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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Regeneration

“Regeneration”

Summary: The Borg make a comeback as Enterprise goes where just about every Star Trek series has gone before.

There’s nothing precisely wrong with “Regeneration.” Unlike some of the more mediocre NEXT GENERATION and VOYAGER efforts, it manages to let the Borg keep their dignity while portraying them as ominous and menacing. It doesn’t reduce them to a single oversexed Borg queen and even gives them back some of their mystery. But at the same time there’s nothing precisely right about “Regeneration” either. Maybe over the past decade the potential of the Borg has been thoroughly tapped out by various STAR TREK spinoffs or maybe any future Borg episodes or movies need to break new ground to be effective. Either way, despite striking work by David Livingston, particularly in the arctic scenes, and an adequate enough script, “Regeneration” ends up regenerating all the cliches resulting in an episode that just doesn’t add up to much of anything.

Like FIRST CONTACT, the movie that the episode serves as a pseudo-sequel to, “Regeneration” plays as a horror movie with the Borg as the monsters. Beginning with the arctic discovery scene that suggests a homage to the classic Sci-Fi monster film, THE THING, the Borg appear as monsters safely buried until somebody foolish enough digs them up resulting in the usual havoc horror movies are made of. Substitute mummies or vampires for Borg and you could have pretty much the same episode, and there is a case to be made for arguing that the Borg are indeed space-age vampires. After all, they’re nearly invincible to ordinary unmodified weapons. They infect their victims, making them one of their kind with double-fanged incisions causing them to lose their humanity. They rest in special alcoves analogous to vampire coffins. And like all vampires the final confrontation with them, in any number of the Borg episodes, from their first appearance to this one where Archer plays Van Helsing, involves a trip to their lair.

What has elevated the best Borg episodes above mere space fright has been the examination of the borderline between human being and Borg in episodes like “The Best of Both Worlds,” “I, Borg” or “Dark Frontier” rather than reducing the Borg to shambling monsters. “Regeneration” makes some attempt towards incorporating such a storyline with Phlox’s infection, which also results in some of the episode’s best scenes including a memorable exchange with Hoshi. But it never really explores the boundary between individuality and collectivism as the above mentioned episodes did, instead it mainly features Phlox being sick. Archer’s storyline that deals with his realization that he can’t save the research team is plausible enough, though never really gripping. It might have been more gripping if Enterprise crewmembers had been on that transport forcing Archer to sacrifice the lives of his own people. But as it is Archer is once again coming to realize something the audience already knows, which may make for some character development but not for interesting viewing.

“Regeneration”‘s resolution also comes a little too unbelievably easy considering what a challenge the Borg were for Picard and Co. in the 24th century while Archer and Co. experience much less trouble disposing of them in the 22nd century. Admittedly they are facing weaker and smaller numbers of Borg but the key Borg strategy in this story is a timed shutdown of Enterprise’s power systems at a critical moment, which is a bit too cunning for the more literal-minded Borg, who traditionally utilize direct smash and grab tactics.

But mostly “Regeneration” is an episode-scale reworking of FIRST CONTACT without a revenge motive for the captain or a master plan for the Borg. And without a significant motive on either side, it’s is reduced to another ‘Borg as Monsters’ plot that could have been done with any number of monsters or races. There’s no real risk for the Enterprise because “Regeneration” is a stand alone episode with no future repercussions despite its ending since we know that it’s Q who will bring the Enterprise-D into contact with the Borg well ahead of schedule. And there’s no new ground being broken because “Regeneration” offers nothing in the way of a plot that we haven’t seen before. With those factors eliminated the only justification for the episode seems to be the need to exploit the Borg one more time in the hope of boosting ENTERPRISE’s ratings. So instead of the Borg assimilating the series to add to its perfection, ENTERPRISE assimilates the Borg to add them to its mediocrity.

Next week: Can the show do better with two chances on one night?

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – These Are The Voyages

Synopsis: Riker looks to the NX-01 Enterprise crew to help him make a decision as ENTERPRISE and STAR TREK itself comes to a close.

star trek enterprise these are the voyagesReview: It’s been a long road getting from there to here. STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION was the second ST series revived when it seemed impossible. It was widely popular and highly-rated. ENTERPRISE is the last ST series; it is not remotely popular or highly-rated. The gap between them seems difficult to imagine and “These Are The Voyages…”, no matter how well-meaning, finalizes the process by turning ENT into a footnote in a minor ST:TNG episode.

