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Monthly Archives: May 2004

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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Zero Hour

Synopsis: Archer tackles the weapon, T’Pol tackles the Spheres and Enterprise tackles a rewrite of Planet of the Apes

Review: Zero Hour most obviously refers to the countdown to the Weapon’s attack on Earth. Of course it’s also a sly reference to the final twist of the episode which plunges an already teetering storyline into sheer lunacy.

star trek enterprise zero hour For the most part Zero Hour’s strongest scenes are those that rest on the tension leading up to the actual attack on the Weapon. Archer exploiting Hoshi to carry out his mission pushes his character further into the wolfish ruthlessly desperate mode he’s been in all season. Dr. Phlox facing death also makes for a touching if somewhat overly sentimental scene.

After that the episode begins its steep decline into cliche and then incoherence. First we have T’Pol and Trip’s attack on the Sphere which leads to some really bad skin for the crew. Undoubtedly TPTB thought that the idea of having everyone on the ship turn into a walking commercial for skin care products would be dramatic but instead if just makes what should have been a tense situation look silly as you wonder if Lubiderm isn’t paying Enterprise for product placement.

And indeed the entire Sphere attack storyline is mostly pointless. Enterprise’s Xindi arc would have been stronger if this attack had been accomplished episodes ago leaving Archer in command of Enterprise to pursue the weapon. It would have been appropriate and fitting as a conclusion to an arc that had Enterprise leaving earth to pursue the Weapon and returning home battered but unbowed to destroy it. Instead the audience’s attention is split between Archer’s pursuit of the weapon which is the compelling story and the sphere attack which isn’t.

Unlike the Weapon, the Spheres aren’t going anywhere so it’s not clear why T’Pol is so desperate to destroy them even at the risk of destroying Enterprise and killing the crew. Yes the anomalies will expand but all life in the Expanse, let alone Vulcan, as T’Pol seems to suggest is a long way from being threatened. The addition of the Sphere Builder’s attack is cliched and looks silly all the more so in the rose colored haze. Additionally the Sphere seems to call up Braga and Berman’s worst instincts giving us tons of technobabble solutions from Phlox’s magic anomaly resisting formula whose effectiveness he can apparently calculate to the second to the deflector pulse to the weapons frequencies. Watching T’Pol do her best Janeway impression as she nearly killed the crew to do something utterly pointless; really brought nostalgic tears for Voyager to my eyes.

The plot then only becomes more awkward as once the Weapon is destroyed the focus shifts away earth and to Enterprise sitting and waiting for Archer in the Expanse. And so we get an absurd scene in which Degra’s ship heads to the Expanse to meet up with Enterprise to tell Enterprise Archer is dead at which point they all head back over to Earth. Instead of the Acquatics simply delivering Enterprise to earth directly to meet Degra’s ship. Sometimes I complain about time being trimmed from Enterprise’s episodes and then I look at a complete inability to grasp the use of time on the part of the Enterprise producers and wonder why I even bother?

The attack on the Weapon itself is a bit too strongly suggestive of Insurrection or for that matter Generations, First Contact and Nemesis; all star trek enterprise zero hourof which involved fights between our heroes and the villains over a launch sequence or a set of controls. But what Rick Berman lacks in originality, Allan Kroeker does his best to make up for in some decent action sequences. The effectiveness of the various fights range between clumsy to suspenseful and Archer’s final coup de grace to Commander Dolim is not original but quite effective. The bloodstains on the wall and on Archer’s face are particularly effective touches.

Shran’s appearance might be a bit dubious plotwise but he is a great character and Coombs is a great actor so that the only regret is that putting his name in the opening credits killed any surprise at his appearance. Coombs of course rules every second of his screentime and his lines make for some of the coolest moments in the episode. It also is a good reference point to the revelation of a future Federation in which Andorians and humans work side by side.

All of this would have made for a decent enough episode. Not the greatest Star Trek episode of all time or anything near it but adequate enough. There is a clear decline between the writing quality of Countdown and Zero Hour. Brannon Braga and Rick Berman’s writing is simply not up to the task and once again we see heaps of Voyager style technobabble thrown in and the kind of amateurish plot awkwardness that characterized Voyager episodes. But Braga is unfortunately not satisfied with that.

As the second season finale set up the third season, the third season finale is apparently meant to set up the fourth. Of course the situation becomes all the more desperate since Enterprise’s ratings are doing quite poorly and the series has become increasingly unwanted by UPN which instead favors top quality programming like ‘America’s Top Bulimic.’ This makes it crucial for the Enterprise season finale to have a hook that will pull viewers back in. And so we get Braga’s Planet of the Apes style ending to the episode.

