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Monthly Archives: November 2002

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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – “Vanishing Point”

Summary: The entire episode turns out to be a hallucination in which Hoshi re-experiences a TNG plot that takes place in only two seconds. Unfortunately the actual experience of watching the episode takes much longer.

star trek enterprise vanishing point“Vanishing Point” starts with an interesting concept. A character who often feels overlooked and out of place really begins to become invisible. TNG had already carried out the reverse of that storyline in “Remember Me,” in which Dr. Crusher believes that everyone around her is disappearing and they actually do begin vanishing. But it was still an interesting concept and had the potential for some amusing scenes and character development. About halfway through the episode “Vanishing Point” begins to strongly resemble “The Next Phase,” another TNG episode in which characters are turned invisible through alien machinations that they have to expose by contacting the crew before the aliens blow up Enterprise, and in the last few minutes we go on to discover that the entire episode was a hallucination that took place in the last 2 seconds of her transport up from the planet. For those few optimists who might have been hoping that Hoshi’s first transporter experience had displaced her in time and that she could now warn the crew about the alien threat, as in DS9’s “Visionary” so that the actual events that had happened up until now would still matter, the entire episode turned out to be an hallucination.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy sitting through 40 minutes of an episode that turns out never to have happened or to matter in the least. I might have enjoyed it more if it had actually lasted for only two seconds, though. It might have been some sort of localized temporal distortion field operating in my area but the actual experience of watching it seemed to take at least twice as long as the episode’s running time. Not since the dog days of the first season has Enterprise turned out such a drearily episode paced at about the same speed as paint drying on a wall. Or, rather, after forty minutes of watching the paint dry on the wall it is discovered to be a dream about paint drying on a wall that does not involve any actual paint or walls.

It’s hard to say why the twist ending was added on. After an episode that consisted mostly of repetitive scenes of Hoshi believing that she might be losing her mind and the crew acting distant and cold towards her, the only life left in the episode came from the nightmarish atmosphere isolating Hoshi and forcing her to face the situation alone. With the twist ending, this last breath of life is sucked out into a vacuum and what’s left is the revelation that “Vanishing Point” was simply a waste of time.

“Vanishing Point” only adds one more neurosis to Hoshi’s catalog of neuroses, which after “Fight or Flight,” “Sleeping Dogs” and “Shockwave II” is starting to look as if it might rival Barclay’s. If the producers just find a way to addict Hoshi to holodecks, Barclay may have to be called back to defend his title. While “Fight or Flight” was a good episode, just as “Shuttlepod One” was a good episode, Enteprise’s producers tend towards repetitive character development by trying to reproduce what worked before. So after “Shuttlepod One” developed Reed by thrusting him into close quarters in a life and death situation with a gregarious colleague as a way of getting him to open up, we had “Minefield,” which did the same thing. After “Fight or Flight,” we now have multiple episodes that try to develop Hoshi by giving her more neuroses and having her overcome them. When in fact some of the better pieces of character development for Hoshi have been subtler scenes like Hoshi teaching the colonists self-defense in “Marauders.” Repetitive character development, after all, is not actually character development, it’s just a character repeating the same pattern over and over again.

What few shards remain to be dragged from the wreckage of “Vanishing Point” include the expansion of Enterprise’s sets, giving us the first view of the ship’s gym. Like movie night, it’s a reasonable enough addition in view of the fact that Enterprise has no holodeck and not that much shore leave. Though it does seem a bit cramped for an Enterprise sized crew. Bakula oddly enough does some of his best acting in weeks during Archer’s condolence call notifying Hoshi’s father of her death. It might have been good character development, if it had actually happened. The same probably can’t be said for “Vanishing Point,” but at least it might have been marginally watchable and moved the story one step forward instead of delivering the equivalent of the Dallas shower scene. Star Trek has often been accused of pushing the reset button, but “Vanishing Point” doesn’t just push the reset button. It breaks it.

