The Cynic on Enterprise's May 2002 Sweeps Cycle
by David E. Sluss
6 September 2002
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As you know, I've been terribly remiss in getting the last five reviews from Enterprise's first season posted. In light of the late date, and the fact that the second season starts in less than two weeks, I thought it would be best to aggregate my comments on these five episodes into a single article.
Generally speaking, Enterprise closing run allowed it to end its freshman season on a distinct up note (certainly up from the Axis of Evil episodes that aired in the three weeks prior to "Detained"). Even the weakest of the lot, "Desert Crossing," is buoyed to a certain extent by its connection to an earlier episode, a nice bone thrown to continuity bitchers such as myself.
CYNICS CORNER RATING: 7.0 (C-)
I generally respect any attempt by a Star Trek story to break away from the usual Forehead Alien approach to extraterrestrial life, but this episode's thin plotting makes it difficult to recommend. It seems terribly padded, as we're subjected to three -- count 'em -- three separate scenes of Enterprise personnel entering the darkened cargo bay, walking around with flashlights, and getting dragged away by the alien, in typical "Monster Movie" fashion. We also get a lengthy primer on the finer points of water polo (an odd bit of continuity with "Acquisition," in which Archer mentioned the game to the Ferengi in a joking manner) and endless scenes of Archer and company blathering while trapped in Saran Wrap and tape. In other news, the well-intended but entirely predictable debate on medical ethics between Reed and Phlox induces a shrug. On the plus side, the handling of alien linguistics, a frequent hobbyhorse of mine, is unusually thoughtful in this episode. On balance, though, there's no "there" there...
WELFARE RECIPIENT OF THE MONTH: Vaughn Armstrong pads his lead in the Trivial Pursuit game of "Which actor has portrayed the most Star Trek aliens?"
NEW TECHNOLOGY OF THE MONTH: Reed's "invention" of a more or less workable force field continues the Enterprise trends of not avoiding "future" Treknology and of portraying these 50-odd members of the Enterprise crew being more capable than Earth's best scientists and engineers (see also "Silent Enemy").
CYNICS CORNER RATING: 7.5 (C)
Fionnula Flanagan is clearly the best thing about this episode. Her portrayal of V'Lar is one of the rare times this season that a Vulcan character has actually seemed credible as a Vulcan, even though, as usual in this series, she's Not Your Typical Vulcan. This fine bit of acting is part of what is basically a "chase" plot, which for the most part doesn't rise above the level of standard fare.
CONTRIVANCE OF THE MONTH: Near the climax, Archer tells V'Lar to go to sickbay. Shortly thereafter we see the Mazarite goons shooting up sickbay and apparently killing V'Lar in Phlox's MRI machine. But they are too stupid to even check the body, so that they (and the five or six densest viewers) are surprised when V'Lar walks into sickbay from the hallway to confront them. So what Archer really told V'Lar telepathically was "Go to the mess hall and have a latte, and then stand in the hall outside sickbay until you hear phaser fire."
STUPIDITY OF THE MONTH: I've noted before that Archer seems dense at times and regularly gets this puzzled look on his face that suggests that the gears ain't turnin' right. But here's proof positive that Archer is slow on the uptake: During the Chase, Enterprise is traveling at warp speed toward a Vulcan ship; the Vulcans are also traveling at warp speed to rendezvous with Our Heroes. T'Pol at one point gives Archer an ETA of ten minutes. Unfortunately, Enterprise is knocked out of warp. Archer asks T'Pol for a new ETA to the Vulcan ship, which is now twelve minutes - now that Enterprise is moving more slowly. But Archer can't figure out the simple math problem, and instead bitches at T'Pol: "You said it was ten!" Cynic said (in a rare verbal assault at his television): "You f*&@ing dumbass!" How'd this dope ever pass the Starfleet entrance exam?
ILLOGIC OF THE MONTH: While Vulcan acting improved in this episode, Vulcan logic took a turn for the worse. Let's see if I understand the theory behind the Vulcans' plan for V'Lar: Destroy her credibility with the Mazarites so that the corrupt officials have no reason to fear her testimony and will let her go -- and then go back later and tell the Mazarite public (and jury pool) that it was all a fake-out so that V'Lar is magically rehabilitated as a witness?
ARC STORYTELLING OF THE MONTH: You have to laugh: The three-episode subplot "The crew needs to get to Risa to get laid but they keep getting sidetracked" is the best continuing storyline these clowns can come up with?
CYNICS CORNER RATING: 6.5 (D)
"Padded" doesn't even begin to describe this episode, which seems to recreate every shot from every desert movie you can imagine during Archer and Trip's not-so-excellent adventure traipsing about in the sand. Other filler includes the lacrosse-type game that Archer and Trip play, much of it in super-slo-mo -- come on, this isn't Chariots of Fire (or, God forbid, Andromeda). That's not to say that there aren't a few worthwhile elements. Clancy Brown is credible in his role as the "rebel leader" (although I could have done without the phony accent), and I appreciated the way that these events arose as a direct consequence of Archer's actions in "Detained" (an episode that started to seem more and more important in the Grand Scheme of Things as Enterprise's first season drew to a close). I was less sanguine about yet another wink-wink-nudge-nudge bit of dialog concerning "directives"; the issues of when and how to interfere with an alien society are certainly worth discussing in this series, but there's no need to bludgeon the audience about the ramifications.
