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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – “Vanishing Point”

Summary: The entire episode turns out to be a hallucination in which Hoshi re-experiences a TNG plot that takes place in only two seconds. Unfortunately the actual experience of watching the episode takes much longer.

star trek enterprise vanishing point“Vanishing Point” starts with an interesting concept. A character who often feels overlooked and out of place really begins to become invisible. TNG had already carried out the reverse of that storyline in “Remember Me,” in which Dr. Crusher believes that everyone around her is disappearing and they actually do begin vanishing. But it was still an interesting concept and had the potential for some amusing scenes and character development. About halfway through the episode “Vanishing Point” begins to strongly resemble “The Next Phase,” another TNG episode in which characters are turned invisible through alien machinations that they have to expose by contacting the crew before the aliens blow up Enterprise, and in the last few minutes we go on to discover that the entire episode was a hallucination that took place in the last 2 seconds of her transport up from the planet. For those few optimists who might have been hoping that Hoshi’s first transporter experience had displaced her in time and that she could now warn the crew about the alien threat, as in DS9’s “Visionary” so that the actual events that had happened up until now would still matter, the entire episode turned out to be an hallucination.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy sitting through 40 minutes of an episode that turns out never to have happened or to matter in the least. I might have enjoyed it more if it had actually lasted for only two seconds, though. It might have been some sort of localized temporal distortion field operating in my area but the actual experience of watching it seemed to take at least twice as long as the episode’s running time. Not since the dog days of the first season has Enterprise turned out such a drearily episode paced at about the same speed as paint drying on a wall. Or, rather, after forty minutes of watching the paint dry on the wall it is discovered to be a dream about paint drying on a wall that does not involve any actual paint or walls.

It’s hard to say why the twist ending was added on. After an episode that consisted mostly of repetitive scenes of Hoshi believing that she might be losing her mind and the crew acting distant and cold towards her, the only life left in the episode came from the nightmarish atmosphere isolating Hoshi and forcing her to face the situation alone. With the twist ending, this last breath of life is sucked out into a vacuum and what’s left is the revelation that “Vanishing Point” was simply a waste of time.

“Vanishing Point” only adds one more neurosis to Hoshi’s catalog of neuroses, which after “Fight or Flight,” “Sleeping Dogs” and “Shockwave II” is starting to look as if it might rival Barclay’s. If the producers just find a way to addict Hoshi to holodecks, Barclay may have to be called back to defend his title. While “Fight or Flight” was a good episode, just as “Shuttlepod One” was a good episode, Enteprise’s producers tend towards repetitive character development by trying to reproduce what worked before. So after “Shuttlepod One” developed Reed by thrusting him into close quarters in a life and death situation with a gregarious colleague as a way of getting him to open up, we had “Minefield,” which did the same thing. After “Fight or Flight,” we now have multiple episodes that try to develop Hoshi by giving her more neuroses and having her overcome them. When in fact some of the better pieces of character development for Hoshi have been subtler scenes like Hoshi teaching the colonists self-defense in “Marauders.” Repetitive character development, after all, is not actually character development, it’s just a character repeating the same pattern over and over again.

What few shards remain to be dragged from the wreckage of “Vanishing Point” include the expansion of Enterprise’s sets, giving us the first view of the ship’s gym. Like movie night, it’s a reasonable enough addition in view of the fact that Enterprise has no holodeck and not that much shore leave. Though it does seem a bit cramped for an Enterprise sized crew. Bakula oddly enough does some of his best acting in weeks during Archer’s condolence call notifying Hoshi’s father of her death. It might have been good character development, if it had actually happened. The same probably can’t be said for “Vanishing Point,” but at least it might have been marginally watchable and moved the story one step forward instead of delivering the equivalent of the Dallas shower scene. Star Trek has often been accused of pushing the reset button, but “Vanishing Point” doesn’t just push the reset button. It breaks it.

Next week: Enterprise will break the fourth wall as the actors will have a collective dream in which they’re on a successful TV series.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – “Minefield”

Summary: Enterprise is menaced by the Romulan coast guard and Reed gets himself stuck on a mine while bonding with Captain Archer.

star trek enterprise minefieldIf much of Minefield’s Reed scenes seem distinctly familiar, that’s no surprise since much of Minefield is essentially a reworked version of Shuttlepod One with a mine on Enterprise’s hull substituted for a damaged shuttlecraft with an oxygen leak and Archer taking over Trip’s role. The two characters start out uncomfortable with one another and then are trapped together confronting a crisis that seems as if it can only be solved by a sacrifice. The different personalities of the two characters cause them to first clash and then bond as personal revelations are pried out of Reed under the pressure of the situation. But where Shuttlepod One was effective, Minefield is less so; in part because we’ve now seen it before and because Reed and Archer don’t really throw off any sparks.

Shockwave 2 and now Minefield do suggest that the producers have decided to confront questions about Archer’s command abilities. In Minefield, Archer’s own command style is justified by contrasting it with Reed’s more militaristic proposals as being more humanitarian. In part, Minefield’s flaw also ironically comes down to the same issue for which it defends Archer: his laid back command style. Thus Archer’s side of the dialogue is delivered lifelessly, as if Bakula is trying to order pizza on the phone or doing a publicity interview. The producers should be commended for finally recognizing that those questions exist, but Minefield really fails to challenge anyone but Reed and it’s a form of challenge that we’ve seen before now.

The new character development for Reed is interesting, but not really ground-breaking. It sheds some new light on the reason why Reed is so determined to prove himself and to maintain such rigorous self-discipline, but it does make you wonder if the only way to develop his character is to strand him in some trap in which he seems doomed to die and pry confessional revelations out of him. It may be a novel technique once, twice it begins to get old and a third time would be too much.

