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Monthly Archives: February 2004

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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Hatchery

Synopsis: When Archer is infected by a Xindi hatchery he becomes the proud and overprotective godfather of a whole bunch of Xindi spawn.

Review: Viruses, mind-control devices, hallucinogenic plants, remote hypnotic suggestions and various radiations on STAR TREK have often been the vehicle for exploring behavior and playing out conflicts that the producers and writers do not dare have the characters act out in reality. Such plot devices are convenient because they allow conflict and dramatic events to take place without consequences that would redefine the characters and their relationships to each other. But such episodes are also often lifeless and dreary because ultimately we know that the Reset Button will be pressed by the end, eliminating whatever development has occurred in it.

star trek enterprise hatchery“Hatchery” partially dodges this trap by limiting the effects of the Xindi chemical to Archer alone. The actions of his crew and the MACO’s were not undertaken due to any outside influence and so continue to be a factor even though the episode hastily wraps up the conclusion with Major Hayes accepting everything without too much fuss — although as far as he knows the people giving him the information may well now be the enemy. The bigger questions about Enterprise’s command structure remain unanswered, however. A single scene of Archer telling Hayes not to accept any illegal orders from him in the future or orders that violate Starfleet’s chain of command would have gone far in that regard. As would T’Pol and Trip or Phlox questioning whether the presence of the MACO’s gives the Captain too much power and subverts the Starfleet approved hierarchy on the starship.

Still, “Hatchery” does well given the timeworn and derivative material. Despite the fact that just about any viewer with any STAR TREK experience under his belt realized that Archer had been infected and his behavior was due to the infection very quickly, “Hatchery” manages to draw out the suspense by framing Archer’s behavior with appealing liberal rhetoric from the him. The more obviously bizarre and dangerous Archer’s behavior becomes, the more appealing his rhetoric becomes, like a drug addict finding increasingly persuasive ways to defend his addiction. A literal metaphor since Archer had, in fact, been drugged. Unlike previous Captains in similar episodes whose behavior was clearly aberrant, Archer remains deeply persuasive almost until the end.

“Hatchery” also manages to throw in a good deal of background and character development for the Xindi Insectoids, more so than anything that we’ve gotten in the past. We’ve seen the Xindi Insectoids at their worst but now we also see them possessed of a compelling instinct to preserve their offspring, even if that instinct appears to be a chemically-generated fact of their biology. “Hatchery” also throws in a variety of other continuity references, including a long-awaited one to the Eugenics Wars, even if Archer does make it sound more like a UN peacekeeping mission than the hell and horror of WWIII. The revelation that the MACO’s were trained at West Point points to continuing questions about the status of individual nation states in this time period.

The key conflict in the episode simmers occasionally but never really boils. Trip’s takedown of Archer is anti-climactic where a more extended scene in which Archer tries to use his newfound persuasive abilities and call on their friendship before Trip is forced to shoot him would have worked better. Major Hayes has also not been all that developed throughout the season and his tension with Reed should have been far better defined by this point. Nevertheless, the crew’s willingness to defy the Captain for the mission even without any solid proof of a foreign agent acting on his mental state shifts the balance of power a bit as Archer recognizes jokingly in his final scene with Trip.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Doctor’s Orders

Synopsis: While the crew is asleep, Doctor Phlox is left in charge of Enterprise.

Review: Doctor Phlox has been the most consistently underused ENTERPRISE crewmember with the exceptions of poor forgotten Mayweather. But unlike him, Phlox actually has an incredible amount of potential that tends to get wasted by just utilizing him to occasionally move the plot along or as a minor supporting character. A situation that has only grown worse in the third season as a recent interview by the actor testifies.

star trek enterprise doctors ordersNevertheless, Phlox has managed to steal the show in even the smallest parts in other episodes. His appearances in “A Night in Sickbay” that cataloged his routine were the highlight of an awful episode. “Doctor’s Orders” is strongest at the start when as in “Sickbay,” Phlox is simply and calmly going about his routine. But it’s when the episode tries to fit him into a remake of VOYAGER’s “One” that the material begins to unravel.