Next week: Enterprise will break the fourth wall as the actors will have a collective dream in which they’re on a successful TV series.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Singularity

Summary: The crew’s personal hobbies spiral into obsession as the Enterprise spirals towards a black hole. The origin of the Red Alert revealed.

“Singularity” is a well told sci-fi oriented second season episode in the vein of “Dead Stop” with resemblances to the style of the Original star trek enterprise singularitySeries. From its shocking opening, “Singularity” jettisons Enterprise’s often drearily linear storytelling for a series of flashbacks told from the perspective of T’Pol on a ship where the crew is either unconscious or insane. Like the first half of “Dear Doctor,” the flashbacks serve to give us a sense of how an ordinary day proceeds on Enterprise, which is important on board a starship that far too often seems deserted by all but the regulars. The radiation is a plausible enough plot device, considering how lightly Enterprise is shielded and the ‘Serotonin’ reference suggests that at least some effort is being made in proofing the science, after “Marauders”‘s deuterium oil wells and “Communicator”‘s magic invisibility dust.

The ‘diseased crew’ episode is a conventional enough standby story to which innumerable Star Trek episodes from every series have been dedicated. from TOS’s “This Side of Paradise” to Voyager’s “Macrovirus” with notable low points along the way like TNG’s “Genesis.” But where such episodes usually focus on the search for a cure resulting in rather predictable stories, “Singularity” focuses on the crew’s usual idiosyncrasies spiraling out of control into lunacy, producing a story about a disease whose effects are personalized and character-oriented. Dr. Phlox’s usual scientific curiosity turns him into a mad scientist ready to lobotomize Mayweather to discover the reason for his headache. Reed’s insecurities drive him to turn the ship into a police state and Trip’s gadgetry spirals out of control. Archer and Hoshi are not given particularly interesting topics to stage mental breakdowns around, but then nothing Archer could do would top his breakdown in “A Night in Sickbay” and it’s hard to imagine an interesting topic for a Hoshi breakdown anyway.

T’Pol, who has been filling the Spock role of being trapped on a ship full of illogical humans, quickly finds herself in a Vulcan’s worst nightmare: actually being trapped on a ship full of out of control and emotionally unstable humans. While the crew’s breakdown is entertaining, T’Pol’s solution comes a little too easily as with some cold water and a little shaking, she manages to get through to Archer, convince him of the problem and enlist his cooperation. The basic idea serves as an effective way of following up on the events of “The Seventh” with T’Pol now in the trusted position, but considering the fact that Archer is rarely that easy to convince even while sane and the crew up to now had been completely unwilling to listen to reason, T’Pol and Archer team up together too easily and from there it’s just a matter of watching the pretty special effects on the viewscreen.

In the meantime, the revelation of the genesis of the famous ‘Red Alert’ is a light and entertaining piece that unlike some of Enterprise’s previous attempts to cut and paste continuity with the rest of the Star Trek universe, is actually realistically and organically, if still a bit self-consciously, developed. The irony is that most of Reed’s suggestions, even when he’s out of his mind, are still good ideas. If half of Reed’s ideas had been implemented on Starfleet vessels from this point forwards, any alien wouldn’t have been able to waltz through two Enterprises and one Voyager whenever they pleased on a weekly basis.

Archer’s chair project, on the other hand, smacks of the same unproffesionalism in which Archer orders Trip to fix the squeak in his floor in star trek enterprise singularity“Dead Stop.” They may be good friends, but it’s still ridiculous for the Captain to summon his engineer from his duties in engineering to make adjustments to his furniture that any other maintenance personnel could do for him. I don’t recall Captain Kirk ordering Scotty to fix his chairs or Captain Picard summoning LaForge to his quarters to take care of that squeak in the floor. And really, Archer is humanity’s first real Starship Captain. He is descended from one of the most brilliant scientist’s in earth’s history. Can’t he figure out how to do what anyone cubicle monkey can, adjust the height of his chair?

