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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Storm Front II

Synopsis: Good guys win, bad guys lose. All things return to normal at the end.

Review: STAR TREK has traditionally suffered from two part episodes in which the second part fails to live up to the potential of the first. ST:TNG’s “Best of Both Worlds” is the ultimate example of this kind of letdown. “Storm Front II”, however is a distinctly stronger episode than its first part; it flows smoothly and though it may never become one of those genuinely memorable STAR TREK episodes, it’s serviceable enough entertainment.

star trek enterprise storm frontThis may be because Part I was so distinctly weak that where it aimlessly wandered and dragged, Part II shoots through one scene sliding into another and all the parts of the episode click neatly into place. Had Part I been a stronger episode, had it gathered more suspense and set up a bigger challenge for the Enterprise crew, Part II might not have come off nearly so well. But instead all Part II has to do is discharge the accumulated material Part I puts into place so that where that episode was all work, Part II has more time to play: whether it’s Silik’s banter or the Enterprise engaging in a battle with WW2 planes over Manhattan.

Aside from Part II’s disturbing newsreel opening with some clever combinations of archival footage and the shot of Hitler against the Statue of Liberty standing out as particularly effective, Part II does not manage to do anything to exploit the alternate history material any better than Part I and it’s still somewhat sad that “Killing Game,” which took place in the holodeck, could do much more with the Nazis than “Storm Front”. Alicia and the resistance fighters by now have become minor side notes but the villains such as Silik and Vosk take center stage and are far more enjoyable to watch and do more to deepen the drama of the conflict anyway.

Their arrival also gives Archer something to react to where in Part I he mainly seemed to be floundering around trying to interact with the bizarre situation and coming up blank. By contrast, Archer’s confrontation with Silik gives us some entertaining banter but also allows Silik to observe that Archer has gotten darker and for Archer to agree, suggesting that like the scars along Enterprise’s hull, the scars on her captain have yet to heal. Meanwhile, in Archer’s interactions with Silik he has come rather close to the Kirk ideal of deliberate judgement, cool command, and personal risk taking that is a long way from Archer in the first two seasons as naive, bumbling and arrogant.

But at the end of the day Part II is still popcorn entertainment. Silik and Vosk’s conversations leak some more information about the Temporal Cold War but how much interest viewers will have in following them may vary, much like the effectiveness of over the counter sleep remedies. The episode has action and special effects scenes that stand out while we are watching them but nothing that moves the episode beyond the forgettable, intellectually or conceptually even. Viewers may remember the Enterprise’s battle over Manhattan but outside the special effects it’s doubtful that this episode will linger much. At the end of the episode we are gratified when the Enterprise returns home not so much because the Nazi\Vosk threat is over but because this awkward chapter of the story is finally over.

Next week: Amok Enterprise.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Storm Front 1

Synopsis: Enterprise and Archer find themselves back in time during WW2 as the Nazis overrun America’s east coast and a new alien race is changing Earth’s history.

star trek enterprise storm frontReview: ENTERPRISE’s Season 2 closed with an alien race carrying out a devastating attack on Earth with Season 3 dedicated to unraveling the nature of the attack, the agendas of the aliens behind it and dealing with the threat. Similarly ENTERPRISE’s Season 3 closed with an alien race carrying out a devastating attack on Earth and Season 4 begins with an episode in which Enterprise begins trying to unravel what is going on while being given an assignment to stop those responsible. The key difference though of course is that where the attack on Earth in Season 2 that killed Seven million people was an actual physical attack with devastating consequences that could not be undone regardless of what the Enterprise crew would do, this latest attack on Earth is a temporal attack which has no physical consequences that cannot be undone. Daniels even assures them that if they do their jobs, the war will never have happened.

This undercuts the crisis from the start and transforms the attack and the events we are experiencing into a kind of holodeck where time star trek enterprise storm fronttravel allows the crew to play out and us to experience something like VOYAGER’s Killing Game, which also featured a STAR TREK crew contending against Nazis led by gruesome aliens in Nazi uniforms. At times Storm Front captures the onrushing flow of bizarre contrasts that made Killing Game so entertaining like the Enterprise being attacked by American WW2 fighter planes or Vosk displaying grainy black and white footage of aliens weapons to a Nazi General or the White House covered in red Nazi flags. Mostly though Storm Front seems to continue ENTERPRISE’s transformation from an exploration based series to an adventure action sci-fi series in the vein of Stargate SG1. A holodeck style format in which things go wrong with time for the Enterprise crew to repair before pushing the reset button and returning back to their own future with no impact on the world at large is ideal for such a format.

