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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – E2

Synopsis: ENTERPRISE does VOYAGER and encounters its future in the form of reruns of previous STAR TREK episodes hashed together.

star trek enterprise E2Review: DS9’s “Children of Time” was hardly all that great of an episode, so it’s unclear as to why ENTERPRISE felt the need to remake it again. Or why after already doing one episode that showed Enterprise’s dark future if the Xindi mission failed, they chose to do another one. Or why they chose to interrupt the concluding arc of the season that had just begun gathering steam with an episode that distracts by rehashing a bunch of old episodes. But such are the mysteries that earn one a position on the writing staff of a television series.

It’s not that “E2” is a particularly bad episode. In fact, Mike Sussman has generally done good work and so has Roxann Dawson. But as the saying goes, there’s only so many times you can go to the well. The STAR TREK franchise has managed to drain the life out of such strengths as the Klingons and the Borg, and ENTERPRISE is well on its way to doing to time travel VOYAGER to the Borg. “E2” is not a bad episode but we’ve seen better versions of it plenty of times before. Take “Children of Time,” hash it together with some bits and pieces of “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “Deadlock” and “Equinox” and you pretty much have this episode.

Worst of all, “E2” really doesn’t manage to do anything significant with the material. None of the future descendants are particularly interesting and aside from the great mess hall scene with Hoshi, Mayweather and Reed, the encounter with a future version Enterprise seems redirected into yet another round of Trip -n- T’Pol. And that is what really manages to reduce “E2” to a pile of barely digestible mush. Much as ENTERPRISE Season 3 took the destruction of Earth and the death of Trip’s sister and turned it into an excuse for erotic massages, “E2” takes the encounter with a future Enterprise and turns it into yet another round of gracelessly shoving Trip and T’Pol together. But of course even this silliness isn’t original because “Children of Time,” the DS9 episode this episode is cribbed from, featured a futuristic version of Odo revealing his love to Kira.

But it isn’t the turpid scenes between T’Pol and Trip themselves that destroy the episode but the outcome of twisting the episode to accomodate them by the creation of Lorian. Despite being derivative, however, “E2” had some possibilities. Imagine an encounter with a more wolfish and desperate Archer a decade or two down the road. Or even the same aged T’Pol we see in this episode in command and becoming more unstable as she desperately tries to achieve her goal by any means necesarry. It wouldn’t be the greatest STAR TREK episode of all time but it could have been compelling. It would have been about the crew and the choices they’ve made and what they can become if they continue down this path. It would have tied neatly into the previous episodes.

But instead as an articulation of Trip and T’Pol’s Love That Dare Not Speak Its Ratings, we get Lorian the first Redneck Vulcan on STAR TREK. He might have been entertaining if played for laughs, maybe meditating under a Confederate flag to a piece from a Harley’s motor. But instead David Andrews portrays him with all the intensity of a coma patient being pumped full of extra sediatives. Meanwhile, the child of Trip and T’Pol combines Trip’s boneheaded stupidity with T’Pol’s emotionlessness to produce a truly boring idiot. Aside from his emoting scene in the brig, Lorian isn’t just boring, he taps into a whole dimension of tediousness we never thought previously possible. God knows when you’re looking forward to Mayweather saying a line, something is seriously wrong.

Not only does “E2” waste enormous amounts of time on a character who does not seem to survive this episode but it wastes more time drawing out this round of the ‘Will They Or Won’t They Game’ for T’Pol and Trip, a game best reserved for the viewership of teenage girls, and ultimately is not about the choices Archer makes so much as the moral struggle of a boring character who is not a member of the crew and whom we will never see again. While it was a nice touch of irony to see the Enterprise crew end up on the other side of the treatment they handed out in “Damage” and for the same reason, “E2” manages to flub even this scene by centering the confrontation on Trip rather than Archer (you know, Archer, the guy who struggled with that tough decision to steal a warp coil from innocent people to save Earth only to find himself in the same predicament from the other side.)

There are worthwhile moments in the episode, however. Reed’s worries about remaining a bachelor, the two beaten ships docked together, the revelation of who Phlox married, Archer’s disappointed expression when he realizes that it’s Degra’s ship and not the other Enterprise and Degra becoming even more desperate and determined as Randy Oglesby continues stealing every scene he’s in. Jolene Blalock turns in another surprisingly good performance as the aged T’Pol, which perhaps might remind the producers that they might consider more possibilities involving her than getting her on drugs or taking her clothes off. But when all is said and done this episode simply does not work.

It is a poorly hashed together mix of older episodes that fits poorly into the arc, has the wrong focus and is a letdown in every way. Even the production values seem poor with the corridor effects looking cheap and terrible and T’Pol’s caked makeup making her look more like a swamp monster than an old woman. Makeup this bad was understandable on TOS when Kirk, Spock and McCoy underwent dramatic aging. But it’s completely unacceptable in 2004. But then T’Pol’s makeup, like this episode, shows the age of a creaking franchise in its last throes. With two episodes this season showing a dead and doomed ancient Enterprise fighting a hopeless battle, one almost wonders if the writers are prophecying the eponymous show for which they work.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Forgotten

Synopsis: Archer attempts to forge an alliance with Degra while Trip and T’Pol try to hold themselves together.

