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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Extinction

“Extinction”

Overall Episode score: 4.0
Performances: 2.0
Writing: 3.0
Direction: 6.0
FX: 7.0

Summary: Archer, Reed and Hoshi get turned into alien werewolves and spend a lot of time sniffing T’Pol and playing in the trees.

star trek enterprise extinctionReview: The first portion of “Extinction” was so bad that about halfway through as Archer and Reed gibbered and capered through the trees, I began hoping that another blackout would strike the northeast. Of all the TNG episodes in the world to remake why in all the galaxy would ENTERPRISE choose to remake bottom of the barrel material like “Genesis” and “Identity Crisis?” Throw in a premise reminiscent of fine VOYAGER episodes like “Threshold,” “Nemesis,” and “Favorite Son” and you’ve really hit a high water mark in quality. ENTERPRISE’s stated goal this season was to be all new and exciting, yet “Extinction” not only borrows wheelbarrows of material from past STAR TREK shows, but borrows from worst possible places.

In previous seasons, Andre Bormanis was responsible for some of ENTERPRISE’s best work and “Extinction”‘s second half occasionally shows glimmers of the quality of his past abilities. But even this show’s best moments such as the mutated Archer’s dream sequence in the alien city and the death of the contaminated member of the alien containment team have the stamp of the director, rather than the writer, on them. And “Extinction”‘s worst moments aren’t moments, but entire scenes in the forest with the alienated crew and T’Pol that might have only lasted minutes in objective time, but subjectively seem to run for hours. The idea of having the aliens speak an alien language before shifting to the universal translator’s english is a good idea and worked well in “Precious Cargo” and “Dawn.” But “Extinction”‘s gibbering is more reminiscent of the altered English in VOYAGER’s Nemesis. A good idea in theory, but painful to experience and combined with the mutated crewmembers acting like extras from PLANET OF THE APES, completely impossible to watch.

What made “Identity Crisis” a better episode than “Genesis” was that it was about the slow transformation of people into alien things. While “Genesis” like “Extinction” got the transformation over with as quickly as possible, assuming that the whole point of a classic ‘transformation’ story is in watching the werewolf scamper around the forest, rather than in watching the man struggle not to become a werewolf. The drama is ultimately with the human being rather than with the moster and with the choices that they make rather than with scenes of animalistic behavior. Had “Extinction” chose to make the aliens humanoid rather than animalistic, the moral dilemma Archer only manages to articulate in the final moments of the episode could have been a real part of the story.

Like “Tuvix,” ENTERPRISE might have gone into interesting philosophical territory by, for example, broaching the question of whether the crew would be prepared to destroy the replacement aliens to restore Archer, Reed, and Hoshi, and whether Dr. Phlox would have gone along with such a move. It could have explored the moral dilemmas of the species maintaining the containment and contrasted their desperate tactics to protect their species with Archer’s own desperate measures to save humanity as recently as in the last episode. It could have similarly articulated the desperate measures that drove the alien species the crew are transformed into, to doing what they did through the voices of the crewmembers themselves. But instead, “Extinction” has the aliens act more like werewolves sniffing each other, gibbering and leaping into and out of trees. Any potential for centering the episode around more than a formulaic VOYAGEResque plot in which T’Pol tries to reach Archer’s humanity, the one-dimensional aliens obstruct Trip from saving the crew just long enough for a few commercial breaks and the Doctor comes up with an immediate solution to a problem no one else has been able to solve for decades, is completely wasted.Star Trek: Enterprise: The Complete Series

In the second half, “Extinction” makes a weak attempt to deal with the plight of an extinct species, but aside from Archer’s excellent dream sequence, it mostly fails to do anything but force the poor actors to act like they’re in a dinner theatre production of CATS. Where it tries to be “The Inner Light” or “Memorial,” the episode mainly ends up being “Genesis” for its focus on having the crew pantomime animal behaviors rather than reveal human ones. But unlike that TNG episode, it’s never so absurd or bad that it’s actually funny. “Extinction” wants characters that behave like the devolved crew from “Genesis” to get the same kind of reaction as Picard’s journey in “Inner Light.” But it doesn’t have the script or the performances or the genius to pull something like that off and what results instead is painful to watch. Even Blalock’s T’Pol stumbles around dazed and confused with nothing to work with except fellow actors behaving like German Shepherds in a dog park.

