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Monthly Archives: April 2003

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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Cogenitor

Summary: A first contact goes awry when Trip teaches a slave to read

I’ve been saying for a while now that Rick Berman and Brannon Braga co-write far too many ENTERPRISE episodes and while that is still true, “Cogenitor” is nevertheless one of their better efforts, bringing to mind the classic NEXT GENERATION episode, “The Outcast.” LeVar Burton does a superb job directing the episode and while TNG and B5’s Andreas Katsulas has little to do in this episode beyond making small talk with Archer, he still puts across a strong on-screen presence. Despite some of the adolescent snickering that seems to be an inevitable part of any Braga-written episode that deals with sex, Dominic Keating keeps his dignity and manages to play Reed’s romance with a fellow weapons officer as an understated attraction rather than broad comic relief.

star trek enterprise cogenitorBut neither Archer’s expedition or Reed’s romance are the main story, instead Trip is the center of attention yet again seemingly ending up with more episodes centered around him than either Archer or T’Pol. Like “Dear Doctor,” “Cogenitor” is centered around a moral dilemma and like “Dear Doctor,” it suffers from an attempt to narrow the range of viewpoints to one instead of keeping the debate open. And like a lot of Berman and Braga episodes it suffers from random characterization in that it has Archer adopt a viewpoint because it fits the plot rather than arising naturally from the character’s attitudes. When Trip claims that he did what Captain Archer would have done, he’s right on the nose and Archer’s outrage at the suggestion is comical.

Archer is certainly not Picard. He has had no trouble disrupting first contacts and interfering in alien societies. In “Detained” he sabotaged a first contact with potential allies against the Suliban in order to free the detained Suliban because he believed it was the right thing to do. In “A Night in Sickbay,” he nearly sabotages a first contact because he blames the aliens for making his dog sick. In “Marauders” he taught the miners to fight back against the Klingons and in “Judgement” he helped colonists escape from the Klingon Empire. He interfered in the Vulcan\Andorian conflict in “The Andorian Incident” and took sides in a hunting expedition in “Rogue Planet.” In “Stigma” he certainly didn’t take the attitude that it might be perfectly acceptable for a different culture to discriminate against their own society and treats the matter as being just as outrageous and unacceptable as if it was happening in human society. In “Marauders,” “Detained” and “Judgement,” he didn’t take the position that enslaved people should remain enslaved as he does in “Cogenitor” and that it’s the people who are trying to free them who are to blame. After all, by that logic it was the civil rights workers who were responsible for the lynchings. And if Archer were to take that position, then those Suliban who died trying to escape in “Detained” and any colonists who could have been killed in “Marauders” would have been the fault of Archer for teaching them to resist slavery.

In “A Night In Sickbay,” Captain Archer was outraged at the suggestion that he should have kept his dog on the ship to avoid damaging a first contact. Porthos has a right to fresh air, Archer insists. But apparently a sentient being who is treated as an object doesn’t have the right to freedom if it interfers a first contact. Either in Archer’s world, his dog is more important than the rights of a sentient being or “Cogenitor” misrepresents Archer’s character. In “Stigma” Archer self-righteously demanded a hearing for T’Pol from the Vulcan doctors but if the “Cogenitor” ever gets a similar hearing and a chance to defend her asylum request, we never see it. Instead, the Cogenitor asks Archer to be treated equally and he replies that he can’t impose his notion of rights on her. That’s a ridiculous response even by the standards of moral relativism. While the Cogenitor may not have asked to learn how to read, she did ask for asylum and she was clearly being mistreated. Archer gives no real grounds for denying her application except that he’s worried about ruining a first contact and yet he’s had no problem ruining first contacts in the past over a moral issue. Instead Archer uses her off-screen suicide to argue that Trip did the wrong thing though it could just as well prove that Archer did the wrong thing, especially since her suicide was a direct result of his denial of her request. Instead, in another out of character move, the episode has Trip suddenly admitting that he was wrong. It’s an ending that feels odd and abrupt as if material was missing and as with “Dear Doctor,” you have to wonder if the original ending wasn’t cut out and replaced by a new final scene at the last minute.

