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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Dead Stop

Summary: In a space age revival of an old fable, Enterprise discovers a station whose offer of repairs turns out to be too good to be true.

star trek enterprise Dead StopIn one of the closer intersections between episodes thus far on Enterprise, “Dead Stop” begins shortly after last week’s episode. The Enterprise’s hull is damaged and so is Malcolm’s leg. The situation seems problematic until, in what is the first of several continuity references, Enterprise gets directions from a Tellarite freighter to a repair station (though in light of what happens later in the episode it may be reasonable to conclude that there was no Tellarite freighter at all). Where the natural instinct of a Voyager episode might have been to populate the episode with some weird foreheaded Alien-of-the-Week for the crew to pit their skills against, “Dead Stop” goes for the ghostly feeling of an automated computerized station. A place that is seemingly empty and at once filled with an unknown presence. And it works.

The writing team of Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong, who up until this point had churned out mediocre and mostly forgettable episodes like “Civilization,” “Fusion” and “Strange New World” manage to deliver here, greatly aided by Roxann Dawson’s smooth and crisp direction and some of the unquestionably best lighting on the series thus far. Dawson displays here some of the potential she demonstrated in “Workforce, Part II,” infusing every scene with an uneasy atmosphere. Despite the seemingly lighter subject material, “Dead Stop” manages to have the sense of danger and tension that “Minefield” simply did not. Bakula, meanwhile, displays the anger and frustration he should have been showing in last week’s episode. While Mayweather’s eventual resurrection is no real surprise, nor is the menace posed by the station, the way they come together is effective and one of the few surprising twists of an Enterprise episode thus far.

From the eerily white interior of the station’s corridors to the dank yellow conduits (visually suggesting that the pristine package is an illusion with a grimmer interior), to the computer itself, suggestive of The Matrix’s towers of human batteries on a smaller scale, “Dead Stop” is overshadowed by a mostly unspoken menace. Like much of classical Star Trek and much of science fiction, the show returns once again to the theme of human violation by technology. Somewhere between “Spock’s Brain” and the Borg, “Dead Stop”‘s repair station is indicative of a smaller evil with plenty of unspoken implications. By not addressing its history, the writers suggest that Enterprise might return to the subject at some later date or that it’s a mystery best left alone. The final scene of the station’s broken parts slowly repairing themselves again is one of the best narrative uses of FX since the conclusion of Voyager’s “Year of Hell, Part I” showed pieces of Voyager’s hull being ripped away and flying directly into the camera.

With its classical Star Trek themes, “Dead Stop” is an Enterprise episode that achieves the series goal of being strongly suggestive of an Original Series episode. “Dead Stop” nails the sense of isolation and dislocation produced by space travel, the responsibilities of command and the strangeness of what might be out there. It’s one of the few Enterprise episodes where the crew of the Enterprise could be easily interchanged with the original Enterprise crew.

And the episode certainly has no shortage of continuity references. We encounter 24th century technology like the Replicator and the Protoplaser for the first time, along with more than a few Star Trek universe tidbits, even not counting the “Spock’s Brain” premise of the episode itself. While it might be nice if Enterprise had stayed away from 24th century Next Generation technology–after three races with cloaking devices, two holodecks and numerous other gadgets–the proverbial starship seems to have sailed on that one.

“Dead Stop” also functions well as an ensemble episode, with nearly every crewmember having an important scene or two. Hoshi gets to deliver the premature eulogy for Mayweather, Phlox has his own well played autopsy scene and Reed and Trip have their own little adventure before being bawled out by Archer in one of his rare displays of command ability and suggestive of TOS’s own “Trouble with Tribbles.” Mayweather contributes most to the episode by being dead, of course, which gives him an important non-speaking role mostly in absentia. One might even argue that the station’s willingness to take the least important member of the Enterprise senior staff in exchange for its repairs was still quite a bargain.

Next week: Archer shows us how well he balances the twin priorities of dog ownership and starship command.

Star Trek Enterprise Season 1 Review – Unexpected

“Unexpected”

Summary: An alien impregnates the always fascinating Tucker leading to wacky hijinks.

xyrillians star trek enterprise unexpectedUnexpected’s first problem is that it isn’t prepared to be either a straight-forward comedy episode or an in-depth exploration of inter-species contact; instead it tries to be both and fails. Star Trek has made such errors in creating episodes before, but what is distinctly odd about Unexpected is that it seems to split the episode in half, with the first half coming off as an earnest look at inter-species contact in the style that Enterprise has adopted over the past few episodes; the second half is a series of fumbled gags in the broad style of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Junior… without the subtlety.