Review: It’s nice to see at the beginning of “Forgotten” that all the damage Enterprise took is still present and the ship is in bad shape rather than being fully repaired, as has happened all too often on previous shows. In that, ENTERPRISE seems to be giving us what some expected VOYAGER to deliver with “Year of Hell” but didn’t. From inside to outside Enterprise is still battered, still limping along, and not magically resurrected with a few lines of technobabble.

star trek enterprise the forgottenIn some ways, she’s worse off as the crew is reaching its limits. Archer is more wolfish and desperate than ever; Trip is stumbling around without sleep for two days and T’Pol is dealing with uncontrollable emotions and brain damage. Degra, meanwhile, is coping with the consequences of the decisions he has to make and Randy Oglesby delivers another strong performance as Degra is torn between the demands of his duty, the consequences of his crime, and Archer’s alternative. When he responds to Archer’s hail after his destruction of the Reptillian ship, it is with the resigned face of a man who knows that no decision he makes will be the right one anymore.

Once again Chris Black delivers snappy and witty dialogue from Trip’s encounter with Taylor to Phlox sending him off to bed. His confrontation with Degra even manages to give Trip and T’Pol a believable scene together minus the cheap and sleazy innuendo. LeVar Burton again does a solid and smooth job directing the episode. Trip’s grieving storyline is effectively handled and very well done but should have been part of an overall grieving process going on throughout the season. Instead TPTB chose to redirect that storyline into Trip receiving erotic massages from T’Pol, which was a rather unfortunate and slimy mistake to say the least. ENTERPRISE had the chance to do an arc and instead has done a single episode while devoting far more time to the far less interesting story of T’Pol having a breakdown.

Degra and the Xindi-Arboreal finally bring up the issue of demanding actual proof from Archer and are actually skeptical about the proofs Archer provides. This is nice but of course it’s hard to buy that they’d have freed Archer and left Enterprise unmolested, if they never considered his proofs credible to begin with. Ultimately Archer doesn’t manage to provide them with a whole lot anyway. But at least “Forgotten” makes a serious effort to address this issue while previous episodes expected us to swallow the absurdity of Degra and other Xindi council members having a complete change of heart based on some wonky temporal readings on a piece of metal. It was also a good decision to have Degra regain his memory, since a credible alliance has to be built on honesty, though it’s not clear when or how this happened.

The warp plasma leak scene is a credible crisis that gives Trip and Reed a chance to bond again. Reed has been badly shortchanged this season and Trip and Reed worked great together in the past. But this season some of that relationship has been sadly allowed to fall by the wayside. It’s nice to see Reed once again prepared to suffer near suicidal abuse for the team with the old stiff upper lip. Hoshi and Mayweather are again pretty much out of a sight but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Phlox is well within his element and his scene with Trip is comedy gold and another demonstration of how underused Phlox is for anything but tedious exposition scenes.

Next week: More future shock.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Damage

Synopsis: Enterprise tries to recover from its pounding by stealing a warp coil. The Xindi Council bickers and T’Pol has to learn to ‘just say no’.

Review: The damage in the title of this episode refers to both the physical damage we can see in the tears and devastation on the Enterprise hull and the moral damage sustained by Archer and members of his crew over the term of the Xindi mission. It’s an episode that lingers over the damage Archer, T’Pol and even the Xindi see in themselves as much as it does over the lightless and beaten interiors of Enterprise itself.

Damage star trek enterpriseThe scene of the Xindi council calling off the attack early on dampens far too much of the tension too quickly, as it might have been much more helpful to keep the audience wondering why the Xindi called off the attack and whether they might return for a while. Still, “Damage” does a credible job of showing the beating Enterprise has taken and closes as it began with a devastated ship not healed by any quick fix or technobabble solution.

While STAR TREK, particularly on TV, will never top the sense of devastation Enterprise experienced after Khan’s attack, crystallized in the awful image of Scotty standing helplessly in the turbolift with a bloody body cradled in his arms, “Damage” provides some excellent… well, damage. The exploding EPS conduit over the heads of the senior officers followed by debris raining down during the briefing is a particularly nice touch; Archer looking over the covered bodies in sickbay is a more understated moment, but arguably a more effective one that hardens both his determination and pain.

The truly inspired touch, though, is the damaged alien vessel with the warp coil that Enterprise must raid in order to stop the Xindi weapon. Unlike DS9’s much-hyped “In The Pale Moonlight,” Archer faces a genuinely impossible moral dilemma because circumstances give him no choice but to carry out an immoral act against innocent victims. This puts it closer to the depth of great TOS episodes like “A Private Little War,” that require an immoral act for a pragmatic outcome.

When Archer’s team raids the alien vessel, it visually suggests the raids on Enterprise in “Anomaly” and “Rajiin,” and thus the victims become the victimizers, as happens all too often today. Archer’s final confrontation with the alien captain is brief but effective. Throughout the course of an agonizing year Archer has gone from being naive and arrogantly optimistic to a hard-driven and wounded man who acts not out of hope but pragmatism. The scientist and explorer has become the unwilling soldier.

