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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Affliction

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.

star trek enterprise afflictionIf 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.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Home

Synopsis: Back home the crew face vacations that aren’t particularly relaxing.

star trek enterprise homeReview: Like ST:TNG’s “Family,” which followed the catastrophic and tense “Best of Both Worlds,” ENTERPRISE’s own season four begins with “Home,” an episode with much the same function. Namely, to provide a break in between the crisis of the previous two parter and the crisis to come. The problem, in part, is ENTERPRISE’s own “Two Days and Two Nights” did this far better and that “Home” lacks the color and life of either “Family” or “Two Days and Two Nights,” episodes that could merge humor, pathos with revelations about the breaking points and healing powers of the characters.

“Home”‘s strongest of the storylines focuses on Archer coping with a cynical and dark view of exploration and Starfleet driven by his own self-loathing and sense of betrayal of his original mission. We also encounter Captain Hernandez who may help bury once again the foolish idea propagated by some using the borderline non-canon TOS episode, “Turnabout Intruder,” that women can’t be Captains. It is good to see such a character on STAR TREK, particularly as female Captains have not been as visible as they should be; seven years of Captain Janeway have done quite a lot to hurt the perception of the role of the female Captain as a leader to a professional crew, rather than Janeway’s substitute mother figure to a family of misfits. And even though Captain Hernandez in the episode is reduced to a stereotypical nurturing and romantic interest role, the actress still manages to make her come across as competent and professional.

Bakula gives another capable performance in “Home” that reminds us once again that Archer can be a strong character when he’s given something to work with. Here he projects both frustrated anger and idealism as we see him coming to terms with the events of the previous year and gaining a sense of peace from them. Even coming to terms with the Vulcan Ambassador. The battle on top of the mountain and the mountain climbing itself are both cliches, but they’re not badly used here, even if we can finally maybe offer a grateful prayer that the funny looking wire sculpture Xindi suits may have actually seen their last use on our TV screens except for when reruns of season three come calling again; if they ever do.

By contrast Trip and T’Pol’s Vulcan adventure is far weaker, not the least because it relies on non-existent chemistry between two characters who seem as if they could exert more appeal on some of the prayerful stone statues standing around the matte backgrounds than on each other. Still, T’Pol’s mother is well acted and comes across as a real person rather than another one in a long line of mean ENTERPRISE Vulcans, which is what she appears to be at the beginning of the episode. And the unexpected and dramatic ending, rather than a cliched and nauseating scene in which Trip and T’Pol announce their love for each other adds significant power to the story by elevating it from a story of true love to a story of sacrifice, which is always stronger. And the neo-Japanese decor of T’Pol’s mother’s home makes the episode seem somewhat more graceful than it is.

The weakest link of the stories is the afterschool special section on Phlox facing prejudice on Earth. While Phlox puffing up his head like a blowfish is good for a laugh, the material is earnestly tedious and cliched and a distinct matter of condescendingly preaching obvious virtues to a sleeping choir. Worst of all, this entire scene is all the more hypocritical since rather than being blatantly outrageous and unfair by ENTERPRISE’s moral standards, the redneck’s treatment of Phlox is quite similar to Archer and Trip’s Season one treatment of T’Pol and other Vulcans. But instead of making use of this opportunity for some of Enterprise’s crew to recognize and deal with their own prejudices, we have the Enterprise crew nobly and gallantly rising to Phlox’s defense and lecturing us, them and even Phlox on prejudice.

Maybe it was the influence of seeing Team America: World Police but for a moment there before the fists began to fly, I thought that instead of fighting, Reed, Phlox and Mayweather would rise and sing a rousing pop anthem about tolerance and diversity. Sadly, instead all we got was five minutes of them hanging around in one of the most fake looking bar sets ever followed by one of the most fake looking fight scenes ever. Perhaps the next time ENTERPRISE decides to take a ground breaking story idea that has only been previously tackled by such groundbreaking series as HAPPY DAYS, BEVERLY HILLS 90210 and the COSBY SHOW; they might try using it in a way that makes you think instead of yawn, and that speaks to an adult awareness of the complexities of human nature instead of educational slogans aimed at small children.

All in all, “Home” doesn’t live up to the more complex storytelling combinations of “Family” or “Two Days and Two Nights.” It lacks the sense of fun those two episodes had and the character development isn’t nearly up to par either. But nevertheless it’s a useful placeholder episode that marks the ending of one time of trial for the Enterprise crew and the beginning of the next.

Next week: Brent Spiner is back…and he has a really creepy laugh.

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