Archer argues that Trip should have foreseen the consequences of teaching the Cogenitor to read but that assumes the consequences were inevitable. But were they really? Other possibilities included the Cogenitor returning home to spread literacy and the idea of natural rights to other Cogenitors resulting in a gender rights movement or the entire species being forced to confront their prejudices and their society improving as a result. So if the consequences weren’t inevitable, then did Trip do the right thing? The enslaved status of the Cogenitor is part of the alien culture but that’s not a justification for it. After all, witch burning and slavery were part of our culture. Genital mutilation and stoning heretics is part of other cultures today yet that doesn’t stop us from granting their victims asylum because there are basic principles of natural rights that transcend cultural differences. Archer himself has stood up for those principles time and time again so he can’t credibly argue otherwise since Trip has as much right to apply natural rights to the alien society as Archer does to Vulcan society. With those arguments dismantled, all that’s left is Archer’s unstated desire to get his hands on the alien technology. It’s not a minor point since the human race is in danger from a variety of enemies and in this and numerous other episodes, Enterprise encounters superior ships for which it is no match. And it might have made for a credible argument, as Archer has to weigh the safety of his ship and the security of humanity against the freedom of one alien. But beyond T’Pol’s hints and Archer’s final scene in which he seems more tormented than angry, the issue is never openly broached.

Mike Resnick’s Hugo and Nebula Award nominated 1989 Science Fiction short story ‘For I Have Touched The Sky’, which also shares a name with an Original Series episode, addressed a similar situation. In a future society which attempts to simulate an authentic African culture, a girl named Kamari wants to learn how to read. In the Kikuyu culture, though, women are not allowed to read and in the resulting battle of wills between the shaman and the girl, the end result is the same as that of “Cogenitor,” but the reason why is not a mystery. Instead it’s in the title of the story. It’s also a far superior treatment of the subject than “Cogenitor” and anyone who found the issues in this episode intriguing should read it either in book or e-book form.

Next week: The Borg assimilate Enterprise or is it the other way around?

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Judgement

Summary: Archer experiences the unfairness of the Klingon justice system firsthand.

star trek enterprise judgementGreat heroes need great antagonists to confront and oppose. The Original Series created two great antagonist races, the Romulans and the Klingons, which every STAR TREK series has continued to use and which, arguably, none have improved upon. But even though the Klingons were key antagonists for the original Enterprise crew, ENTERPRISE until now has been stuck with a TNG-era view of the pop culture foe: somewhat troublesome allies, not ruthless conquerors and slavemasters. This is probably because the show’s producers date back only to TNG. The Klingon Empire in “Judgment,” however, is shown as a true empire complete with the enslaved races that were there in the Original Series and seemed to have been forgotten about by the 24th century. “Judgement” does not entirely upstage the TNG view of the Klingons but it comes closer to the TOS view, which is a vital necessity if ENTER{RISE is to retool itself into a better TV series.

Where during ENT’s previous Klingon encounters, the ridged-ones could mostly be talked around to the human view of things (“Unexpected,” “Sleeping Dogs”) or dismissed as rogue elements (“Marauders”), “Judgement” is the first Klingon-centered episode where they don’t do the reasonable thing by the end of the episode and instead take a decidedly hostile course of action by sentencing Archer to life in an arctic Klingon gulag. Whether this will translate into a change in how the Klingons relate to humans in future episodes, when Archer has become a fugitive from Klingon justice, depends on whether or not the producers will choose to uphold series continuity or not. “Judgement” itself, though, is certainly full of STAR TREK continuity references, from ‘Captain Duras’ suggesting a relationship to Worf’s antagonist to major elements of STAR TRE VI, including the tribunal set design and the dilithium mines of Rura Penthe complete with abusive guards and a variety of alien scum.

Captain Archer himself is also closer to Kirk in this episode than he’s ever been so far. He displays courage and determination rather than the impulsiveness and obtuseness that have so often characterized Archer. Former Martok actor J.G. Hertzler also creates a better character in the form of ‘Kolos’, an aging and disaffected gruff Klingon lawyer out of place in the new order. Of course Kolos’ speech about the warrior class having taken over Klingon society is rather dubious at best since the Klingons are not the Romulans or the Cardassians. The warrior class hasn’t taken over their society; violent confrontation is the basis of their society, culture, and biology from the times of ‘Kahless’ to the 24th century.

Even Klingons who were part human or raised by humans like ‘Worf’, ‘K’heylar’ or ‘B’Elanna’ inherited it. That speech along with Archer’s cliched homily about the human past smacks of an attempt to humanize Klingons into just another yet-to-be-civilized culture along human lines like the Cardassians or Ferengi.

These days UPN seems to bill just about every ENT episode as an ENT Event, but “Judgement” is one of the few episodes that’s worthy of the name. Everything from the direction to the actors is just right with an episode that appears to cover a lot of ground and with each character, no matter how minor, making a distinct impression. The visual effects and production design departments have outdone themselves again. Money was clearly spent on this episode and it shows in the FX of the exteriors of the Tribunal and the Klingon ship and the Tribunal interior, which does its best to reproduce the original and unique Klingon set design of STAR TREK VI, from a courtroom that’s narrow but sweeps high upwards to the Klingon judge’s alien gavel.