All in all “Damage” effectively shows the price Enterprise has paid and the way in which Archer and the crew respond to it. However the other two stories circling around the episode, namely T’Pol Gone Wild and the Xindi council debating Archer’s claims, are a good deal weaker. The Xindi Council scenes in general to tend to deflate too much of the tension and claustrophobic atmosphere that makes for the episode’s strongest scenes. Brannon Braga and Rick Berman should have learned from George Lucas’s THE PHANTOM MENACE, which demonstrated that political bickering in government offices doesn’t make for the best drama. Worse yet, the Xindi Council scenes represent exactly what much of “Damage” avoids, easy and quick fixes.

The Xindi Council members moving from genocide to freeing Archer and letting Enterprise go is just too implausible. Degra argues that Archer had provided proof where the Sphere Builder has not, but that is even more absurd; Archer did not prove his claims about the sphere-builders or their ambitions. All he did was prove that he might have access to time travel, which the Xindi already know the Sphere-Builders do. Archer did nothing to demonstrate or prove humanity’s good intentions and at the same time it’s also completely implausible that Degra and the others would be so committed to wiping out humanity without a single shred of evidence that Earth presented a threat, but just on the word of the Sphere-Builder.

Randy Oglesby continues to deliver strong performances as Degra and Tucker Smallwood is quite good too. The Sphere-Builder from the future pacing through the Xindi Council is eerie, even if her performance is so transparently malevolent that it’s absurd that anyone would take her claims seriously. Compare that to the more subtle female shapeshifter on DS9 who didn’t have to act like she was about to bake Hansel and Gretel in a giant oven to convey the presence of evil.

T’Pol’s story is something else entirely. Namely an exercise in contemptible stupidity and unforiveable ignorance. We had good reason to believe that sooner or later TPTB would tie in something involving the anomalies and Trellium-D to T’Pol’s bizarre behavior in order to get them off the hook with the STAR TREK fans Braga derides as ‘Continuity Pornographers.’

But it was difficult to imagine a storyline in which we are told that Vulcans need to take drugs in order to experience emotions when in fact Vulcans experience emotions far more intense than humans–the very reason that requires them to maintain such strict control. The idea that a Vulcan needs to take drugs to experience emotions is as insane as saying that a weightlifter needs to take drugs in order to be able to put down barbells rather than to lift them up. The difficulty is in suppressing emotions, the emotions Vulcans experience all the time and must continually struggle to control using their mental disciplines. Trellium-D degrades those disciplines but those disciplines are a voluntary
exerciseto begin with. It simply makes absolutely no sense at all.

Of all the aspects of STAR TREK, Vulcans have taken the worst beating from ENTERPRISE, first being cast as villains plotting to obstruct our heroes, as militarists, as prudes, metaphorical homophobes, mind rapists and just about any nasty thing imaginable. But T’Pol’s portrayal this season has really hit a whole new low. It is, of course, difficult to top the repulsive depiction of T’Pol in “Bounty,” running through the halls half-undressed in a mating frenzy and having to be hunted down by Enterprise security teams, but season three has certainly been working up to it.

The bonus sexism of a woman being left in command on a ship while becoming unfocused and then hysterical, only to be relieved by the male Captain is yet another of ENTERPRISE’s thoughtful additions to the STAR TREK legacy that we will undoubtedly treasure for years to come. Somewhere Harlan Ellison, who has spent countless hours over the past few decades shrilly complaining because Gene Roddenberry wouldn’t let him portray a crew members as drug users and dealers is undoubtedly quite happy right now. Perhaps next season we can look forwards to Trip tripping out on E or Archer on crack? After all, we’ve now opened the door and we might as well step all the way through.

“Damage” is strongest when it focuses on the moral and physical dilemmas of the Enterprise crew, rather than the more soap operatic elements. Unfortunately, along with the physical and emotional damage to the Enterprise and its crew, the episode suffers from its own damage as well.

Next week: There are only 5 new episodes left. Count em, that’s 5 new episodes.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Doctor’s Orders

Synopsis: While the crew is asleep, Doctor Phlox is left in charge of Enterprise.

Review: Doctor Phlox has been the most consistently underused ENTERPRISE crewmember with the exceptions of poor forgotten Mayweather. But unlike him, Phlox actually has an incredible amount of potential that tends to get wasted by just utilizing him to occasionally move the plot along or as a minor supporting character. A situation that has only grown worse in the third season as a recent interview by the actor testifies.

star trek enterprise doctors ordersNevertheless, Phlox has managed to steal the show in even the smallest parts in other episodes. His appearances in “A Night in Sickbay” that cataloged his routine were the highlight of an awful episode. “Doctor’s Orders” is strongest at the start when as in “Sickbay,” Phlox is simply and calmly going about his routine. But it’s when the episode tries to fit him into a remake of VOYAGER’s “One” that the material begins to unravel.

“One” was a very strong episode and a great concept in no small part because it was a way of creating character development for Seven of Nine by demonstrating to her that she needs other people. But there is no similar development necessary for Phlox and “Doctor’s Orders” doesn’t provide that development. As Billingsley has himself pointed out in the interview, Phlox is at heart an unflappable character. Odd as it might be, a scene of Phlox making his rounds with Porthos is somehow more interesting than one with Phlox stalking imaginary Xindi. “Doctor’s Orders”‘s plot would have made sense for T’Pol, incredibly derivative of VOYAGER as that may have been. But aside from training him to run parts of the ship it fails to do much in the way of developing Phlox.

