Thrust unexpectedly into the lead role by the death of her costar, Wright shines in this movie as a person in a thousand kinds of pain and no idea how to deal with it. One of the themes of several of the Marvel movies—particularly the ones featuring Thor and the Black Panther—is that being a political leader and being a hero are almost mutually exclusive callings. We already know that Shuri is a capable hero when she’s in her right mind based on Black Panther and Infinity War, but as a leader, she fails pretty spectacularly—for the same reason that she fails as a hero for a portion of this movie. She’s hurting so badly from T’Challa’s death—and her own sense of guilt over not being able to save him—that she’s not thinking straight. This results in a spectacularly wrong-headed assault on Talokan in which Wakanda nearly loses. Indeed, were it not for Shuri’s direct triumph over Namor, Wakanda’s forces—who are not pushovers—would’ve had their heads handed to them. Attacking someone who breathes water from a small ship (small, that is, by comparison to, y’know, the entire friggin’ ocean) in the middle of the Atlantic is not a well-thought-out strategy. Nor is it wise to choose a battleground where you can’t use your battle rhinos. (Yes, this makes three movies in a row with no battle rhinos. What the hell, people? I WANT MY BATTLE RHINOS!)
This would’ve made a better season premiere than “The Xindi.” For one thing, there’s actual plot movement, with the discovery of the spheres, the downloading of the database, and the revelation about the use of trellium-D. True, we got a bit of plot movement last week, but that was really just finding out that there are five Xindi species instead of one. “Anomaly’s” revelations are also wrapped around a much more exciting storyline.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t make this episode good, only better than last week, and the biggest problem with it is the same one I had with “The Expanse” and with Tucker’s behavior in “The Xindi”: the macho idiocy that suffuses this episode, with Scott Bakula setting his jaw and getting that distant look in his eyes and throwing Orgoth into the airlock to show that he’s tough on terrorists, and he’s gonna get the job no matter what it takes and what morality and rulebooks we have to throw out the window.
I was thrown out of the story very early on when Sato sits down to introduce herself to the MACOs, and again when Phlox announces that the kamikaze pilot corpse was reptilian. The notion that Sato never came across the MACOs in thirteen weeks and that it took Phlox this long to figure out that a corpse is reptilian leaves my disbelief choking for air on the side of the road.
In November 2021, after having completed rewatches of the original Star Trek and its animated series and movies, as well as most of the first wave of spinoffs, and having been reviewing all the new shows coming out on Paramount+ since 2017, I finally sat down to look at the only Trek series I hadn’t covered at all, either in rewatch or review form: Star Trek: Enterprise.
A baker’s dozen of months into it, I’ve finished the first two seasons, which puts me at roughly the halfway point of the series’ run. Here are some highlights from the rewatch’s coverage of the second season:
It’s the most uninspired inspirational speech in Trek history, and it almost brings down the episode—until T’Pol speaks up. As has been the case throughout the show so far, T’Pol is the saving grace of the ship, as she’s competent, sensible, smart, clever, and doesn’t let bullshit get in the way of the work. She’s the only grownup among the “big three,” and it’s brought into very sharp relief in the climactic discussion on the bridge. Tucker pulls his usual yell-at-all-Vulcans act, which has long since grown tired, while Archer babbles about gazelles. It’s up to T’Pol to actually make a convincing argument—though, truly, the result should have been her immediate recall to Vulcan for talking back to a superior. But this is television, where superiors actually listen to their subordinates’ arguments…
Let me start by saying that this is a fun episode, an entertaining little diversion. It’s actually much more successful than the very-similarly-structured Voyager episode “11:59,” which also saw one of the opening-credits regulars playing her own ancestor on a pre-warp-drive Earth.
But there were several little things that bugged me because it just required a little bit of research, and none of the four people credited with writing this episode cared enough to even try. It starts with a baseball game on the radio in October 1957 which couldn’t possibly have happened, continues to the “invention” of Velcro by T’Mir, and concludes with Jack’s entire college odyssey. The middle part is especially frustrating because they did enough research to know that Velcro was invented by a guy named de Mestral, so they gave J. Paul Boehmer’s character that name to spackle it over, but they didn’t bother to do anything else to tie it to reality.
This episode, more than any other so far, had me engaged in what was happening. Yes, I knew that Reed was going to survive, but watching the process by which they got there was genuinely interesting. Archer has been a thoroughly mediocre captain thus far, but at the very least we get some insight into his relaxed command style.
You can tell that writers Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong are familiar with how computers work (not always a given on far too many SF shows over the decades), as the station computer reacts exactly like a machine: canned responses, only able to provide services it’s explicitly programmed for, completely unable to deal with anything outside its programmed parameters.
In addition, Phlox’s method of figuring out that Mayweather’s corpse is a fake is brilliant, a subtle but believable bit of detective work on the part of the good doctor. And Tucker bitching at the computer like a stereotypical pissed-off customer is hilarious.
We’re in trouble from the first scene with a decon gel scene that looks for all the world like it’s the opening to a scene in a particularly absurd porno flick, with Sato rubbing down T’Pol, T’Pol rubbing down Archer, and Archer rubbing down Porthos, the humans all in their underwear. And it never gets any better. The whole thing of Archer offending the Kreetassans while worrying about his pooch would, at best, make for a silly disposable B-plot, but it’s all there is to this episode.
When this first aired in 2002, I was mostly not watching Enterprise, but I decided to watch this one because I thought it was going to focus on Porthos, plus lots of Phlox, who is my favorite of the sentient characters on the show.
And instead, I got this. Archer being a whiny schmuck for an hour, neglecting the necessary repair work for his ship, all to complain about how the Kreetassans somehow were responsible for his dog being sick even though he’s the doofus who took a dog onto a diplomatic mission. And how did neither he nor T’Pol nor Sato figure out that Porthos peeing on a tree would be a problem? Shouldn’t they have at least guessed that?