“One” was a very strong episode and a great concept in no small part because it was a way of creating character development for Seven of Nine by demonstrating to her that she needs other people. But there is no similar development necessary for Phlox and “Doctor’s Orders” doesn’t provide that development. As Billingsley has himself pointed out in the interview, Phlox is at heart an unflappable character. Odd as it might be, a scene of Phlox making his rounds with Porthos is somehow more interesting than one with Phlox stalking imaginary Xindi. “Doctor’s Orders”‘s plot would have made sense for T’Pol, incredibly derivative of VOYAGER as that may have been. But aside from training him to run parts of the ship it fails to do much in the way of developing Phlox.

While Roxann Dawson‘s direction is smooth and effective, visually “Doctor’s Order” simply never comes close to “One” in evoking a hallucinatory, paranoid atmosphere in which the unreal merges with the real. Instead, the episode quickly demarcates the line of reality with the only exception being the SIXTH SENSE-style twist involving T’Pol.

Billingsley and Blalock do get the chance to do some comedy and Blalock is surprisingly funny but Phlox is funniest when he’s relaxed and reacting normally, not in forced scenes when he’s running around like a chicken with his head cut off. The problem is that the producers have not grasped that Billingsley’s Phlox is naturally funny and that they don’t need to put him through awkward routines for that humor to shine.

All in all, “Doctor’s Orders” is a somewhat average and uninspired episode about ENTERPRISE’s most underused character, whose best moments are not so much plot-derived as montages of Phlox wandering an empty ship. The narrative device of Phlox’s letters to the same Doctor Lucas as in prior episodes are good but fails to serve as an adequate showcase for Phlox and Billingsley’s talents.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Harbinger

Synopsis: Enterprise finds a mysterious dying alien as the crew divides their time between fistfights and erotic massages.

Review: “Strategem”‘s closing scene last week was reminiscent of the closing scene of DS9’s “Call To Arms” for building momentum to a bigger story about to unfold. Like an alcoholic with a five dollar bill, “Harbinger” squanders that momentum and all the work of its strong two preceding episodes, in favor of a disjointed mix of storylines filled with out-of-character behavior.

After a series of episodes filled with alien attacks, starships, and explosions, “Harbinger” is a bottle show in which most of the tension comes from within; from the crew itself. This is a good enough idea but unfortunately the producers have not managed to come up with character conflicts of any depth. Instead we have remarkably petty behavior from T’Pol and Reed to provide the conflict that ends up overshadowing the Xindi mission in favor of soap opera-style characterization.

And so we go from an episode in which Archer and the crew of the Enterprise are making steady, determined progress toward preventing the annihilation of Earth and the human race, to another episode in which the crew of the Enterprise act like adolescents with poor impulse-control skills. It is not a good contrast and is reminiscent of the worst of ENTERPRISE like “A Night in Sickbay” rather than some of the fine episodes the series has put out lately. At least when earlier STAR TREK shows did this kind of episode, they managed to have a virus, or a plant or some form of radiation take the blame for the crew’s behavior.

The MACO’s have all along essentially been a gimmick and redundant. ENTERPRISE has not helped matters by mostly keeping them out of the picture and failing to properly develop them or integrate them with the crew. “Harbinger” is thus supposed to be the equivalent of VOYAGER’s Learning Curve. Except it should have come much earlier in this season and should have addressed the issue with more depth than simply showing Reed and Hayes beating each other senseless. Archer’s outrage and disgust is fully justified, but it is a disgust and outrage that should be directed at the producers and writer of the episode.

The murder of Trip’s sister at the end of last season should have opened the gateway to some real character development, instead the great minds behind ENTERPRISE determined that it should be a gateway to some erotic massages. And so that’s what we got. Erotic massage grief counseling which is almost as credible a therapeutic tool as the ‘smear your germs’ decontamination chamber was a credible way of fighting alien diseases. Considering the opening of “A Night in Sickbay,” it seemed more like a credible way of spreading alien diseases.

Star Trek Enterprise T'Pol naked Harbinger

This was the most frequent image search result for this episode and the series... says something, doesn't it

Last week we saw the capture of the designer of the Xindi weapon and his confrontation with Archer and the discovery of the location of the project. That was not a Sweeps episode. This week T’Pol takes her shirt off and that is a Sweeps episode. That should tell you something about the priorities of the people running ENTERPRISE (or scheduling it).

