Written by Manny Coto
Directed by David Livingston
In which the initial meeting between Earth and several alien governments is met with resistance by a group that also happens to be holding the unexpected hybrid child of Trip and T’Pol...
Captain's Log - Final Analysis
With only one more week until the series finale (comprised of the second half of this story and the final episode itself), the writers turn back to Earth and its reaction to the events that have been shaped by the voyages of Enterprise. In a sense, it’s using the last couple of hours, now that the major events have been covered to relative satisfaction, to make some final statements about the state of the Trek universe on the eve of the Romulan Wars and Federation. It’s not a very positive statement, but it’s a realistic one, from a certain point of view.
Granted, the main plot is cousin to the worst excesses of James Bond villainy (or, for some, akin to Dr. Evil’s schemes in the “Austin Powers” trilogy). One has to wonder at the logic of tossing a device on Mars capable of wiping out cities on Earth if it falls into the wrong hands, which takes place with remarkable ease. Some things can be justified in the name of moving the plot along, especially when the point is the psychology behind the action, but there’s a certain point at which suspension of disbelief is seriously challenged.
(Speaking of which...if one considers, for a moment, the reason why the recent Trek films have been less than inspiring to the fans, it’s probably not something so simple as “franchise fatigue”. The first six films were stories that centered more on situations than preventing a villain from unleashing some universe-altering weapon. All four “Next Generation” films were about the Big Bad and his/her Ultimate Weapon, and they all ended with the crew having to prevent the Evil Plan. Only “First Contact” managed to rise above that hurdle to any meaningful extent. One could easily make the case that the Trek film franchise became, in essence, bad futuristic James Bond movies.)
Criticism of Paxton’s Evil Plan, however, overshadows what is an interesting and logical progression of the proto-Federation era: the backlash within human society against aliens and their influence on Earth culture. It’s the kind of ground that Trek has rarely trodden, since the action is usually confined to strange new worlds and alien civilizations. But considering the fact that this season has been about laying the foundation for Federation and the status quo of the original series, it only makes sense that Earth and its internal conflicts should be represented as well as those on Vulcan and Andoria.
For some very odd reason, there’s been a consistent trend towards staying very far away from Earth on Trek. It started with Roddenberry, who supposed didn’t want to portray Earth because it would be too hard to present a realistic vision of the planet’s future society. That doesn’t make much sense, however, since it’s apparently easy enough to delve into alien societies and future Earth society via starship crew interactions. It’s probably closer to the truth to say that Roddenberry didn’t want the story to be about Earth directly to avoid the budget problems that would cause and so he could use alien situations to comment on real Earth issues. (Setting stories on Earth itself would make metaphor rather pointless.)
However, this series is supposed to be about the birth of the Federation, and Earth’s collective psychology is as important to that goal as the collective concerns of the Vulcan people. Vulcan had to overcome a desire to hold back species that they considered “dangerous”, which led to the underlying resentment of many Humans towards their patrons. Earth’s xenophobia was established, however generally, at the very onset. Archer himself was, early on, caught between his negative feelings about all Vulcans and a desire to see the universe at large.
“Enterprise” has been replete with episodes that would have generated terrifying press on Earth. Just Mayweather’s stories of alien encounters among cargo haulers between Earth colonies and the overall Vulcan hand-holding would have been enough to create a distrust of aliens among the public. The original series made it clear that Humans weren’t completely over their prejudicial ways; they were simply less inclined to turn that ugliness towards other Humans. Even while preaching that racial bigotry was no longer a factor of Human society, Kirk’s crew openly spoke of hostile alien societies in stereotypical fashion.
It’s within this context that the scenario of this story becomes realistic. Consider that before the events of 9/11, Arabs (or anyone from the Middle East) were vaguely disturbing but not entirely threatening; they didn’t believe in the freedoms championed by the “enlightened West”, and they could sometimes be a problem, but they didn’t matter to most Americans. Since 9/11, however, there are plenty of Americans who would happily expel any Arab (or anyone appearing Middle Eastern) out of the country, and some would send them over the border in a body bag. It’s the misdirection of a very real and somewhat justified anger and fear; take that to a planetary scale, and that’s the effect of the Xindi attack at the end of the second season.
