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Monthly Archives: October 2004

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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Borderland

Synopsis: Dr. Soong, no not that one, reunites with Eugenics Wars crafted supermen or augments as Enterprise goes on a mission to find them.

star trek enterprise borderland

dark, brooding, boring

Review: “Borderland” is an episode meant to kick off a mini-arc but its strongest moments are in the Borderland, when it diverts from its key topic of the escaped Augments running loose to explore the rougher chaos at the borders. This is ultimately far more interesting than the tedious scenes featuring internal rivalries between the supermen who look,, act and sound like refugees from a bad 80’s music video. ‘Khan Noonien Singh’ in “Space Seed” and of course THE WRATH OF KHAN worked because those stories focused on a single charismatic figure while the rest were just background models in tattered clothing who usually had few, if any, lines. Here the background models are the focus and they’re flat and uninteresting. It doesn’t help matters much that their dialogue and plot is so generic it could have been lifted from any one of thousands of movies and TV shows or written by anyone in their sleep.

Soong is meant to be the central figure at the heart of the enemy threat, but Soong spends most of “Borderland” with Archer and the Enterprise making the sections involving the Augements on the Klingon ship particularly tedious. ANDROMEDA had no shortage of gaping flaws but one of the things they did get right was that their Nietschians, the ANDROMEDA version of the Augments, had a philosophy, an outlook and a worldview that communicated them as alien and disturbing. By contrast, the Augments of “Borderland” are grown up equivalents of the children in “Miri,” orphans with no real character or culture played by actors with no ability or presence.

In no small part this is because the return of Brent Spiner leaves little room for any other villain but Spiner’s work in “Borderland” is weak. His performance is comic, a portrayal of a character who is snidely creepy but lacking any depth or nuance. Even when Soong delivers his monologue on the wonders of genetics, he’s sniveling. Spiner has no interest in injecting any real passion or nuance into Soong and the result is a character who is mostly amusing and little else. As in “Think Tank,” it’s another case of a celebrity role poorly filled by a guest star who isn’t interested or willing to do the necessary work it takes to make the part work.

That said, the episode shows promise by bringing in a variety of continuity from Soong’s name, presumably an ancestor of Data’s creator, to

star trek enterprise borderland

a ridiculously classy scene in a ridiculously classy episode

the Orions, the Eugenics Wars and the Klingons. Continuity alone, of course, doesn’t make an episode but it’s a good sign that there is a commitment to developing STAR TREK’s rich backstory without strip-mining it for cliches as has happened all too often in the past. The Orion makeup, particularly on the Orion guard, is well done and while the whole storyline feels a bit lifted from VOYAGER with T’Pol once again in the ‘Seven’ role, at least this time The Rock doesn’t make an appearance. Thank goodness for small favors. Though what little entertainment the episode offers is mostly in the action scenes like the raiders’ attack on Enterprise, the opening Augment massacre of the Klingon crew, and the Augment invasion of Enterprise.

As an untrustworthy but entertaining sidekick, Soong is almost as fun for Captain Archer as ‘Silik’ was and the kidnapping of the crew members into slavery might have and probably should have been its own episode. Linked together it’s a refreshing break from the metal-band slash genetically-engineered boredom superbeings on board the Klingon ship bickering about who gets to lead them, and which of them gets to be who’s girlfriend. Who would have thought there’d be a more awful and mind numbing election to sit through than the one in the evening news.

We are also treated to yet more of the “T’Pol and Trip Soap Opera That Never Ends Even Though It Probably Should Have Eons Ago” as T’Pol

star trek enterprise borderland

and even classier

reassures Trip that there was no honeymoon but that she spent the time in a monastery meditating. Something that seems a lot more fun than sitting through yet more awkward scenes between these two. I’m no supporter of romances on board starships. STAR TREK has a repeated and inescapable history of mishandling romances between characters and even under the best of circumstances such romances appear unprofessional and tend to undermine the female character; with the single exception of Troi, who couldn’t possibly be undermined any further. Still, despite all that, it’s interesting to note that the scene between Archer and T’Pol had far more resonance and depth than Trip and T’Pol’s honeymoon dilemma. But then that’s because STAR TREK can feature credible command relations, just not romantic ones. Sadly the show is in poor enough straits that it probably can’t afford to jettison this fluff, since losing even those few thousand viewers hanging on until the lucky day when Trip and T’Pol finally walk down the aisle to a Vulcan band playing the theme song from Hee Haw would be devastating ratings-wise.