It is hard not to feel a sudden sense of joy and homecoming when the holodeck’s yellow lines light up and Riker walks out of Enterprise and into the Enterprise-D corridor, and we feel as if we’ve never left. There is something homey and comforting about TNG, there always was. The spacious ship, the genial crew, the comfortably carpeted rooms. It’s the place to come home to and at the end it’s where ENT’s producers came home to.

Blalock and others are right to feel cheated. “Voyages” is not an ENT episode, not in any meaningful sense. It might have been intriguing at any other point in the show’s history, but as a finale it is a dismissal of ENT. The touching final seconds of the three ships, and what is undoubtedly the best and most moving part of the episode, suggest an equality that was never there. The original series and TNG were successes, whether for creative or commercial reasons, ENT is a failure. When Riker and Troi leave and the audience with them, before Archer begins his speech, it is meant to be a touching note that speaks of an unfinished series; but it carries a note of dismissal too. We go off with the TNG characters and leave ENT’s behind. Indeed “Voyages” reduces ENT and its crew to nothing more than characters in a holodeck simulation whom Riker and Troi can switch on and off at will.

ENT deserved to end with a grand episode like “Twilight.” It at the very least deserved a decent send-off and though “Voyages” attempts to suggest that this is about Enterprise’s legacy, it is actually nothing of the kind. “Voyages” does a poor job of wrapping up anything about the Enterprise crew. Trip is killed by a clash with a gang of idiot robbers who board the ship. It’s hard to imagine a sillier way to kill off a character. T’Pol does some of her best work in the episode unlocking her emotions, but even Archer and most of the rest of the crew have little to do and less to look forward to.

STAR TREK VI closed an era with peace with the Klingons, ST:TNG ended with the salvation of the universe and the reconceptualization of time, ST:DS9 ended with victory over the Dominion and Sisko’s ascension, VOYAGER ended with a catastrophic battle with the Borg. But what does “Voyages” end with? A speech we never see? A Federation we are not even given the chance to see come into being? The culmination of Enterprise’s journey is not a story about the building of the Federation; it is a story about fighting space bandits. Riker marching through a holographic recreation to get answers about duty and orders seems more like something VOY’s Naomi Wildman might have done, accompanied by Tuvok.

Furthermore, the plot makes little to no sense. Archer complains about the cost of exploration that took Trip’s life but it wasn’t exploration that killed him; it was Archer using the Enterprise to intervene in a private criminal dispute. Riker goes to learn and decide whether his higher duty is to his Captain or to the Admiral and learns the value of personal loyalty from Trip’s example but really did Riker need to wander through a holodeck simulation of the NX-01 to figure out personal loyalty to Captain Picard after all these years? More importantly is that Enterprise’s legacy, not in its accomplishments, but in the personal loyalty of the crew to Archer? Was there any other ST series that this could not be said of?

All of ST’s finales have been sad but they were leavened by crisis and confrontation and some transcendence. Captain Kirk sailing the Enterprise to the second star on the right after confronting his demons and ideals and emerging rejuvenated from them. Picard entering the room to play poker in order to solidify that bond with his crew for the future. Kira confronting her new role in running DS9. Voyager finally returning home to be greeted by a waiting fleet after Janeway has torn apart the future and the Borg for her crew. All of those had a clear message: this was worthwhile and this isn’t over yet. “Voyages” struggles but fails to offer any such message. The crew can muster little but a sad apathy at the future. It is over and they know it and the writers know it and we know it too. Archer gives his speech and we live because it would be too hard to bear this final goodbye.

In “All Good Things…”, which “Voyages” not so cleverly references, the future destroyed the past in a paradox that defied cause and effect. ENT too is a paradox, a show set in ST’s past produced in the future. It has also completed the final task of destroying ST. Not because it was a thoroughly awful show — ENT had brilliant and memorable episodes. But never enough. And so it goes out not with hope for the future but a sad resignation; not with a bang but a whimper.

STAR TREK, though, lives on. All things that live must die but ST has left behind a great legacy that continues to blossom today. When we look up at the stars and see Klingons, Vulcans, Romulans and Tholians among them, ST continues to dream on inside us. When we find our fingers drawing apart in a Vulcan greeting by force of habit, that too is the product of hundreds of hours of a TV show we watched, memorized and loved.

