Space Ramblings

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Harbinger

Synopsis: Enterprise finds a mysterious dying alien as the crew divides their time between fistfights and erotic massages.

Review: “Strategem”‘s closing scene last week was reminiscent of the closing scene of DS9’s “Call To Arms” for building momentum to a bigger story about to unfold. Like an alcoholic with a five dollar bill, “Harbinger” squanders that momentum and all the work of its strong two preceding episodes, in favor of a disjointed mix of storylines filled with out-of-character behavior.

After a series of episodes filled with alien attacks, starships, and explosions, “Harbinger” is a bottle show in which most of the tension comes from within; from the crew itself. This is a good enough idea but unfortunately the producers have not managed to come up with character conflicts of any depth. Instead we have remarkably petty behavior from T’Pol and Reed to provide the conflict that ends up overshadowing the Xindi mission in favor of soap opera-style characterization.

And so we go from an episode in which Archer and the crew of the Enterprise are making steady, determined progress toward preventing the annihilation of Earth and the human race, to another episode in which the crew of the Enterprise act like adolescents with poor impulse-control skills. It is not a good contrast and is reminiscent of the worst of ENTERPRISE like “A Night in Sickbay” rather than some of the fine episodes the series has put out lately. At least when earlier STAR TREK shows did this kind of episode, they managed to have a virus, or a plant or some form of radiation take the blame for the crew’s behavior.

The MACO’s have all along essentially been a gimmick and redundant. ENTERPRISE has not helped matters by mostly keeping them out of the picture and failing to properly develop them or integrate them with the crew. “Harbinger” is thus supposed to be the equivalent of VOYAGER’s Learning Curve. Except it should have come much earlier in this season and should have addressed the issue with more depth than simply showing Reed and Hayes beating each other senseless. Archer’s outrage and disgust is fully justified, but it is a disgust and outrage that should be directed at the producers and writer of the episode.

The murder of Trip’s sister at the end of last season should have opened the gateway to some real character development, instead the great minds behind ENTERPRISE determined that it should be a gateway to some erotic massages. And so that’s what we got. Erotic massage grief counseling which is almost as credible a therapeutic tool as the ‘smear your germs’ decontamination chamber was a credible way of fighting alien diseases. Considering the opening of “A Night in Sickbay,” it seemed more like a credible way of spreading alien diseases.

Star Trek Enterprise T'Pol naked Harbinger

This was the most frequent image search result for this episode and the series... says something, doesn't it

Last week we saw the capture of the designer of the Xindi weapon and his confrontation with Archer and the discovery of the location of the project. That was not a Sweeps episode. This week T’Pol takes her shirt off and that is a Sweeps episode. That should tell you something about the priorities of the people running ENTERPRISE (or scheduling it).

Last week with the man responsible for the murder of his sister and millions of other humans in Enterprise’s custody, Trip was kept in the background. This week when it’s time to give massages to female crewmembers, Trip is in the foreground. That should tell you something about the priorities of the people determining Trip’s character development. All in all the less said about this storyline the better, except that it might help if the producers did their research and got their inspiration by watching classic STAR TREK episodes instead of Cinemax.

That leaves us with “Harbinger,” namely the mysterious alien, which is also the only worthwhile part of the episode. Unfortunately, it also takes a back seat to Reed’s Fight Club and Trip’s massage parlor. A storyline connecting the alien spheres and the Xindi attack on earth with a new enemy should have been a major event, instead it’s tucked out of sight in between Reed’s bouts of testosterone poisoning and Rick Berman’s sleazy plea for attention from the 18 to 35 male demographic.

Still, despite the cliched aspects of the plot, the alien’s story stands out from the rest of this mediocre muddle of an episode. From Archer withholding pain medication against Dr. Phlox’s protests to the alien’s Cheshire Cat grin as he vanishes, it’s the aspect of the episode that provides the only memorable and gripping moments to be had. And the only moments that don’t leave you with a desire to erase them from your mind by sticking your head in a working microwave oven.

Along with the story, the special effects and production values also seem to have taken a nose dive. From the clumsy alien makeup to the terrible space special effects that look like they’re from an 80’s movie; it’s clear that this is the episode the series is supposed to be saving money on. David Livingston does what he can to try and compensate for the disaster of a script, and is occasionally effective as with the camera work in Archer’s tirade at Reed and Hayes. But most of the time it simply makes no difference because there is little to nothing that could conceivably salvage this episode. And nothing does.

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