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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Shockwave I

Summary: When a trip to an alien colony results in its destruction, acting on a tip from the future, Archer launches a covert operation against a Suliban stealth vessel that goes disturbingly wrong.

star trek enterprise shockwaveTraditionally Star Trek first season finales have been more somber affairs, as with TNG’s Neutral Zone or DS9’s In the Hands of the Prophets they occasionally dealt with emerging threats, but avoided cliffhangers and high stakes action shows and major plot threads being unwound. But then again most Star Trek pilots have also been more subtle affairs than Broken Bow. This is a recognition that Enterprise is operating in a more competitive environment where there may be no second chances and so Shockwave, like its name, is not particularly subtle. Not only does it feature a cliffhanger, but in Best of Both Worlds style, it features a cliffhanger with a missing Captain, intrigue and plot twists resembling an X-Files episode more than an Enterprise episode.

None of these are bad things of course, nor should they be reserved for season finales. But they do make it hard to review the episode, mainly because unlike most Star Trek two-parters that feature an obvious dilemma and an obvious enemy, Shockwave features much less than half the plot of a two parter. Many of the episode’s key elements are up in the air, especially since unlike previous Star Trek season finale cliffhangers (e.g. Best of Both Worlds or Scorpion), the final plot twist leaves everything we knew until now up in the air. That alone marks it as a stylistic departure from Star Trek as we know it.

Shockwave also serves as a serious departure from much of this season by having Archer actually face a dilemma and deal with it so that it results in emotional growth and a display of leadership ability. Contrary to what many might have expected from Brannon Braga — who co-wrote the script — Shockwave’s use of time travel is subtle and even moving as Archer experiences something close to a religious revelation in his sleep as he takes refuge from his guilt and failure in a time before the disaster and puts his faith in Crewman Daniels: only to have that faith brutally shattered in the final minute of the episode. In that minute, Daniel’s temporal guidance of Archer moves from a Deux Ex Machina to an all too flawed technology in the hands of fallible humans.

For once, Archer’s awe and wonder at another ‘first’, namely traveling through time, is well done and even well acted. Poignant because that wonder will ultimately be shattered by the knowledge of its mundane cost. This is precisely the lesson that Archer refused to learn about space travel. Exploration has its price and quite a few of the explorers in the Enterprise opening montage knew that quite well. Yet Archer has remained fixed to a boy scout idealistic view of space leading to a naivete so thorough, it bordered on idiocy. Shockwave seems to have begun the process of tempering that naivete with harsh realism, that episodes like Fight or Flight and Silent Enemy began but never carried through.

Shockwave also features Archer attempting to form a command bond with T’Pol as someone he can emotionally, as well as tactically, rely on. Although T’Pol rebuffs him by refusing to ‘believe’ in time travel, she nevertheless plays that role when she tries to shake Archer out of his stupor and depression. That this scene takes place in Archer’s quarters heightens the sense of intimacy that is created. Especially as Archer once again puts his life, his ship and probably the future of the Federation in her hands. Despite the hype coming from Berman and co, this is the closest the two of them have ever been to a real Kirk\Spock moment and the forming of a Human\Vulcan bond worthy of mention in the same sentence.

Though the focus of Shockwave remains on Archer and to a lesser extent, T’Pol, Hoshi and Mayweather have a nice moment together as they discuss their future plans. post-Enterprise. Trip manages to top his shocked look in Two Days and Two Nights when Archer announces the mission’s cancellation and Reed underplays battle dialogue to an almost comic extent. Dr Phlox’s reaction demonstrates that he still needs to develop a genuine bond to Enterprise and its mission, something the writers might consider tackling in the second season.

While the actual Suliban themselves remain an underwhelming foe, in part for conceptual reason as well as poor makeup and effects, the true menace seems to come from their hidden operator and one hopes that the Suliban are simply a temporary proxy who will be replaced by more dangerous ones. The strongest elements of the raid remain the timing and precision of the actual action itself, while the Suliban clambering up the walls are more amusing, than menacing. The final shot was effective, but still a somewhat poor idea, in light of recent events and far too reminiscent of some of the aftermath footage. The scene could have been done just as well, and cheaper too by pulling out from the open window to show the top of San Francisco buried entirely by sand. It would have also been a more realistic outcome if Earth’s major cities had been sitting around deserted and unpopulated for a few centuries. John Logan’s SF film, The Time Machine pulled similar FX shots in favor of showing climactic changes overrunning the area.