Essentially, the problem with “Borderland” is that it has no real threat of any interest. As villains the Augments are silly; as a villain Soong is even sillier. Enterprise is pursuing the Augments mainly because of who they are genetically, which is a racist outlook and not particularly rational since they had actually done nothing to Earth. They did attack a Klingon ship, which is the weak pretext for dragging Enterprise into this mess, but since when is Archer empowered to protect Klingons? And the Klingon’s own DNA tests should have showed that the attackers were not normal humans. In any case, Archer had already engaged and fought Klingons in the past, yet suddenly now Earth is on the brink of war with the Empire. It’s a convenient non-crisis for what now is still a non-story. But hopefully the upcoming episode will redeem the flaws of this one.

Next week: Dr Soong is still around and his laugh is still creepy….can we bear the suspense?

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Home

Synopsis: Back home the crew face vacations that aren’t particularly relaxing.

star trek enterprise homeReview: Like ST:TNG’s “Family,” which followed the catastrophic and tense “Best of Both Worlds,” ENTERPRISE’s own season four begins with “Home,” an episode with much the same function. Namely, to provide a break in between the crisis of the previous two parter and the crisis to come. The problem, in part, is ENTERPRISE’s own “Two Days and Two Nights” did this far better and that “Home” lacks the color and life of either “Family” or “Two Days and Two Nights,” episodes that could merge humor, pathos with revelations about the breaking points and healing powers of the characters.

“Home”‘s strongest of the storylines focuses on Archer coping with a cynical and dark view of exploration and Starfleet driven by his own self-loathing and sense of betrayal of his original mission. We also encounter Captain Hernandez who may help bury once again the foolish idea propagated by some using the borderline non-canon TOS episode, “Turnabout Intruder,” that women can’t be Captains. It is good to see such a character on STAR TREK, particularly as female Captains have not been as visible as they should be; seven years of Captain Janeway have done quite a lot to hurt the perception of the role of the female Captain as a leader to a professional crew, rather than Janeway’s substitute mother figure to a family of misfits. And even though Captain Hernandez in the episode is reduced to a stereotypical nurturing and romantic interest role, the actress still manages to make her come across as competent and professional.

Bakula gives another capable performance in “Home” that reminds us once again that Archer can be a strong character when he’s given something to work with. Here he projects both frustrated anger and idealism as we see him coming to terms with the events of the previous year and gaining a sense of peace from them. Even coming to terms with the Vulcan Ambassador. The battle on top of the mountain and the mountain climbing itself are both cliches, but they’re not badly used here, even if we can finally maybe offer a grateful prayer that the funny looking wire sculpture Xindi suits may have actually seen their last use on our TV screens except for when reruns of season three come calling again; if they ever do.

By contrast Trip and T’Pol’s Vulcan adventure is far weaker, not the least because it relies on non-existent chemistry between two characters who seem as if they could exert more appeal on some of the prayerful stone statues standing around the matte backgrounds than on each other. Still, T’Pol’s mother is well acted and comes across as a real person rather than another one in a long line of mean ENTERPRISE Vulcans, which is what she appears to be at the beginning of the episode. And the unexpected and dramatic ending, rather than a cliched and nauseating scene in which Trip and T’Pol announce their love for each other adds significant power to the story by elevating it from a story of true love to a story of sacrifice, which is always stronger. And the neo-Japanese decor of T’Pol’s mother’s home makes the episode seem somewhat more graceful than it is.

The weakest link of the stories is the afterschool special section on Phlox facing prejudice on Earth. While Phlox puffing up his head like a blowfish is good for a laugh, the material is earnestly tedious and cliched and a distinct matter of condescendingly preaching obvious virtues to a sleeping choir. Worst of all, this entire scene is all the more hypocritical since rather than being blatantly outrageous and unfair by ENTERPRISE’s moral standards, the redneck’s treatment of Phlox is quite similar to Archer and Trip’s Season one treatment of T’Pol and other Vulcans. But instead of making use of this opportunity for some of Enterprise’s crew to recognize and deal with their own prejudices, we have the Enterprise crew nobly and gallantly rising to Phlox’s defense and lecturing us, them and even Phlox on prejudice.