In general, this is actually a decent reworking of the premise, but writers Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, and David Wilcox are a little too painstaking in their homages to both samurai movie [Seven Samurai]and Western [The Magnificent Seven] to the detriment of the actual genre they’re working in.
Here’s the problem: the Klingons have a) a ship in orbit, b) disruptor pistols, and c) transporter technology. Yes, they’re bullies, and yes, bullies tend to back off when their victims fight back, but this isn’t a fair fight by any stretch. There’s nothing stopping Korok from beaming back down outside the ring of fire Reed created and shooting everyone. For that matter, there’s nothing stopping him from firing on the colony from orbit, and Enterprise—hiding as they are on the other side of the planet—wouldn’t be able to stop them in time.
Jolene Blalock does excellent work here, showing T’Pol’s anguish and confusion and anger. I particularly like a more realistic look at the downside of emotional control: when something emotional does happen, most Vulcans aren’t equipped to deal with it. And I appreciate that the act of killing someone—which is so often treated cavalierly by dramatic fiction—is sufficiently traumatic to affect T’Pol this badly, which is as it should be.
Matching Blalock is the always-excellent Bruce Davison, who is just sincere enough to make you think that maybe Menos isn’t the horrible person the Ministry of Security says he is, but just dodgy enough that he might well be bullshitting them. Of course, he’s bullshitting them, and it bites him on the ass, as he gets himself shot and arrested.
Points to Scott Bakula, too, who gives us a supportive ally in Archer, who keeps T’Pol in bounds, as it were, and gives her room to work out her issues without compromising the mission.
Seriously, just writing the plot description had me bored to tears. Absolutely nothing interesting happens in this episode. I mean, it doesn’t help that the plot is, basically, Reed left his cell phone behind. It’s never made clear at any point why they don’t use the transporter to just beam the communicator back up once they’ve got it located.
Tucker’s arm being cloaked might have been fun if they actually did something with it, but it’s just a gag to fill out time in an episode that doesn’t have enough plot for an hour, mostly because we don’t really get to know the society that Enterprise has theoretically contaminated with Reed’s inability to keep things in his pocket. All we see is one bartender, who sounds just like a human bartender, and a bunch of hidebound military officers who sound and act just like every stereotypical military officer in dramatic fiction. There’s nothing new here, which would be fine if any of it was interesting, but it’s all just a generic plot with generic characters having a generic adventure. The society—which scripter André Bormanis can’t even summon up the energy to name—is interchangeable with any other Forehead Aliens we’ve seen on Trek. We don’t even have the deliberate parallel with humans that we had in “First Contact” and “Strange New Worlds,” because there’s no plot reason for these never-named people to be human-like.
There’s only one aspect that actively annoyed me, and that’s Reed stumbling around trying to figure out ways to improve tactical efficiency, and everyone talking as if such things as “red alert,” “battle stations,” and klaxons to indicate an emergency were things that Star Trek made up in 1966. The term “red alert” goes back to World War II, the term “battle stations” goes back further than that, and people have been raising alarms to signify nasty situations for centuries. (As an example, the latter two were, in essence, combined in the old Royal Navy, when a drum beat would signify that general quarters was being signaled, which was done when the ship was getting ready for battle: beat to quarters.) Writer Chris Black and the producers show colossal ignorance in this particular aspect of military history.
Oddly, the thing that annoyed me most was the name Cyrus Ramsey. Hoshi Sato is from Japan. She was teaching in Argentina when we first met her. Yet her subconscious comes up with an aggressively white-guy name for this person who had a transporter accident. Mostly because this script was by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, the co-creators and by far the most prolific writers on this show, and if Enterprise has shown us nothing else, it’s that their world is mostly populated by white guys.
That, I admit, is a personal bugaboo, but I mainly mention it because the rest of the episode was so incredibly uninteresting and then not even something that really happened in the fictional setting, that I find myself nitpicking the nomenclature.
What really makes this episode dreadful though, isn’t the main plot, which is simply boringly paint-by-numbers. No, the real issue is the appalling and idiotic treatment of Plinn by Archer. Instead of having his security chief, who should be experienced in interrogation techniques, actually perform a proper interrogation of the prisoner, we have Archer and T’Pol playing dress-up and making idiots of themselves in a manner that requires them to act completely differently from how they acted with Goff and Plinn when they first came on board, and relies on Plinn being too stupid to notice that they’re faking. I mean, if they hadn’t spent any time on Enterprise prior to Kaitaama waking up, I could see this working, but it makes no sense that suddenly Archer turns into a just-following-orders goon while T’Pol turns into the Spanish Inquisition (though what we get is a lot closer to Monty Python than Torquemada). Not to mention Archer imprisoning Plinn, not in a brig or confined to guest quarters, but in the airlock. Which is awful.
The plot is pretty straightforward, but the conversations among the crew, the Takret captain listening to Archer’s logs and using the information therein against him (though wouldn’t those things be password-protected or something?), and a rare opportunity for Mayweather to show off his piloting chops all combine to make it enjoyable. I’m less convinced by Archer’s driving the ship into an eddy. Of all the Trek captains to date, Scott Bakula is the second least likely to go completely batshit. That’s a scene that Kate Mulgrew, Avery Brooks, or William Shatner would’ve nailed. (In fact, Mulgrew did nail it in “Scientific Method.”)
“Dawn” is very much the least of Trek’s forays into Hell in the Pacific territory. It’s not that there’s anything actively wrong with it, but there’s nothing particularly compelling about it. Even the 1985 film of Longyear’s novella—which was mostly awful—had some magnificent performances from the two leads to keep it going. Connor Trinneer and Gregg Henry are both fine actors, but they’re given nothing here but the most rote of story beats, and absolutely no kind of characterization. We don’t really learn anything about Tucker in this hour that we didn’t already know, and Zho’Kaan doesn’t create much of an impression. (Hell, Brad Greenquist’s Arkonian captain evinces more personality, though with him I was mostly wondering why he sounded so much like Jeff Kober…)
John Shiban’s script mostly is concerned with making sure all the Hell in the Pacific boxes are checked and not really anything beyond that. Roxann Dawson’s usual good direction is nowhere in evidence, either, though I will give her credit for the hilariously ridiculous fist fight that Tucker and Zho’Kaan indulge in before the latter finally agrees to cooperate. Both participants are, um, tuckered out (sorry…), and it’s a good example of two people who are a) bad at fighting and b) exhausted flailing at each other badly.