The real reason for viewer anticipation of Minefield of course was the first appearance of the Romulans on Enterprise. Yet this is somewhat anticlimactic, in part because Enterprise let the rabbit out of the hat some time ago by gratuitously featuring cloaking devices numerous times in violation of canon. Thus the Romulan cloaking device is not a shocking thing to the Enterprise crew, but a matter of “Oh, there goes another cloaking device.” It might have been more effective had the aliens in Silent Enemy been Romulans, thus helping to prepare Enterprise for a violent first confrontation. But in Minefield the Romulans react to Enterprise in much the same way that every Alien of the Week reacted to Voyager. The Romulans have been traditionally cunning as well as xenophobic, it’s what makes them interesting. But Minefield really doesn’t feature them doing anything more than playing Coast Guard. They’re never even particularly intimidating. Had Trip or T’Pol actually chosen to pursue the debate with the Romulans over the human view of the value of a single life, something interesting might have arisen from the clash of the two philosophies. But like the Borg on Voyager or the Klingons on DS9, the Romulans in Minefield were expected to be interesting because they were Romulans and not because anything genuinely interesting was happening.

Like both of the previous episodes this season, Minefield never succeeds because it never takes any real chances and never ventures into dangerous territory. There is no real argument among the crew in favor of jettisoning Reed. Nor is there any real possibility that this was going to happen. What if the first Romulan strike had killed a significant portion of Enterprise’s crew. In Minefield’s first moments after the strike, the effect appears to be genuinely devastating. The kind of attack that brings to mind TOS’s Balance of Terror or Wrath of Khan or Voyager’s Year of Hell. But it quickly gets reduced to Hoshi whining in sickbay, instead of the kind of real devastation that would have fueled Archer’s anger. What if more than one member of the senior staff was seriously committed to the idea of jettisoning Reed, over Reed’s protests. That could have been the kind of conflict to really bring some sparks to this episode. What if the episode had actually taken a chance and amputated at least a portion of Reed’s leg. But of course we know that kind of thing would never happen on Enterprise. It never even happened on TNG, when Piller proposed replacing Picard’s arm with a prosthetic one after Best of Both worlds. And that really is the problem with Minefield, we know the formula and we know the status quo will be maintained. The fact that Archer can’t seem to bring himself to take the situation seriously only decreases any suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience. So for all that the episode may be called Minefield, it in fact consists of taking easy choices.

Minefield does demonstrate a pretty impressive display of Enterprise’s special effects. From the original hit on Enterprise that reveals exposed decks and is reminiscent of some of the hard hitting scenes in Wrath of Khan and Year of Hell to the redesigned Romulan vessel, which merges the TNG green streamlined look of Romulan ships with the TOS Bird of Prey shape, Enterprise’s effects tend to be more consistent than that of previous shows and Minefield in particular looks pretty good.

Minefield also contains a few more references to Earth, including the revelation that humanity has yet to evolve beyond watching soccer matches and even manages to have Reed call it football, instead of soccer. Apparently soccer might actually outlive baseball, though not water polo, or apparently football either, if the Fusion reference by the Vulcans is to be taken as current. As in Silent Enemy, we learn that the Royal Navy still exists. Though there is not yet any explanation forthcoming as to why individual countries need military fleets, as opposed to research boats and coast guards.

All in all Minefield is a decent enough action episode but spends too much time on a repetitive Reed storyline too reminiscent of Shuttlepod One and never gives the Romulans anything interesting to do.

Next week: Enterprise discovers that alien space stations don’t take American Express.

Star Trek Enterprise Season 1 Review

A series’ first season is its defining moment. While the first season may be full of clumsy scripts, poorly thought out plots and insufficient characterization, it is the testing ground in which it finds its balance, its sea legs so to speak. In the first season the character relationships will not yet have really come together, yet certain patterns will have become noticeable that will shape the future of the series.

Certainly this is particularly true of Star Trek series, which take years to become polished enough to produce their best material, and so there star trek enterprise season 1 is no reason to expect Enterprise’s first season to have produced the great classic episodes that might one day become associated with the series. As such, any criticism of the first season must be written and read with this knowledge in mind.

At the same time the basic identities of the characters, the style and feel of a series do tend to become set in its first season. Essentially, the first season of a Star Trek series serves a similar role as pilots do to many other series. It produces patterns which may be modified somewhat, but still influence and define the show’s future. Attempts to redefine the show’s dynamic (witness Stewart’s attempt to transform Picard into a man of action) may fail and ring flat.

So while plot arc-intensive episodes like “Cold Front,” “Shadows of P’Jem” and “Shockwave” may grab the audience’s attention, the real impact of Enterprise’s first season will likely be felt in the more character centered episodes like “Shuttlepod One,” “Fallen Hero” and “Fight or Flight.” Despite any impressions to the contrary, plot arcs are created on the spot and even when a series bible exists it is frequently modified by the writers and producers. Characters, on the other hand, become fixed beyond a certain point so that the writers come to discover that they are dealing with a set mould that is difficult if not impossible to change. In sum, the failures and successes of the future of a series are rooted in the patterns that can be noted in its first season. There are many patterns emerging now.

