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Spielberg’s The Talisman Not Coming TV-Ward After All?

Steven Spielberg announcing a TV adaptation he had been producing of Stephen King and Peter Straub’s The Talisman was about the most exciting Stephen King and Spielberg news there was, even if Spielberg wasn’t actually directing it of course. Spielberg had optioned the book a generation ago and the project had gone nowhere while both men moved from young to middle aged toward the river along old. Stephen King still has sorta got it. Spielberg doesn’t really anymore. And Spielberg has a terrible track record on TV. Still some of his TV projects do take off. The Talisman though may not be one of them. The series which was supposed to air on TNT has emerged as being a bit too expensive.

After all scripts were recently completed, it became clear that their execution would require a larger budget than previously allocated, sources said. The fantasy-horror project, about a boy’s quest through this world and a parallel world known as the Territories to find a talisman that will save his mother, is said to involve elaborate special effects. TNT and DreamWorks are now addressing the financial issues and looking for ways to make the series, sources said.

The problem with this is that I can’t quite see why it needs to be that expensive. Jack mainly wanders through relatively conventional locations. Those in the real world are easy enough to duplicate, those not, shouldn’t be so hard to manage. Wolf will look like a Wolf only a part of the time and Wolf makeup shouldn’t be that hard. The climax is the kind of shootout the A Team managed while barely yawning.

I don’t actually see where all the special effects come into the picture. Even if Jack’s transitions are FX backed or Wolf’s. Or even if some of the scenes in the Territories require a few effects, it shouldn’t be anything that big.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Twilight

Synopsis: Archer loses his ability to form long term memories and flashes forwards through time when infected by Trans-temporal parasites.

Review: Time travel episodes have traditionally been STAR TREK’s strength, after all, the greatest episode of the franchise is generally

star trek enterprise twilight

This isn't the Twilight where he's a vampire

acknowledged to be “City on the Edge of Forever.” As STAR TREK has grown older and become more static, this has increasingly come to be the case as time travel episodes allow for a reset button that let shows do what they normally wouldn’t dare. Namely, disturb the status quo, bang up the ship, kill off major characters or have those characters carry out morally questionable actions, or confess their love for one another

VOYAGER’s “Year of Hell” had Voyager and its crew endure a number of drastic events that the show never allowed to happen and is a classic example of the mold “Twilight” closely resembles. “All Good Things,” TNG’s great finale in which a mentally degenerating Picard copes with the destruction of humanity and changes made in the future resonate in the past, also represents this fine tradition.

But “Twilight” is no worse of an episode even if it does walk (or warp) along a well-trodden path. In a season supposedly dedicated to revolutionary change, in which only one episode thus far (the increasingly aptly titled “Anomaly”), delivered on; “Twilight” helps shake things up. Like VOY’s “YOH,” “Twilight” suggests that things may not go all that smoothly and that there will be bumps in the road. Its vision of Xindi dedicated to wiping out every trace of humanity, to the last man, woman and child is shocking and harrowing in a way that “All Good Things…”‘s more intellectualized eradication of humanity never quite reached. Thusfar the Xindi haven’t been all that impressive of an enemy, certainly failing to aspire to the impressive stature of the Borg or the Dominion, but the thoroughness and ruthlessness they display brings them yet closer to credible and memorable foes.

Blending elements of “AGT…” and “YOH,” Mike Sussman‘s script summons up a post-history of humanity that combines the former’s eloquent vision of the mortality of one man juxtaposed with the morality of the human species as a whole, with the latter’s personal history of a ship and crew driven to the brink of destruction in stages of battering pursuit to annihilation. Scott Bakula gives one of his best performances as Archer and Blalock delivers another strong performance as T’Pol. She still, however, puts on emotional displays that seem a bit out of place, like the look of naked anguish on her face as Earth is destroyed. Despite the nature of the temporal parasites that infect Archer, his incapacity is more prosaic and natural than the time-hopping we might otherwise have expected in this type of episode.

Like MEMENTO’s main character, his inability to remember makes his problem natural enough to seem less of a science fictional trope and more of an authentic crippling disability. Indeed, towards the end Archer seems to be able to maintain his memories for a bit too long which raises some questions, but of course the same objection was made of MEMENTO. Nevertheless, the resolution is both natural and plausible. Unlike “All Good Things…”‘s or “Timescape”‘s or “Before and After”‘s emphasis on the mind-bending contemplation of the artificiality of time, ENTERPRISE takes the temporal mechanics for granted and focuses instead on the people.

“Twilight” was clearly a priority for producers simply based on the amount of money that must have gone into it. From the Xindi destruction star trek enterprise twilightof Earth, to multiple space battles with Xindi ships, to the Xindi destruction of the Enterprise Bridge, there are some great special effects here. And the image of the convoy, of the last six thousand humans seeking a place of refuge, goes beyond FX and becomes one of those memorable and moving FX shots in line with “Call To Arms”‘s shot of the fleet or “Year of Hell”‘s shot of Voyager’s hull being ripped away as the ship goes to warp. The budget has clearly been bent more than a little to make all of this possible and on occasion the makeup suffers with inconsistencies cropping up in T’Pol’s makeup and Hoshi and Reed having to make do with different hair styles to show their age.