While Roxann Dawson‘s direction is smooth and effective, visually “Doctor’s Order” simply never comes close to “One” in evoking a hallucinatory, paranoid atmosphere in which the unreal merges with the real. Instead, the episode quickly demarcates the line of reality with the only exception being the SIXTH SENSE-style twist involving T’Pol.

Billingsley and Blalock do get the chance to do some comedy and Blalock is surprisingly funny but Phlox is funniest when he’s relaxed and reacting normally, not in forced scenes when he’s running around like a chicken with his head cut off. The problem is that the producers have not grasped that Billingsley’s Phlox is naturally funny and that they don’t need to put him through awkward routines for that humor to shine.

All in all, “Doctor’s Orders” is a somewhat average and uninspired episode about ENTERPRISE’s most underused character, whose best moments are not so much plot-derived as montages of Phlox wandering an empty ship. The narrative device of Phlox’s letters to the same Doctor Lucas as in prior episodes are good but fails to serve as an adequate showcase for Phlox and Billingsley’s talents.

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.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Strategem

Synopsis: Enterprise captures the creator of the Xindi weapon and with time running out try to trick him into revealing the weapon’s location.

star trek enterprise stratagemReview: “Stratagem” is both a strong episode in and of itself and a worthy follow-up to “Proving Ground” as part of the Xindi arc. More intriguingly, “Stratagem” is an ENTERPRISE that plays out more like an episode ALIAS.

By committing to the premise of the third season in which Earth and humanity face the threat of imminent extermination, ENT created the problem of a threat that required extreme measures. “Anomaly” is about as far as a STAR TREK series is likely to take the idea of a Starfleet Captain using force to extract information. “Stratagem” does an ingenious end run around the problem by creating a logically worked out situation in which the solution is both ruthless and non-violent.

But at the same time, “Stratagem” also gives us one of the most human villains to date in terms of our ability to empathize with him. Randy Oglesby’s ‘Degra’ is a fully realized character who is well aware of the moral consequences of his actions and manages to get across the character’s emotions in a way that is shocking for a character who never seemed particularly significant or distinctive in earlier episodes. When Degra realizes what he has done in giving away the location on the bridge, his face falls and as perverse as it might be we can empathize with his pain at what he sees as his betrayal of his people.

It is ironic that “Stratagem” is essentially a holodeck episode minus the holodeck but that it manages to succeed far better than most holodeck episodes. Like Moriarty in “Ship in a Bottle,” the premise involves a ship within a ship and an illusion within an illusion. But unlike that TNG episode, the goal is not to untangle all the layers of illusion but the interaction between Archer and Degra. Two characters both utterly determined and driven by the fear of a terrible future and the moral compromises they have had to make. And both lying to each other and suppressing their feelings to make themselves as cold and hard as they have to be to do what they believe needs to be done.

Visually the debris of the proving ground serve as both a plausible tool for Enterprise’s malfunction without resorting to technobabble, and a credible source of tension whjile the incoming Xindi ship serves as a reminder for the destructive force Degra has unleashed.

Michael Sussman’s teleplay and veteran STAR TREK director Mike Vejar bring together their talents to create an episode that flows seamlessly and smoothly without any noticeable gaps to its conclusion. Like “Proving Ground” before it, “Stratagem” has a momentum that the Xindi arc has lacked until now. It’s another triumph of efficiency in storytelling for ENTERPRISE, overcoming many of the obstacles that have traditionally held the series back.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Chosen Realm

Synopsis: Fanatical aliens who worship the creators of the mysterious spheres hijack Enterprise.

Review: “Chosen Realm” has many of the ingredients of a good and possibly even great episode. There’s a strong performance by both Archer and the Prenom. There’s a story with current events and sociopolitical relevance. It’s an episode written by promising ENTERPRISE newcomer Manny Coto, who had also been responsible for the rather intriguing “Similitude” and directed by Roxann Dawson, who has quickly become a veteran series director. But “Realm” never actually becomes a great episode or even a particularly good one.

star trek enterprise chosen realmThere are a number of reasons for this. First is the formulaic plot that when stripped down to its skeleton is yet another story about aliens hijacking a starship and forcing the crew to retake it. And as formulaic plots go, “Chosen Realm”‘s is a thoroughly uninspired, by-the-numbers rendition of episodes we’ve seen a hundred times over. Right down to one of the aliens proving to be a sympathetic ally and aiding the crew in the retaking of the ship. It’s all predictable. Very predictable indeed.

But not only is it predictable but it’s also clumsily executed. Archer is too quick to cooperate with the hijackers while at the same time picking arguments over religion he knows will achieve nothing instead of using the Prenom’s obvious desire to bond with him for his own purposes. The method of Archer’s execution–his chat room style conversation with Phlox and Phlox’s bat would have been great moments in a comedy episode–but feel out of place in the stridently serious “Chosen Realm.” The hijackers go from open ruthlessness in taking lives to ignoring missing personnel and being satisfied with trying to chase down the saboteur instead of lining up members of the Enterprise crew and threatening to shoot them if the saboteur didn’t turn himself in. Behavior that would have been entirely in character for them. But the Prenom abandons his supposed ruthlessness just in time for the crew to get the drop on him. The result is action scenes with no real intensity or impact.