One is the question of setting. With its emphasis on space exploration, Enterprise functions far better in stories set in space than in those set planetside. With episodes like “Fight or Flight,” “Silent Enemy,” “Fallen Hero”, “Shuttlepod One,” “Breaking the Ice” and “Cold Front,” Enterprise demonstrated that space-based bottle shows play to its strengths. These are its emphases on isolation, exploration, unknown threats and personality clashes. On the other hand, there is something about planetside stories that causes the writers to revisit every cliché from the past four series resulting in clunkers like “Terra Nova,” “Strange New World,” “Rogue Planet,” “Civilization,” “Oasis” and “Desert Crossing.” A promising episode like “Dear Doctor” had a strong beginning when it was set in space and collapses into a Voyager retread when it touches the ground. Where space provides the chance to break new ground, visiting a planet or an alien culture results in another retread from the cliché factory.

This is more than a random question of space vs. planets, though. “Two Days and Two Nights” was a strong planetside episode and “Unexpected” was an extraordinarily weak space episode. They demonstrate that Enterprise’s strong episodes are produced when the show focuses its energies inward on the characters and situation in the appropriately named ‘bottle shows.’ But Enterprise has a good deal of trouble creating believable alien cultures or imagining the pre-TOS state of the galaxy. It is a flaw that will need to be addressed, since if Enterprise is to play a part in birthing the Federation, it cannot remain isolated in space forever.

Another pattern involves Archer’s behavior. From “Broken Bow” to “Shockwave” he has come off as man whose responsibilities outweigh his abilities. In his best moments the writers have managed to transform this into a positive trait as a character arc, but in the far more frequent weaker moments, it highlights his inadequacy. On a situational basis from episode to episode, Archer’s character has come to be defined by a combination of naivete, self-righteousness and a propensity for getting captured. All three of these issues go directly to the question of his incompetence and nothing will kill a character in a commanding role sooner than a belief that he is incompetent as this leads viewers to question every decision he makes. Even the clearly legitimate ones.

Worse, it leads to an attitude of contempt towards the character of the type which doomed Captain Janeway. Shows live or die by their leading character: for better or worse Archer is Enterprise’s main character, ensemble cast or not. Viewers will relate to the show based on his behavior and his attitude. If they don’t like it, they will change the channel. Ideally, Star Trek Captains have been people to be admired. Archer does not manage to meet that standard. The Producers would find it a very good idea to take a long hard look at what isn’t working and fix it before Archer becomes an objection of derision in the Janeway mode.

Like Kirk, the producers have meant Archer to walk the line between explorer and military man. Where Picard was the explorer and Sisko the military man, Archer is once again meant to be the synthesis of both. But a similar intention existed for Janeway and went mostly unfulfilled. While much more credible work has been done in giving Archer such a background, the synthesis remains less than entirely convincing.

The premise of Enterprise has Archer facing both a military challenge in the form of the Suliban and the challenge of exploration in moving into a strange and unknown universe. The Temporal Cold War combines both challenges in one, and in episodes like “Shockwave” it is where Archer comes closest to combining both aspects of his personality: the explorer who looks at the universe with awe and the military man who views it as a threat. There is an essential schism in such a point of view that must be bridged. The Original Series did so by throwing a strange variety of threats and experiences at the viewer, so that the threats were awe inspiring and as much forces of nature (Trelane, Nomad, Khan) and the experiences were in and of themselves threatening (The Guardian, The library, the giant amoebae.) But while the Temporal Cold War qualifies as the extraordinary, too much of Enterprise qualifies as the ordinary.

It is axiomatic that Science Fiction should be at least two steps ahead of current science. Not the current accomplishments, but the current ideas, otherwise it merely becomes a dramatized Nova production. Good Science Fiction goes beyond a science textbook and into the realm of the extraordinary. Yet Enterprise has shown us few extraordinary things thus far. Enterprise has attempted to portray the intermediary stage of exploration and discovery as extraordinary, and at times in episodes like “Breaking the Ice,” it has even succeeded. But paradoxically it has come closest to successfully dramatizing the challenges of space exploration in its military episodes such as “Fight or Flight” and “Silent Enemy.” This is indeed in keeping with the Original Series tradition of episodes like Balance of Terror. The beauty of these episodes and the “Gallieo 7” redux, “Shutlepod One,” has been their simplicity. And for better or worse simplicity has been the watchword of Enterprise.

From its opening titles depicting a linear acceleration of human exploration untroubled by any historical ambiguities, to its approach to moral dilemmas (e.g. Phlox’s dissenting voice being smoothed out of “Dear Doctor” in favor of mutual agreement), Enterprise has tended to choose a simplicity suffused with idealism over complexity. In each episode the viewer is meant to know exactly how he or she should feel about the events and the characters in it through dialogue that is thoroughly unsubtle in conveying a simplistic homogenized universe. There are ways in which Enterprise resembles Star Trek’s Original Series, but unpredictability is generally not one of them. That is a problem.

In its time the Original Series was a controversial show and even today many of its episodes remain intellectually and politically challenging. The same simply cannot be said for Enterprise. Indeed Enterprise seems to have been created as a ‘safe’ way of doing something different while still maintaining the apron strings to the franchise. As such, Enterprise has the same relationship to the Original Series as Voyager had to the Next Generation. Conceptual spin-offs from successful series that in the transition lose many of the rough edges that made the original shows worthwhile. In revisiting an earlier era, Enterprise is relying on nostalgia to fill the gaps created by its lack of adventurous storytelling. Archer is the embodiment of that nostalgia.