Maybe it was the influence of seeing Team America: World Police but for a moment there before the fists began to fly, I thought that instead of fighting, Reed, Phlox and Mayweather would rise and sing a rousing pop anthem about tolerance and diversity. Sadly, instead all we got was five minutes of them hanging around in one of the most fake looking bar sets ever followed by one of the most fake looking fight scenes ever. Perhaps the next time ENTERPRISE decides to take a ground breaking story idea that has only been previously tackled by such groundbreaking series as HAPPY DAYS, BEVERLY HILLS 90210 and the COSBY SHOW; they might try using it in a way that makes you think instead of yawn, and that speaks to an adult awareness of the complexities of human nature instead of educational slogans aimed at small children.

All in all, “Home” doesn’t live up to the more complex storytelling combinations of “Family” or “Two Days and Two Nights.” It lacks the sense of fun those two episodes had and the character development isn’t nearly up to par either. But nevertheless it’s a useful placeholder episode that marks the ending of one time of trial for the Enterprise crew and the beginning of the next.

Next week: Brent Spiner is back…and he has a really creepy laugh.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Storm Front II

Synopsis: Good guys win, bad guys lose. All things return to normal at the end.

Review: STAR TREK has traditionally suffered from two part episodes in which the second part fails to live up to the potential of the first. ST:TNG’s “Best of Both Worlds” is the ultimate example of this kind of letdown. “Storm Front II”, however is a distinctly stronger episode than its first part; it flows smoothly and though it may never become one of those genuinely memorable STAR TREK episodes, it’s serviceable enough entertainment.

star trek enterprise storm frontThis may be because Part I was so distinctly weak that where it aimlessly wandered and dragged, Part II shoots through one scene sliding into another and all the parts of the episode click neatly into place. Had Part I been a stronger episode, had it gathered more suspense and set up a bigger challenge for the Enterprise crew, Part II might not have come off nearly so well. But instead all Part II has to do is discharge the accumulated material Part I puts into place so that where that episode was all work, Part II has more time to play: whether it’s Silik’s banter or the Enterprise engaging in a battle with WW2 planes over Manhattan.

Aside from Part II’s disturbing newsreel opening with some clever combinations of archival footage and the shot of Hitler against the Statue of Liberty standing out as particularly effective, Part II does not manage to do anything to exploit the alternate history material any better than Part I and it’s still somewhat sad that “Killing Game,” which took place in the holodeck, could do much more with the Nazis than “Storm Front”. Alicia and the resistance fighters by now have become minor side notes but the villains such as Silik and Vosk take center stage and are far more enjoyable to watch and do more to deepen the drama of the conflict anyway.

Their arrival also gives Archer something to react to where in Part I he mainly seemed to be floundering around trying to interact with the bizarre situation and coming up blank. By contrast, Archer’s confrontation with Silik gives us some entertaining banter but also allows Silik to observe that Archer has gotten darker and for Archer to agree, suggesting that like the scars along Enterprise’s hull, the scars on her captain have yet to heal. Meanwhile, in Archer’s interactions with Silik he has come rather close to the Kirk ideal of deliberate judgement, cool command, and personal risk taking that is a long way from Archer in the first two seasons as naive, bumbling and arrogant.

But at the end of the day Part II is still popcorn entertainment. Silik and Vosk’s conversations leak some more information about the Temporal Cold War but how much interest viewers will have in following them may vary, much like the effectiveness of over the counter sleep remedies. The episode has action and special effects scenes that stand out while we are watching them but nothing that moves the episode beyond the forgettable, intellectually or conceptually even. Viewers may remember the Enterprise’s battle over Manhattan but outside the special effects it’s doubtful that this episode will linger much. At the end of the episode we are gratified when the Enterprise returns home not so much because the Nazi\Vosk threat is over but because this awkward chapter of the story is finally over.

