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Category Archives: Season 3 Of Star Trek Enterprise

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Strategem

Synopsis: Enterprise captures the creator of the Xindi weapon and with time running out try to trick him into revealing the weapon’s location.

star trek enterprise stratagemReview: “Stratagem” is both a strong episode in and of itself and a worthy follow-up to “Proving Ground” as part of the Xindi arc. More intriguingly, “Stratagem” is an ENTERPRISE that plays out more like an episode ALIAS.

By committing to the premise of the third season in which Earth and humanity face the threat of imminent extermination, ENT created the problem of a threat that required extreme measures. “Anomaly” is about as far as a STAR TREK series is likely to take the idea of a Starfleet Captain using force to extract information. “Stratagem” does an ingenious end run around the problem by creating a logically worked out situation in which the solution is both ruthless and non-violent.

But at the same time, “Stratagem” also gives us one of the most human villains to date in terms of our ability to empathize with him. Randy Oglesby’s ‘Degra’ is a fully realized character who is well aware of the moral consequences of his actions and manages to get across the character’s emotions in a way that is shocking for a character who never seemed particularly significant or distinctive in earlier episodes. When Degra realizes what he has done in giving away the location on the bridge, his face falls and as perverse as it might be we can empathize with his pain at what he sees as his betrayal of his people.

It is ironic that “Stratagem” is essentially a holodeck episode minus the holodeck but that it manages to succeed far better than most holodeck episodes. Like Moriarty in “Ship in a Bottle,” the premise involves a ship within a ship and an illusion within an illusion. But unlike that TNG episode, the goal is not to untangle all the layers of illusion but the interaction between Archer and Degra. Two characters both utterly determined and driven by the fear of a terrible future and the moral compromises they have had to make. And both lying to each other and suppressing their feelings to make themselves as cold and hard as they have to be to do what they believe needs to be done.

Visually the debris of the proving ground serve as both a plausible tool for Enterprise’s malfunction without resorting to technobabble, and a credible source of tension whjile the incoming Xindi ship serves as a reminder for the destructive force Degra has unleashed.

Michael Sussman’s teleplay and veteran STAR TREK director Mike Vejar bring together their talents to create an episode that flows seamlessly and smoothly without any noticeable gaps to its conclusion. Like “Proving Ground” before it, “Stratagem” has a momentum that the Xindi arc has lacked until now. It’s another triumph of efficiency in storytelling for ENTERPRISE, overcoming many of the obstacles that have traditionally held the series back.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Proving Ground

Synopsis: Archer finds dubious Andorian allies in his quest to stop the Xindi weapon.

star trek enterprise proving groundReview: Proving Ground may very well stand as the best Xindi arc episode to date, not because like “Twilight” it does something extraordinary. Instead it stands out because it has the qualities that should be commonplace in ENTERPRISE episodes but sadly haven’t been.

“Proving Ground” manages to be a suspenseful episode because the suspense doesn’t come out of staged threats or characters behaving like idiots for the convenience of the plot, but out of the interactions of the agendas of well-rounded and written characters. All out of a story that finally gets the season back on track with the Xindi arc instead of wandering around aimlessly through various distractions. And most of all, a story that brings back the sense of imminent danger to humanity that we haven’t really seen since “Twilight” and probably the end of last season before that.

Chris Black writing on his own for once manages to inject life into even the most mundane scenes with snappy and witty dialogue that actually develops the characters. We even have a meaningful scene dealing with Trip’s sister, one of the first real growth scenes this season that have so far reduced his grieving process to a series of erotic massages from T’Pol, with of all people, Shran. Bakula comes off as a bit stiff and irritable but Jeffrey Combs manages to make the most out of every second of his screen time. This is unquestionably his best performance as Shran; the conflict between his liking for humans and his duty to the Imperial Guard makes the Shran character fully multi-dimensional as he moves seamlessly from comedy to tragedy.

But even the more minor scenes and characters get their due. The interaction between Lt. Talas and Lt. Reed is fun to watch but it also develops her sufficiently enough to make her actions in transmitting the probe data to the Enterprise credible. The tension within the Xindi High Council is tighter and more explosive than ever. So tightly wound that an explosion between the moderate and extreme Xindi seems all but inevitable. And all the while Shran has now been developed into something like Archer’s Q, a nemesis of sorts who nevertheless respects the Captain even if he more often acts as an obstacle.

On the directing side, veteran STAR TREK director David Livingston turns in another professional effort. The episode under him plays out like a heist movie with quick sharp scenes that focus on the essentials and don’t waste time on anything else. Suspense builds slowly but surely and unlike “Chosen Realm” is never squandered with an easy resolution but instead builds to the final confrontation between Archer and Shran that almost has a touch of WRATH OF KHAN to it. And for once Archer doesn’t defeat an opponent through heroics or technobabble or luck; but by out-thinking him and ultimately out-bluffing him.

The Andorian sets themselves lit with blue are a nice touch and somewhat reminiscent of the Enterprise-D sets suggesting that maybe the Andorians had more to do with the visual decor of Starfleet than humans did. The Andorian visual communications have an oddly faded 60’s touch very reminiscent of STAR TREK’s Original Series look. The Andorian Starship may not look like it would be believable on TOS but the Andorian General looking out from that circular screen looks as if he would be very much at home talking to Captain Kirk over it. The contrasts between the three sets of command bridges, Xindi, Human and Andorian help give the episode a grand scope visually that can’t simply be done with CGI starships. Playing out the same scene while moving from the perspective three locales builds up the suspense nicely.

Meanwhile the Xindi story has now been significantly advanced with Enterprise scoring its first real victory over the Xindi. The data losses of last week have been partially recovered, though this incident suggests Enterprise needs better data backup protection. And with data on the probe and a prototype destroyed, Enterprise now has given Earth a fighting chance against the coming Xindi assault. And ENTERPRISE, the series, has produced what may well be the best episode of the Xindi. Certainly the best at progressing the story, at showing life-like characters interacting with each other and at delivering a suspenseful and entertaining story that’s worth every minute.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Chosen Realm

Synopsis: Fanatical aliens who worship the creators of the mysterious spheres hijack Enterprise.