Like Phlox’s reference to Mayweather’s neural implants, the foreword to the biography of Archer’s father is a good piece of continuity as well as a way of letting us know that there is a world outside of Enterprise. It would have been nice to let us know why Archer was so initially conflicted about writing it, however. Perhaps he does feel some ambiguity about his father’s legacy after all. Since the focal points of the instability for each individual are so personal, it would have been nice if they tied in more neatly with existing issues for the characters. For instance, why did preparing that particular home dish produce that sort of emotional resonance in Hoshi? Certainly the ‘disgracing my family’ reference is outdated for 20th century Japan, let alone 21st century Japan. In Jeff Greenwald’s book on Star Trek, ‘Future Perfect’, Japanese fans comment on how outdated Keiko’s memory of traditional calligraphy in “Violations” was by modern Japanese cultural standards. A similar criticism might be made of Hoshi’s characterization in this episode. Perhaps post-war Japan had become more traditional, but in failing to deal with how Earth has changed from the present day and pretending that it is just like the 20th century except that everyone gets along with each other, the episode squanders opportunities for creativity and interrupts the otherwise well-constructed universe of the story.

All in all, “Singularity” is another good second season Enterprise episode based around a solid character oriented story.

Next week: Vanishing Point. And no the title doesn’t refer to Enterprise’s vanishing ratings.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Communicator

Summary: Reed loses his communicator on a planet resulting in the return of the ‘Archer taken prisoner’ storyline.

star trek enterprise communicator“The Communicator” takes its story idea from an Original Series episode, “A Piece of the Action,” in which Dr. McCoy forgets his communicator on the surface of an alien planet and the crew speculates that the aliens could use it to reproduce a lot of the Federation’s technology. Of course the Enterprise continues on its way regardless and no one could seriously imagine Kirk being willing to die for a communicator, let alone sacrifice members of his crew, which in part is why the Original Series was a much more fun show to watch than Enterprise is and why Kirk was a Captain you might actually want to serve under.

Following the lead of last week’s episode, the B-plot is a mildly amusing story about Trip getting the cloaking device on his hands. Literally. Of course the cloaking device is actually a technological device that cloaks things in its radius by drawing power and can be turned on and off. It’s not magic invisibility dust. Which is essentially what “The Communicator” pretends it is. And you also have to wonder why a piece of advanced technology like this is still being kept in storage on board Enterprise ever since the first episode, instead of being sent back to Earth or turned over to somebody.

In “The Communicator,” Reed’s missing communicator triggers a search effort by the Enterprise crew, not an unreasonable thing to do. Nevertheless, they trigger the suspicion of the innkeeper and some military officers and choosing to use their fists rather than their phasers in a fight in which they’re outnumbered, Archer and Reed unsurprisingly end up in lockup. Thus we have the return of the first season’s favorite storyline, Archer in captivity. The second season until now had been delightfully free of the latest incarnation of this storyline, and granted this is a plot always guaranteed to maximize viewer suspense as millions of people all over America and the world stare at their television sets in tense anticipation wondering whether the Captain will be rescued at the last minute or killed, thus ending the series for good. The result is completely unpredictable each and every single time.

Still to maximize suspense, the episode throws out a contrived deadline for Archer and Reed’s execution that really makes no sense, except as a way of building tension for a last minute rescue. Archer and Reed just gave the appearance of cracking by telling the General some important information about the enemy’s plans. So rather than interrogating them further and getting the whole story, he decides to have them both killed and their organs cut out for examination. He decides to have it done to both of them, even though one set of organs would probably suffice for medical reasons. It’s a very logical plan, if you happen to be Dr. Evil.

