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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Singularity

Summary: The crew’s personal hobbies spiral into obsession as the Enterprise spirals towards a black hole. The origin of the Red Alert revealed.

“Singularity” is a well told sci-fi oriented second season episode in the vein of “Dead Stop” with resemblances to the style of the Original star trek enterprise singularitySeries. From its shocking opening, “Singularity” jettisons Enterprise’s often drearily linear storytelling for a series of flashbacks told from the perspective of T’Pol on a ship where the crew is either unconscious or insane. Like the first half of “Dear Doctor,” the flashbacks serve to give us a sense of how an ordinary day proceeds on Enterprise, which is important on board a starship that far too often seems deserted by all but the regulars. The radiation is a plausible enough plot device, considering how lightly Enterprise is shielded and the ‘Serotonin’ reference suggests that at least some effort is being made in proofing the science, after “Marauders”‘s deuterium oil wells and “Communicator”‘s magic invisibility dust.

The ‘diseased crew’ episode is a conventional enough standby story to which innumerable Star Trek episodes from every series have been dedicated. from TOS’s “This Side of Paradise” to Voyager’s “Macrovirus” with notable low points along the way like TNG’s “Genesis.” But where such episodes usually focus on the search for a cure resulting in rather predictable stories, “Singularity” focuses on the crew’s usual idiosyncrasies spiraling out of control into lunacy, producing a story about a disease whose effects are personalized and character-oriented. Dr. Phlox’s usual scientific curiosity turns him into a mad scientist ready to lobotomize Mayweather to discover the reason for his headache. Reed’s insecurities drive him to turn the ship into a police state and Trip’s gadgetry spirals out of control. Archer and Hoshi are not given particularly interesting topics to stage mental breakdowns around, but then nothing Archer could do would top his breakdown in “A Night in Sickbay” and it’s hard to imagine an interesting topic for a Hoshi breakdown anyway.

T’Pol, who has been filling the Spock role of being trapped on a ship full of illogical humans, quickly finds herself in a Vulcan’s worst nightmare: actually being trapped on a ship full of out of control and emotionally unstable humans. While the crew’s breakdown is entertaining, T’Pol’s solution comes a little too easily as with some cold water and a little shaking, she manages to get through to Archer, convince him of the problem and enlist his cooperation. The basic idea serves as an effective way of following up on the events of “The Seventh” with T’Pol now in the trusted position, but considering the fact that Archer is rarely that easy to convince even while sane and the crew up to now had been completely unwilling to listen to reason, T’Pol and Archer team up together too easily and from there it’s just a matter of watching the pretty special effects on the viewscreen.

In the meantime, the revelation of the genesis of the famous ‘Red Alert’ is a light and entertaining piece that unlike some of Enterprise’s previous attempts to cut and paste continuity with the rest of the Star Trek universe, is actually realistically and organically, if still a bit self-consciously, developed. The irony is that most of Reed’s suggestions, even when he’s out of his mind, are still good ideas. If half of Reed’s ideas had been implemented on Starfleet vessels from this point forwards, any alien wouldn’t have been able to waltz through two Enterprises and one Voyager whenever they pleased on a weekly basis.

Archer’s chair project, on the other hand, smacks of the same unproffesionalism in which Archer orders Trip to fix the squeak in his floor in star trek enterprise singularity“Dead Stop.” They may be good friends, but it’s still ridiculous for the Captain to summon his engineer from his duties in engineering to make adjustments to his furniture that any other maintenance personnel could do for him. I don’t recall Captain Kirk ordering Scotty to fix his chairs or Captain Picard summoning LaForge to his quarters to take care of that squeak in the floor. And really, Archer is humanity’s first real Starship Captain. He is descended from one of the most brilliant scientist’s in earth’s history. Can’t he figure out how to do what anyone cubicle monkey can, adjust the height of his chair?

Like Phlox’s reference to Mayweather’s neural implants, the foreword to the biography of Archer’s father is a good piece of continuity as well as a way of letting us know that there is a world outside of Enterprise. It would have been nice to let us know why Archer was so initially conflicted about writing it, however. Perhaps he does feel some ambiguity about his father’s legacy after all. Since the focal points of the instability for each individual are so personal, it would have been nice if they tied in more neatly with existing issues for the characters. For instance, why did preparing that particular home dish produce that sort of emotional resonance in Hoshi? Certainly the ‘disgracing my family’ reference is outdated for 20th century Japan, let alone 21st century Japan. In Jeff Greenwald’s book on Star Trek, ‘Future Perfect’, Japanese fans comment on how outdated Keiko’s memory of traditional calligraphy in “Violations” was by modern Japanese cultural standards. A similar criticism might be made of Hoshi’s characterization in this episode. Perhaps post-war Japan had become more traditional, but in failing to deal with how Earth has changed from the present day and pretending that it is just like the 20th century except that everyone gets along with each other, the episode squanders opportunities for creativity and interrupts the otherwise well-constructed universe of the story.

