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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Observer Effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Catwalk

Summary: When a group of alien deserters alert Enterprise to danger, they involve the crew in a dangerous situation.

star trek enterprise CatwalkStar Trek has done any number of episodes involving aliens trying to take over the ship. In part that’s because it’s a fairly economical way to do an action episode without having to leave the Enterprise. ENTERPRISE has done its share of such episodes and will undoubtedly do plenty more of them before its run is through and “Catwalk” is one of these. This time out the episode wisely focuses on the logistics of evacuating the crew into the nacelles and the dynamics of their interaction, rather than the fairly weak dilemma of the aliens and the other aliens who briefly take over Enterprise before Archer scares them off by threatening the destruction of the ship, the same gambit that Starship Captains have been using to scare aliens off their ship’s for decades now and happened as recently as the second season opener, “Shockwave 2.”

On “Catwalk” the aliens become almost an afterthought as the real focus is on the crew and the evacuation and it’s a smart choice because where the invading aliens storyline has been done before (and far more creatively too), previous shows were often a bit weak on the logistics and “Catwalk” is one of the better entries in dissecting how the crew handles an emergency since TNG’s “Disaster” or DS9’s somewhat overrated “Starship Down.” By contrast, even Voyager managed to put together far more creative versions of the ‘aliens invaders’ storyline such as “Displaced” and “Scientific Method,” which did a much better job of producing elaborate and original threats to Voyager and her crew. “Catwalk'”s threat is mundane, undeveloped and resolved before it even begins.

But then “Catwalk”‘s real strength rests in the crew interacting together in difficult moments. T’Pol fraternizing with the crew during movie night by pointing out plot elements, Reed’s digestive problems and Trip realizing he hasn’t thought of what the crew would use for a latrine. Enterprise has begun with the premise of a ship that’s more like a submarine than a 24th century starship and given us a ship that for all intents and purposes is just a slightly lower tech version of a 24th century starship; episodes like “Catwalk” do a good job of actually tackling the premise of what a crew in a low tech experimental boat unprepared for deep space might actually end up living like. An experience that’s less of a luxury hotel and more of a cramped military transport aircraft.

Danny Goldring as the alien captain also makes one of Enterprise’s stronger villains thanks to a hard edged performance and some solid dialogue with Archer that’s a bit more clever and well thought out than the kind of predictable exchanges we would usually see in this situation. The alien captain actively contemplates Archer and Enterprise and even relates to Archer and in doing so gains a certain amount of depth. His background as a corrupt military man, rather than just another alien of the week who dislikes the crew for no particular reason, is also a nice and realistic touch suggesting Voyager’s own “Workforce.”

Mike Vejar’s direction this week is competent, but not nearly as stylish and creative as Livingston’s work on last week’s rather miserable “Precious Cargo.” It’s a shame that the two directors hadn’t switched episodes or “Catwalk” might have been a lot more visually interesting. As it is, the installment is a watchable episode mainly for the crew interactions, if not a particularly extraordinary one.

Next week: Poor Reed is still out there stuck on that mine.

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