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Category Archives: Season 2 Of Star Trek Enterprise

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Expanse

Summary: After an alien attack devastates Earth and kills millions, Archer takes his ship on a new mission into the Delphic Expanse to locate the aliens responsible for the attack.

star trek enterprise the expanseIn many ways “The Expanse” is more of a 40 minute trailer for upcoming episodes in the revised and retooled 3rd season version of ENTERPRISE than an episode itself. Unlike the retoolings of previous spin-offs like DS9’s “Way of the Warrior” or VOYAGER’s “Scorpion,” The Expanse serves as a secondary pilot after “Broken Bow,” minus the character introductions. As such, “The Expanse” is less about what’s actually happening on screen and more about the premise that it sets up for next season. Like a trailer, it’s a flashy showcase chock full of ships, special effects, space battles, alien races, plot twists and emotions. And like a trailer it’s also shorthand for the kind of abrupt changes, many of which should probably have been played out in a more gradual transition.

Attacks on Earth have been more commonplace in the STAR TREK movies than any of the series because they imply a raising of the stakes to something so major it requires its own showcase. Like “The Expanse,” two ORIGINAL SERIES movies featured probes carrying out attacks on Earth, both of which turned out to be somewhat misguided. Two NEXT GENERATION films featured attempted attacks, which were more menacing and lethal in nature but still none of the four films or even DS9 came close to “The Expanse” in showing the sheer devastation and scale of destruction. The improvements in special effects are what make it possible but it’s Enterprise’s need to reassert the importance of the crew and their mission in the face of falling ratings and interest that prompted Berman and Braga to cut a swath across the more optimistic STAR TREK worldview of the future, as the Xindi probe devastates Earth in a way that not even the Borg had ever managed to do. Even if ENTERPRISE’s producers choose to jettison or back off some from the resulting changes to the series, the deaths of millions makes it impossible for the series or Archer to go back to ever being as naive and carefree as before while maintaining credibility.

The special effects of the probe’s attack are occasionally spotty but it’s the crew’s reactions along with Archer’s log entries that really convey the impact of the attack. Still, despite effective scenes including the crew’s first reaction to learning the news and Trip confronting the devastation at home, “The Expanse” is doing too many things at once to really focus on the effects of the attack on the crew. There’s Duras constantly menacing Enterprise and while the resulting Klingon scenes are entertaining and the space battle is ENTERPRISE’s best, it mainly seems to be there in order to present an on-going threat, as if the Xinti attack and the threat of the Expanse wasn’t enough for an audience the producers seem to be assuming is on the verge of ADD and won’t watch or enjoy the episode if there isn’t a constant stream of action. Duras’ pursuit is an important continuation of the events in “Judgment” and “Bounty” that brings Starfleet and the Klingons closer to hostilities, but cramming them into an already crammed 40 minute episode dealing with other major events was not the way to go.

After all, within those same 40 minutes millions die on Earth, the Suliban kidnap Archer for a conversation with Future Guy, Enterprise returns to Earth, Archer challenges Vulcan authority again, gets a new mission then travels for months to its destination and Enterprise’s crewmembers deal with the impact of all these events. There is a lot of good character scenes here, from T’Pol and Phlox’s discussion of their status as the only aliens on board a human Starship to Archer and Trip drinking together during the night. There are good action scenes including the sight of the first other armed Starfleet ships we’ve seen up till now as they rescue Enterprise, and the Enterprise rolling behind a pursuing Klingon ship masked by gaseous clouds in a hoary but yet entertaining revisiting of WRATH OF KHAN. There are revelations, from the first photon torpedoes to an update on the departure of the second Warp 5 starship, to the suggestion that Future Guy might be human after all. But pack a lot good scenes that never quite manage to flow into one another tightly together in a package whose primary role is to setup future material, and you have an episode that hits a lot of the right notes but never quite comes together in a symphony.

As a second pilot “The Expanse” covers a lot territory that “Broken Bow” missed, most importantly by giving us a sense of Earth and Starfleet that we never really got before “First Flight.” There are still missed details that future episodes should clear up including the question of the soldiers of what army are on board Enterprise exactly and why Earth needs an army in the first place. It also marks the diminution in importance of the Suliban, whom “Broken Bow” presented as nemeses but have now become reluctant allies at best. Since the pilot, the Suliban have failed as menaces or as characters and while some viewers may be complaining about their defanging in “The Expanse,” comparisons to the defanging of the Borg on VOY are not warranted simply because unlike the Borg, the Suliban were never impressive or terrifying. The Xinti, from the brief glance we got in Starfleet’s version of Area 51, also seem to rely on extensive makeup but it still looks more natural than the Suliban and certainly more menacing. Most importantly, though, “The Expanse” provides Archer with a sense of purpose and gravity that he’s never really had before. Archer has been a temperamental character who acted on impulse. Now those qualities come closer to being grounded by the dedication to serving a larger purpose as Kirk’s and Sisko’s were.

Ultimately, “The Expanse” is a trailer and so its impact and how we see it in the context of the larger series has to wait for the third season of ENTERPRISE to begin. It promises a lot, but how much subsequent episodes deliver remains to be seen.

Next week: Summer O’Reruns

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – First Flight and Bounty

“First Flight” and “Bounty”

Summary: While on a mission with T’Pol Archer recalls the rocky history of the Warp program. Archer is taken by a Tellarite bounty hunter as T’Pol’s mating drive kicks in

star trek enterprise first flight

First Flight

By airing two ENTERPRISE episodes on the same night UPN has given viewers the chance to compare two different approaches to the show. Both are clearly priority episodes and both have excellent production design and outstanding special effects and are professionally and capably directed by LeVar Burton and Roxann Dawson, respectively. The difference lies in the stories they tell and how they tell them. “First Flight” is a relatively subdued episode mostly told in flashbacks by two people in a shuttlecraft. It features very little action and its entire strength rests on an evocation of the risks and emotional drives of space exploration. “Bounty” by contrast goes to the well yet again by putting Archer in peril and featuring a sexually exploitative storyline for T’Pol with Klingons and a space battle thrown in for anyone who might be losing interest. By the logic of the school of plot development, which STAR TREK has often been accused of subscribing to and says an episode needs to put its main cast members in danger, include some T&A and deliver some action scenes to keep viewer interest, “Bounty” might be considered the better episode. But in actuality “First Flight” is far superior.