Last week with the man responsible for the murder of his sister and millions of other humans in Enterprise’s custody, Trip was kept in the background. This week when it’s time to give massages to female crewmembers, Trip is in the foreground. That should tell you something about the priorities of the people determining Trip’s character development. All in all the less said about this storyline the better, except that it might help if the producers did their research and got their inspiration by watching classic STAR TREK episodes instead of Cinemax.

That leaves us with “Harbinger,” namely the mysterious alien, which is also the only worthwhile part of the episode. Unfortunately, it also takes a back seat to Reed’s Fight Club and Trip’s massage parlor. A storyline connecting the alien spheres and the Xindi attack on earth with a new enemy should have been a major event, instead it’s tucked out of sight in between Reed’s bouts of testosterone poisoning and Rick Berman’s sleazy plea for attention from the 18 to 35 male demographic.

Still, despite the cliched aspects of the plot, the alien’s story stands out from the rest of this mediocre muddle of an episode. From Archer withholding pain medication against Dr. Phlox’s protests to the alien’s Cheshire Cat grin as he vanishes, it’s the aspect of the episode that provides the only memorable and gripping moments to be had. And the only moments that don’t leave you with a desire to erase them from your mind by sticking your head in a working microwave oven.

Along with the story, the special effects and production values also seem to have taken a nose dive. From the clumsy alien makeup to the terrible space special effects that look like they’re from an 80’s movie; it’s clear that this is the episode the series is supposed to be saving money on. David Livingston does what he can to try and compensate for the disaster of a script, and is occasionally effective as with the camera work in Archer’s tirade at Reed and Hayes. But most of the time it simply makes no difference because there is little to nothing that could conceivably salvage this episode. And nothing does.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Strategem

Synopsis: Enterprise captures the creator of the Xindi weapon and with time running out try to trick him into revealing the weapon’s location.

star trek enterprise stratagemReview: “Stratagem” is both a strong episode in and of itself and a worthy follow-up to “Proving Ground” as part of the Xindi arc. More intriguingly, “Stratagem” is an ENTERPRISE that plays out more like an episode ALIAS.

By committing to the premise of the third season in which Earth and humanity face the threat of imminent extermination, ENT created the problem of a threat that required extreme measures. “Anomaly” is about as far as a STAR TREK series is likely to take the idea of a Starfleet Captain using force to extract information. “Stratagem” does an ingenious end run around the problem by creating a logically worked out situation in which the solution is both ruthless and non-violent.

But at the same time, “Stratagem” also gives us one of the most human villains to date in terms of our ability to empathize with him. Randy Oglesby’s ‘Degra’ is a fully realized character who is well aware of the moral consequences of his actions and manages to get across the character’s emotions in a way that is shocking for a character who never seemed particularly significant or distinctive in earlier episodes. When Degra realizes what he has done in giving away the location on the bridge, his face falls and as perverse as it might be we can empathize with his pain at what he sees as his betrayal of his people.

It is ironic that “Stratagem” is essentially a holodeck episode minus the holodeck but that it manages to succeed far better than most holodeck episodes. Like Moriarty in “Ship in a Bottle,” the premise involves a ship within a ship and an illusion within an illusion. But unlike that TNG episode, the goal is not to untangle all the layers of illusion but the interaction between Archer and Degra. Two characters both utterly determined and driven by the fear of a terrible future and the moral compromises they have had to make. And both lying to each other and suppressing their feelings to make themselves as cold and hard as they have to be to do what they believe needs to be done.

Visually the debris of the proving ground serve as both a plausible tool for Enterprise’s malfunction without resorting to technobabble, and a credible source of tension whjile the incoming Xindi ship serves as a reminder for the destructive force Degra has unleashed.

Michael Sussman’s teleplay and veteran STAR TREK director Mike Vejar bring together their talents to create an episode that flows seamlessly and smoothly without any noticeable gaps to its conclusion. Like “Proving Ground” before it, “Stratagem” has a momentum that the Xindi arc has lacked until now. It’s another triumph of efficiency in storytelling for ENTERPRISE, overcoming many of the obstacles that have traditionally held the series back.

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