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Monthly Archives: February 2003

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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Canamar

Summary: ENTERPIRSE does CON-AIR.

One of the odder things about “Canamar” is that the episode is named after a place we never see, namely Canamar itself. The ad campaign for star trek enterprise canamarthe episode also cited an alien prison, when in fact the entire episode takes place on board a hijacked prison transport. This is actually an improvement over the standard alien prison plot that we’ve seen in STAR TREK time and time again. Particularly since we just had an alien prison plot in Season 1 with “Detained” and a good deal of episodes to date have seen Archer imprisoned or held hostage. “Canamar” improves on them by turning Archer from a passive captive into an active conspirator scheming for a chance to break free while adopting an alter ego for the purposes of deceiving his captors. But where Shatner and Stewart adopted carefree roguish alter egos when forced to impersonate criminals in “A Piece of the Action” or “Gambit,” Bakula’s alter ego is a bit looser but still dour and brooding; a decision which passed up a chance for Bakula to shake up his Archer persona a little and play a role with some more panache.

There were two obvious ways to do an episode like “Canamar,” as a piece of social commentary on the justice system or as a more carefree heist plot. STAR TREK has done the former any number of times and “Canamar” is no competition for truly memorable episodes like DS9’s “Hard Time” or VOYAGER’s “The Chute.” Particularly since “Canamar” has nothing new to add insofar as social commentary goes and no clear message to offer despite a closing note by Archer suggesting this was the case. Aside from one life story, “Canamar” never shows us the actual prison and all we really know about the justice system is that it’s not very thorough, the guards scowl a lot and get violent with the prisoners. But those are just cliches and unlike Voyager’s “Redemption,” “Canamar” never goes any deeper. The latter option might have provided some entertaining material that would have flowed naturally from the interaction with the menagerie of alien criminals on the transport. But instead of opening up as Trinneer does, Bakula shuts down and aside from some moments of camaraderie with Kuroda, doesn’t seem to be feeling much of anything. His closing lines suggest that he considered this to be a horrific experience but we don’t really see that in his performance throughout the episode.

“Canamar” does offers better than average characterizations for the episode’s characters, however There’s Kuroda, its chief villain, played by Mark Rolston, who turns in a memorable performance as a hard and ruthless criminal in a hard and ruthless world. Sean Whalen’s Zoumas makes for an entertaining and irritating presence and even the token Nausicaan heavy has the occasional offbeat response that makes him seem more than just a token heavy. The result is to transform characters that would otherwise have been throwaway cardboard cutouts meant only to serve the interests of the plot into actual people.

A good deal of the credit goes to John Shiban‘s snappy dialogue while longtime STAR TREK director Allan Kroeker infuses the episode with a dark atmosphere more reminiscent of DS9 than of ENTERPRISE. The special effects department continues to outdo itself with two new ship designs that are both unique and memorable, gorgeous orbital scenes and plasma and crash effects.

ENTERPRISE’s end of the search story, though, could have been discarded entirely and the episode would have been more successful and suspenseful by focusing on the claustrophobic conditions of the transport without Archer and Trip or the audience knowing if anyone was even searching for them. Unlike VOYAGER’s similarly structured “The Chute,” the interaction with the Enolian doesn’t even offer any meaningful insights into the Enolian society. Instead, its only star trek enterprise canamar contribution is to ry and ramp up the tension with the threat of the patrol ships destroying the transport, which we know won’t happen anyway, and to show the progress of the search, which only weakens the suspense by pulling away from the situation Archer and Trip find themselves in.

All in all, “Canamar”‘s strength comes from its character interactions and its dialogue rather than any social commentary the episode was meant to deliver through an evocation of penal conditions or any suspense from a plot that has seen plenty of wear and tear over the years. As far as that goes it’s a serviceable episode that while not quite measuring up to some of the best ENTERPRISE episodes of the season, demonstrates how much the average episode has improved since the first season and how valuable John Shiban is to the writing team.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Future Tense

Summary: The Enterprise encounters a ship from the future whose possession is immediately contested by both the Suliban and the Tholians.

The X-Files is often brought up when discussing Enterprise’s Temporal Cold War arc and with good reason. Like the X-Files, it’s full of star trek enterprise future tensemysterious forces, secret conflicts and strange mysteries. Also like the X-Files,the arc often seems light on content and heavy on suggestion. But where “Broken Bow,” “Cold Front” and “Shockwave” pursued conventional storytelling approaches via traditional action and suspense stories, “Future Tense”‘s real story is focused around the discovery of a ship from the future and the impact of the implications of that discovery on the crew. From T’Pol coming to terms with the reality of interspecies mating to Trip and Reed pondering whether it would be better to know the future or remain in the dark, this is what “Future Tense” does best and what it’s meant to do.

