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Star Trek Enterprise Season 1 Review

A series’ first season is its defining moment. While the first season may be full of clumsy scripts, poorly thought out plots and insufficient characterization, it is the testing ground in which it finds its balance, its sea legs so to speak. In the first season the character relationships will not yet have really come together, yet certain patterns will have become noticeable that will shape the future of the series.

Certainly this is particularly true of Star Trek series, which take years to become polished enough to produce their best material, and so there star trek enterprise season 1 is no reason to expect Enterprise’s first season to have produced the great classic episodes that might one day become associated with the series. As such, any criticism of the first season must be written and read with this knowledge in mind.

At the same time the basic identities of the characters, the style and feel of a series do tend to become set in its first season. Essentially, the first season of a Star Trek series serves a similar role as pilots do to many other series. It produces patterns which may be modified somewhat, but still influence and define the show’s future. Attempts to redefine the show’s dynamic (witness Stewart’s attempt to transform Picard into a man of action) may fail and ring flat.

So while plot arc-intensive episodes like “Cold Front,” “Shadows of P’Jem” and “Shockwave” may grab the audience’s attention, the real impact of Enterprise’s first season will likely be felt in the more character centered episodes like “Shuttlepod One,” “Fallen Hero” and “Fight or Flight.” Despite any impressions to the contrary, plot arcs are created on the spot and even when a series bible exists it is frequently modified by the writers and producers. Characters, on the other hand, become fixed beyond a certain point so that the writers come to discover that they are dealing with a set mould that is difficult if not impossible to change. In sum, the failures and successes of the future of a series are rooted in the patterns that can be noted in its first season. There are many patterns emerging now.

One is the question of setting. With its emphasis on space exploration, Enterprise functions far better in stories set in space than in those set planetside. With episodes like “Fight or Flight,” “Silent Enemy,” “Fallen Hero”, “Shuttlepod One,” “Breaking the Ice” and “Cold Front,” Enterprise demonstrated that space-based bottle shows play to its strengths. These are its emphases on isolation, exploration, unknown threats and personality clashes. On the other hand, there is something about planetside stories that causes the writers to revisit every cliché from the past four series resulting in clunkers like “Terra Nova,” “Strange New World,” “Rogue Planet,” “Civilization,” “Oasis” and “Desert Crossing.” A promising episode like “Dear Doctor” had a strong beginning when it was set in space and collapses into a Voyager retread when it touches the ground. Where space provides the chance to break new ground, visiting a planet or an alien culture results in another retread from the cliché factory.

This is more than a random question of space vs. planets, though. “Two Days and Two Nights” was a strong planetside episode and “Unexpected” was an extraordinarily weak space episode. They demonstrate that Enterprise’s strong episodes are produced when the show focuses its energies inward on the characters and situation in the appropriately named ‘bottle shows.’ But Enterprise has a good deal of trouble creating believable alien cultures or imagining the pre-TOS state of the galaxy. It is a flaw that will need to be addressed, since if Enterprise is to play a part in birthing the Federation, it cannot remain isolated in space forever.

Another pattern involves Archer’s behavior. From “Broken Bow” to “Shockwave” he has come off as man whose responsibilities outweigh his abilities. In his best moments the writers have managed to transform this into a positive trait as a character arc, but in the far more frequent weaker moments, it highlights his inadequacy. On a situational basis from episode to episode, Archer’s character has come to be defined by a combination of naivete, self-righteousness and a propensity for getting captured. All three of these issues go directly to the question of his incompetence and nothing will kill a character in a commanding role sooner than a belief that he is incompetent as this leads viewers to question every decision he makes. Even the clearly legitimate ones.

Worse, it leads to an attitude of contempt towards the character of the type which doomed Captain Janeway. Shows live or die by their leading character: for better or worse Archer is Enterprise’s main character, ensemble cast or not. Viewers will relate to the show based on his behavior and his attitude. If they don’t like it, they will change the channel. Ideally, Star Trek Captains have been people to be admired. Archer does not manage to meet that standard. The Producers would find it a very good idea to take a long hard look at what isn’t working and fix it before Archer becomes an objection of derision in the Janeway mode.

Like Kirk, the producers have meant Archer to walk the line between explorer and military man. Where Picard was the explorer and Sisko the military man, Archer is once again meant to be the synthesis of both. But a similar intention existed for Janeway and went mostly unfulfilled. While much more credible work has been done in giving Archer such a background, the synthesis remains less than entirely convincing.

The premise of Enterprise has Archer facing both a military challenge in the form of the Suliban and the challenge of exploration in moving into a strange and unknown universe. The Temporal Cold War combines both challenges in one, and in episodes like “Shockwave” it is where Archer comes closest to combining both aspects of his personality: the explorer who looks at the universe with awe and the military man who views it as a threat. There is an essential schism in such a point of view that must be bridged. The Original Series did so by throwing a strange variety of threats and experiences at the viewer, so that the threats were awe inspiring and as much forces of nature (Trelane, Nomad, Khan) and the experiences were in and of themselves threatening (The Guardian, The library, the giant amoebae.) But while the Temporal Cold War qualifies as the extraordinary, too much of Enterprise qualifies as the ordinary.

It is axiomatic that Science Fiction should be at least two steps ahead of current science. Not the current accomplishments, but the current ideas, otherwise it merely becomes a dramatized Nova production. Good Science Fiction goes beyond a science textbook and into the realm of the extraordinary. Yet Enterprise has shown us few extraordinary things thus far. Enterprise has attempted to portray the intermediary stage of exploration and discovery as extraordinary, and at times in episodes like “Breaking the Ice,” it has even succeeded. But paradoxically it has come closest to successfully dramatizing the challenges of space exploration in its military episodes such as “Fight or Flight” and “Silent Enemy.” This is indeed in keeping with the Original Series tradition of episodes like Balance of Terror. The beauty of these episodes and the “Gallieo 7” redux, “Shutlepod One,” has been their simplicity. And for better or worse simplicity has been the watchword of Enterprise.

From its opening titles depicting a linear acceleration of human exploration untroubled by any historical ambiguities, to its approach to moral dilemmas (e.g. Phlox’s dissenting voice being smoothed out of “Dear Doctor” in favor of mutual agreement), Enterprise has tended to choose a simplicity suffused with idealism over complexity. In each episode the viewer is meant to know exactly how he or she should feel about the events and the characters in it through dialogue that is thoroughly unsubtle in conveying a simplistic homogenized universe. There are ways in which Enterprise resembles Star Trek’s Original Series, but unpredictability is generally not one of them. That is a problem.

In its time the Original Series was a controversial show and even today many of its episodes remain intellectually and politically challenging. The same simply cannot be said for Enterprise. Indeed Enterprise seems to have been created as a ‘safe’ way of doing something different while still maintaining the apron strings to the franchise. As such, Enterprise has the same relationship to the Original Series as Voyager had to the Next Generation. Conceptual spin-offs from successful series that in the transition lose many of the rough edges that made the original shows worthwhile. In revisiting an earlier era, Enterprise is relying on nostalgia to fill the gaps created by its lack of adventurous storytelling. Archer is the embodiment of that nostalgia.

He’s Kirk without any of the bad habits that wouldn’t play as well to a 21st century audience. As with Voyager, most of those questionable star trek enterprise season 1qualities have been passed on to a proxy character. Tom Paris on Voyager, Trip Tucker on Enterprise. But this has the effect of rendering the Captain into an unrealistic person. A character’s strength comes from his ability to overcome character flaws or to function despite them. Characters with deep personal flaws make for compelling viewing and paradoxically are more respected. Kirk’s misogyny and reflexive hostility, Picard’s arrogance and anti-social isolationism made them compelling and interesting characters. It allowed us to view them as complete and well rounded individuals. On the other hand the attempt to make Janeway and now Archer into commanders capable of anything, while staying celibate and being beloved by everyone turns them into candidates for sainthood and little else.

