Written by Alan Brennert and Ken LaZebnik
Directed by David Straiton
In which the inventor of the transporter comes aboard Enterprise to conduct an experiment, but when things begin to go wrong, his true motivations are revealed...
Captain's Log - Final Analysis
After holding its own in the fall, despite the shift to Friday nights and the distinct lack of proper promotion, “Enterprise” enters 2005 with some stiff competition. For much of its remaining schedule, the series will be facing down a formidable triple threat: the two series that comprise the ever-popular “Stargate” franchise and the upstart “Battlestar: Galactica” remake.
It’s not a fight for which “Enterprise” is well equipped. Though one could argue that the flagship series “Stargate: SG-1” has essentially come to the end of its natural course (though some cast changes for its ninth season are oddly promising), “Stargate: Atlantis” is proving to be a successful re-invention of the central premise. The real story, of course, is the highly unlikely but massively successful re-imagining of “Battlestar: Galactica”, which is indirectly pointing out what “Enterprise” has been struggling to achieve for its entire run. (And yes, there is great irony that Ron Moore is running the show that could drive a stake in the Trek TV franchise.)
Without getting too far into it (this is, after all, an “Enterprise” review), “Battlestar: Galactica” couldn’t be more diametrically opposite from the latter-day Trek model. Like “Voyager” before it, “Enterprise” has struggled with the concept of character-driven plot threads. The modern Trek version of character development is practically one-dimensional; all but a few characters are defined by a handful of adjectives with a hint of cultural relevance. As strong as the storytelling has been in the fourth season, it has only touched on the depth of potential character development and exploration. “Battlestar: Galactica” uses each plot thread as a vehicle for delving into character, and as a result, the drama is far more compelling.
Seeing a series with such a firm grasp of the basics from the very beginning does much to reveal how deeply flawed “Enterprise” was at the beginning. Great strides have been made in the past couple of seasons with character on the series, with mixed success, yet it still falls short of the kind of character-driven drama that made “Babylon 5”, “Deep Space Nine”, and now “Battlestar: Galactica” so successful with the audience.
But this is a case of coming not to bury “Enterprise”, but to praise it. For all the competition and lack of promotion (many weren’t even aware that a new episode was airing!), returning from a long hiatus with a stand-alone episode, the effect on ratings was relatively minor. In fact, this episode could have had much lower ratings, considering the challenge. From an overall point of view, this suggests that the series has managed to generate a core audience; if Paramount and UPN are looking for a silver lining, then they should note that the ratings plunge has definitely bottomed out. The fourth season has stopped the bleeding.
Now the question is whether or not the patient can survive. The fate of “Enterprise” is like the anticipated failure of a major organ; without it, the franchise may survive, but it could be in a coma for several years awaiting a transplant. (Trek will never die out completely; like “Star Wars”, the real action is currently in the novels, where fresh minds are making great strides.) Trek is no longer in the public awareness as it was in the mid-90s, after all, and it now seems obvious that something major would have to happen to rekindle that fire.
It seems fitting, then, that “Enterprise” has dedicated this season (and presumably the rest of its run) to the concept of bringing the franchise full circle. The path to the world of the original series is being laid, sometimes right on top of the questionable writing choices of the first couple of seasons, and character development is a part of that path. This episode tells a small story, when compared to the arcs that came before it, but it’s a story that is very much in the tradition of Trek itself.
One can easily imagine this episode taking place in the original series. Erickson is crafted in the same mold as Dr. Daystrom, with transporter technology subbing in for duotronics. This time, however, the personal side of the story is not devoted to the captain and the man who wants his “children” to replace him. The crux of the episode is Erickson’s long struggle with the fate of his son and the hopes of reversing the past. Archer and Trip are pulled into that struggle because of personal attachments to Erickson, but that is ultimately secondary to the tragedy at play.
The mystery is all but revealed by the end of the first act (at least for the audience), something that usually works against an episode. However, in this case, it works very well. There’s little doubt that this episode was an exercise in budget politics; every so often, a series on a tight budget must find a way to bring an episode well under the bottom line, to correct previous overages. This is the perfect excuse for the writers to put character at the forefront.
Erickson’s long struggle to find a way to save his son is tragic, especially when one considers the choices that Erickson had to make over the years. His daughter has also paid the price, since Emory was unable to let her find her own path, too afraid that he might lose her to some unforeseen event. The allusion to the myth of Daedalus and Icarus is barely touched upon, but it’s a fascinating look into the dangerous ground of scientific progress.
Episodes like “First Flight” provided a glimpse into the resurgence of Earth technology, when it was a race to overcome the stifling effect of the Vulcan on human progress. As is often the case when technologies emerge under such fervor, the cost in human lives can be terrible and unnecessary. Test pilots die, and many of the early pioneers in chemistry managed to kill themselves with their methods.
Erickson certainly falls in the same category, having used himself as a test subject in the early transporter experiments. His son, Quinn, was like the Icarus of old, attempting to go too far and falling into darkness as a result. The difference, of course, is that Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun; Erickson failed to give his son the same advice. Erickson is therefore living in the hopes of redemption, personified in a son that has been in a terrifying limbo for over a decade.