Review: “Chosen Realm” has many of the ingredients of a good and possibly even great episode. There’s a strong performance by both Archer and the Prenom. There’s a story with current events and sociopolitical relevance. It’s an episode written by promising ENTERPRISE newcomer Manny Coto, who had also been responsible for the rather intriguing “Similitude” and directed by Roxann Dawson, who has quickly become a veteran series director. But “Realm” never actually becomes a great episode or even a particularly good one.

star trek enterprise chosen realmThere are a number of reasons for this. First is the formulaic plot that when stripped down to its skeleton is yet another story about aliens hijacking a starship and forcing the crew to retake it. And as formulaic plots go, “Chosen Realm”‘s is a thoroughly uninspired, by-the-numbers rendition of episodes we’ve seen a hundred times over. Right down to one of the aliens proving to be a sympathetic ally and aiding the crew in the retaking of the ship. It’s all predictable. Very predictable indeed.

But not only is it predictable but it’s also clumsily executed. Archer is too quick to cooperate with the hijackers while at the same time picking arguments over religion he knows will achieve nothing instead of using the Prenom’s obvious desire to bond with him for his own purposes. The method of Archer’s execution–his chat room style conversation with Phlox and Phlox’s bat would have been great moments in a comedy episode–but feel out of place in the stridently serious “Chosen Realm.” The hijackers go from open ruthlessness in taking lives to ignoring missing personnel and being satisfied with trying to chase down the saboteur instead of lining up members of the Enterprise crew and threatening to shoot them if the saboteur didn’t turn himself in. Behavior that would have been entirely in character for them. But the Prenom abandons his supposed ruthlessness just in time for the crew to get the drop on him. The result is action scenes with no real intensity or impact.

It’s also a little hard to believe that the Prenom had read Archer’s logs, that he and his crew had full access to Enterprise’s systems and yet didn’t know the function of the transporter. Even if he hadn’t read up on it before this, it would have taken a few seconds of reading the logs to determine what it really was for. Certainly the notion that a starship would build a special device for executions on board a ship that doesn’t have all that many people on it to begin with should have raised some serious suspicions.

All this might not have mattered too much if “Chosen Realm” had managed to make the characters and the ideas gripping enough to make us overlook the threadbare plot. Unfortunately the script doesn’t have ideas so much as it has cliches with no real life or depth. Like many religions on STAR TREK, the religion of the aliens is absurd and vague. Where real religions and ideologies connect to the lives of their worshipers in a real way, no matter how unreal they might be, religions on STAR TREK usually fall into two categories. They’re either incantations of vague spirituality in which the religion is hodge-podge of new age and a Hollywood writer’s surface grasp of eastern philosophy that neither stands for anything or means anything except ‘peace’ and ‘love’ and ‘destiny’; or their entire religion is defined by fanatical lunacy in which they’re out to slaughter everyone who doesn’t believe as they do. “Chosen Realm” is a textbook definition of the latter, especially since Archer frames his accusation in almost these exact same words. But it rarely feels like a real religion, a faith people would be willing to kill and die for.

Even the most extremist and fanatic religions are not defined by fanaticism, so much as the fanaticism is an expression of their interaction with the larger world. But “Chosen Realm” makes the commonplace STAR TREK mistake of assuming that creating a believable religion is just a matter of throwing together an absurd belief with fanatics who rant on about it. But no real life religion is as simple as that and the result is another two-dimensional villain overcome by the predictable and unchallenged good of Starfleet ideals. By the time we learn that the entire conflict over their belief system lies in a difference over how many days the spheres were created in, the episode has stopped even bothering to maintain the illusion of its credibility.

And that is a shame because drama comes from a conflict in which the victory is not easy or inevitable. An episode in which the villain is easily beaten would be boring. Similarly, a battle of ideas in which there’s never any doubt as to the outcome holds little interest. No episode whose battles are fought solely with weapons and in which there is no actual contest of ideas can seriously claim to be an episode about ideas. STAR TREK’s best episodes of ideas have been episodes that were never that simplistic. There are no complications in “Chosen Realm,” though, no doubt as to who is right. There is a physical struggle but no intellectual struggle.

Its strongest point is the guest-starring performance by the actor portraying the Prenom, who in cooperating with Dawson plays the character as a man who genuinely believes himself to be a hero, instead of an obvious villain as such characters are often portrayed on TREK. As such, he’s closer toKurtwood Smith‘s ‘Annorax’ than F. Murray Abraham‘s ‘Ru’afo’. That makes his final revelation on the planet all the more tragic when he finally has no choice but to see himself as the villain.

But Coto’s script gives little to anyone else on the Enterprise crew other than fight or distract the guards. T’Pol has an out of character angry confrontation with the Prenom over science vs. religion but has little else to do except be casually restrained when attempting to prevent the Prenom from destroying his enemy’s ships. Thus once again demonstrating that the ENTERPRISE producers have again forgotten that T’Pol as a Vulcan has superhuman strength and special combat training. And instead she ends up as another helpless female in yet another episode.

Archer gets the bulk of the dialogue but he never manages to to come off as particularly cogent in dealing with the Prenom and no real connection ever occurs. Coto’s script seems to be making some attempt to link the Prenom and Archer perhaps as a commentary on the possible person Archer could become if he continues down a path of ruthless fanaticism. But that element never really comes through in the episode, especially as Archer is confronting a physical threat, and the Prenom’s threat is independent thought. The Prenom needs to see himself as a hero while Archer has increasingly abandoned that notion in favor of a brute force pragmatism. The Prenom makes a great show of his sensitivity and empathy to compensate for the self-indulgent nature of his brutality while Archer conceals those outwardly in order to do what has to be done because he knows he has no other choice.