After the Columbia shuttle disaster there was talk of how ENT might commemorate the tragedy; intended or not, “First Flight” serves as a valid homage to the sprit that drives space exploration and the costs along the way. For all the solemn grandiloquence of the historical montage that opens every episode, the series has never come as close to the sprit of those discoverers, explorers, aviators and astronauts as it does here. Like VOYAGER’s “One Small Step” it offers a look back at the time when the future was made possible but “First Flight” is able to deliver on ENTERPRISE’s premise of the Birth of STAR TREK by showing that that time is now.

The series had promised to deliver this but its premise seems to offer just another starship with a slightly more rugged interior and just another crew slightly greener around the edges while substituting friction with the Vulcans for a genuine look at the progression of events between history and the future. “First Flight,” though, does what ENT up till now had only tried to accomplish with occasional references to the continuity of Starfleet’s warp program by actually showing just how raw and precarious the process that led from first contact to the 23rd century was. Countless episodes have gone back in time but “First Flight” is one of the few that actually orients itself and the series it’s part of in time.

Co-written by John Shiban and Chris Black, two of the staff’s best writers, and for once an episode not [apparently] originated by Berman

star trek enterprise bounty

Bounty

and Braga, “First Flight” has Archer piloting a shuttlepod on a mission of exploration even as he ponders and tries to find meaning in the death of a man who was his rival and who helped make him the Captain he is today. With T’Pol along to serve as his confessor, “First Flight,” as one of the last episodes of the season turns the tables on one of the first, reversing “Carbon Creek”‘s setup by having Archer tell T’Pol a seemingly unbelievable story about the past in flashbacks. It also reverses TNG’s “Tapestry,” which showed the young Picard as a risk taker by showing the younger Archer as a ‘by the book’ officer. The flashbacks don’t only show a less mature Archer but a less mature Starfleet in the form of Commodore Forrest, who finally gets some character development of his own, as he nervously tries to appease the Vulcans. Trip makes an appearance to show the origins of his relationship with Archer but Trip is just too ridiculous to allow for any character development by the contrast of his past and present selves. The flashbacks also ground Archer’s anger against the Vulcans in real complaints by showing that their refusal to fully share technology could have cost lives and how close they came to nearly derailing the entire space program in contrast to his contemporary grudge which has often seemed petty and prejudiced.

The process of the search for nebulae itself by Archer and T’Pol parallels the psychological process in which, even as she uses the shuttlepod’s instruments, T’Pol searches out what is bothering Archer and as he fires the charges that illuminate space, he comes to terms with the chain of events that brought him here. He also copes with what no captain has been shown to confront before: the possibility that maybe the best man for the job was the one who wasn’t chosen. Kirk’s rival Finnegan was so very clearly a bully and a fool. Picard’s friends in “Tapestry” were sidekicks like Trip. Anderson though, while at times reckless and unsympathetic, seems a more plausible candidate for the job than Archer does. It’s his idea that salvages the warp program and it’s the friction of his character that drives Archer to become more reckless and gregarious. And even at the end Archer hasn’t entirely let go of his jealousy so that it falls to T’Pol to suggest Anderson as the name for the newly discovered nebula. The nebula’s illumination, though, serves as closure for both the scientific and psychological search as Archer finds the drive for exploration that brought him here.

“Bounty” is in its own way an odd sort of episode. On the surface it appears to be designed as the ultimate sweeps episode and to that end it throws in just about everything imaginable to peak viewer interest. In a single episode the captain is kidnapped and threatened with death, T’Pol experiences her mating drive and there’s a space battle with Klingons. The only thing the producers seem to have left out are the Borg and they were on last week. But with all that content the actual episode mostly turns out to be a lukewarm story about a Tellarite captain with an unnatural attachment to his impounded ship. The problem might be that the episode is based on yet another Berman and Braga story and that the final script seems to have contributions from five different writers each of whom may have had a different episode in mind. But whatever happened behind the scenes the end result has a Tellarite Bounty Hunter getting more camera time than anyone else as he tells his listless story of woe involving the Klingon department of traffic enforcement and ship impoundment while T’Pol begs Dr. Phlox for sex.

“Bounty”‘s premise is a nice touch of continuity in that it follows up on the events of “Judgment” and even bases on an episode around its repercussions. It is good to see ENTERPRISE developing the Klingons as a hostile and expansionist alien race, as they should be in this time period of TREK, even accounting for this series’s warped continuity. If Archer’s rescue of the refugees led to the events in “Judgment” open hostilities between Enterprise and a Klingon vessel should have even more serious consequences. And Archer being kidnapped by an alien bounty hunter makes for an interesting premise.

Unfortunately, “Bounty”‘s premise does not involve an alien bounty hunter ruthlessly kidnapping Archer. Instead its premise has an alien bounty hunter kidnapping Archer and then complaining about his sad lot in life. On the way to the docking bay Trip reminds Archer that Tellarites are belligerent and aggressive, unfortunately he failed to remind the writers of this since the Tellarites we see are all depressed and whiny. Yes the Bounty Hunter is kidnapping people and taking them off to be disemboweled by the Klingons but that’s only because he really wants his ship back. And of course that makes it all right. Any number of people who have had their vehicles impounded by the traffic department probably have the urge to buy a gun and go around the country hunting down people to pay off their fines and could probably sympathize with Skalaar. Unfortunately while Robert O’Reilly is wasted on a minor part, the part of Skalaar is tepidly acted with all the energy of a Prozac medicated Ben Stein. That leeches any remaining momentum out of a storyline whose few twists and turns are borrowed respectively from “Precious Cargo,” “Canamar” and “Dawn”; all from this very season.