The result is neither consistently funny, nor consistently enlightening. It’s like a public speaker who spends 30 minutes talking about the global situation and then begins delivering 30 minutes of jokes about the global situation. Where “Strange New World” managed to weave comic situations seamlessly together with the drama of exploration, Unexpected plays like two different approaches to the same story merged clumsily together with Frankensteinian precision. This style of switched gears is unsatisfying and confusing at best and fails to resolve the earlier material. Up until now, Enterprise has set itself the goal of exploring the mechanisms of exploration itself. But with Unexpected, Enterprise takes a look at that mechanism and can’t deal with it and resorts to gags that make the Three Stooges routines seem underplayed.

Part of the problem is that the treatment of the aliens and their ship is so serious and the treatment of the events on the Enterprise and the resulting consequences of that visit is material for broad gags that even the writers of Junior would have been ashamed of. Neither Archer nor Tucker or the rest of the crew seem particularly disturbed by the idea of an alien parasite implanted inside Tucker and its potential chest-busting consequences. After all, this is a new lifeform with unknown potential health impacts. One would expect such a casual attitude from Dr. Phlox, but considering that such a delivery brings up images from ‘Alien’, you would expect the crew to treat it as something other than a joke and that Tucker would take the threat a little more seriously.

No one seriously seems to consider the idea of just removing this thing from Tucker’s body, presumably because that would touch off controversial political arguments the show’s producers are not ready to deal with; but wasn’t the whole point of Enterprise to get back to the legacy of TOS and among other things its political commentary? Instead of resorting to gags about Tucker’s extra nipples and child-proofing engineering, Unexpected could have actually had the courage to take a stand or look at the issues. Instead it moves from Phlox’s admonition to T’Pol’s about trying new things, Tucker’s earnest exploration of the alien holodeck and the wonder of meeting new and different lifeforms, to the kind of material that has made episodes like Spock’s Brain a byword for the bottom barrel of Star Trek.

Even the plot of Unexpected has striking resemblances to Spock’s Brain. Namely a crewmember whose body has been tampered with by aliens whom they must find to help that crew member, a broken piece of technology the aliens cannot fix and a resolution that involves an accommodation between two divergent parties. You can almost expect T’Pol to ask at some point, “Brain, brain, what is brain?”

Unexpected’s second problem is, oddly enough, technical. Even at its lowest points, Star Trek series generally had no shortage of resources for makeup and set design. Unfortunately something seems to have gone wrong, resulting in makeup and set design that dates back to the TOS era or an episode of Andromeda. Broken Bow’s Suliban makeup was rather weak, but Unexpected’s alien makeup is Halloween $9.95 dollar mask awful. The sets continue the retro impression with flat color cardboard walls, a sparky console raided from a local children’s science museum or an old episode of the Outer Limits and the holodeck’s iridescent wall was borrowed from ‘Lost in Space’. They’re not just tacky or bad, but mind-bogglingly so. I’ve seen fan-made Star Trek episodes with better production values.

Even at its worst, Voyager generally had high quality production values, and while production values can’t save a bad episode, they can make it more watchable and by contrast bad production values can make a bad episode even more unwatchable and highlight its bad points. Unexpected’s awful production values manage to achieve just that, making the Spock’s Brain resemblance all the more acute.

Finally Unexpected’s third problem are the Klingons. While the Klingons generally come off pretty well and they’re closing on a clearly hostile note suggests that they won’t be a pushover, nevertheless their in the first place indicates desperation on the part of the producers in resolving the storyline. Having begun with a straight-forward look at exploration, continued into male pregnancy gags, their resolution of having Tucker meet the alien and having him politely ask her to remove the parasite just doesn’t pack the necessary punch. Hence we have gratuitous Klingon footage: a common solution to problems of plot and story in the later Star Trek series. But simply bringing in an unrelated Klingon vessel and Klingon plot in the hopes of covering up the essential weakness of the resolution, only emphasizes it the essential weakness of Unexpected itself.

The result is an episode that is a muddle of different sections, none of which fit properly. A Frankenstein’s monster of an episode combined with a set that looks as if it could have been used for the original Frankenstein movie.

Next week: A mysterious planet hides a mysterious secret. Find out what the mysterious solution to the mystery is… next week.

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