Saturday, March 16, 2013

Just What The Hell Are StarFleet Protocols?! “Strange New World” Is Riddled With Issues.

The Good: Moments of character and acting
The Bad: Pretty lame CG-effects, No real character development, Continuity issues, Sensibility issues
The Basics: In the attempt to make a scary Enterprise episode, writers Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong tell a story that makes humans seem vastly more primitive than they are now.

I get that part of the point of Enterprise is to establish how the Star Trek universe developed. I get it. Unfortunately, Enterprise begins after StarFleet is already established. Enterprise might well be the first major human mission, but it creates a StarFleet that is entirely idiotic. The episode “Strange New World” recharacterizes humans as primitive, impulsive and generally stupid. Given that StarFleet is a military organization, that Captain Archer is so reckless and impulsive when it comes to exploring a new planet makes no real sense.

But, while “Strange New World” is riddled with problems on the character front, the acting is generally competent. It does, however, make one wonder just what the hell StarFleet protocols were going out into space . . . because this episode makes it seem like the StarFleet method of exploration is simple trial and error.

Also, it is worth noting that in all my bitching about Star Trek: Enterprise, I have not complained much about the ship design of the NX-01 Enterprise. However, “Strange New World” left me with one complaint that I cannot refrain from mentioning: the shuttlepod drop system. In “Strange New World,” Enterprise visits a planet and to get down to it, they use a shuttlepod. The shuttlepod is deployed from Enterprise facing forward. That forces the pod to go forward and down in order to avoid the lower protrusion of saucer section of Enterprise. This makes no sense from a physics or design sense in that that shuttlepod is going into a weightless environment and has to push down in order to avoid hitting the ship. This makes no sense when in three dimensional thinking, the shuttlepod would not have to make such a maneuver which is physically awkward to execute simply by having the shuttlepod deployed out of Enterprise facing backward. Go figure.

Enterprise visits a planet that appears Earth-like, causing unnatural excitement among the crew. Crewman Ethan Novakovich and Crewman Elizabeth Cutler, who are very excited about seeing the planet, are tapped to join the away team. Archer, Tucker, Mongomery, T’Pol and the extras join the team to explore the planet. There, they discover an apparently idyllic planet where the officers want to stay to camp. Archer and Porthos return to Enterprise while Montgomery is roped by Tucker into staying the night on the planet.

When the wind picks up, the Enterprise crew has to evacuate their campsite. That leaves the officers seeking refuge underground in nearby caves. There, Novakovich begins acting twitchy and when he runs off, Reed has to do an emergency transport. As the other members of the away team begin to freak out – most notably Trip who believes he sees humanoid aliens coming out of the rocks – Dr. Phlox treats Novakovich for an infection from a drug from plants everyone was exposed to in the high winds. As Tucker and T’Pol turn phase pistols on one another, Archer must talk his friend through the contamination.

I had pretty low expectations for “Strange New World” when Cutler and Novakovich show such excitement over the Class M planet the ship is visiting. Already we are getting pictures of other planets, which may support life, and it seems odd that 160 years from now, people would be so excited about such a basic thing as seeing a blue planet. Also, I’m not certain, but given that the sky on Earth is blue because of how light hits our atmosphere, if Vulcan has a thinner atmosphere and possibly a different color star, it seems like Vulcan would never have a blue sky the way T’Pol claims it does sometimes in “Strange New World.”

That said, the real issue for me with “Strange New World” is that by this, the third episode, Enterprise is already getting monotonous. Like “Fight Or Flight” (reviewed here!), “Strange New World” is essentially a horror episode, including the ghost story that Mayweather tells his peers. But, after terrible CG eels, the episode becomes another attempt to frighten viewers with creepy things moving through the dark.

Late in the episode, “Strange New World” recovers from monotony by a wonderfully tense scene that gives viewers a real thrill when Trip Tucker and T’Pol face off. The episode fills in some backstory between Archer and Tucker and that is enjoyable. The doped up version of Trip offers actor Connor Trinneer a chance to stretch his acting legs and he lives up to the challenge.

Jolene Blalock smirks her way through the final explanation and that is the worst acting in the episode.

Like so many works of horror, “Strange New World” requires a level of suspension of disbelief that is troubling and beyond sensibility. Explorers and military officers are not so reckless and, frankly, stupid as the StarFleet officers are characterized as in this episode. Instead, they appear to be goaded by the idea that Vulcans have been withholding information for hundreds of years and it seems like a ridiculous bit of sociology. The events of “Strange New World” basically come about because humans see Vulcans as a parent-type figure and rebel against the race who has told them “no,” so they are going to do it anyway . . . regardless of the consequences. Viewers are too smart for that, just like we hope explorers in the future will be.

The three biggest gaffes in “Strange New World:”
3. In the prior episode, T’Pol comments on how Vulcans are not big explorers; in this episode, she says she has been to 38 Class M planets. So . . . she is not an explorer, but she has done a lot of it?!
2. In exploring the other planets in the galaxy, StarFleet has seriously never had cause to create protocols for cautious exploration?!
1. Given that the episode is essentially a rip-off of “This Side Of Paradise” (reviewed here!), it seems odd that StarFleet wouldn’t create a protocol to prevent exactly this type infection by Kirk’s time.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the premiere season here!


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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