For starters, the episode completely moves the goalposts with regard to the Vahklas crew from “Fusion.” The V’tosh ka’tur in that episode were outcasts, not because they engaged in mind-melds, but because they embraced emotion and eschewed logic. Indeed, that episode described melds as something that was ancient and forgotten.
Now, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, it’s all about the melding, which is now this horrible thing, and oh yeah, only a few people even have the capability of performing a meld (though any Vulcan—and, as we’ve seen, most other humanoid species as well—can receive one). It’s almost like the writers of this episode didn’t know the specifics of the prior one, an excuse that doesn’t really hold water given that a) the same two guys who wrote this episode also wrote the story for “Fusion” and b) the same two guys in question are the creators and show-runners of Enterprise.
So the entire storyline has been sledgehammered to a metaphor for HIV and AIDS and homosexuals, and like with any time you use a sledgehammer, it mostly just leaves debris and big dents.
There’s so much to like here, starting with the performances. Standing out in particular is Gary Graham. In far too many of the previous appearances of Soval, Graham has been stiff and unconvincing, but he’s superb in this one, finally finding the “emotional control” button on his acting dashboard instead of regularly pushing the “emotionless” one. In particular, he has absolutely nailed the Vulcan sass. (“Didn’t you hear the captain? The ball is in our court…”)
He’s matched by Jolene Blalock, who provides superlative support throughout. I love how she buries Archer in research material, and Archer gets cranky right up to the part where she explains that she gave him all that stuff because she wants him to prove Soval wrong about his ability to handle this negotiation. And at the end, when Soval pays him a typically backhanded Vulcan compliment (“Captain, your presence here has not been overly meddlesome”), the look on T’Pol’s face is epic, a beautifully restrained Vulcan version of a “holy shit!” expression that she shoots Archer.
There are some isolated moments that are good, like Tucker and Reed’s conversation about time travel—with Tucker not wanting to know the future, and Reed eager to know it—Archer and Forrest speculating about Cochrane, Phlox and T’Pol’s conversation about time travel and interspecies breeding, and the time loops that Tucker, Reed, and Archer get stuck in.
Then there are moments when I wanted to throw my shoe at the screen, particularly watching them examine the ship in their uniforms with no gloves or masks or protective gear of any sort, and without things that you know the other shows that take place in the future might have like sterile force fields and the like. Plus the stuff about humans and Vulcans interbreeding is a bit too wink-at-the-viewer considering the most popular character in the franchise is a human-Vulcan hybrid…
But this episode is so ploddingly paint-by-numbers with absolutely nothing to make it interesting. Trek has dipped into the crew-as-prisoners well before, most notably in DS9’s “Hard Time” and Voyager’s “The Chute,” both of which were light-years better than this slog. Mostly because we saw the effects of incarceration on people. Here, we don’t even make it to the titular prison, and it’s really just a hijacking-the-ship episode. And it’s a spectacularly boring example of the breed, with the added lack-of-bonus of a simply endless fist fight between Scott Bakula’s and Mark Rolston’s respective stunt doubles at what passes for the climax.
The conversation between wisp-Tucker and Archer is really compelling stuff. I loved the idea of non-corporeal life forms trading places with the humans on board so they could compare notes on how the other half lives. It’s a perfect Star Trek plot.
And then it goes straight into the shitter as soon as Reed starts macking on the female crew. We go from one wisp being fascinated by the concept of gender, and then go straight from that to “tell me of this human thing you call ‘sex’,” and it’s just so lazy and uninteresting and predictable.
Okay, we’re on the ninth paragraph, and I’ve barely talked about the actual stars of the show. And there’s not much to say. Aside from Scott Bakula, the main cast is barely even in it. Truly, this is a story about the evolution of the Klingon Empire and an examination of the society of the Klingon people, giving us a new look at one of Trek’s most venerable alien species while utilizing several familiar elements, particularly from The Undiscovered Country. This story would work with pretty much any generic human ship captain—which is handy, as there is no more human ship captain more generic than Jonathan Archer…
One of the most fascinating parts of the setup of Enterprise was the “boomer” subculture that Mayweather was said to be a part of. We’ve gotten glimpses of the community of freighters that were a big part of early interstellar travel, mostly in “Fortunate Son,” and it’s fun to see it again here. I particularly like how it instantly becomes clear that this is not a military vessel. While there’s still a hierarchy, this is civilians doing a job rather than military personnel in a chain of command. The casual banter, the multitasking, the focus on doing the job right and making a profit over serving an ideal. André Bormanis’ script does a good job of showing the more casual, more lived-in life on Horizon.
So it’s nice to get some notion of Denobulan culture, including that they have a boogeyman—and the boogeymen feel the same about the Denobulans. It’s not particularly illuminating about who the Denobulans are as a people, but it does that other thing that science fiction is good at, which is use alien species to shine a light on human behaviors. The tension between the Denobulan and Antaran people is completely ridiculous and also completely believable. It’s what happens when opposite sides of a war believe the propaganda even when confronted with the reality, something we still see far too often on twenty-first-century Earth. The whole thing is, of course, beautifully played by John Billingsley, who gives a very real and very moving performance as a very conflicted Phlox, who is processing so many different things: his instinctive discomfort in the presence of an Antaran, his discomfort with that discomfort, the awful memory of his grandmother’s prejudice, and the even more awful memory of the rift with his son. Just a bravura performance.