ST has had a great and noble legacy. The first space shuttle was named Enterprise. The shuttle fleet is being retired now to make way for a crew exploratory vehicle that will take us to the Moon and Mars and beyond. It will be Earth’s first true spaceship. It seems somewhat appropriate that STAR TREK’s death, the passing of a wonderful fictional series about space exploration, comes in the dawn of the birth of a new era of real space exploration here on earth.

If ST was a dream that fired men’s souls to see the stars, to walk among strange new worlds; then perhaps we have woken from the dream and are moving closer to the reality. And when man does step foot for the first time on a foreign star, the engineers and scientists, the astronauts and visionaries whom ST inspired will have helped to make it happen. That is its true legacy and ours.

Next week: the Future…

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Bound

Synopsis: Orion women in skimpy clothing invade Enterprise. Yup that’s the plot.

Review: The original STAR TREK went out with the sadly embarrassing “Turnabout Intruder” that was a nauseating display of sexism and idiocy that demonstrated how far TOS had fallen without Gene Roddenberry. “Bound” is not ENTERPRISE’s final episode, though it’s close and it is written by Manny Coto, who seemed like the show’s best hope for salvation.

star trek enterprise bound

If Star Trek anticipated nothing else, it anticipated the Kardashians

I would not have been at all baffled if it had turned out that “Bound” was actually written by Brannon Braga and Rick Berman, it would have been irritating and a just cause for ranting on how Berman and Braga have lowered and ultimately destroyed STAR TREK; from the pen of Manny Coto though, it simply elicits a sad sigh of regret. We can, I suppose, blame UPN for pushing the producers to use sex to sell the series but that’s overly simplistic at best.

Supporters will probably call “Bound” a tribute to TOS but that is not the case. “Trials and Tribbelations” was a tribute because it attempted to recapture what was enjoyable about an original series episode framed in the current period. “Bound” is just sleaze packaged in a plot aimed at audiences too dumb for actual stories who would otherwise be watching AMERICAN IDOL.

TOS was a great series, it was the birth of STAR TREK; but it was also the product of its time. I asked once whether anyone really wanted to see a remake of “Mudd’s Women” and apparently Manny Coto was under the impression that indeed they did. But a tribute celebrates what is best about a TV show, not what is worst and that is exactly what “Bound” does.

It is not incomprehensibly awful like “A Night in Sickbay” or “Unexpected”; it is simply tedious, cheesy and devoid of quality while degrading the close of a series that has shown sparks of potential and brilliance but never entirely broken free of its chains of mediocrity. It also makes you wonder why STAR TREK, which was once considered revolutionary for its time now produces episodes that seem stuck on sexist cliches and exploitation of women.

Consider T’Pol and 7 of 9’s ‘modified’ uniforms, which makes no real sense whatsoever. Consider some of the gratuitously exploitative scenes featuring both characters. Consider how likely T’Pol and Seven are to lose their minds or otherwise become unstable, ‘just like women do.’ When T’Pol takes command of Enterprise it’s usually captured or beaten to pieces. Indeed Earth is even destroyed and the human race wiped out, because T’Pol rather than Archer was in command.

Fans tend to pass these things by but they might choose to ask themselves whether STAR TREK’s nosedive is not indeed tied to an inability to break free of this mentality and reclaim values that place it in the forefront of equality rather than relegating it to the worst cliches of past periods. When STAR TREK is rebuilt again, and I say ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ because I am a fan and remain eternally optimistic, this must be one of the issues addressed.

Before “Bound,” a rerun of “Twilight” aired, which indeed is arguably ENTERPRISE’s greatest episode (regardless of what the polls say.) Let us remember ENTERPRISE for the “Twilight”s and not the “Bound”s, just as we remember STAR TREK the Original Series for “City on the Edge of Forever,” not “Turnabout Intruder.”

Next Week: Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who’s the evilest Archer of them all?

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Aenar

Synopsis: Archer and Shran’s quest to stop the Romulan drone takes them to Andoria and an Andorian sub-species of blind telepathic pacifists.

star trek enterprise aenarReview: “The Aenar” is not a bad episode or a particularly good one. As an episode that stands on its own it’s reminiscent of some TOS and TNG episodes, though still dramatically weak. As a follow-up to a three part series of episodes dealing with the birth of the Federation and the rise of the Romulan menace, it’s effectively a no-show. If “Unity” sidelined much of the alliance and the Romulan threat in favor of Shran’s desire for vengeance, “The Aenar” sidelines much of it in favor of well…the Aenar themselves.