It’s also a little hard to believe that the Prenom had read Archer’s logs, that he and his crew had full access to Enterprise’s systems and yet didn’t know the function of the transporter. Even if he hadn’t read up on it before this, it would have taken a few seconds of reading the logs to determine what it really was for. Certainly the notion that a starship would build a special device for executions on board a ship that doesn’t have all that many people on it to begin with should have raised some serious suspicions.

All this might not have mattered too much if “Chosen Realm” had managed to make the characters and the ideas gripping enough to make us overlook the threadbare plot. Unfortunately the script doesn’t have ideas so much as it has cliches with no real life or depth. Like many religions on STAR TREK, the religion of the aliens is absurd and vague. Where real religions and ideologies connect to the lives of their worshipers in a real way, no matter how unreal they might be, religions on STAR TREK usually fall into two categories. They’re either incantations of vague spirituality in which the religion is hodge-podge of new age and a Hollywood writer’s surface grasp of eastern philosophy that neither stands for anything or means anything except ‘peace’ and ‘love’ and ‘destiny’; or their entire religion is defined by fanatical lunacy in which they’re out to slaughter everyone who doesn’t believe as they do. “Chosen Realm” is a textbook definition of the latter, especially since Archer frames his accusation in almost these exact same words. But it rarely feels like a real religion, a faith people would be willing to kill and die for.

Even the most extremist and fanatic religions are not defined by fanaticism, so much as the fanaticism is an expression of their interaction with the larger world. But “Chosen Realm” makes the commonplace STAR TREK mistake of assuming that creating a believable religion is just a matter of throwing together an absurd belief with fanatics who rant on about it. But no real life religion is as simple as that and the result is another two-dimensional villain overcome by the predictable and unchallenged good of Starfleet ideals. By the time we learn that the entire conflict over their belief system lies in a difference over how many days the spheres were created in, the episode has stopped even bothering to maintain the illusion of its credibility.

And that is a shame because drama comes from a conflict in which the victory is not easy or inevitable. An episode in which the villain is easily beaten would be boring. Similarly, a battle of ideas in which there’s never any doubt as to the outcome holds little interest. No episode whose battles are fought solely with weapons and in which there is no actual contest of ideas can seriously claim to be an episode about ideas. STAR TREK’s best episodes of ideas have been episodes that were never that simplistic. There are no complications in “Chosen Realm,” though, no doubt as to who is right. There is a physical struggle but no intellectual struggle.

Its strongest point is the guest-starring performance by the actor portraying the Prenom, who in cooperating with Dawson plays the character as a man who genuinely believes himself to be a hero, instead of an obvious villain as such characters are often portrayed on TREK. As such, he’s closer toKurtwood Smith‘s ‘Annorax’ than F. Murray Abraham‘s ‘Ru’afo’. That makes his final revelation on the planet all the more tragic when he finally has no choice but to see himself as the villain.

But Coto’s script gives little to anyone else on the Enterprise crew other than fight or distract the guards. T’Pol has an out of character angry confrontation with the Prenom over science vs. religion but has little else to do except be casually restrained when attempting to prevent the Prenom from destroying his enemy’s ships. Thus once again demonstrating that the ENTERPRISE producers have again forgotten that T’Pol as a Vulcan has superhuman strength and special combat training. And instead she ends up as another helpless female in yet another episode.

Archer gets the bulk of the dialogue but he never manages to to come off as particularly cogent in dealing with the Prenom and no real connection ever occurs. Coto’s script seems to be making some attempt to link the Prenom and Archer perhaps as a commentary on the possible person Archer could become if he continues down a path of ruthless fanaticism. But that element never really comes through in the episode, especially as Archer is confronting a physical threat, and the Prenom’s threat is independent thought. The Prenom needs to see himself as a hero while Archer has increasingly abandoned that notion in favor of a brute force pragmatism. The Prenom makes a great show of his sensitivity and empathy to compensate for the self-indulgent nature of his brutality while Archer conceals those outwardly in order to do what has to be done because he knows he has no other choice.

Ultimately the invocation of religious fanaticism, suicide bombers, and holy wars bringing down societies is supposed to seem topical and relevant but it never does. Aside from the suicide bomber preparing to blow himself up as a crewmember watches, “Chosen Realm” doesn’t feel particularly relevant. A truly insightful episode should have something more to say than ‘killing people in the name of religion is bad’ or at least find a better way to say it. “Chosen Realm” very badly wants to be “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield” but lacks either the intensity or the struggle. So, unfortunately, it fails to make the grade as either an action episode or an ideas episode, leaving it with little to offer except a memorable guest star and yet another hole punched in Enterprise’s side.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Carpenter Street

Synopsis: Archer and T’Pol do Starsky and Hutch going back in time to the 21st century to stop an attempt by the Insectoid Xindi on earth’s past.

star trek enterprise carpenter streetReview: It’s odd for ENTERPRISE producers to schedule two retro episodes like “North Star” and “Carpenter Street” so close together, and indeed the two episodes do have a lot of similarities. Both borrow the visual style of an action genre, the western and the 70’s cop show. Both are fun to look at with strong direction but aside from the occasional comic moment, take themselves far too seriously in stories that don’t add up to very much. But “Carpenter Street” isn’t nearly as visually adventurous as “North Star” and it takes itself even more seriously. Where “North Star” committed itself completely to the material it was paying homage too, “Carpenter Street” picks and chooses a few elements with no real enthusiasm or vigor.