The action component of “Future Tense” though, which consists of Enterprise running from one place to another while being chased by CGI ships to be capped off by a Deus Ex Machina ending, is weak and peripheral to the core story. The action component mostly seems to exist in order to inject some excitement into a Sweeps episode and provide a reason for Enterprise to dispose of the 31st century ship. While the Tholian’s first appearance is intriguing, we’ve all seen Enterprise being chased around and blasted away at by Suliban cell ships more than enough times by now. It all feels formulaic and unnecessary especially when dangerously mounting radiation levels from the ship, or perhaps the fear that humans weren’t ready for such advanced technology, could have provided all the plot justification for activating the beacon in the first place.

Dropping Pandora’s Box into the lap of the characters is a standard SF plot and has been done on Star Trek plenty of times before but thanks to Enterprise’s prequel premise, “Future Tense” can open that box and show surprises inside that link directly to the back story not merely of the series but of the entire franchise. Enterprise has often mishandled this material by having Archer directly reference aspects of the future he couldn’t possibly know with terminology that was too on the nose (“Dear Doctor”), but FT gets it right by having the revelations come directly from the future in an unexpected way. In “Cold Front,” Daniels suggested that he was not entirely human and “Future Tense” explains what he meant as by the 31st century, a significant portion of the human race has apparently interbred with other species resulting in a hybridized humanity that is a significant and intriguing change. It’s also one that gives the Enterprise-era Humans and Vulcans in the pre-Spock era food for thought.

The 31st century ship itself, which in a Dr. Who vein, is bigger inside than outside is also a nice demonstration of future technology that also star trek enterprise future tenseallows the set designers to save money by using a smaller model. Thusfar TREK has not been very good at coming up with futuristic technology that would genuinely surpass anything we had seen in the 24th century, but this space-saver starship is the first futuristic technology to make it in. Trip and Reed’s Groundhog Day Effect juxtaposed with their topic of conversation served to give the ship’s powers credibility along with a real life demonstration of the impact of knowing what will come next and did it in a clever and offbeat way in a series that all too often delivers predictable dialogue and scenes that tell rather than show. “Shockwave 2” came far too close to giving us the distinct impression that the 31st century holds the same relationship to the 24th century as the Enterprise era does to our own; namely that the people were the same and the gadgets had improved a little but were still completely recognizable. “Future Tense”‘s tesseracting starship helps to restore some of that sense of mystery the 31st century is supposed to hold.

Like the aforementioned X-Files, FT does suffer from the problem of being an arc episode that unlike “Cold Front,” “Broken Bow” or “Shockwave” fails to significantly advance the story. It doesn’t reveal anything that moves the story forwards, it doesn’t develop the Tholians or the Suliban any further and it doesn’t really tell us much we didn’t already know. Its strength is in the character moments; it works best as the characters respond to the revelations as in the conversations between T’Pol and Dr. Phlox, T’Pol and Archer, and Reed and Trip. Its weakness comes about because an episode that should have stayed with those character moments is grafted onto action and fight scenes that aren’t really necessary and don’t work. In an attempt to inflate what should have been a smaller story into a bigger event episode, “Future Tense” almost loses touch with what makes the story work in the first place.

Next week: Archer’s beatings return as a major story focus as he goes off to Alien Prison.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Cease Fire

Summary: Archer attempts to mediate between a Vulcan and Andorian territorial dispute.

“Cease Fire” is a much stronger follow up to “The Andorian Incident” than the rather mediocre “Shadows of P’Jem,” which saw Enterprise’s star trek enterprise cease fire entire command crew blunder into getting captured and remaining outside observers to much of the action. “Cease Fire” by contrast sees Trip taking a strong command posture where in “Shadows” he was reduced to yelling ineffectually at the Vulcan commander. Archer and T’Pol again find themselves in hostile territory but Archer maintains control of the situation and does his best to find solutions. The Andorians and Vulcans are also far better developed here than they were in either “Andorian Incident” or “Shadows”. Though the Vulcans are still portrayed rather unsympathetically and the episode makes it clear the writers’ own sympathies lie more with the Andorians than the Vulcans, this is still the first time Ambassador Soval has been developed at all and portrayed as anything but an arrogant and bigoted martinet.

Between the special UPN promos, two major franchise guest stars and top notch production values in the planetside scenes, the action scenes and gorgeous CGI work on the Vulcan and Andorian ships, “Cease Fire” seems to have had the benefit of a special push from the producers and the network. More money has been spent on-screen and this time out it’s been combined with a fairly good script to make for the best Vulcan\Andorian episode to date. Like “Andorian Incident” and “Shadows of P’Jem,” “Cease Fire” does suffer from the outsider syndrome in which the crew are outsiders intervening between quarreling aliens. Where the previous two episodes both tried to resolve this dramatic problem by having Archer and T’Pol taken hostage, “Fire” avoids such obviously cheesy gimmicks in favor of more generalized ‘behind enemy lines’ sequences.

