” showdown is just unintentionally hilarious.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of DS9, but had it done this storyline the showdown would have either been intentionally hilarious or it would have been a dark story about the cost of freedom. Enterprise seems to think that you can have a non-violent story about people fighting for their freedom with trip wires and a strategy that’s right out of Spy vs Spy. As in “Minefield,” Enterprise is afraid to push the boundaries in storytelling or at least get somewhere near them. It’s afraid to even sacrifice one of three minor colonist characters whom we’ll never see again in favor of a bizarrely sunny ending. Had “Marauders” gone the DS9 route and actually finished with a dark ending that would have shown the settlers the price they had to pay for freedom and Archer the cost of his decision that might have challenged his naivete, thus providing a conclusion to his speech to the colony leader about his own uncertainty, it might have been a great episode. As it is, “Marauders” has some great moments and some strong scenes and even some low-key development of Archer and Hoshi with a tacked on screwball comedy ending that really doesn’t do justice to the material.
Next week: T’Pol gets her gun.