Time travel episodes on STAR TREK and elsewhere in Sci-Fi usually provide plenty of comic material. From Kirk claiming that Spock’s ears were crushed in a cotton picker, to Picard doing Shakespeare to dodge paying the rent, to militia goons capturing Torres and Chakotay. “Carpenter Street” has some comic moments, but not nearly enough, and its only real high points are T’Pol recovering her strength this season in her tough, no-nonesense treatment of Loomis; and Archer offering to untie Loomis so he can hit him again. Most of the remaining comic moments come from Loomis but instead of being played broadly for laughs, Loomis is played by an actor who tends to play disturbed characters and his performance isn’t really broad comedy but nervous and fidgety; a lot like his guest role on NYPD Blue.

For whatever reason, “Carpenter Street” is set in the present day even though if the car Archer drives had been removed, the episode could just as easily have been set in the 70’s or the 80’s which would have been more adventurous and in keeping with the visual theme. A theme into which Loomis’ apartment, haircut and fashion choices would have fit in perfectly. Also it would be more credible than having the Xindi pick our time out of all the other points in Earth’s history they could have gone to. After all, what are the odds of that anyway? Presumably Braga and Berman thought that a present day setting would be simpler to do and make the threat more relevant to the audience; but it’s not like the audience was sitting on pins and needles anyway worried about the Xindi virus being released. “Carpenter Street” could at least have had some fun with the 70’s.

In some ways, the idea of integrating “Carpenter Street” into the Xindi arc rather than having the characters take a vacation from dealing with the superweapon due to obliterate the human race as in “North Star” was smart. But on the other hand, if the Xindi could travel back to Earth’s past, then why bother with the entire process of designing a weapon and flying it to Earth. All they really had to do was go back a few thousand years and wipe out a handful of nomadic proto-humans. The Borg in FIRST CONTACT behaved logically since they didn’t want to wipe out humanity, just assimilate it. The Xindi though want to wipe out humanity and instead they tinker around with a bio-weapon in recent human history when there are much easier ways to accomplish their goals if they can travel through time. “Rajiin” too starts to make very little sense if the Xindi had all of Earth’s past at their disposal. So does sending the weapon prototype to attack Earth in the 22nd century instead of the 19th when Earth would have had no defense against it. And so the integration with the Xindi arc rather than being a strong point begins to raise questions the episode can’t answer but that just cast doubt about the credibility of the Xindi arc.

The actual use of the Reptilian Xindi in the realistic 20th century set designs also pointed up how fake and shiny and plastic the Xindi star trek enterprise carpenter streetReptilian costumes look. On ENTERPRISE or another spaceship, Sci-Fi designs don’t stand out nearly as much, but put up against textured natural materials like wood and brick, the costumes look like something off the discount post-Halloween sale rack. Having the Xindi alter their appearance, or using humanoid Xindi, might have expanded our knowledge of them, saved money on makeup and been creepier than the latex. ENTERPRISE often uses humanoid-looking aliens with just a dab of latex here or there when it shouldn’t, but this was one case where the producers should have gone for a humanoid look. There might have been a scene where one of the Xindi would peel off the human mask to reveal the Reptilian inside that would again have been more disturbing than having Reptilian Xindi running around the city.

The oddest part of “Carpenter Street” might be the episode’s decision to hang most of it around the character of Loomis, a low grade sleazeball without much in the way of interesting or redeeming qualities. The episode begins with him and ends with him, even though aside from occasional bits of comic relief, he contributes nothing to the episode. At one point the rumor regarding “Carpenter Street” was that the producers were looking for a ‘name star’ to play the part of Loomis and that may explain why Loomis ‘looms’ so large in this episode. But since at the end of the day the producers ended up a casting a capable but generally unknown actor who’s played a number of roles on STAR TREK over the years, it’s unclear why the Loomis character continued to play such a large role in the episode.

In order to accommodate the Loomis character, the episode had to have Archer do some pretty stupid things. First his plan to sneak in alone using Loomis and then take on the Reptilian Xindi is nothing short of foolish. Loomis is not trustworthy, as we find out later, and when your team only has two people on it and the enemy outnumbers it, splitting up is just senseless. In “Rajiin” and “Twilight,” we’ve seen that the Reptilian Xindi are very tough and very formidable and easily defeated the MACO’s even when the numbers were even. Archer taking them on alone is nothing short of insane and his being able to do it so easily discredits the Xindi as a capable enemy.