He’s Kirk without any of the bad habits that wouldn’t play as well to a 21st century audience. As with Voyager, most of those questionable star trek enterprise season 1qualities have been passed on to a proxy character. Tom Paris on Voyager, Trip Tucker on Enterprise. But this has the effect of rendering the Captain into an unrealistic person. A character’s strength comes from his ability to overcome character flaws or to function despite them. Characters with deep personal flaws make for compelling viewing and paradoxically are more respected. Kirk’s misogyny and reflexive hostility, Picard’s arrogance and anti-social isolationism made them compelling and interesting characters. It allowed us to view them as complete and well rounded individuals. On the other hand the attempt to make Janeway and now Archer into commanders capable of anything, while staying celibate and being beloved by everyone turns them into candidates for sainthood and little else.

Archer’s characterization as a naive and self-righteous man with a big Starship setting the wrongs of the galaxy right, often without first bothering to check who’s wrong and who’s right, negates the premise of Enterprise as an under-powered Starship exploring a strange galaxy as beautifully expressed in episodes like “Fight or Flight” or “Silent Enemy,” rather than the classic mighty Federation throwing its moral and physical weight around. By negating this premise, Enterprise is transformed into Voyager Mark 2 with minor differences in uniforms and starship design and Archer’s character is key to this aspect of the premise.

Perhaps the casting of Bakula himself was a mistake. From Shatner to Stewart to Brooks to Mulgrew, Star Trek’s Captains have been larger than life characters who might chew the scenery but nevertheless dominated the scene. They might be accused of many things, but they were never boring and Archer simply is.

In retrospect Bakula may not have been the best choice to serve as the focus for that kind of energy and worse yet he has chosen to play the character as increasingly laid back and good humored. Even his fits of anger seem half-hearted. This is a style that might work for SG-1 where Richard Dean Anderson’s sardonic delivery compensates for the weirdness around him, but on Bakula it lends a dreary air to a show that is already paced too slowly and has a shortage of interesting and exciting characters.

Where Bakula’s casting was a much praised choice, Blalock’s casting was greeted not too positively by many, including myself. Nevertheless, she has done a very capable job in a somewhat ambiguous role. Still, the T’Pol character often hovers too close to being Seven of Nine Mark 2. The costume, which is completely unnecessary, tends to invite this comparison as does the series’ all too often treatment of T’Pol’s Vulcan nature as a flaw that must be corrected by exposing her to ‘normal’ human behavior in the Seven of Nine vein. But this mistake leads into the more fundamental mistake at the heart of Enterprise’s premise.

There are few writers who aren’t aware of the dictum that conflict is necessary to drama. While this has some truth to it, conflict tends to be more overused than underused. There are few dramas that have too little conflict versus. dramas that have too much conflict.

In part this is because conflict is used to cover up bad work. To produce artificial excitement and suspense in circumstances and situations that lack it by introducing artificial obstacles. Thus a producer might decide that a cop show needs an obstacle and so introduces an obnoxious Captain who interferes with the police work. Enterprise has attempted to do something similar by re-imagining the Vulcans as obstructionist imperialists and giving Archer the goal of succeeding at exploration, despite the Vulcans.

Yet this is an innately flawed concept. Enterprise was an attempt to return to an Original Series style of exploration, which needed no situational obstacle except the limitations of technology and the danger of the universe itself. Relegating the triumph of the exploration of space to a quest to prove the Vulcans wrong reduces it to a crude contest whole ultimate outcome is already known to the audience and relieves it of the joy of exploration.

Placing such a Vulcan onboard is a pointless move, as Star Trek under Rick Berman has a tradition of creating premises with sources of conflict and then smoothing away characters who serve as sources of conflict–witness the premises of DS9 and Voyager that involved large numbers of non-Starfleet crew members serving on board to provide conflict, only to see that conflict become filed away rather quickly. The same phenomenon is occurring with T’Pol at an even more rapid pace as she has gone from being a source of conflict to a staunch ally in less than a season.

The best conflict comes from differing viewpoints defined by fundamental differences in character, as McCoy versus Spock. This type of conflict can quickly be reduced to a cliche as was done when Worf began to approach every situation from a martial viewpoint. It bogs characters down and makes them entirely predictable. If we know what a character is about to say every time he opens his mouth, the character has become an uninteresting cliche. At the same time creating contradictions and depths in character relationships keep them fresh.

T’Pol for now has not really formed consistent relationships or become a cliche, in part because her writing suggests that the producers are unsure of which way exactly they’d like her to go. At first she was the obstacle onboard as an extension of the larger Vulcan obstacle placed in the Enterprise’s path. She then became Enterprise’s ally and Archer’s confidant. She must however be far more than another Major Kira or Commander Chakotay.

Unfortunately much of the rest of the crew also falls into the category of undeveloped cliches. Even in their tightest bonding moments, how far have Reed and Trip really gone from the stereotype of the quiet introverted Englishman and the brash extroverted Southerner? Yet they are the most developed crew members after the Captain and T’Pol. In retrospect, “Shuttlepod One”‘s lasting impact has been to provide the two with a bonding moment to serve as the basis for a lasting friendship, much as similarly themed “The Chute” did with Paris and Kim on Voyager.

Reed and Trip certainly have more energy than Paris and Kim ever did, and the two actors in question are also far superior. It would be a shame if the emotional vulnerabilities uncovered in “Shuttlepod One” were as thoroughly forgotten as they were on Voyager in the post-“Chute” episodes, in favor more goofy scenes of the two prowling around bars. Friction and conflict can be used to build relationships more complex and interesting than friendship. As natural antagonists the two are interesting, as friends they’re more of a punchline. Both the actors and the characters deserve better. Hopefully in the second season the show can manage to hang on to both of these elements, rather than discarding their clash of viewpoints as merely a stage in their bonding process.