Ultimately the invocation of religious fanaticism, suicide bombers, and holy wars bringing down societies is supposed to seem topical and relevant but it never does. Aside from the suicide bomber preparing to blow himself up as a crewmember watches, “Chosen Realm” doesn’t feel particularly relevant. A truly insightful episode should have something more to say than ‘killing people in the name of religion is bad’ or at least find a better way to say it. “Chosen Realm” very badly wants to be “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield” but lacks either the intensity or the struggle. So, unfortunately, it fails to make the grade as either an action episode or an ideas episode, leaving it with little to offer except a memorable guest star and yet another hole punched in Enterprise’s side.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Carpenter Street

Synopsis: Archer and T’Pol do Starsky and Hutch going back in time to the 21st century to stop an attempt by the Insectoid Xindi on earth’s past.

star trek enterprise carpenter streetReview: It’s odd for ENTERPRISE producers to schedule two retro episodes like “North Star” and “Carpenter Street” so close together, and indeed the two episodes do have a lot of similarities. Both borrow the visual style of an action genre, the western and the 70’s cop show. Both are fun to look at with strong direction but aside from the occasional comic moment, take themselves far too seriously in stories that don’t add up to very much. But “Carpenter Street” isn’t nearly as visually adventurous as “North Star” and it takes itself even more seriously. Where “North Star” committed itself completely to the material it was paying homage too, “Carpenter Street” picks and chooses a few elements with no real enthusiasm or vigor.

Time travel episodes on STAR TREK and elsewhere in Sci-Fi usually provide plenty of comic material. From Kirk claiming that Spock’s ears were crushed in a cotton picker, to Picard doing Shakespeare to dodge paying the rent, to militia goons capturing Torres and Chakotay. “Carpenter Street” has some comic moments, but not nearly enough, and its only real high points are T’Pol recovering her strength this season in her tough, no-nonesense treatment of Loomis; and Archer offering to untie Loomis so he can hit him again. Most of the remaining comic moments come from Loomis but instead of being played broadly for laughs, Loomis is played by an actor who tends to play disturbed characters and his performance isn’t really broad comedy but nervous and fidgety; a lot like his guest role on NYPD Blue.

For whatever reason, “Carpenter Street” is set in the present day even though if the car Archer drives had been removed, the episode could just as easily have been set in the 70’s or the 80’s which would have been more adventurous and in keeping with the visual theme. A theme into which Loomis’ apartment, haircut and fashion choices would have fit in perfectly. Also it would be more credible than having the Xindi pick our time out of all the other points in Earth’s history they could have gone to. After all, what are the odds of that anyway? Presumably Braga and Berman thought that a present day setting would be simpler to do and make the threat more relevant to the audience; but it’s not like the audience was sitting on pins and needles anyway worried about the Xindi virus being released. “Carpenter Street” could at least have had some fun with the 70’s.

In some ways, the idea of integrating “Carpenter Street” into the Xindi arc rather than having the characters take a vacation from dealing with the superweapon due to obliterate the human race as in “North Star” was smart. But on the other hand, if the Xindi could travel back to Earth’s past, then why bother with the entire process of designing a weapon and flying it to Earth. All they really had to do was go back a few thousand years and wipe out a handful of nomadic proto-humans. The Borg in FIRST CONTACT behaved logically since they didn’t want to wipe out humanity, just assimilate it. The Xindi though want to wipe out humanity and instead they tinker around with a bio-weapon in recent human history when there are much easier ways to accomplish their goals if they can travel through time. “Rajiin” too starts to make very little sense if the Xindi had all of Earth’s past at their disposal. So does sending the weapon prototype to attack Earth in the 22nd century instead of the 19th when Earth would have had no defense against it. And so the integration with the Xindi arc rather than being a strong point begins to raise questions the episode can’t answer but that just cast doubt about the credibility of the Xindi arc.

The actual use of the Reptilian Xindi in the realistic 20th century set designs also pointed up how fake and shiny and plastic the Xindi star trek enterprise carpenter streetReptilian costumes look. On ENTERPRISE or another spaceship, Sci-Fi designs don’t stand out nearly as much, but put up against textured natural materials like wood and brick, the costumes look like something off the discount post-Halloween sale rack. Having the Xindi alter their appearance, or using humanoid Xindi, might have expanded our knowledge of them, saved money on makeup and been creepier than the latex. ENTERPRISE often uses humanoid-looking aliens with just a dab of latex here or there when it shouldn’t, but this was one case where the producers should have gone for a humanoid look. There might have been a scene where one of the Xindi would peel off the human mask to reveal the Reptilian inside that would again have been more disturbing than having Reptilian Xindi running around the city.

The oddest part of “Carpenter Street” might be the episode’s decision to hang most of it around the character of Loomis, a low grade sleazeball without much in the way of interesting or redeeming qualities. The episode begins with him and ends with him, even though aside from occasional bits of comic relief, he contributes nothing to the episode. At one point the rumor regarding “Carpenter Street” was that the producers were looking for a ‘name star’ to play the part of Loomis and that may explain why Loomis ‘looms’ so large in this episode. But since at the end of the day the producers ended up a casting a capable but generally unknown actor who’s played a number of roles on STAR TREK over the years, it’s unclear why the Loomis character continued to play such a large role in the episode.

In order to accommodate the Loomis character, the episode had to have Archer do some pretty stupid things. First his plan to sneak in alone using Loomis and then take on the Reptilian Xindi is nothing short of foolish. Loomis is not trustworthy, as we find out later, and when your team only has two people on it and the enemy outnumbers it, splitting up is just senseless. In “Rajiin” and “Twilight,” we’ve seen that the Reptilian Xindi are very tough and very formidable and easily defeated the MACO’s even when the numbers were even. Archer taking them on alone is nothing short of insane and his being able to do it so easily discredits the Xindi as a capable enemy.