“Extinction” should get credit for continuity by tying in “Anomaly”‘s Xindi database to this week’s plot and lose credit for the continuity of including yet another skimpily-clad massage scene. In a better episode like “Anomaly” this type of material might have brought down the episode’s average, but so much of “Extinction” is so bad that it barely stands out. Also, ENTERPRISE’s third season seems to be in danger of following VOYAGER into a Gilligan’s Island scenario in which the crew’s search for the Xindi keeps getting sidelined into wacky adventures every week. The MACO’s are curiously absent this episode even though there is an assault and rescue mission that should have required their talents. Obviously they can’t and shouldn’t use them all the time and guest stars of course cost money, but giving an explanation for their absence might have been a good idea. “Extinction”‘s special effects are also a bit uneven with some great space-based scenes like the Enterprise streaking away from the planet with the alien quarantine ships in pursuit, and some poor ground scenes, like the alien city in Archer’s dream sequence, which looks toylike.

Finally, while the touch of continuity provided by the Xindi database is nice, it would have better if “Extinction” had continued fleshing out the ongoing arcs like the MACO’s, the Xindi, the crew’s reaction to the Xindi attack and to Archer’s actions in the previous episode. The aliens maintaining the quarantine could have by now gained some awareness of the Enterprise’s previous actions in the Expanse such as their attack on the mining facility and their skirmish with the Osaarian pirates and might have drawn some conclusions based on these rumors. That would mean that Enterprise is gaining a reputation in the Expanse. Perhaps the episode could have shown the quarantine aliens making a report to a Xindi contact or Trip could have obtained more information from the Xindi shuttle. There are of course plenty of other possibilities that ENTERPRISE could have employed to strengthen its arc-based content in an otherwise throwaway episode.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Anomaly

Summary: Archer’s morals are tested as he enters a dog-eat-dog section of the Expanse.

star trek enterprise anomalyMerging material from great STAR TREK episodes like DS9’s “In The Pale Moonlight” and VOYAGER’s “The Void,” “Anomaly” is the first episode of the third season that actually begins to deliver on its premise. And while “Anomaly” is not the equal of either of those episodes, it is a strong story that demonstrates a notable improvement over last week’s “The Xindi.” While ENTERPRISE has been billed as a series about Earth’s first Starship that would recreate the Original Series’s sense of isolation in deep space, it has rarely done so. Instead Archer and Co. have often come off as casual and carefree adventurers guided by a belief that no problem was ever any more than just a temporary inconvenience. “Anomaly” is one of the few ENTERPRISE episodes (though really the only one since season 2’s “Minefield” arc) that actually shows Enterprise alone and vulnerable in deep space while struggling to survive.

Like in “The Void,” this area of the Expanse turns out to be a trap for ships that they can enter but can’t escape, leaving them with the choice of becoming either predator or prey. Unlike Janeway, however, Archer doesn’t have plenty of time to befriend every other alien and win their friendship and trust. He’s running against a deadline tied to the destruction of Earth and as in “Pale Moonlight,” this forces him to test his morals against the consequences of failure. In doing so, Archer finally seems to grow up, moving past his petty displays of self-righteous nobility and towards becoming the pragmatic commander his crew and his world need. And he does this without ever losing sight of the personal price he’s paying to do so. His Osaarian captive, a capable performance in a small role, plays both a killer and a fallen man taunting Archer to prove that he is really no better than him. His apathy and his contempt for his victims is driven by the self-knowledge of his own ruin.

The Expanse, too, is also beginning to come into its own as a place with cloaking fields, anomalies and mysterious giant spheres, all of which helps create a dog-eat-dog environment of trapped ships that can’t get out and can’t go any further. This comes closer to fulfilling the promise of the Expanse as a mysterious place full of strange things, rather than just another train stop on the Alien-of-the-Week express. Mike Sussman‘ss script is generally solid and workman-like with no weak spots aside from Phlox and Trip’s awkward referencing of last week’s topless grief counseling session. This really isn’t his fault so much as it is Berman and Braga’s, who wrote it and now seem to insist on tainting other episodes by having them reference it.

While a lot of the cast really doesn’t have much to do in “Anomaly,” with Porthos getting more lines than some of them, including surprisingly T’Pol, Reed seems to be finding a new voice playing the rational, constrained Spock to Archer’s impulsive driven Kirk, particularly during the airlock scene. And of course there’s a gratuitous action scene for Trip in which by some miracle of restraint he doesn’t find any reason to take his shirt off. Hoshi is given something useful to do in hacking the Osaarian’s computers, which helps broaden her specialties on the ship as well as making for a better battle scene in which the conflict works on multiple levels. Still, “Anomaly” is very much an Archer episode, just as “Pale Moonlight” was very centered around Sisko, and Sussman might have even considered including that episode’s framing device of Sisko’s narration with Archer’s starlog.