Tucker is a big honking doofus here. He manages to make the wrong decision every single time in this episode, starting with his already-established inability to get his mind around any cultural norms that differ from his own (seen most recently in his being completely bumfuzzled by Phlox’s wife flirting with him in “Stigma”). Then he proceeds to sneak around, lie to his hosts, and interfere with what is pretty much by definition a family matter. Seriously, if some alien from a species Tucker had never seen before started messing around with, say, his relationship with his sister, you think he’d take kindly to it?
Yes, he sees this as a horrible thing, and perhaps he’s even justified in doing so, but there’s absolutely no way his solution could possibly do anything like good. He doesn’t have enough information about the biology (one brain scan from Phlox is not sufficient, sorry) of the Vissians, and especially about the societal norms of the Vissians to even make an informed judgment about how the cogenitors are treated. Never mind be in a position to take any kind of action…
I especially like that they took the time to establish the research team, giving us a teaser that actually teased the episode and then spending the entire first act on their digging around in the Arctic. Some really nice Thing From Another World vibes in that opening, which was lotsa fun.
But so much in this flashback makes absolutely nothing like sense. We start with the notion that the four people who were in line to pilot the warp two engine are also the same guys who would later be tapped to captain starships, and what the what? The two skills are completely unrelated! Being a test pilot is a very particular skill set, and while there’s some overlap in the Venn diagram of that and a starship captain, it’s not that much.
And then we have Robinson and Archer stealing a ship, in essence, aided by Tucker, and even though it proved that the engine was viable, there is absolutely no way, none, that the three of them would’ve remained in Starfleet after that—or if they did, they’d be transferred to desk jobs on Pluto or something. Hell, it strains credulity that Archer and Robinson weren’t severely disciplined for the bar fight, or that Robinson wasn’t disciplined for disobeying an order that was immediately followed by his ship blowing up. And yes, I know, characters in TV shows and movies pull this kind of bullshit all the time and never suffer any consequences for it, but my patience for that trope has never been all that great, and it’s diminished as I’ve gotten older.
Once again, we have a storyline that feels like it was conceived by a thirteen-year-old boy who hasn’t yet seen a boobie, but really really wants to. Once again, the decon chamber is reduced to the set for a wannabe porn film, but with the restrictions of a commercial network TV show that airs at 8pm. T’Pol’s dialogue isn’t even of the quality of a parody of a porn flick, much less the real one it clumsily aspires to.
Best of all, and I use “best” in the most sarcastic manner I can muster, this isn’t a real pon farr, it’s a false pon farr, which means they still have the option of having T’Pol go through real pon farr down the line and suffer this nonsense all over again! And really appeal to that heterosexual teenage boy demographic of the early 2000s who is frustrated by the fact that the pages of his copies of Maxim are now all stuck together…
The analogy to the 9/11 attacks is not subtle here by any means. It’s decently done; the number of assumed casualties rising with each report, e.g., not to mention the very brutal visual of Reed and Tucker visiting one of the destruction sites, which looked a lot like what the area around the World Trade Center looked like in the waning months of 2001.
Then we have the cringe-inducing conversation between Archer and Tucker, which is vintage 2003: “Tell me we won’t be tiptoeing around,” Tucker says. “None of that noninterference crap T’Pol’s always shoving down our throats.” Archer’s reply: “We’ll do what we have to do, Trip—whatever it takes.”
That’s right, we’re gonna show those bastards that they can’t knock down our buildings! Sigh.
“Minefield” was a good bit of suspense, but the fact that it was the first contact with the Romulans felt almost muted, while “Regeneration” was a strong action story, but the need to keep information about the Borg minimal kneecapped the episode in many of the same ways as “Acquisition” (though “Regeneration” was actually a good episode). Others were decent concepts that were just horrendously executed (e.g., “Marauders,” “Dead Stop,” “The Communicator,” “Stigma,” “Vanishing Point,” “The Crossing”). And some were just awful from the ground up and from the roof on down the other side, like “Precious Cargo” and “A Night in Sickbay.”
Having said that, the season also had some high points, including one of the franchise’s best Klingon episodes in “Judgment” and a fun flashback in “Carbon Creek” (though it, too, has that air of inconsequentiality that hovers over the entire season).
Look for the rewatch of season three to commence on Tuesday over at Tor.com with my look at “The Xindi.”
In November 2021, after having completed rewatches of the original Star Trek and its animated series and movies, as well as most of the first wave of spinoffs, and having been reviewing all the new shows coming out on Paramount+ since 2017, I finally sat down to look at the only Trek series I hadn’t covered at all, either in rewatch or review form: Star Trek: Enterprise.
A baker’s dozen of months into it, I’ve finished the first two seasons, which puts me at roughly the halfway point of the series’ run. Here are some highlights from the rewatch’s coverage of the first season:
I also remember large swaths of fandom being annoyed at how snotty and obstinate the Vulcans were portrayed as being, as if that was an unfair and wrong portrayal, and that annoyance never made any sense to me. Seeing the Vulcans as brilliant, controlled elves who are noble and logical and nifty was a rose-colored perception at least partly encouraged by decades of tie-in fiction and fan fiction that were often hagiographical in their portrayal of Vulcans in general and Spock in particular. But if you actually watch the original series, every single Vulcan we met was high-handed and snotty, and more than a little sarcastic—starting with Spock, who was a snot of the highest order. Not to mention Sarek, who was condescending, arrogant, and stubborn; T’Pring and Stonn, who were manipulating Spock’s pon farr to benefit themselves; T’Pau, who was arrogance personified (seriously, her response to McCoy’s legitimate medical concern for Kirk’s health was a dismissive, “the air is the air”). I had—and have—no problem with how the Vulcans are portrayed in the least.
Watching it now, I mostly think that the humans come off way worse: whiny, petulant, bitchy, borderline racist. Meanwhile, T’Pol comports herself extremely well. Everyone on Enterprise has a chip on their shoulder regarding her, and she handles all of it with dignity and a minimum of fuss. I particularly like how she takes command of the ship and proceeds to—as is proper—act in a manner consistent with the captain’s wishes, rather than her own. For the third show in a row, an actor has been cast seemingly for her looks more than anything (Terry Farrell on DS9, Jeri Ryan on Voyager), and has risen above the aggressive male-gazing of her character to prove a worthy addition to the Trek pantheon. In this particular case, T’Pol is very much the unique outsider that Spock, Worf, Odo, Seven, and the EMH were, and that Saru will be, and she plays it quite well.
