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Monthly Archives: November 2004

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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Awakening

Synopsis: Archer gets in touch with his inner Surak, T’Pol gets out of tune with her mother and the evil Vulcan High Command gets their evil groove on.

star trek enterprise AwakeningReview: If there wasn’t a lot to say about “The Forge”, there is in many ways even less to say about “Awakening”. There is enough continuity in the episode to be pleasant. The attempt to repair Vulcan continuity albeit in some limited way is also nice. But ultimately like “Forge,” “Awakening” is an episode with little plot that drags it out for forty minutes in order to satisfy the requirements of a three-part arc. “Awakening” indeed has a good deal less to fill its time than “Forge” did.

And so we have the incredibly weak and pointless suspense over the transfer of the Katra from Archer’s brain, which comes to nothing ultimately. We have T’Pau a character about as interesting and compelling as wet gravy, and who has little function except to maneuver absolutely nothing of importance and makes little impression. Much of this, particularly the time in the compound, with the exception of Surak’s scenes comes down to wasted time that adds up to rather little. T’Pol’s reunion with her mother is somewhat more interesting but lacks any real feeling and the death of T’Les complete with a “�deathbed’ reconciliation is painfully predictable and cliched.

Lacking the energy and sense of wonder of “The Forge”‘s explorations of the Vulcan desert, the caves by contrast have little to offer us but particularly uninteresting characters arguing with each other over not particularly uninteresting things. And the strongest material in the episode, namely the debate over the nature of Vulcan beliefs and the scenes with Surak, seems to get the least amount of screen time. These are things, after all, more important than T’Pol’s mother — or so one would imagine.

But it turns out that these Syrannite Vulcans, who are closer to Surak’s beliefs, are also corrupted as T’Pol points out to her mother. This returns back to ENTERPRISE’s dictum about all Vulcans except the really good-looking females being evil. Of course there is still one good Vulcan left, dead and inside Archer’s head, which makes Archer the last good Vulcan left as Surak tells Archer when he says that Syrran too was corrupted and only he can save his people. One can’t help but groan at this point in disbelief.

On Enterprise things don’t fare much better. Trip wanders around trying to defy the Vulcan High Command and generally being ignored for it. He threatens the Vulcans and is predictably enough ignored. His only interesting scenes come via Ambassador Soval who manages to lend dignity and depth to all his scenes. By contrast the Vulcan High Command has degenerated into every villain cliche. Replace the Vulcans with any race and you could have the same exact scenes just by changing a few place names. Really even Dr. Evil might not have been out of place here towards the end. It’s one thing to portray the Vulcan High Command as having strayed from Surak’s teachings but V’Las simply appears to be a cliched two-dimensional villain ranting and scheming in predictably evil fashion. When he commands his minions to comb the desert, you can’t help but imagine the scene from SPACEBALLS in which the stormtroopers drag a giant comb along the sands.

The third and final part of the Vulcan arc may turn out to be a wonderful episode that redeems these two. Like the Augments arc, this story lacks material for three episodes. As a two-part episode we could have had two strong and gripping episodes without a lot of the dead weight and dead air used to stretch the episodes out to hit the magic number three.

Next week: Vulcans, Andorians, Terrans and Syrannites…Oh My.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Forge

Synopsis: Archer and co. investigate the bombing of the Earth embassy on Vulcan.

Archer Star Trek Enterprise Federation The ForgeReview: The premise of the three-part Vulcan arc is an interesting one, especially considering the need to bridge the gap in continuity between ENTERPRISE’s mangled portrayal of the Vulcans and the STAR TREK portrayal of the Vulcans, the two often completely incompatible. “The Forge” itself also tosses out a variety of interesting ideas into the mix, which may or may not be delivered on properly in future episodes. However, “The Forge” itself is nearly impossible to review on its own because it’s simply more a fragment of an episode than an episode.

As with the Augments arc, “The Forge” appears to be part of an attempt to return to the prequel concept as a bridge to the Original Series and has a nice selection of continuity references to TOS. While it still continues to be filled with negative Vulcan stereotypes, the arc appears to be moving towards the argument that these Vulcans are bad primarily because they are the Vulcans in authority and prefiguring a social upheaval on Vulcan that will bring it more in line with the Vulcan we know. Of course the entire premise that such events had occurred in recent memory fly in the face of all of STAR TREK, as we know continuity and ENTERPRISE even in the best of situations go together about as well as oil and water. And for those troubled by that, ENTERPRISE’s own premise renders it as being outside of STAR TREK history via time-tampering from the future, rather than a continuing part of STAR TREK history as a whole.

The actual Vulcan drama is hit and miss with Ambassador Soval returning as a strong character but the Vulcan high command crudely portrayed and poorly acted. Soval’s speech to Archer, though, sounds like recycled deep throat cliches. Admiral Forrest is somewhat unnecessarily killed for shock value where having him severely injured in sickbay would actually have been more far more effective. Trip’s reaction of callously not caring about the embassy guard’s body but his mind is out of character for him. Trip has many failings but inhumanity hasn’t been one of them until now.