That leaves us with “Bounty”‘s B-story, undoubtedly gleefully thought up by Team B&B, that has T’Pol going into premature Pon Farr. It’s ironic that Roxann Dawson directed “Bounty” as she was stuck with the same ridiculous and degrading storyline in VOY’s “Blood Fever.” The difference is that this time she gets to be on the other side of the camera. John Billingsley has no such luck and even though Phlox has managed to keep his dignity in some pretty bad scenes and some pretty bad dialogues in the past, Billinglessly not only can’t redeem the scene but loses Phlox’s dignity too. Meanwhile ENT’s writers demonstrate that not only can they not keep track of STAR TREK continuity, they can’t even keep track of their own, as Dr. Phlox–despite being part of an interspecies medical exchange program and possessing expertise with large numbers of species–doesn’t know about Pon Farr while both Hoshi and Trip do. It can be hard to remember now that the original Pon Farr episode was a heartfelt and powerful production written by talented Science Fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon. It wasn’t about sleaze, or snickering gags about mating urges but about the power of the bond between two colleagues and friends. It’s an episode these writers might do well to review before they touch on the subject again.

To some fans each STAR TREK series creates new low points going lower than any spin-off has gone before. As “First Flight” presents one franchise high point, “Bounty”‘s scenes with T’Pol present a new low point. That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment for any series to pull off in one night.

Next Week: Hostile aliens probe Earth as Archer looks resolutely into the camera.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Regeneration

Summary: The Borg make a comeback as Enterprise goes where just about every Star Trek series has gone before.

There’s nothing precisely wrong with “Regeneration.” Unlike some of the more mediocre NEXT GENERATION and VOYAGER efforts, it

star trek enterprise regeneration

"Wait, a Starship named Enterprise. Haven't we done this before?"

manages to let the Borg keep their dignity while portraying them as ominous and menacing. It doesn’t reduce them to a single oversexed Borg queen and even gives them back some of their mystery. But at the same time there’s nothing precisely right about “Regeneration” either. Maybe over the past decade the potential of the Borg has been thoroughly tapped out by various STAR TREK spinoffs or maybe any future Borg episodes or movies need to break new ground to be effective. Either way, despite striking work by David Livingston, particularly in the arctic scenes, and an adequate enough script, “Regeneration” ends up regenerating all the cliches resulting in an episode that just doesn’t add up to much of anything.

Like FIRST CONTACT, the movie that the episode serves as a pseudo-sequel to, “Regeneration” plays as a horror movie with the Borg as the monsters. Beginning with the arctic discovery scene that suggests a homage to the classic Sci-Fi monster film, THE THING, the Borg appear as monsters safely buried until somebody foolish enough digs them up resulting in the usual havoc horror movies are made of. Substitute mummies or vampires for Borg and you could have pretty much the same episode, and there is a case to be made for arguing that the Borg are indeed space-age vampires. After all, they’re nearly invincible to ordinary unmodified weapons. They infect their victims, making them one of their kind with double-fanged incisions causing them to lose their humanity. They rest in special alcoves analogous to vampire coffins. And like all vampires the final confrontation with them, in any number of the Borg episodes, from their first appearance to this one where Archer plays Van Helsing, involves a trip to their lair.

What has elevated the best Borg episodes above mere space fright has been the examination of the borderline between human being and Borg in episodes like “The Best of Both Worlds,” “I, Borg” or “Dark Frontier” rather than reducing the Borg to shambling monsters. “Regeneration” makes some attempt towards incorporating such a storyline with Phlox’s infection, which also results in some of the episode’s best scenes including a memorable exchange with Hoshi. But it never really explores the boundary between individuality and collectivism as the above mentioned episodes did, instead it mainly features Phlox being sick. Archer’s storyline that deals with his realization that he can’t save the research team is plausible enough, though never really gripping. It might have been more gripping if Enterprise crewmembers had been on that transport forcing Archer to sacrifice the lives of his own people. But as it is Archer is once again coming to realize something the audience already knows, which may make for some character development but not for interesting viewing.

“Regeneration”‘s resolution also comes a little too unbelievably easy considering what a challenge the Borg were for Picard and Co. in the

star trek enterprise regeneration

"Resistance is futile. Resist... You know with our track record, it's probably not futile. Go ahead and resist."

24th century while Archer and Co. experience much less trouble disposing of them in the 22nd century. Admittedly they are facing weaker and smaller numbers of Borg but the key Borg strategy in this story is a timed shutdown of Enterprise’s power systems at a critical moment, which is a bit too cunning for the more literal-minded Borg, who traditionally utilize direct smash and grab tactics.

But mostly “Regeneration” is an episode-scale reworking of FIRST CONTACT without a revenge motive for the captain or a master plan for the Borg. And without a significant motive on either side, it’s is reduced to another ‘Borg as Monsters’ plot that could have been done with any number of monsters or races. There’s no real risk for the Enterprise because “Regeneration” is a stand alone episode with no future repercussions despite its ending since we know that it’s Q who will bring the Enterprise-D into contact with the Borg well ahead of schedule. And there’s no new ground being broken because “Regeneration” offers nothing in the way of a plot that we haven’t seen before. With those factors eliminated the only justification for the episode seems to be the need to exploit the Borg one more time in the hope of boosting ENTERPRISE’s ratings. So instead of the Borg assimilating the series to add to its perfection, ENTERPRISE assimilates the Borg to add them to its mediocrity.

Next week: Can the show do better with two chances on one night?

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Cogenitor

Summary: A first contact goes awry when Trip teaches a slave to read

I’ve been saying for a while now that Rick Berman and Brannon Braga co-write far too many ENTERPRISE episodes and while that is still true, “Cogenitor” is nevertheless one of their better efforts, bringing to mind the classic NEXT GENERATION episode, “The Outcast.” LeVar Burton does a superb job directing the episode and while TNG and B5’s Andreas Katsulas has little to do in this episode beyond making small talk with Archer, he still puts across a strong on-screen presence. Despite some of the adolescent snickering that seems to be an inevitable part of any Braga-written episode that deals with sex, Dominic Keating keeps his dignity and manages to play Reed’s romance with a fellow weapons officer as an understated attraction rather than broad comic relief.

star trek enterprise cogenitorBut neither Archer’s expedition or Reed’s romance are the main story, instead Trip is the center of attention yet again seemingly ending up with more episodes centered around him than either Archer or T’Pol. Like “Dear Doctor,” “Cogenitor” is centered around a moral dilemma and like “Dear Doctor,” it suffers from an attempt to narrow the range of viewpoints to one instead of keeping the debate open. And like a lot of Berman and Braga episodes it suffers from random characterization in that it has Archer adopt a viewpoint because it fits the plot rather than arising naturally from the character’s attitudes. When Trip claims that he did what Captain Archer would have done, he’s right on the nose and Archer’s outrage at the suggestion is comical.