Of course the problem with the ending is that it’s silly. Not only does it seriously resemble Voyager episodes like Future’s End and The Killing Game spliced together but it completely defuses the conclusion of the entire season’s arc and its payoff in favor of a gimmicky conclusion that the audience is likely to treat the same way it did the similar ending of the remake of Planet of the Apes.

Storytelling requires continuity. It requires an understanding of the emotional journey and the parts of the narrative that make a story whole. Zero Hour is yet another demonstration that Rick Berman and Brannon Braga understand nothing of the kind. Zero Hour’s ending screams of unoriginality and desperation. Not to mention contempt for the same viewers who sat through a season of the Xindi arc expecting more of a payoff than Archer waking up in the Twilight Zone.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Countdown

Synopsis: The Sphere Builders act to thwart the crew and Xindi’s attempts to stop the weapon from being armed

Review: As the last episode before the season finale, Countdown is appropriately suspenseful and ominous. But at the close of the season it also delivers a strong episode by harnessing the power of characters who have been all too often kept in the shadows this season in favor of exploitative Trip and T’Pol material.

star trek enterprise countdownReed once again emerges as a troubled but determined leader and his scenes with Major Hayes compromise some of the most moving scenes this season that speak eloquently about command and responsibility all the more so for being understated even as it is clear that strong currents of emotion are boiling underneath. Both Steven Culp and Dominic Keating deliver excellent and restrained performances as they finally resolve their conflict in favor of the mission.

Unfortunately we haven’t seen nearly enough of Major Hayes and Reed has been woefully underused this season. Hoshi too has been barely visible this season manages to nearly compensate for it in only a few scenes in which she shows strength and courage amidst her fear. And Phlox fighting with Captain Archer over transporting Hoshi is yet another great moment in the work of yet another underused Enterprise character.

Even Commander Dolim, despite the cheesy makeup, cheesy character and pretty much cheesy everything somehow comes off as menacing perhaps because his tone is that of cold grim amusement like Gul Dukat, rather than a cartoon monster. He is not senseless or consumed by hatred but coldly determined to do his job while enjoying it in a grim sort of way at the same time.

The only weak moment in the episode really comes when we get another round of Trip and T’Pol’s whining. Suddenly the episode grinds to a halt while we indulge in some more cheap soap opera. Worse yet I experienced a flashback and was certain that I had somewhat stepped back into an episode of Voyager with Paris and Torres bickering at each other. And after all Trip is Paris with a southern accent and T’Pol with her emotions out of control is increasingly turning into Bellana. God alone knows why TPTB decided that 4 years of Paris and Torres weren’t enough and that we needed another 5 but apparently that’s what we’re going to get.

Considering the ending, you almost wish T’Pol and Trip would really get their own ship along with their own spinoff show in which they could voyage around the galaxy annoying alien species and giving them erotic massages. As things stand now UPN would unfortunately probably be a lot more interested in ordering it than a 5th season of Enterprise.

Countdown itself suffers from the premise of the idea that the Xindi can deliver the weapon from their council area and then directly to earth in a matter of hours. This steps up the suspense but it also looks ridiculous. Enterprise should have broadened the Xindi arc by adding an extra episode that would have focused on the pursuit of the weapon and the interrogation of Hoshi, the relationships with the Xindi and perhaps Dolim and the Insectoids questioning the real role of the Sphere Builders. There’s a lot of rich material here that’s going untapped because of the need to artificially accelerate the pace.

Archer’s deal with the acquatics though is a nice touch. Up till now the Xindi seemed to have been all too willing to go along with anything Archer wanted. The deal though is a more plausible exchange in which they aid Archer in exchange for something of interest to them. Though the move to transfer the team going after the weapon to a Xindi ship while leaving Enterprise and most of the crew in the Expanse hacking into a Sphere seems off. It makes logical sense but not emotional sense to leave Enterprise out of the fight to stop the Xindi weapon.

Nevertheless the transfer scene is effective and has overtones of Voyager’s Year of Hell separation sequence. Archer’s voiceover log giving the exact date as the ships launch and the crew members prepare for combat is another excellent scene that sets up the momentous events to follow. And the dinner at which Archer, Trip and T’Pol discuss their future plans after the ‘war is over’ nails each bit of dialogue just right. Chris Black’s skills with dialogue are evident yet again in turning even ordinary banter into exchanges that really connect with the underlying themes. It is many ways striking to see the opening of Enterprise with a rundown of humanity’s exploration accomplishments that seems to have nothing at all to do with the show today. Scenes like this look to a future beyond.

