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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.

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.

Star Trek Voyager review – Shattered

Summary: Lots of Trek favorites return as Chakotay goes on a National Geographic tour into Voyager’s past.

star trek voyager shattered

In space no one can hear you blur

In one sense Shattered is an amazing accomplishment, it’s proof that you can make a clip show episode without using actual clips. As Voyager nears the end of its run, Shattered is an attempt at a self-congratulatory home movie from a show that sees little enough congratulations from the outside. And so we have a mild romp through Voyager’s past, we meet some old favorites, see crucial events in the past as Chakotay struggles to complete a task it seems Harry Kim could pull off without blinking twice. This might not have been a bad idea if the majority of the audience really had a strong emotional attachments to Voyager and its past as might have been the cast with TOS or TNG. But Shattered shares the same problem as the series it commemorates, it has some merits but it doesn’t inspire much emotion or feeling in its audience beyond a raised eyebrow or two.

DS9 understood this when it decided to journey into TOS’s past with its Tribbles episode, rather than into its own past. TNG, DS9 and Voyager compensated during their own voyages in All Good Things, The Visitor and Before and After, by linking the journey into the pasts and futures with a personal crisis on the part of a character we relate to and an urgent task that must be completed. Shattered though only offers a lackadaisical journey into Voyager’s past, glacially paced and with little real enthusiasm and less sense to the plot than one would find in an episode of Andromeda.

Finding himself in a temporally fractured starship, Chakotay for some reason decides he needs an ally and the best one he can think of is a version of Janeway from a period where they’re enemies and who knows nothing at all about their current state of affairs. He then gives her as much information about the future of Voyager as he can and then halfway through invokes the Temporal Prime Directive. Janeway willingly accompanies a man who kidnapped and attacked her and becomes best friends with him within fifteen minutes, even though she’s the type of person who holds on to grudges forever and never tolerates any abridgement of her authority. The Borg drone version of Seven willingly follows Janeway and Chakotay’s orders without once considering the Borg’s priorities or delivering the demands of the Borg as she did in Scorpion 2.

Virtually everyone behaves in a way completely out of character and even though there’s a new crisis every 5 minutes, none of the crisis feel

star trek voyager shattered

The one Voyager couple that didn't get nearly enough fanfic

particularly urgent or critical. It all just seems like a National Geographic expedition. Follow your guide Chakotay as he takes you 3 years into Voyager’s past. Meet the Kazon and Seska. Next follow him into the cargo bay and meet some Borg drones. Don’t worry, they’re friendly drones and really great at parties. Stop by the corridor and get chased by a Macrovirus and then see the Maquis in their leather outfits. It’s cute but only the Captain Proton sequence manages to be funny and only the Seska sequence evokes any tension. Both Martin Rayner and Martha Hackett use their last chance to return to Voyager as an opportunity to chew as much scenery as possible and so Dr. Chaotica and Seska can’t help making an impression. Dr. Chaotica declaims his speeches in a timbre that makes wannabe Shakespearean actor, Robert Beltran flinch while Seska plays devious, manipulative and ruthless as if she knows she has only 5 minutes of screen time available.

If they had gotten the whole episode themselves or maybe gotten a chance to unite, pool their talents for evil together (imagine Seksa and Dr. Chaotica together preparing to fire the Death Ray at Voyager) this episode might have had a focus. But they’re just pit stops on Chakotay’s tour of Voyager, a tour aimed at Janeway and the audience. The clumsy goal of this tour is to show Janeway what wonderful things await her and to show us what wonderful things have happened but Shattered never produces a sense of wonder, rather a sense of boredom since most of the things we’re being shown were more interesting in their original episodes. Basics, Scorpion and Caretaker were much better episodes than Shattered and what made them work can’t be contained in a few minutes. And while some of Janeway’s early responses are amusing, she adapts too quickly and too easily to functioning in this environment.

Once she does ponder keeping Voyager in the Alpha Quadrant and is easily talked out of it by Chakotay’s impassioned speech about the

star trek voyager shattered

Itcheb and Naomi. Somehow even more annoying as adults.

wonders of Voyager. His speech though doesn’t make very much sense. Voyager has acquired new crewmembers but Neelix would exist whether or not he joined Voyager’s crew, Naomi would have been born on DS9. Seven and Icheb would have remained with the Borg but was it worth to have Voyager lose dozens of crewmembers including Janeway’s actual first officer and Doctor just so Voyager can have some neat adventures in the Alpha Quadrant? There are plenty of adventures in the Alpha Quadrant too. The Enterprise D has managed to go where no man has gone before without spending 7 years on the other side of the galaxy, Voyager could have too. What exactly is so special about the Delta Quadrant? What has Voyager accomplished here that it could not have accomplished anywhere else?