Archer is certainly not Picard. He has had no trouble disrupting first contacts and interfering in alien societies. In “Detained” he sabotaged a first contact with potential allies against the Suliban in order to free the detained Suliban because he believed it was the right thing to do. In “A Night in Sickbay,” he nearly sabotages a first contact because he blames the aliens for making his dog sick. In “Marauders” he taught the miners to fight back against the Klingons and in “Judgement” he helped colonists escape from the Klingon Empire. He interfered in the Vulcan\Andorian conflict in “The Andorian Incident” and took sides in a hunting expedition in “Rogue Planet.” In “Stigma” he certainly didn’t take the attitude that it might be perfectly acceptable for a different culture to discriminate against their own society and treats the matter as being just as outrageous and unacceptable as if it was happening in human society. In “Marauders,” “Detained” and “Judgement,” he didn’t take the position that enslaved people should remain enslaved as he does in “Cogenitor” and that it’s the people who are trying to free them who are to blame. After all, by that logic it was the civil rights workers who were responsible for the lynchings. And if Archer were to take that position, then those Suliban who died trying to escape in “Detained” and any colonists who could have been killed in “Marauders” would have been the fault of Archer for teaching them to resist slavery.

In “A Night In Sickbay,” Captain Archer was outraged at the suggestion that he should have kept his dog on the ship to avoid damaging a first contact. Porthos has a right to fresh air, Archer insists. But apparently a sentient being who is treated as an object doesn’t have the right to freedom if it interfers a first contact. Either in Archer’s world, his dog is more important than the rights of a sentient being or “Cogenitor” misrepresents Archer’s character. In “Stigma” Archer self-righteously demanded a hearing for T’Pol from the Vulcan doctors but if the “Cogenitor” ever gets a similar hearing and a chance to defend her asylum request, we never see it. Instead, the Cogenitor asks Archer to be treated equally and he replies that he can’t impose his notion of rights on her. That’s a ridiculous response even by the standards of moral relativism. While the Cogenitor may not have asked to learn how to read, she did ask for asylum and she was clearly being mistreated. Archer gives no real grounds for denying her application except that he’s worried about ruining a first contact and yet he’s had no problem ruining first contacts in the past over a moral issue. Instead Archer uses her off-screen suicide to argue that Trip did the wrong thing though it could just as well prove that Archer did the wrong thing, especially since her suicide was a direct result of his denial of her request. Instead, in another out of character move, the episode has Trip suddenly admitting that he was wrong. It’s an ending that feels odd and abrupt as if material was missing and as with “Dear Doctor,” you have to wonder if the original ending wasn’t cut out and replaced by a new final scene at the last minute.

Archer argues that Trip should have foreseen the consequences of teaching the Cogenitor to read but that assumes the consequences were inevitable. But were they really? Other possibilities included the Cogenitor returning home to spread literacy and the idea of natural rights to other Cogenitors resulting in a gender rights movement or the entire species being forced to confront their prejudices and their society improving as a result. So if the consequences weren’t inevitable, then did Trip do the right thing? The enslaved status of the Cogenitor is part of the alien culture but that’s not a justification for it. After all, witch burning and slavery were part of our culture. Genital mutilation and stoning heretics is part of other cultures today yet that doesn’t stop us from granting their victims asylum because there are basic principles of natural rights that transcend cultural differences. Archer himself has stood up for those principles time and time again so he can’t credibly argue otherwise since Trip has as much right to apply natural rights to the alien society as Archer does to Vulcan society. With those arguments dismantled, all that’s left is Archer’s unstated desire to get his hands on the alien technology. It’s not a minor point since the human race is in danger from a variety of enemies and in this and numerous other episodes, Enterprise encounters superior ships for which it is no match. And it might have made for a credible argument, as Archer has to weigh the safety of his ship and the security of humanity against the freedom of one alien. But beyond T’Pol’s hints and Archer’s final scene in which he seems more tormented than angry, the issue is never openly broached.

Mike Resnick’s Hugo and Nebula Award nominated 1989 Science Fiction short story ‘For I Have Touched The Sky’, which also shares a name with an Original Series episode, addressed a similar situation. In a future society which attempts to simulate an authentic African culture, a girl named Kamari wants to learn how to read. In the Kikuyu culture, though, women are not allowed to read and in the resulting battle of wills between the shaman and the girl, the end result is the same as that of “Cogenitor,” but the reason why is not a mystery. Instead it’s in the title of the story. It’s also a far superior treatment of the subject than “Cogenitor” and anyone who found the issues in this episode intriguing should read it either in book or e-book form.

Next week: The Borg assimilate Enterprise or is it the other way around?

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Judgement

Summary: Archer experiences the unfairness of the Klingon justice system firsthand.

star trek enterprise judgementGreat heroes need great antagonists to confront and oppose. The Original Series created two great antagonist races, the Romulans and the Klingons, which every STAR TREK series has continued to use and which, arguably, none have improved upon. But even though the Klingons were key antagonists for the original Enterprise crew, ENTERPRISE until now has been stuck with a TNG-era view of the pop culture foe: somewhat troublesome allies, not ruthless conquerors and slavemasters. This is probably because the show’s producers date back only to TNG. The Klingon Empire in “Judgment,” however, is shown as a true empire complete with the enslaved races that were there in the Original Series and seemed to have been forgotten about by the 24th century. “Judgement” does not entirely upstage the TNG view of the Klingons but it comes closer to the TOS view, which is a vital necessity if ENTER{RISE is to retool itself into a better TV series.

Where during ENT’s previous Klingon encounters, the ridged-ones could mostly be talked around to the human view of things (“Unexpected,” “Sleeping Dogs”) or dismissed as rogue elements (“Marauders”), “Judgement” is the first Klingon-centered episode where they don’t do the reasonable thing by the end of the episode and instead take a decidedly hostile course of action by sentencing Archer to life in an arctic Klingon gulag. Whether this will translate into a change in how the Klingons relate to humans in future episodes, when Archer has become a fugitive from Klingon justice, depends on whether or not the producers will choose to uphold series continuity or not. “Judgement” itself, though, is certainly full of STAR TREK continuity references, from ‘Captain Duras’ suggesting a relationship to Worf’s antagonist to major elements of STAR TRE VI, including the tribunal set design and the dilithium mines of Rura Penthe complete with abusive guards and a variety of alien scum.

