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