Vulcans came to Earth in the wake of generations of war and internal strife. The Eugenics Wars were a struggle against the “alien within”, genetically engineered threats that would have fired the imaginations for centuries, reinforcing the fear of anything with abilities beyond the norm of Humanity. Then came World War III and the genetic deformities of a population ravaged by radiation, millions rendered factories of human mutation, unchecked and unpredictable genetic variation. It wasn’t long after that Vulcans and other aliens came along, and suddenly, Humanity didn’t need to look within for the threatening “other”. It wasn’t the human genome and its alteration that would threaten the future of the species; it was the introduction of something even more unpredictable.
Paxton’s ties to Colonel Green are far from tenuous. It’s not hard to realize how Paxton’s Terra Prime is a direct descendant of Green’s movement. For one thing, it’s strongly hinted in the episode that Paxton’s ancestor(s) were survivors of World War III, and would have been among those culled from the human gene pool had Green’s movement been fully realized. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to learn that Paxton suffers from a painful genetic disease passed down from that time; if Paxton’s father and grandfather had instilled the lesson that their descendents never should have been born, it would explain the fervor with which Paxton drives Terra Prime and his irrational fear of anything outside of his view of “normal” and “Human”.
This fits the many lines of dialogue that suggest that Paxton has been spending decades developing the technology and support system necessary to implement his goals. The Xindi attack would have swelled the ranks of Terra Prime, but it’s clearly not a new movement. The early stirring of an alliance between Earth and several alien governments would only add to the support for a more isolationist Earth and would provide an easy excuse for Paxton’s terrorist activity. It all fits a sensible progression.
Equally, it makes a certain amount of sense for Paxton to create a Human/Vulcan hybrid. It’s easy for people to dismiss the theoretically threatening so long as it doesn’t impact their lives; this is why most racist movements typically recruit the poor and less educated in economically challenged, where the young are more likely to feel as though “foreigners” and “those people” are competing for limited resources and threatening their very existence. It’s not until something is made real and tangible to the masses that they feel threatened to a similar extent; a Human/Vulcan child would be undeniable evidence that the Human gene pool can be forever “contaminated”.
The connection of this child to Trip and T’Pol is something of a plot convenience, though one can attach a certain logic to it. Paxton might have been thinking that using the crew of Enterprise, the ones effectively behind the whole success of the movement towards alliances with aliens in the first place, as the “parents” of a hybrid would send a message about how interaction with aliens leads to a psychological loss of judgment.
It also provides the writers with a logical reason for directly involving Trip and T’Pol on a mission that they have no business joining. Sending two very public figures into an undercover mission among people who would have every reason to know who they are (as celebrated crew members of a hated Starfleet flagship) makes little sense, but it’s unlikely that Archer could have argued them out of it, under the circumstances. (That doesn’t resolve the fact that some less visible crew members would have been a better choice or that a Trip/T’Pol baby is an annoying prospect, but there it is.)
There is also a logical reason for the array on Mars to exist. It makes sense that at some point in the future, Earth will want to construct a system to redirect large asteroids or comets that might threaten the planet. One would expect, however, that such a system would have plenty of safeguards against targeting Earth and its colonies. Paxton does take control of the system, but perhaps a line of dialogue or a scene depicting an override of security protocols would have smoothed over the thought that Earth was leaving a superweapon sitting around for anyone to appropriate. (Never mind that this criticism also ignores the fact that Paxton had been planning for this operation for decades, and thus could have logically determined the most expedient means to override the existing security protocols.)