Captain Archer himself is also closer to Kirk in this episode than he’s ever been so far. He displays courage and determination rather than the impulsiveness and obtuseness that have so often characterized Archer. Former Martok actor J.G. Hertzler also creates a better character in the form of ‘Kolos’, an aging and disaffected gruff Klingon lawyer out of place in the new order. Of course Kolos’ speech about the warrior class having taken over Klingon society is rather dubious at best since the Klingons are not the Romulans or the Cardassians. The warrior class hasn’t taken over their society; violent confrontation is the basis of their society, culture, and biology from the times of ‘Kahless’ to the 24th century.

Even Klingons who were part human or raised by humans like ‘Worf’, ‘K’heylar’ or ‘B’Elanna’ inherited it. That speech along with Archer’s cliched homily about the human past smacks of an attempt to humanize Klingons into just another yet-to-be-civilized culture along human lines like the Cardassians or Ferengi.

These days UPN seems to bill just about every ENT episode as an ENT Event, but “Judgement” is one of the few episodes that’s worthy of the name. Everything from the direction to the actors is just right with an episode that appears to cover a lot of ground and with each character, no matter how minor, making a distinct impression. The visual effects and production design departments have outdone themselves again. Money was clearly spent on this episode and it shows in the FX of the exteriors of the Tribunal and the Klingon ship and the Tribunal interior, which does its best to reproduce the original and unique Klingon set design of STAR TREK VI, from a courtroom that’s narrow but sweeps high upwards to the Klingon judge’s alien gavel.

Overall “Judgement” is the series’s first solid Klingon episode. Where prior STAR TREK spin-offs produced filler Klingon episodes as an attempt to boost ratings with the appearance of a popular race, this episode has a decent grasp of continuity, a viewpoint and a message. It has its flaws. Archer’s rescue is more originally accomplished and plausible than a standard starship rescue might have been, but its abruptness and lack of build-up with an offhand comment by T’Pol makes the conclusion seem rushed. Had “Judgement” seen Archer captured and put on trial for any of his prior negative Klingon encounters, it would have boosted continuity and freed up more time for a heartier conclusion to the episode which, like many TREK episodes, now suffers in the reduced running time (39 vs 44 minutes) that UPN has provided.

Next week: Another ENT Event: Mayweather’s family yells at each other.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Crossing

Summary: Spectral aliens try to take over the Enterprise crew when their own spaceship breaks down.

star trek enterprise the crossingSTAR TREK has done many alien possession episodes and “The Crossing” is another one of them. It’s not the worst of them but it’s certainly not the best of them either. Based on yet another story by Berman and Braga it rehashes TREK formulas without adding anything to them. Over a decade ago, TNG aired “Lonely Among Us” in its first season. Like “The Crossing,” the Enterprise runs into a spectral alien that takes possession of members of the crew and Picard to further its goals. Somewhat later TNG aired “Power Play,” in which more spectral aliens take over members of the Enterprise crew also as a means of transport. Unlike “The Crossing,” “Lonely Among Us” and “Power Play” both used the theme of possession as a means of exploring how the familiar Enterprise crew could become both alien and menacing. “The Crossing,” though, focuses on gags about Trip stuffing his face and Reed trying to mate with any available female with only Hoshi displaying any sense of unnatural menace. Nor does the episode offer anything as memorable as a possessed O’Brien trying to silence his child or a possessed Picard contemplating exploring the universe in non-corporeal form.

And for an Invasion of the Body Snatchers storyline, “Crossing” can’t even manage to generate much suspense, which should be a snap. Instead, aside from some bad behavior by Hoshi and Trip, all the possessed crewmembers allow themselves to be locked up without any trouble. Rather than trying to take over the ship they seem to be a lot more interested in having some fun in their new bodies in between brief lectures to Archer on how much he’ll enjoy being non-corporeal, a state of being Archer would obviously have little interest in unless the aliens also offered to make Porthos non-corporeal too. Despite the fact that the Enterprise crew has no thought out plan for containing the threat, the aliens are themselves in no hurry to take over the Enterprise crew and don’t bother to do anything as simple as taking over the command crew or security first or hopping from the bodies of locked up crewmembers to ones that aren’t locked up. Even the funny hatted aliens in Voyager’s “Displaced” had a better plan and a better twist to their plot.

The aliens’ reason for trying to take over the Enterprise crew is rather mundane. Apparently it’s easier for them to take possession of some human bodies than repair their own starship. That’s the trouble with all those spectral aliens who’ve evolved to a higher plane of being. They’re not willing to pull up their non-existent shirtsleeves and do the dirty work of maintaining their own starship. Apparently spectral aliens residing on a higher plane of being don’t just evolve beyond corporeal bodies but also evolve beyond the timeless values of hard work and self-discipline. Unfortunately many spectral aliens would rather just take the easy way out and take possession of any available humanoid without thinking the consequences through and it always ends in tears.

“The Crossing” does, however, do a better job of using the ensemble cast with Hoshi, Phlox and Mayweather getting something to do, instead of the entire episode focusing on just Archer, T’Pol and Trip as far too many have. Indeed John Billingsley‘s ability to make even Phlox’s most routine tasks and dialogue seem extraordinary and entertaining is really the only thing that makes this story watchable. There’s no other actor or character on the cast that could make pulling open a panel seem more interesting than half the rest of the cast being possessed by aliens put together. Even with Phlox playing a crucial role in saving the ship, the final act still isn’t particularly gripping but it is watchable.

David Livingston returns yet again to ENTERPRISE and does his usual good work directing the episode, though he has little enough to work with. The script by Berman, Braga and Andre Bormanis based on a story by Berman and Braga serves as yet another demonstration of why the exec producers should leave the writing to the writers they’ve hired instead of coming up with original stories any random viewer could also come up with by watching STAR TREK reruns. Only the use of the catwalk is a nice touch of continuity that seems to suggest that we’ll be seeing the nacelle catwalks used as a kind of makeshift auxiliary bridge on Enterprise in the future.

