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Monthly Archives: January 2005

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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Babel One

Synopsis: Enterprise is sent to escort the Tellarite ambassador to a peace conference with the Andorians only to find themselves in the path of a mysterious ship sabotaging the talks.

star trek enterprise babel oneReview: “Babel One” looks set to be the first episode of the first great three-part series, not only in this season of ENTERPRISE but of STAR TREK as a whole (which admittedly is not that difficult since there isn’t all that much solid competition.)

Many of “Babel One”‘s elements are admittedly not original. The peace conference and the enemy out to sabotage it for example are a staple of STAR TREK. STAR TREK VI’s plot, for example, hinged around a peace conference and a staged attack using a prototype cloaked ship. ENTERPRISE’s own pilot, “Broken Bow”, revolved around Enterprise transporting a Klingon home while being ambushed by Suliban with special abilities. So did the season’s closing episode.

But discarding the question of originality, “Babel One” is a strong episode that sets out the relationships between the alien species that will make up the Federation, features strong characters, decisive moves by Archer, cinematic quality direction, top notch special effects and a story that moves quickly and efficiently. Despite its status as a prequel to the Original Series and an episode that focuses heavily on Original Series species’, including some we barely ever saw outside TOS, in many ways “Babel One” more strongly resembles a TNG episode. Indeed in its focus on diplomatic measures and alliance building, the conspiracies of the Romulans and the blend of humor and suspense makes “Babel One” far closer to TNG than any other series.

The camera work on “Babel One” at times moves into gimmicky range and is rather flashy but it’s also enjoyable to watch especially during some of the Andorian fight scenes or Shran jumping down to the deck from above. The special effects are also excellent. The angle of the Tellarite shuttle’s arrival is well done. Romulus is simply spectacular and the Romulan ship is massive and eerie in a way that suggests cinematic quality effects. Even the production values are well done with the Romulan ship’s corridors appropriately spooky and alien.

T’Pol is flat this week again, though she really is given little to do, but the rest of the cast turn in solid performances. Archer is edgier now, and seems more willing to snap at Trip. Trip and Reed are recovering their relationship again and the actors play off each other cleverly and naturally. There’s even a reference to “Shuttlepod One” in their banter. The one weak note is struck by Brian Thompson, best known from the X-FILES, who is hired primarily because of his size. Whatever menace he has is ruined however whenever he opens his mouth and he is rather unsuitable for a Romulan commander, as Romulans are expected to be clever and devious, rather than large and bombastic. Thompson would have worked well enough as a Klingon, but as a Romulan he’s the dumb kid trying to play 3D chess.

From the clever Hoshi and Archer dialogue training at the start of the episode (though does Archer really need Hoshi to teach him how to insult people?) to the introduction of the Tellarites, the episode moves smoothly to intrigue and suspense and revelation. It’s simple and yet ENTERPRISE’s past seasons are littered with episodes seemingly incapable of mastering cohesion or style. Jeffrey Combs as Shran is an always welcome character and while his relationship with Archer is still often acrimonious, he clearly is letting his guard down more. Archer for his part clearly has a certain camaraderie towards Shran despite their endless clashes. It’s a good thing too, as a character that has often come off as a weak and unprofessional Starship Captain.

Shran reveals that like Archer he was also the commander of the first ship of its class and his revelation about Talas seems to tie in with Archer’s own possible thoughts about T’Pol. And aside from telling us more than we needed to know about Andorian mating practices, this is the only weak point about the plot. T’Pol mentions that her ‘divorce’ from her non-husband is official and now suddenly her status is up in the air again. Reed seems to know that she and Trip had something together, though it’s not clear how. Long after that storyline seemed to have been dropped, Archer is displaying an interest in T’Pol again. The camera angles in their scene together as Archer asks if “they’re moving too fast” are a particularly odd touch.