Some may criticize “Twilight” as a ‘Reset Button’ episode whose events don’t actually affect succeeding episodes and are wiped clean by the end of the episode. But that’s not all together accurate. Reset Button episodes allow for things to happen that couldn’t happen on the show itself, such as the death of the entire crew and the destruction of Earth and the Enterprise. They also allow writers and producers to set up future storylines or explore some possible ideas they’ve been toying with to get viewer reactions.

‘Reset Button’ episodes should also make the writers and producers ask themselves whether perhaps they shouldn’t be pushing the limits of what can happen in regular episodes as well. In that sense, “Twilight”‘s success also points out the need to break a lot of the unwritten rules that STAR TREK series have become saddled with. “Anomaly” and “Twilight” are both useful steps in this direction and it needs to happen more than only in these rare moments.

Next Week: Go West, young man.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Impulse

“Impulse”

Overall episode score: 7.0
Performances: 6.5
Writing: 5.0
Direction: 8.0
FX and Production Values: 8.0

Summary: ENTERPRISE does EVENT HORIZON with Vulcan zombies. Fortunately there’s a method to the madness.

star trek enterprise impulseThus far s three has not exactly been T’Pol’s year. Her primary role on the show seems to have been to serve as Trip’s unclad masseuse and in the last two episodes she’s hit a particularly low point. In “Extinction” she was reduced to helplessly scrambling away from the mutated crewmembers like an extra in a slasher movie with no trace of the specially trained operative with Vulcan strength her character is supposed to be. In “Rajiin” she was reduced even lower to a psychic rape victim. This week she’s back in sickbay again but at least there’s some character development in it for her.

EVENT HORIZON substituted a spaceship for a haunted house and a mysterious faster than light space drive for an Indian burial ground, but essentially the material was the same. Ever since the Vulcan ambassador tried to frighten Archer with grainy green videotape of psychotic Vulcans running amok in the expanse, the resemblance to the movie’s data log was unmistakable. And since ENTERPRISE’s early season episodes tend to be better on continuity, Vulcan zombies was a concept that a Brannon Braga-produced series could never pass up; it was almost inevitable that Enterprise would run into them sooner or later. Once it does the resulting plot is a predictably formulaic series of zombie chase scenes not significantly different from most horror movies or for that matter STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT, except that the Vulcan zombies are never scary. The results are more reminiscent of season two’s “Sleeping Dogs,” in which characters scramble around a rundown broken Klingon ship with a Klingon stalking them. The one thing STAR TREK has never really done well is horror and “Impulse” is no exception. Still, veteran Trek director David Livingston goes all out to do some great work right down to the flashy, final horror movie-style nightmare sequence and if “Impulse” never manages to be disturbing, it’s not his fault. Even the FX are well directed with dramatic pans across an asteroid field roiling with tumbling rocks.

Vulcan zombies are just hard to take seriously and horror is premised on the idea that the characters are in a situation beyond their control and in which some of them will not survive. On STAR TREK, on the other hand, the situation is almost always under control, even if it’s via Deus Ex Technobabble, and we know the cast members will survive. The franchise simply doesn’t do horror well because TREK episodes are too afraid to let go of their control. The only out-of-control element involves T’Pol’s growing instability but at this point seeing crew members go wonky is nothing special. Archer, Reed, and Hoshi did it two episodes ago and the last time T’Pol lost her sanity was during last season’s “Bounty,” not to mention “The Seventh” or “Strange New World.” Fortunately, unlike “Bounty”‘s abysmal T’Pol B-Plot, T’Pol’s instability here serves to allow some character development.

“Impulse” also features a long overdue look at how the crew has been coping with their mission and the Expanse. A look that should have been part of the arc and developed episode by episode instead of giving us Archer as an alien werewolf, T’Pol’s massage parlor, the obnoxious alien of the week or any of the other nonsense that has sidelined season three’s promising storylines. It’s nice to see a return of movie night and a discussion about morale as ENTERPRISE picks up on season two material right down to T’Pol silencing Phlox at the screening. That’s the kind of thing that lets us see Enterprise as a single entity, a ship and a crew, rather than the cast wandering around through empty hallways while battling the alien of the week or a virus of the week whom we’re certain to never see again. Like TNG’s Ten Forward or DS9’s Promenade or Voyager’s Holodeck, it’s important to emphasize rituals that bind the crew together outside emergency and duty situations. It’s what makes the setting of the ship, and by extension the show, three-dimensionally believable.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Rajin

Overall episode score: 6.0
Performances: 7.0
Writing: 3.5
Direction: 5.0
FX and Production Values: 6.5

Summary: A Xindi spy romances and probes the Enterprise crew.