Shattered has no answer and so Shattered ultimately comes off like a customer who made a bad purchase trying to convince himself what a great deal he got. It tries to praise Voyager but finds that there isn’t that much to praise. And so it limits itself to repeating “Look, see what a great time we had” over and over again in the hopes that somebody will actually believe it. Still Shattered does manage to accomplish one thing, it finally gives Robert Beltran a Chakotay episode and makes it so that episode is about everyone and everything but Chakotay. He must be shattered.

Star Trek Voyager: Fair Haven review

Star Trek has never had any trouble doing drama. Death, destruction and misery have always been up the show’s alley whether it be the

star trek voyager fair haven

A backlot in sunny Dublin, Hollywood

original Star Trek, The Next Generation or any of the spinoffs. Comedy though has always been harder and Star Trek has an uneven history when it tries to go on the lighter side of things. The Original Series managed to work up a near perfect comedy routine with its three main characters but still many of the lighter episodes like “Shore Leave” or “A Piece of the Action” don’t work on anything like a rational level. The Next Generation, with a persistently ramrod and humorless ensemble, mostly turned out comedic classics best forgotten and DS9’s idea of humor seemed to involve singing holograms and little people with big ears involved in crime capers. Like TOS, Voyager has a less serious tone, a cast with great comedic timing and is more open to campy humor than its darker and more painfully serious cousin and uncle. Like TOS, Voyager also has no shortage of unintentionally funny episodes and “Fair Haven” comes close to qualifying.

“Fair Haven” is the third Voyager holodeck hideaway the crew have tried and the indecisiveness and the lack of originality weighs on the episode. From the start “Fair Haven” can’t seem to decide whether it’s going for laughs or trying to make some points about internal Voyager crew dynamics and

star trek voyager fair haven

Failte does have the word "Fail" in it

Janeway’s lack of a love life. Unable to choose any kind of path, it hugs a middle road that leads to a bland episode that doesn’t even seem to care about its main storyline. “Fair Haven” is a stereotypical cartoonish Irish village into which the Voyager crew blend while looking for fun. The stereotypes aren’t nearly as offensive as TNG’s “Up The Long Ladder” but the problem here is more the banality of the premise than any of the P.C. aspects of it. “Fair Haven” is just boring. We know just about everything about the place because it’s been reused so many times that it’s meaningless. Even Spock and the TOS cast would have gotten little out of this material and so Voyager’s crew is helplessly stranded, lost among cliches rendered seriously as if the inhabitants of “Fair Haven” actually mattered.

Well one of them does anyway, to Janeway at least. The issue of Janeway’s lack of a relationship has been around for as long as the show has, at least in part because of the double standard which says that every female character on a show either has to be in a relationship or on course towards one. Isolated from the Federation or any long term contacts, Janeway never had much in the way of an opportunity for a relationship outside her own crew. With the producers ruling out her

star trek voyager fair haven

The holodeck, a sexual outlet for captains with poor social skills on long voyages

crewmembers as a possibility while not wishing to offend those fans who still wants Janeway and Chakotay to get together, the only logical solution seems to be a hologram. Hence Janeway pays a visit to a lovely Irish village, meets a tall, dark and handsome bartender and spends some quality time with him.

What’s wrong here? Well for one thing he’s a hologram, a non-sentient lifeform which puts him somewhere between a computer program and a really smart ape. While “Fair Haven” is far more frank about sex with holograms than the prudish TNG it really doesn’t deal with the question of what to call a person who finds sexual and emotional intimacy with something below the human level. When the Doctor compares himself to the bartender this cleverly dodges the point that the Doctor is considered to be a sentient being as opposed to any of the millions of holograms that can be activated, deactivated and deleted with a word. In fact when the Doctor advises Janeway not to tamper with his programming he is not doing it for him but for her. It is not his rights that we are concerned with, but how best for Janeway to go about having a relationship with him.

“Fair Haven” does have its high points. Mulgrew seems more relaxed and loose than she’s ever been and at times seems practically human

star trek voyager fair haven

Next week this was used as the backdrop in an episode of Law and Order Dublin

herself. The rest of the crew though is reduced to diving for cheap laughs that never come because the gimmicks they’re based on are such cliches. There is a certain amount of cleverness behind some of the writing which makes the core stupidity of the entire thing so much more incomprehensible. Ultimately the success or failure of a ‘light’ episodes rests on the affinity of the audience for the characters. Star Trek fans are prepared to watch TOS episodes that would be embarrassing and painful with any other characters in them. Similarly, “Fair Haven” might actually work for those people as interested in the Voyager characters as Star Trek fans are interested in Kirk, Spock and McCoy. For the rest of us, the storm is preferable to the fair haven.

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