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 times 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.