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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Bound

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

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

star trek enterprise bound

If Star Trek anticipated nothing else, it anticipated the Kardashians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Divergence

Synopsis: Columbia and Enterprise team up to rescue Phlox.

star trek enterprise divergenceReview: In retrospect, it seems as if “Divergence” and “Affliction” would have made stronger episodes if they were aired together as one large two-parter, the way some TNG and VOYAGER episodes have been in the past. While it’s an entertaining episode, “Divergence” is following up on far too much of the plot “Affliction” set into place to be as strong on its own.

Columbia’s rescue of Enterprise is probably ENT’s best use of ship and character-based special effects since “Minefield” and arguably surpasses it. It also has the sense of adventure and excitement that ENT has been sorely lacking for some time. Indeed the scene is spectacular enough that even on its own it’s likely to be remembered for some time.

Phlox, arguably the show’s best character and who has been all too often neglected, has gotten a much needed focus in “Affliction” and “Divergence” and it seems fitting that he is the one offering the ultimatum to the Admiral, rather than Archer. Not just because using biological weapons seems a bit of a stretch for Starfleet (though not so much of one considering “For The Uniform”) but because it lets Phlox shine in a completely unexpected scene that would have been a cliche had it featured Archer.

Trip’s sulking is, however, still tedious but at least it’s understated now and for once we actually get to see why he’s considered a great chief engineer in one of the more exciting engineering crisis scenes since Scotty was drinking and powering up warp engines on the old Enterprise (no bloody A,B,C,D or E). This is all the more of an accomplishment considering ENT’s rather boring warp engine, which unlike the spectacular lava lamp engines of TNG and VOY is really nothing to look at. The Director of the episode also appears to be experimenting with smash zooms that are somewhat cliched as a technique but bring a little life to the action scenes.

The sense of galactic politics and scale isn’t nearly as strong in “Divergence” with a lot of the material losing steam along the way and becoming reduced to individual character conflicts. Still, Reed’s moral dilemma is well played even if it’s not quite as gripping as it should be. The plot involving the Klingon general and his son is as hopeless as Archer’s brow ridges. Archer, meanwhile, once again in two months risks his life to expose himself to a virus for the greater good. There simply have been a few too many stories in which Archer is ready to give his life in suicidal actions and it’s almost as if he has a death wish by now.

Archer’s role in the episode is really nothing too spectacular, especially considering that his best moment of the episode involves talking to his dog. Bakula himself may look back proudly on his ENT acting days if he chooses to, but the scene of him writhing with the virus won’t be one of them. Instead it’s one of the unintentionally funniest bits of the series. His brow ridges though seem like a nice TOS reference to James Kirk’s Romulan ears, left over from “The Enterprise Incident.”

And it is scenes and references like that, which tell you that even if Manny Coto’s season four doesn’t always get it right, its heart is in the right place and so is “Divergence”‘s spirit. While the episode falters in places it is ultimately a work of love and a valentine to STAR TREK. It should be remembered as one.

Next week: Temporal incursions better known as reruns.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Council

Synopsis: Archer arrives at the Xindi Council while maneuvers continue among the Xindi races and the Sphere Builders before the launch of the weapon.

Review: The Council is many things but not the least among them a compelling argument for Manny Coto being in charge of Enterprise rather than Berman and Braga. As a complete episode it often comes off a bit disjointed but that is because its real accomplishments are in the characterization of the Xindi. A characterization that is long overdue. Unlike some of the previous episodes, this is not one dominated simply by the character of Degra.

star trek enterprise the councilWhile Randy Oglesby does deliver another resoundingly powerful performance as Degra in his final appearance; Coto fleshes the Xindi out by giving the other Xindi council members depth as well and making their interplay ppear more than the cartoonish stereotypes they have been up till now. The Avian skull alone is a deceptively simple but excellent touch that does more to bring depth to the Xindi and their agenda than all the Council meetings have throughout this season and until now. Details such as this or Degra’s revelations about the role of the Sphere Builders in their lives should have been a part of the show long before this to make the Xindi and their motivations plausible.

By contrast the Enterprise crew doesn’t come off nearly as well this episode. Archer is still focused but a bit too casual. His principal’s office exchange with Hoshi is clever and well played but it also clashes with the context of the situation. 7 million people have died and this is Archer’s last ditch attempt to preserve the remains of humanity and it makes him seem far too lighthearted and casual especially considering the terrible things Archer has had to do up till now to the point that he sent himself off on a suicide mission only a few episodes ago.