Archer’s characterization as a naive and self-righteous man with a big Starship setting the wrongs of the galaxy right, often without first bothering to check who’s wrong and who’s right, negates the premise of Enterprise as an under-powered Starship exploring a strange galaxy as beautifully expressed in episodes like “Fight or Flight” or “Silent Enemy,” rather than the classic mighty Federation throwing its moral and physical weight around. By negating this premise, Enterprise is transformed into Voyager Mark 2 with minor differences in uniforms and starship design and Archer’s character is key to this aspect of the premise.

Perhaps the casting of Bakula himself was a mistake. From Shatner to Stewart to Brooks to Mulgrew, Star Trek’s Captains have been larger than life characters who might chew the scenery but nevertheless dominated the scene. They might be accused of many things, but they were never boring and Archer simply is.

In retrospect Bakula may not have been the best choice to serve as the focus for that kind of energy and worse yet he has chosen to play the character as increasingly laid back and good humored. Even his fits of anger seem half-hearted. This is a style that might work for SG-1 where Richard Dean Anderson’s sardonic delivery compensates for the weirdness around him, but on Bakula it lends a dreary air to a show that is already paced too slowly and has a shortage of interesting and exciting characters.

Where Bakula’s casting was a much praised choice, Blalock’s casting was greeted not too positively by many, including myself. Nevertheless, she has done a very capable job in a somewhat ambiguous role. Still, the T’Pol character often hovers too close to being Seven of Nine Mark 2. The costume, which is completely unnecessary, tends to invite this comparison as does the series’ all too often treatment of T’Pol’s Vulcan nature as a flaw that must be corrected by exposing her to ‘normal’ human behavior in the Seven of Nine vein. But this mistake leads into the more fundamental mistake at the heart of Enterprise’s premise.

There are few writers who aren’t aware of the dictum that conflict is necessary to drama. While this has some truth to it, conflict tends to be more overused than underused. There are few dramas that have too little conflict versus. dramas that have too much conflict.

In part this is because conflict is used to cover up bad work. To produce artificial excitement and suspense in circumstances and situations that lack it by introducing artificial obstacles. Thus a producer might decide that a cop show needs an obstacle and so introduces an obnoxious Captain who interferes with the police work. Enterprise has attempted to do something similar by re-imagining the Vulcans as obstructionist imperialists and giving Archer the goal of succeeding at exploration, despite the Vulcans.

Yet this is an innately flawed concept. Enterprise was an attempt to return to an Original Series style of exploration, which needed no situational obstacle except the limitations of technology and the danger of the universe itself. Relegating the triumph of the exploration of space to a quest to prove the Vulcans wrong reduces it to a crude contest whole ultimate outcome is already known to the audience and relieves it of the joy of exploration.

Placing such a Vulcan onboard is a pointless move, as Star Trek under Rick Berman has a tradition of creating premises with sources of conflict and then smoothing away characters who serve as sources of conflict–witness the premises of DS9 and Voyager that involved large numbers of non-Starfleet crew members serving on board to provide conflict, only to see that conflict become filed away rather quickly. The same phenomenon is occurring with T’Pol at an even more rapid pace as she has gone from being a source of conflict to a staunch ally in less than a season.

The best conflict comes from differing viewpoints defined by fundamental differences in character, as McCoy versus Spock. This type of conflict can quickly be reduced to a cliche as was done when Worf began to approach every situation from a martial viewpoint. It bogs characters down and makes them entirely predictable. If we know what a character is about to say every time he opens his mouth, the character has become an uninteresting cliche. At the same time creating contradictions and depths in character relationships keep them fresh.

T’Pol for now has not really formed consistent relationships or become a cliche, in part because her writing suggests that the producers are unsure of which way exactly they’d like her to go. At first she was the obstacle onboard as an extension of the larger Vulcan obstacle placed in the Enterprise’s path. She then became Enterprise’s ally and Archer’s confidant. She must however be far more than another Major Kira or Commander Chakotay.

Unfortunately much of the rest of the crew also falls into the category of undeveloped cliches. Even in their tightest bonding moments, how far have Reed and Trip really gone from the stereotype of the quiet introverted Englishman and the brash extroverted Southerner? Yet they are the most developed crew members after the Captain and T’Pol. In retrospect, “Shuttlepod One”‘s lasting impact has been to provide the two with a bonding moment to serve as the basis for a lasting friendship, much as similarly themed “The Chute” did with Paris and Kim on Voyager.

Reed and Trip certainly have more energy than Paris and Kim ever did, and the two actors in question are also far superior. It would be a shame if the emotional vulnerabilities uncovered in “Shuttlepod One” were as thoroughly forgotten as they were on Voyager in the post-“Chute” episodes, in favor more goofy scenes of the two prowling around bars. Friction and conflict can be used to build relationships more complex and interesting than friendship. As natural antagonists the two are interesting, as friends they’re more of a punchline. Both the actors and the characters deserve better. Hopefully in the second season the show can manage to hang on to both of these elements, rather than discarding their clash of viewpoints as merely a stage in their bonding process.

By contrast, Hoshi and Mayweather are little more than a character outline that can be summed up in one sentence, one sentence would suffice for the both of them too. The attempt to develop Mayweather as a Boomer has clearly failed with “Favorite Son” and should not be revisited. It is hard to say whether it is a case of a weak character or weak actor or both. But it does seem as if Mayweather has become the Ensign Kim of the crew, though without the disastrous relationships since Trip already has a premium on that. Hoshi is a pleasant but also undeveloped character whose main characteristic references the most damning moment of another minority female communications officer from a far earlier series proclaiming, “I’m Afraid, Captain.”

While Dr. Phlox had the most potential from the outset he really has mostly remained on the sidelines as far as character development is concerned. Occasionally he steps out from the sidelines to guide the action as in “Vox Sola” or “Terra Nova,” but this tends to reduce him to a Deus Ex character.

The key problem is that he lacks motivation. The motivation to be on Enterprise, to be a Doctor, to be or do anything. All he has is a mild curiosity and affability that is pleasant and his status as an alien that so far has mainly served to produce comic relief as it did in “Two Days.” Traditionally, Star Trek’s non-humans have been reduced to wanting to be human (Data, EMH) not wanting to be human (Spock, Worf, Odo) or being faintly curious and bemused by humans (Neelix, Garak.) For now Phlox appears to belong to the latter category, yet only time will tell if he becomes a Neelix or a Garak.

Finally there is the premise of the 29th century villain and a temporal cold war. While this is an interesting idea, interesting ideas do not necessarily translate into effective premises, especially considering that Enterprise was an attempt to deal with the Birth of the Federation. Rather than dealing with the struggles of the time Enterprise has saved its biggest ammunition for an intangible enemy that does not relate to this era. That is unfortunate as the struggles of Earth to come to terms with itself and its place in the galaxy has more story material than a temporal cold war does.

The premise of Enterprise appears to be an attempt to combine two incompatible premises into one. As a result, the first season of Enterprise can be split down between the bulk of episodes featuring various Aliens of the Week and Dilemmas of the Week and recurring storylines involving TOS races and a few key episodes involving the Suliban, who come off as not particularly interesting when compared to the TOS races and even to some of the Aliens of the Week; even as they take the emphasis of the series off the Birth of the Federation and into X-Files territory.

That brings us to our fifth and final key mistake, the Suliban. In part the problem of the Suliban is that of Species 8742, it confuses concept with effect. Enterprise expects us to find the Suliban interesting because they can shift their shape and have lots of fascinating special abilities. This does not remotely make for an interesting species. When first introduced, the Klingons were little more than short men with funny faces. What made them compelling was their ruthlessness, directness and fervor. So too with the Romulans and the Cardassians, key characteristic traits of those races emerged and defined them. The Suliban have no such characteristic. When we think of a Suliban soldier, we think of abilities rather than character. “Detained”‘s attempt to compensate for that by giving the Suliban a backstory proved that they were about as interesting as Voyager’s average Species of the Week.

