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Monthly Archives: February 2005

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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Divergence

Synopsis: Columbia and Enterprise team up to rescue Phlox.

star trek enterprise divergenceReview: In retrospect, it seems as if “Divergence” and “Affliction” would have made stronger episodes if they were aired together as one large two-parter, the way some TNG and VOYAGER episodes have been in the past. While it’s an entertaining episode, “Divergence” is following up on far too much of the plot “Affliction” set into place to be as strong on its own.

Columbia’s rescue of Enterprise is probably ENT’s best use of ship and character-based special effects since “Minefield” and arguably surpasses it. It also has the sense of adventure and excitement that ENT has been sorely lacking for some time. Indeed the scene is spectacular enough that even on its own it’s likely to be remembered for some time.

Phlox, arguably the show’s best character and who has been all too often neglected, has gotten a much needed focus in “Affliction” and “Divergence” and it seems fitting that he is the one offering the ultimatum to the Admiral, rather than Archer. Not just because using biological weapons seems a bit of a stretch for Starfleet (though not so much of one considering “For The Uniform”) but because it lets Phlox shine in a completely unexpected scene that would have been a cliche had it featured Archer.

Trip’s sulking is, however, still tedious but at least it’s understated now and for once we actually get to see why he’s considered a great chief engineer in one of the more exciting engineering crisis scenes since Scotty was drinking and powering up warp engines on the old Enterprise (no bloody A,B,C,D or E). This is all the more of an accomplishment considering ENT’s rather boring warp engine, which unlike the spectacular lava lamp engines of TNG and VOY is really nothing to look at. The Director of the episode also appears to be experimenting with smash zooms that are somewhat cliched as a technique but bring a little life to the action scenes.

The sense of galactic politics and scale isn’t nearly as strong in “Divergence” with a lot of the material losing steam along the way and becoming reduced to individual character conflicts. Still, Reed’s moral dilemma is well played even if it’s not quite as gripping as it should be. The plot involving the Klingon general and his son is as hopeless as Archer’s brow ridges. Archer, meanwhile, once again in two months risks his life to expose himself to a virus for the greater good. There simply have been a few too many stories in which Archer is ready to give his life in suicidal actions and it’s almost as if he has a death wish by now.

Archer’s role in the episode is really nothing too spectacular, especially considering that his best moment of the episode involves talking to his dog. Bakula himself may look back proudly on his ENT acting days if he chooses to, but the scene of him writhing with the virus won’t be one of them. Instead it’s one of the unintentionally funniest bits of the series. His brow ridges though seem like a nice TOS reference to James Kirk’s Romulan ears, left over from “The Enterprise Incident.”

And it is scenes and references like that, which tell you that even if Manny Coto’s season four doesn’t always get it right, its heart is in the right place and so is “Divergence”‘s spirit. While the episode falters in places it is ultimately a work of love and a valentine to STAR TREK. It should be remembered as one.

Next week: Temporal incursions better known as reruns.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Affliction

Synopsis: Columbia’s launch coincides with Phlox’s kidnapping and an unfolding disaster in the Klingon empire.

Review: If you close your eyes for a moment you could almost imagine “Affliction” as part one of ENTERPRISE’s pilot, a pilot that might have been and might have fueled a stronger and better STAR TREK series. Instead, it features the launch not of Enterprise but of Columbia, the younger sister and rather than being the pilot, it is one of the show’s final episodes – as the promos now trumpet with glee-like excitement.

star trek enterprise afflictionIf Season four will be remembered for nothing else, it will be for finally paying attention to STAR TREK continuity and making a good faith effort to be not the new and edgy and hip STAR TREK Berman and Braga tried to make it, but a portrayal of the years leading up to the original series, to Enterprise NCC-1701 (no bloody A, B, C, D or E) and the universe as it was then. If ENTERPRISE will be remembered for little else, “Affliction” will likely go down in the fan record books as finally solving the great Klingon dilemma and the racial gap between TOS Klingons and TNG Klingons in a clever and plausible way.

ENT’s relationship to continuity has often been downright abusive and while season four has not always gotten it right, it has done what no other STAR TREK series has done since TNG and shown affection and respect to the original series that started it all and made an honest effort to follow in its footsteps. It is perhaps not surprising that it was thanked with the same treatment meted out to the original series of being shunted to an unpopular time slot and then cancelled. But unlike the Original Series, whose third season was often dismal and disappointing in comparison to its earlier work, ENT’s season four cannot be accused of that and episodes like “Affliction” are a large part of the reason why.