The Aenar are interesting in some ways and if nothing else can be said for ENTERPRISE it has managed to explore the Andorians far more than STAR TREK ever has. It’s not the best epitaph for a series but it’s better than no epitaph at all. Still, where “Babel One” and even “United” were laying the groundwork for the birth of the Federation, “The Aenar” isn’t laying the groundwork for much in particular. Ultimately the Andorian trilogy fails because it feels the need to drag in too many divergent elements to the point that it increasingly loses its dramatic focus and by “The Aenar” has no clear point.

In “Babel One” Enterprise was dealing with a Romulan threat and the need to bring about peace between Andorians and Tellarites. In “United,” Enterprise crafted an alliance between them to stop the Romulan threat. In “The Aenar,” the Tellarites are discarded and the alliance has really come to nothing, failing to stop the Romulan drone, and so the solution comes from the telepathic link between an Andorian brother and sister. It’s not an entirely uninteresting story but it’s not the birth of the Federation either.

The hidden underground city and its interiors and the Aenar themselves do seem like a TOS throwback though the situation lacks the intensity TOS would have invested in it. By a convenient coincidence of course it is also the sister of the kidnapped Aenar who encounters Archer and Shran. Though the Aenar are secretive and no more than a handful of Andorians have ever seen an Aenar, they seem to have no problem inviting Archer and Shran to their hidden underground city and have contacts with the Andorian government. Quite a lot for a half-mythical species barely anyone believed existed. Thus while “The Aenar” is a throwback to TOS, it also feels like a throwback to ENTERPRISE’s first season.

The Romulan story has become increasingly weak, being limited to political tension that Brian Thompson is simply not capable of carrying. His tale of being a former disgraced Senator who questioned the warmongering of the Romulan Empire might have added depth to the Admiral’s character an episode ago but is now just a detail thrown in far too late and performed by an actor not at all capable of using it to add subtlety and depth to the character. THE X-FILES understood Brian Thompson’s limitations and used him appropriately. ENTERPRISE made him the chief antagonist and then kept him safe far from the action. This is not the ideal formula for great drama and it’s no surprise that it doesn’t deliver any great or even particularly mediocre drama.

Jeffery Combs is still doing his best as Shran and bonds far better with the Aenar girl than he did with Talas and remains the most watchable part of the episode. Scott Bakula has improved a good deal since the first season and there has been real growth to his character. By contrast Connor Trineer’s Trip and Jolene’s T’Pol remain tedious and annoying and their soap opera detracts from what strengths “The Aenar” has by burdening the episode with yet more silly dramatics. It’s almost enough to make one appreciate sitting through Paris and Torres’ soap opera. At least there was more yelling and Klingon weapons and less passive aggressive whining. Now Trip is asking for a transfer and Archer seems to be the only one left on board Enterprise who doesn’t know about him and T’Pol.

It isn’t as if anything can save ENTERPRISE now despite the well-intentioned if ultimately futile attempts to influence UPN and Paramount executives; still, with this being quite possibly the last year of STAR TREK ever, it would have been nice if the series had produced a higher level of quality towards its end. “Babel One” had the potential to lead to a truly great and memorable three-part episode that dealt with the Romulans and the birth of the Federation and perhaps justified ENTERPRISE’s existence. Instead it stands out as a strong episode followed by increasing mediocrity.

Next week: Phlox in peril or is that phleril?

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – United

Synopsis: Enterprise forms an alliance of Andorians, Tellarites, Vulcans and humans to pursue the Romulan marauder.

star trek enterprise unitedReview: “United” is a serviceable episode, though significantly weaker than “Babel One”, in no small part because the story of the alliance gets reduced to a feud between Shran and a Tellarite. This is unfortunate since it pushes away the greatest strengths of the storyline in favor of a rather familiar STAR TREK cliche and a pointless action scene.

Jeffrey Combs once again does his best as Shran but the material that he’s given teeters on the absurd and that does little to help matters. Meanwhile, the Romulan drone has proven to be a rather weak threat and quite unimpressive in comparison to its appearance in “Babel One” and only manages to survive by chance and lots of system redundancies.

The alliance, the early stirrings of the Federation, which was supposed to take center stage, instead occurs on the periphery. We never even see an actual Vulcan, aside from T’Pol, which would have been a nice touch, and we never get any of the sense of drama and momentum that, for example, hummed under the workings of the Xindi alliance with Enterprise. Instead it seems as if somewhere out there are ships, all hunting down a drone, which seems like overkill. Especially as the drone proves to be little match for even Enterprise, let alone Andorian or Vulcan ships which are supposed to be more powerful, and its only ability to cloak itself is quickly neutralized.