By contrast, Hoshi and Mayweather are little more than a character outline that can be summed up in one sentence, one sentence would suffice for the both of them too. The attempt to develop Mayweather as a Boomer has clearly failed with “Favorite Son” and should not be revisited. It is hard to say whether it is a case of a weak character or weak actor or both. But it does seem as if Mayweather has become the Ensign Kim of the crew, though without the disastrous relationships since Trip already has a premium on that. Hoshi is a pleasant but also undeveloped character whose main characteristic references the most damning moment of another minority female communications officer from a far earlier series proclaiming, “I’m Afraid, Captain.”

While Dr. Phlox had the most potential from the outset he really has mostly remained on the sidelines as far as character development is concerned. Occasionally he steps out from the sidelines to guide the action as in “Vox Sola” or “Terra Nova,” but this tends to reduce him to a Deus Ex character.

The key problem is that he lacks motivation. The motivation to be on Enterprise, to be a Doctor, to be or do anything. All he has is a mild curiosity and affability that is pleasant and his status as an alien that so far has mainly served to produce comic relief as it did in “Two Days.” Traditionally, Star Trek’s non-humans have been reduced to wanting to be human (Data, EMH) not wanting to be human (Spock, Worf, Odo) or being faintly curious and bemused by humans (Neelix, Garak.) For now Phlox appears to belong to the latter category, yet only time will tell if he becomes a Neelix or a Garak.

Finally there is the premise of the 29th century villain and a temporal cold war. While this is an interesting idea, interesting ideas do not necessarily translate into effective premises, especially considering that Enterprise was an attempt to deal with the Birth of the Federation. Rather than dealing with the struggles of the time Enterprise has saved its biggest ammunition for an intangible enemy that does not relate to this era. That is unfortunate as the struggles of Earth to come to terms with itself and its place in the galaxy has more story material than a temporal cold war does.

The premise of Enterprise appears to be an attempt to combine two incompatible premises into one. As a result, the first season of Enterprise can be split down between the bulk of episodes featuring various Aliens of the Week and Dilemmas of the Week and recurring storylines involving TOS races and a few key episodes involving the Suliban, who come off as not particularly interesting when compared to the TOS races and even to some of the Aliens of the Week; even as they take the emphasis of the series off the Birth of the Federation and into X-Files territory.

That brings us to our fifth and final key mistake, the Suliban. In part the problem of the Suliban is that of Species 8742, it confuses concept with effect. Enterprise expects us to find the Suliban interesting because they can shift their shape and have lots of fascinating special abilities. This does not remotely make for an interesting species. When first introduced, the Klingons were little more than short men with funny faces. What made them compelling was their ruthlessness, directness and fervor. So too with the Romulans and the Cardassians, key characteristic traits of those races emerged and defined them. The Suliban have no such characteristic. When we think of a Suliban soldier, we think of abilities rather than character. “Detained”‘s attempt to compensate for that by giving the Suliban a backstory proved that they were about as interesting as Voyager’s average Species of the Week.

While those characteristics were driven as much by the actors as by the writing, Enterprise has saddled the Suliban actors with makeup that retards facial expressions. This prevents the actors from being much of a presence, so that John Fleck has to do most of his acting with his voice. It’s a triumph of effect over concept. The Suliban may have some excellent special effects behind them, but no worthwhile concept and so like Species 8742, they lack screen presence as a major enemy.

With season two, Enterprise has a chance to learn and grow from some of its mistakes and build on its strengths. It has produced some strong space episodes and must now learn to break new ground in dealing with planetside episodes and alien cultures, just as it has done in space with episodes like “Fight or Flight,” “Shuttlepod One,” “Shockwave” and “Silent Enemy.” Progress and development will not occur by repeating the past mistakes of the franchise, but by breaking new ground.

Enterprise has set the basic mould for its cast of characters, some are featureless and others have a troubled development arc ahead for them. Aspects of Archer’s character need to be rethought. T’Pol has emerged as a strong character but what has been gained will be lost if she is allowed to become a Seven clone. Dr. Phlox still remains the most intriguing character of the series but he needs development, a goal and a purpose to fulfill that promise and produce the kind of compelling episodes his character is capable of. Viewers have compared Phlox to Garak. Yet without the secrets, the guilt and the mixed motivations, episodes like “The Wire” would have been impossible. Phlox needs to become a more complex character, rather than the comic relief he has too often strayed into.

Like TNG and DS9, Enterprise needs to rethink some of its premises. Early on, TNG made a disastrous attempt to be TOS. DS9 then made a disastrous attempt to be TNG. Both shows recovered from that by the second season. With season one behind, it is time for Enterprise to find an identity hidden amid the choices made in its early days.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Two Days and Two Nights

Summary: Four short films about Enterprise. The crew’s visit to Risa is broken up into a series of mostly comic sub-plots, some of which work better than others. The best and worst that can be said of Two Days and Two Nights is that it’s light entertainment, emphasis on the light. When Enterprise has thrown away so much Star Trek continuity, Risa seems like an odd thing to hang on to. But then again Risa itself was an attempt to hang on to some of the ‘free love’ aspects of TOS. And prior to Enterprise, Star Trek had done two Risa episodes. TNG’s Captain`s Holiday and DS9’s Let He Who is Without Sin. The latter is justifiably considered one of DS9’s worst episodes altogether while the former is considered a forgettable comic piece, remembered more because it introduced Vash than because of its dramatic or comic material. With such a legacy, Two Days and Two Nights doesn’t have to worry about standing in a long shadow or working too hard. Where Captain`s Holiday focused on Picard and Let He Who is Without Sin focused primarily on two crew relationships, Two Days and Two Nights throws the main crew into a series of predictable subplots, most played for laughs with varying degrees of success so that it could be called Four Short Films about Risa.