Reminiscent of the larger-scale galactic episodes of TNG and DS9 that seem to have almost forgotten, “Affliction” sweepingly moves from earth to the Klingon Empire, from Section 31 to the Augments, from the intimate depths of Trip and T’Pol’s minds to the scope of galactic threats and counterthreats and the birth of a new Klingon race. “Affliction” is in many ways what the “United” trilogy should have been but wasn’t. It also admirably fits the characters into the scale and scope of galactic events. From Hoshi’s mindmeld to T’Pol and Trip being drawn together even from far away to Phlox’s moral dilemma and that of the Klingon doctor instrumental in bringing him there, to Reed locked in a physical cell and the moral cell of his conflicting obligations; the characters are not left out nor are they saddled with makeshift threats as was the case in “United.”

Like TNG and DS9’s O’Brien, Reed is a man of duty with a black and white view of the world. DS9’s strongest episodes often came in testing O’Brien by pitting his black and white loyalties against the grayer universe that forced him to do immoral things such as in “The Assignment.” Reed’s strong sense of duty combined with his black and white view of the world causes Section 31 to be a far more tenacious test for him than it ever was for bumbling Bashir.

Meanwhile T’Pol’s mental abilities are expanding with a mind meld to Hoshi that is almost casual and then drawing Trip and even Hoshi into her mind. Despite being set up in “Observer Effect,” Hoshi’s martial arts are still unbelievable but overall good use is made of her. Meanwhile on Columbia, Captain Hernandez is proving to be a credible Captain and Trip a better engineer when he abandons the histrionics and concentrates on doing his job. All too often it was hard to grasp why with his complete lack of professionalism Trip had the job he did, “Affliction” reminds us that he’s actually good at something beyond yelling and throwing fits.

The Klingon response to the Augments is both logical and resolves the long-standing contradiction of two Klingon races. The core idea of genetically-engineered Klingons is not all together original, but the solution and its integration are. At least ENT will be remembered for bringing the Klingon races together and bridging one of STAR TREK’s more enduring gaps;not between its period and that of TOS but between TOS and TNG. All in all, “Affliction” is a strong beginning for what hopefully will be an even stronger conclusion.

Next week: Archer gets ridged.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Aenar

Synopsis: Archer and Shran’s quest to stop the Romulan drone takes them to Andoria and an Andorian sub-species of blind telepathic pacifists.

star trek enterprise aenarReview: “The Aenar” is not a bad episode or a particularly good one. As an episode that stands on its own it’s reminiscent of some TOS and TNG episodes, though still dramatically weak. As a follow-up to a three part series of episodes dealing with the birth of the Federation and the rise of the Romulan menace, it’s effectively a no-show. If “Unity” sidelined much of the alliance and the Romulan threat in favor of Shran’s desire for vengeance, “The Aenar” sidelines much of it in favor of well…the Aenar themselves.

The Aenar are interesting in some ways and if nothing else can be said for ENTERPRISE it has managed to explore the Andorians far more than STAR TREK ever has. It’s not the best epitaph for a series but it’s better than no epitaph at all. Still, where “Babel One” and even “United” were laying the groundwork for the birth of the Federation, “The Aenar” isn’t laying the groundwork for much in particular. Ultimately the Andorian trilogy fails because it feels the need to drag in too many divergent elements to the point that it increasingly loses its dramatic focus and by “The Aenar” has no clear point.

In “Babel One” Enterprise was dealing with a Romulan threat and the need to bring about peace between Andorians and Tellarites. In “United,” Enterprise crafted an alliance between them to stop the Romulan threat. In “The Aenar,” the Tellarites are discarded and the alliance has really come to nothing, failing to stop the Romulan drone, and so the solution comes from the telepathic link between an Andorian brother and sister. It’s not an entirely uninteresting story but it’s not the birth of the Federation either.

The hidden underground city and its interiors and the Aenar themselves do seem like a TOS throwback though the situation lacks the intensity TOS would have invested in it. By a convenient coincidence of course it is also the sister of the kidnapped Aenar who encounters Archer and Shran. Though the Aenar are secretive and no more than a handful of Andorians have ever seen an Aenar, they seem to have no problem inviting Archer and Shran to their hidden underground city and have contacts with the Andorian government. Quite a lot for a half-mythical species barely anyone believed existed. Thus while “The Aenar” is a throwback to TOS, it also feels like a throwback to ENTERPRISE’s first season.