I was hoping that Archer’s assumptions about what was going on would be challenged, that the corpses weren’t being exploited or abused, but that this was actually a legitimate death ritual that the Axanar do with their dead.
But that would require writers who were genuinely interested in writing about alien cultures. Instead, everything is exactly what Archer thinks. T’Pol, who just last week was the voice of reason and whose talents were able to salvage the mission, is instead a pure killjoy this week. She constantly tells Archer not to do the thing, he does the thing, and he turns out to be right. It’s just so lazy.
Basically, the only reason anything bad happens in this episode is because Archer doesn’t listen to T’Pol. He’s impatient, he’s stupid, he’s moronic, he’s imbecilic, and what’s especially frustrating is that nobody actually points this out after T’Pol’s initial objection. The episode should have ended with Archer apologizing to every single person on that survey team, especially T’Pol (whose good advice he disregarded in a snotty and mean-spirited manner) and Novakovich (who nearly died).
On top of that, they just stumble around this new alien world without any regard for safety protocols or any of the other things that people on this planet do right now when exploring a region they’ve never been to before, whether it’s Novakovich just randomly picking up an alien flower and putting it to his nose (an action that almost gets him killed) to letting Porthos blithely piss on a tree.
After watching this episode, I almost wanted Tucker’s delusion to be real so that they’d send a ship with smart people out into the unknown…
It’s bad enough that no thought is given to how this should affect Tucker. I mean, the fetus is gestating in an alien body not designed for it, right near the heart, even, he’s somehow grown nipples on his arm, a part of the body that doesn’t generate milk—I mean, this should probably kill him. But there’s no thought going into the fact that this is an alien species beyond “the men get pregnant,” so writers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga fall back on tired old pregnancy clichés about hormones and morning sickness and stuff.
But the absolute worst thing about this dopey episode is that it’s boring. They could have done some fun body horror things with Tucker’s body trying to do what the Xyrillian fetus wants it to do and failing. They could have gone full goofy with it and had Tucker go through all the crazy-ass changes that pregnancy tends to bring about. Instead, they settle for a bland approach that results in a big who-cares. It’s not treated with the gravitas it deserves, nor is it really played for laughs. It’s just there.
There are elements of this episode that are quite good. I love Mayweather’s nerding out over getting to solve the Terra Nova mystery, and I especially love the way T’Pol rhetorically traps Archer into realizing that just relocating the Novans to Earth is a spectacularly horrible idea. Plus casting Erick Avari is never a bad idea, and he and Mary Carver both do a good job with the Novans’ mistrust. And I like that the Novans’ use of language has evolved over the decades, a bit of attention to linguistic detail that Trek rarely gets right.
But, unfortunately, there are a lot more elements of this episode that are really awful, starting with the Novans’ makeup, which varies wildly depending on what set they’re on. Seriously, the radiation gunk looks completely different on Enterprise from how it looks in the shuttlepod, which is different again from how it looks in the caves. They spend how much per episode, and they can’t get this right?
One of the running background themes of Trek—which is, admittedly, a byproduct of it being a show made on this actual planet—is that humans are the center of the Federation. Earth is the Federation’s capital, and Earth comes across as the guiding force.
Episodes like this lean into that sometimes unconscious tendency by making it a feature rather than a bug: throughout the course of Enterprise, we’ll see humans being the ones who bring people together, and it starts here with Archer caught in the middle of a heretofore unknown conflict between Vulcan and Andoria.
The letters-from-kids scene is a particular favorite, even though it has nothing to do with the rest of the episode, because it’s a lovely little touch, the sort of goofy thing that a ship like Enterprise would be doing. It provides some nice characterization, too: reminding us that Sato is a teacher also, as she’s very friendly and professorial in her reply, where Phlox shows off his tendency to babble, and Tucker gets to be all outraged over getting the poop question (and you just know that at least half the kids asked that…).
Not helping matters is a paint-by-numbers script that has a bunch of head-scratchers, starting at the very beginning with the briefing. The lack of enthusiasm for investigating the supernova remnant or the triad of neutron stars makes absolutely no sense, and once again sets up humanity as a bunch of jocks wanting to do the cool-sounding stuff and not boring science stuff like the nerd Vulcans. It’s a dynamic that was already dated by the time Enterprise aired, and once again makes humans out to look worse than the producers intended.
Then we have Archer smooching Riaan without her consent in order to cover up that his translator went on the fritz. While I loved that the communicator, in essence, needed to be rebooted (since we’ve all had to do that with our computers, our smartphones, our tablets, etc.), my main thought upon watching it was, “I’ll take ‘Scenes That Have Aged Badly for $200’.” It’s yet another tired throwback to the original series.
But what this episode does extremely well is show the boomer lifestyle that we’ve heard Mayweather talk about here and there. It’s a story as old as the hills, but that just makes it more resonant: the march of technology making certain jobs obsolete, or at least changing them to something unrecognizable. Industry put many people who did hand-crafting out of work. There was an entire business centered on rescuing ships that got damaged by the reefs off the Florida Keys, a business that died out once shipbuilding advanced to the point where the reefs were no longer a significant concern. Phones became so advanced that operators are no longer needed to connect people via telephone wire. Transponder scanners in cars got ubiquitous enough to not require humans to collect tolls on roads. For that matter, the interstate highway system changed the way people drove around the country, resulting in the diminishment of roads like Route 66 that enabled you to see every small town you had to pass to get where you were going. Indeed, Ryan’s comment that there was no need for their ship to go faster than warp 1.8 because any faster and you can’t enjoy the trip is very similar to one made by John Steinbeck about the interstates, that you could “drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.”