And why keep Loomis around anyway once Archer was inside? There is no real reason except that the plot calls for a bit of suspense that has Loomis attacking T’Pol. Like most of what happens in the episode, Archer’s decisions make no sense except as setups for action scenes borrowed from TV shows with even worse writing. All in all Loomis is the single biggest weakness because the plot warps around him. If an actual big name had been cast in the part, centering the episode around him might have made some sense. But lacking any depth, complexity or redeeming qualities, Loomis is nothing more than 30 seconds of comic relief stretched out to 15 minutes. T’Pol at one point suggests that Loomis encapsulates the worst qualities of the 21th century, which we might take as the writer’s view of Loomis. Except of course the worst qualities of the 21st century would involve mass murder, brutal dictatorships and theocracies and the eugenics war, which STAR TREK once again forgets about. Loomis is just a petty sleazeball. He doesn’t represent the moral failings of the 21st century, just the failings of this episode.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Similitude

Synopsis: When an accident puts Trip into a coma, a mimetic symbiote is grown with a lifespan of only 15 days to serve as a donor of neural tissue.

Review: “Similitude” is an interesting episode with an interesting concept. LeVar Burton‘s direction is smooth but unremarkable, giving the characters room to breathe while Manny Coto‘s script works through the material without any of the clumsiness that might be expected from a new writer. Bringing back Archer’s boyhood remote control spaceship from “Broken Bow” was a nice touch of continuity as was revisiting Dr. Phlox’s issues with his son. Coto has clearly done his homework.

star trek enterprise similitudeLike VOYAGER’s controversial “Tuvix”, this episode involves the creation of a ‘new’ crew member out of an old one and sacrificing his life to save the life of the original. It does dodge some of the controversy by soft pedaling the elements that made “Tuvix” so controversial, however. “Similitude” doesn’t really feature the destruction of a unique being, since there really isn’t much of a difference between Trip 1.0 and Trip 2.0 or Sim. Where Tuvix was a unique combination producing a personality very different from either Tuvok or Neelix, Trip 2.0 quickly becomes all but indistinguishable from Trip 1.0 making the entire debate somewhat moot.

The only difference between them is that Trip 2.0 has a few days extra memories spent around the ship. The situation might have been better if it had been the teenaged Trip who had to make the decision and fight for his life since there would at least have been a clear difference between the two of them.

“Similitude” also dodges the bullet of having the captain force the new crew member to die in two ways. First by giving him a limited lifespan so that his death becomes inevitable anyway. Second, despite an intense scene between Archer and Trip in Trip’s quarters, Trip ultimately makes the decision to undergo the operation himself. These, however, aren’t weaknesses because “Similitude”‘s focus really isn’t so much on the controversy of the situation, despite the apparent analogies to stem cell research and cloning, as on the character interplay of the cast and Trip 2.0’s evolution within the ongoing Xindi arc. That’s why when Trip decides to undergo the procedure the reason he gives ties in with the beginning of the entire Xindi storyline in the Xindi probe’s attack on earth.

In a way “Similitude” is actually closer to lifespan episodes like TNG’s “The Inner Light” that give us the sense of experiencing somebody’s life being lived from beginning to end within the constraints of a single episode. Of course the problem is that Trip’s life isn’t very interesting and neither is Trip. We relearn such revelations about Trip that he loves engineering, key lime pie and T’Pol. Oh and he apparently has had the same hair cut for 30 years, unless the hair style was also encoded in his DNA, which considering this episode’s scientific credibility is entirely possible. It’s Trip 2.0’s plight that is interesting, not his personality.

Usually when STAR TREK does episodes of this kind, medical techniques of questionable morality figure prominently. Such as the research on Bajoran slave laborers by the Cardassian holographic physician Creel Mosset or Dr. Crusher’s colleague who used patients as test subjects. Despite their moral qualms, the characters end up succumbing to the necessity of using these means to serve the end of saving the lives of their crewmembers even while shaking their heads over the moral leap. “Similitude” is no different in that regard, with Archer being prepared to go much further than ever before to save Trip’s life and oscillating between appeals to Trip’s humanity while treating him as less than human. Like “Tuvix” there isn’t much of a debate in “Similitude” and the appeal of the other side is mostly the unspoken presentation of Trip 2.0’s life weighed against the necessity that drives Archer’s actions.

Unlike “Tuvix” though the crew isn’t presented as being quite the amoral Stepford zombies that VOYAGER’s crew was. Here the crew members find different means of relating to Trip 2.0. But then unlike “Tuvix,” “Similitude” never pushes the moral dilemma to the breaking point, leaving no middle ground besides rescuing a crewmember through cold-blooded murder. That is probably a good thing since either letting Trip 1.0 die in the name of morality or killing Trip 2.0 to save a friend would be a decision that would make it impossible for a large portion of the viewers to view Archer as a credible Starship Captain. So despite Archer’s murder threat the choice is ultimately left up to Trip 2.0 to make. Still, you have to wonder if Archer isn’t exploiting the Xindi state of emergency to take an action that has more to do with his personal friendship for Trip than with the mission itself. But at least the Enterprise crew is portrayed as more professionally oriented and lacking the cliquish feel of a false family that made “Tuvix” so unnerving. They remain friendly with Trip 2.0 even as they categorize him as ‘disposable’, which is still disturbing but in a whole different way.

Trip 2.0’s own challenge to Archer over what makes him different from Trip 1.0 goes to a long time question on STAR TREK which has offered plenty of duplicates, clones, time traveling selves and other challenges to personal identity. First we might simply argue that a difference that makes no difference is no difference at all and so if we can’t define clearly how Trip 2.0 is a different person, then we’ve failed to prove that he is. An alternative track might be to argue Continuity of Consciousness, that what matters is not simply a perfect duplicate but the continuity of the consciousness of the original person. You can create an exact duplicate of someone with the same body and memories but without a continuity of consciousness we would end up with a different person. The problem with that is the transporter, which regularly breaks apart crewmembers into energy and then reassembles them from the pattern stored in the buffer. So arguably continuity of consciousness falls apart with each transport, as Dr. McCoy feared, and every time you’re transported you die and a stranger with your memories shows up on the pad on the other side. That would mean that Archer himself is probably Archer 4.0 or 5.0 by now.

