"Affliction"

Written by Mike Sussman and Manny Coto
Directed by Michael Grossman



In which Phlox is kidnapped by Klingons who want him to cure a plague that seems to be altering their appearance before killing them, while Reed is forced to help cover up the truth...

Captain's Log - Final Analysis







Captain's Log

Following the cancellation news, it was easy to let that overshadow the episodes themselves. It didn’t help that the previous episode was an odd choice for the final part of a trilogy that seemed to be about Federation. But with this episode, Manny Coto brings the continuity of the fourth season to another level, not only in terms of the ongoing plot threads of recent episodes, but the franchise as a whole.

Not so long ago, Brannon Braga complained about fans who were more interested in “continuity porn” than true storytelling. Braga did things his way for three seasons, and beyond some token references to elements of the original series, most of the plot threads were related to the Temporal Cold War and stand-alone episodes that did little to hold viewer interest. Now Coto is delivering exactly what the fans wanted, and this episode is the perfect example of Braga’s “continuity porn” imaginable: why the appearance of the Klingons is so different during the original series.

On the face of it, this is probably one of the most “Trek geek” questions imaginable. Chances are, this was never going to appeal to a wider audience. For the diehard Trek fan, however, this is about as good as it gets. Beyond the Klingon question, there’s also the return of Section 31, one of the other continuity items high on the fan list. In both cases, the treatment is well within established franchise continuity. In terms of “Enterprise” continuity, there are more than a few references to episodes from earlier in the season. “Home”, in particular, continues to play its appointed part, as plot and character elements from that episode pay off.

In terms of the Klingon question, the answer is elegantly simple. During the “Augment Arc”, the Klingons became aware of Human genetic engineering, and decided that a smarter, stronger enemy was a bad thing. Inevitably, that lead to Klingon experiments involving the use of Augment DNA to enhance their own people. The result was the immediate conversion from the typical Klingon appearance to something more Human. Unfortunately for the Klingons, the result was also deadly, being imperfect, and after mixing with a type of flu, airborne.

This goes a long way towards explaining how the change took place and why it spread through much of the Klingon Empire. As this episode quickly explains, the Klingons were more than happy to kill thousands, even millions, to keep something so deadly from eliminating the species. Phlox was kidnapped to find a cure, but with no time to do so, the more likely solution is a stop-gap measure: finding a way to make the Augment process successful, leaving it to a future generation to find the cure and allow the Klingons to revert to their proper appearance.

Beyond the “Augment Arc”, there’s also an interesting connection to the “Vulcan Arc”. When Phlox is kidnapped, a rather attractive Hoshi is the only witness. She can’t remember the details, so Archer asks T’Pol to mind-meld with Hoshi. Considering the fact that T’Pol is only now beginning to understand the true legacy of Surak and his teachings, including getting over the recent stigma against melding, it’s not a simple task. Archer, of all people, happens to have some small knowledge of the technique necessary, thanks to his experience with Surak’s katra.

It’s not the most logical of explanations, but it does provide for a strong continuity reference and a nice scene between T’Pol and Hoshi. It also serves to present the conflict for Reed. Archer and Enterprise were never supposed to have a lead, because someone else has a vested interest in the situation in the Empire. It certainly seems as though Section 31, the covert ops division included in the Starfleet charter (originally introduced during the “DS9” series), had something to do with Phlox’s kidnapping. They certainly want to impede any efforts by Enterprise to rescue Phlox, which also serves to cover their own involvement.

This, of course, presents more than a small problem for Reed. It appears that Reed was once working with Section 31, something that seems hard to reconcile at first, until one remembers that he’s quite paranoid about the threats to Earth and his specialties with weapons technology. Section 31’s mandate, to protect Earth (and later, the Federation) against all possible threats would seem to fit Reed’s original characterization quite well. But it also means that Reed is stuck between his duty to Archer and his duty to his former masters. It’s the most attention given to Reed in quite some time, and it’s a welcome development.

All of which brings up an interesting question about Section 31’s involvement in the Klingon situation. Section 31 facilitated Phlox’s kidnapping, which means that they know about the situation in the Empire. The obvious conclusion is that Section 31 is working with the Klingons to cover up the genetic experiments, possibly to ensure that the connection to Human Augments is kept hidden. Of course, there could be other interpretations of their actions, and since this is the first part of a two-part story, there could be additional information still lacking.

Beyond the Klingon question and the connections to Section 31, there’s also Trip’s transfer to the Columbia, commanded by Archer’s most recent love interest, Captain Hernandez. Trip was originally shown as one hell of an engineer, but as time passed, his impatience and stubborn streak were emphasized in favor of his technical skill. This episode finally shows him in his element again, despite the circumstances of his departure from Enterprise, and that’s very good to see. He’s tough, but between his work on Columbia and the huge hole in engineering support left on Enterprise, Trip’s worth is more than adequately reinforced.