And why keep Loomis around anyway once Archer was inside? There is no real reason except that the plot calls for a bit of suspense that has Loomis attacking T’Pol. Like most of what happens in the episode, Archer’s decisions make no sense except as setups for action scenes borrowed from TV shows with even worse writing. All in all Loomis is the single biggest weakness because the plot warps around him. If an actual big name had been cast in the part, centering the episode around him might have made some sense. But lacking any depth, complexity or redeeming qualities, Loomis is nothing more than 30 seconds of comic relief stretched out to 15 minutes. T’Pol at one point suggests that Loomis encapsulates the worst qualities of the 21th century, which we might take as the writer’s view of Loomis. Except of course the worst qualities of the 21st century would involve mass murder, brutal dictatorships and theocracies and the eugenics war, which STAR TREK once again forgets about. Loomis is just a petty sleazeball. He doesn’t represent the moral failings of the 21st century, just the failings of this episode.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Shipment

Synopsis: The Enterprise arrives at an isolated colony where a part of the Xindi weapon is being built, forcing Archer to entrust the survival of his mission to a Xindi.

star trek enterprise shipmentReview: “Shipment” finally kicks the Xindi arc into high gear and gives us a look at what ENTERPRISE’s third season might have been like without a lot of the interruptions and episodes that were supposed to deal with the Expanse or the Xindi but more often than not didn’t add up to much. Not only do we meet our first Xindi character with any depth and complexity, but we also get a look at how strange Xindi technology is and the backstory of the Xindi races themselves.

While “The Shipment” does not offer a particularly original plot, its strength is in the character drama aided by another strong performance from a guest star and sketching out the nature of the Xindi, thus broadening the arc. As in “Anomaly” we get to see some more of what Archer is prepared to do on this mission even if he falls back on his usual good nature fairly quickly and the Xindi back story proves to be a lot more interesting than the Xindi council scenes have been so far.

Not everyone gets a lot of screen time in this episode. Hoshi and Mayweather are not exactly front and center and it’s a little difficult to understand why they bothered to bring in Steven Culp for what amounted to a redshirt role most of whose lines could have easily been given to an actual redshirt or some random security ensign we’d never see again. This is of course the kind of job he and his team were brought in for but it still ends up being done by Archer and Reed as usual while he mostly stands in the background and gives two word answers or asks three word questions.

By contrast the episode does a good job of working Dr. Phlox into the action by having him research the biological end of the Xindi biomechanical technology. Trip once again nearly manages to blow himself up while fiddling with Expanse technology and T’Pol is back to playing the stay at home commander. Still, “The Shipment” does a good job of balancing everything together to make a complete and coherent episode instead of A and B and C stories that run on different tracks or a single story that feels stretched thin for material as the series has done in the past.

Season three of ENTERPRISE also seems to be doing better at featuring powerful and memorable guest stars who challenge our characters worldviews in episodes like “Anomaly,” “Rajin,” “Exile,” and now “Shipment.” Earlier seasons had all too often neglected guest stars in favor of throwaway alien races of the week who threatened the Enterprise and then went away never to be seen again. It’s also good to see that ENTERPRISE has a mythological back story worked out for the Xindi in just a few episodes, having perhaps learned from the mistake of the Suliban, who were defined primarily by their abilities rather than any meaningful back story. The various Xindi races are still not making enduring impressions except for the Insectoids who are being portrayed as increasingly evil based on their appearances. Wouldn’t it have been surprising though if for once it was the human looking aliens who were evil and the insectoid looking aliens, whom viewers would naturally assume were evil, who turned out to be the moral ones? It would be somewhat more challenging than once again associating ‘being different’ with being evil and ‘being human-like’ with being good.

While the Xindi Archer deals with is not one of the humanoids, he’s the next closest species to human. It might have been more daring if it had been a colony of insectoids instead, creatures whom Archer wouldn’t be able to relate to as easily and whose very inhumanity would cause him to see them as enemies. The suspense in “The Shipment”‘s plot ultimately revolves around the decisions Archer must make which about the nature of the man Archer chooses to trust. While the plot is not original, its ability to generate suspense rests on a willingness to keep the audience in suspense as to whether the Xindi will help Archer and the Enterprise or betray them.

Whether he knows what has really been going on and is pretending not to in order to manipulate Archer long enough to turn him over to the Insectoids, or whether he really is a scientist and engineer outraged at the uses to which his craft has been put to. “The Shipment” is a successful episode precisely because between Chris Black’s writing and the performances, the suspense is there nearly until the end. But an Insectoid would have been a more successful vehicle for exploration, though, of course the makeup would have made it difficult for the actor’s facial expressions to be properly visible.

On the production values front, the actual Xindi biomechanical technology isn’t all that new to STAR TREK since VOYAGER had organic gel packs and the Xindi version look like spaghetti worms but the portrayal is alien enough to be intriguing, even if the production values are somewhat lacking. The Xindi gun Trip is playing around with also looks far too toylike, as does the display. The weapons explosion is also a little hokey with an over-the-top fiery blast. With Andre Bormanis having gone from science consultant to writer and story editor, would it be too much to expect an explosion in space to look more like a radiating energy wave and less like a car bomb in Beirut?

The sets for the Xindi home had a nice homey feel like a futuristic hobbit hole and the shots of the compound from above are a little too dark to make out many details, but still good-looking. And the shot of Enterprise between the intersecting curves of two planets is a striking touch of composition that shakes up the all too often generic space background scenes.