While those characteristics were driven as much by the actors as by the writing, Enterprise has saddled the Suliban actors with makeup that retards facial expressions. This prevents the actors from being much of a presence, so that John Fleck has to do most of his acting with his voice. It’s a triumph of effect over concept. The Suliban may have some excellent special effects behind them, but no worthwhile concept and so like Species 8742, they lack screen presence as a major enemy.

With season two, Enterprise has a chance to learn and grow from some of its mistakes and build on its strengths. It has produced some strong space episodes and must now learn to break new ground in dealing with planetside episodes and alien cultures, just as it has done in space with episodes like “Fight or Flight,” “Shuttlepod One,” “Shockwave” and “Silent Enemy.” Progress and development will not occur by repeating the past mistakes of the franchise, but by breaking new ground.

Enterprise has set the basic mould for its cast of characters, some are featureless and others have a troubled development arc ahead for them. Aspects of Archer’s character need to be rethought. T’Pol has emerged as a strong character but what has been gained will be lost if she is allowed to become a Seven clone. Dr. Phlox still remains the most intriguing character of the series but he needs development, a goal and a purpose to fulfill that promise and produce the kind of compelling episodes his character is capable of. Viewers have compared Phlox to Garak. Yet without the secrets, the guilt and the mixed motivations, episodes like “The Wire” would have been impossible. Phlox needs to become a more complex character, rather than the comic relief he has too often strayed into.

Like TNG and DS9, Enterprise needs to rethink some of its premises. Early on, TNG made a disastrous attempt to be TOS. DS9 then made a disastrous attempt to be TNG. Both shows recovered from that by the second season. With season one behind, it is time for Enterprise to find an identity hidden amid the choices made in its early days.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Shockwave I

Summary: When a trip to an alien colony results in its destruction, acting on a tip from the future, Archer launches a covert operation against a Suliban stealth vessel that goes disturbingly wrong.

star trek enterprise shockwaveTraditionally Star Trek first season finales have been more somber affairs, as with TNG’s Neutral Zone or DS9’s In the Hands of the Prophets they occasionally dealt with emerging threats, but avoided cliffhangers and high stakes action shows and major plot threads being unwound. But then again most Star Trek pilots have also been more subtle affairs than Broken Bow. This is a recognition that Enterprise is operating in a more competitive environment where there may be no second chances and so Shockwave, like its name, is not particularly subtle. Not only does it feature a cliffhanger, but in Best of Both Worlds style, it features a cliffhanger with a missing Captain, intrigue and plot twists resembling an X-Files episode more than an Enterprise episode.

None of these are bad things of course, nor should they be reserved for season finales. But they do make it hard to review the episode, mainly because unlike most Star Trek two-parters that feature an obvious dilemma and an obvious enemy, Shockwave features much less than half the plot of a two parter. Many of the episode’s key elements are up in the air, especially since unlike previous Star Trek season finale cliffhangers (e.g. Best of Both Worlds or Scorpion), the final plot twist leaves everything we knew until now up in the air. That alone marks it as a stylistic departure from Star Trek as we know it.

Shockwave also serves as a serious departure from much of this season by having Archer actually face a dilemma and deal with it so that it results in emotional growth and a display of leadership ability. Contrary to what many might have expected from Brannon Braga — who co-wrote the script — Shockwave’s use of time travel is subtle and even moving as Archer experiences something close to a religious revelation in his sleep as he takes refuge from his guilt and failure in a time before the disaster and puts his faith in Crewman Daniels: only to have that faith brutally shattered in the final minute of the episode. In that minute, Daniel’s temporal guidance of Archer moves from a Deux Ex Machina to an all too flawed technology in the hands of fallible humans.

For once, Archer’s awe and wonder at another ‘first’, namely traveling through time, is well done and even well acted. Poignant because that wonder will ultimately be shattered by the knowledge of its mundane cost. This is precisely the lesson that Archer refused to learn about space travel. Exploration has its price and quite a few of the explorers in the Enterprise opening montage knew that quite well. Yet Archer has remained fixed to a boy scout idealistic view of space leading to a naivete so thorough, it bordered on idiocy. Shockwave seems to have begun the process of tempering that naivete with harsh realism, that episodes like Fight or Flight and Silent Enemy began but never carried through.

Shockwave also features Archer attempting to form a command bond with T’Pol as someone he can emotionally, as well as tactically, rely on. Although T’Pol rebuffs him by refusing to ‘believe’ in time travel, she nevertheless plays that role when she tries to shake Archer out of his stupor and depression. That this scene takes place in Archer’s quarters heightens the sense of intimacy that is created. Especially as Archer once again puts his life, his ship and probably the future of the Federation in her hands. Despite the hype coming from Berman and co, this is the closest the two of them have ever been to a real Kirk\Spock moment and the forming of a Human\Vulcan bond worthy of mention in the same sentence.

Though the focus of Shockwave remains on Archer and to a lesser extent, T’Pol, Hoshi and Mayweather have a nice moment together as they discuss their future plans. post-Enterprise. Trip manages to top his shocked look in Two Days and Two Nights when Archer announces the mission’s cancellation and Reed underplays battle dialogue to an almost comic extent. Dr Phlox’s reaction demonstrates that he still needs to develop a genuine bond to Enterprise and its mission, something the writers might consider tackling in the second season.

While the actual Suliban themselves remain an underwhelming foe, in part for conceptual reason as well as poor makeup and effects, the true menace seems to come from their hidden operator and one hopes that the Suliban are simply a temporary proxy who will be replaced by more dangerous ones. The strongest elements of the raid remain the timing and precision of the actual action itself, while the Suliban clambering up the walls are more amusing, than menacing. The final shot was effective, but still a somewhat poor idea, in light of recent events and far too reminiscent of some of the aftermath footage. The scene could have been done just as well, and cheaper too by pulling out from the open window to show the top of San Francisco buried entirely by sand. It would have also been a more realistic outcome if Earth’s major cities had been sitting around deserted and unpopulated for a few centuries. John Logan’s SF film, The Time Machine pulled similar FX shots in favor of showing climactic changes overrunning the area.

Next week: Summer O’Reruns.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Two Days and Two Nights

Summary: Four short films about Enterprise. The crew’s visit to Risa is broken up into a series of mostly comic sub-plots, some of which work better than others. The best and worst that can be said of Two Days and Two Nights is that it’s light entertainment, emphasis on the light. When Enterprise has thrown away so much Star Trek continuity, Risa seems like an odd thing to hang on to. But then again Risa itself was an attempt to hang on to some of the ‘free love’ aspects of TOS. And prior to Enterprise, Star Trek had done two Risa episodes. TNG’s Captain`s Holiday and DS9’s Let He Who is Without Sin. The latter is justifiably considered one of DS9’s worst episodes altogether while the former is considered a forgettable comic piece, remembered more because it introduced Vash than because of its dramatic or comic material. With such a legacy, Two Days and Two Nights doesn’t have to worry about standing in a long shadow or working too hard. Where Captain`s Holiday focused on Picard and Let He Who is Without Sin focused primarily on two crew relationships, Two Days and Two Nights throws the main crew into a series of predictable subplots, most played for laughs with varying degrees of success so that it could be called Four Short Films about Risa.

Archer receives the Picard story as his first officer sends him down to the planet in order to relax with a good book and he becomes enmeshed

star trek enterprise two days and two nights

Humanity has reached the stars, but its fashion sense is still in the dark ages

with a mysterious woman and intrigue. Unlike Picard’s story though, which played comically against his stuffy demeanor, Archer’s is a vaguely dark and dramatic piece that manages to produce a sense of isolation that would have been far more effective if it had resonated with Archer’s character in any way. It makes perfect sense that Picard would spend his time on a pleasure planet with a good book, but Archer is a more physical character who seems as if he’d be more at home with Trip in a bar than playing a poor man’s Picard. As it is though, Bakula puts in a better performance here than he has in a long time. But unless this story is meant to introduce the woman as a recurring character and to deal with the events as part of an arc which will have repercussions down the line, it seems like a wasted effort. High points include T’Pol’s gift to Archer and the well conveyed sense of isolation and loneliness.