“Rajiin” picks up the Xindi arc and references events in previous third season episodes like “The Xindi,” “Anomaly” and “Extinction” that has Archer dealing with the aftereffects of his mutation, the Enterprise searching for a way to synthesize the hull compound suggested by the Osaarian and the council mentioning Enterprise’s attack on the mine. There are more scenes of the Xindi leaders, which sketch out the agendas of the individual Xindi races a bit more and their long-term plans beyond what the premiere showed us. The Expanse still seems more like VOYAGER’s Delta Quadrant than the unimaginably mysterious place that terrified both Vulcans and Klingons at the end of the last season; but the alien bazaar is nicely done both conceptually and visually. Vejar’s direction shines most in the bazaar scenes filled with strange goods and animals for sale by strange species. Like “Broken Bow” and “The Seventh”‘s takes on STAR WARS’ Mos Eisley, it’s an effective evocation of interspecies trade and mingling. And what 24th century Earth should probably look like but never does.

Like the behind the scenes looks at the Suliban’s interactions with Future Guy, the Xindi council scenes serve to position the conflict as being something greater than just isolated threats to the Enterprise. But at the same time the council also seems to be following the classic pattern of bad aliens/reasonable aliens subdividing the threat into the same categories of evil enemies and ones that can be negotiated with that have served as the resolution for many a STAR TREK episode. It would have been more interesting if their positions hadn’t been quite as biased to appearances, if perhaps the humanoid Xindi had been the most ruthless while the insectoid Xindi had been the most sympathetic to the humans. It would have put forwards the traditional STAR TREJ message of disassociating outward appearances from inner humanity. Much in the same way that TOS’s “Devil in the Dark” recontextualized the monster to show a mother, it might have also been interesting if instead of being an attractive woman, “Rajiin” had been something that outwardly looked like a monster. It would have had real possibilities for changing how we think about the Xindi instead of doing yet another episode about a mysterious seductive woman with a hidden agenda and thus going where STAR TREK has already gone so very many times before.

Like other ENTERPRISE episodes in the past, “Rajiin” becomes a struggle between the high road and the low road that only tangles the story and the motivations of the characters even more. While Archer was perfectly prepared to send back the Cogenitor to a life of slavery in order to maintain good relations with an alien species, he’s prepared to fight all comers in the alien bazaar in a completely alien part of the galaxy on behalf of another slave. At the end of “Cogenitor” Archer asks Trip what kind of example he’s been setting, which is a really hard question to answer because a lot of the time Archer doesn’t seem to know himself. Is this meant to be part of Archer’s character growth in the Expanse, is he being manipulated by Rajiin, is it because he’s attracted to the slave in question but he wasn’t attracted to the Cogenitor? Or is Archer simply being written inconsistently because the show’s writers and therefore also its characters are not operating within any kind of consistent moral framework? It’s important for characters to have worthy goals but without a consistent understanding of how they solve problems in order to achieve those goals, stories become exercises in plot contrivance.

But “Rajiin” suffers from the same problem that the series does as a whole. This is, after all, the show that featured the first Vulcan to serve on board a human starship even as they paraded her around in skimpy clothing at every opportunity. This is also the season which took Trip’s post traumatic disorder suffered after the death of his sister and turned it into an opportunity for a topless massage. ENTERPRISE wants to do serious stories but it also wants to desperately appeal to the lowest common denominator with desperate tactics like these. And the two are not all that compatible, particularly because unlike when in the Original Series, it smacks of a kind of cynical desperation that treats the audience with contempt while scrambling for ratings. It’s no surprise that “Rajiin” seems to place as much emphasis on the deliberations of the Xindi council as on T’Pol and Trip doing the heterosexual version of K\S fan-fic. Except, of course, for the suggestions of intimacy in Rajiin’s encounters with Hoshi and T’Pol, which once again serves to present homosexual contact as threatening and a violation, rather than portraying it positively. If B&B have to stage exploitative scenes, they could at least avoid associating same sex intimacy with rape against an otherwise heterosexual character as an offensive stereotype in movies and TV shows.

If the high road in “Rajiin” holds up, it’s because of an effective performance from the guest starring actress in taking a part that could easily have been reduced to a heavy breathing cliche and infusing Rajjin with a distinct personality that’s always present. And overall the performances generally do hold up, as aside from the massage scene everyone manages to keep their dignity and take the material seriously aided in no small part by Vejar, STAR TREK’s best director. Unlike LeVar Burton in “Extinction”, whose episodes usually look good, Vejar is not only good visually but good at working with the actors to get the right performance out of them. Whether it’s an alien trader doing an almost lighthearted impression of an alien trader on the original series to Rajiin’s intense concentration on everything around her, “Rajiin” boasts the right performances every time. It’s likely more to his credit than to Friedman’s script that “Rajiin” doesn’t become another “Favorite Son.” And while the battle scenes don’t live up to the standards of “Anomaly” or the fight scenes to the standards of “The Xindi,” this fourth episode of the season manages both satisfactorily. More importantly than the action scenes are the interactions between Archer and Rajiin that play well and without which no amount of action scenes could have salvaged the episode. Ultimately Rajiin’s report to the council hinges on the credibility of those scenes and as a result so does the entire episode as a whole.

Next week: What could make a Vulcan lose his or her mind?