Archer receives the Picard story as his first officer sends him down to the planet in order to relax with a good book and he becomes enmeshed

star trek enterprise two days and two nights

Humanity has reached the stars, but its fashion sense is still in the dark ages

with a mysterious woman and intrigue. Unlike Picard’s story though, which played comically against his stuffy demeanor, Archer’s is a vaguely dark and dramatic piece that manages to produce a sense of isolation that would have been far more effective if it had resonated with Archer’s character in any way. It makes perfect sense that Picard would spend his time on a pleasure planet with a good book, but Archer is a more physical character who seems as if he’d be more at home with Trip in a bar than playing a poor man’s Picard. As it is though, Bakula puts in a better performance here than he has in a long time. But unless this story is meant to introduce the woman as a recurring character and to deal with the events as part of an arc which will have repercussions down the line, it seems like a wasted effort. High points include T’Pol’s gift to Archer and the well conveyed sense of isolation and loneliness.

Trip and Reed get the naval cliche story of the two sailors on leave who end up getting rolled in a sleazy dive. The two actors do their best with the material, but there’s really not much here. The high points include Trip and Reed retelling the events of Shuttlepod One and passing themselves off as Captains. The low points include pretty much everything else. Even the comic material is pretty slim and ends rather quickly. Furthermore not only does Star Trek appear to be unable to create an alien bar scene without it looking like a cheap version of the Star Wars alien cantina, but it really needs to cut down on the races of shapeshifters. DS9 claimed that there was only one race of shapeshifters, though we’d seen plenty more before, Enterprise has two in one season. And since we’ve seen some Suliban shapeshift, it might be a good idea not to throw those abilities around so randomly as it devalues the effect.

T’Pol and Dr Phlox on the other hand get the only really effective comic piece without ever having to leave the ship as Dr. Phlox goes into hibernation just as a crippled Mayweather experiences an allergic reaction to an alien painkiller. Billingsley overplays the material by a mile, but it still works quite well as Phlox wakes up from hibernation, staggers about and does his best to make mad scientists look conservative while T’Pol looks on disapprovingly playing the straight Vulcan. Better yet, it provides a whole other dimension to Dr Phlox who until now has played the role of a mostly dispassionate observer and now gets to indulge in the same kind of comic material as Voyager’s own doctor did on a regular basis. Though it is telling that this episode’s most effective comic piece relied on some pretty broad slapstick. Cutler returns to play the same quasi-nurse role as Kes did on Voyager. The story’s high points include Phlox ordering the ship to another star system to get fresh worms to Phlox’s response to T’Pol’s suggestion that he return to his quarters.

Finally there is Hoshi’s story, which is the least interesting of all four, in part because the two actors lacked any chemistry and gave performances bordering on completely flat, and partly because it doesn’t have much in the way of material. As Trip and Reed’s broad physical comedy is meant to be paired with Phlox and T’Pol’s broad physical comedy, Archer’s stranger encounter is meant to be paired with Hoshi’s stranger encounter. But where Archer’s story had subtext and complexity, Hoshi’s story is as sunny and placid as her own persona and about as interesting. It might have been interesting if Enterprise had followed up on the doubts and uncertainties Hoshi was dealing with in Fight or Flight or her later insecurities. While it does manage to reinforce her role as translator and its importance, the plot is structure as a flat line that runs consistently in the same direction where the other three stories had peaks and falls.

Despite its flaws, however, Two Days and Two Nights is a pleasant departure in that it explores the ensemble cast in a series tjat has so far eschewed B-Stories and manages to put together a diverse collection of stories into one episode. In that it already exceeds past Risa episodes, which were far more monolithic and tended to play off one single joke over and over again. It’s light entertainment and as such it exceeds expectations.

Star Trek Enterprise episode reviews – Fallen Hero and Desert Crossing

Summary: A contrast of two episodes as we go from a subtle political drama with some important character development for T’Pol; to a fairly crude and incoherent adventure story that features T’Pol getting Archer and Trip out of yet another jam while antagonizing still more aliens.

star trek enterprise fallen hero

Fallen Hero

The doubleheader of Fallen Hero and Desert Crossing intends to combat the poor performance of CBS’s leftover Wolf Lake episodes aired on UPN these past few weeks and instead provides a contrast that highlights many of Enterprise’s best and worst qualities. Fallen Hero, an episode featuring some seriously questionable decisions from Archer, nevertheless is far superior to Fusion in providing solid and significant character development from T’Pol, the best Vulcan guest star on Enterprise yet and a great performance from both actresses. Desert Crossing is another episode with a muddled plot, Trip and Archer playing damsels in distress for T’Pol, and an awful guest performance (Clancy Brown) complete with a cheesy ethnic accent that would not have been out of place in one of George Lucas’s CGI characters.