That is not to say that Storm Front isn’t entertaining, indeed it often is though as with the season finale it increasingly moves over the weight of the material to Archer actually confronting the aliens in the thick of the crisis while much of the Enterprise crew stay on or around the ship and do foolish things such as running around in the middle of a war zone to blow up a shuttlecraft they could easily blow up from orbit or surrendering to troops with primitive weapons without stunning them all. New York overrun by Nazis might have made for a more devastating sight if New York didn’t look like the same Paramount Hollywood back lot that feels about as authentic as California landscapes resemble alien planets and if Nazi Germany’s evil had more moral weight.

It has become conventional, particularly on STAR TREK, to use Nazi Germany as shorthand for villains but the Germans in question were not Vampires or Werewolves or evil aliens. They were evil people who committed horrific atrocities for reasons that need to be examined or at the very least their crimes need to be elaborated rather than simply using them as cartoonish background and using Nazi symbols and uniforms as symbolic shorthand for ‘bad guys’ cheapens the impact of WW2 and the Holocaust as well as rendering the material meaningless precisely because they’ve been so overused. It’s ironic that Killing Game with its holographic Nazis still had a Nazi character who had contrasts and a character arc while Storm Front reduces the Nazis to racist bullies of interracial couples who ban black music. Only in Vosk’s scene at the Nazified White House when he discusses using biological weapons to wipe out entire races do we get a sense of the vast evil at work behind the now familiar swastikas and German accents. But that is not nearly enough.

Storm Front presents what is essentially a holodeck crisis and that has to be outweighed by a real ongoing threat that cannot be ‘reset buttoned’ from the aliens and by making the change to earth’s history as devastating or even more devastating than the Xindi’s attack at the end of Season 2 but Storm Front is more inclined to take refuge in cutesy local color and gags which are entertaining particularly in scenes with the loan sharks turned resistance fighters but falls flat in extended scenes with Alicia who just isn’t particularly interesting a character. Little things like an offhand reference to Nazi concentration camps in upstate New York might have helped to make Storm Front’s Nazis and by extension the episode itself more than cartoonish. Hopefully that will be remedied in Storm Front Part II.

The problem is that Part I of Storm Front lacks either the devastating impact of The Expanse on the crew and humanity and Enterprise’s mission but it also lacks the sustained humor and flow of bizarre scenes that sustained the Killing Game, an episode which by the way also looked far better than Storm Front does. STAR TREK has traditionally always been about asking the bigger questions. The Expanse asked them, Storm Front does not. It’s a mildly entertaining outing with some cartoonish Nazis and some cartoonish New Yorkers too and the Enterprise crew blundering up around in orbit but Enterprise can do better and needs to do better if it’s going to survive in a poor time slot and threatened with cancellation. And Manny Coto, who wrote this episode, and Allan Kroeker can certainly do better and have usually done much better in the past. Hopefully they will also do better in the future.

Next week: Storm Front part II, and here we thought hurricane season was over.

Star Trek Voyager review – Workforce I

Summary: A nicely arranged setup for an as yet unseen payoff.

It’s always hard to review the first part of a two part episode. Fortunately Voyager has gotten into the habit of airing both parts in one night. Workforce though is the exception and the task of reviewing it is made all the more difficult by the fact that Part 1 is mostly setup giving us the basics of the situation and shows us how it’s beginning to unravel. By this same point The Killing Game had already gone well into payoff territory but Workforce is playing out a more drawn out and complicated character oriented story and so it takes all this time just to set up the basics of the situation.

The limitations and complexity do, however, produce a certain amount of creativity in the style of the episode. As in The Killing Game, we

star trek voyager Workforce

Space Sydney 2429

skip over the attack to begin with a scene that features the crew already in their altered reality but unlike Killing Game’s gratuitous “Janeway as Klingon warrior” scene, Workforce begins with a gorgeous opening shot of the alien city and a lift ride into the depths of a factory that’s there only to give us a sense of the setting. This is a smart move because it makes the entire situation feel deeper and more real, instead of just the Voyager crew wandering around some redressed alien sets. Also unlike Killing Game, the crew doesn’t have either their memories or personalities suppressed but instead are the same people they are but with twisted memories and a view of the world colored by those memories. The result is all the more disturbing because they’re the people we know but yet they aren’t, in an ‘of the Body Snatchers’ sort of way.

