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Monthly Archives: December 2002

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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Catwalk

Summary: When a group of alien deserters alert Enterprise to danger, they involve the crew in a dangerous situation.

star trek enterprise CatwalkStar Trek has done any number of episodes involving aliens trying to take over the ship. In part that’s because it’s a fairly economical way to do an action episode without having to leave the Enterprise. ENTERPRISE has done its share of such episodes and will undoubtedly do plenty more of them before its run is through and “Catwalk” is one of these. This time out the episode wisely focuses on the logistics of evacuating the crew into the nacelles and the dynamics of their interaction, rather than the fairly weak dilemma of the aliens and the other aliens who briefly take over Enterprise before Archer scares them off by threatening the destruction of the ship, the same gambit that Starship Captains have been using to scare aliens off their ship’s for decades now and happened as recently as the second season opener, “Shockwave 2.”

On “Catwalk” the aliens become almost an afterthought as the real focus is on the crew and the evacuation and it’s a smart choice because where the invading aliens storyline has been done before (and far more creatively too), previous shows were often a bit weak on the logistics and “Catwalk” is one of the better entries in dissecting how the crew handles an emergency since TNG’s “Disaster” or DS9’s somewhat overrated “Starship Down.” By contrast, even Voyager managed to put together far more creative versions of the ‘aliens invaders’ storyline such as “Displaced” and “Scientific Method,” which did a much better job of producing elaborate and original threats to Voyager and her crew. “Catwalk'”s threat is mundane, undeveloped and resolved before it even begins.

But then “Catwalk”‘s real strength rests in the crew interacting together in difficult moments. T’Pol fraternizing with the crew during movie night by pointing out plot elements, Reed’s digestive problems and Trip realizing he hasn’t thought of what the crew would use for a latrine. Enterprise has begun with the premise of a ship that’s more like a submarine than a 24th century starship and given us a ship that for all intents and purposes is just a slightly lower tech version of a 24th century starship; episodes like “Catwalk” do a good job of actually tackling the premise of what a crew in a low tech experimental boat unprepared for deep space might actually end up living like. An experience that’s less of a luxury hotel and more of a cramped military transport aircraft.

Danny Goldring as the alien captain also makes one of Enterprise’s stronger villains thanks to a hard edged performance and some solid dialogue with Archer that’s a bit more clever and well thought out than the kind of predictable exchanges we would usually see in this situation. The alien captain actively contemplates Archer and Enterprise and even relates to Archer and in doing so gains a certain amount of depth. His background as a corrupt military man, rather than just another alien of the week who dislikes the crew for no particular reason, is also a nice and realistic touch suggesting Voyager’s own “Workforce.”

Mike Vejar’s direction this week is competent, but not nearly as stylish and creative as Livingston’s work on last week’s rather miserable “Precious Cargo.” It’s a shame that the two directors hadn’t switched episodes or “Catwalk” might have been a lot more visually interesting. As it is, the installment is a watchable episode mainly for the crew interactions, if not a particularly extraordinary one.

Next week: Poor Reed is still out there stuck on that mine.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Precious Cargo

Summary: Trip stumbles on a scheme to kidnap an alien monarch-to-be and escapes with her into the overgrown depths of an overused plot.

In doing my reviews I often try to list past precedents for episodes but “Precious Cargo”‘s plot is so old and has been used so many times, as recently as Madonna’s latest flop, that there’s simply no point in such an overview. Indeed the entire uptight rich girl meets working class guy where they end up isolated on a tropical island and struggling to survive before acting on their attraction to each other is such a hoary cliche that it ought to have spider webs around it and moss growing on its underside. In fanfic, plot devices that rely on two characters getting together under such circumstances are strictly bottom of the barrel and writing guidelines warn against them. Apparently the same writing guidelines though don’t apply to Enterprise executive producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga who came up with this story.

Not that any of this is sufficient grounds for criticizing the episode. Just because a plot has been done a hundred thousand times before doesn’t mean that something interesting can’t be done with it on the one hundred thousandth and first try. Great Enterprise episodes like “Shuttlepod One” and “Dead Stop,” for example, relied on formulas that are just as overused and predate Western civilization. The real question is whether this time around something interesting is being done with the plot, whether there’s a twist ending or at least some growth for the characters or a sense that the preceding hour has not been a waste of time.

“Precious Cargo,” though, doesn’t bother with any of that but unspools the same plot at its most cliched. First, two aliens arrive on board Enterprise in Westmore’s patented evil alien makeup. As if that wasn’t subtle enough, they twitch, leer and lie insincerely. They do everything but carry signs reading ‘We’re evil.’ For anyone expecting twists and turns that might challenge our expectations or create any ripples in the viewing experience, there are none. It’s all just one long forty-minute flat line. From the moment we see the woman inside the stasis pod, the rest of the episode is as predictable as it gets. With the right co-star, Connor Trineer’s usual routine might at least have been a little entertaining but Padma Lakshmi’s line delivery is hopelessly flat and artificial and between the two of them there is about as much chemistry as there was between Paris and Torres.

What few good moments “Precious Cargo” has surprisingly come from a story involving Archer and T’Pol trying to coerce information out of

star trek enterprise Precious Cargo

I give it two weeks

one of the kidnappers. Not only is it is a nice routine reminiscent of a Kirk and Spock moment, but it’s only the part of the episode that has any life to it. David Livingston does his best with this episode from a stylish opening that has Trip playing the harmonica while the alien ship arrives to the scenes in the cramped escape pod. But the flaws in the episode are not his fault and probably not even the fault of David Goodman who produced the actual teleplay. After all, there’s a limited amount of originality that anyone can bring to a story like this. Rick Berman and Brannon Braga need to trust the writers they’ve hired enough to come up with their own stories, otherwise the entire process of bringing in new blood will have been a waste of time if the new writers are kept on to write the same stories that were being turned out ten and fifteen years ago. Seeing Berman and Braga’s name on so many episodes leads us to the conclusion that either Enterprise’s writers can’t come up with suitable episode ideas at story meetings or that they’re not being allowed to.

It’s hard to say whether “Precious Cargo” is the result of UPN programming chief Dawn Ostroff’s threat to make Enterprise ‘sexier’ but if so it can be considered a dismal failure in that department. It also flops as a comedy because Lakshmi doesn’t have the timing or the line delivery to keep pace with Trineer and aside from the cliched situational friction, there’s not much that’s funny here besides Archer and T’Pol’s interrogation scene. As action and suspense it never gets off the ground. The aliens have a Warp 2 ship and they’re basically slightly brighter versions of Pakleds and never manage to present any real threat or challenge. The result is a hybrid episode that fails in all three departments. While “Cargo” is never actually as awful as “Vox Sola” or “A Night in Sickbay,” it’s simply mediocre at a time when Enterprise needs most to attract a regular audience and can’t afford to suffer from more lazy writing and recycled plots. Enterprise might be able to afford to do such episodes in its sixth or seventh season, but not in its second when it still has a chance of maintaining and extending its audience.

Next week: Aliens try to take over Enterprise. Again.

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