And in the twenty-second century of the Trek universe, freighters are no longer the only way to get from planet to planet, and the newer ships are faster and more advanced and there’s no need for them to be so independent. I like the conversation between Archer and Keene at the end talking about the march of progress, in particular Keene ruefully admitting that he would need to upgrade his engine.
What’s especially maddening is that nothing actually happens in this episode. We get some mysteries—who is Daniels, really? why did Silik save the ship when he’s the bad guy?—none of which are solved, or even hinted at. It’s a whole lot of “oooooh, there’s something mysterious and weird going on, and we’re going to tease you with tiny bits of it in the hopes that you’ll keep coming back to find out more.” It’s tiresome, it’s not very effective, and it does a poor job of masking the fact that there’s no actual story here.
This is a perfectly cromulent episode of Enterprise. I really like the fact that we never really find out what’s up with the aliens. Writer André Bormanis said in an interview with StarTrek.com in 2010 that he wanted them to stay unknown and confusing, because he truly believes that “our earliest encounters with alien life forms will leave us utterly baffled.” And he’s got a point…
And I like the attempts by Archer to do something nice for Reed that winds up being way harder than expected because Reed’s taciturn nature is way worse than anybody could have imagined. Also, Guy Siner and Jane Carr are perfection as the stiff-upper-lippy Reed parents.
It’s always nice, especially given that this episode aired during the early days of the “creation science” movement, to see Star Trek reiterating the reality of evolution, but it’s undermined by them so totally not understanding how evolution works. Evolution is not a predestined set of outcomes. Rick Berman-era Trek has been particularly inept in this regard—e.g., the otherwise-excellent Voyager episode “Distant Origin,” in which the EMH is able to extrapolate how one species of dinosaur would have evolved over millions of years. That is utterly impossible to properly extrapolate because evolution is not a set, predetermined process. And one of the major factors in how a species evolves is its external environment, which can change. (As an example, most dinosaurs were rendered extinct, not because they were an evolutionary dead end or anything like that, but because a big rock unexpectedly hit the planet.)
For all that Trek’s embrace of evolution is noble in the abstract, it winds up coming down way too much on the creation science side of things, embracing the ridiculous notion that every species has a predetermined plan on how it “should” evolve, which is utter total fucking nonsense. Living beings continue to live or die based on millions of factors, none of which are predetermined.
So for Phlox and Archer to withhold a cure for a disease that will wipe out an entire species is an act of genocide.
Indeed, something I’ve noticed about this season so far is that the show very rarely ends an act and goes to commercial break on a note of tension or suspense or curiosity. I can’t imagine what the thinking is there, but it’s been happening often enough that it seems to be a preference in the writers room. It’s actually less of an issue watching it now on Paramount+ or Netflix or your own DVDs, as there are no commercial breaks, but it still leads to a curtain of inconsequentiality hanging over the entire program.
This is especially problematic on a show that’s supposed to be all about the wild and wacky world of early human space travel, which should be chock full of danger and difficulty. But there was more tension, more sense of danger, in DS9’s “Starship Down,” which also had ships bopping about in a gas giant, even though the Defiant and the Jem’Hadar were way more technologically advanced and more experienced than the Enterprise and Somraw crew here.
T’Pol’s remaining on board boils down to appealing to Sopek’s feelings of sentiment for the person who saved his life, and while it’s possible they could’ve picked a less convincing reason for a Vulcan to do something, it doesn’t spring readily to mind. There’s nothing in Sopek’s character—he’s all-business and snotty even by Vulcans’ high standards—that indicates that he’d be at all interested in advocating for T’Pol. And even if he does so, Archer’s belief that it’d be enough to convince High Command to leave her be is specious to say the least.
It’s too bad, because up until the ending, it’s a good episode. This is the sort of thing Enterprise is best at: humans stumbling out into the galaxy and getting caught up in the chaos of the pre-Federation Alpha Quadrant politics. The opening with Soval and Forrest is excellent, setting the stage nicely. Jeffrey Combs remains magnificence itself as Shran, and I love the fact that he wants to repay his debt to Archer, not out of some sense of honor or duty or anything like that, but because being indebted to some schmuck of an alien annoys the shit out of him and is keeping him up at night.
Connor Trinneer and Dominic Keating do a superb Odd Couple riff here, the uptight Brit and the laconic Southerner. From the opening when they riff about their different takes on literature to their drunken ramblings at the end, their double-act is comedy gold. I particularly liked their opening argument, with Reed basically gloating that he’s reading Ulysses by James Joyce and then snottily condemning North Americans’ love of comic books and science fiction. Speaking as a guy who writes science fiction and comic books and who found his attempt to read Ulysses to be an exercise in unnecessary masochism, I’m completely on Tucker’s side of the argument…
My favorite element of the episode, though, is Reed’s revelation that he’s not being fatalistic because he’s inherently pessimistic, it’s partly that he’s a realist and partly that he’s incredibly depressed that he’s lost the one place where he’s fit in. This builds nicely on the work “Silent Enemy” did to show Reed’s very stiff-upper-lippy life and how he isn’t really all that close even to the people he should be closest to—his parents and sister and best friend were all incredibly unhelpful when it came to providing information that family and friends generally have. I like that Reed isn’t really that fatalistic, it’s just a reaction to depression.
In the end, T’Pol gets mentally raped, and her rapist suffers absolutely no consequences for it. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth, which combines with the peculiarity of how they handled mind-melds to pretty much ruin an otherwise strong episode.
Unfortunately, there is precisely nothing in the story that requires it to be a rogue planet. In fact, after going to all the trouble of establishing that this is a planet without a star system, we get a bog-standard hunting story on a bog-standard jungle set, with three guest characters who are nominally alien, but may as well be three guys named Joe, Fred, and Billy-Bob from central Pennsylvania, given how they act.