The key issue remains plot. Fallen Hero has a compact and well organized plot full of tension and suspense that develops T’Pol by showing us the decisions that got her where she is today and something of the character of Vulcan society through the interplay between her and her role model, Ambassador V’Lar. Enterprise and the crew are fully involved in action scenes, instead of ‘Pulling a Voyager’ and standing on the sidelines trying to technobabble their way through another planetary rescue. Desert Crossing on the other hand stumbles between two disorganized stories, neither of which manages to be integrated with the other. On the one hand we have a political story in which a terrorist tries to enlist Archer to join his cause, which is dropped halfway to have Archer and Trip stumble around the desert until being rescued. It’s half Detained and half Shuttlepod One and neither half works. We learn nothing of any depth about the society involved and at the same time the desert scenes contribute nothing to the episode and unlike Shuttlepod One do nothing to develop either of the characters, especially since we got a variation of the same material a week ago in Vox Sola.

star trek enterprise desert crossing

Desert Crossing

It’s also another demonstration that Enterprise’s strength appears to lie in space based shows, rather than ground based episodes. Ultimately, it is rather telling that Fallen Hero can produce a greater sense of wonder by having Enterprise break a warp barrier in the middle of a battle than Desert Crossing can summon by having Archer encounter a whole new civilization. In space, Enterprise seems to be able to break new ground, while on the ground it seems doomed to repeat the exact same episodes that Voyager might have done and often did do. Indeed, you could have placed Chakotay in the Archer role without skipping a beat. After all, we don’t need Enterprise to show us a faux Afghani culture, we can see the real thing if we want to. It’s the exploration of space and the encounter of genuinely alien lifeforms that offers some real possibilities.

But one of Enterprise’s weaknesses this season has been the scarcity of strong and well developed guest stars with only John Fleck’s Silik and Jeffrey Combs’s Andorian Commander making any strong impression and both of these were recurring characters. TNG and DS9 on the other hand thrived on showcasing guest stars in strong performances such as The Defector or Duet. In Fallen Hero, Enterprise finally does something to remedy that as well as its weak portrayal of the Vulcans with the appearance of Ambassador V’lar, played with style and wit by Fionnula Flanagan (who has had at least two prior Star Trek guest appearances), who occasionally pushes the Vulcan boundaries a bit far, but never too much so. Though much of the Mazarian politics are left unclear, the real focus of Fallen Hero is on the interaction between V’Lar and T’Pol. For many recent Enterprise episodes, T’Pol has either been a convenient tool for rescuing Archer out of the latest mess he’d gotten himself into or an uptight Vulcan who needed to be humanized by learning to loosen up. In Fallen Hero for the first time we see her as a professional and a person facing a challenge to the values which caused her to choose her current path in life and that’s the kind of fascinating character development that Trip suffering from yet another round of hallucinations just can’t compete with.

Fallen Hero also managed to bring a certain equality to the Vulcan-Human relationship by showing that the lack of trust from both sides is a fairly natural consequence of the nature of their relationship, instead of blaming everything on Vulcan duplicity. Both Archer and V’Lar endanger each other, the relationship between Vulcans and Humans as well as their missions, simply because they distrust each other not personally but racially. V’Lar is simply able to be more brutally honest about the nature of that distrust while at the same time demonstrating how difficult it can be to overcome it. It’s a far more realistic portrayal of the situation than past Voyager and Enterprise episodes in which interspecies differences can be overcome in a few hours leaving the starship to fly away happily ever after.

At the end of Fallen Hero we are left with a deepened sense of who Vulcans are as well as the certainty that they are most certainly not just another human ethnicity dressed up in some cheap latex makeup, and that is Star Trek at it best: not obvious analogies ‘ripped from the headlines’ or another hostage situation from the latest Aliens of the Week. Instead, Fallen Hero is the closest Enterprise has ever come to TOS’s Journey to Babel, complete with a parent figure for T’Pol, a showdown with an alien ship and a hidden interspecies diplomatic agenda. This is precisely the type of nuts and bolts Birth of the Federation material that Enterprise has so often promised and so rarely delivered, along with some real development of a major Enterprise character, thus making it even more of a refreshing change.

Written and directed by Star Trek first timers, Fallen Hero is proof that new blood can produce great episodes. Desert Crossing seems to be proof of the exact opposite. Written by Andre Bormanis, who has produced some of Enterprise’s best episodes previously (Silent Enemy), Desert Crossing seems to have been the victim of some radical rewrites that left the script lacking any real focus. Early on, the script appears to have the germ of a political statement but this is supplanted in favor of churning out yet another ‘Trip and Archer’ get in trouble episode that devotes a good deal of time to having Trip and Archer stumble around the desert, but doesn’t manage to do anything interesting with the material.

Shuttlepod One succeeded precisely because it put two unlikely characters together and had them work at cross-purposes to survive. Desert Crossing does precisely the opposite by putting together two characters who are best friends and who have been trapped together in dire situations before, only last week as a matter of fact, and limits the interaction to having Archer play nursemaid to a semi-conscious Trip. This might be considered character development if it told us something new about Archer or Trip, but it doesn’t. Instead it repeats a formula that most viewers have long since gotten tried of. It also tosses aside what little in the way of a story Desert Crossing ever had. The result is that the episode consists of a political analogy that never gets developed and a desert survival story that doesn’t get the kind of single minded attention that might allow it to connect with the viewer. T’Pol is left once again trying to figure out how to rescue Archer and Trip from the mess they stumbled into because they didn’t bother to find out the political situation in their host’s country.

Unlike the transitions from Andorian Incident to Shadows of P’Jem to Fallen Hero, the attempt to provide continuity by linking the events in Desert Crossing to Detained is artificial and improbable and Zobral provides no credible explanation for why he would have believed that Archer would choose to help him and why he needed to trick Archer into coming down to meet him this way. It seems like the product of another script revision that attempted to bring some sort of larger meaning to the episode by linking it to the continuing evolution of the Prime Directive. Archer does finally make a right decision by choosing not to get involved in a battle that has nothing to do with him, and even more shockingly does it for the right reason. Joining the wars of other races that don’t involve the human race in any way is a decision that should be made by governments, not individual Starship Captains. A principle that Voyager’s Captain Janeway never managed to figure out. Nevertheless, Archer seems as much influenced by outrage at Zobral’s trick than at any understanding of what’s going on. Indeed by the end of the episode he suggests that Zobral was on the right side, even though he’d never talked to the other side and his only understanding of the origins of the conflict came from three sentences of recruitment propaganda from Zobral himself.