While it does end up deploying the hoary formula of the fanatical subordinate contrasted with the more sympathetic leader as the central dilemma whose resolution comes when the former is exposed to the latter, it’s still preferable to the fanatical leader contrasted with the more sympathetic subordinate, which Voyager’s latter seasons used almost non-stop. This formula is still a widely used television cliche and although Plakson’s part is woefully underwritten, the actors do what they can to give each line their own unique style and spin. It doesn’t always work and Plakson’s stylized film noir delivery, which worked quite well during her TNG appearances is often out of place, especially in her final scene, it still makes the material more interesting to watch and lifts the dialogue somewhat above its formulaic roots.

By contrast there are flashes of clever and off-beat dialogue such as the battlefield exchange between T’Pol and Ambassador Soval, which

star trek enterprise cease fire

“Cease Fire” could have used more of instead of the old standbys about war, negotiation and peace that marked Combs and Plakson’s repartee and any Star Trek viewer has already heard time and time again. There is just enough good dialogue in “Cease Fire” to cause one to wonder if Chris Black wasn’t being held back by the producers from being a little more adventurous with the lines in a few of the key scenes. Devoting some more time to developing Shran’s character with scenes that don’t necessarily directly advance the plot would also be a good idea. Combs’ Weyoun made quite an impression in a single episode mainly because time was dedicated to developing his race and his character even in an episode where he was doomed to be killed off by the end. By comparison we still know very little about the Andorians except that they are part of an Empire, are angry a lot of the time and don’t much like the Vulcans and that isn’t a lot to go on when building the identity of an entire species.

“Cease Fire,” though is a good place to start laying the ground work. Shran here develops more of a personality and thus an identity and even a sense of humor. Ambassador Soval gets a background and a history and a somewhat dry sense of humor of his own. Archer manages to go through most of the episode acting like an able and competent Starship Captain who can think on his feet without behaving foolishly and can act as a diplomat instead of ranting over the slightest insult. T’Pol manages to get more relevant character development in an episode not even centered around her, than she did in the T’Pol-centered “Stigma.” Phlox manages to steal another sickbay scene that doesn’t even center around him and Trip gets another moment in the sun.

Trip’s threat to fire on the two groups of ships is a bit on the irrational side considering the legal fact that Starfleet had been called to mediate the dispute and had no territorial status here and the practical fact that based on what we’ve seen up till now, any single one of the ships from either fleet could have taken Enterprise apart without breaking a sweat. Still, it harks back to proper TOS tradition and by playing it as much for comic value as suspense through Archer’s last minute message, it avoids the kind of overblown self-righteousness such scenes usually involve for Archer. The fact that Trineer is also a better actor and Trip a more likeable character than Archer undoubtedly helped as well.

All in all, “Cease Fire” could have used a more original plot but still has plenty of memorable character moments, snips of memorable dialogue, and noteworthy production values while effectively advancing the galactic drama of the Federation’s founding.

Next week: From Andorians and Vulcans to Suliban, Oh My.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Stigma

Summary: T’Pol gets a disease from a mind-meld. Archer gets self-righteous. Trip copes with sexual harassment in the workplace. And we learn that the Vulcans are a really evil bunch of people in comparison to the enlightened and noble humans.

Anyone who has ever had to sit through a well-meaning but disastrous Star Trek episode like “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield,” “Angel One”

star trek enterprise stigma

"I am sensing that this will be an STD metaphor episode."

or “Critical Care” knows that the quality of an episode does not necessarily correlate with the seriousness of the political issue it tries to address. In this case Rick Berman and Brannon Braga have produced a sequel to the embarrassing “Fusion” that goes where 21 Jump Street and Touched by an Angel have gone before.

Social relevance has always been part of Star Trek’s legacy, but it’s hard for Star Trek fans to deny that the emphasis tends to be on the ‘been’ as explicit social commentary is something that is mostly in Star Trek’s past. “Stigma” will do little to change that perception as it is neither ground-breaking or relevant, but a case of Enterprise tackling an issue that was tackled by TV shows that wanted to be ‘edgy’ in the 80’s and 90’s. Such an episode might have been timely had TNG shot Gerrold’s AIDS script; today Enterprise is just the last guest at a wedding and has nothing to add that an afterschool special on the same subject wouldn’t have said. Indeed the only way for “Stigma” to be as important and ground-breaking as Berman, Braga and the UPN promo department seem to think it is would require building a time machine and going back two decades.