All in all, “Singularity” is another good second season Enterprise episode based around a solid character oriented story.

Next week: Vanishing Point. And no the title doesn’t refer to Enterprise’s vanishing ratings.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Marauders

Summary: Enterprise goes western as Archer and Co. help some townsfolk…err deuterium diners fight off some bandits…err Klingons.

Enterprise has encountered the Klingons three times so far. But each encounter, including the overhyped “Sleeping Dogs,” was essentially star trek enterprise maraudersconducted in the 24th century ‘grudging allies’ mode. “Marauders” is the first violent, or at least semi-violent, encounter between the proto-Federation and the Klingons. Though, of course, “Marauders” takes great pains to emphasize that the Klingons are rogue bandits who don’t answer to the High Council and the Federation never identifies itself as such because the series is seemingly unready for a state of open hostilities with the Klingons.

Star Trek series have used this essentially Western plot for some time now, most recently in TNG’s Insurrection and Voyager’s “Homestead” (Both of which also featured a Shane-like relationship between a crewmember and a boy). The basic plot is a simple formula that works time and time again. Setup the hapless townsfolk, the gang of varmints who exploit them and the rescuer(s) who stage a showdown with the black hats. There are limited ways to tweak this basic plot, though the Original Series’ “Errand of Mercy” did so with another Klingon showdown in a rather innovative way that redefined the basic relationship with the Klingons and raised questions about the real differences between Our Heroes and the Klingons. “Marauders” returns to the basic plot efficiently enough, at least until the final showdown.

Mike Vejar’s smooth direction lays out the deuterium rig-cluttered desert atmosphere and manages to really bring the town to life and give it dimension and history, even if the script reduces the characters to the same formulaic roles as in “Homestead” and Insurrection. All in all, “Marauders” may well tie Roxann Dawson’s work on “Dead Stop” for the best directed Enterprise episode, of both seasons.

The episode begins with the now-familiar notes of continuity as the episode follows up on the chain of events that began with “Minefield,” continued in “Dead Stop” and hit a low point in “A Night in Sickbay.” This time out the crew is looking to replace the deuterium they used as a bomb in “Dead Stop” (nitpickers will probably point out that in that episode, Trip said they could spare the deuterium and now Enterprise appears to be running dry). They discover a small mobile settlement that pumps the substance out of the ground with what look like futuristic oil rigs–the more technically knowledgeable nitpickers will probably find fault with the entire technological premise of the episode, which treats the deuterium as a futuristic version of oil. From here on in, it isn’t long until the Klingons show up.

Archer discusses the issue with T’Pol, who fails to disagree with him. While the Enterprise Vulcans are clearly more militaristic than those of the Star Trek universe, T’Pol seems rather blasé about the prospect of a fight. Up to now T’Pol has provided an opposing point of view as a valuable part of any discussion; hopefully this is not being truncated because of some brewing romance arc between the two characters. Archer’s arguments essentially recap some of the basic debate from the first season’s “Fight or Flight,” right down to the formulation that asks what the right thing would be to do if the aliens were human. His argument countering any Prime Directive objection is out of place since Starfleet has no Prime Directive of its own at the moment and hasn’t accepted the Vulcan Prime Directive. Based on a short-sighted studio directive with the intention of reducing crew conflicts, “Dear Doctor” rewrote Archer’s scene to have him invoke the idea of a Prime Directive, but it’s hardly Starfleet policy. And half the fun of a pre-‘Original Series’ series should be the lack of such constrictions. It’s certainly odd to see Archer worrying about the Prime Directive in a situation where 23rd century Kirk wouldn’t have given it a second thought.

