Written by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Directed by David Barrett
In which Phlox and Archer must race against time to find a cure to the plague spreading throughout the Klingon Empire, before the High Council eradicates the affected populations...
Captain's Log - Final Analysis
This episode presented the writers with a significant challenge. For the most part, the various plot threads had resolutions already built into them: Enterprise would survive its engine trouble, Reed would be more or less exonerated, the Klingon Augment problem would be solved in a fashion consistent with the original series’ version of Klingons, and Section 31 would remain a shadowy sub-compartment of Starfleet Intelligence. It was up to the writers to place each resolution within a satisfactory context, and that’s not always as easy as it seems.
The episode starts off with Phlox struggling to maintain his ethics, despite his life and the lives of those suffering the plague in the balance. Meanwhile, there’s the little matter of rescuing Enterprise, which is where Trip’s service on Columbia intersects with the story. It’s a clever way to get both ships involved in the same mission, to say the least, and it also provides the first act of the episode with an amazing action set piece devoted almost entirely to getting Trip onto Enterprise while the ship is running above Warp 5.
Action sequences haven’t been the forte of Enterprise, since they all blend together after a while. This is definitely something different and exciting. The outcome might be obvious, but that doesn’t take away from the creative solution to moving personnel, using mechanical means only, between two ships moving above the speed of light. The solution uses minimal technobabble (and it’s not hard to accept, unlike some “Next Generation” examples), using a strong score and great direction/editing to keep the pacing at the highest level. Sure, it wastes a lot of episode time, but considering how little there is to the rest of the episode, plot-wise, that makes sense.
Archer resumes his pressure on Reed, and this time, Reed capitulates. The writers do their best to mask the fact that Reed caves rather quickly once the second part of the story resumes, and the conversation between Archer and Harris is quite good. The writers definitively mention (as many fans overlooked) that Section 31 was always a reference to the original Starfleet charter. This indirectly answers one of the long-standing questions about the Starfleet of “Enterprise”; on some level, the Earth Starfleet charter was incorporated or subsumed by the Federation Starfleet charter. (Note that the original series seemed to emphasize a Human Starfleet still transitioning into something interplanetary.)
Back at Kuvat Colony, the Klingons are getting restless. Antaak is working to resolve his guilt over his part in the Klingon Augment experiments, and if that means creating a cure that would allow millions to survive with nothing more than an altered appearance, so be it. As hinted in the previous episode, the entire situation becomes a question of racing against the deadline placed by the High Council. Phlox needs to cut corners left and right to get the information he needs to create a cure, which constantly places him in the same ethical quagmire that he found himself with since his abduction.
This progresses in discrete stages, which then mirror the structure of the episode. The second act is the process of setting the stage for the deadline while Archer gathers information on everything Reed was trying to conceal. There’s also a little time for General K’Vagh to hear from some of the Klingons that have already succumbed. This is interesting because it gives insight into the effect of the change on Klingon culture and self-image. Laneth claims that the change has weakened her with Human emotions and fears, stealing away their honor and strength, but the irony is that the Augment DNA was meant to make them stronger and more intelligent. If anything, this is an expression of how the change is psychologically undermining the confidence of the Klingons thus affected.
This is not merely idle talk; it drives at the heart of the Klingon struggle, over more than one generation, to get the cure and restore their people. If the affected Klingons were able to accept their new appearance with uniform pride, without fear of prejudice, then it might not have mattered. But Klingons eventually took the effort to reverse the genetic manipulation, and that suggests that body image is very important to Klingons as a whole. (Ironically, since “smooth” Klingons were military commanders in the original series, even Klingon society was willing to accept honor and courage among those without the “correct” body type. But were any of them politically powerful? Probably not!)
Phlox finally manages to pull together four possible “cure” candidates, requiring four volunteers. That leaves three Klingons with a death sentence, especially if the identified cure can’t be replicated quickly enough to satisfy the High Council. For their own part, the Council has decided that eradication is a better solution than betting on Phlox, and if that means killing millions, then so be it. Of course, this is a decidedly problematic resolution to the problem, since that would mean killing millions, perhaps even billions, of Klingons in an effort to eliminate plague victims. It’s hard to imagine that the Klingons would be able to decimate their population without negative impact.