Trip and Reed get the naval cliche story of the two sailors on leave who end up getting rolled in a sleazy dive. The two actors do their best with the material, but there’s really not much here. The high points include Trip and Reed retelling the events of Shuttlepod One and passing themselves off as Captains. The low points include pretty much everything else. Even the comic material is pretty slim and ends rather quickly. Furthermore not only does Star Trek appear to be unable to create an alien bar scene without it looking like a cheap version of the Star Wars alien cantina, but it really needs to cut down on the races of shapeshifters. DS9 claimed that there was only one race of shapeshifters, though we’d seen plenty more before, Enterprise has two in one season. And since we’ve seen some Suliban shapeshift, it might be a good idea not to throw those abilities around so randomly as it devalues the effect.

T’Pol and Dr Phlox on the other hand get the only really effective comic piece without ever having to leave the ship as Dr. Phlox goes into hibernation just as a crippled Mayweather experiences an allergic reaction to an alien painkiller. Billingsley overplays the material by a mile, but it still works quite well as Phlox wakes up from hibernation, staggers about and does his best to make mad scientists look conservative while T’Pol looks on disapprovingly playing the straight Vulcan. Better yet, it provides a whole other dimension to Dr Phlox who until now has played the role of a mostly dispassionate observer and now gets to indulge in the same kind of comic material as Voyager’s own doctor did on a regular basis. Though it is telling that this episode’s most effective comic piece relied on some pretty broad slapstick. Cutler returns to play the same quasi-nurse role as Kes did on Voyager. The story’s high points include Phlox ordering the ship to another star system to get fresh worms to Phlox’s response to T’Pol’s suggestion that he return to his quarters.

Finally there is Hoshi’s story, which is the least interesting of all four, in part because the two actors lacked any chemistry and gave performances bordering on completely flat, and partly because it doesn’t have much in the way of material. As Trip and Reed’s broad physical comedy is meant to be paired with Phlox and T’Pol’s broad physical comedy, Archer’s stranger encounter is meant to be paired with Hoshi’s stranger encounter. But where Archer’s story had subtext and complexity, Hoshi’s story is as sunny and placid as her own persona and about as interesting. It might have been interesting if Enterprise had followed up on the doubts and uncertainties Hoshi was dealing with in Fight or Flight or her later insecurities. While it does manage to reinforce her role as translator and its importance, the plot is structure as a flat line that runs consistently in the same direction where the other three stories had peaks and falls.

Despite its flaws, however, Two Days and Two Nights is a pleasant departure in that it explores the ensemble cast in a series tjat has so far eschewed B-Stories and manages to put together a diverse collection of stories into one episode. In that it already exceeds past Risa episodes, which were far more monolithic and tended to play off one single joke over and over again. It’s light entertainment and as such it exceeds expectations.

Star Trek Enterprise episode reviews – Fallen Hero and Desert Crossing

Summary: A contrast of two episodes as we go from a subtle political drama with some important character development for T’Pol; to a fairly crude and incoherent adventure story that features T’Pol getting Archer and Trip out of yet another jam while antagonizing still more aliens.

star trek enterprise fallen hero

Fallen Hero

The doubleheader of Fallen Hero and Desert Crossing intends to combat the poor performance of CBS’s leftover Wolf Lake episodes aired on UPN these past few weeks and instead provides a contrast that highlights many of Enterprise’s best and worst qualities. Fallen Hero, an episode featuring some seriously questionable decisions from Archer, nevertheless is far superior to Fusion in providing solid and significant character development from T’Pol, the best Vulcan guest star on Enterprise yet and a great performance from both actresses. Desert Crossing is another episode with a muddled plot, Trip and Archer playing damsels in distress for T’Pol, and an awful guest performance (Clancy Brown) complete with a cheesy ethnic accent that would not have been out of place in one of George Lucas’s CGI characters.

The key issue remains plot. Fallen Hero has a compact and well organized plot full of tension and suspense that develops T’Pol by showing us the decisions that got her where she is today and something of the character of Vulcan society through the interplay between her and her role model, Ambassador V’Lar. Enterprise and the crew are fully involved in action scenes, instead of ‘Pulling a Voyager’ and standing on the sidelines trying to technobabble their way through another planetary rescue. Desert Crossing on the other hand stumbles between two disorganized stories, neither of which manages to be integrated with the other. On the one hand we have a political story in which a terrorist tries to enlist Archer to join his cause, which is dropped halfway to have Archer and Trip stumble around the desert until being rescued. It’s half Detained and half Shuttlepod One and neither half works. We learn nothing of any depth about the society involved and at the same time the desert scenes contribute nothing to the episode and unlike Shuttlepod One do nothing to develop either of the characters, especially since we got a variation of the same material a week ago in Vox Sola.

star trek enterprise desert crossing

Desert Crossing

It’s also another demonstration that Enterprise’s strength appears to lie in space based shows, rather than ground based episodes. Ultimately, it is rather telling that Fallen Hero can produce a greater sense of wonder by having Enterprise break a warp barrier in the middle of a battle than Desert Crossing can summon by having Archer encounter a whole new civilization. In space, Enterprise seems to be able to break new ground, while on the ground it seems doomed to repeat the exact same episodes that Voyager might have done and often did do. Indeed, you could have placed Chakotay in the Archer role without skipping a beat. After all, we don’t need Enterprise to show us a faux Afghani culture, we can see the real thing if we want to. It’s the exploration of space and the encounter of genuinely alien lifeforms that offers some real possibilities.

But one of Enterprise’s weaknesses this season has been the scarcity of strong and well developed guest stars with only John Fleck’s Silik and Jeffrey Combs’s Andorian Commander making any strong impression and both of these were recurring characters. TNG and DS9 on the other hand thrived on showcasing guest stars in strong performances such as The Defector or Duet. In Fallen Hero, Enterprise finally does something to remedy that as well as its weak portrayal of the Vulcans with the appearance of Ambassador V’lar, played with style and wit by Fionnula Flanagan (who has had at least two prior Star Trek guest appearances), who occasionally pushes the Vulcan boundaries a bit far, but never too much so. Though much of the Mazarian politics are left unclear, the real focus of Fallen Hero is on the interaction between V’Lar and T’Pol. For many recent Enterprise episodes, T’Pol has either been a convenient tool for rescuing Archer out of the latest mess he’d gotten himself into or an uptight Vulcan who needed to be humanized by learning to loosen up. In Fallen Hero for the first time we see her as a professional and a person facing a challenge to the values which caused her to choose her current path in life and that’s the kind of fascinating character development that Trip suffering from yet another round of hallucinations just can’t compete with.

Fallen Hero also managed to bring a certain equality to the Vulcan-Human relationship by showing that the lack of trust from both sides is a fairly natural consequence of the nature of their relationship, instead of blaming everything on Vulcan duplicity. Both Archer and V’Lar endanger each other, the relationship between Vulcans and Humans as well as their missions, simply because they distrust each other not personally but racially. V’Lar is simply able to be more brutally honest about the nature of that distrust while at the same time demonstrating how difficult it can be to overcome it. It’s a far more realistic portrayal of the situation than past Voyager and Enterprise episodes in which interspecies differences can be overcome in a few hours leaving the starship to fly away happily ever after.

At the end of Fallen Hero we are left with a deepened sense of who Vulcans are as well as the certainty that they are most certainly not just another human ethnicity dressed up in some cheap latex makeup, and that is Star Trek at it best: not obvious analogies ‘ripped from the headlines’ or another hostage situation from the latest Aliens of the Week. Instead, Fallen Hero is the closest Enterprise has ever come to TOS’s Journey to Babel, complete with a parent figure for T’Pol, a showdown with an alien ship and a hidden interspecies diplomatic agenda. This is precisely the type of nuts and bolts Birth of the Federation material that Enterprise has so often promised and so rarely delivered, along with some real development of a major Enterprise character, thus making it even more of a refreshing change.