Archer shares the first of two good scenes with the settlement leader as he convinces him that he needs to defend his colony while repairing a crawler. The training scenes also proceed well with a variety of nice little touches like the colonists discussing their lizard problem and Hoshi giving a firearms lesson. All except T’Pol’s ridiculous martial arts segment, however, which involves teaching the colonists how to dodge Bat’leths and only foreshadows how ridiculous the final showdown will be. Archer’s second scene with the settlement leader references some more continuity and the character manages to argue realistic justification for his behavior without invoking any pregnant gazelles, while Trip’s scenes with the obligatory youngster just demonstrate once again that Star Trek can’t do kids or pets and should probably stay away from both.

The only real flaw of “Marauders,” however, comes oddly enough in the showdown itself, which normally would be the eye-candy payoff, but turns into some sort of strategy as bizarre as a Rube Goldberg contraption. The key problem can be traced back to Enterprise’s desire to avoid open hostilities with the Klingons, which requires a non-lethal solution. Archer formulates the issue as ‘standing up to a bully’ because presumably the hypothetical bully is really weak and afraid of a fight. You have to wonder which show the writer was watching: Klingons like fights, they pretty much live for them, they spend their free time fighting and arm wrestling over daggers. Their elections end with a corpse on the floor. This formulation might have been plausible for some alien race of the week, but it’s laughable when applied to Klingons.

The actual showdown is even more more so. The entire strategy here was to lure the Klingons to the deuterium fields by moving the entire town and disguising the deuterium fields. This is a plot roughly equal in cleverness to Blazing Saddles creating an entire fake town to lure the villains in. But Blazing Saddles was a comedy and a spoof of Western cliches, “Marauders” doesn’t have the same excuse. After all, it’s Andromeda that wants to be like a Mel Brooks movie, not Enterprise. Yet the entire showdown plays out like a comedy routine, not something that anyone would survive even in the Star Trek universe.

The crew rule out dealing with the Klingons themselves because then the settlers would be helpless against anyone who else came along. Although since the Klingons are rogues and no one else has ever come along before, there’s no real reason to believe that anyone would. The episode assumes that dealing with the Klingons is some sort of impossible task, yet the Klingons beam onto the same platform every single time with their weapons holstered. A child could plan a successful ambush under those conditions and one that wouldn’t require dragging a town around the desert. A bomb under the platform would take care of the Klingons or a ring of armed men surrounding the platform and waiting to gun down the Klingons as they arrive. Instead Marauders has the townspeople running around under the guns of the Klingons. Now, mind you, the episode claims that Klingons are nearly unstoppable and invincible warriors and two dozen armed men are no match for them in a fair fight. Apparently they’re completely helpless when rocks are being thrown at them and wires are being raised to trip them up. The only thing the settlers seem to forget is to leave banana peels out where the Klingons can slip and fall on their backs.

The goal of this encounter is to apparently make the Klingons really mad before surrounding them with fire, thus frightening them into leaving. Apparently the Klingons are too dimwitted to beam out and transport back down to another location and slaughter everyone responsible. But apparently they’ve been so terrified by the courage the settlers displayed in throwing rocks at them and tripping them up with wires, that they’ve decided to leave and never come back for fear that next time out they’ll have to deal with the banana peels. And if four Star Trek series have taught us nothing else about Klingons, it’s that they panic and retreat at the first sign of trouble. John M. Ford’s classic Trek novel, ‘How Much For Just the Planet’ featured just this storyline with cream pies substituted for banana peels and tuxedos for ropes and it’s a hilarious and offbeat work, but the “Marauders” showdown is just unintentionally hilarious.

I’ve never been the biggest fan of DS9, but had it done this storyline the showdown would have either been intentionally hilarious or it would have been a dark story about the cost of freedom. Enterprise seems to think that you can have a non-violent story about people fighting for their freedom with trip wires and a strategy that’s right out of Spy vs Spy. As in “Minefield,” Enterprise is afraid to push the boundaries in storytelling or at least get somewhere near them. It’s afraid to even sacrifice one of three minor colonist characters whom we’ll never see again in favor of a bizarrely sunny ending. Had “Marauders” gone the DS9 route and actually finished with a dark ending that would have shown the settlers the price they had to pay for freedom and Archer the cost of his decision that might have challenged his naivete, thus providing a conclusion to his speech to the colony leader about his own uncertainty, it might have been a great episode. As it is, “Marauders” has some great moments and some strong scenes and even some low-key development of Archer and Hoshi with a tacked on screwball comedy ending that really doesn’t do justice to the material.

Next week: T’Pol gets her gun.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Dead Stop

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.

star trek enterprise Dead StopIn 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.

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