I don’t understand the logic behind even doing this episode. Some of the worst hours of Star Trek have been aggressively unfunny Ferengi episodes, from TNG’s “Ménàge à Troi,” Rascals,” and “The Perfect Mate” to DS9’s “Profit and Lace” and “The Emperor’s New Cloak” to Voyager’s “False Profits.” And while there are good Ferengi episodes, the bad ones all have one thing in common: the Ferengi are portrayed in the most caricatured manner possible, as cackling morons with the brains of a flea.
In other words, the bad Ferengi episodes all fail to take the Ferengi as a concept in the least bit seriously, focused more on what will get the most cheap laughs rather than what will make a good story or on considering that the Ferengi are a space-faring species and that the Ferengi Alliance has a considerable amount of territory in the Alpha Quadrant.
The Ferengi in this episode are so dumb that I find it impossible to credit that they ever even learned how to operate their ship, much less fly it through space safely and sneak gas grenades onto Starfleet vessels.
This episode shares a lot of DNA with other Trek episodes. The most obvious is “Shadowplay,” especially given the prominent role Rene Auberjonois plays in both that DS9 episode as well as this Enterprise episode, but there’s also hints of “The Cage” and “Requiem for Methuselah” on the original series, as well as Discovery’s “Su’Kal.”
Plus, of course, there’s the obvious influence of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest…
For all that it’s derivative, though, it’s actually quite an enjoyable episode.
And, of course, [Dean] Stockwell is never not wonderful. (Amusingly, I’ve been watching old episodes of Columbo on Peacock, and Stockwell appeared on a couple of episodes as a young man—I almost didn’t recognize him…) I love how Grat starts out reasonable, seeming like a bureaucrat who’s just doing his job, but with each scene he’s in, the fanaticism comes out, culminating in his ends-justify-the-means nonsense about how they’re “protecting” the Suliban by imprisoning them without due process. I particularly like the exchange where Grat insists that the Suliban are desperate and have nothing left and won’t be able to resist what the Cabal offers. Leaving aside the obvious—they only have nothing left and are desperate because Grat and his ilk threw them in jail because of what species they happen to be—Archer’s response is beautiful: “I haven’t been here very long, but I seem to know these people a helluva lot better than you do.”
In general, what’s particularly strong about this episode is that it gives us two genuinely alien aliens. The Kreetassans are the more typical Trek aliens—humans slathered in latex and with one or two weird traits to make them stand out and cause problems—while the alien invaders to the ship are genuinely other. But the crew is still devoted to the still-very-nascent-at-this-point future-Federation ideal of compassion over violence, diplomacy over warfare, talking over fighting. And in the end, everyone lives and the aliens get to go home.
Mostly the value here is in seeing T’Pol fangoober (as much as a Vulcan can fangoober, anyhow) over the expectation of V’Lar being on board before she arrives and be so utterly gobsmacked by the reality of V’Lar when she does. Jolene Blalock nails it, from her calm recitation of all the things Archer and the rest of the crew should and shouldn’t do, to her slow burn as V’Lar appears to have feet of clay, and then that excellent conversation when V’Lar convinces T’Pol to help her.
It helps that Blalock has an actor of Fionnula Flanagan’s high calibre to play off of. Flanagan gives us in V’Lar a lovely character who is still very much a Vulcan, but not the stiff that far too many guest Vulcans do, nor does she go for the deadpan sass that Leonard Nimoy did so well and that Mark Lenard, Tim Russ, and Blalock all emulated. Instead, she shows a diplomat’s curiosity about other cultures—actually embracing IDIC overtly—and also never loses sight of her mission. She has a certain charm while still maintaining the repression of emotions. It’s a fantastic performance, showing a greater range of personality types among Vulcans that has been rare even on this show that has given us so many of them.
And it’s a very strong example of sticking to Enterprise’s mission statement of showing humanity’s first tentative steps out into the galaxy and having them slip on a few banana peels as they do so.
The whole thing starts because of what Archer decided to do in “Detained.” Now, despite T’Pol’s caution to him in that episode, what Archer did in “Detained” was absolutely the right thing to do. But even the right thing can have consequences. Zobral pretty obviously set himself up to be helped by Enterprise, deliberately damaging his ship so that Archer would come a-runnin’, and they’d be able to conscript the great warrior to fight for their cause.
What I especially like is that we don’t really know the whole story. Yes, Zobral’s claims that his people are oppressed are very convincing, but rhetoric isn’t evidence. Neither is what the chancellor tells T’Pol. The truth is, they don’t know enough about what’s going on to make any kind of informed decision about the politics and whose side they should be on, if any.
Reed and Tucker’s plotline is by far the worst of the four. The moment they walked into the club in their jackets I was just waiting for Haddaway’s “What is Love?” to start playing and the two of them to bop their heads to it. While their getting rolled by shape-changers was played for laughs, I mostly just thought it was what they deserved after watching their sleazy behavior, and I was rooting for the thieves. And rooting for Enterprise to leave without them…
Archer’s plot is serviceable, but not that exciting. It’s a little too reminiscent of Dey Young’s last role, but with less subtlety, and with a significantly less interesting person for her to play off of. Odo is a tragic figure trying to figure out his place on a station where he’s unique and different, and where he’s been rejected by his people, whom he has also rejected because they’re fascists. Archer, by contrast, is a dude with a dog.
We start with the Paraagans, who sound like a very interesting culture, though the tee-hee idiocy with which Tucker refers to the notion of a matriarchal society, and the relief on his and Archer’s face when T’Pol tells them that men have been getting more rights lately, is embarrassing and pathetic. And writers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga didn’t give a micron’s thought to this culture in the least, as T’Pol refers to the “foreman” of the mine, a term that is rooted in a male-dominated society assuming that the person in charge would be a man. (It’s “Tomorrow is Yesterday” and “Angel One” all over again.)
But the Paraagans are just a means to an end—which is annoying, as I was way more interested in seeing more of them than I was in watching more time-travel shenanigans. I like how Archer handled the death of the colonists, though the fact that we never saw them dilutes the impact quite a bit.