Written and directed by Star Trek first timers, Fallen Hero is proof that new blood can produce great episodes. Desert Crossing seems to be proof of the exact opposite. Written by Andre Bormanis, who has produced some of Enterprise’s best episodes previously (Silent Enemy), Desert Crossing seems to have been the victim of some radical rewrites that left the script lacking any real focus. Early on, the script appears to have the germ of a political statement but this is supplanted in favor of churning out yet another ‘Trip and Archer’ get in trouble episode that devotes a good deal of time to having Trip and Archer stumble around the desert, but doesn’t manage to do anything interesting with the material.

Shuttlepod One succeeded precisely because it put two unlikely characters together and had them work at cross-purposes to survive. Desert Crossing does precisely the opposite by putting together two characters who are best friends and who have been trapped together in dire situations before, only last week as a matter of fact, and limits the interaction to having Archer play nursemaid to a semi-conscious Trip. This might be considered character development if it told us something new about Archer or Trip, but it doesn’t. Instead it repeats a formula that most viewers have long since gotten tried of. It also tosses aside what little in the way of a story Desert Crossing ever had. The result is that the episode consists of a political analogy that never gets developed and a desert survival story that doesn’t get the kind of single minded attention that might allow it to connect with the viewer. T’Pol is left once again trying to figure out how to rescue Archer and Trip from the mess they stumbled into because they didn’t bother to find out the political situation in their host’s country.

Unlike the transitions from Andorian Incident to Shadows of P’Jem to Fallen Hero, the attempt to provide continuity by linking the events in Desert Crossing to Detained is artificial and improbable and Zobral provides no credible explanation for why he would have believed that Archer would choose to help him and why he needed to trick Archer into coming down to meet him this way. It seems like the product of another script revision that attempted to bring some sort of larger meaning to the episode by linking it to the continuing evolution of the Prime Directive. Archer does finally make a right decision by choosing not to get involved in a battle that has nothing to do with him, and even more shockingly does it for the right reason. Joining the wars of other races that don’t involve the human race in any way is a decision that should be made by governments, not individual Starship Captains. A principle that Voyager’s Captain Janeway never managed to figure out. Nevertheless, Archer seems as much influenced by outrage at Zobral’s trick than at any understanding of what’s going on. Indeed by the end of the episode he suggests that Zobral was on the right side, even though he’d never talked to the other side and his only understanding of the origins of the conflict came from three sentences of recruitment propaganda from Zobral himself.

Worse yet, Desert Crossing, unlike Fallen Hero has no credible alien characters. Instead we get an Alien of the Week whose primary alien characteristic appears to be a funny beard complete with an ethnic accent almost caricatured enough to qualify as offensive in the Jar-Jar Binks category. The basic alien culture appears to be lifted from recent news stories on Afghan culture or perhaps the first half hour of Rambo III (considering Star Trek’s research department, the last is a disturbingly credible possibility.) A caste system in action might have made for some interesting cultural material, but instead we got slow motion shots of Archer and Trip with their shirts off. The lack of a focus on character and a fragmented plot which wants to be both an action show and a piece of political commentary inevitably results in a poor episode, as Enterprise’s writers must have realized by now after some of their more recent failures.

Thus Enterprise’s doubleheader provides us with a nice contrast that exposes some of the flaws of Enterprise episodes and demonstrates the elements that cause one episode to succeed and the other to fail.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Vox Sola

Summary: Archer gets captured yet again, this time by a giant ball of CGI goo, and reminiscences about water polo. Vaugh Armstrong plays yet another alien. Enterprise wastes another forty minutes.

The most interesting thing about Vox Sola is not its plot, its characterization or even its special effects, but its title: it all goes downhill from star trek enterprise vox solathere. Every Star Trek series has done its usual ‘Alien invades the ship’ episodes and with little in the way of a story, Vox Sola adds one of the more mediocre examples of the genre. What little in the way of a plot exists follows the usual Enterprise formula of 5 minutes of story and 40 minutes of episode accompanied by the most unadorned and unoriginal plot cliches. Indeed, virtually anyone who has ever seen more than two Star Trek episodes knows quite well that the gimmick meant to disable the alien will cause it to begin hurting the hostages thus forcing the rescuers to abort the attempt. Even many of Enterprise’s worst episodes have tried to reinvent the cliches they’ve used, Vox Sola though makes no such attempt and is simply satisfied to artlessly regurgitate them.

Of course no awful Enterprise episode would be complete without featuring Archer in captivity yet again. At this point, like many Star Trek fans, when I think about the next six years of Enterprise still to come, I hope and pray that Archer is never taken prisoner by anybody, or anything ever again. The attempt by the producers to butch up Archer by getting him involved in sports backfires a bit when they decide that his sport of choice is water polo. Though it does bring Vox Sola as close as it ever comes to comedy when in a truly surreal moment engulfed by a mesh of goo that looks like congealed ropes of milk that’s gone bad, Archer inspires Trip to go on fighting by recounting his courageous water polo victories against all odds. It seems bad enough that they have to lose their lives, do they really need to lose the last remnants of their dignity too?

It’s a testament to how little the main threat of the episode matters that what little suspense the episode has comes not from the actual alien invader, but by way of the friction between T’Pol, Hoshi, Reed and Phlox which itself lacks bite and feels thematically out of place this late in the season. The alien manifesting first as some fairly mediocre T2-era virtual CGI goo and then as buckets of real goo that Bakula is slathered in, possibly as penance for his acting, barely manages to hold the interest of even its victims let alone the audience. Its means of introduction via a failed first contact with an alien race, which finds public eating as distasteful as public copulation, would probably have made for a far more interesting episode. But then just about anything would have produced a more interesting episode than Vox Sola which is essentially an abbreviated and glacially-paced version of some of the most dreary TNG and Voyager episodes ever made.

From questionable continuity references for the sake of appeasing the fans (how likely is it that Reed was really the first human to implement the force field?), to slowly developing ‘plot twists’ you could see coming a mile away (so we’ve got a great plan for crippling the alien but it’s only halfway through the episode, gee wonder what could go wrong), and to Archer once again aimlessly stumbling around the galaxy, Vox Sola manages to encompass much of what is wrong with Enterprise and none of the positive factors. At times it seemed as if Vox Sola might actually give Enterprise that sense of continuity we haven’t seen since Silent Enemy with its movie night, but the two crewmembers we meet are only disposable redshirts. It might be a good idea for Enterprise to take a lesson from its predecessor Voyager and actually begin cultivating recurring crewmembers (and no, occasional references to Chef don’t count) to produce that sense of community and to actually make the viewer care about the redshirts. It would also be more helpful if Enterprise’s decks had a little more life and color to them. And of course it would have been helpful if Vox Sola had a little more life and color of its own.

Based on a script by Robocop 3’s Fred Dekker and the inevitable Berman\Braga story (which makes one wonder if the writers can’t come up with an unoriginal idea without the help of the producers) with some desperately flashy camera angles by Roxann Dawson, Vox Sola is simply what happens when you drain every possible ounce of creativity, drama and originality out of a script. It’s not a bad episode, because bad implies some thwarted aspiration. Whether it’s the Captain turning into a salamander and mating with her pilot or the Enterprise turning into a Mayan temple; truly bad episodes are those that are prepared to take risks and are therefore interesting even if they aren’t watchable. On the other hand dreary fare like Vox Sola is neither interesting nor watchable. It’s simply a wasted forty minutes.

