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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Kir’Shara

Synopsis: Archer brings Surak’s teachings to Vulcan, T’Pol leaves her husband and Trip annoys both Andorians and Vulcans.

star trek enterprise kir'sharaReview: The final third part of the Vulcan arc is the most action packed of the three paying off on much of the material that had been set up by the far slower and often more turgid previous two episodes. Ultimately a lot of the action scenes such as Archer fighting the Vulcans as T’Pol is captured are superfluous and really don’t do much for the story but they still speed up the pace and make the episode flow quicker at the very least as a substitute for much of the pointless arguments that characterized Awakening. The highlight of the episode though is unsurprisingly enough Shran who thanks to Jeffrey Combs always wonderful performances immediately brings life to any scene or episode.

Indeed Shran’s scenes with Ambassador Soval are the most compelling moments that Kir’Shara or any episode in the three part arc or for that matter this season have to offer and are highly reminiscent of Garak’s interrogations of Odo. This is of course somewhat ironic since these scenes also stray from the episode’s format of ‘Archer with Surak in his Head Saves Vulcan’ but at the same time point the way to something far deeper which is Andorian and Vulcan reconciliation. The reconciliation of a clash of opposing philosophies between Andorian aggression and self-centeredness and Vulcan non-violence and self-awareness would have made for some compelling material. Particularly as Soval appears to be the last Vulcan on Enterprise actually acting like a Vulcan instead of a human with pointy ears.

Unfortunately any of this is scrapped in favor of the culmination of four years of evil Vulcan plots on Enterprise with the most evil Vulcan of all as V’Las continues behaving like a completely demented and unhinged villain. He’s not acting like a Vulcan or even a Romulan but every villain cliche in the book right down to detaining a minister who protests against his actions. And of course his downfall comes in cliched villain style as Archer and T’Pau saunter into the room and put everything to rights in a matter of minutes. Sense this makes little, as Yoda might say.

First we begin with the premise that the Vulcan High Command completely warped Vulcan philosophy. How long this has been going on for is entirely unknown but since Vulcans aren’t disagreeing with them combined with the Vulcan lifespan one would suspect a figure of at least five centuries or maybe a thousand years. A few Romulan collaborators fail to explain all this. Furthermore this twist ending dodges the complex questions the episode posed initially about the authenticity of the transmission of religious teachings and the nature of Vulcans. It reduces a complex philosophical debate to a matter of punching out or Vulcan neck pinching the right guy at the right time. And thus complex religious and philosophical problems are resolved.

In Awakening Surak claimed that even Syran himself was too corrupted to properly be the guardian of his teachings, by Kir’Shara simply flashing some of Surak’s teaching on a holographic screen was enough to end all the violence. And what key element does Archer bring to all this that he needed to be selected above anyone else to be the savior of Vulcan morality? Well he punches people a lot. He also seems to have little trouble defeating Vulcans in hand to hand combat despite the complete strength inequities. Rather than any kind of revelation or meaningful conclusion all Kir’Shara really offers is a standard villain’s downfall plot that in this case doesn’t even make a whole lot of sense.

It remains then for the showdown between the Andorian and Vulcan fleets to offer what little suspense the episode has to offer. And here Jeffery Coombs and Gary Graham’s performances continue to stand out and even Trip does a surprisingly competent job in command. It’s possible to quibble that humans are once again getting foolishly involved in a conflict between two species, either of which could blow the Enterprise to bits, but the door closed on that particular objection years ago. Still Enterprise attacking a Vulcan cruiser, considering the disparity in firepower hangs on the lunatic fringe. As it taking sides in a conflict in which neither side is all that clean.

All in all Kir’Shrara contributes some interesting elements to the Enterprise reinterpretation of the STAR TREK universe. Its touches of continuity drawn on the STAR TREK universe are nice as are the attempts to bring Enterprise continuity closer in line to the continuity of the STAR TREK universe. Nevertheless the three-part arc suffers from serious writing handicaps and the Augments arc did a far more credible job dramatically because ultimately it knew what it was about. It was about the tragic failure of a single man. What is the Vulcan arc about? Religious or philosophical truth? Archer learning to accept Vulcans? T’Pol learning to accept her mother? Discovering that T’Pau liked to wear gaudy makeup when she was young? The relationship between Humans and Vulcans? Vulcans and Andorians? All of these and more are present and none of these are properly executed or concluded.

Instead the three-part arc essentially consists of the search for a magical artifact that will set all problems to right. This is a rather simple and classic story. However its execution is crude and stumbles repeatedly. The discovery of the artifact is repeatedly dragged out and its use is too simplistic and anti-climactic. The Augments arc was a tragedy. The Vulcan arc veers between Archer Jones and the Holographic Vulcan Tablets of Wisdom and muddled and unfocused character melodrama. Neither makes proper use of Vulcan and Vulcans. Neither addresses the philosophical issues the episodes try fitfully to raise. Archer Jones and the Holographic Vulcan Tablets of Wisdom occasionally makes for entertaining viewing, particularly in The Forge and Kir’Shara. But as Yoda might or might not say, yet not in Archer punching people a lot does a good episode lie.

Finally continuity is important but continuity cannot and does not substitute for good writing, for good drama or for a good episode. Continuity is like the binding of a book. Without it all you have are loose pages. But if there’s nothing worth reading on the pages, what use is the continuity?