Where the Original Series tackled controversial issues in new ways, Enterprise spools out a by-the-numbers episode without a trace of subtlety that includes every possible cliche and is dated to anyone who’s watched a few episodes of ER, let alone anything more substantial. And in a time when the real challenge of AIDS is now focused on a global effort to fight AIDS in impoverished nations, “Stigma” is still stuck in a time warp addressing issues that even Touched by an Angel tackled years before. And when an issue has already become fodder for Touched by an Angel, it’s pretty obvious that “Stigma” is a day late and a dollar short insofar as TV shows tackling AIDS and intolerance towards homosexuality are concerned. It is more reminiscent of celebrities holding fundraisers for key issues that have more to do with promoting their image than with solving the issue. “Stigma” smacks of that same self-congratulatory air that suggests that it’s more about having the producers and the audience feel good about how enlightened they are, than about saying something vital and meaningful about a disease that’s killing millions of people around the world.

None of this, though, is really the problem. “Stigma” may be a dull and not particularly entertaining or interesting viewing but it is in its continuing assault on continuity as it goes further into turning the Vulcans into despicable and evil characters than any Enterprise episode up until now has done, that it commits its real offense. When Berman and Braga decided to set the next Star Trek spinoff in the past for a Birth of the Federation scenario they decided that they would need antagonists for their hero and flying in the face of everything that made Star Trek work, the Vulcans were slotted to fill that role. But if anyone had expected that the Vulcans would present obstacles through a clash of ideas, Berman and Braga have repeatedly made the Vulcans villainous and despicable people who act out of character and behave in ways that decades of Star Trek tell us is entirely contrary. Aside from T’Pol, Archer’s Vulcan antagonists don’t merely disagree with him. They sink to new lows to oppose him in ways that make Archer seem noble and the Vulcans like Ambassador Soval in “Shockwave 2,” the Vulcan elders in the Andorian Incident and now the Vulcan Doctors in “Stigma” seem to be petty, manipulative and despicable people. Anyone who doubts how extreme this state of affairs has become only needs to consider that on Enterprise the Klingons have come off a lot better than the Vulcans. That alone says it all. On Enterprise the Vulcans are actually worse people than the Klingons.

Enterprise was supposed to showcase a raw and more undeveloped humanity in transition to becoming the centerpiece of the Federation. Instead the humans have become noble heroes and the Vulcans have become spiteful villains who lie, blackmail and threaten; who are bigots, imperialists and the villains of nearly every episode that focuses on them. When Archer proclaims to the Vulcans that their criticisms of humanity are not only wrong but that humans are better people than Vulcans, you can almost hear Gene Roddenberry spinning in his grave. When he insists that humans have gotten rid of bigotry, you tend to wonder how they did it. With some sort of bigotry vacuum cleaner that just sucked up all the bigotry from the planet, or maybe some piece of technobabble molecular ‘de-bigotrizing’ ray?

Enterprise offers no clues in that regard or even any supporting evidence. Indeed, by now we know a lot more about Enterprise-era Vulcan culture than we know about its human culture, which demonstrates yet again that Enterprise has forgotten its mandate in favor of sweeping questions about human development under the rug. Because it’s so much easier to just put a villainous Vulcan on the screen for the audience to hiss and boo at than to question the morality of our heroes. And this makes Archer’s claim that humans had long abandoned bigotry all the more ironic, considering his constant outbursts of bigotry directed at Vulcans and aliens in general. But then “Stigma” is dedicated to the premise that the best way to come out against gay bashing is by bashing Vulcans.

“Stigma” is a case study of an episode that demonstrates why stories about social issues should be written by the people who actually care about them and why Star Trek should be written by people who don’t think IDIC is the abbreviation for the name of their local phone company. It takes a plot derivative of DS9’s “Equilibrium,” which also featured a female alien crew member in danger of dying because of a dirty secret kept by her species’ doctors, grafts it onto their perception of a socially-relevant issue gained from reruns of better TV shows and turns it into a follow-up to the awful “Fusion;” another Berman and Braga product. Instead of having the characters say what they feel, they rely on having the characters deliver flat and artificial issue-oriented dialogue that is as stylized and hollow as any ad jingle. By the end, what’s left is another episode in which Archer gets to sanctimoniously lord it over the Vulcans who are revealed as being more despicable than ever. Oh and there’s a not particularly amusing B-Plot involving Trip being stalked by one of Doctor Phlox’s wives who like any TV male from the 50’s hasn’t the faintest idea what to do about a sexually aggressive woman.

Next week: When Vulcans and Andorians get in a snit who can possibly come to the rescue? Noble Human, Captain Archer perhaps?

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