Next week: Looks like Archer gets captured again. Now there’s a shocking episode premise.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Detained

Summary – Archer earns frequently captured flyer miles, T’Pol demonstrates again why she belongs in command and the episode hammers home its message with all the subtlety and grace of a Rush Limbaugh broadcast in a predictable Andorian Incident Redux storyline.

star trek enterprise detainedIt’s interesting to note that the bulk of Enterprise’s critical and fan favorite episodes take place in space. Episodes like Broken Bow, Cold Front, Breaking the Ice, Silent Enemy, Fight or Flight and Shuttlepod One manage to capture at least some of that thrill of exploration and bring a fresh sensibility to the usual Star Trek cliches. On the ground though, Enterprise tends to produce retreads featuring even more forgettable aliens of the week than Voyager and stories with as little or even less complexity. Detained is no different in that regard and follows the usual Enterprise formula of five minutes of story per forty minutes of episode. It also manages to repeat the same mistakes of crew characterization that have made Captain Archer a laughing stock and Mayweather the latest incarnation of Wesley Crusher.

In the course of an unfinished season, Captain Archer has been captured more than a few times. Unlike Captain Kirk though, Archer doesn’t tend to get captured by the Greek god Apollo, aliens from another galaxy or an omnipotent child; but by anyone who goes to the trouble of shooting down his shuttlecraft. This isn’t a great record for a starship Captain and it makes for fairly uninteresting viewing. Worse yet, Archer seems perpetually clueless, blundering from one mishap into another and justifying it with what he undoubtedly thinks is a charming smile and a paen to the virtues of curiosity. Though his ship has been attacked many times and he’s learned that there is a temporal war going on, Archer still seems to be strolling as casually around the universe as in Strange New World where he decides that an alien planet couldn’t possibly be dangerous because it looks so pretty.

Meanwhile the writers seem to have decided that competence is the exclusive purview of repressed Vulcans and repressed Englishmen, while celebrating the emotional incompetence of the humans as a testament to their virtue. Consider Trip’s behavior in this episode where he undermines his commanding officer’s authority by questioning her actions on the bridge and interrupting her negotiation with the Colonel. And this isn’t the first time. You have to assume that Trip is either an idiot or has so much contempt for T’Pol that he would actually treat her this way. After all, Archer called T’Pol on the carpet for much less.

Archer goes back to making his decisions based on a completely baseless confidence in his own ability to be able to grasp complex sociopolitical situations in 5 minutes or less and to make decisions that affect billions of lives based on his feelings, without actually following any kind of rules. A good deal of this probably happens because while the producers may have toured submarines to get ideas for how the Enterprise engine room should look, they didn’t bother brushing up on even the basics of military discipline. This makes Archer look like an incompetent egomaniac time and time again, or for those who have been following the reruns of the third Star Trek spin-off, a lot like Captain Janeway. Worse yet where Kirk, Picard and Sisko were larger than life figures whose decisions had larger than life moral grandeur, Archer is a weak character whose attitude comes off as pettiness, rather than principle.

Often it’s because Bakula is simply a weaker actor. Consider Detained, in which Dean Stockwell playing the villain not only turns in a much better performance with little material and an underplayed character, but in his character’s worst moments still manages to maintain more dignity and stature than Bakula manages to retain in his best. It’s one of the most memorable performances since Mark Alaimo’s subversion of the Gul Dukat character and almost as enjoyable because it involves acting, something Bakula seems increasingly incapable of. But it’s also because Bakula is being given no material to work with. His character’s motivations and behavior make no rational sense. All that’s left is to play him as a cartoonish Dudley Do-right that isn’t grounded in any kind of realistic expectations. Shatner could have played these scenes with the kind of outrageous scenery chewing that made even the worst TOS episodes fun. But all Bakula can do is turn in the same bland performance so that you can barely tell the difference between a scene in which Archer is eating toast and a scene in which Archer is protesting the oppression of an entire people.

Which of course makes the decision to pair Archer with Enterprise’s weakest character and weakest actor, a very big mistake. It’s the bland leading the bland as Archer and Mayweather spend three times as much time as is necessary to establish that the Suliban in the camp are innocent and oppressed and the guards are nasty and sadistic. For anyone who fails to grasp this point through the subtle cinematic device of having the guards repeatedly shock the prisoners for no legitimate reason whatsoever and shove small children and make them cry, the guards are further dressed up in militaristic uniforms with high black collars and straps around the chest, a favorite Star Trek design when emphasizing the Naziesque qualities of the Alien Villain of the week, last used in Voyager’s Counterpoint.

The characters of the Suliban themselves don’t come through very well mainly because of the poor quality of the Suliban makeup which renders the actor’s faces mostly immobile while depriving them of distinguishing features. The Suliban makeup seems to have been rather poor to begin with and its cakey quality would not have been out of place on TOS. On Enterprise it looks cheap and ugly. Even Andromeda manages to produce a Vedran complete with four feet, yet Enterprise can’t give its chief race of villains a more unique look than what TOS would have come up with on a bad day. The fact is, Voyager aliens that we’ve only seen for three minutes at a time have come with better makeup than this (and costuming!). Witness the enemy aliens in Voyager’s Homestead among many other examples of completely throwaway makeup designs that are more effective than what amounts to a covering of caked yellow mud.

It’s no surprise, then, that the actual story itself turns out to be as crude as the makeup with the basic message being reinforced by a ridiculous lecture from Archer referencing the American internment camp of WW2. You have to wonder if in the aftermath of WW3, Khan Noonien Singh, the banning of genetic enhancements on Earth and their persecution as we saw on DS9’s Bashir storyline, Archer can’t think of a more relevant example for a being race persecuted for the exact same reason. Of course this would assume some measure of familiarity with Star Trek canon on the part of Braga and co, which would force them to dip into the seedy world of continuity pornography, e.g. maintaining a concordance and doing their research and thus their jobs. It would also distract from the political message being hammered home here with all the grace and subtlety of a Rush Limbaugh broadcast.

It’s not simply a question of continuity or ideology; like most Enterprise episodes, Detained is simply devoid of elementary storytelling values. There’s no real suspense, no twists and turns. Braga in his interview bragged about writing a prison-break story, but all the fun of such a story is in the possibility of being caught and playing a cat and mouse game with the guards. The actual assault is rather straightforward and over in a matter of minutes. The bulk of the episode instead engages in a repetitive series of humanizing Suliban incidents, Bakula alternately looking deeply concerned and sneering at his former co-star and Mayweather trying to remember where he left his personality. Much of the action in this episode is a redux of “The Andorian Incident” right down to the planting of the charges and Reed’s British Invasion. The real winners here are Dean Stockwell and Jolene Blalock, who has some of her best action lines since “Civilization” (another forgettable and not altogether dissimilar episode.)

What is left of Detained when you distance it from its current time and place in history? Like much of Enterprise’s first season it’s a wasted opportunity consisting of recycled material, another snoozeworthy performance from Bakula, poor storytelling and a clarion call for repairing the characterization of Captain Jonathan Archer before he goes down in Star Trek history as Mr. Janeway.

Next week: Ectoplasm invades Enterprise. Can the Ghostbusters be far behind ?

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Rogue Planet

Summary: Archer and Co. dress up in Borg gear, pester more aliens who don’t really want them there and Archer goes looking for his ideal shapeshifter/telepathic woman in the jungle.

Like many Enterprise episodes this season, Rogue Planet researches some astronomy to dig out an interesting planetary science concept of a star trek enterprise rogue planetrogue planet detached from its solar system and in permanent darkness where the native lifeforms survive by clustering around heat vents and uses it as the backdrop for a fairly unoriginal and pedestrian story involving hunters whom every experienced Star Trek viewer knows are up to no good five seconds after we meet them, and a mysterious woman whose secret is just as transparent. Despite a strong performance by the actor playing the lead hunter, both the woman and the hunters are reduced to two-dimensional caricatures with a handful of lines and are denied even any kind of meaningful confrontation with each other.