The real purpose of these scenes seems to be to remind us of Hoshi’s existence as a human being with a likeable personality so that we’re shocked and saddened by her kidnapping. But of course Enterprise should not have neglected her or Reed or some of the other crewmembers this season as gratuitously as they did in favor of the compelling ideas embodied by T’Pol’s erotic massage parlor. However as in E2, Reed gets another small but effective scene. This time with T’Pol. It’s ironic that despite all the fuss and all the effort dedicated to T’Pol and Trip and T’Pol’s unlocking of her emotions with Trip; one of her best scenes and unquestionably best demonstration of the empathic use of her emotions is in a scene with Lt. Reed.

Billingsley’s Dr Phlox of course is always entertaining to watch even if he’s given little to do. By contrast Connor Trinneer who was certainly never one of Enterprise’s best actors but managed to give a pretty good performance in The Forgotten, phones in his scenes in The Council. Not that he’d really even be noticeable alongside Randy Oglesby’s work but at least he could have made an effort to put some depth in his performance. In this episode Manny Coto manages to make even the proverbial doomed redshirt stand out but in an episode full of compelling characters; Tucker is strictly a no show.

All in all the human side of The Council is easily outweighed by the Xindi side of it. It would have been intriguing if the producers had the guts to tell this episode’s story from the Xindi perspective. It certainly would have been doable as Degra was already on Enterprise a lot of the time. But “The Council” comes as close to that as it dares with an episode in which the Xindi rather than the humans are undeniably the key players.

Again the issue of proof is dubious since all Archer presents is a holographic mockup of the Sphere Builder. Considering what Degra tells us about the level of devotion of the Xindi to the Guardians, half the Council seems rather willing to turn on them with limited evidence at best. If T’Pol’s mission had returned from the Sphere with compelling evidence to the Council that might have more credibly explained their willingness to believe Archer’s story. Still the radical steps taken by the Reptillians help tip the balance.

Degra’s murder is excellently directed, written and played and stands as the best part of the episode. Much of it could have been done as a cliche but the writing gives us two personalities with two different worldviews colliding with one another in that room. Both are fanatics of a particular kind with two different visions of the future that will rebuild and reunify the Xindi. Degra’s vision embodied in that handshake with Trip is incompatible with the Reptillian dominated Xindi Council hunting down the very last humans in the galaxy. The launch of the weapon becomes a tug of war with the victory going to the Reptillians and Insectoids seeking to rebuild a destroyed way of life through mass murder.

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 – Similitude

Synopsis: When an accident puts Trip into a coma, a mimetic symbiote is grown with a lifespan of only 15 days to serve as a donor of neural tissue.

Review: “Similitude” is an interesting episode with an interesting concept. LeVar Burton‘s direction is smooth but unremarkable, giving the characters room to breathe while Manny Coto‘s script works through the material without any of the clumsiness that might be expected from a new writer. Bringing back Archer’s boyhood remote control spaceship from “Broken Bow” was a nice touch of continuity as was revisiting Dr. Phlox’s issues with his son. Coto has clearly done his homework.

star trek enterprise similitudeLike VOYAGER’s controversial “Tuvix”, this episode involves the creation of a ‘new’ crew member out of an old one and sacrificing his life to save the life of the original. It does dodge some of the controversy by soft pedaling the elements that made “Tuvix” so controversial, however. “Similitude” doesn’t really feature the destruction of a unique being, since there really isn’t much of a difference between Trip 1.0 and Trip 2.0 or Sim. Where Tuvix was a unique combination producing a personality very different from either Tuvok or Neelix, Trip 2.0 quickly becomes all but indistinguishable from Trip 1.0 making the entire debate somewhat moot.

The only difference between them is that Trip 2.0 has a few days extra memories spent around the ship. The situation might have been better if it had been the teenaged Trip who had to make the decision and fight for his life since there would at least have been a clear difference between the two of them.

“Similitude” also dodges the bullet of having the captain force the new crew member to die in two ways. First by giving him a limited lifespan so that his death becomes inevitable anyway. Second, despite an intense scene between Archer and Trip in Trip’s quarters, Trip ultimately makes the decision to undergo the operation himself. These, however, aren’t weaknesses because “Similitude”‘s focus really isn’t so much on the controversy of the situation, despite the apparent analogies to stem cell research and cloning, as on the character interplay of the cast and Trip 2.0’s evolution within the ongoing Xindi arc. That’s why when Trip decides to undergo the procedure the reason he gives ties in with the beginning of the entire Xindi storyline in the Xindi probe’s attack on earth.