The biggest problem is that it’s just furthering the tired Temporal Cold War storyline, and it’s impossible to be in any way invested in it.
But everything is so perfunctory and uninteresting and unexciting and mundane. The show apparently made a conscious decision to not end act breaks on any kind of cliffhanger. While this may have felt like some kind of “edgy” and “different” approach, it mostly gave viewers no good reason to come back after the commercial. Watching the show now on a streaming service or a DVD mitigates this issue, but it still gives the stories an inconsequential feel more often than not—particularly the teasers that don’t actually tease anything, but just sort of end weakly before cutting to Trek’s Worst Opening Credits Theme Music (over, ironically, Trek’s Most Visually Exciting Opening Credits To Date, having been surpassed only by Discovery, Prodigy, and Strange New Worlds since).
But what absolutely makes the movie are the performances of Aldis Hodge and especially Pierce Brosnan, who knock it out of the park as two of DC’s most venerable heroes. I first noticed Hodge in two episodes of Supernatural he guest-starred on, and he has since gone on to be amazing on Leverage and City on the Hill and any number of other places, and his Hawkman is superb. And that’s as nothing to how perfectly Brosnan inhabits the weary sorcerer. I especially like the rapport between the Hawkman and Fate—you immediately realize that these two have been friends, colleagues, and teammates for a very long time, and the comfortable bond they share is a joy to watch.
Some of those stories worked nicely, mind you, but even many of those had a weird feeling of inconsequentiality. For example, “Minefield” was a good bit of suspense, but the fact that it was the first contact with the Romulans felt almost muted, while “Regeneration” was a strong action story, but the need to keep information about the Borg minimal kneecapped the episode in many of the same ways as “Acquisition” (though “Regeneration” was actually a good episode). Others were decent concepts that were just horrendously executed (e.g., “Marauders,” “Dead Stop,” “The Communicator,” “Stigma,” “Vanishing Point,” “The Crossing”). And some were just awful from the ground up and from the roof on down the other side, like “Precious Cargo” and “A Night in Sickbay.”
Javon “Wanna” Walton does a very good job of playing an obnoxious thirteen-year-old kid, which is both a strength and a weakness of the movie. Martin Starr is tremendous fun as Casler, while most of the rest of the cast reads their lines perfectly competently. Pilou Asbæk’s wide-eyed demeanor and perfect diction make him rather less than convincing as an American inner-city gang leader, but at least he’s having fun chowing down on the scenery.
Watching this episode was incredibly painful, as it was a reminder of just how unbearably stupid we as a country were in the first few years of the millennium.
I live in New York City, and I still remember the events of the 11th of September 2001 with awful clarity: sitting on the couch in my living room, Channel 5 on the TV, observing the events unfold, hoping that my then-girlfriend would make it home from her midtown office to our apartment in the Bronx.
But I also remember the subsequent weeks, months, years, as we embraced the most imbecilic macho idiocy, as air travel became a ridiculous circus that did precisely nothing to make anyone safer, as draconian laws were passed that served to curtail personal liberties to no good end, and as this country stupidly embraced torture as a (wholly ineffective) interrogation tool to be used against terrorists, a tactic that provided very little by way of useful intelligence. I remember the mindless patriotism, the fetishizing of the American flag, and how, in the 2002, 2003, and 2004 elections, any candidate who didn’t wave the flag and declare themselves to be patriotic and tough on terror had a hard time winning votes.
And I remember how so much of the pop culture of the time embraced this idiocy.
Even if I didn’t remember it, though, watching “The Expanse” brought it all back.
Super City Cops: “The Battling Bensons,” “Family Matters,” “Unhappy Hallowe’en,” and “The Menace of Maleagris”
“Watching the Detectives: ‘Minerva, Millionaires, and Mayhem’,” in OOOFF! BOFF! SPLATT!: The Subterranean Blue Grotto Essays on Batman ’66–Season Three, ed. by Jim Beard, with Rich Handley (Crazy 8)
“Star Trek: Prodigy Arrives at Mid-Season with Hope and Fear” (Tor.com)
“Lonely at the Top: The Underused Leaders of Stargate Atlantis,” in Unauthorized Offworld Activation: Exploring the Stargate Franchise, ed. by Rich Handley & Joseph Dilworth Jr. (Sequart)
“‘A Little Strategic Violence’ — The Umbrella Academy Season Three Continues to Bring the Bugnuts” (Tor.com)
“The Chase is On as Star Trek: Prodigy Returns” (Tor.com)
Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch — from season 1 episode 7 to season 2 episode 25 (Tor.com)
“4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch” — Barbarella, The Batman, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Eternals, It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman!, The King’s Man, Mandrake, Morbius, Sparks, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Thor: Love and Thunder, Timecop, Timecop: The Berlin Decision, Vampirella, Venom: Let There Be Carnage (Tor.com)
Reviews of Star Trek: Discovery season 4 episodes 8-13 (Tor.com)
Reviews of Star Trek: Picard season 2 (Tor.com)
Reviews of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 1 (Tor.com)
Reviews of Star Trek: Lower Decks season 3 (Tor.com)
Patreon movie reviews: The Batman, Black Adam, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Clueless, Drive Me Crazy,Ferry, Free Guy, A Goofy Movie, The Gray Man, Innocent, The King’s Man, My Cousin Vinny, 9 to 5, Onward, Presumed Innocent, 10 Things I Hate About You, Thor: Love and Thunder, Turning Red, Violent Night
Patreon TV reviews: Animal Kingdom, Blake’s 7, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Falcon & The Winter Soldier, Grace & Frankie, Giri/Haji, Hawkeye, The Kominsky Method, Loki, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, My Life is Murder, Our Flag Means Death, Sandman, She-Hulk: Attorney-at-Law, The Shield, Signora Volpe, Slings and Arrows, Star Trek: Prodigy, Star Wars: Andor, Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ted Lasso, Under the Vines, Undercover, WandaVision, What If…?