Synopsis: Columbia’s launch coincides with Phlox’s kidnapping and an unfolding disaster in the Klingon empire.
Review: If you close your eyes for a moment you could almost imagine “Affliction” as part one of ENTERPRISE’s pilot, a pilot that might have been and might have fueled a stronger and better STAR TREK series. Instead, it features the launch not of Enterprise but of Columbia, the younger sister and rather than being the pilot, it is one of the show’s final episodes – as the promos now trumpet with glee-like excitement.
If Season four will be remembered for nothing else, it will be for finally paying attention to STAR TREK continuity and making a good faith effort to be not the new and edgy and hip STAR TREK Berman and Braga tried to make it, but a portrayal of the years leading up to the original series, to Enterprise NCC-1701 (no bloody A, B, C, D or E) and the universe as it was then. If ENTERPRISE will be remembered for little else, “Affliction” will likely go down in the fan record books as finally solving the great Klingon dilemma and the racial gap between TOS Klingons and TNG Klingons in a clever and plausible way.
ENT’s relationship to continuity has often been downright abusive and while season four has not always gotten it right, it has done what no other STAR TREK series has done since TNG and shown affection and respect to the original series that started it all and made an honest effort to follow in its footsteps. It is perhaps not surprising that it was thanked with the same treatment meted out to the original series of being shunted to an unpopular time slot and then cancelled. But unlike the Original Series, whose third season was often dismal and disappointing in comparison to its earlier work, ENT’s season four cannot be accused of that and episodes like “Affliction” are a large part of the reason why.
Reminiscent of the larger-scale galactic episodes of TNG and DS9 that seem to have almost forgotten, “Affliction” sweepingly moves from earth to the Klingon Empire, from Section 31 to the Augments, from the intimate depths of Trip and T’Pol’s minds to the scope of galactic threats and counterthreats and the birth of a new Klingon race. “Affliction” is in many ways what the “United” trilogy should have been but wasn’t. It also admirably fits the characters into the scale and scope of galactic events. From Hoshi’s mindmeld to T’Pol and Trip being drawn together even from far away to Phlox’s moral dilemma and that of the Klingon doctor instrumental in bringing him there, to Reed locked in a physical cell and the moral cell of his conflicting obligations; the characters are not left out nor are they saddled with makeshift threats as was the case in “United.”
Like TNG and DS9’s O’Brien, Reed is a man of duty with a black and white view of the world. DS9’s strongest episodes often came in testing O’Brien by pitting his black and white loyalties against the grayer universe that forced him to do immoral things such as in “The Assignment.” Reed’s strong sense of duty combined with his black and white view of the world causes Section 31 to be a far more tenacious test for him than it ever was for bumbling Bashir.
Meanwhile T’Pol’s mental abilities are expanding with a mind meld to Hoshi that is almost casual and then drawing Trip and even Hoshi into her mind. Despite being set up in “Observer Effect,” Hoshi’s martial arts are still unbelievable but overall good use is made of her. Meanwhile on Columbia, Captain Hernandez is proving to be a credible Captain and Trip a better engineer when he abandons the histrionics and concentrates on doing his job. All too often it was hard to grasp why with his complete lack of professionalism Trip had the job he did, “Affliction” reminds us that he’s actually good at something beyond yelling and throwing fits.
The Klingon response to the Augments is both logical and resolves the long-standing contradiction of two Klingon races. The core idea of genetically-engineered Klingons is not all together original, but the solution and its integration are. At least ENT will be remembered for bringing the Klingon races together and bridging one of STAR TREK’s more enduring gaps;not between its period and that of TOS but between TOS and TNG. All in all, “Affliction” is a strong beginning for what hopefully will be an even stronger conclusion.
Next week: Archer gets ridged.