Still, “United”‘s strongest moments are its character interactions. Trip and Reed’s friendship is nicely renewed in scenes that echo “Two Days and Two Nights” and “Shuttlepod One.” Archer and Shran have some strong scenes together and even Hoshi and Ensign Mayweather have a scene that’s oddly more lively than a lot of the rest of the episode.

Overall, though, Shran’s romance and tragic lost love was a poor idea, poorly executed, and when it becomes the main preoccupation of “United” it really becomes an awful one. The actual duel looks silly, the weapons they fight with look silly and the conclusion, which is sillier still, only make things worse. Archer defeating Shran is simply not credible. Shran giving up after losing an antenna is not credible either. From everything we’ve seen he’s determined to the point of madness, he is hardly going to give up avenging the woman he loves because Archer briefly outmaneuvered him.

Finally, if the theme of this episode is unity, then there is a distinct shortage of it. If the theme is building the Federation, there’s a distinct shortage of that too. The alliance we have here seems no more enduring so far than the one Janeway formed in “The Void,” less so actually, since no one involved seems to be doing very much interacting.

“United” needed to show a lot more and tell less. It needed to sustain the momentum of “Babel One” but sadly it didn’t. It needed to be well-paced, insightful and funny. It wasn’t. ENTERPRISE needed to survive past this season but it didn’t. Sic transit and all the rest.

Next week: Andorians with really pale eyes.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Babel One

Synopsis: Enterprise is sent to escort the Tellarite ambassador to a peace conference with the Andorians only to find themselves in the path of a mysterious ship sabotaging the talks.

star trek enterprise babel oneReview: “Babel One” looks set to be the first episode of the first great three-part series, not only in this season of ENTERPRISE but of STAR TREK as a whole (which admittedly is not that difficult since there isn’t all that much solid competition.)

Many of “Babel One”‘s elements are admittedly not original. The peace conference and the enemy out to sabotage it for example are a staple of STAR TREK. STAR TREK VI’s plot, for example, hinged around a peace conference and a staged attack using a prototype cloaked ship. ENTERPRISE’s own pilot, “Broken Bow”, revolved around Enterprise transporting a Klingon home while being ambushed by Suliban with special abilities. So did the season’s closing episode.

But discarding the question of originality, “Babel One” is a strong episode that sets out the relationships between the alien species that will make up the Federation, features strong characters, decisive moves by Archer, cinematic quality direction, top notch special effects and a story that moves quickly and efficiently. Despite its status as a prequel to the Original Series and an episode that focuses heavily on Original Series species’, including some we barely ever saw outside TOS, in many ways “Babel One” more strongly resembles a TNG episode. Indeed in its focus on diplomatic measures and alliance building, the conspiracies of the Romulans and the blend of humor and suspense makes “Babel One” far closer to TNG than any other series.

The camera work on “Babel One” at times moves into gimmicky range and is rather flashy but it’s also enjoyable to watch especially during some of the Andorian fight scenes or Shran jumping down to the deck from above. The special effects are also excellent. The angle of the Tellarite shuttle’s arrival is well done. Romulus is simply spectacular and the Romulan ship is massive and eerie in a way that suggests cinematic quality effects. Even the production values are well done with the Romulan ship’s corridors appropriately spooky and alien.

T’Pol is flat this week again, though she really is given little to do, but the rest of the cast turn in solid performances. Archer is edgier now, and seems more willing to snap at Trip. Trip and Reed are recovering their relationship again and the actors play off each other cleverly and naturally. There’s even a reference to “Shuttlepod One” in their banter. The one weak note is struck by Brian Thompson, best known from the X-FILES, who is hired primarily because of his size. Whatever menace he has is ruined however whenever he opens his mouth and he is rather unsuitable for a Romulan commander, as Romulans are expected to be clever and devious, rather than large and bombastic. Thompson would have worked well enough as a Klingon, but as a Romulan he’s the dumb kid trying to play 3D chess.

From the clever Hoshi and Archer dialogue training at the start of the episode (though does Archer really need Hoshi to teach him how to insult people?) to the introduction of the Tellarites, the episode moves smoothly to intrigue and suspense and revelation. It’s simple and yet ENTERPRISE’s past seasons are littered with episodes seemingly incapable of mastering cohesion or style. Jeffrey Combs as Shran is an always welcome character and while his relationship with Archer is still often acrimonious, he clearly is letting his guard down more. Archer for his part clearly has a certain camaraderie towards Shran despite their endless clashes. It’s a good thing too, as a character that has often come off as a weak and unprofessional Starship Captain.

