Friday, June 21, 2013

Influencing Cultures Humorlessly, “The Communicator” Is A Decent Episode.

The Good: Tone, Acting, General concept
The Bad: Not at all original idea, Light on character development.
The Basics: Archer and Reed find themselves embroiled in a political conflict when they must return to a pre-warp civilization to recover Reed’s lost communicator.

When it comes to Star Trek Enterprise, there are some ironies that make me smile, even now, years after the show is off the air. Enterprise worked very hard to mortgage the original Star Trek fan base and create a new audience. The ironic element of Enterprise was that while it worked very hard to create a new audience, it had no serious issues with stealing ideas from prior incarnations of Trek when it suited its purposes. Such is what happened with “The Communicator.”

“The Communicator” takes the basic idea as “A Piece Of The Action” (reviewed here!), but with far less compelling consequences or execution. “A Piece Of The Action” explored the idea of what happens when more advanced societies influence less technologically and socially-developed worlds. “A Piece Of The Action” used humor and it worked (perfectly) because the less advanced culture the Enterprise was sent to investigate had been characterized as “extremely imitative.” “The Communicator” creates a dramatic, politically tense story based more on the insinuation of a threat than an actual cultural contamination. Actually, “The Communicator” may steal a pretty cool idea from the original Star Trek, but it does so in a way that makes the resulting episode feel surprisingly fresh and new.

Archer, Reed, and Sato return to the Enterprise after visiting a pre-warp culture and Reed is excited because he had never visited a planet like that. Upon completing decontamination, however, Reed discovers that he has lost his communicator. Determined to get their advanced technology back before it influences the planet’s culture, Reed and Archer return to the planet where they are promptly captured by a political faction who recognizes their technology is beyond theirs. The situation goes from bad to worse when T’Pol tries to contact the captain on his communicator.

During their interrogation, Reed is exposed as an alien and the officers interrogating them freak out to learn that their captives may be worse than just the opposing political faction. Trip and Mayweather work to bring the Suliban ship they still have in the docking bay and its cloaking device online, with terrible consequences for Trip. While the natives of the planet discover more about Archer, Reed, and their technology, they are menaced with the possibility of being dissected. With the clock ticking, T’Pol must risk the Enterprise to recover the two lost officers before they are killed.

“The Communicator” seems like a vast overreaction considering it precedes “A Piece Of The Action” by about a hundred years. “The Communicator” has Reed and Archer reacting as if they know what the consequences of a cultural contamination would be without StarFleet having encountered one before. About a hundred years prior to this episode, the Horizon visited Sigma Iota and contaminated the culture there, but it would take another hundred years before StarFleet realized it had been contaminated. The point here is that Archer and Reed have no reason to honestly believe that the loss of a communicator would actually affect a pre-warp culture the way it does.

Writer Andre Bormanis has a decent sense of irony, then, as “The Communicator” creates a plot based not on the initial mistake, but rather on the attempt by Reed and Archer to rectify the mistake. It is only in returning to the planet that the inhabitants actually learn what the communicator is.

As far as the execution of “The Communicator,” the performances are generally good. Scott Bakula and Dominic Keating play off one another well in the episode and given that their characters are not given an adversarial position in this episode, this is new ground for them to explore. They have decent on-screen chemistry as they play off one another and they make scenes that could be dry exposition or philosophical debate seem actually interesting. Bakula is not stiff in the episode and that helps make the viewer care more about the fate of Archer and Reed.

What character development there is in the episode is minimal, but interesting. For a change, Reed is not the pessimist or realist. When he and Archer are imprisoned, he gets a rash of actual idealism that is an interesting change for the character. Archer takes on a more philosophical role than usual and that plays well for the character. At least as important, he and Reed take moral stances and have an actual intellectual debate over what it might mean to be truthful with the aliens they have found themselves among. That elevates the plot-based episode into something more.

“The Communicator” may not have a terribly original idea, but is has a good execution of the familiar concept and it makes for one of the better episodes of Enterprise.

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