Next week: Captain Archer faces the Klingon justice of STAR TREK VI.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Canamar

Summary: ENTERPIRSE does CON-AIR.

One of the odder things about “Canamar” is that the episode is named after a place we never see, namely Canamar itself. The ad campaign for star trek enterprise canamarthe episode also cited an alien prison, when in fact the entire episode takes place on board a hijacked prison transport. This is actually an improvement over the standard alien prison plot that we’ve seen in STAR TREK time and time again. Particularly since we just had an alien prison plot in Season 1 with “Detained” and a good deal of episodes to date have seen Archer imprisoned or held hostage. “Canamar” improves on them by turning Archer from a passive captive into an active conspirator scheming for a chance to break free while adopting an alter ego for the purposes of deceiving his captors. But where Shatner and Stewart adopted carefree roguish alter egos when forced to impersonate criminals in “A Piece of the Action” or “Gambit,” Bakula’s alter ego is a bit looser but still dour and brooding; a decision which passed up a chance for Bakula to shake up his Archer persona a little and play a role with some more panache.

There were two obvious ways to do an episode like “Canamar,” as a piece of social commentary on the justice system or as a more carefree heist plot. STAR TREK has done the former any number of times and “Canamar” is no competition for truly memorable episodes like DS9’s “Hard Time” or VOYAGER’s “The Chute.” Particularly since “Canamar” has nothing new to add insofar as social commentary goes and no clear message to offer despite a closing note by Archer suggesting this was the case. Aside from one life story, “Canamar” never shows us the actual prison and all we really know about the justice system is that it’s not very thorough, the guards scowl a lot and get violent with the prisoners. But those are just cliches and unlike Voyager’s “Redemption,” “Canamar” never goes any deeper. The latter option might have provided some entertaining material that would have flowed naturally from the interaction with the menagerie of alien criminals on the transport. But instead of opening up as Trinneer does, Bakula shuts down and aside from some moments of camaraderie with Kuroda, doesn’t seem to be feeling much of anything. His closing lines suggest that he considered this to be a horrific experience but we don’t really see that in his performance throughout the episode.

“Canamar” does offers better than average characterizations for the episode’s characters, however There’s Kuroda, its chief villain, played by Mark Rolston, who turns in a memorable performance as a hard and ruthless criminal in a hard and ruthless world. Sean Whalen’s Zoumas makes for an entertaining and irritating presence and even the token Nausicaan heavy has the occasional offbeat response that makes him seem more than just a token heavy. The result is to transform characters that would otherwise have been throwaway cardboard cutouts meant only to serve the interests of the plot into actual people.

A good deal of the credit goes to John Shiban‘s snappy dialogue while longtime STAR TREK director Allan Kroeker infuses the episode with a dark atmosphere more reminiscent of DS9 than of ENTERPRISE. The special effects department continues to outdo itself with two new ship designs that are both unique and memorable, gorgeous orbital scenes and plasma and crash effects.

ENTERPRISE’s end of the search story, though, could have been discarded entirely and the episode would have been more successful and suspenseful by focusing on the claustrophobic conditions of the transport without Archer and Trip or the audience knowing if anyone was even searching for them. Unlike VOYAGER’s similarly structured “The Chute,” the interaction with the Enolian doesn’t even offer any meaningful insights into the Enolian society. Instead, its only star trek enterprise canamar contribution is to ry and ramp up the tension with the threat of the patrol ships destroying the transport, which we know won’t happen anyway, and to show the progress of the search, which only weakens the suspense by pulling away from the situation Archer and Trip find themselves in.

All in all, “Canamar”‘s strength comes from its character interactions and its dialogue rather than any social commentary the episode was meant to deliver through an evocation of penal conditions or any suspense from a plot that has seen plenty of wear and tear over the years. As far as that goes it’s a serviceable episode that while not quite measuring up to some of the best ENTERPRISE episodes of the season, demonstrates how much the average episode has improved since the first season and how valuable John Shiban is to the writing team.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Future Tense

Summary: The Enterprise encounters a ship from the future whose possession is immediately contested by both the Suliban and the Tholians.

The X-Files is often brought up when discussing Enterprise’s Temporal Cold War arc and with good reason. Like the X-Files, it’s full of star trek enterprise future tensemysterious forces, secret conflicts and strange mysteries. Also like the X-Files,the arc often seems light on content and heavy on suggestion. But where “Broken Bow,” “Cold Front” and “Shockwave” pursued conventional storytelling approaches via traditional action and suspense stories, “Future Tense”‘s real story is focused around the discovery of a ship from the future and the impact of the implications of that discovery on the crew. From T’Pol coming to terms with the reality of interspecies mating to Trip and Reed pondering whether it would be better to know the future or remain in the dark, this is what “Future Tense” does best and what it’s meant to do.

The action component of “Future Tense” though, which consists of Enterprise running from one place to another while being chased by CGI ships to be capped off by a Deus Ex Machina ending, is weak and peripheral to the core story. The action component mostly seems to exist in order to inject some excitement into a Sweeps episode and provide a reason for Enterprise to dispose of the 31st century ship. While the Tholian’s first appearance is intriguing, we’ve all seen Enterprise being chased around and blasted away at by Suliban cell ships more than enough times by now. It all feels formulaic and unnecessary especially when dangerously mounting radiation levels from the ship, or perhaps the fear that humans weren’t ready for such advanced technology, could have provided all the plot justification for activating the beacon in the first place.

Dropping Pandora’s Box into the lap of the characters is a standard SF plot and has been done on Star Trek plenty of times before but thanks to Enterprise’s prequel premise, “Future Tense” can open that box and show surprises inside that link directly to the back story not merely of the series but of the entire franchise. Enterprise has often mishandled this material by having Archer directly reference aspects of the future he couldn’t possibly know with terminology that was too on the nose (“Dear Doctor”), but FT gets it right by having the revelations come directly from the future in an unexpected way. In “Cold Front,” Daniels suggested that he was not entirely human and “Future Tense” explains what he meant as by the 31st century, a significant portion of the human race has apparently interbred with other species resulting in a hybridized humanity that is a significant and intriguing change. It’s also one that gives the Enterprise-era Humans and Vulcans in the pre-Spock era food for thought.