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Xindi

Summary: Leave behind everything you know because it won’t work here. Well, actually it will work here. Forget we said anything; feel free to take along everything you know.

star trek enterprise xindiReview: After drooping ratings and a widely popularized overhaul, ENTERPRISE might have been expected to come out swinging in its season three premiere to amaze and win back viewers with something new and exciting. But while “The Xindi” clearly has more FX and production dollars invested in it and more action scenes than the average episode, all told it’s a rather commonplace affair. While season three ran under the tagline ‘Leave behind everything you know because it won’t work here,’ “The Xindi” is clearly a poor demonstration of that philosophy. Indeed, if we eliminate the actual Xindi elements from the episode, what we have left is an episode that could just as easily have taken place in any of the earlier seasons.

After the previous season ended with the Enterprise NX-01 vanishing into the mysterious and ominous Expanse to confront unimaginable horrors and wonders, “The Xindi” is a rather pedestrian episode in which the only major effect of the Expanse appears to be some flying cargo crates. Not only that, aside from brief scenes of the Xindi council, we end up with another typical ENTERPRISE storyline in which Archer and Trip are captured by another group of funny looking aliens with cardboard motivations and T’Pol and Reed have to arrange a rescue. A plot twist that the show hasn’t just done to death but actually resurrected and done to death all over again. The addition of the Xindi arc rather than enhancing the episode further impoverishes the non-Xindi content as it removes any need for the writers to give the non-Xindi events any depth because they’re just marking time to the Xindi encounter.

Aside from Archer acting slightly edgier, most of the intensity and drive we saw in “The Expanse” seems to have been replaced by the ennui of their routines as if the characters are just as bored by what they’re doing as we are. Only Trip manages to retain some of the energy from the season two finale, and that too is promptly squandered by the episode’s end. “The Expanse” was certainly far from perfect but it set up some interesting potential stories. “The Xindi,” by contrast, not only fails to follow up on that potential but shows that the writers would rather return to the same old stories than actually try anything new.

Indeed in many ways “The Xindi” is a rehash of the original ENTERPRISE pilot, “Broken Bow.” Like the debut, Archer and his crew are venturing into the unknown with a new mission that seems interesting on paper, a mysterious new enemy Archer needs to learn about, an informant who is located and then pursued by enemies resulting in a shootout, an escape from an alien base during which time the informant is killed, and an episode that ends with tantalizing suggestions about the nature of the new enemy. Perhaps the producers should have gotten the message that a new ENTERPRISE might require new writers or at the very least new ideas, instead of the same old ones recycled and massaged into a slightly different form.

The episode’s highlights, aside from Trip’s dream of course, concern the Xindi themselves. Moments like the Xindi council and the view of the shattered Xindi planet evoke some of the awe and mystery the episode should needed. The sense that we’re going, if not quite into uncharted territory, but into at least somewhere bigger and different than we’ve seen on ENTERPRISE in the last two years. But those moments were sadly few and far between. Trip’s story appeared to have potential initially with an effective dream sequence and a seeming addiction to sleep aids but the show’s gift for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory manifested itself again as by episode’s end the story was reduced to another clumsy and graceless attempts to boost its sex appeal by getting T’Pol’s clothes off. As absurd as previous attempts like the ‘Spread Your Germs Around’ blue light decontamination chamber have been, “The Xindi” manages to hit a new level of absurdity with the Vulcan topless back massages that also relieve stress over the death of loved ones.

The military team have no particular function except to upstage Trip’s red shirts with a display of efficiency and precision design that make them look cool and us wonder why every starship in the future doesn’t come with a similar team, but don’t really tell us anything about the characters or let us get to know them. And it’s doubtful that they can repeat this trick too many times because it would foil ENTERPRISE’s traditional plot device of getting Archer captured. At the same time, I found myself more interested in them than in the regular cast, which is never a good sign. Nor was being able to guess that Archer and Trip would be captured the minute they walked into the mine, despite having not read any spoilers for the episode. These are all signs that a lot of this material is growing stale. Season three seemed advertised on the premise that it would be delivering fresh material that seems to be on back order.

Next week: Archer goes 24’s Jack on a Xindi.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Fusion

Summary: Enterprise spends time in a nebula, Archer realizes he hates all Vulcans and T’Pol gets mind-date-raped. The FX department wastes some gorgeous FX shots on a profoundly mediocre episode.

star trek enterprise fusionWhen ‘Unexpected’ first aired it seemed as if it might reign as the supreme and unchallenged ‘Spock’s Brain’ episode of Enterprise and ‘Fusion’ presents no real challenge to it. That’s mainly because, where ‘Unexpected’ was gleefully awful, ‘Fusion’ is just a mediocre reworking of TNG Troi episodes such as “The Price” right down to the haunting visions, the mysterious evil man and some gratuitous bed scenes. It’s dreary and predictable, especially when run at Enterprise’s molasses pace.