Meanwhile the Sphere Builders like the Olympian Gods watch over and manipulate the fate of the mortals from their cloudlike positions straddling time and space. In some ways this season Enterprise has been an Odyssey and now finally despite all the gods can do enterprise is coming home.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Council

Synopsis: Archer arrives at the Xindi Council while maneuvers continue among the Xindi races and the Sphere Builders before the launch of the weapon.

Review: The Council is many things but not the least among them a compelling argument for Manny Coto being in charge of Enterprise rather than Berman and Braga. As a complete episode it often comes off a bit disjointed but that is because its real accomplishments are in the characterization of the Xindi. A characterization that is long overdue. Unlike some of the previous episodes, this is not one dominated simply by the character of Degra.

star trek enterprise the councilWhile Randy Oglesby does deliver another resoundingly powerful performance as Degra in his final appearance; Coto fleshes the Xindi out by giving the other Xindi council members depth as well and making their interplay ppear more than the cartoonish stereotypes they have been up till now. The Avian skull alone is a deceptively simple but excellent touch that does more to bring depth to the Xindi and their agenda than all the Council meetings have throughout this season and until now. Details such as this or Degra’s revelations about the role of the Sphere Builders in their lives should have been a part of the show long before this to make the Xindi and their motivations plausible.

By contrast the Enterprise crew doesn’t come off nearly as well this episode. Archer is still focused but a bit too casual. His principal’s office exchange with Hoshi is clever and well played but it also clashes with the context of the situation. 7 million people have died and this is Archer’s last ditch attempt to preserve the remains of humanity and it makes him seem far too lighthearted and casual especially considering the terrible things Archer has had to do up till now to the point that he sent himself off on a suicide mission only a few episodes ago.

The real purpose of these scenes seems to be to remind us of Hoshi’s existence as a human being with a likeable personality so that we’re shocked and saddened by her kidnapping. But of course Enterprise should not have neglected her or Reed or some of the other crewmembers this season as gratuitously as they did in favor of the compelling ideas embodied by T’Pol’s erotic massage parlor. However as in E2, Reed gets another small but effective scene. This time with T’Pol. It’s ironic that despite all the fuss and all the effort dedicated to T’Pol and Trip and T’Pol’s unlocking of her emotions with Trip; one of her best scenes and unquestionably best demonstration of the empathic use of her emotions is in a scene with Lt. Reed.

Billingsley’s Dr Phlox of course is always entertaining to watch even if he’s given little to do. By contrast Connor Trinneer who was certainly never one of Enterprise’s best actors but managed to give a pretty good performance in The Forgotten, phones in his scenes in The Council. Not that he’d really even be noticeable alongside Randy Oglesby’s work but at least he could have made an effort to put some depth in his performance. In this episode Manny Coto manages to make even the proverbial doomed redshirt stand out but in an episode full of compelling characters; Tucker is strictly a no show.

All in all the human side of The Council is easily outweighed by the Xindi side of it. It would have been intriguing if the producers had the guts to tell this episode’s story from the Xindi perspective. It certainly would have been doable as Degra was already on Enterprise a lot of the time. But “The Council” comes as close to that as it dares with an episode in which the Xindi rather than the humans are undeniably the key players.

Again the issue of proof is dubious since all Archer presents is a holographic mockup of the Sphere Builder. Considering what Degra tells us about the level of devotion of the Xindi to the Guardians, half the Council seems rather willing to turn on them with limited evidence at best. If T’Pol’s mission had returned from the Sphere with compelling evidence to the Council that might have more credibly explained their willingness to believe Archer’s story. Still the radical steps taken by the Reptillians help tip the balance.

Degra’s murder is excellently directed, written and played and stands as the best part of the episode. Much of it could have been done as a cliche but the writing gives us two personalities with two different worldviews colliding with one another in that room. Both are fanatics of a particular kind with two different visions of the future that will rebuild and reunify the Xindi. Degra’s vision embodied in that handshake with Trip is incompatible with the Reptillian dominated Xindi Council hunting down the very last humans in the galaxy. The launch of the weapon becomes a tug of war with the victory going to the Reptillians and Insectoids seeking to rebuild a destroyed way of life through mass murder.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – E2

Synopsis: ENTERPRISE does VOYAGER and encounters its future in the form of reruns of previous STAR TREK episodes hashed together.

star trek enterprise E2Review: DS9’s “Children of Time” was hardly all that great of an episode, so it’s unclear as to why ENTERPRISE felt the need to remake it again. Or why after already doing one episode that showed Enterprise’s dark future if the Xindi mission failed, they chose to do another one. Or why they chose to interrupt the concluding arc of the season that had just begun gathering steam with an episode that distracts by rehashing a bunch of old episodes. But such are the mysteries that earn one a position on the writing staff of a television series.