STAR TREK has more traditionally done three-part episodes and ENTERPRISE’s new attempt to carry out these arcs has its flaws. Like “Borderland,” “The Forge” feels like less of an episode and more of a preview to an episode. But where “Borderland” had more content and a solid ending, “The Forge” strings together exposition scenes and some action with the end result being more of a snack than a full dinner. Considering that the episode begins with a bang, the succeeding action mostly drags in scenes in which various people discuss or argue with Vulcans. There is no real sense of loss or catastrophe aside from Archer’s scene with the coffins.

Once in the desert the pace does not actually pick up any but the interest level increases mainly because we are finally exploring Vulcan. Some elements such as the sandfire are well done, though the special effects for it and the Sehlat are quite inferior. The Sehlat in particular looks like CG from the early 90’s. The editing attempts to compensate for this by showing it only in quick shots is effective to a degree but still would have been better done with the Sehlat entirely out of sight. Just as the electrical sandstorm worked much better as flashes from behind rocks, so too the Sehlat worked better as a growl than a CG creation. Special effects problems also plague the embassy bombing with the pillar collapsing blast scene looking just downright silly. I don’t know if ENTERPRISE’s budget has been cut or just stretched (in light of the lower UPN licensing fee) but in such a situation, suggestion is better than showing poor effects.

All in all “The Forge” raises some interesting ideas and possibilities but lacks real meaning until future episodes pick up the ball or don’t.

Next week: I’ve got Surak in my head and I can’t get him out.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Augments

Synopsis: The Augments attempt to stage an attack to begin a war between Earth and the Klingon Empire, which is thwarted by Enterprise and a defecting Soong.

star trek enterprise augments

Superior genetics... Superior Brooding

Review: “The Augments” is a fairly predictable conclusion to the three-part arc that lacks the stumbling incompetence of “Borderland” and the strong dramatic center of “Cold Station 12,” leaving it an episode without any real strengths or weaknesses. The result is mostly bland and cliched and few moments in the episode manage to make you sit up and take notice.

Malik proceeds on the usual self-destructive course of villains ticking off every cliche along the way, right down to a shock horror movie-style reappearance when you least expect it. Brent Spiner‘s Soong, who was responsible for much of the strength of “Cold Station 12,” still gives a committed performance but the writing fails to give him a partner to play off the way that last week’s installment did. Where “Cold Station 12” engaged him in a destructive father-son dynamic with Malik, Soong mainly ignores Malik here, producing scenes that don’t really spark. Even when the two talk, the dialogue is increasingly trite and rings hollow. The actors are clearly making an effort and the acting is the best part of “The Augments” but the writing just isn’t there.

Once Soong leaves the Augments’ Klingon ship we’re left with him trying to make his case to Archer, who in true Archer fashion never pays attention. At the heart of Soong’s story is a tragedy of hubris and love that Spiner understands but that the structure of the episode fails to bring out properly. Where “Cold Station 12” functioned more as a stage play, “The Augments” is a formulaic episode that moves from programmed confrontation to action scene but doesn’t enable the actors to really grapple with each other emotionally, intellectually, or morally. The arguments for the Augments — and thus genetic engineering itself — being evil are supposed to underlie the episode are quite weak, too. Archer tells Soong that Malik’s actions prove that the Augments are innately ruthless mass murderers but that may or may not be the case. The Augments were shaped by events.

First by being deprived of a father figure in Soong and left to be raised alone and amoral as feral wolf children. Second by being hunted by

star trek enterprise augments

Genetic Superman, Robots, is there anything he can't do?

Starfleet and an awareness that human society would not tolerate their very existence. The first resulted in a lack of morals other than obedience to leaders, from Soong to Malik, who told them exactly what to do. The second caused them to feel persecuted and hunted so that they felt they had no choice but to kill. Even Malik does not use weapons of mass destruction until Archer pursues them into Klingon space, even though of course he had taken them along before hand.

The distinction is that the Augments did not seek to rule humanity, they wanted to be left alone. On the flimsy excuse of conflict with the Klingons, Starfleet refused to do that. However Archer then pursues them into Klingon space and damages a Klingon ship, something which should have caused in a war with the Klingons at least as much as the Augments’ actions. Malik suggests to Soong that Starfleet will simply help the Klingons find them and one wonders why Archer doesn’t do this. The Klingons may be angry with Enterprise but they would still be happy enough to capture the Augments and it is their territory, after all.

But reasonable behavior is not standard in “The Augments,” where things play out formulaically and everything is nicely resolved even to the extent that Archer never has to confront what should happen to the Augments when Malik conveniently destroys them all. If the embryos had survived at least and Archer had to ponder keeping them around or not, it might have been an interesting moral dilemma. Similarly, Persis or any other Augment could have abandoned Malik and survived, raising the question of what humanity should do with them and what role they could play in humanity. But “The Augments” eradicates this and most other questions, leaving Soong planning to build artificial beings in a nod to Data. Of course, ironically, quite a few of the stories involving robots also involve them turning on mankind.