Enterprise has traditionally eschewed B plots and it is a sign of how little content Fusion actually has, that it needs a B-plot to keep the episode moving along and fill out the time. Possibly in an attempt to distract the audience from how predictable and trite the A story was, the writers chose an even more predicable and trite B story featuring ‘the son making peace with his dying father.’ One has to wonder how many TV cliches Berman and Braga had to sort through to find one of the hoariest cliches out there and execute it in the most cliched way possible. Is there even a single viewer out there who didn’t instantly know that Trip would attempt to bond with the obese Vulcan by telling him about some story from his own past or that at the end said obese Vulcan would have made the call? This goes beyond predictable and unoriginal and manages to achieve something like trite greatness.

The premise for ‘Fusion’ has Enterprise encountering an alien ship with technical difficulties resulting in some cultural exchange. It’s another plot that Enterprise might want to give a rest since it’s already been used in far too many episodes including the last episode, Shuttlepod One. The actual execution is something like a Vulcan version of TOS’s ‘The Way to Eden’ right down to one of the crew being the son of a high ranking ambassador. In fact at any moment you expect T’Pol to get out her lute while they start singing “Stiff man putting my mind in jail \ Judge bangs the gavel and says No bail \ So I’ll lick his hand and wag my tail.” Except it’s not actually bad enough to be funny or to inspire any emotion other than boredom and curiosity as to whether there might be something more exciting on PBS’s schedule tonight.

The T’Pol portion of the episode plays even more slowly if anything. The Vulcan has no chemistry whatsoever with T’Pol and the entire routine is completely predictably because TNG played it out with Troi over and over again. If Berman were to actually watch a few episodes of his own series, he might notice that the theme of substituting mental invasion for sexual invasion has been done to death on Star Trek and by done to death, I mean that reruns of these episodes could be used to solve the rat problems of several major urban centers.

Indeed the closest thing to a strength that ‘Fusion’ displays is that Archer actually seems like a strong character here and his final scene with T’Pol is one of those admissions that could spur some growth for his character. Indeed Fusion’s only good moments are, ironically enough, contained in its opening teaser and feature Archer as well. Some gorgeous FX shots wasted on what is essentially a bottle show made using recycled TNG scripts, which all in all seems like a rather futile attempt to save money.

Next week: T’Pol is haunted by her dead grandmother’s spectral lover. After all if B&B are going to recycle bad TNG episodes, Sub Rosa is undeniably the granddaddy of bad TNG episodes. (or Repeat Hell for another month.)

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Shadows of P’Jem

Summary: Archer is held hostage a second time and Enterprise turns in another competent and professional, if uninspiring episode.

The title of Shadows of P`Jem refers to a previous episode, The Andorian Incident. Like that show, P`Jem features Archer and T’Pol held hostage, bad Vulcans and Jeffrey Combs’s Andorian character. Unlike it, however, Shadows of P`Jem is a more multi-dimensional episode that does a better job of showing some of the complex political undercurrents in the situation.

star trek enterprise the forgottenThe direction by long time Trek director Mike Vejar is competent and professional as always and the FX department offers some gorgeous shots of Enterprise. The exterior shot of Enterprise moving to an interior shot of Archer brooding is not simply good FX, but reminiscent of Voyager’s Good Shepherd episode in the way that it ties in the universe outside with the people preparing to face them inside the ship. The sets are nothing spectacular but they are plausible. Jeffrey Combs, who was a recurring character on DS9 as the Vorta Weyoun, shows that he can create an entirely distinct character in the Andorian commander Shran. P’Jem also recycles another Trek guest star, bringing back the actor who played the condemned murderer in Repentance as the rebel faction leader. The shot of San Francisco bay outside as seen through porthole windows in Starfleet command is a particularly nice touch.

The episode begins with fallout from Archer’s actions in Andorian Incident, which have angered the Vulcans and rightfully so. After all, Archer decided to intervene in a conflict between two races each more powerful than humanity. Not a very smart move to say the least, but Archer unsurprisingly doesn’t see it that way. While the Admiral worries about humanity’s role in the greater political situation, Archer seems to have no concerns about the real world, except for a deep and abiding grudge against the Vulcans.

The current focus of that grudge is the Vulcan High Command’s recall of T’Pol. Archer even declares that the Vulcans took something valuable away from his father by not letting him live to see the launch of Enterprise and that they’re now doing it again by taking T’Pol away. It’s a rather bizarre turn of phrase, as is Archer’s attachment to her. She’s been on board for half a year and crew transfers are not unusual in any service. How long does he expect her to stay, anyway? But this follows a common pattern in which Archer leads with his heart and not with his head. Now Faith of the Heart may be the theme song for the series, but it’s not a great command style — though in Shadows of P`Jem it does reap some benefits for Archer when Shran feels sufficiently indebted to Archer for his similarly impulsive action in Andorian Incident and decides to mount a rescue attempt.

Most of this material is meant to serve as background for a T’Pol episode in which she responds to Archer’s insistence for an emotional affirmation of his feelings with the usual Vulcan sideline answers we’ve gotten to know quite well from the Kirk\Spock moments of the original series. The producers seem unsatisfied with that dialectic and so they’re placed in another hostage situation and this time they’re tied up too. Of course this is pushed well beyond the bounds of good taste during the mostly unnecessary rope scene to the point that it seems to border on the edge of fanfic. The producers at some point are going to have to decide if they want the Archer\T’Pol interaction to be based on the loyalty and friendship of the Kirk\Spock model or if they want to capitalize on their idea of sexual tension. But they have to understand that they can’t have both. As a result, some of the episode’s strongest T’Pol scenes don’t involve Archer but her interaction with Doctor Phlox in the mess hall and the terrorist in the camp.