Overall “Judgement” is the series’s first solid Klingon episode. Where prior STAR TREK spin-offs produced filler Klingon episodes as an attempt to boost ratings with the appearance of a popular race, this episode has a decent grasp of continuity, a viewpoint and a message. It has its flaws. Archer’s rescue is more originally accomplished and plausible than a standard starship rescue might have been, but its abruptness and lack of build-up with an offhand comment by T’Pol makes the conclusion seem rushed. Had “Judgement” seen Archer captured and put on trial for any of his prior negative Klingon encounters, it would have boosted continuity and freed up more time for a heartier conclusion to the episode which, like many TREK episodes, now suffers in the reduced running time (39 vs 44 minutes) that UPN has provided.

Next week: Another ENT Event: Mayweather’s family yells at each other.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Crossing

Summary: Spectral aliens try to take over the Enterprise crew when their own spaceship breaks down.

star trek enterprise the crossingSTAR TREK has done many alien possession episodes and “The Crossing” is another one of them. It’s not the worst of them but it’s certainly not the best of them either. Based on yet another story by Berman and Braga it rehashes TREK formulas without adding anything to them. Over a decade ago, TNG aired “Lonely Among Us” in its first season. Like “The Crossing,” the Enterprise runs into a spectral alien that takes possession of members of the crew and Picard to further its goals. Somewhat later TNG aired “Power Play,” in which more spectral aliens take over members of the Enterprise crew also as a means of transport. Unlike “The Crossing,” “Lonely Among Us” and “Power Play” both used the theme of possession as a means of exploring how the familiar Enterprise crew could become both alien and menacing. “The Crossing,” though, focuses on gags about Trip stuffing his face and Reed trying to mate with any available female with only Hoshi displaying any sense of unnatural menace. Nor does the episode offer anything as memorable as a possessed O’Brien trying to silence his child or a possessed Picard contemplating exploring the universe in non-corporeal form.

And for an Invasion of the Body Snatchers storyline, “Crossing” can’t even manage to generate much suspense, which should be a snap. Instead, aside from some bad behavior by Hoshi and Trip, all the possessed crewmembers allow themselves to be locked up without any trouble. Rather than trying to take over the ship they seem to be a lot more interested in having some fun in their new bodies in between brief lectures to Archer on how much he’ll enjoy being non-corporeal, a state of being Archer would obviously have little interest in unless the aliens also offered to make Porthos non-corporeal too. Despite the fact that the Enterprise crew has no thought out plan for containing the threat, the aliens are themselves in no hurry to take over the Enterprise crew and don’t bother to do anything as simple as taking over the command crew or security first or hopping from the bodies of locked up crewmembers to ones that aren’t locked up. Even the funny hatted aliens in Voyager’s “Displaced” had a better plan and a better twist to their plot.

The aliens’ reason for trying to take over the Enterprise crew is rather mundane. Apparently it’s easier for them to take possession of some human bodies than repair their own starship. That’s the trouble with all those spectral aliens who’ve evolved to a higher plane of being. They’re not willing to pull up their non-existent shirtsleeves and do the dirty work of maintaining their own starship. Apparently spectral aliens residing on a higher plane of being don’t just evolve beyond corporeal bodies but also evolve beyond the timeless values of hard work and self-discipline. Unfortunately many spectral aliens would rather just take the easy way out and take possession of any available humanoid without thinking the consequences through and it always ends in tears.

“The Crossing” does, however, do a better job of using the ensemble cast with Hoshi, Phlox and Mayweather getting something to do, instead of the entire episode focusing on just Archer, T’Pol and Trip as far too many have. Indeed John Billingsley‘s ability to make even Phlox’s most routine tasks and dialogue seem extraordinary and entertaining is really the only thing that makes this story watchable. There’s no other actor or character on the cast that could make pulling open a panel seem more interesting than half the rest of the cast being possessed by aliens put together. Even with Phlox playing a crucial role in saving the ship, the final act still isn’t particularly gripping but it is watchable.

David Livingston returns yet again to ENTERPRISE and does his usual good work directing the episode, though he has little enough to work with. The script by Berman, Braga and Andre Bormanis based on a story by Berman and Braga serves as yet another demonstration of why the exec producers should leave the writing to the writers they’ve hired instead of coming up with original stories any random viewer could also come up with by watching STAR TREK reruns. Only the use of the catwalk is a nice touch of continuity that seems to suggest that we’ll be seeing the nacelle catwalks used as a kind of makeshift auxiliary bridge on Enterprise in the future.

Next week: Captain Archer faces the Klingon justice of STAR TREK VI.

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