The Romulan story has become increasingly weak, being limited to political tension that Brian Thompson is simply not capable of carrying. His tale of being a former disgraced Senator who questioned the warmongering of the Romulan Empire might have added depth to the Admiral’s character an episode ago but is now just a detail thrown in far too late and performed by an actor not at all capable of using it to add subtlety and depth to the character. THE X-FILES understood Brian Thompson’s limitations and used him appropriately. ENTERPRISE made him the chief antagonist and then kept him safe far from the action. This is not the ideal formula for great drama and it’s no surprise that it doesn’t deliver any great or even particularly mediocre drama.

Jeffery Combs is still doing his best as Shran and bonds far better with the Aenar girl than he did with Talas and remains the most watchable part of the episode. Scott Bakula has improved a good deal since the first season and there has been real growth to his character. By contrast Connor Trineer’s Trip and Jolene’s T’Pol remain tedious and annoying and their soap opera detracts from what strengths “The Aenar” has by burdening the episode with yet more silly dramatics. It’s almost enough to make one appreciate sitting through Paris and Torres’ soap opera. At least there was more yelling and Klingon weapons and less passive aggressive whining. Now Trip is asking for a transfer and Archer seems to be the only one left on board Enterprise who doesn’t know about him and T’Pol.

It isn’t as if anything can save ENTERPRISE now despite the well-intentioned if ultimately futile attempts to influence UPN and Paramount executives; still, with this being quite possibly the last year of STAR TREK ever, it would have been nice if the series had produced a higher level of quality towards its end. “Babel One” had the potential to lead to a truly great and memorable three-part episode that dealt with the Romulans and the birth of the Federation and perhaps justified ENTERPRISE’s existence. Instead it stands out as a strong episode followed by increasing mediocrity.

Next week: Phlox in peril or is that phleril?

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – United

Synopsis: Enterprise forms an alliance of Andorians, Tellarites, Vulcans and humans to pursue the Romulan marauder.

star trek enterprise unitedReview: “United” is a serviceable episode, though significantly weaker than “Babel One”, in no small part because the story of the alliance gets reduced to a feud between Shran and a Tellarite. This is unfortunate since it pushes away the greatest strengths of the storyline in favor of a rather familiar STAR TREK cliche and a pointless action scene.

Jeffrey Combs once again does his best as Shran but the material that he’s given teeters on the absurd and that does little to help matters. Meanwhile, the Romulan drone has proven to be a rather weak threat and quite unimpressive in comparison to its appearance in “Babel One” and only manages to survive by chance and lots of system redundancies.

The alliance, the early stirrings of the Federation, which was supposed to take center stage, instead occurs on the periphery. We never even see an actual Vulcan, aside from T’Pol, which would have been a nice touch, and we never get any of the sense of drama and momentum that, for example, hummed under the workings of the Xindi alliance with Enterprise. Instead it seems as if somewhere out there are ships, all hunting down a drone, which seems like overkill. Especially as the drone proves to be little match for even Enterprise, let alone Andorian or Vulcan ships which are supposed to be more powerful, and its only ability to cloak itself is quickly neutralized.

Still, “United”‘s strongest moments are its character interactions. Trip and Reed’s friendship is nicely renewed in scenes that echo “Two Days and Two Nights” and “Shuttlepod One.” Archer and Shran have some strong scenes together and even Hoshi and Ensign Mayweather have a scene that’s oddly more lively than a lot of the rest of the episode.

Overall, though, Shran’s romance and tragic lost love was a poor idea, poorly executed, and when it becomes the main preoccupation of “United” it really becomes an awful one. The actual duel looks silly, the weapons they fight with look silly and the conclusion, which is sillier still, only make things worse. Archer defeating Shran is simply not credible. Shran giving up after losing an antenna is not credible either. From everything we’ve seen he’s determined to the point of madness, he is hardly going to give up avenging the woman he loves because Archer briefly outmaneuvered him.

Finally, if the theme of this episode is unity, then there is a distinct shortage of it. If the theme is building the Federation, there’s a distinct shortage of that too. The alliance we have here seems no more enduring so far than the one Janeway formed in “The Void,” less so actually, since no one involved seems to be doing very much interacting.

“United” needed to show a lot more and tell less. It needed to sustain the momentum of “Babel One” but sadly it didn’t. It needed to be well-paced, insightful and funny. It wasn’t. ENTERPRISE needed to survive past this season but it didn’t. Sic transit and all the rest.

Next week: Andorians with really pale eyes.

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