Monday, March 11, 2013

The Story Of A Woman With Pouty Lips And A Woman Just Pouting: “Fight Or Flight”

The Good: Moments of character, Creep out factor, John Billingsley’s performance, Less continuity errors.
The Bad: Generally stiff acting, T’Pol continues to undermine the Vulcans, Plot sensibility near the end
The Basics: In a fairly average episode of Enterprise, “Fight Or Flight” has a freak-out factor that is interesting and less in conflict with the established Star Trek canon.

There comes a moment in the second episode of Enterprise, “Fight Or Flight,” that I found myself unintentionally cracking up. At one point, Linda Park’s Hoshi Sato comments on how she got through zero gravity training by biting her lip. At that moment, I just found myself smiling and I thought (in Archer’s voice), “We’ve already got a woman aboard with big, pouty lips; we don’t need two!” “Fight Or Flight” is an episode short on laughs, so it is no surprise that I found myself making my own humor.

Actually, to the credit of “Fight Or Flight” and its writers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga (see, I’m not just blindly discriminatory against them!), the episode – which fleshes out a single-line reference from Star Trek into a first contact with the Axanar (a race never otherwise seen in the franchise) – is generally continuity-issue free. Unfortunately, it is a pretty basic horror story. As a first contact story, “Fight Or Flight” takes a different approach than the other Star Trek series’; space is a scary, dark place.

Continuing to explore, Hoshi finds herself having trouble sleeping because her slug, Sluggo, is not surviving on Enterprise well and Dr. Phlox does not know how to save it, and her quarters are on the wrong side of the ship. Malcolm Reed, in the meantime, continues to work on the targeting scanners for the torpedoes, which have not actually managed to hit their targets yet. When Enterprise encounters a ship adrift in space, Archer wants to investigate, despite T’Pol’s objections. Hoshi wants to stay on Enterprise, but Archer wants her to come with him. On the alien ship, Reed, Archer and Hoshi discover most of the crew killed, being exsanguinated by an alien machine.

Returning to Enterprise, Archer moves to leave the area, but eventually decides to return to the derelict ship. Phlox, Hoshi, Archer, and Trip determine what is being done to the incapacitated aliens, but the creatures that began robbing them of their enzymes returns and scans Enterprise. With Enterprise under attack, another ship like the derelict vessel arrives and Hoshi must step up to communicate that they are victims, not the aggressors.

“Fight Or Flight” has a few decent character developments. Trip is characterized in the episode as an eager officer who truly wants to explore and is distressed over having to remain on the ship. Hoshi continues to be characterized as a reluctant officer, who would rather be teaching. The initial charm of her not wanting to be on Enterprise is suddenly undone by her ability to create alien vocabulary. The end of the episode makes no real sense in that regard. When the translator fails, she suddenly is able to speak a language that she has no specific vocabulary/pronunciation for and that makes little sense.

Also somewhat ridiculous is that the attack on Enterprise conveniently stops long enough to let Hoshi overcome her crippling fear of everything in order to step up.

That said, “Fight Or Flight’s” character issues are limited mostly to T’Pol and Archer. Archer takes a surprisingly long time to do the right thing. And T’Pol is just a terrible, illogical Vulcan and the performance by Jolene Blalock continues to be pathetic. Jolene Blalock might be a great comedic actress; she seems like she would be able to smugly deadpan lines and deliver a lot of humor. Unfortunately, that way of emoting only through the eyes is not at all realistic or compelling for a performance by a Vulcan character.

The people who do step up in “Fight Or Flight” are John Billingsley as Dr. Phlox and Dominic Keating as Malcolm Reed. Keating uses his limited time on screen to portray Reed as determined and focused, frustrated with the state of technological development and that “reads” as very true. Billingsley takes the supporting role of Dr. Phlox – who predictably works his way around a comparison between Sluggo and Sato for a compelling story – and rules his time on screen. It is tough to make a character telling a story on screen seem interesting, but Billingsley lands it.

On the other hand, Scott Bakula still seems stiff and uncertain in the role of Jonathan Archer. Even so, “Fight Or Flight” is a good horror episode that is tense and creepy . . . when it is not slow-moving and boring.

The three biggest gaffes in “Fight Or Flight:”
3. There is a reference to the Naussicans. The Naussicans pop up during Star Trek: The Next Generation and were the apparent replacements for the Orions in the original Star Trek. However, the Orions were still around in the “modern” Treks. Given the very limited sphere of influence for aliens in Enterprise, the Orions should logically have been encountered long before the Orions. This is a more minor nitpick than a serious gaffe, A much more serious gaffe is that T'Pol comments on how humans smell, implying a superhuman smelling ability. Vulcans have long been characterized as having exceptional eyesight and hearing, but never having an excellent sense of smell.
2. The shuttlepod crew comes under attack while returning to the Enterprise and not one of the officers bothers to put on their helmets. Seriously; the paranoid officer who is afraid of everything doesn’t put her helmet on when the alien ship starts taking pot shots at the ship that could easily punch a hole in it?!
1. T’Pol says Vulcans are not really into exploration. In addition to being disproven by the fact that Vulcans have a robust-enough fleet, which is not military, it is entirely illogical. Acquiring knowledge is logical; exploration is the means to that.

[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!


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