The heart of the tragedy is how deeply hurt Archer is by Erickson’s betrayal. Archer had every reason to believe that Erickson would trust him. There are plenty of hints that Archer might have once considered a closer relationship to Danica, had things gone differently. Quinn’s apparent death and Emory’s reaction to it brought such possibilities to ruin, and it’s hard to know if Archer is more angry at Emory for Quinn’s sake or Danica’s.
Trip’s reaction to Erickson is akin to Geordie’s disappointment when he met Leah Brahms during “The Next Generation”. Meeting one’s personal idol is always a situation fraught with negative potential, since time and space only serve to amplify the assumptions laid at the idol’s feet by the supplicant. Trip has built up such a false image of Erickson that the reality never would have met muster as it was. For Erickson to be a deceptive, broken man is that much more disappointing.
While Archer’s confrontation with Erickson is certainly full of passionate bluster, and Trip’s disappointment is written all over his face, one can’t help but wonder if it could have cut more deeply. Part of that is the slight lack of depth in the portrayal of Erickson, someone who seems too much the ornery down-home type to have worked with Cochrane and Archer. The actor also seems to pull the viewer out of the willing suspension of disbelief with his line delivery, which is hard to explain, since he stays in character throughout and there’s not one good example of why the line delivery doesn’t mesh.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the character exploration in this episode has nothing to do with Erickson’s presence on Enterprise. As anticipated during the Vulcan Arc, T’Pol has become the poster child for the changes at work on her homeworld. Like the Vulcans before the revelation of the Kir’Shara, T’Pol was conflicted, caught between the resurgent passions of the past several decades and the cultural mantra of emotional control. Now that Surak’s original teachings have been unearthed, T’Pol is attempting to challenge her own perspective and psychology.
It’s unclear if the writers are using that as a natural breaking point for the Trip/T’Pol relationship, since they have provided several such points this season without letting it go. Considering how much Jolene Blaylock has complained about her character lately, it makes sense for the writers to cast off the more bizarre plot threads from the Berman/Braga era and force T’Pol back into the classic Vulcan mode as much as possible. The process is the intriguing part, since even Phlox is wary of T’Pol’s sudden stress on radical change. While there’s reason to believe that the writers will tread lightly with this plot thread, the potential is there for something more substantial. After all, many zealots are born of conversion, and it would be fascinating to see if the writers and Blaylock could convincingly depict the pitfalls of Vulcan’s overly swift cultural upheaval.
While the character exploration is always welcome, the episode has some serious flaws. While the overall concept of the episode is geared towards a lower budget, there’s no reason why such concerns should have been made visible. Yet the editing is incredibly poor in some cases. The end of the teaser is one very simple example, where the scene abruptly ends at the seemingly wrong place. Perhaps the episode was just a bit longer than it should have been or the network wanted to trim during broadcast, but the final product is filled with bad transitions as a result.
The concept of the Barrens is also hard to grasp as depicted. The writers dance around it, but there’s no good explanation for where the Barrens are supposed to be. If there are no star systems within dozens of light-years, then it must be weeks away from Earth or Vulcan, based on the distances traveled in the first season. Also, even with some spatial distortion, the light from stars beyond 100 light-years would still pass through the region, so one would still see stars! All in all, the Barrens really weren’t needed for the story, so the confusion was an unnecessary element to the episode.
Perhaps more bizarre is the concept that a Human invented the transporter. Didn’t the Vulcans have this technology already? Certainly other non-Human races had transporters during the same era, and one would have expected Vulcans to acknowledge that transporters were safe enough to give to Humans, even if just for moving inanimate objects. (Of course, this is not a new question, but one that is pulled into the light of day by this episode.)
One could argue, of course, that this episode is a throwback to the sensibilities of the original series, flaws and all. And that would fit into the observation that “Enterprise” is bringing the franchise full circle, as if preparing for some presumed interim endpoint. The same critics that appear to want to preside over the death of modern Trek could also say that this episode subconsciously speaks to the state of the franchise itself: Erikson (Paramount) trying desperately to save his child Quinn (Trek), who has been trapped in the same state of existence for years. Those same critics seem to want Trek to be mercifully laid to rest, and there seem to be many Trek fans that would love to help them make the case.
This episode is an example of the potential within the series. The execution proves that the potential is still not being tapped to its fullest extent, but the progress is also evident. It’s a question of how long the network will give the writers and producers to revive the interest of the wider audience. Berman-esque tactics of sex and action have proven ineffective, and while the current story arcs are an improvement, they appeal more to the core Trek fans than the public at large.
This is why it is important to remember which shows will be competing in the same time slot. It’s not about bemoaning the chances of “Enterprise” to survive. The writers should take a good look at how the audience shifts as the competition arises, and they should consider what those shows have that “Enterprise” lacks. Should a fifth season come to pass, they should learn and adjust accordingly. It may not be enough, but as the “Deep Space Nine”/”Babylon 5” competition aptly demonstrated, it could reap rewards for the faithful.
Overall, this episode was an interesting attempt at character development, something that was needed badly after several episodes of high-concept arcs that had long-range consequences. Unfortunately, bad editing creeps in at the worst possible times, and the character exploration doesn’t go as deeply as one would hope.
Final Rating: 6/10
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