Shran reveals that like Archer he was also the commander of the first ship of its class and his revelation about Talas seems to tie in with Archer’s own possible thoughts about T’Pol. And aside from telling us more than we needed to know about Andorian mating practices, this is the only weak point about the plot. T’Pol mentions that her ‘divorce’ from her non-husband is official and now suddenly her status is up in the air again. Reed seems to know that she and Trip had something together, though it’s not clear how. Long after that storyline seemed to have been dropped, Archer is displaying an interest in T’Pol again. The camera angles in their scene together as Archer asks if “they’re moving too fast” are a particularly odd touch.

Of course T’Pol had left her husband in “Kir’Shara” yet suddenly ENTERPRISE has defaulted back into its old folly of ‘There’s Something About T’Pol.’ STAR TREK has not had a good history of crew relations. ENTERPRISE has had a thoroughly awful one. While some may pine away for the glory days of season three when T’Pol began losing her mind and giving Trip massages to help him stop stressing over the few million dead back on earth or “A Night in Sickbay” in which Archer worried desperately over his dog and T’Pol in that exact order of importance, the rest of us would rather watch reruns of Welcome Back Kotter translated into Norwegian than another painfully contrived attempt at romance. Let alone some abomination such as a storyline in which Trip and Archer fight over T’Pol. Personally I’d rather sit through The Passion 2: The Christening than Archer and Trip yelling over which of them will have the chance to spend the rest of their lives annoying each other to death. ENTERPRISE has an opportunity here, to explore interspecies relations minus the innuendo. Hopefully it will not waste it again in the hopes of luring a few fans with yet another pointless relationship or T’Pol in skimpy outfits. It did not work in season three or any other season. It will not work now.

“Babel One” is a strong episode at a time when ENTERPRISE desperately needs one. It contains many of the basic ingredients that can save the show and can make itthe series it was meant to be, about building the Federation and bringing us into the era of Captain Kirk’s Enterprise. Many people accuse critics of Enterprise of hating the series. I cannot speak for everyone but I hope that ENTERPRISE survives. I hope to see a fifth season and a sixth one after that. I don’t believe that will happen, though, without improvements in quality and without a shift in focus. “Babel One” is what ENTERPRISE needs to be doing if it is to have a fifth season.

STAR TREK is a great universe and it would be a terrible shame for it to die here and now. Much as when the fictional Enterprise is in peril, the power to save it lies with the writers. They can decide ultimately if it lives or dies by working hard enough and well enough and making the right choices to save the series. Ultimately it is not the fans or UPN who will keep ENTERPRISE alive, it is its writers. People like Manny Cotto, Mike Sussman and Andre Bormanis among others have shown they’re capable of producing good and even great episodes. In their hands rests the future of the franchise.

Next week: Archer vs Shran, but where’s the referee?

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Observer Effect

Synopsis: Aliens capable of possessing the bodies of the crew at will observe their reactions to a deadly virus.

Review: It’s another episode from the Reeves-Stevenses, best known for writing William Shatner’s novels, and, like “The Forge” before it, at star trek enterprise observer effecttimes comes off more suited for a written format than a visual one. Nonetheless “Observer Effect” is one of the strongest episodes of the season thus far, in no small part because of veteran STAR TREK director Mike Vejar’s work in conveying the eerie qualities of the aliens.

While the basic premise of “Observer Effect” is nothing unusual, suggesting any number of STAR TREK episodes from TNG’s “Where Silence Has Lease” and VOYAGER’s “Scientific Method”, what sets “Observer Effect” apart is that like “Daedalus” it stylistically and thematically strongly resembles classic STAR TREK episodes. Indeed scenes such as Archer’s and Phlox’s confrontations with the aliens are strongly suggestive of Kirk and McCoy. By contrast, though, the chess opening of the episode is more in line with the stylistic flair of VOYAGER or third season ENTERPRISE.

The opening suggests a series of maneuvers; a game of chess that will be played out until the endgame, which is a surprising reversal of the strategic situation by emotional means. It is also a metaphor with the alien possessing Reed as the logical rule-bound type who can predict outcomes ultimately being outmaneuvered by emotion, which he cannot predict. Human emotions, empathy and its very irrationality stymie logic as effectively as they stymie the predictive abilities of the alien using Reed as a host.