This is clearly a Janeway story and so Janeway finally gets a relationship and a setup for the choice that will come. Janeway has always complained about being overburdened and has spent seven years walking around with a martyr complex. In Workforce she gets the chance to put that complexity aside and function as an ordinary person. While the happiness of the rest of the crew seems artificial and Stepford empty, it seems as if Janeway’s happiness might have a certain dose of reality and depth to it. Perhaps she really is better off and certainly happier not being in command. The entire Paris storyline does seem a bit hollow and a waste of time, on the contrary. Paris finds work in a bar, frankly who really cares. Torres seems lonely and the two reconnect. I’m not even sure that counts as character development. The scenes on the ship with the ECH are a nice piece of continuity with Tinker Tailor and only add to the tension of the episode. And the other touches of continuity including Janeway’s cooking and her conversations with terminals fit it nicely as well.

Tuvok has some nicely eerie scenes, for once his breakdown is correctly handled and the decision to intercut scenes of him being

star trek voyager Workforce

"Wouldn't it be easier to just pay them more money?"

brainwashed with Janeway and Co.’s daily routines and happy evenings makes for a decidedly creepy effect which turns up the already disturbing atmosphere up a few notches. The constantly vigilant guards patrolling in pairs, socialist realism posters and grey 21st century urban feel contrasted with the worker’s faux happiness are very effective. Allan Kroeker is one of Star Trek’s best directors, and in an episode mostly running on atmosphere, he does an amazing job of turning what could have been a fairly bland script into a dark and suspenseful episode. Between the brain washing disguised as immunizations and the happy multi-species work environment in which all workers are valued and the employers “really” care about their workers, this episode feels like a version of Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ updated for corporate America.

But it’s the human conventional touches rather than the SciFi stuff like the Minister’s view of the whole thing as a means of obtaining skilled labor and inability to comprehend Chakotay’s objections as anything except an attempt to obtain skilled labor for his own vessel that really makes this environment mirror the Borg circa TNG. But where the Borg concept put a lot of distance between us and them, Workforce hits disturbingly close to home. Where the Borg simply chose to represent the subservience of the individual to the group by completely erasing individuals and turning them into drones, the Workforce government instead chooses to sabotage the ships, pick up the refugees and brainwash them into believing they’re happy workers. In a sense they, like the Borg, are using similar tactics for a similar goal but they have no greater goals or greater inhuman ruthlessness; just petty mortal goals and the refusal to acknowledge the rights or even needs of the individuals they destroy. Like the Borg they insist the people are happier this way, like the Borg they refuse to see the evil of their actions but unlike the Borg they lack the excuse of being a cybernetic collective, instead they’re all too real and all too human and it’s difficult to describe which seems more horrific.

And so Part 2 will depend on keeping up this atmosphere, something fairly amateur director Roxann Dawson will hopefully manage to do, and keep the focus on the general system instead of mistakenly selecting individual villains to be lecturers as Critical Care did. The way Janeway’s choice is handled will also be important as well as the way the transition of the crew back to their older memories occurs.

Having Seven act as the instigator is clumsy and overlooks the fun of having her as the antagonistic efficiency expert, plus it mirrors the Killing Game storyline a bit too closely. But after Seven’s mind meld it also seems pretty inevitable. Chakotay and Tuvok doing all the work would be more interesting but ultimately the suspense only exists for about as long as the crew are in their new lives. Once they’re back to being the Voyager crew and “The Heroes”, most of the suspense and tension will collapse back to nothingness. And a final hope that the KimEMH command bickering will be kept to a minimum. Despite Kim’s actions in Nightingale and the EMH’s occasional self-absorption it’s ridiculous to think that either of them would use this situation to bicker over who’s in command. And considering Kim’s behavior in Nightingale it’s almost certain that he would come looking out of this more childish than ever and with only a few episodes left until the end of Voyager he won’t have much time to grow up.

Next week: Part 2. Robert Beltran has fun with makeup, Voyager blows up alien ships, Janeway has to choose between an adult relationship and her martyr complex.

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