Of course T’Pol had left her husband in “Kir’Shara” yet suddenly ENTERPRISE has defaulted back into its old folly of ‘There’s Something About T’Pol.’ STAR TREK has not had a good history of crew relations. ENTERPRISE has had a thoroughly awful one. While some may pine away for the glory days of season three when T’Pol began losing her mind and giving Trip massages to help him stop stressing over the few million dead back on earth or “A Night in Sickbay” in which Archer worried desperately over his dog and T’Pol in that exact order of importance, the rest of us would rather watch reruns of Welcome Back Kotter translated into Norwegian than another painfully contrived attempt at romance. Let alone some abomination such as a storyline in which Trip and Archer fight over T’Pol. Personally I’d rather sit through The Passion 2: The Christening than Archer and Trip yelling over which of them will have the chance to spend the rest of their lives annoying each other to death. ENTERPRISE has an opportunity here, to explore interspecies relations minus the innuendo. Hopefully it will not waste it again in the hopes of luring a few fans with yet another pointless relationship or T’Pol in skimpy outfits. It did not work in season three or any other season. It will not work now.

“Babel One” is a strong episode at a time when ENTERPRISE desperately needs one. It contains many of the basic ingredients that can save the show and can make itthe series it was meant to be, about building the Federation and bringing us into the era of Captain Kirk’s Enterprise. Many people accuse critics of Enterprise of hating the series. I cannot speak for everyone but I hope that ENTERPRISE survives. I hope to see a fifth season and a sixth one after that. I don’t believe that will happen, though, without improvements in quality and without a shift in focus. “Babel One” is what ENTERPRISE needs to be doing if it is to have a fifth season.

STAR TREK is a great universe and it would be a terrible shame for it to die here and now. Much as when the fictional Enterprise is in peril, the power to save it lies with the writers. They can decide ultimately if it lives or dies by working hard enough and well enough and making the right choices to save the series. Ultimately it is not the fans or UPN who will keep ENTERPRISE alive, it is its writers. People like Manny Cotto, Mike Sussman and Andre Bormanis among others have shown they’re capable of producing good and even great episodes. In their hands rests the future of the franchise.

Next week: Archer vs Shran, but where’s the referee?

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Observer Effect

Synopsis: Aliens capable of possessing the bodies of the crew at will observe their reactions to a deadly virus.

Review: It’s another episode from the Reeves-Stevenses, best known for writing William Shatner’s novels, and, like “The Forge” before it, at star trek enterprise observer effecttimes comes off more suited for a written format than a visual one. Nonetheless “Observer Effect” is one of the strongest episodes of the season thus far, in no small part because of veteran STAR TREK director Mike Vejar’s work in conveying the eerie qualities of the aliens.

While the basic premise of “Observer Effect” is nothing unusual, suggesting any number of STAR TREK episodes from TNG’s “Where Silence Has Lease” and VOYAGER’s “Scientific Method”, what sets “Observer Effect” apart is that like “Daedalus” it stylistically and thematically strongly resembles classic STAR TREK episodes. Indeed scenes such as Archer’s and Phlox’s confrontations with the aliens are strongly suggestive of Kirk and McCoy. By contrast, though, the chess opening of the episode is more in line with the stylistic flair of VOYAGER or third season ENTERPRISE.

The opening suggests a series of maneuvers; a game of chess that will be played out until the endgame, which is a surprising reversal of the strategic situation by emotional means. It is also a metaphor with the alien possessing Reed as the logical rule-bound type who can predict outcomes ultimately being outmaneuvered by emotion, which he cannot predict. Human emotions, empathy and its very irrationality stymie logic as effectively as they stymie the predictive abilities of the alien using Reed as a host.

“Observer Effect” opens with the aliens acting as observers studying the humans around them and ends with them departing, making alien observers the bookends of the episode in another noteworthy stylistic touch that we have seen in the past but is still worth mentioning. With the question of originality there are of course dozens of episodes from the Original Series and through VOYAGER that could be referenced but then it’s increasingly hard for ENTERPRISE to do a genuinely original story. “Observer Effect” is a worthwhile reworking of classic STAR TREK themes, namely human empathy vs. highly developed but cruel intelligences and self-sacrifice vs. logical cost and benefit analysis.

Mike Vejar’s excellent direction of course brings the eerie concept of alien possession to a whole new level. And it is interesting to note that about the only time Anthony Montgomery takes center stage and about the only time he’s interesting is when an alien has taken possession of his body for the entire episode. Reed, who has also been woefully neglected this season, gets a little screen time too — albeit as another possessed body — but he manages to make the most of what little time he has. Hoshi surprisingly also gets a good deal of sudden development, though the poker story is dubious and simply doesn’t fit with the character as depicted at all. Trip mainly reprises his sick and out of it material from “Shuttlepod One”, which gives him rather little to do but he does it capably enough.