“Observer Effect” opens with the aliens acting as observers studying the humans around them and ends with them departing, making alien observers the bookends of the episode in another noteworthy stylistic touch that we have seen in the past but is still worth mentioning. With the question of originality there are of course dozens of episodes from the Original Series and through VOYAGER that could be referenced but then it’s increasingly hard for ENTERPRISE to do a genuinely original story. “Observer Effect” is a worthwhile reworking of classic STAR TREK themes, namely human empathy vs. highly developed but cruel intelligences and self-sacrifice vs. logical cost and benefit analysis.

Mike Vejar’s excellent direction of course brings the eerie concept of alien possession to a whole new level. And it is interesting to note that about the only time Anthony Montgomery takes center stage and about the only time he’s interesting is when an alien has taken possession of his body for the entire episode. Reed, who has also been woefully neglected this season, gets a little screen time too — albeit as another possessed body — but he manages to make the most of what little time he has. Hoshi surprisingly also gets a good deal of sudden development, though the poker story is dubious and simply doesn’t fit with the character as depicted at all. Trip mainly reprises his sick and out of it material from “Shuttlepod One”, which gives him rather little to do but he does it capably enough.

All in all, “Observer Effect” much like “Daedalus”, is a good episode somewhat mired by a lack of originality and an overly abrupt ending. But it nevertheless strongly resonates of the Original Series and features some strong performances and excellent direction and will be a worthy addition to your tape library once ENTERPRISE goes off the air.

Next week: Andorians are feeling blue and the Tellarites haven’t discovered razors yet but it was good of “Observer Effect” to reference Tellarites and beat the Tellarite referencing rush.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Daedalus

Synopsis: When an old friend of Archer’s family, who also happens to be the inventor of the Transporter, comes on board, Archer endangers his ship and crew to try and help him save his son.

star trek enterprise daedaleusReview: “Daedalus” is in some ways an inverted version of STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE’s classic and beloved episode “The Visitor.” Where “The Visitor” was the struggle of Jake Sisko to recover his father at great sacrifice, to end in reunion and relief, “Daedalus” inverts this story in more ways than one by portraying it as the struggle of a father to save his son and a struggle that is ultimately misguided and hopeless.

The episode also contains elements from such classic STAR TREK episodes as “The Conscience of the King” and TNG’s “Too Short A Season”, though in quality it is closer to the latter than any of the aforementioned. While “Daedaleus” is a competent episode, it is ultimately not a great one, which it could have been. Still, in this and a number of ways “Daedalus” reflects ENTERPRISE’s closeness to the original series.

Through Archer’s conversations with Emory we have a better picture of the men who helped pioneer the early rough and tumble days of Starfleet and the sacrifices they made. The transporter takes on a different tinge when we begin to consider that men and women had to die to create it. As with many great inventions, there are great sacrifices to be made and Emory represents the Promothean fate of those who try to bring the fire of science to man.

STAR TREK has not had good luck with geniuses who come on board to test new experiments. Consider Daystrom of the Original Series’ “The Ultimate Computer”, which this episode also draws from in some ways. Then we have “Where No One Has Gone Before”, in which the Enterprise-D ends up discovering all sorts of distant galaxies full of pretty lights. And already this season ENTERPRISE’s three-episode encounter with Dr. Soong does not end on a particularly high note. All in all, it seems as if the next time a scientific genius tries to come on board Enterprise they should strongly consider blasting him out of space before it’s too late.

Science and scientific invention are often abstract qualities. An inventor, a central inventor, as increasingly outmoded as such things may be, helps personalize the invention as a human product rather than an abstract mechanical one. The machine, the computer, the technology is given certain human qualities or at least made more personal by attaching a human story to it. And while STAR TREK is science fiction, it is often light science fiction that can slip into the conventional Luddite attacks on science. “Daedalus” is fortunately not such an episode and while Emory is not particularly moral, he is human rather than villainous. Like many great Original Series episodes, the character of Emory is worked out and defined and made human and his failings make him all the more fallible when playing god. Indeed “Daedalus”‘ greatest failing as an episode may be the miscasting of Emory in a role that required a greater and far more capable actor in it.