But putting aside the philosophical questions, it’s important for the characters to pretend that there is a difference so they can do what they need to do. And if they can’t pretend that he really isn’t human, they can at least pretend that he isn’t one of their friends because that way it would be even harder to recognize what they’ve done. Of course we create moral boundaries by drawing lines to demarcate moral and immoral acts. Both the animal rights and abortion debates center around such lines, where different belief systems draw them, how you define who has rights, and how you balance necessity with morality.

After “Similitude” it’s no real surprise that the mimetic symbiotes have not exactly become standard equipment in the sickbay across Starfleet. We could all too easily imagine the horror of a Blade Runnerish society, with two classes of citizens: those who are the long-lived and those who are short-lived and which 15-day doubles are raised and disposed like everything else in a consumerist society.

The final funeral service in which Trip 2.0 is treated like an officer who died in the line of duty instead of an organ donor with a built in self-destruct sequence does show exactly how “Similitude” differs from “Tuvix.” The crew recognizes the moral cost of their actions and attempts to recognize Trip 2.0’s humanity in the best way they know how. Ironically enough it is Trip 1.0 who is confused at the service since it centers around a man he’s never met, himself.

Next Week: The day before Thanksgiving hasn’t been kind to ENT.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – North Star

Synopsis: Proof positive that you don’t need a holodeck to do a holodeck episode.

Review: There’s no denying that “North Star” looks great. David Straiton‘s direction is amazing with a desaturated look, tilted camera star trek enterprise north star angles and affectations that STAR TREK episodes usually don’t go for, it all culminating in the spectacular final shootout. But like some of the holodeck episodes on TNG or VOYAGER, with scenarios mimicking noir detective stories or black and white pulp sci-fi TV adventures, the producers have loosened their grip and allowed the director some creative freedom. And it paid off. Unfortunately it’s also the only thing that worked.

STAR TREK has done westerns before but they worked by either employing broad comedy as a takeoff on the cliches of the West as in TNG’s “A Fistful of Data”‘s or as social relevance employed to test human progress in TOS’s “Specter of the Gun” (it’s notable by the way that both of these were holodeck episodes, though “Specter” actually took place in the holodeck of the mind.) “North Star,” though, seems to want to take both routes at the same time and manages to do neither, which is what often happens when you try to combine incompatible objectives. “North Star” would have been better off going straight for the comic angle we see early as a tribute to the genre and then writing the whole thing off as an imaginary event or a fantasy or some such thing. Or, if the producers wanted social relevance, the material needed to be updated to the 22nd century as with ENT’s own “Marauders” or at the very least they should have done something more than unimaginatively pile every single western cliche in the book on top of one another and borrow a premise from one of VOY’s worst episodes, “The 37’s,” to justify it all and expect people to care about the moral issues involved.

When movies were first being made and the film industry was in a similar state to Internet companies in the late 90’s, westerns were shoveled out the door at a frenzied rate. Today the western is all but dead on film, on television, and even at the bookstore because you can’t simply keep reusing the same cliches over and over again without even the most apathetic and mind-numbed viewer getting sick of the whole thing. But that’s exactly what “North Star” does and unlike “A Fistful of Data”‘s (written by Brannon Braga by the way), it expects that by replacing Native Americans with aliens who actually look more similar to the humans than movie “Indians” ever did, the audience will forgive the banality. Of course it doesn’t work anymore than STAR TREK: INSURRECTION did when it tried the same exact thing, replacing Native Americans with more Caucasians and almost-indistinguishable-from-humans alien characters. Even without the western setting, the whole ‘persecuted minority’ plot is threadbare and a faded retread of far better STAR TREK episodes.

Good westerns reexamine history and the place of the characters in it. Western comedies play off all the old cliches for comic effect. Bad star trek enterprise north star westerns pile on the tripe into a formulaic framework that was old long ago. “North Star” is a bad western beginning with its premise. Apparently humans are such good workers that lots of alien races are willing to travel all across the galaxy just to ship off a bunch of humans to do slave labor for them. Inevitably, like zombies in a mad scientist’s laboratory, the humans rebel and overthrow the aliens making you wonder why the aliens didn’t just save themselves the bother and build androids or return to the negotiating table with the representatives of their striking alien unions.

The premise then becomes even more absurd since apparently for centuries, despite overthrowing an alien race with transporters and phasers, they haven’t made an ounce of progress in all that time. Not technological progress and not even any kind of social progress. But the west couldn’t exist as an isolated phenomenon. It was a consequence of social and political and technological trends occurring elsewhere in the United States. Even “The 37’s” assumed that the descendants of the human slaves would reach technological parity with their captors but “North Star” asks us to believe that the result would be a static society duplicating the west in every feature. None of this would be a problem if the whole scenario wasn’t real or if it was all being played for laughs but by introducing the Scags and playing out emotional scenes that ask us to care about what’s happening here, the episode requires that we believe in what’s happening with more conviction than bad poker bluff. And once the episode asks the audience for emotional investment, it has to deliver a credible plot and premise, which “North Star” fails to do.

There’s no question that at times the episode is fun to watch, particularly the final shootout, which is directed and edited with all the bravado star trek enterprise north star and gusto of a spaghetti western. But it doesn’t work as a purely fun episode because instead of being played for laughs, we instead get burdened with the tedious and preachy ‘Scag’ storyline that Bakula and Bergl take as seriously in their performances as if every word of dialogue and every plot twist wasn’t as old as D.W. Griffith. It certainly doesn’t work as a socially-relevant episode because the entire premise is absurd.

So that leaves “North Star” as a flashy and good-looking episode without the substance it pretends to have. It’s too serious to be funny and too funny to be serious.

Next week: Can Trip come back from the dead just like Spock and Jesus did?

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Twilight

Synopsis: Archer loses his ability to form long term memories and flashes forwards through time when infected by Trans-temporal parasites.