Of course, the High Council, represented by Krell, has already played with the lives of the Klingon people. They joined an effort by Section 31 (or its very early precursor) to conduct black project Augment experiments, and as one would expect, the Klingons took advantage of Human naivete. Harris might have claimed that the entire effort was safeguarding Earth by stabilizing a dangerous alien threat, but if that were the case, aiding them in the Augment cause by handing them Phlox (on the hopes that he would resolve the plague issue by fixing the Augment project in a successful manner) doesn’t track. Harris’ goals remain somewhat elusive, which is one of the unfortunate aspects of the episode.
The episode boils down to Enterprise and Columbia stemming off the efforts by the Klingon High Council to eradicate the colony, so that Phlox can complete his work on a cure. Whereas the solution to making the threat to Enterprise was well conceived, the final act doesn’t come together nearly as well. Phlox explains, in a vague way, that the strain of the Augment virus that holds promise for a cure requires a Human to generate antibodies that can then be used to pass the cure on to Klingons. Archer, of course, becomes that antibody machine.
On the face of it, the effect of the altered virus on Archer makes sense. If the virus was mutagenic in the first place, making Klingons more Human, then it could very well have the reverse effect on Humans. All well and good, but the scenes on the colony, used to increase the tension of the battle overhead, are absolutely terrible. Bakula, who has grown in the role over the past four years, doesn’t depict Archer’s struggle with the virus convincingly at all. It’s so bad that it actually breaks the intended tension.
That said, sending up a device that infects Krell and his crew is a quick and dirty solution that works well enough to end the crisis. The final scene reinforces the “body image” element, and also smoothes over (forgive the pun) the effect on the Empire as a whole. On the one hand, this is logical, since the Klingons would probably become more isolated as they deal with the social upheaval of the plague. On the other, like with the Vulcan social crisis, it would have been interesting to see more of the aftermath. But with the series ending with the current season, the subject is more likely to be covered in future novels than on screen.
While Archer has more than enough reason to let Reed off the hook, it sends an interesting message to the rest of the crew. Archer and Reed can’t tell anyone about the intelligence group operating under the authority of Section 31, but everyone was aware, on some level, that Reed had sabotaged Phlox’s rescue. For Reed to return to duty without comment ought to have raised eyebrows.
After an episode that was packed with several subplots and exciting plot elements, it all comes together is an uneven and predictable way. The writers delivered their usual crisp dialogue, and the brief explorations of Klingon reaction to the effect of the virus were well done. But in the end, there’s very little shock value. This is the same problem that “The Augments”, “Kir’Shara”, and “The Aenar” faced: once the pieces are in place to resolve the problem, the nature of the series is such that the answers are already common knowledge. The solution to the Klingon question was incredibly clever and highly consistent, but in the end, after that was accomplished, the concluding episode was only necessary to extricate the characters out of the situation that revealed the crisis and solution in the first place.
That’s not to say that this is a horrible episode. For the most part, it’s everything that a fan could ask for. It’s simply very hard to overcome the fact that each arc essentially ends in a pre-determined position. The writers do everything possible to make the journey to that conclusion as strong as possible, to their credit, and only Bakula lets them down with that oddly pathetic performance in the final act. For that matter, it’s easier to see this story as a novel-based concept adapted to the screen; the events sometimes feel like they would read better than they were rendered in the episode itself. It’s not just this episode or scenario that falls in this category; Coto has clearly been trying to take the “fan fiction” approach to the fourth season, and for the most part, it works.
But for those still looking for a reason why the series has struggled from the beginning, this is another clue. As mentioned, the major drawback is that the resolution of the crisis, on all fronts, has already been a matter of franchise continuity for some time. There’s no way to address items of continuity near and dear to fans without this happening, and so there are few surprises at the end of each arc. Similarly, many Trek fans openly criticized the decision to set “Enterprise” before the original series because the end results were set in stone (or as much as they can be in the Trek canon!). While the end results might appeal to hardcore Trek fans, ultimately, for those looking for the next step forward, this series was a giant step backward. As this episode demonstrates, that might have been a valid criticism.
Overall, this episode was not as solid as the first half of the story, since some of the creativity was eliminated by the fact that the outcome was already apparent before the story even began. The final act also includes a curiously poor acting job by Bakula, which threatens to break the suspension of disbelief. The writers make the resolution of the Klingon crisis as interesting as possible, but since most of the revelations were already given in the previous episode, this installment feels lacking.
Final Rating: 8/10
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