It’s not that “E2” is a particularly bad episode. In fact, Mike Sussman has generally done good work and so has Roxann Dawson. But as the saying goes, there’s only so many times you can go to the well. The STAR TREK franchise has managed to drain the life out of such strengths as the Klingons and the Borg, and ENTERPRISE is well on its way to doing to time travel VOYAGER to the Borg. “E2” is not a bad episode but we’ve seen better versions of it plenty of times before. Take “Children of Time,” hash it together with some bits and pieces of “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “Deadlock” and “Equinox” and you pretty much have this episode.

Worst of all, “E2” really doesn’t manage to do anything significant with the material. None of the future descendants are particularly interesting and aside from the great mess hall scene with Hoshi, Mayweather and Reed, the encounter with a future version Enterprise seems redirected into yet another round of Trip -n- T’Pol. And that is what really manages to reduce “E2” to a pile of barely digestible mush. Much as ENTERPRISE Season 3 took the destruction of Earth and the death of Trip’s sister and turned it into an excuse for erotic massages, “E2” takes the encounter with a future Enterprise and turns it into yet another round of gracelessly shoving Trip and T’Pol together. But of course even this silliness isn’t original because “Children of Time,” the DS9 episode this episode is cribbed from, featured a futuristic version of Odo revealing his love to Kira.

But it isn’t the turpid scenes between T’Pol and Trip themselves that destroy the episode but the outcome of twisting the episode to accomodate them by the creation of Lorian. Despite being derivative, however, “E2” had some possibilities. Imagine an encounter with a more wolfish and desperate Archer a decade or two down the road. Or even the same aged T’Pol we see in this episode in command and becoming more unstable as she desperately tries to achieve her goal by any means necesarry. It wouldn’t be the greatest STAR TREK episode of all time but it could have been compelling. It would have been about the crew and the choices they’ve made and what they can become if they continue down this path. It would have tied neatly into the previous episodes.

But instead as an articulation of Trip and T’Pol’s Love That Dare Not Speak Its Ratings, we get Lorian the first Redneck Vulcan on STAR TREK. He might have been entertaining if played for laughs, maybe meditating under a Confederate flag to a piece from a Harley’s motor. But instead David Andrews portrays him with all the intensity of a coma patient being pumped full of extra sediatives. Meanwhile, the child of Trip and T’Pol combines Trip’s boneheaded stupidity with T’Pol’s emotionlessness to produce a truly boring idiot. Aside from his emoting scene in the brig, Lorian isn’t just boring, he taps into a whole dimension of tediousness we never thought previously possible. God knows when you’re looking forward to Mayweather saying a line, something is seriously wrong.

Not only does “E2” waste enormous amounts of time on a character who does not seem to survive this episode but it wastes more time drawing out this round of the ‘Will They Or Won’t They Game’ for T’Pol and Trip, a game best reserved for the viewership of teenage girls, and ultimately is not about the choices Archer makes so much as the moral struggle of a boring character who is not a member of the crew and whom we will never see again. While it was a nice touch of irony to see the Enterprise crew end up on the other side of the treatment they handed out in “Damage” and for the same reason, “E2” manages to flub even this scene by centering the confrontation on Trip rather than Archer (you know, Archer, the guy who struggled with that tough decision to steal a warp coil from innocent people to save Earth only to find himself in the same predicament from the other side.)

There are worthwhile moments in the episode, however. Reed’s worries about remaining a bachelor, the two beaten ships docked together, the revelation of who Phlox married, Archer’s disappointed expression when he realizes that it’s Degra’s ship and not the other Enterprise and Degra becoming even more desperate and determined as Randy Oglesby continues stealing every scene he’s in. Jolene Blalock turns in another surprisingly good performance as the aged T’Pol, which perhaps might remind the producers that they might consider more possibilities involving her than getting her on drugs or taking her clothes off. But when all is said and done this episode simply does not work.

It is a poorly hashed together mix of older episodes that fits poorly into the arc, has the wrong focus and is a letdown in every way. Even the production values seem poor with the corridor effects looking cheap and terrible and T’Pol’s caked makeup making her look more like a swamp monster than an old woman. Makeup this bad was understandable on TOS when Kirk, Spock and McCoy underwent dramatic aging. But it’s completely unacceptable in 2004. But then T’Pol’s makeup, like this episode, shows the age of a creaking franchise in its last throes. With two episodes this season showing a dead and doomed ancient Enterprise fighting a hopeless battle, one almost wonders if the writers are prophecying the eponymous show for which they work.

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