All in all, “Observer Effect” much like “Daedalus”, is a good episode somewhat mired by a lack of originality and an overly abrupt ending. But it nevertheless strongly resonates of the Original Series and features some strong performances and excellent direction and will be a worthy addition to your tape library once ENTERPRISE goes off the air.

Next week: Andorians are feeling blue and the Tellarites haven’t discovered razors yet but it was good of “Observer Effect” to reference Tellarites and beat the Tellarite referencing rush.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Daedalus

Synopsis: When an old friend of Archer’s family, who also happens to be the inventor of the Transporter, comes on board, Archer endangers his ship and crew to try and help him save his son.

star trek enterprise daedaleusReview: “Daedalus” is in some ways an inverted version of STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE’s classic and beloved episode “The Visitor.” Where “The Visitor” was the struggle of Jake Sisko to recover his father at great sacrifice, to end in reunion and relief, “Daedalus” inverts this story in more ways than one by portraying it as the struggle of a father to save his son and a struggle that is ultimately misguided and hopeless.

The episode also contains elements from such classic STAR TREK episodes as “The Conscience of the King” and TNG’s “Too Short A Season”, though in quality it is closer to the latter than any of the aforementioned. While “Daedaleus” is a competent episode, it is ultimately not a great one, which it could have been. Still, in this and a number of ways “Daedalus” reflects ENTERPRISE’s closeness to the original series.

Through Archer’s conversations with Emory we have a better picture of the men who helped pioneer the early rough and tumble days of Starfleet and the sacrifices they made. The transporter takes on a different tinge when we begin to consider that men and women had to die to create it. As with many great inventions, there are great sacrifices to be made and Emory represents the Promothean fate of those who try to bring the fire of science to man.

STAR TREK has not had good luck with geniuses who come on board to test new experiments. Consider Daystrom of the Original Series’ “The Ultimate Computer”, which this episode also draws from in some ways. Then we have “Where No One Has Gone Before”, in which the Enterprise-D ends up discovering all sorts of distant galaxies full of pretty lights. And already this season ENTERPRISE’s three-episode encounter with Dr. Soong does not end on a particularly high note. All in all, it seems as if the next time a scientific genius tries to come on board Enterprise they should strongly consider blasting him out of space before it’s too late.

Science and scientific invention are often abstract qualities. An inventor, a central inventor, as increasingly outmoded as such things may be, helps personalize the invention as a human product rather than an abstract mechanical one. The machine, the computer, the technology is given certain human qualities or at least made more personal by attaching a human story to it. And while STAR TREK is science fiction, it is often light science fiction that can slip into the conventional Luddite attacks on science. “Daedalus” is fortunately not such an episode and while Emory is not particularly moral, he is human rather than villainous. Like many great Original Series episodes, the character of Emory is worked out and defined and made human and his failings make him all the more fallible when playing god. Indeed “Daedalus”‘ greatest failing as an episode may be the miscasting of Emory in a role that required a greater and far more capable actor in it.

To have been truly great, “Daedalus” needed its own Tony Todd, who played the adult Jake Sisko on “The Visitor.” Sadly it had Bill Cobbs, an actor better known for sitcom roles and playing cranky old men cliches in TV and film than in serious acting. Here, he is simply not up to the part which required an actor with a strong theatrical background.

Additionally the episode suffers from occasional abrupt editing that may be caused by reduction in allowed episode running time. The entire device of Emory’s son appearing as a ghost is a potentially interesting one and was used to great effect in “The Visitor.” However having him appear as a dangerous formless being who kills and in poltergeist style destroys equipment and walls was a far more dubious choice. It provided the element of danger and suspense but it’s not altogether certain that these elements were needed or had to be created in this way. While it made both Emory and Archer’s choices more difficult and controversial, in some ways the danger distracted from the core of the story by turning Quinn into a roving danger prowling the ship. Had the danger come from the Barrens themselves and Enterprise’s exposure to a dangerous area of space, that might have made the moral dilemma less cartoony and put the focus back on Emory.

Ultimately, like the Augments three-part episode, “Daedalus” is about the tragedy of a genius falling through his own conscience and the decisions he makes.

Next week: Crew members are experimented on and PETA never leaps to object.

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