Next week: Enterprise confronts its terrible future. And no it’s not syndication.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Exile

Summary: ENTERPRISE does Beauty and the Beast with a lonely old alien telepath.

star trek enterprise exile“Exile” may remind some viewers of the second season ENTERPRISE episode “Vanishing Point.” “Exile” features Hoshi experiencing strange hallucinatory images that cause her to doubt reality and become isolated and cut off from the crew. However, where “Vanishing Point” was a 43 minute waste of time that all turned out to be a dream, “Exile” features what may be ENTERPRISE’s best guest star of the entire series. Indeed ‘Tarquin’ is in many ways reminiscent of an Original Series tragic character like Methuselah or Kodos the Executioner; driven and brooding and doomed by his destiny. Those types of characters and indeed complex characters of any kind have become increasingly rare on STAR TREK and vanishingly rare on this show, so Tarquin is a breath of fresh air in an all too often stale enclosed room.

Season three has so far been in danger of neglecting the development of the ensemble cast in favor of focusing excessively on Archer, Trip and T’Pol. “Exile” helps balance that out not only with character development for Hoshi that in part helps explain her linguistic abilities, but also a nice scene for Phlox that serves to develop his character specifically, and Denobulans in general. The general track of Hoshi’s development has involved her learning to overcome her fears as in “Fight or Flight” or” Sleeping Dogs” or “Vanishing Point.” “Exile” is less about Hoshi dealing with a narrowly targeted phobia like claustrophobia or fear of transporters than dealing with an opportunity to retreat into an isolated life.

Meanwhile “Exile” also follows up on “Anomaly”‘s mysterious sphere that turns out to be part of a network of such spheres radiating gravitational anomalies thus causing the Expanse to exist. The artificial nature of the Expanse may then help explain why we never heard about it in any other STAR TREK series. The exploration of the sphere manages to weave together what the ENTERPRISE crew has learned about the Expanse from Trellium-D and the Vulcan reaction to it, to the Xindi charts and the spheres themselves. The spacewalk also offers the opportunity for comedy, which for once isn’t broadly overacted by Trinneer. The scenes of Archer and Trip trying to shoot down the shuttle also make for some nice visuals, particularly as they shoot up at the shuttle. The actual shuttle crashing back down to the surface of the sphere has the unrealistic feel of a 3D object with no actual mass moved around in Lightwave rather than the real world. however. A problem the colliding asteroids in last week’s Impulse also suffered from.

Overall, though, it’s the interaction between Hoshi and Tarquin and the performances of the two actors that make the episode. Phyllis Strong’s script by contrast is rather weak and leans on classic cliches from bad novels right down to the echoing manor and the host who warns his guest not to go outside and the graves right outside the door. Even Roxann Dawson’s usually strong direction is muddled and having Hoshi constantly changing into new outfits to indicate the passage of time was clearly a bad idea. Still, she and the actors got the character scenes right. It would have been all too easy for Park to fall into a victim mode but instead she remains strong and defiant. It would have also been all too easy to write off Tarquin as a cliche, a lonely telepathic voyeur-kidnapper but instead he retains a tragic dignity as he appeals for an understanding that he knows will never come, and even if it comes, will never last. To the end Tarquin is neither evil nor good, he’s simply an exile who like Hoshi is isolated by his own uniqueness and abilities.

The crystal ball falls a bit on the absurd side along with Strong’s other cliches. It is rather odd that Hoshi would use the crystal ball to see scenes of space battles the Enterprise fought years ago instead of seeing what is happening now. The idea of objects retaining psychic impressions from their owners is also pretty silly. Heavily influenced by some questionable research about human psychic abilities, science fiction widely adopted psychic abilities as being scientifically legitimate; though in fact they’re extremely questionable to say the least. While BABYLON 5 had a backstory explaining its human psychic abilities, STAR TREK has generally portrayed psychic abilities as an alien ability. This conveniently avoids questions of credibility raised by belief in psychic phenomena and the general fraudulence of those phenomena.

Still, it’s one thing when those powers are portrayed as being able to make telepathic contact which could at least be somewhat plausible given an alien biology. On the other hand, psychic resonance is definitely on the kookier side of the spectrum and pretty difficult to justify without resorting to Theosophy or some other lunatic philosophy of that kind. Furthermore, Hoshi’s ability to use the crystal combined with Tarquin’s repeated references to her uniqueness would almost seem to suggest that the writers are setting her up for some sort of psychic ability. Of course actual mind reading skills would probably be the only thing that could explain her ability to learn a completely alien language in days or even hours. Though it still wouldn’t explain how she learned to read an entire alien book in an entirely unknown alien language a short time after she first laid eyes on it without help or a Rosetta Stone of any kind. That’s pretty difficult to justify even with psychic powers, let alone without them. The producers have been giving Hoshi superhuman abilities for some time now and while “Exile” does at least begin to try and justify those abilities, what’s being portrayed is still far in excess of what is possible or plausible.

Tarquin’s final appearance is almost unexpected and despite the rather different tones of the episode’s two storylines, Archer and Trip’s outer space adventure and Hoshi’s quiet battle of wills in Tarquin’s manor, the episode manages to come together again as Archer and T’Pol finally get a lead on the weapon even as they begin to realize the extent of what they are facing here.

Next week: Rerun of the S3 premiere.

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