The 31st century ship itself, which in a Dr. Who vein, is bigger inside than outside is also a nice demonstration of future technology that also star trek enterprise future tenseallows the set designers to save money by using a smaller model. Thusfar TREK has not been very good at coming up with futuristic technology that would genuinely surpass anything we had seen in the 24th century, but this space-saver starship is the first futuristic technology to make it in. Trip and Reed’s Groundhog Day Effect juxtaposed with their topic of conversation served to give the ship’s powers credibility along with a real life demonstration of the impact of knowing what will come next and did it in a clever and offbeat way in a series that all too often delivers predictable dialogue and scenes that tell rather than show. “Shockwave 2” came far too close to giving us the distinct impression that the 31st century holds the same relationship to the 24th century as the Enterprise era does to our own; namely that the people were the same and the gadgets had improved a little but were still completely recognizable. “Future Tense”‘s tesseracting starship helps to restore some of that sense of mystery the 31st century is supposed to hold.

Like the aforementioned X-Files, FT does suffer from the problem of being an arc episode that unlike “Cold Front,” “Broken Bow” or “Shockwave” fails to significantly advance the story. It doesn’t reveal anything that moves the story forwards, it doesn’t develop the Tholians or the Suliban any further and it doesn’t really tell us much we didn’t already know. Its strength is in the character moments; it works best as the characters respond to the revelations as in the conversations between T’Pol and Dr. Phlox, T’Pol and Archer, and Reed and Trip. Its weakness comes about because an episode that should have stayed with those character moments is grafted onto action and fight scenes that aren’t really necessary and don’t work. In an attempt to inflate what should have been a smaller story into a bigger event episode, “Future Tense” almost loses touch with what makes the story work in the first place.

Next week: Archer’s beatings return as a major story focus as he goes off to Alien Prison.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Cease Fire

Summary: Archer attempts to mediate between a Vulcan and Andorian territorial dispute.

“Cease Fire” is a much stronger follow up to “The Andorian Incident” than the rather mediocre “Shadows of P’Jem,” which saw Enterprise’s star trek enterprise cease fire entire command crew blunder into getting captured and remaining outside observers to much of the action. “Cease Fire” by contrast sees Trip taking a strong command posture where in “Shadows” he was reduced to yelling ineffectually at the Vulcan commander. Archer and T’Pol again find themselves in hostile territory but Archer maintains control of the situation and does his best to find solutions. The Andorians and Vulcans are also far better developed here than they were in either “Andorian Incident” or “Shadows”. Though the Vulcans are still portrayed rather unsympathetically and the episode makes it clear the writers’ own sympathies lie more with the Andorians than the Vulcans, this is still the first time Ambassador Soval has been developed at all and portrayed as anything but an arrogant and bigoted martinet.

Between the special UPN promos, two major franchise guest stars and top notch production values in the planetside scenes, the action scenes and gorgeous CGI work on the Vulcan and Andorian ships, “Cease Fire” seems to have had the benefit of a special push from the producers and the network. More money has been spent on-screen and this time out it’s been combined with a fairly good script to make for the best Vulcan\Andorian episode to date. Like “Andorian Incident” and “Shadows of P’Jem,” “Cease Fire” does suffer from the outsider syndrome in which the crew are outsiders intervening between quarreling aliens. Where the previous two episodes both tried to resolve this dramatic problem by having Archer and T’Pol taken hostage, “Fire” avoids such obviously cheesy gimmicks in favor of more generalized ‘behind enemy lines’ sequences.

While it does end up deploying the hoary formula of the fanatical subordinate contrasted with the more sympathetic leader as the central dilemma whose resolution comes when the former is exposed to the latter, it’s still preferable to the fanatical leader contrasted with the more sympathetic subordinate, which Voyager’s latter seasons used almost non-stop. This formula is still a widely used television cliche and although Plakson’s part is woefully underwritten, the actors do what they can to give each line their own unique style and spin. It doesn’t always work and Plakson’s stylized film noir delivery, which worked quite well during her TNG appearances is often out of place, especially in her final scene, it still makes the material more interesting to watch and lifts the dialogue somewhat above its formulaic roots.

By contrast there are flashes of clever and off-beat dialogue such as the battlefield exchange between T’Pol and Ambassador Soval, which

star trek enterprise cease fire

“Cease Fire” could have used more of instead of the old standbys about war, negotiation and peace that marked Combs and Plakson’s repartee and any Star Trek viewer has already heard time and time again. There is just enough good dialogue in “Cease Fire” to cause one to wonder if Chris Black wasn’t being held back by the producers from being a little more adventurous with the lines in a few of the key scenes. Devoting some more time to developing Shran’s character with scenes that don’t necessarily directly advance the plot would also be a good idea. Combs’ Weyoun made quite an impression in a single episode mainly because time was dedicated to developing his race and his character even in an episode where he was doomed to be killed off by the end. By comparison we still know very little about the Andorians except that they are part of an Empire, are angry a lot of the time and don’t much like the Vulcans and that isn’t a lot to go on when building the identity of an entire species.

“Cease Fire,” though is a good place to start laying the ground work. Shran here develops more of a personality and thus an identity and even a sense of humor. Ambassador Soval gets a background and a history and a somewhat dry sense of humor of his own. Archer manages to go through most of the episode acting like an able and competent Starship Captain who can think on his feet without behaving foolishly and can act as a diplomat instead of ranting over the slightest insult. T’Pol manages to get more relevant character development in an episode not even centered around her, than she did in the T’Pol-centered “Stigma.” Phlox manages to steal another sickbay scene that doesn’t even center around him and Trip gets another moment in the sun.

Trip’s threat to fire on the two groups of ships is a bit on the irrational side considering the legal fact that Starfleet had been called to mediate the dispute and had no territorial status here and the practical fact that based on what we’ve seen up till now, any single one of the ships from either fleet could have taken Enterprise apart without breaking a sweat. Still, it harks back to proper TOS tradition and by playing it as much for comic value as suspense through Archer’s last minute message, it avoids the kind of overblown self-righteousness such scenes usually involve for Archer. The fact that Trineer is also a better actor and Trip a more likeable character than Archer undoubtedly helped as well.