Of course as with season 2’s “Minefield” arc, it will be up to future episodes to carry the ball and we’ll see if it manages to hit as high a note as “Dead Stop” did during last year. “Anomaly” has already raised the stakes by killing a crewmember who will be rather difficult to replace this far from Earth and showing the impact this had on the crew including Archer, Reed and Trip. The MACO’s themselves are of course here because unlike the cast members, who have long-term contracts, they can die tragic deaths. Archer has shown that he’s willing to use desperate measures and write his own rules to get results. Enterprise itself is alone, vulnerable and far from any help or repairs. This has the potential to create some intense and dramatic situations. We’ll see if the series manages to make use of them as the season goes on.

Next week: Starfleet Werewolf .

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Xindi

Summary: Leave behind everything you know because it won’t work here. Well, actually it will work here. Forget we said anything; feel free to take along everything you know.

star trek enterprise xindiReview: After drooping ratings and a widely popularized overhaul, ENTERPRISE might have been expected to come out swinging in its season three premiere to amaze and win back viewers with something new and exciting. But while “The Xindi” clearly has more FX and production dollars invested in it and more action scenes than the average episode, all told it’s a rather commonplace affair. While season three ran under the tagline ‘Leave behind everything you know because it won’t work here,’ “The Xindi” is clearly a poor demonstration of that philosophy. Indeed, if we eliminate the actual Xindi elements from the episode, what we have left is an episode that could just as easily have taken place in any of the earlier seasons.

After the previous season ended with the Enterprise NX-01 vanishing into the mysterious and ominous Expanse to confront unimaginable horrors and wonders, “The Xindi” is a rather pedestrian episode in which the only major effect of the Expanse appears to be some flying cargo crates. Not only that, aside from brief scenes of the Xindi council, we end up with another typical ENTERPRISE storyline in which Archer and Trip are captured by another group of funny looking aliens with cardboard motivations and T’Pol and Reed have to arrange a rescue. A plot twist that the show hasn’t just done to death but actually resurrected and done to death all over again. The addition of the Xindi arc rather than enhancing the episode further impoverishes the non-Xindi content as it removes any need for the writers to give the non-Xindi events any depth because they’re just marking time to the Xindi encounter.

Aside from Archer acting slightly edgier, most of the intensity and drive we saw in “The Expanse” seems to have been replaced by the ennui of their routines as if the characters are just as bored by what they’re doing as we are. Only Trip manages to retain some of the energy from the season two finale, and that too is promptly squandered by the episode’s end. “The Expanse” was certainly far from perfect but it set up some interesting potential stories. “The Xindi,” by contrast, not only fails to follow up on that potential but shows that the writers would rather return to the same old stories than actually try anything new.

Indeed in many ways “The Xindi” is a rehash of the original ENTERPRISE pilot, “Broken Bow.” Like the debut, Archer and his crew are venturing into the unknown with a new mission that seems interesting on paper, a mysterious new enemy Archer needs to learn about, an informant who is located and then pursued by enemies resulting in a shootout, an escape from an alien base during which time the informant is killed, and an episode that ends with tantalizing suggestions about the nature of the new enemy. Perhaps the producers should have gotten the message that a new ENTERPRISE might require new writers or at the very least new ideas, instead of the same old ones recycled and massaged into a slightly different form.

The episode’s highlights, aside from Trip’s dream of course, concern the Xindi themselves. Moments like the Xindi council and the view of the shattered Xindi planet evoke some of the awe and mystery the episode should needed. The sense that we’re going, if not quite into uncharted territory, but into at least somewhere bigger and different than we’ve seen on ENTERPRISE in the last two years. But those moments were sadly few and far between. Trip’s story appeared to have potential initially with an effective dream sequence and a seeming addiction to sleep aids but the show’s gift for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory manifested itself again as by episode’s end the story was reduced to another clumsy and graceless attempts to boost its sex appeal by getting T’Pol’s clothes off. As absurd as previous attempts like the ‘Spread Your Germs Around’ blue light decontamination chamber have been, “The Xindi” manages to hit a new level of absurdity with the Vulcan topless back massages that also relieve stress over the death of loved ones.

The military team have no particular function except to upstage Trip’s red shirts with a display of efficiency and precision design that make them look cool and us wonder why every starship in the future doesn’t come with a similar team, but don’t really tell us anything about the characters or let us get to know them. And it’s doubtful that they can repeat this trick too many times because it would foil ENTERPRISE’s traditional plot device of getting Archer captured. At the same time, I found myself more interested in them than in the regular cast, which is never a good sign. Nor was being able to guess that Archer and Trip would be captured the minute they walked into the mine, despite having not read any spoilers for the episode. These are all signs that a lot of this material is growing stale. Season three seemed advertised on the premise that it would be delivering fresh material that seems to be on back order.

Next week: Archer goes 24’s Jack on a Xindi.

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