Still the episode manages to produce some foreshadowing and intriguing, if minimalistic, political content. The Andorian/Vulcan political intrigue is clearly more than just border tensions, something Archer might have done well to realize before he turned over P’Jem to them. The Andorian culture also seems to have a strong sense of honor in addition to their militarism. However the producers should be careful when fleshing out this relatively sketchy original series race to give them characteristics that contrast with the Klingons, or risk having the Andorians become Klingons with blue skin and antennas.

They might also learn from their mistakes on Voyager and Janeway’s lack of credibility. Now anyone who’s seen a Voyager episode knows the pattern in which Janeway does something foolish but everything turns out alright in the end. This pattern is repeated again in Shadows of P’Jem. It’s almost shocking to realize that Voyager’s response to a hostage situation in Friendship One was actually competent and professional compared to the ineffectual bumbling of the Enterprise crew in Shadows of P`Jem. Trip unquestionably comes off worst of all when he spends his encounters with the Chancellor and the Vulcan Captain yelling aimlessly at them instead of coming to the meeting with a strategy and attempting to elicit some sort of cooperation and keep the lines of communications open. It’s a natural reaction for a worried family member or friend but it’s also borderline idiocy in a starship officer who’s in the direct chain of command.

Trip then tops it off when he inexplicably goes down to the planet in full Starfleet garb, sending the remaining two ranking members of the bridge crew to search for the shuttle pod instead of bringing down an entire armed security team into hostile territory. Some of this bizarre behavior might be explained if Trip never received any tactical training or if Earth has been so devastated that it didn’t have an operating military organization in half a century.

The behavior of the Vulcans only adds to the impression of an alternate universe since their actions and attitudes have no correlation with anything we have seen in Star Trek up to now, even clashing with their behavior in Andorian Incident. They seemed completely unwilling to defend P’Jem and the monks, even after it was exposed as a listening post and there was no further need for secrecy, yet they’re prepared to launch a raid and get in the middle of a civil war on an alien planet? Between fleet movements, propping up alien governments, hard line militaristic attitudes and commando units complete with explosive launchers, the Vulcans seem more like an Empire than anything else. It’s as if all the strategic and tactical know-how humans once had and regained in the post-Enterprise era was transferred over to the Vulcans. Shadows attempts to compensate for this by once again painting the Vulcans negatively but this does little to change the fact that the Vulcans knew what they were doing in a situation that didn’t require technological acumen so much as a basic grasp of strategy and intelligent decision making.

But this only sums up an episode where everyone but the humans know what they’re doing. Both the Vulcans and Andorians have an efficient rescue plan set to go. Even the hostage takers know what they’re doing. Only the humans proceed to bumble around, bluster and finally walk away without a single success. In point of fact, everything that is achieved in this episode from T’Pol’s second chance to the Captain’s rescue is accomplished through the aliens. There are necessary plot reasons for this, but it just isn’t particularly smart storytelling because it’s hard to respect the abilities of incompetent people. The premise of Enterprise must be based on more than just the enthusiasm of the Enterprise crew but also a certain degree of ability. Enterprise has recycled the idealism of Pulp SF heroes, but has forgotten that one of their hallmarks was competence, without which, your characters are reduced to buffoons bumbling around in a world they’re not prepared to handle, yet surviving anyway. That’s not drama. It’s comedy.

Next Week: Two men. One shuttlepod. Let the slash fanfic begin.

Star Trek Voyager review – Workforce II

Summary: Season 7 presents us with a kinder gentler Voyager two parter. A view from the Isle of the Lotus. And for once working within the system works out.

Traditionally the Star Trek two parters have been action heavy special effects extravaganzas specializing in epic confrontations and terrible

star trek voyager Workforce

"My quarters... they look like a Star Trek fan here"

disasters. Episodes like Basics, Year of Hell, Scorpion, The Killing Game, Dark Frontier, Unimatrix Zero certainly fit that bill. Three of them involved the Borg, two of them featured the crew and the ship being taken prisoner and one of them featured the destruction of Voyager itself. But this season under new management, Voyager has featured a kinder and gentler two parter. Flesh and Blood had the essential trappings of the standard Voyager two parter but it was a much more character oriented show than any of the prior two parters. Workforce is essentially more in the tradition of episodes like One and Memorial and has far more in common with them than it does with Scorpion or Unimatrix Zero..

Normally Workforce might have run as a one hour episode with the ParisTorres and Seven subplots trimmed along with most of the special effects sequences and some of the action scenes and would have ended with the usual abrupt “30 seconds before closing time” ending that essentially occurs because the show has run out of time. And that would have been a shame and a waste because an effective if not particularly mind-blowing two part episode would have been replaced by another Prophecy or another Shattered, a poorly thought out and unfocused episode that possibly had potential but never got anywhere. The extra space of a two parter however allows the story to really be developed, it allows for the insertion of all those little subplots that round out an episode. And what special effects exist are mainly focused on establishing shots including some absolutely stunning and complex shots of the alien city and some striking footage of Voyager resting at the bottom of a crater. The space battles that occur are few and far between and not really the focus of the story.