Review: Time travel episodes have traditionally been STAR TREK’s strength, after all, the greatest episode of the franchise is generally

star trek enterprise twilight

This isn't the Twilight where he's a vampire

acknowledged to be “City on the Edge of Forever.” As STAR TREK has grown older and become more static, this has increasingly come to be the case as time travel episodes allow for a reset button that let shows do what they normally wouldn’t dare. Namely, disturb the status quo, bang up the ship, kill off major characters or have those characters carry out morally questionable actions, or confess their love for one another

VOYAGER’s “Year of Hell” had Voyager and its crew endure a number of drastic events that the show never allowed to happen and is a classic example of the mold “Twilight” closely resembles. “All Good Things,” TNG’s great finale in which a mentally degenerating Picard copes with the destruction of humanity and changes made in the future resonate in the past, also represents this fine tradition.

But “Twilight” is no worse of an episode even if it does walk (or warp) along a well-trodden path. In a season supposedly dedicated to revolutionary change, in which only one episode thus far (the increasingly aptly titled “Anomaly”), delivered on; “Twilight” helps shake things up. Like VOY’s “YOH,” “Twilight” suggests that things may not go all that smoothly and that there will be bumps in the road. Its vision of Xindi dedicated to wiping out every trace of humanity, to the last man, woman and child is shocking and harrowing in a way that “All Good Things…”‘s more intellectualized eradication of humanity never quite reached. Thusfar the Xindi haven’t been all that impressive of an enemy, certainly failing to aspire to the impressive stature of the Borg or the Dominion, but the thoroughness and ruthlessness they display brings them yet closer to credible and memorable foes.

Blending elements of “AGT…” and “YOH,” Mike Sussman‘s script summons up a post-history of humanity that combines the former’s eloquent vision of the mortality of one man juxtaposed with the morality of the human species as a whole, with the latter’s personal history of a ship and crew driven to the brink of destruction in stages of battering pursuit to annihilation. Scott Bakula gives one of his best performances as Archer and Blalock delivers another strong performance as T’Pol. She still, however, puts on emotional displays that seem a bit out of place, like the look of naked anguish on her face as Earth is destroyed. Despite the nature of the temporal parasites that infect Archer, his incapacity is more prosaic and natural than the time-hopping we might otherwise have expected in this type of episode.

Like MEMENTO’s main character, his inability to remember makes his problem natural enough to seem less of a science fictional trope and more of an authentic crippling disability. Indeed, towards the end Archer seems to be able to maintain his memories for a bit too long which raises some questions, but of course the same objection was made of MEMENTO. Nevertheless, the resolution is both natural and plausible. Unlike “All Good Things…”‘s or “Timescape”‘s or “Before and After”‘s emphasis on the mind-bending contemplation of the artificiality of time, ENTERPRISE takes the temporal mechanics for granted and focuses instead on the people.

“Twilight” was clearly a priority for producers simply based on the amount of money that must have gone into it. From the Xindi destruction star trek enterprise twilightof Earth, to multiple space battles with Xindi ships, to the Xindi destruction of the Enterprise Bridge, there are some great special effects here. And the image of the convoy, of the last six thousand humans seeking a place of refuge, goes beyond FX and becomes one of those memorable and moving FX shots in line with “Call To Arms”‘s shot of the fleet or “Year of Hell”‘s shot of Voyager’s hull being ripped away as the ship goes to warp. The budget has clearly been bent more than a little to make all of this possible and on occasion the makeup suffers with inconsistencies cropping up in T’Pol’s makeup and Hoshi and Reed having to make do with different hair styles to show their age.

Some may criticize “Twilight” as a ‘Reset Button’ episode whose events don’t actually affect succeeding episodes and are wiped clean by the end of the episode. But that’s not all together accurate. Reset Button episodes allow for things to happen that couldn’t happen on the show itself, such as the death of the entire crew and the destruction of Earth and the Enterprise. They also allow writers and producers to set up future storylines or explore some possible ideas they’ve been toying with to get viewer reactions.

‘Reset Button’ episodes should also make the writers and producers ask themselves whether perhaps they shouldn’t be pushing the limits of what can happen in regular episodes as well. In that sense, “Twilight”‘s success also points out the need to break a lot of the unwritten rules that STAR TREK series have become saddled with. “Anomaly” and “Twilight” are both useful steps in this direction and it needs to happen more than only in these rare moments.

Next Week: Go West, young man.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Shipment

Synopsis: The Enterprise arrives at an isolated colony where a part of the Xindi weapon is being built, forcing Archer to entrust the survival of his mission to a Xindi.

star trek enterprise shipmentReview: “Shipment” finally kicks the Xindi arc into high gear and gives us a look at what ENTERPRISE’s third season might have been like without a lot of the interruptions and episodes that were supposed to deal with the Expanse or the Xindi but more often than not didn’t add up to much. Not only do we meet our first Xindi character with any depth and complexity, but we also get a look at how strange Xindi technology is and the backstory of the Xindi races themselves.

While “The Shipment” does not offer a particularly original plot, its strength is in the character drama aided by another strong performance from a guest star and sketching out the nature of the Xindi, thus broadening the arc. As in “Anomaly” we get to see some more of what Archer is prepared to do on this mission even if he falls back on his usual good nature fairly quickly and the Xindi back story proves to be a lot more interesting than the Xindi council scenes have been so far.

Not everyone gets a lot of screen time in this episode. Hoshi and Mayweather are not exactly front and center and it’s a little difficult to understand why they bothered to bring in Steven Culp for what amounted to a redshirt role most of whose lines could have easily been given to an actual redshirt or some random security ensign we’d never see again. This is of course the kind of job he and his team were brought in for but it still ends up being done by Archer and Reed as usual while he mostly stands in the background and gives two word answers or asks three word questions.

