Summary: In a space age revival of an old fable, Enterprise discovers a station whose offer of repairs turns out to be too good to be true.
In one of the closer intersections between episodes thus far on Enterprise, “Dead Stop” begins shortly after last week’s episode. The Enterprise’s hull is damaged and so is Malcolm’s leg. The situation seems problematic until, in what is the first of several continuity references, Enterprise gets directions from a Tellarite freighter to a repair station (though in light of what happens later in the episode it may be reasonable to conclude that there was no Tellarite freighter at all). Where the natural instinct of a Voyager episode might have been to populate the episode with some weird foreheaded Alien-of-the-Week for the crew to pit their skills against, “Dead Stop” goes for the ghostly feeling of an automated computerized station. A place that is seemingly empty and at once filled with an unknown presence. And it works.
The writing team of Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong, who up until this point had churned out mediocre and mostly forgettable episodes like “Civilization,” “Fusion” and “Strange New World” manage to deliver here, greatly aided by Roxann Dawson’s smooth and crisp direction and some of the unquestionably best lighting on the series thus far. Dawson displays here some of the potential she demonstrated in “Workforce, Part II,” infusing every scene with an uneasy atmosphere. Despite the seemingly lighter subject material, “Dead Stop” manages to have the sense of danger and tension that “Minefield” simply did not. Bakula, meanwhile, displays the anger and frustration he should have been showing in last week’s episode. While Mayweather’s eventual resurrection is no real surprise, nor is the menace posed by the station, the way they come together is effective and one of the few surprising twists of an Enterprise episode thus far.
From the eerily white interior of the station’s corridors to the dank yellow conduits (visually suggesting that the pristine package is an illusion with a grimmer interior), to the computer itself, suggestive of The Matrix’s towers of human batteries on a smaller scale, “Dead Stop” is overshadowed by a mostly unspoken menace. Like much of classical Star Trek and much of science fiction, the show returns once again to the theme of human violation by technology. Somewhere between “Spock’s Brain” and the Borg, “Dead Stop”‘s repair station is indicative of a smaller evil with plenty of unspoken implications. By not addressing its history, the writers suggest that Enterprise might return to the subject at some later date or that it’s a mystery best left alone. The final scene of the station’s broken parts slowly repairing themselves again is one of the best narrative uses of FX since the conclusion of Voyager’s “Year of Hell, Part I” showed pieces of Voyager’s hull being ripped away and flying directly into the camera.
With its classical Star Trek themes, “Dead Stop” is an Enterprise episode that achieves the series goal of being strongly suggestive of an Original Series episode. “Dead Stop” nails the sense of isolation and dislocation produced by space travel, the responsibilities of command and the strangeness of what might be out there. It’s one of the few Enterprise episodes where the crew of the Enterprise could be easily interchanged with the original Enterprise crew.
And the episode certainly has no shortage of continuity references. We encounter 24th century technology like the Replicator and the Protoplaser for the first time, along with more than a few Star Trek universe tidbits, even not counting the “Spock’s Brain” premise of the episode itself. While it might be nice if Enterprise had stayed away from 24th century Next Generation technology–after three races with cloaking devices, two holodecks and numerous other gadgets–the proverbial starship seems to have sailed on that one.
“Dead Stop” also functions well as an ensemble episode, with nearly every crewmember having an important scene or two. Hoshi gets to deliver the premature eulogy for Mayweather, Phlox has his own well played autopsy scene and Reed and Trip have their own little adventure before being bawled out by Archer in one of his rare displays of command ability and suggestive of TOS’s own “Trouble with Tribbles.” Mayweather contributes most to the episode by being dead, of course, which gives him an important non-speaking role mostly in absentia. One might even argue that the station’s willingness to take the least important member of the Enterprise senior staff in exchange for its repairs was still quite a bargain.
Next week: Archer shows us how well he balances the twin priorities of dog ownership and starship command.