But this doesn’t mean that Workforce isn’t a major and essential part of Voyager’s story. Voyager’s journey home has been modeled after Homer’s Odyssey. Voyager was thrown of course into the Delta Quadrant by the 24th century equivalent of a God. In Scorpion Voyager has found itself trapped between Scylla and Charbodis, represented by Species 8472 and the Borg. Which particular alien encounters in Voyager’s history could be said to represent the Cyclops, the Laestrygons or the Sirens is left as an excercise to the reader. But Workforce of course is linked to the Isle of the Lotus. For seven years Voyager has been on an obsessive quest for Earth, for home. More specifically it’s been Janeway’s obsessive quest but the real test of any quest is to present the hero with a way of surrendering the quest that in some ways is equal or even superior to continuing the quest. A chance to give up and enjoy some sort of illusory happiness.

Now it might not be all that shocking to see Chakotay or Paris and Torres partake of the lotus, after all they’re essentially people with short attention spans that focus on goals of some personal importance. They can be happy and do what they want just about anywhere. If the Voyager mission hadn’t come along, they would have found some other niche or gotten themselves killed in some other way. Janeway though is a bureaucrat and a bureaucrat is second cousin to a machine. She thinks only in terms of goals and purposes, which generally have nothing to do with her. What little happiness she gets out of life comes from merging her own identity with that of her position and mission until she can’t tell the difference between herself and her command. This has led her into completely sociopathic behavior but it also makes her virtually inflexible when it comes to accomplishing her goals. And this is why having her taste the lotus is far more shocking than for it to happen to any of the other crew members.

And yet here brainwashed and enslaved on an alien planet, for the first time in seven years of voyaging Janeway gets to be a human being. She has a job she enjoys, a relationship with real intimacy and a home of sorts. Though it may be based on false memories, it’s also more real than anything she’d done since leaving the Alpha Quadrant. The obsessive martyr complex, the sense of responsibility and the inability to tell where Kathryn Janeway ends and Captain Janeway begins are gone. In its place is a human being. And that tends to be a hero’s ultimate test, the choice to give in to human needs or to choose self-sacrifice and fight on for greater goals. Tuvok may not quite be able to adapt, despite his comprehension of humor “Yes it is funny because he did not understand how your species reproduces”, but just how easily Janeway adapts is shocking and that is what drives the episode. The seduction of the Lotus and the inability of Voyager’s crew members to be themselves.

We know that in the end, despite the odds, any episode involving the crew will end with them successful, surviving and possibly victorious. The inability of the crew to fail is practically a reflex by this point. It’s been a long time since there was a Star Trek episode with any real ambiguity about whether or not the crew will make it out or whether the ending will even be what they wanted. Voyager managed a few genuinely dark endings early on with Basics 2 and The Chute but since then we may not know what an upcoming episode will be about but we can usually take a good guess as to what the last 5 minutes will be, sight unseen. Workforce though takes away the crew’s identities and along with that allows for the suspension of disbelief and the possibility that the crew will fail and even that failure might not be such a terrible thing.

Contrary to the claims of the Borg Queen, being assimilated is not fun, but being part of the Workforce might not be such a bad thing. The end result is a fairly decent life and in the case of Janeway possibly even a better life than the one she had before. The rest of the crew doesn’t seem to be doing all that badly either. Paris was together with Torres again and would no doubt have married her (again) in due time. Seven had found the job she was born to do. This was a Brave New World and a world without Starfleet uniforms or the Federation Starfleet certainty in the optimistic outcome. For once the crew were just people like us, living from day to day and just doing their jobs with no higher goals or sense of invulnerability. With hard work and some terrible risks they pull off a happy ending but they’re not particularly confident or self-assured while doing it. They’re just people put in a bad situation, which in TOS was all that the crews were.

For those who expected Tuvok to just tell Seven what’s going on, then to have Seven communicate with the rest of the crew, set up a device to

star trek voyager Workforce

"Don't worry, in a few months I'll replace you with a hologram"

restore their memories and then have the crew working in tandem with Voyager try to escape; or in other words the conventional Voyager plot we certainly would have seen if this had aired as a one hour episode, here we instead got the exact opposite. Seven is confused and is on the trail of something and even ironically enough views the Workforce area as the interior of a Borg cube for one moment thereby experiencing the paradox of being reassimilated; but she’s a long way from knowing who exactly she is. Janeway has a few moments of bonding with Chakotay but when the test comes between her relationship, her life here on the Isle of the Lotus and her life on Voyager with Chakotay; she chooses the Lotus and betrays Chakotay in a flash.