Next week: Amok Enterprise.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Storm Front 1

Synopsis: Enterprise and Archer find themselves back in time during WW2 as the Nazis overrun America’s east coast and a new alien race is changing Earth’s history.

star trek enterprise storm frontReview: ENTERPRISE’s Season 2 closed with an alien race carrying out a devastating attack on Earth with Season 3 dedicated to unraveling the nature of the attack, the agendas of the aliens behind it and dealing with the threat. Similarly ENTERPRISE’s Season 3 closed with an alien race carrying out a devastating attack on Earth and Season 4 begins with an episode in which Enterprise begins trying to unravel what is going on while being given an assignment to stop those responsible. The key difference though of course is that where the attack on Earth in Season 2 that killed Seven million people was an actual physical attack with devastating consequences that could not be undone regardless of what the Enterprise crew would do, this latest attack on Earth is a temporal attack which has no physical consequences that cannot be undone. Daniels even assures them that if they do their jobs, the war will never have happened.

This undercuts the crisis from the start and transforms the attack and the events we are experiencing into a kind of holodeck where time star trek enterprise storm fronttravel allows the crew to play out and us to experience something like VOYAGER’s Killing Game, which also featured a STAR TREK crew contending against Nazis led by gruesome aliens in Nazi uniforms. At times Storm Front captures the onrushing flow of bizarre contrasts that made Killing Game so entertaining like the Enterprise being attacked by American WW2 fighter planes or Vosk displaying grainy black and white footage of aliens weapons to a Nazi General or the White House covered in red Nazi flags. Mostly though Storm Front seems to continue ENTERPRISE’s transformation from an exploration based series to an adventure action sci-fi series in the vein of Stargate SG1. A holodeck style format in which things go wrong with time for the Enterprise crew to repair before pushing the reset button and returning back to their own future with no impact on the world at large is ideal for such a format.

That is not to say that Storm Front isn’t entertaining, indeed it often is though as with the season finale it increasingly moves over the weight of the material to Archer actually confronting the aliens in the thick of the crisis while much of the Enterprise crew stay on or around the ship and do foolish things such as running around in the middle of a war zone to blow up a shuttlecraft they could easily blow up from orbit or surrendering to troops with primitive weapons without stunning them all. New York overrun by Nazis might have made for a more devastating sight if New York didn’t look like the same Paramount Hollywood back lot that feels about as authentic as California landscapes resemble alien planets and if Nazi Germany’s evil had more moral weight.

It has become conventional, particularly on STAR TREK, to use Nazi Germany as shorthand for villains but the Germans in question were not Vampires or Werewolves or evil aliens. They were evil people who committed horrific atrocities for reasons that need to be examined or at the very least their crimes need to be elaborated rather than simply using them as cartoonish background and using Nazi symbols and uniforms as symbolic shorthand for ‘bad guys’ cheapens the impact of WW2 and the Holocaust as well as rendering the material meaningless precisely because they’ve been so overused. It’s ironic that Killing Game with its holographic Nazis still had a Nazi character who had contrasts and a character arc while Storm Front reduces the Nazis to racist bullies of interracial couples who ban black music. Only in Vosk’s scene at the Nazified White House when he discusses using biological weapons to wipe out entire races do we get a sense of the vast evil at work behind the now familiar swastikas and German accents. But that is not nearly enough.

Storm Front presents what is essentially a holodeck crisis and that has to be outweighed by a real ongoing threat that cannot be ‘reset buttoned’ from the aliens and by making the change to earth’s history as devastating or even more devastating than the Xindi’s attack at the end of Season 2 but Storm Front is more inclined to take refuge in cutesy local color and gags which are entertaining particularly in scenes with the loan sharks turned resistance fighters but falls flat in extended scenes with Alicia who just isn’t particularly interesting a character. Little things like an offhand reference to Nazi concentration camps in upstate New York might have helped to make Storm Front’s Nazis and by extension the episode itself more than cartoonish. Hopefully that will be remedied in Storm Front Part II.

The problem is that Part I of Storm Front lacks either the devastating impact of The Expanse on the crew and humanity and Enterprise’s mission but it also lacks the sustained humor and flow of bizarre scenes that sustained the Killing Game, an episode which by the way also looked far better than Storm Front does. STAR TREK has traditionally always been about asking the bigger questions. The Expanse asked them, Storm Front does not. It’s a mildly entertaining outing with some cartoonish Nazis and some cartoonish New Yorkers too and the Enterprise crew blundering up around in orbit but Enterprise can do better and needs to do better if it’s going to survive in a poor time slot and threatened with cancellation. And Manny Coto, who wrote this episode, and Allan Kroeker can certainly do better and have usually done much better in the past. Hopefully they will also do better in the future.

Next week: Storm Front part II, and here we thought hurricane season was over.

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