By contrast the episode does a good job of working Dr. Phlox into the action by having him research the biological end of the Xindi biomechanical technology. Trip once again nearly manages to blow himself up while fiddling with Expanse technology and T’Pol is back to playing the stay at home commander. Still, “The Shipment” does a good job of balancing everything together to make a complete and coherent episode instead of A and B and C stories that run on different tracks or a single story that feels stretched thin for material as the series has done in the past.

Season three of ENTERPRISE also seems to be doing better at featuring powerful and memorable guest stars who challenge our characters worldviews in episodes like “Anomaly,” “Rajin,” “Exile,” and now “Shipment.” Earlier seasons had all too often neglected guest stars in favor of throwaway alien races of the week who threatened the Enterprise and then went away never to be seen again. It’s also good to see that ENTERPRISE has a mythological back story worked out for the Xindi in just a few episodes, having perhaps learned from the mistake of the Suliban, who were defined primarily by their abilities rather than any meaningful back story. The various Xindi races are still not making enduring impressions except for the Insectoids who are being portrayed as increasingly evil based on their appearances. Wouldn’t it have been surprising though if for once it was the human looking aliens who were evil and the insectoid looking aliens, whom viewers would naturally assume were evil, who turned out to be the moral ones? It would be somewhat more challenging than once again associating ‘being different’ with being evil and ‘being human-like’ with being good.

While the Xindi Archer deals with is not one of the humanoids, he’s the next closest species to human. It might have been more daring if it had been a colony of insectoids instead, creatures whom Archer wouldn’t be able to relate to as easily and whose very inhumanity would cause him to see them as enemies. The suspense in “The Shipment”‘s plot ultimately revolves around the decisions Archer must make which about the nature of the man Archer chooses to trust. While the plot is not original, its ability to generate suspense rests on a willingness to keep the audience in suspense as to whether the Xindi will help Archer and the Enterprise or betray them.

Whether he knows what has really been going on and is pretending not to in order to manipulate Archer long enough to turn him over to the Insectoids, or whether he really is a scientist and engineer outraged at the uses to which his craft has been put to. “The Shipment” is a successful episode precisely because between Chris Black’s writing and the performances, the suspense is there nearly until the end. But an Insectoid would have been a more successful vehicle for exploration, though, of course the makeup would have made it difficult for the actor’s facial expressions to be properly visible.

On the production values front, the actual Xindi biomechanical technology isn’t all that new to STAR TREK since VOYAGER had organic gel packs and the Xindi version look like spaghetti worms but the portrayal is alien enough to be intriguing, even if the production values are somewhat lacking. The Xindi gun Trip is playing around with also looks far too toylike, as does the display. The weapons explosion is also a little hokey with an over-the-top fiery blast. With Andre Bormanis having gone from science consultant to writer and story editor, would it be too much to expect an explosion in space to look more like a radiating energy wave and less like a car bomb in Beirut?

The sets for the Xindi home had a nice homey feel like a futuristic hobbit hole and the shots of the compound from above are a little too dark to make out many details, but still good-looking. And the shot of Enterprise between the intersecting curves of two planets is a striking touch of composition that shakes up the all too often generic space background scenes.

Next week: Enterprise confronts its terrible future. And no it’s not syndication.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Exile

Summary: ENTERPRISE does Beauty and the Beast with a lonely old alien telepath.

star trek enterprise exile“Exile” may remind some viewers of the second season ENTERPRISE episode “Vanishing Point.” “Exile” features Hoshi experiencing strange hallucinatory images that cause her to doubt reality and become isolated and cut off from the crew. However, where “Vanishing Point” was a 43 minute waste of time that all turned out to be a dream, “Exile” features what may be ENTERPRISE’s best guest star of the entire series. Indeed ‘Tarquin’ is in many ways reminiscent of an Original Series tragic character like Methuselah or Kodos the Executioner; driven and brooding and doomed by his destiny. Those types of characters and indeed complex characters of any kind have become increasingly rare on STAR TREK and vanishingly rare on this show, so Tarquin is a breath of fresh air in an all too often stale enclosed room.

Season three has so far been in danger of neglecting the development of the ensemble cast in favor of focusing excessively on Archer, Trip and T’Pol. “Exile” helps balance that out not only with character development for Hoshi that in part helps explain her linguistic abilities, but also a nice scene for Phlox that serves to develop his character specifically, and Denobulans in general. The general track of Hoshi’s development has involved her learning to overcome her fears as in “Fight or Flight” or” Sleeping Dogs” or “Vanishing Point.” “Exile” is less about Hoshi dealing with a narrowly targeted phobia like claustrophobia or fear of transporters than dealing with an opportunity to retreat into an isolated life.

Meanwhile “Exile” also follows up on “Anomaly”‘s mysterious sphere that turns out to be part of a network of such spheres radiating gravitational anomalies thus causing the Expanse to exist. The artificial nature of the Expanse may then help explain why we never heard about it in any other STAR TREK series. The exploration of the sphere manages to weave together what the ENTERPRISE crew has learned about the Expanse from Trellium-D and the Vulcan reaction to it, to the Xindi charts and the spheres themselves. The spacewalk also offers the opportunity for comedy, which for once isn’t broadly overacted by Trinneer. The scenes of Archer and Trip trying to shoot down the shuttle also make for some nice visuals, particularly as they shoot up at the shuttle. The actual shuttle crashing back down to the surface of the sphere has the unrealistic feel of a 3D object with no actual mass moved around in Lightwave rather than the real world. however. A problem the colliding asteroids in last week’s Impulse also suffered from.

Overall, though, it’s the interaction between Hoshi and Tarquin and the performances of the two actors that make the episode. Phyllis Strong’s script by contrast is rather weak and leans on classic cliches from bad novels right down to the echoing manor and the host who warns his guest not to go outside and the graves right outside the door. Even Roxann Dawson’s usually strong direction is muddled and having Hoshi constantly changing into new outfits to indicate the passage of time was clearly a bad idea. Still, she and the actors got the character scenes right. It would have been all too easy for Park to fall into a victim mode but instead she remains strong and defiant. It would have also been all too easy to write off Tarquin as a cliche, a lonely telepathic voyeur-kidnapper but instead he retains a tragic dignity as he appeals for an understanding that he knows will never come, and even if it comes, will never last. To the end Tarquin is neither evil nor good, he’s simply an exile who like Hoshi is isolated by his own uniqueness and abilities.