In a way “Similitude” is actually closer to lifespan episodes like TNG’s “The Inner Light” that give us the sense of experiencing somebody’s life being lived from beginning to end within the constraints of a single episode. Of course the problem is that Trip’s life isn’t very interesting and neither is Trip. We relearn such revelations about Trip that he loves engineering, key lime pie and T’Pol. Oh and he apparently has had the same hair cut for 30 years, unless the hair style was also encoded in his DNA, which considering this episode’s scientific credibility is entirely possible. It’s Trip 2.0’s plight that is interesting, not his personality.

Usually when STAR TREK does episodes of this kind, medical techniques of questionable morality figure prominently. Such as the research on Bajoran slave laborers by the Cardassian holographic physician Creel Mosset or Dr. Crusher’s colleague who used patients as test subjects. Despite their moral qualms, the characters end up succumbing to the necessity of using these means to serve the end of saving the lives of their crewmembers even while shaking their heads over the moral leap. “Similitude” is no different in that regard, with Archer being prepared to go much further than ever before to save Trip’s life and oscillating between appeals to Trip’s humanity while treating him as less than human. Like “Tuvix” there isn’t much of a debate in “Similitude” and the appeal of the other side is mostly the unspoken presentation of Trip 2.0’s life weighed against the necessity that drives Archer’s actions.

Unlike “Tuvix” though the crew isn’t presented as being quite the amoral Stepford zombies that VOYAGER’s crew was. Here the crew members find different means of relating to Trip 2.0. But then unlike “Tuvix,” “Similitude” never pushes the moral dilemma to the breaking point, leaving no middle ground besides rescuing a crewmember through cold-blooded murder. That is probably a good thing since either letting Trip 1.0 die in the name of morality or killing Trip 2.0 to save a friend would be a decision that would make it impossible for a large portion of the viewers to view Archer as a credible Starship Captain. So despite Archer’s murder threat the choice is ultimately left up to Trip 2.0 to make. Still, you have to wonder if Archer isn’t exploiting the Xindi state of emergency to take an action that has more to do with his personal friendship for Trip than with the mission itself. But at least the Enterprise crew is portrayed as more professionally oriented and lacking the cliquish feel of a false family that made “Tuvix” so unnerving. They remain friendly with Trip 2.0 even as they categorize him as ‘disposable’, which is still disturbing but in a whole different way.

Trip 2.0’s own challenge to Archer over what makes him different from Trip 1.0 goes to a long time question on STAR TREK which has offered plenty of duplicates, clones, time traveling selves and other challenges to personal identity. First we might simply argue that a difference that makes no difference is no difference at all and so if we can’t define clearly how Trip 2.0 is a different person, then we’ve failed to prove that he is. An alternative track might be to argue Continuity of Consciousness, that what matters is not simply a perfect duplicate but the continuity of the consciousness of the original person. You can create an exact duplicate of someone with the same body and memories but without a continuity of consciousness we would end up with a different person. The problem with that is the transporter, which regularly breaks apart crewmembers into energy and then reassembles them from the pattern stored in the buffer. So arguably continuity of consciousness falls apart with each transport, as Dr. McCoy feared, and every time you’re transported you die and a stranger with your memories shows up on the pad on the other side. That would mean that Archer himself is probably Archer 4.0 or 5.0 by now.

But putting aside the philosophical questions, it’s important for the characters to pretend that there is a difference so they can do what they need to do. And if they can’t pretend that he really isn’t human, they can at least pretend that he isn’t one of their friends because that way it would be even harder to recognize what they’ve done. Of course we create moral boundaries by drawing lines to demarcate moral and immoral acts. Both the animal rights and abortion debates center around such lines, where different belief systems draw them, how you define who has rights, and how you balance necessity with morality.

After “Similitude” it’s no real surprise that the mimetic symbiotes have not exactly become standard equipment in the sickbay across Starfleet. We could all too easily imagine the horror of a Blade Runnerish society, with two classes of citizens: those who are the long-lived and those who are short-lived and which 15-day doubles are raised and disposed like everything else in a consumerist society.

The final funeral service in which Trip 2.0 is treated like an officer who died in the line of duty instead of an organ donor with a built in self-destruct sequence does show exactly how “Similitude” differs from “Tuvix.” The crew recognizes the moral cost of their actions and attempts to recognize Trip 2.0’s humanity in the best way they know how. Ironically enough it is Trip 1.0 who is confused at the service since it centers around a man he’s never met, himself.

Next Week: The day before Thanksgiving hasn’t been kind to ENT.

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