If one can forgive the Dastardly Plan and the annoying need to tie the hybrid to Trip and T’Pol, there are two other aspects of the episode that keep it from succeeding. One of them is the oddly flat performance by Peter Weller. There are plenty of reasons to explain why he seems so bland and non-emotive (one of them being his apparent health issues), but it doesn’t change the fact that the line delivery doesn’t really click until the second or third viewing. It’s as if Paxton envisions himself to be this charismatic and rational leader, and so he tries to sound like it, failing miserably in the process.
Far more annoying, however, is the Mayweather subplot. It’s easy to criticize the writers for tossing Mayweather into the background, making him a “catch all” character with little or no personality, but this episode provides a stinging reminder of why this is not a bad thing. Tony Montgomery is terrible when carrying a storyline on his shoulders (see “Favorite Son” or “Horizon” for even better examples), and that doesn’t help this episode one bit. His chemistry with Johanna Watts is passable, and her devious beauty helps things along, but it’s painful to watch Montgomery try to emote. Unlike Hoshi, this is not a character that needed to be given more screen time; it’s a character that could and should have been an early casualty, because even the writers didn’t have confidence in him.
This episode also struggles with the fact that it mirrors one of the early plot elements of “Babylon 5”. Indeed, the whole “Road to Federation” concept is not at all unlike the entire arc of “Babylon 5” and the creation of the Federation-esque Interstellar Alliance. “Babylon 5”, in its first year, was set after a war that left Earth as an important member of an alliance with alien governments while dealing with several strong anti-alien movements among the human population. Those elements eventually grew powerful enough to take control of the government of Earth itself, and in a very realistic depiction of human psychology, even the creation of the ISA itself didn’t eliminate all the distrust. It was just one more step on the road to eventual enlightenment as a species.
Since the similar plot elements on “Babylon 5” were an integral part of the story from the beginning, it never felt like an imposition. But in the Trek mythos, especially by the era of “Next Generation”, Humanity is supposed to have gotten over their prejudices. That’s not always the case, but more often than not, Humanity is already supposed to be enlightened. As a result, no matter how logical it might be, Terra Prime doesn’t mesh as well within the continuity as it could have.
Perhaps the greatest irony of “Enterprise” is that so many fans wanted to see the birth of the Federation, and yet now that the seeds have been planted and the direction that the story would have taken is logically presented, it’s easy to see why the original conception didn’t address it head-on. The last thing Berman and Braga wanted was another series to be compared to “Babylon 5”. Replace the Shadows and their past history with the Romulans, and the roadmap for Federation is right there within the “Babylon 5” plot arc. Anything less complex in terms of political upheavals and character arcs would be cast in a negative light. Already there have been several parallels between this season of “Enterprise” and “Babylon 5”, and in nearly every case, the “Enterprise” version has been seen as lacking or simply derivative.
It’s not so much that one would expect the writers to copy “Babylon 5”; it’s just that the end points of the two stories are so similar that it would be surprising if points of comparison didn’t exist along the way. Some fans would no doubt see these points of comparison and allege plagiarism, as with “DS9”. At least “DS9” ran concurrent with “Babylon 5”, so the spirit of competition drove both productions towards excellence, telling similar stories in their particular manner. “Enterprise”, even now, is competing with a legend, and it would have increasingly done so as it shifted more and more into “empire building” mode.
Between the unfortunate comparisons that any fan of both Trek and “Babylon 5” is likely to make, intentionally or not, Weller’s performance, the unfortunate emphasis on Mayweather, and the whole depiction of Paxton’s Evil Plan, there’s too many things taking this interesting concept and keeping it from succeeding fully. It’s possible that the second half of the story will smooth over the bumps, but given the fact that the series finale is sure to overshadow whatever “Terra Prime” offers, it’s unlikely.
Overall, this episode has many interesting philosophical and social elements spread across the script, but the execution leaves much to be desired. The main plan of the terrorists is a bit too convenient, and the guest performance by Peter Weller is oddly wooden and uninspiring. Add to that the poor acting by Montgomery and the episode ends up on shaky ground.
Final Rating: 6/10
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