Next week: Super-intelligent and genetically engineered reruns.

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.

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.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Zero Hour

Synopsis: Archer tackles the weapon, T’Pol tackles the Spheres and Enterprise tackles a rewrite of Planet of the Apes

Review: Zero Hour most obviously refers to the countdown to the Weapon’s attack on Earth. Of course it’s also a sly reference to the final twist of the episode which plunges an already teetering storyline into sheer lunacy.

star trek enterprise zero hour For the most part Zero Hour’s strongest scenes are those that rest on the tension leading up to the actual attack on the Weapon. Archer exploiting Hoshi to carry out his mission pushes his character further into the wolfish ruthlessly desperate mode he’s been in all season. Dr. Phlox facing death also makes for a touching if somewhat overly sentimental scene.

After that the episode begins its steep decline into cliche and then incoherence. First we have T’Pol and Trip’s attack on the Sphere which leads to some really bad skin for the crew. Undoubtedly TPTB thought that the idea of having everyone on the ship turn into a walking commercial for skin care products would be dramatic but instead if just makes what should have been a tense situation look silly as you wonder if Lubiderm isn’t paying Enterprise for product placement.

And indeed the entire Sphere attack storyline is mostly pointless. Enterprise’s Xindi arc would have been stronger if this attack had been accomplished episodes ago leaving Archer in command of Enterprise to pursue the weapon. It would have been appropriate and fitting as a conclusion to an arc that had Enterprise leaving earth to pursue the Weapon and returning home battered but unbowed to destroy it. Instead the audience’s attention is split between Archer’s pursuit of the weapon which is the compelling story and the sphere attack which isn’t.

Unlike the Weapon, the Spheres aren’t going anywhere so it’s not clear why T’Pol is so desperate to destroy them even at the risk of destroying Enterprise and killing the crew. Yes the anomalies will expand but all life in the Expanse, let alone Vulcan, as T’Pol seems to suggest is a long way from being threatened. The addition of the Sphere Builder’s attack is cliched and looks silly all the more so in the rose colored haze. Additionally the Sphere seems to call up Braga and Berman’s worst instincts giving us tons of technobabble solutions from Phlox’s magic anomaly resisting formula whose effectiveness he can apparently calculate to the second to the deflector pulse to the weapons frequencies. Watching T’Pol do her best Janeway impression as she nearly killed the crew to do something utterly pointless; really brought nostalgic tears for Voyager to my eyes.

The plot then only becomes more awkward as once the Weapon is destroyed the focus shifts away earth and to Enterprise sitting and waiting for Archer in the Expanse. And so we get an absurd scene in which Degra’s ship heads to the Expanse to meet up with Enterprise to tell Enterprise Archer is dead at which point they all head back over to Earth. Instead of the Acquatics simply delivering Enterprise to earth directly to meet Degra’s ship. Sometimes I complain about time being trimmed from Enterprise’s episodes and then I look at a complete inability to grasp the use of time on the part of the Enterprise producers and wonder why I even bother?

The attack on the Weapon itself is a bit too strongly suggestive of Insurrection or for that matter Generations, First Contact and Nemesis; all star trek enterprise zero hourof which involved fights between our heroes and the villains over a launch sequence or a set of controls. But what Rick Berman lacks in originality, Allan Kroeker does his best to make up for in some decent action sequences. The effectiveness of the various fights range between clumsy to suspenseful and Archer’s final coup de grace to Commander Dolim is not original but quite effective. The bloodstains on the wall and on Archer’s face are particularly effective touches.

Shran’s appearance might be a bit dubious plotwise but he is a great character and Coombs is a great actor so that the only regret is that putting his name in the opening credits killed any surprise at his appearance. Coombs of course rules every second of his screentime and his lines make for some of the coolest moments in the episode. It also is a good reference point to the revelation of a future Federation in which Andorians and humans work side by side.

All of this would have made for a decent enough episode. Not the greatest Star Trek episode of all time or anything near it but adequate enough. There is a clear decline between the writing quality of Countdown and Zero Hour. Brannon Braga and Rick Berman’s writing is simply not up to the task and once again we see heaps of Voyager style technobabble thrown in and the kind of amateurish plot awkwardness that characterized Voyager episodes. But Braga is unfortunately not satisfied with that.

As the second season finale set up the third season, the third season finale is apparently meant to set up the fourth. Of course the situation becomes all the more desperate since Enterprise’s ratings are doing quite poorly and the series has become increasingly unwanted by UPN which instead favors top quality programming like ‘America’s Top Bulimic.’ This makes it crucial for the Enterprise season finale to have a hook that will pull viewers back in. And so we get Braga’s Planet of the Apes style ending to the episode.

Of course the problem with the ending is that it’s silly. Not only does it seriously resemble Voyager episodes like Future’s End and The Killing Game spliced together but it completely defuses the conclusion of the entire season’s arc and its payoff in favor of a gimmicky conclusion that the audience is likely to treat the same way it did the similar ending of the remake of Planet of the Apes.

Storytelling requires continuity. It requires an understanding of the emotional journey and the parts of the narrative that make a story whole. Zero Hour is yet another demonstration that Rick Berman and Brannon Braga understand nothing of the kind. Zero Hour’s ending screams of unoriginality and desperation. Not to mention contempt for the same viewers who sat through a season of the Xindi arc expecting more of a payoff than Archer waking up in the Twilight Zone.

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