All in all “The Augments” has some nice continuity references from Botany Bay to the Briar Patch. It had some strong acting weakened by deeply formulaic writing. It has the occasional entertaining moment such as Archer bluffing his way past the Klingons but unlike “Borderland” such moments are all but absent from the episode. Few tough questions are raised and most problems are easily solved and the Klingons apparently let Enterprise leave their space easily enough even after Enterprise damages one of their ships and Archer has a Klingon bounty on his head as an escapee from a Klingon Gulag (a piece of continuity that would have been more helpful for the episode to bring up rather than the Briar Patch of all things.)

Ultimately “The Augments” is neither a bad episode nor a good episode, it doesn’t stand out in either way. Like the Augments characterize humanity – it’s simply mediocre.

Next week: Vulcan Trek.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Cold Station 12

Synopsis: Soong and his augements set out to recover their fellow augments.

Review: “Cold Station 12″‘s opening establishes precisely what was wrong with “Borderland” and why, by contrast, “Cold Station 12” works quite well. It opens with Dr Soong teaching the Augment children, investing passion and dedication into them. Like the more famous Soong after him, he uses his science to create surrogate children for himself. Children who embody his scientific work.

star trek enterprise cold station 12While much of “Cold Station 12″‘s plot is in fact a series of cliches, the tension between Soong’s commitment to his family and his ethical and moral norms serve to provide the real meat of the episode. And this tension is of course at the heart of the eugenics question as expressed in STAR TREK. Do we make our children more than they are and by doing so give to them at the cost of others? It is significant, after all, that the character sent to stop Soong from creating his family — Archer — must first grapple and then disregard his own family, his father, in order to carry out his mission.

Brent Spiner has also dramatically improved in “Cold Station 12”. Gone is his comic performance of “Borderland” and his persistent mugging for the camera. Much of the credit undoubtedly goes to veteran STAR TREK director Mike Vejar, who does another excellent job directing this episode. But Spiner is clearly committed to the material in “Cold Station 12” now that he has something to work with in the episode, unlike “Borderland” where he was primarily a foil for Archer to bounce self-righteous dialogue off. His Soong throughout the episode shows passion, pain and guilt.

When Archer backs off, thus avoiding the necessity for Soong to kill Dr. Lucas, relief flashes across Soong’s face to be replaced by arrogant posturing as he turns back to threaten Archer. His scenes with Malik work out like a stage play of a conflict between father and son. Particularly notable is the Abel and Cain episode in which Soong demands to know what happened to Malik’s brother. A new race has been created and already engaged in fratricide and their only god is weak and self-deluded, which makes him all the more pitifully human.

Having the station’s director be the same Dr. Lucas that Phlox corresponds with is a nice touch and a way of making a throwaway character whom we would otherwise ignore more accessible and important. Richard Riehle, whom some viewers may remember from the famous TNG episode “The Inner Light,” turns in quite a good performance as Dr. Lucas in what would generally be a disposable role.

There are of course weaknesses in the episode. Starfleet’s ruthless willingness to wipe out the entire crew of the station over what amounts to a hostage crisis, particularly in a somewhat more pacifistic period seems dubious; as is T’Pol and the crew’s willingness to toss away Archer’s life along with that of their crewmembers rather than look for another solution especially since the Augments were essentially bottled in.

This kind of ruthlessness narrows the moral gap significantly between Soong and Starfleet since ultimately both are prepared to kill innocent people. But where Soong is prepared to kill people to arguably create life, Starfleet is willing to wipe out a station full of people to prevent a race they consider to be a threat from being created. And while the Augments are certainly a threat and a menace, so are the Klingons and the Cardassians and many others. At what point, after all, does it become a genocide?

But then for all its dramatic strengths, “Cold Station 12” is notably weak on engaging in the moral issues. Its strength is in the characters and their choices, which are less morally than personally driven. Both Soong and Malik have a vision but their visions are not compatible and in the end the son seeking to be his own man, both physically and intellectually, must ultimately turn on the father.

This itself becomes a metaphor for the plight of genetic engineering humans and may explain why no other species aside from the Suliban seems eager to recreate itself in a superhuman image. Sooner or later the children turn on the parents. And while the Cardassians or Romulans might like to make themselves even stronger and faster than ever, they understand that this would lead to the eradication of their species in favor of a new race. Only humans seem to have instincts, which are faulty, as Archer puts it.

What is unique about humans? Is it because of human arrogance, as the conventional wisdom of the Eugenics Wars would have it? “Cold Station 12” suggests it may be less about arrogance or greed for power than it is about love. STAR TREK has often expressed platitudes about the human capacity for love but in “Cold Station 12”, an ironically fitting name, love itself is what brings us low. And so fittingly we leave Dr. Soong studying the containers of embryos with the longing of a father reunited with his long lost children. The children born of both his mind and his heart, which have ultimately led to his moral destruction.

Next week: Soong’s final act ends in a nocturne.

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