All in all, “Cease Fire” could have used a more original plot but still has plenty of memorable character moments, snips of memorable dialogue, and noteworthy production values while effectively advancing the galactic drama of the Federation’s founding.

Next week: From Andorians and Vulcans to Suliban, Oh My.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Stigma

Summary: T’Pol gets a disease from a mind-meld. Archer gets self-righteous. Trip copes with sexual harassment in the workplace. And we learn that the Vulcans are a really evil bunch of people in comparison to the enlightened and noble humans.

Anyone who has ever had to sit through a well-meaning but disastrous Star Trek episode like “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield,” “Angel One”

star trek enterprise stigma

"I am sensing that this will be an STD metaphor episode."

or “Critical Care” knows that the quality of an episode does not necessarily correlate with the seriousness of the political issue it tries to address. In this case Rick Berman and Brannon Braga have produced a sequel to the embarrassing “Fusion” that goes where 21 Jump Street and Touched by an Angel have gone before.

Social relevance has always been part of Star Trek’s legacy, but it’s hard for Star Trek fans to deny that the emphasis tends to be on the ‘been’ as explicit social commentary is something that is mostly in Star Trek’s past. “Stigma” will do little to change that perception as it is neither ground-breaking or relevant, but a case of Enterprise tackling an issue that was tackled by TV shows that wanted to be ‘edgy’ in the 80’s and 90’s. Such an episode might have been timely had TNG shot Gerrold’s AIDS script; today Enterprise is just the last guest at a wedding and has nothing to add that an afterschool special on the same subject wouldn’t have said. Indeed the only way for “Stigma” to be as important and ground-breaking as Berman, Braga and the UPN promo department seem to think it is would require building a time machine and going back two decades.

Where the Original Series tackled controversial issues in new ways, Enterprise spools out a by-the-numbers episode without a trace of subtlety that includes every possible cliche and is dated to anyone who’s watched a few episodes of ER, let alone anything more substantial. And in a time when the real challenge of AIDS is now focused on a global effort to fight AIDS in impoverished nations, “Stigma” is still stuck in a time warp addressing issues that even Touched by an Angel tackled years before. And when an issue has already become fodder for Touched by an Angel, it’s pretty obvious that “Stigma” is a day late and a dollar short insofar as TV shows tackling AIDS and intolerance towards homosexuality are concerned. It is more reminiscent of celebrities holding fundraisers for key issues that have more to do with promoting their image than with solving the issue. “Stigma” smacks of that same self-congratulatory air that suggests that it’s more about having the producers and the audience feel good about how enlightened they are, than about saying something vital and meaningful about a disease that’s killing millions of people around the world.

None of this, though, is really the problem. “Stigma” may be a dull and not particularly entertaining or interesting viewing but it is in its continuing assault on continuity as it goes further into turning the Vulcans into despicable and evil characters than any Enterprise episode up until now has done, that it commits its real offense. When Berman and Braga decided to set the next Star Trek spinoff in the past for a Birth of the Federation scenario they decided that they would need antagonists for their hero and flying in the face of everything that made Star Trek work, the Vulcans were slotted to fill that role. But if anyone had expected that the Vulcans would present obstacles through a clash of ideas, Berman and Braga have repeatedly made the Vulcans villainous and despicable people who act out of character and behave in ways that decades of Star Trek tell us is entirely contrary. Aside from T’Pol, Archer’s Vulcan antagonists don’t merely disagree with him. They sink to new lows to oppose him in ways that make Archer seem noble and the Vulcans like Ambassador Soval in “Shockwave 2,” the Vulcan elders in the Andorian Incident and now the Vulcan Doctors in “Stigma” seem to be petty, manipulative and despicable people. Anyone who doubts how extreme this state of affairs has become only needs to consider that on Enterprise the Klingons have come off a lot better than the Vulcans. That alone says it all. On Enterprise the Vulcans are actually worse people than the Klingons.

Enterprise was supposed to showcase a raw and more undeveloped humanity in transition to becoming the centerpiece of the Federation. Instead the humans have become noble heroes and the Vulcans have become spiteful villains who lie, blackmail and threaten; who are bigots, imperialists and the villains of nearly every episode that focuses on them. When Archer proclaims to the Vulcans that their criticisms of humanity are not only wrong but that humans are better people than Vulcans, you can almost hear Gene Roddenberry spinning in his grave. When he insists that humans have gotten rid of bigotry, you tend to wonder how they did it. With some sort of bigotry vacuum cleaner that just sucked up all the bigotry from the planet, or maybe some piece of technobabble molecular ‘de-bigotrizing’ ray?

Enterprise offers no clues in that regard or even any supporting evidence. Indeed, by now we know a lot more about Enterprise-era Vulcan culture than we know about its human culture, which demonstrates yet again that Enterprise has forgotten its mandate in favor of sweeping questions about human development under the rug. Because it’s so much easier to just put a villainous Vulcan on the screen for the audience to hiss and boo at than to question the morality of our heroes. And this makes Archer’s claim that humans had long abandoned bigotry all the more ironic, considering his constant outbursts of bigotry directed at Vulcans and aliens in general. But then “Stigma” is dedicated to the premise that the best way to come out against gay bashing is by bashing Vulcans.

“Stigma” is a case study of an episode that demonstrates why stories about social issues should be written by the people who actually care about them and why Star Trek should be written by people who don’t think IDIC is the abbreviation for the name of their local phone company. It takes a plot derivative of DS9’s “Equilibrium,” which also featured a female alien crew member in danger of dying because of a dirty secret kept by her species’ doctors, grafts it onto their perception of a socially-relevant issue gained from reruns of better TV shows and turns it into a follow-up to the awful “Fusion;” another Berman and Braga product. Instead of having the characters say what they feel, they rely on having the characters deliver flat and artificial issue-oriented dialogue that is as stylized and hollow as any ad jingle. By the end, what’s left is another episode in which Archer gets to sanctimoniously lord it over the Vulcans who are revealed as being more despicable than ever. Oh and there’s a not particularly amusing B-Plot involving Trip being stalked by one of Doctor Phlox’s wives who like any TV male from the 50’s hasn’t the faintest idea what to do about a sexually aggressive woman.

Next week: When Vulcans and Andorians get in a snit who can possibly come to the rescue? Noble Human, Captain Archer perhaps?

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