Like much of this season, the episode features nothing in the way of strong guest stars and at the same time little in the way of conflict or drama for the regular crew. Beyond Archer pursuing his dream woman in a rather silly plot that seems to have been lifted from TOS, when viewers might have actually experienced some suspense over the appearance of a strange woman on an alien planet who can seemingly disappear into thin air. Bakula’s fairly bland performance also does little to help matters. Shatner, Stewart or Brooks might at least have put passion and scenery-chewing into the episode but Bakula seems to stumble through it in an uncertain daze.

Indeed the strongest performance in this episode comes from Jolene Blalock during T’Pol’s confrontation with Archer and not coincidentally it is also the closest Rogue Planet actually comes to genuine conflict and questioning of a character’s values and actions. Something the ep could have used a lot more of.

In the end Rogue Planet has nothing to say about ecology, psychology, ethics or really anything at all. And worse yet it doesn’t have much in the way of suspense, character conflict, or even basic drama of the crudest kind. One of TOS’s first episodes, the rather weak Man Trap, which had the same premise of a telepathic shapeshifting woman-creature, understood at least that much; but like much of this season RP seems entirely satisfied to let the characters stumble through a recycled and listless plot devoid of challenge and conflict and grafted onto a few lines from an astronomy textbook in hopes of bringing that sense of exploration to the viewer. The result is a fairly bland and colorless episode that is as uninvolving to the viewer as it is to the Enterprise character and amounts to a Trekified version of Bambi once you get past and discard the basic premise of a rogue planet, the only real impact of which on the bulk of the episode is the Borg-like (yet noticeably cheap and uninventive) infrared headgear that the characters wear while in the forest.

Next Week: The promo pretty much said it all.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Fusion

Summary: Enterprise spends time in a nebula, Archer realizes he hates all Vulcans and T’Pol gets mind-date-raped. The FX department wastes some gorgeous FX shots on a profoundly mediocre episode.

star trek enterprise fusionWhen ‘Unexpected’ first aired it seemed as if it might reign as the supreme and unchallenged ‘Spock’s Brain’ episode of Enterprise and ‘Fusion’ presents no real challenge to it. That’s mainly because, where ‘Unexpected’ was gleefully awful, ‘Fusion’ is just a mediocre reworking of TNG Troi episodes such as “The Price” right down to the haunting visions, the mysterious evil man and some gratuitous bed scenes. It’s dreary and predictable, especially when run at Enterprise’s molasses pace.

Enterprise has traditionally eschewed B plots and it is a sign of how little content Fusion actually has, that it needs a B-plot to keep the episode moving along and fill out the time. Possibly in an attempt to distract the audience from how predictable and trite the A story was, the writers chose an even more predicable and trite B story featuring ‘the son making peace with his dying father.’ One has to wonder how many TV cliches Berman and Braga had to sort through to find one of the hoariest cliches out there and execute it in the most cliched way possible. Is there even a single viewer out there who didn’t instantly know that Trip would attempt to bond with the obese Vulcan by telling him about some story from his own past or that at the end said obese Vulcan would have made the call? This goes beyond predictable and unoriginal and manages to achieve something like trite greatness.

The premise for ‘Fusion’ has Enterprise encountering an alien ship with technical difficulties resulting in some cultural exchange. It’s another plot that Enterprise might want to give a rest since it’s already been used in far too many episodes including the last episode, Shuttlepod One. The actual execution is something like a Vulcan version of TOS’s ‘The Way to Eden’ right down to one of the crew being the son of a high ranking ambassador. In fact at any moment you expect T’Pol to get out her lute while they start singing “Stiff man putting my mind in jail \ Judge bangs the gavel and says No bail \ So I’ll lick his hand and wag my tail.” Except it’s not actually bad enough to be funny or to inspire any emotion other than boredom and curiosity as to whether there might be something more exciting on PBS’s schedule tonight.

The T’Pol portion of the episode plays even more slowly if anything. The Vulcan has no chemistry whatsoever with T’Pol and the entire routine is completely predictably because TNG played it out with Troi over and over again. If Berman were to actually watch a few episodes of his own series, he might notice that the theme of substituting mental invasion for sexual invasion has been done to death on Star Trek and by done to death, I mean that reruns of these episodes could be used to solve the rat problems of several major urban centers.

Indeed the closest thing to a strength that ‘Fusion’ displays is that Archer actually seems like a strong character here and his final scene with T’Pol is one of those admissions that could spur some growth for his character. Indeed Fusion’s only good moments are, ironically enough, contained in its opening teaser and feature Archer as well. Some gorgeous FX shots wasted on what is essentially a bottle show made using recycled TNG scripts, which all in all seems like a rather futile attempt to save money.

Next week: T’Pol is haunted by her dead grandmother’s spectral lover. After all if B&B are going to recycle bad TNG episodes, Sub Rosa is undeniably the granddaddy of bad TNG episodes. (or Repeat Hell for another month.)

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Shuttlepod One

Summary: Enterprise produces its first breakout episode of the season as Reed and Trip fight for their lives in a damaged Shuttlepod running out of air.

Until now Enterprise’s first season has been less than stellar with more misses than hits and few episodes that are likely to be remembered star trek enterprise shuttlepod one half a decade down the road, but Shuttlepod One is likely to be this season’s breakout hit. It’s also the episode that comes closest to recapturing the Original Series style than any other episode so far.

The premise is simple enough. Two men, one shuttlepod and not enough air. And there are endless Golden Age SF stories on this theme, most focusing on finding ingenious ways out of the problem or killing each other. Shuttlepod One instead plays it as a character piece in which Reed and Trip, two officers with clashing personalities, fight and bond over the situation. The resemblance to TOS is certainly not accidental as much of the same material was also present in Gallileo 7, a story about a trapped shuttle, a conflict between a calm, logical officer and an emotional one and a solution involving dumping the engine’s fuel and igniting it as a distress beacon. Shuttlepod One mostly dispenses with the problem solving and instead focuses on the character relationships so that the solution comes as more of an afterthought than anything else. By causing the characters to believe that the Enterprise has been destroyed, it unleashes a well of desperation and anger that wouldn’t otherwise have been there.

With Brannon Braga as the writer of this episode, it would have been reasonable to expect the destruction of the Enterprise to be the result of some sort of temporal anomaly ala Timeless. Braga, though, seems well aware of his reputation and instead the only exotic phenomena are the fairly plausible and scientifically up to date micro-singularities. Instead Trip and Reed come to believe that the Enterprise has been destroyed because they notice some of the debris from a collision between Enterprise and an alien ship. This is probably the biggest plot hole in the episode, since it assumes that the Enterprise’s chief engineer could mistake some torn off hull fragments for the complete wreckage of the ship. Even with sensors down, visual inspection alone should have discredited that notion.

Still unlike the Golden Age SF stories, the competence of the characters is clearly not an issue here, but as in the TOS novel Kobayashi Maru, it’s a test of the way they face death. The decisions they make certainly aren’t very good and getting drunk towards the end probably isn’t much of a command decision either, but it’s not an unrealistic depiction of the way people can face desperate situations. Reed reacts with emotional detachment even as he makes some attempt to reestablish posthumous emotional connections with fragments of his past. Trip reacts with emotional displays and spur-of-the moment decisions. And as in Gallieo 7, it’s ultimately the emotionally withdrawn officer who makes the final risky gamble of jettisoning their fuel/engines as a last ditch effort to attract help.

While the basic plot is obviously not original and any number of shows have done similar episodes, Shuttlepod One is also the most intensive star trek enterprise shuttlepod one piece of character work and character growth we’ve seen so far, despite all the Archer and T’Pol materials that have been thrown at us so far. Indeed, the scenes with Archer and T’Pol in this episode only serve to deflate the tension of the isolated pod and gives us two Archer moments that are petty in ways we would have thought that he’d be beyond by now. But then of course there’s nothing like throwing two people together into a life and death situation to achieve character growth. Or at least that was the idea behind the fairly mediocre Andorian Incident and Shadows of P’Jem, which tried this same basic storytelling trick twice with Archer and T’Pol.