To have been truly great, “Daedalus” needed its own Tony Todd, who played the adult Jake Sisko on “The Visitor.” Sadly it had Bill Cobbs, an actor better known for sitcom roles and playing cranky old men cliches in TV and film than in serious acting. Here, he is simply not up to the part which required an actor with a strong theatrical background.

Additionally the episode suffers from occasional abrupt editing that may be caused by reduction in allowed episode running time. The entire device of Emory’s son appearing as a ghost is a potentially interesting one and was used to great effect in “The Visitor.” However having him appear as a dangerous formless being who kills and in poltergeist style destroys equipment and walls was a far more dubious choice. It provided the element of danger and suspense but it’s not altogether certain that these elements were needed or had to be created in this way. While it made both Emory and Archer’s choices more difficult and controversial, in some ways the danger distracted from the core of the story by turning Quinn into a roving danger prowling the ship. Had the danger come from the Barrens themselves and Enterprise’s exposure to a dangerous area of space, that might have made the moral dilemma less cartoony and put the focus back on Emory.

Ultimately, like the Augments three-part episode, “Daedalus” is about the tragedy of a genius falling through his own conscience and the decisions he makes.

Next week: Crew members are experimented on and PETA never leaps to object.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Forge

Synopsis: Archer and co. investigate the bombing of the Earth embassy on Vulcan.

Archer Star Trek Enterprise Federation The ForgeReview: The premise of the three-part Vulcan arc is an interesting one, especially considering the need to bridge the gap in continuity between ENTERPRISE’s mangled portrayal of the Vulcans and the STAR TREK portrayal of the Vulcans, the two often completely incompatible. “The Forge” itself also tosses out a variety of interesting ideas into the mix, which may or may not be delivered on properly in future episodes. However, “The Forge” itself is nearly impossible to review on its own because it’s simply more a fragment of an episode than an episode.

As with the Augments arc, “The Forge” appears to be part of an attempt to return to the prequel concept as a bridge to the Original Series and has a nice selection of continuity references to TOS. While it still continues to be filled with negative Vulcan stereotypes, the arc appears to be moving towards the argument that these Vulcans are bad primarily because they are the Vulcans in authority and prefiguring a social upheaval on Vulcan that will bring it more in line with the Vulcan we know. Of course the entire premise that such events had occurred in recent memory fly in the face of all of STAR TREK, as we know continuity and ENTERPRISE even in the best of situations go together about as well as oil and water. And for those troubled by that, ENTERPRISE’s own premise renders it as being outside of STAR TREK history via time-tampering from the future, rather than a continuing part of STAR TREK history as a whole.

The actual Vulcan drama is hit and miss with Ambassador Soval returning as a strong character but the Vulcan high command crudely portrayed and poorly acted. Soval’s speech to Archer, though, sounds like recycled deep throat cliches. Admiral Forrest is somewhat unnecessarily killed for shock value where having him severely injured in sickbay would actually have been more far more effective. Trip’s reaction of callously not caring about the embassy guard’s body but his mind is out of character for him. Trip has many failings but inhumanity hasn’t been one of them until now.

STAR TREK has more traditionally done three-part episodes and ENTERPRISE’s new attempt to carry out these arcs has its flaws. Like “Borderland,” “The Forge” feels like less of an episode and more of a preview to an episode. But where “Borderland” had more content and a solid ending, “The Forge” strings together exposition scenes and some action with the end result being more of a snack than a full dinner. Considering that the episode begins with a bang, the succeeding action mostly drags in scenes in which various people discuss or argue with Vulcans. There is no real sense of loss or catastrophe aside from Archer’s scene with the coffins.

Once in the desert the pace does not actually pick up any but the interest level increases mainly because we are finally exploring Vulcan. Some elements such as the sandfire are well done, though the special effects for it and the Sehlat are quite inferior. The Sehlat in particular looks like CG from the early 90’s. The editing attempts to compensate for this by showing it only in quick shots is effective to a degree but still would have been better done with the Sehlat entirely out of sight. Just as the electrical sandstorm worked much better as flashes from behind rocks, so too the Sehlat worked better as a growl than a CG creation. Special effects problems also plague the embassy bombing with the pillar collapsing blast scene looking just downright silly. I don’t know if ENTERPRISE’s budget has been cut or just stretched (in light of the lower UPN licensing fee) but in such a situation, suggestion is better than showing poor effects.

All in all “The Forge” raises some interesting ideas and possibilities but lacks real meaning until future episodes pick up the ball or don’t.

Next week: I’ve got Surak in my head and I can’t get him out.

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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