Next week: Summer O’Reruns.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Two Days and Two Nights

Summary: Four short films about Enterprise. The crew’s visit to Risa is broken up into a series of mostly comic sub-plots, some of which work better than others. The best and worst that can be said of Two Days and Two Nights is that it’s light entertainment, emphasis on the light. When Enterprise has thrown away so much Star Trek continuity, Risa seems like an odd thing to hang on to. But then again Risa itself was an attempt to hang on to some of the ‘free love’ aspects of TOS. And prior to Enterprise, Star Trek had done two Risa episodes. TNG’s Captain`s Holiday and DS9’s Let He Who is Without Sin. The latter is justifiably considered one of DS9’s worst episodes altogether while the former is considered a forgettable comic piece, remembered more because it introduced Vash than because of its dramatic or comic material. With such a legacy, Two Days and Two Nights doesn’t have to worry about standing in a long shadow or working too hard. Where Captain`s Holiday focused on Picard and Let He Who is Without Sin focused primarily on two crew relationships, Two Days and Two Nights throws the main crew into a series of predictable subplots, most played for laughs with varying degrees of success so that it could be called Four Short Films about Risa.

Archer receives the Picard story as his first officer sends him down to the planet in order to relax with a good book and he becomes enmeshed

star trek enterprise two days and two nights

Humanity has reached the stars, but its fashion sense is still in the dark ages

with a mysterious woman and intrigue. Unlike Picard’s story though, which played comically against his stuffy demeanor, Archer’s is a vaguely dark and dramatic piece that manages to produce a sense of isolation that would have been far more effective if it had resonated with Archer’s character in any way. It makes perfect sense that Picard would spend his time on a pleasure planet with a good book, but Archer is a more physical character who seems as if he’d be more at home with Trip in a bar than playing a poor man’s Picard. As it is though, Bakula puts in a better performance here than he has in a long time. But unless this story is meant to introduce the woman as a recurring character and to deal with the events as part of an arc which will have repercussions down the line, it seems like a wasted effort. High points include T’Pol’s gift to Archer and the well conveyed sense of isolation and loneliness.

Trip and Reed get the naval cliche story of the two sailors on leave who end up getting rolled in a sleazy dive. The two actors do their best with the material, but there’s really not much here. The high points include Trip and Reed retelling the events of Shuttlepod One and passing themselves off as Captains. The low points include pretty much everything else. Even the comic material is pretty slim and ends rather quickly. Furthermore not only does Star Trek appear to be unable to create an alien bar scene without it looking like a cheap version of the Star Wars alien cantina, but it really needs to cut down on the races of shapeshifters. DS9 claimed that there was only one race of shapeshifters, though we’d seen plenty more before, Enterprise has two in one season. And since we’ve seen some Suliban shapeshift, it might be a good idea not to throw those abilities around so randomly as it devalues the effect.

T’Pol and Dr Phlox on the other hand get the only really effective comic piece without ever having to leave the ship as Dr. Phlox goes into hibernation just as a crippled Mayweather experiences an allergic reaction to an alien painkiller. Billingsley overplays the material by a mile, but it still works quite well as Phlox wakes up from hibernation, staggers about and does his best to make mad scientists look conservative while T’Pol looks on disapprovingly playing the straight Vulcan. Better yet, it provides a whole other dimension to Dr Phlox who until now has played the role of a mostly dispassionate observer and now gets to indulge in the same kind of comic material as Voyager’s own doctor did on a regular basis. Though it is telling that this episode’s most effective comic piece relied on some pretty broad slapstick. Cutler returns to play the same quasi-nurse role as Kes did on Voyager. The story’s high points include Phlox ordering the ship to another star system to get fresh worms to Phlox’s response to T’Pol’s suggestion that he return to his quarters.

Finally there is Hoshi’s story, which is the least interesting of all four, in part because the two actors lacked any chemistry and gave performances bordering on completely flat, and partly because it doesn’t have much in the way of material. As Trip and Reed’s broad physical comedy is meant to be paired with Phlox and T’Pol’s broad physical comedy, Archer’s stranger encounter is meant to be paired with Hoshi’s stranger encounter. But where Archer’s story had subtext and complexity, Hoshi’s story is as sunny and placid as her own persona and about as interesting. It might have been interesting if Enterprise had followed up on the doubts and uncertainties Hoshi was dealing with in Fight or Flight or her later insecurities. While it does manage to reinforce her role as translator and its importance, the plot is structure as a flat line that runs consistently in the same direction where the other three stories had peaks and falls.

Despite its flaws, however, Two Days and Two Nights is a pleasant departure in that it explores the ensemble cast in a series tjat has so far eschewed B-Stories and manages to put together a diverse collection of stories into one episode. In that it already exceeds past Risa episodes, which were far more monolithic and tended to play off one single joke over and over again. It’s light entertainment and as such it exceeds expectations.

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