But then once you get past the Prime Directive issue, “The Communicator” offers just another rewind of the same plot for the same episode that every Star Trek and non-Star Trek series has been doing for years. Substitute ‘drug smugglers’ for ‘militaristic aliens’ and ‘police officers’ for ‘Starfleet officers’ and odds are that you’ve seen this same plot more times than you’ve seen Spock’s ears. Up to now the second season has been showing creativity in even its weakest episodes: “A Night in Sickbay” may have been bad for a number of reasons, but it was certainly creative and different from the usual Star Trek episodes. As were “Carbon Creek,” “Marauders,” “Dead Stop” and “The Seventh.” Stylistically innovative episodes that were clearly making serious attempts to be different than the kind of Star Trek episode we’ve learned to expect. The same cannot be said for “Communicator,” which brings out all the usual cliches and whose only redeeming moment is T’Pol’s closing speech.

The episode is supposedly about the importance of the Prime Directive, and although it’s not openly referred to as such, Archer appears to have adopted it wholesale to the extent that he’s willing to sacrifice Reed and himself to uphold it. It is rather odd that Archer would be more fanatical about the Prime Directive than later starship captains like Kirk and even Picard. It’s hard to imagine either of these characters willing to let a member of his crew be killed outright, rather than doing what he could to save him. Even the Vulcans themselves weren’t willing to go that far in “Carbon Creek.” But despite a last minute plea to let Reed live, that’s essentially what Archer is willing to do in “The Communicator.”

Ironic, however, is that Archer is too hopelessly dim to realize that his earnest efforts to hide their true identities actually end up making things a thousand times worse as he leads his captors to believe that their enemies have advanced weaponry in their possession. In the good faith belief that he’s actually making things better, rather than much worse, with each and every word, he assures them that they’re prototypes, which of course tells the general that it’s important to attack the Alliance as soon as possible before they actually have weapons like that in the hands of every enemy soldier, thus making war inevitable. Although they don’t currently have nuclear weapons the jet planes and the reconnaissance aircraft suggest they will soon enough. The planet might have survived first contact, but they’re a lot less likely to survive nuclear war.

The only thing surprising is that the episode actually seems to realize some of this and allows T’Pol to deliver, what is for Enterprise, a surprisingly insightful closing speech. More insightful certainly than Archer’s canned justifications for the Prime Directive. Not only does Archer begin with the rather questionable claim that technological sophistication is equivalent to social maturity so that first contact should depend on a species’ level of technology, a premise for which there are plenty of counter-examples beginning with the Klingons themselves, but he goes on to claim that Earth circa first contact was ready for it. Apparently it was the kind of social maturity that involves a post-war planet that still has internal warfare and wide swatches of post-war devastation proving its worthiness by having an old drunk build a warp capable ship out of spare parts. But then “The Communicator” isn’t meant to be a discussion of the Prime Directive, the Prime Directive is just a surface coat of point over an old plot that mainly serves to showcase Archer heroically facing his death before being rescued at the last second. It’s certainly an improvement over a sleepless Archer threatening to wreak havoc on the aliens who let Porthos catch a virus, but as a story “The Communicator” is a contrived retread.

Next week: Enterprise’s crew catches the space flu and discovers the dangers of trying to fly a starship under the influence of supposedly ‘non-drowsy’ cold medications.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Seventh

Summary: T’Pol goes on one final assignment for Vulcan security and experiences flashbacks of suppressed memories on a prior mission. Continuity month on Enterprise continues with Doctor Phlox referencing last week’s episode “Marauders.”

star trek enterprise seventhTwo years ago back when we were all still sitting around and reading the latest tidbits leaking out about Enterprise’s casting and premise, everyone had an opinion playing backseat driver with Paramount and Rick Berman. My own loud and vocal view back then was that casting Scott Bakula as Archer was a great idea and casting Jolene Blalock as T’Pol was a big mistake. As it turned out and as episodes like “The Seventh” demonstrate, the reverse has actually turned out to be true. Despite some questionable writing that might have sunk a lot of episodes, “The Seventh” turns in a gripping episode running mainly on Bruce Davison and Jolene Blalock’s performances and the frozen atmosphere of the alien locale.