The crystal ball falls a bit on the absurd side along with Strong’s other cliches. It is rather odd that Hoshi would use the crystal ball to see scenes of space battles the Enterprise fought years ago instead of seeing what is happening now. The idea of objects retaining psychic impressions from their owners is also pretty silly. Heavily influenced by some questionable research about human psychic abilities, science fiction widely adopted psychic abilities as being scientifically legitimate; though in fact they’re extremely questionable to say the least. While BABYLON 5 had a backstory explaining its human psychic abilities, STAR TREK has generally portrayed psychic abilities as an alien ability. This conveniently avoids questions of credibility raised by belief in psychic phenomena and the general fraudulence of those phenomena.

Still, it’s one thing when those powers are portrayed as being able to make telepathic contact which could at least be somewhat plausible given an alien biology. On the other hand, psychic resonance is definitely on the kookier side of the spectrum and pretty difficult to justify without resorting to Theosophy or some other lunatic philosophy of that kind. Furthermore, Hoshi’s ability to use the crystal combined with Tarquin’s repeated references to her uniqueness would almost seem to suggest that the writers are setting her up for some sort of psychic ability. Of course actual mind reading skills would probably be the only thing that could explain her ability to learn a completely alien language in days or even hours. Though it still wouldn’t explain how she learned to read an entire alien book in an entirely unknown alien language a short time after she first laid eyes on it without help or a Rosetta Stone of any kind. That’s pretty difficult to justify even with psychic powers, let alone without them. The producers have been giving Hoshi superhuman abilities for some time now and while “Exile” does at least begin to try and justify those abilities, what’s being portrayed is still far in excess of what is possible or plausible.

Tarquin’s final appearance is almost unexpected and despite the rather different tones of the episode’s two storylines, Archer and Trip’s outer space adventure and Hoshi’s quiet battle of wills in Tarquin’s manor, the episode manages to come together again as Archer and T’Pol finally get a lead on the weapon even as they begin to realize the extent of what they are facing here.

Next week: Rerun of the S3 premiere.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Impulse


Overall episode score: 7.0
Performances: 6.5
Writing: 5.0
Direction: 8.0
FX and Production Values: 8.0

Summary: ENTERPRISE does EVENT HORIZON with Vulcan zombies. Fortunately there’s a method to the madness.

star trek enterprise impulseThus far s three has not exactly been T’Pol’s year. Her primary role on the show seems to have been to serve as Trip’s unclad masseuse and in the last two episodes she’s hit a particularly low point. In “Extinction” she was reduced to helplessly scrambling away from the mutated crewmembers like an extra in a slasher movie with no trace of the specially trained operative with Vulcan strength her character is supposed to be. In “Rajiin” she was reduced even lower to a psychic rape victim. This week she’s back in sickbay again but at least there’s some character development in it for her.

EVENT HORIZON substituted a spaceship for a haunted house and a mysterious faster than light space drive for an Indian burial ground, but essentially the material was the same. Ever since the Vulcan ambassador tried to frighten Archer with grainy green videotape of psychotic Vulcans running amok in the expanse, the resemblance to the movie’s data log was unmistakable. And since ENTERPRISE’s early season episodes tend to be better on continuity, Vulcan zombies was a concept that a Brannon Braga-produced series could never pass up; it was almost inevitable that Enterprise would run into them sooner or later. Once it does the resulting plot is a predictably formulaic series of zombie chase scenes not significantly different from most horror movies or for that matter STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT, except that the Vulcan zombies are never scary. The results are more reminiscent of season two’s “Sleeping Dogs,” in which characters scramble around a rundown broken Klingon ship with a Klingon stalking them. The one thing STAR TREK has never really done well is horror and “Impulse” is no exception. Still, veteran Trek director David Livingston goes all out to do some great work right down to the flashy, final horror movie-style nightmare sequence and if “Impulse” never manages to be disturbing, it’s not his fault. Even the FX are well directed with dramatic pans across an asteroid field roiling with tumbling rocks.

Vulcan zombies are just hard to take seriously and horror is premised on the idea that the characters are in a situation beyond their control and in which some of them will not survive. On STAR TREK, on the other hand, the situation is almost always under control, even if it’s via Deus Ex Technobabble, and we know the cast members will survive. The franchise simply doesn’t do horror well because TREK episodes are too afraid to let go of their control. The only out-of-control element involves T’Pol’s growing instability but at this point seeing crew members go wonky is nothing special. Archer, Reed, and Hoshi did it two episodes ago and the last time T’Pol lost her sanity was during last season’s “Bounty,” not to mention “The Seventh” or “Strange New World.” Fortunately, unlike “Bounty”‘s abysmal T’Pol B-Plot, T’Pol’s instability here serves to allow some character development.

“Impulse” also features a long overdue look at how the crew has been coping with their mission and the Expanse. A look that should have been part of the arc and developed episode by episode instead of giving us Archer as an alien werewolf, T’Pol’s massage parlor, the obnoxious alien of the week or any of the other nonsense that has sidelined season three’s promising storylines. It’s nice to see a return of movie night and a discussion about morale as ENTERPRISE picks up on season two material right down to T’Pol silencing Phlox at the screening. That’s the kind of thing that lets us see Enterprise as a single entity, a ship and a crew, rather than the cast wandering around through empty hallways while battling the alien of the week or a virus of the week whom we’re certain to never see again. Like TNG’s Ten Forward or DS9’s Promenade or Voyager’s Holodeck, it’s important to emphasize rituals that bind the crew together outside emergency and duty situations. It’s what makes the setting of the ship, and by extension the show, three-dimensionally believable.

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