STARFLEET UNINTELLIGENCE OF THE MONTH: Common sense dictates that you shouldn't just land on a planet because some resident asked you to; you need to contact the authorities and seek permission. And I'm not buying that bull about how Our Heroes are new at space exploration and are learning the rules as they go along. Here on Earth, if a friend invites me to, say, Romania, I can't just fly a plane directly to his back yard and expect not to get into trouble; I have to get visa approval from the Romanian government. Based on the jingoistic dialog in "Shuttlepod One," nations and customs offices most likely still exist in Enterprise's time. So there's no reason for the crew not to understand this bit of etiquette (and what's T'Pol's excuse, in any event?).
CYNICS CORNER RATING: 7.0 (C-)
I suppose the best part of the episode is another unexpected, but welcome, follow-up to "Detained." The biggest problem with that story is that "Kayla's" behavior and dialog is so unsubtle that even Archer figured out (eventually) that she was pumping him... for information. Doesn't say much for the Tandoori spy school. The other plots were strictly throwaway. I wasn't particularly amused the way I was supposed to be by Phlox's bumbling and stumbling, and I thought real contempt was shown for the characters of Reed and Trip; after giving them some semblance of complexity in "Shuttlepod One," why turn them into cartoons here?
NEW GEOGRAPHY OF THE MONTH: Archer tells Kayla that Enterprise is 90 light years from home. Aren't we well past that point by now?
ALCOHOLIC ANOMALY OF THE MONTH: Reed and Trip are tied up in the wine cellar of a busy bar for a day and a half, and no one ever comes down? It must not be much of a party spot if the staff never needs to come downstairs for "reinforcements"...
NEW METEOROLOGY OF THE MONTH: The 22nd Century version of Risa seemed a little "off" to me. For one thing, the idea of native "Risans" didn't sound right, although I can't cite anything specific to contradict the notion. A more concrete issue, which a loyal Cynics Corner reader discussed with me in email, is that, according to DS9's "Let He Who Is Without Sin," Risa is an ideal vacation spot only because of Federation weather modification technology; turn it off, and it rains on Risa almost constantly. Should we assume that the Risans' ability to control the weather pre-dates the Federation's existence, or that "Sin" has been written out of Star Trek continuity (which isn't necessarily a bad idea)?
CYNICS CORNER RATING: 8.75 (B+)
It's easy to be jaded about these season-ending cliffhangers. Obviously, Archer and his crew are in an impossible situation at the end of this hour. Particularly since this is a time-travel plot, we can pretty much count on reset, deus ex machina, or other shenanigans resolving everything neatly in the second-season opener; I suspect that even the deaths of the 3600 miners will be undone. But whatever happens in "Shockwave II" won't change the fact that there are some pretty good things in Part I. I particularly commend the first half of this episode, which conveyed very convincingly the sense of panic and disbelief that the captain and crew were feeling at their apparent destruction of the mining colony. Even the time travel was portrayed in a way that's fairly novel in Star Trek, as something that is creepy and unsettling rather than kEwL. It's still not clear that Berman and company have any idea where the Temporal Cold War is going -- in that regard, it smells more like X-Files' alien conspiracy than Babylon 5's Shadow War -- but so far it's been an interesting ride. Having said that, there are some elements of this episode that bear some scrutiny:
ILLOGIC OF THE MONTH RUNNER-UP: The Vulcans convince the Starfleet Command Council that Enterprise is a menace to the galaxy (something which, sadly, is probably true given Archer's track record to date), and Starfleet orders the wayward ship home. But Archer, thanks to knowledge bestowed on him by a visitor from the future, is able to gather evidence that proves that he and his crew were not responsible for the disaster. He and Forrest seem to think that this will get Archer off the hook. Why is that exactly? Who would believe this evidence, given the manner in which it was obtained? The Vulcans, surely, won't buy it, since they don't believe in the possibility of time travel, and since they most likely wouldn't believe humans capable of the sort of efficient raid Archer and company conducted on the Suliban vessel.
SULIBAN UNINTELLIGENCE OF THE MONTH: No explanation is offered for why the Suliban stealth vessel was sitting around on that moon cloaked for several days. Shouldn't they report back to the Helix and stash those data disks somewhere safe? Or something?
TECHNOBABBLE OF THE MONTH: Boy, that explanation of the beacons was something, wasn't it? Perhaps it was only stunning because of the general absence of Treknobabble in the series to date, but it really seemed over the top.
TEMPORAL ANOMALY OF THE MONTH: Archer takes Reed with him to download
specs for the Suliban vessel. First, why does he need Reed at all, especially if he's
concerned about keeping his promise to Daniels not to download anything else? Archer is
the one who has been told how to use the device. Second, why does Archer need to download
the information at all? Daniels apparently provided detailed specifications for the
beacons to Archer directly, since Archer provided that information to Trip before
accessing Daniels' device; so why didn't Daniels provide the Suliban vessel's blueprints
to Archer directly as well, to avoid the problem of allowing Archer to access other future
information? Third, even if, for whatever contrived reason, it was necessary for both
Archer and Reed to go to Daniels' quarters, why couldn't they turn some damned lights
||SOMETIME SOON: Enterprise's First Season in Review|
since 31 January 1999
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© 2002 David E. Sluss