In addition to the character work though, Shuttlepod One offers plenty of nice touches from the mashed potatoes used as hull sealant (don’t try this at home kids), the gruesome turn that the shaving scene takes and the bourbon bet. It’s this kind of thing that fills out character interactions in ways that words can’t and it’s also why the Archer/T’Pol interactions in Andorian Incident and Shadows of P’Jem had no real depth to them. Hopefully though they don’t decide to try and get Archer and T’Pol drunk in order to hurry things up. After P’Jem’s rope scene, somehow that possibility doesn’t seem too far fetched.

Beyond the character work, Shuttlepod One is one of the few Enterprise episodes to have broken free of the usual TNG-lite and recycled Voyager material. It’s all the more surprising therefore that it was co-written by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, the people one could hold quite responsible for TNG and Voyager in the first place. Longtime Trek director David Livingston delivers shots of tight shuttlepod interiors that play on the sense of isolation and desperation and the FX sequences display empty space with occasional grey asteroid rubble and dirty drifts of debris. It all only emphasizes how far we’ve come from Voyager’s ‘Technobabble Saves the Day’ solutions and comfortable environments.

Next week: Behold the magic and mystery of reruns.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Shadows of P’Jem

Summary: Archer is held hostage a second time and Enterprise turns in another competent and professional, if uninspiring episode.

The title of Shadows of P`Jem refers to a previous episode, The Andorian Incident. Like that show, P`Jem features Archer and T’Pol held hostage, bad Vulcans and Jeffrey Combs’s Andorian character. Unlike it, however, Shadows of P`Jem is a more multi-dimensional episode that does a better job of showing some of the complex political undercurrents in the situation.

star trek enterprise the forgottenThe direction by long time Trek director Mike Vejar is competent and professional as always and the FX department offers some gorgeous shots of Enterprise. The exterior shot of Enterprise moving to an interior shot of Archer brooding is not simply good FX, but reminiscent of Voyager’s Good Shepherd episode in the way that it ties in the universe outside with the people preparing to face them inside the ship. The sets are nothing spectacular but they are plausible. Jeffrey Combs, who was a recurring character on DS9 as the Vorta Weyoun, shows that he can create an entirely distinct character in the Andorian commander Shran. P’Jem also recycles another Trek guest star, bringing back the actor who played the condemned murderer in Repentance as the rebel faction leader. The shot of San Francisco bay outside as seen through porthole windows in Starfleet command is a particularly nice touch.

The episode begins with fallout from Archer’s actions in Andorian Incident, which have angered the Vulcans and rightfully so. After all, Archer decided to intervene in a conflict between two races each more powerful than humanity. Not a very smart move to say the least, but Archer unsurprisingly doesn’t see it that way. While the Admiral worries about humanity’s role in the greater political situation, Archer seems to have no concerns about the real world, except for a deep and abiding grudge against the Vulcans.

The current focus of that grudge is the Vulcan High Command’s recall of T’Pol. Archer even declares that the Vulcans took something valuable away from his father by not letting him live to see the launch of Enterprise and that they’re now doing it again by taking T’Pol away. It’s a rather bizarre turn of phrase, as is Archer’s attachment to her. She’s been on board for half a year and crew transfers are not unusual in any service. How long does he expect her to stay, anyway? But this follows a common pattern in which Archer leads with his heart and not with his head. Now Faith of the Heart may be the theme song for the series, but it’s not a great command style — though in Shadows of P`Jem it does reap some benefits for Archer when Shran feels sufficiently indebted to Archer for his similarly impulsive action in Andorian Incident and decides to mount a rescue attempt.

Most of this material is meant to serve as background for a T’Pol episode in which she responds to Archer’s insistence for an emotional affirmation of his feelings with the usual Vulcan sideline answers we’ve gotten to know quite well from the Kirk\Spock moments of the original series. The producers seem unsatisfied with that dialectic and so they’re placed in another hostage situation and this time they’re tied up too. Of course this is pushed well beyond the bounds of good taste during the mostly unnecessary rope scene to the point that it seems to border on the edge of fanfic. The producers at some point are going to have to decide if they want the Archer\T’Pol interaction to be based on the loyalty and friendship of the Kirk\Spock model or if they want to capitalize on their idea of sexual tension. But they have to understand that they can’t have both. As a result, some of the episode’s strongest T’Pol scenes don’t involve Archer but her interaction with Doctor Phlox in the mess hall and the terrorist in the camp.

Still the episode manages to produce some foreshadowing and intriguing, if minimalistic, political content. The Andorian/Vulcan political intrigue is clearly more than just border tensions, something Archer might have done well to realize before he turned over P’Jem to them. The Andorian culture also seems to have a strong sense of honor in addition to their militarism. However the producers should be careful when fleshing out this relatively sketchy original series race to give them characteristics that contrast with the Klingons, or risk having the Andorians become Klingons with blue skin and antennas.

They might also learn from their mistakes on Voyager and Janeway’s lack of credibility. Now anyone who’s seen a Voyager episode knows the pattern in which Janeway does something foolish but everything turns out alright in the end. This pattern is repeated again in Shadows of P’Jem. It’s almost shocking to realize that Voyager’s response to a hostage situation in Friendship One was actually competent and professional compared to the ineffectual bumbling of the Enterprise crew in Shadows of P`Jem. Trip unquestionably comes off worst of all when he spends his encounters with the Chancellor and the Vulcan Captain yelling aimlessly at them instead of coming to the meeting with a strategy and attempting to elicit some sort of cooperation and keep the lines of communications open. It’s a natural reaction for a worried family member or friend but it’s also borderline idiocy in a starship officer who’s in the direct chain of command.

Trip then tops it off when he inexplicably goes down to the planet in full Starfleet garb, sending the remaining two ranking members of the bridge crew to search for the shuttle pod instead of bringing down an entire armed security team into hostile territory. Some of this bizarre behavior might be explained if Trip never received any tactical training or if Earth has been so devastated that it didn’t have an operating military organization in half a century.

The behavior of the Vulcans only adds to the impression of an alternate universe since their actions and attitudes have no correlation with anything we have seen in Star Trek up to now, even clashing with their behavior in Andorian Incident. They seemed completely unwilling to defend P’Jem and the monks, even after it was exposed as a listening post and there was no further need for secrecy, yet they’re prepared to launch a raid and get in the middle of a civil war on an alien planet? Between fleet movements, propping up alien governments, hard line militaristic attitudes and commando units complete with explosive launchers, the Vulcans seem more like an Empire than anything else. It’s as if all the strategic and tactical know-how humans once had and regained in the post-Enterprise era was transferred over to the Vulcans. Shadows attempts to compensate for this by once again painting the Vulcans negatively but this does little to change the fact that the Vulcans knew what they were doing in a situation that didn’t require technological acumen so much as a basic grasp of strategy and intelligent decision making.

But this only sums up an episode where everyone but the humans know what they’re doing. Both the Vulcans and Andorians have an efficient rescue plan set to go. Even the hostage takers know what they’re doing. Only the humans proceed to bumble around, bluster and finally walk away without a single success. In point of fact, everything that is achieved in this episode from T’Pol’s second chance to the Captain’s rescue is accomplished through the aliens. There are necessary plot reasons for this, but it just isn’t particularly smart storytelling because it’s hard to respect the abilities of incompetent people. The premise of Enterprise must be based on more than just the enthusiasm of the Enterprise crew but also a certain degree of ability. Enterprise has recycled the idealism of Pulp SF heroes, but has forgotten that one of their hallmarks was competence, without which, your characters are reduced to buffoons bumbling around in a world they’re not prepared to handle, yet surviving anyway. That’s not drama. It’s comedy.

Next Week: Two men. One shuttlepod. Let the slash fanfic begin.

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