Indeed none of the Voyager crew, except when B’Elanna as the original sailors of the Odyssey are forcibly dragged away, recover their original memories and identities until they’re back on Voyager. In fact once Chakotay is out of the game, most of the work of uncovering the conspiracy is actually done by a native junior psychiatrist and the equivalent of a police detective. Up until Janeway disables the chief generator, it’s they who uncover most of the dirt and really prod the chief psychiatrist into desperation. Seven encourages them to do what they do but in the end it’s not even the Voyager crew that saves the Voyager crew. Chakotay helps rescue B’Elanna and sows suspicion in Janeway but then is successfully brainwashed. Neelix does nothing particularly useful. The ECH and Kim have several running gun battles with enemy vessels and stay alive but don’t really accomplish very much. Janeway betrays Chakotay and then only really acts when the entire picture has been laid out in front of her at the very end. Paris glowers at people. Seven puzzles out a lot of the necessary information but it’s the classic detective suspended from the force for learning too much who actually moves things along. Unlike their Voyager personalities, none of them are really prepared to take charge and get things done and that is what makes the possibility of their success so ambiguous. Like Janeway they’re capable of doing more, but are too uncertain to take the challenge.

So contrary to the expected cliche we might have thought we’d get from the first part about the evil alien species that kidnaps and brainwashes people, we instead see a complex system that has both good and bad in it. And a system that in some ways mirrors the Federation. The people in charge, even the bad ones, have high ideals. There is the interspecies integration, a system that despite abducting and brainwashing workers also appears to run on merit and to provide a decent place to live at least by the standards of 95 percent of the world as it is today. There is corruption and abuse of power but we’ve also seen the same thing in the Federation. The Chief Psychiatrist who insists that his actions were all justifiable and for the greater good seems to mirror Admiral Dougherty from Star Trek Insurrection who insists that his forced evacuation of the Baku and alliance with criminals was for the greater good of the Federation. Indeed it’s easy enough to see the Chief Psychiatrist holding down a job with Section 31, possibly working on designing the changeling virus. Instead of giving us another alien of the week, Workforce presents an alternate Federation or quite possibly the Federation as it might have looked 200 years ago. Before there were transporters and replicators and white gleaming surfaces everywhere, post WW3 earth at the Birth of the Federation might have looked a lot like the Quaren homeworld with the same positive and negative aspects that would be carried along into its future.

And this only makes this particular Isle of the Lotus only more compelling as a potential alternative home to Earth because it’s not just some alien planet, in many ways it is an analogue of the Federation and home itself. The writers might have pushed their analogy further by giving it the sheen and clean look of 24th century earth but as it is the point comes across. And as in the Federation there are also higher powers who can correct the errors of the system, whereas with the usual aliens of the week, Voyager has to browbeat them into accepting the Federation solution. The Quarren already have a system in place and it is the Quarren who do most of the work in uncovering their own crimes. It’s also what makes it all the more disturbing. One of the horrors of the Borg focused on how close to home it hit, the Quarren homeworld also hits close to home because our world is currently closer to theirs than it is to the Borg. It’s also close enough to the Federation and us to have people both good and evil, all driven by ideals we can relate to. This makes a scene in which Roxann Dawson cuts from the sharp instruments lying on an operating table table to be used on their victim to the supposedly free and open corporate society of the bar into which the Doctor’s phrase “We’ll help him” follows seem all the more disturbing and downright chilling. “We’ll help him” has always been the Star Trek ideal and the implications of how that can be perverted and how vulnerable the Federation is to such a perversion makes the Quarren society problematic in a way that defies any easy resolution.

And Roxann Dawson’s direction indeed carries on from the Kroeker directed Part 1 very nicely and smoothly. She manages to combine the

star trek voyager Workforce

Get Foundation Imaging on the phone, we're going to need bigger explosions

talent for filming character oriented scenes she showed in Riddles with the work a peak Trek director is expected to do on a more epic episode like Workforce. Handing over the payoff for a two part episode to an amateur like Dawson was a definite risk but it clearly pays off. From the very effective use of shadows in the JanewayChakotay confrontation and especially the dermal regeneration scene (which also cleverly manages to save FX dollars and still look better than the FX scene would have) to the camera work on the quieter moments between her and Neelix; this is surprisingly professional work. It’s almost as shocking to see her be this good behind the camera as it was to see Avery Brooks turn out be better as a director than he was as an actor. It’s nice to see that in concord with TOS’s Leonard Nimoy, TNG’s Jonathan Frakes and DS9’s Avery Brooks; Voyager has produced its own professional director from among its cast.

So all in all, Voyager season seven has taken plenty of risks that didn’t pan out. Workforce however has taken a large number of risks that have. First setting a two part episode around a storyline that focused more on the characters and much less on the action and FX quotient. Secondly by putting much of the resolution of the story into the hands of the aliens and making them more complex than your usual Hirogen. Thirdly by actually letting Janeway be a human being ever so briefly and tempting her with the opportunity to step off the cross and into life (and of course letting the ECH demonstrate that Voyager would have done just as well without her.) And finally by avoiding most of the obvious and easy plot gimmicks and let the characters actually struggle to work things out, something we rarely see on Voyager. Appropriate enough in an episode entitled Workforce.

Next week: Seven of Nine as UPN’s obnoxious promo department has always wanted you to see her.

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