As if the rest of the plot elements weren’t enough, there’s also a subplot related to T’Pol’s mind-meld. T’Pol, Trip, and Hoshi all find themselves having an odd reaction in the wake of the meld. For some odd reason, opening up a connection to Hoshi’s mind has placed all three of them in a kind of undesired melded state. From time to time, they begin experiencing a connection, and in this case, Hoshi begins to pick up on the romantic overtones of the relationship between Trip and T’Pol. Hopefully, that will not lead to an easy future resumption of that subplot, since it was not nearly as successful as Berman and Braga thought it would be in the third season.

Unlike most episodes of “Enterprise”, the plot is not the only draw. Most of the characters get a chance to shine in moments that fit their previous character development (such as it was). Archer, as usual, gets to show some of the grit that he acquired in the Expanse, but also some of the weariness of a commander who has gotten too used to having friends in key positions. Once upon a time, everyone on the crew was dealing with the learning curve; now, Archer has little patience for unnecessary delays. But the real meat of the story is his fury towards Reed, which is kept under relative control, but communicated without doubt.

T’Pol’s struggles with emotional control since “Kir’Shara” have been relegated to background noise, thankfully, since it works better as an ongoing character trait than a full-blown subplot. So far, only one episode since that time has shown T’Pol as overly emotive, and that was “United”. One could easily dismiss each new display of emotion now, and given her lack of experience with melding (and Archer’s undoubtedly incomplete instruction), it makes sense that there would be a consequence. It could turn into a horrible subplot, but for now, it actually opens some interesting doors.

Trip’s time on Columbia, as already mentioned, has revived some aspects of his character that had long since become drowned in neuromessage and a stubborn insistence that the universe bend to his moral will. Granted, many engineers are control freaks (speaking as one), but they are also still engineers, and that means focusing on the technology. Shaking things up by putting Trip on another ship (thereby also widening the scope of the series for a little while) helps the character tremendously. The moments on Columbia more than make up for the awkward conversation at the top of the hour.

It’s been quite a while since Phlox was placed in a serious moral dilemma, so this is definitely a good episode for him. It makes sense for the Klingons and/or Section 31 to turn to Phlox as a non-human with knowledge of viral propagation and Augment DNA. For that matter, in the “Augment Arc”, Phlox revealed that Denobulans have a great deal of experience with genetic engineering, not to mention Phlox’s knowledge of mutagenic plagues from “Extinction” (which probably should have been mentioned). His moral outrage and constant arguments with The Klingon doctor were nearly perfect.

Of the characters most often ignored by the writers, Reed gets the most attention. But Hoshi also gets her moment in the sun. Not only does she get to show off how hot she is in civilian clothing, but her experience with T’Pol brings up a character element largely ignored since “Exile”. That episode hinted that Hoshi’s facility with language could be related to a latent psychic ability, akin to the “esper” concept in the original series (something quickly dropped but still relevant). This would explain why the melding wasn’t ended smoothly. If this was the intent of the writers, then it would give at least some sense of closure.

The only character to be left out of the character development is, of course, Mayweather. The writers have never known what to do with him. The episodes that focused on his character in the first and second season were some of the worst of the series, thanks to Montgomery’s limited acting range. One might have hoped that the Coto regime would be able to remedy this long-standing oversight, but that hasn’t been the case. He gets more screen time, sure, but he’s still just a “catch all” character that gets inserted whenever the other characters are otherwise occupied.

John Schuck and James Avery give strong performances as the Klingon supporting characters of Antaak and General K’Vagh. Overall, like the Reed subplot, the Klingon scenes provide several strong continuity references to “DS9” and the overall basis of Klingon culture. There are even some subtle references to the Klingon culture as depicted in “The Final Reflection”, one of the earliest Trek novels (and one that, for some time, defined the Klingon culture before it was altered during “Next Generation”). References to the H’urq invasion remind the audience that this is all about giving the Klingons the kind of continuity repair granted to the Vulcans earlier in the season; franchise continuity is melded with “Enterprise” continuity where possible, and the rest is more or less ignored (or it has been thus far).

The direction was very strong for this episode, especially given the amount of character development and the layered plot structure. Few episodes of “Enterprise” have been so densely packed or quickly paced, but the direction was smooth, as if the entire production understood how strong the episode would be. Even the score was inspired, which is a rare thing for this series. Usually, the score is generic Trek, barely matching the tone of any given scene; this episode, like “The Forge”, had an evocative score that seemed closer to the percussive style used on “Battlestar: Galactica” than previous episodes of the series.

With all of the continuity references to the franchise history and episodes earlier in the series, this episode is a fine example of what a lot of fans were expecting out of the first season. Indeed, this is a strong continuation of plot threads developed in the fourth season overall, proving that a strong writing staff with a sense of Trek lore can actually tell strong stories within continuity. It’s possible that the second half of this tale will far short of the first, but if the writers stick to their current game plan, this ought to be the most satisfying arc of the season.


Final Analysis

Overall, this episode is one of the strongest of the season, and perhaps one of the best of the series. Several plot and character elements come together in this episode, and the solution to the Klingon appearance issue is perfectly logical. Once again, the Coto regime manages to take more than a few fan-driven concerns and forge them into an exciting Trek adventure. This is “Enterprise” on top of its game.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 4/4

Final Rating: 10/10




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