The premise of the episode follows up where episodes like “Shadows of P’Jem” and “Fallen Hero” left off by positing that the Vulcans effectively arrive on worlds that request their help and engage in secret operations against hostile factions. That premise of course opens up the idea that the Vulcans might have done some similar things on Earth, which would do a better job of explaining the lingering human hostility towards Vulcans than Enterprise has thusfar. Apparently, better than ten percent of the Vulcan operatives inserted there went AWOL, raising some real questions about morale problems at Vulcan security since even the CIA never had quite such a defection rate. As a former member of Vulcan security T’Pol is charged with hunting down the last rogue operative who’s running a smuggling market in biological toxins. This piece of backstory for her does help explain her combat abilities (which never really made sense for an employee of the Vulcan Science Ministry) and ties in her connection to the P’Jem Sanctuary.

When Archer isn’t immediately let in on the secret he sulks, falls back on the passive aggressive behavior towards T’Pol we last saw in “A Night in Sickbay” and comforts himself with recordings of water polo. It does seem as if Archer’s professionalism is a yo-yo bouncing up and down from episode to episode. He was a competent professional last week but now he’s back to behaving as if T’Pol withholding classified information that doesn’t involve him is a personal insult and worst of all he responds to it by behaving unprofessionally and what can only be described as childishly in front of his command crew, without having the excuses of insomnia or a dying dog. When T’Pol finally lets him in on the secret and asks him to accompany her, she insists that it’s because she trusts him. But it’s not clear how much trust you can place in someone who can’t wait even one day for that information.

The frozen moon looking like an alien version of a northern fur trapper outpost is itself one of the more effective uses of cheap sets and a welcome relief from the cliched alien bars popping up since Star Trek III that all manage to look like reworkings of the Star Wars Mos Eisely cantina. The assembled collection of motley aliens in motley fur coats, fire, wooden walls and chaotic close quarters are brimming with atmosphere and serve as a good framework for the tense scenes that follow. Although Bruce Davison is never a plausible Vulcan, he does an excellent job as an intelligent and engaging character who manages to toe the fine line between con artist and victim, without definitively stepping over to one side or the other until the very end. It might though have been more disturbing and effective to have him in Vulcan makeup, rather than an Alien of the Week forehead rig.

The scene with the base commander examining T’Pol’s “warrant” is a nice touch and the kind of thing Enterprise is often blamed for not thinking through. It helps explain how T’Pol can just walk into alien territory, open fire in a crowded tavern and drag a prisoner off the planet without anyone raising an eyebrow. The explanation for their delay is also plausible enough, at least until T’Pol skirts it by tying some rags to her feet and running across the platform. Trip, meanwhile, has some mildly amusing scenes as he discovers the difficulties of command. But the material has him behaving a bit too immaturely and really there are better ways for Enterprise to showcase how “different” of a series it is without bathroom jokes. It’s also a bit jarring to move from T’Pol having a mental breakdown to gags involving Trip and the crew’s diarrhea. The recurring water polo lines also seem like a reference in search of a joke.

T’Pol’s mental breakdown does feel a bit forced. After all, the Vulcans in the Enterprise universe fall heavily on the militaristic side, as the episode’s entire premise testifies and T’Pol has not shied away from combat in the past. It’s also difficult to comprehend why in the world Vulcan Security would send an operative on a mission that last time around caused a mental breakdown forcing her to quit and requiring that its details be erased from her memory. It doesn’t seem too well thought out, to say the least. It’s the kind of story detail that exists to serve the demands of the plot, but on examination makes no sense at all.

Blalock’s performance, though, is never less than effective. Bakula even manages to play his crucial scene with T’Pol as he convinces her to shoot, just right. Often Bakula overplays trivial scenes and turns in lethargic performances at crucial moments but here he manages to pull it off with just the right amount of intensity without going over the top or being too laid back. T’Pol’s final scene with Archer wraps up “The Seventh”‘s theme and deepens their relationship.

Next week: A lost communicator nearly results in Archer being hung as Western theme month continues on Enterprise.

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