Worse yet, Desert Crossing, unlike Fallen Hero has no credible alien characters. Instead we get an Alien of the Week whose primary alien characteristic appears to be a funny beard complete with an ethnic accent almost caricatured enough to qualify as offensive in the Jar-Jar Binks category. The basic alien culture appears to be lifted from recent news stories on Afghan culture or perhaps the first half hour of Rambo III (considering Star Trek’s research department, the last is a disturbingly credible possibility.) A caste system in action might have made for some interesting cultural material, but instead we got slow motion shots of Archer and Trip with their shirts off. The lack of a focus on character and a fragmented plot which wants to be both an action show and a piece of political commentary inevitably results in a poor episode, as Enterprise’s writers must have realized by now after some of their more recent failures.

Thus Enterprise’s doubleheader provides us with a nice contrast that exposes some of the flaws of Enterprise episodes and demonstrates the elements that cause one episode to succeed and the other to fail.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Shuttlepod One

Summary: Enterprise produces its first breakout episode of the season as Reed and Trip fight for their lives in a damaged Shuttlepod running out of air.

Until now Enterprise’s first season has been less than stellar with more misses than hits and few episodes that are likely to be remembered star trek enterprise shuttlepod one half a decade down the road, but Shuttlepod One is likely to be this season’s breakout hit. It’s also the episode that comes closest to recapturing the Original Series style than any other episode so far.

The premise is simple enough. Two men, one shuttlepod and not enough air. And there are endless Golden Age SF stories on this theme, most focusing on finding ingenious ways out of the problem or killing each other. Shuttlepod One instead plays it as a character piece in which Reed and Trip, two officers with clashing personalities, fight and bond over the situation. The resemblance to TOS is certainly not accidental as much of the same material was also present in Gallileo 7, a story about a trapped shuttle, a conflict between a calm, logical officer and an emotional one and a solution involving dumping the engine’s fuel and igniting it as a distress beacon. Shuttlepod One mostly dispenses with the problem solving and instead focuses on the character relationships so that the solution comes as more of an afterthought than anything else. By causing the characters to believe that the Enterprise has been destroyed, it unleashes a well of desperation and anger that wouldn’t otherwise have been there.

With Brannon Braga as the writer of this episode, it would have been reasonable to expect the destruction of the Enterprise to be the result of some sort of temporal anomaly ala Timeless. Braga, though, seems well aware of his reputation and instead the only exotic phenomena are the fairly plausible and scientifically up to date micro-singularities. Instead Trip and Reed come to believe that the Enterprise has been destroyed because they notice some of the debris from a collision between Enterprise and an alien ship. This is probably the biggest plot hole in the episode, since it assumes that the Enterprise’s chief engineer could mistake some torn off hull fragments for the complete wreckage of the ship. Even with sensors down, visual inspection alone should have discredited that notion.

Still unlike the Golden Age SF stories, the competence of the characters is clearly not an issue here, but as in the TOS novel Kobayashi Maru, it’s a test of the way they face death. The decisions they make certainly aren’t very good and getting drunk towards the end probably isn’t much of a command decision either, but it’s not an unrealistic depiction of the way people can face desperate situations. Reed reacts with emotional detachment even as he makes some attempt to reestablish posthumous emotional connections with fragments of his past. Trip reacts with emotional displays and spur-of-the moment decisions. And as in Gallieo 7, it’s ultimately the emotionally withdrawn officer who makes the final risky gamble of jettisoning their fuel/engines as a last ditch effort to attract help.

While the basic plot is obviously not original and any number of shows have done similar episodes, Shuttlepod One is also the most intensive star trek enterprise shuttlepod one piece of character work and character growth we’ve seen so far, despite all the Archer and T’Pol materials that have been thrown at us so far. Indeed, the scenes with Archer and T’Pol in this episode only serve to deflate the tension of the isolated pod and gives us two Archer moments that are petty in ways we would have thought that he’d be beyond by now. But then of course there’s nothing like throwing two people together into a life and death situation to achieve character growth. Or at least that was the idea behind the fairly mediocre Andorian Incident and Shadows of P’Jem, which tried this same basic storytelling trick twice with Archer and T’Pol.

In addition to the character work though, Shuttlepod One offers plenty of nice touches from the mashed potatoes used as hull sealant (don’t try this at home kids), the gruesome turn that the shaving scene takes and the bourbon bet. It’s this kind of thing that fills out character interactions in ways that words can’t and it’s also why the Archer/T’Pol interactions in Andorian Incident and Shadows of P’Jem had no real depth to them. Hopefully though they don’t decide to try and get Archer and T’Pol drunk in order to hurry things up. After P’Jem’s rope scene, somehow that possibility doesn’t seem too far fetched.

Beyond the character work, Shuttlepod One is one of the few Enterprise episodes to have broken free of the usual TNG-lite and recycled Voyager material. It’s all the more surprising therefore that it was co-written by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, the people one could hold quite responsible for TNG and Voyager in the first place. Longtime Trek director David Livingston delivers shots of tight shuttlepod interiors that play on the sense of isolation and desperation and the FX sequences display empty space with occasional grey asteroid rubble and dirty drifts of debris. It all only emphasizes how far we’ve come from Voyager’s ‘Technobabble Saves the Day’ solutions and comfortable environments.

Next week: Behold the magic and mystery of reruns.

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