Thursday, June 13, 2013

Porthos, Archer, And Phlox Spend “A Night In Sickbay.”

The Good: In-universe continuity, Expansion of Phlox’s character
The Bad: Somewhat ridiculous initial concept, Archer’s blustery character, So much of the episode is filler!
The Basics: In an unfortunate attempt at mixing comedy and drama, “A Night In Sickbay” fails to be compelling at either.

I admire shows that try to break out of their own rigid formulas and, in general, I have no problem with the idea of Star Trek as a comedy. One of my favorite episodes of the original Star Trek is “A Piece Of The Action” (reviewed here!) and one of my wife’s favorite films is Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (reviewed here!). So, when I sat down to watch the Enterprise episode “A Night In Sickbay,” which is one of the show’s first and few solidly comedic attempts to produce an episode, I was not inherently biased against it.

Unfortunately, just because the writers and producers break out of their comfort zone does not mean the result is a successful one. “A Night In Sickbay” is not. The episode’s best moments are all of the dramatic beats and the comedic bits fall unfortunately flat. As well, the initial plot is so preposterous as to make the psychoanalysis Dr. Phlox provides Archer more incidental than it is the focus of the story. And, sadly, by the time the episode gets around to it, the character has already been presented in an unfortunately whiny way that makes it hard to care about what might be going on beneath the surface.

Following up directly on “Vox Sola” (reviewed here!), “A Night In Sickbay” has decent continuity in that it re-introduces the Kreetassans and reminds the viewers that Archer’s dog Porthos is still around.

Opening with Archer complaining about his treatment by the Kreetassans, Dr. Phlox notes that Porthos, who went down to their planet as well, has come back with a pathogen and cannot be let out of decontamination. While Archer tasks T’Pol with finding out how they insulted the Kreetassans this time, he visits Porthos in sickbay where Phlox informs him that Porthos’s immune system is being attacked by an alien pathogen. T’Pol quickly determines that the Kreetassans were offended by Porthos urinating on one of their sacred trees and Archer becomes upset that Enterprise, which relies upon the Kreetassans for warp plasma manifolds, is at the mercy of people so easily offended.

Archer tries to remain in Sickbay for the night, but discovers that Phlox and his menagerie of creatures is noisy and so Archer begins to wander the ship. When Archer learns of the elaborate apology the Kreetassans demand, it comes at a bad time as Porthos goes into shock. As Pholox and Archer try to recapture an escaped bat, the doctor needles Archer about his repressed sexual attraction to T’Pol and this causes him to have a rather revealing dream as he naps and waits for Porthos to get better.

“A Night In Sickbay” is diminished almost instantly by cheap jokes. Tucker asks if Archer had cabbage before visiting the Kreetassans (which, I suppose, is a slightly smarter version of a more overt fart joke), Phlox cuts his nails with a mini electric chain saw, and the whole episode is predicated on the somewhat ridiculous gag of Porthos having inappropriate urination.

What does work, however, is the general premise of the episode. This early into human expansion and exploration into the galaxy, it makes perfect sense that there would not be unlimited resources around every corner. As a result, Archer is beholden to the Kreetassans and it is important he negotiate with them, even if they are a temperamental lot. The moments when “A Night In Sickbay” focuses on the idea that the Enterprise is essentially on the edge of (their) known space with limited resources and a need to kowtow when it serves their larger purpose, the episode works well.

Sadly, those moments are few and far between. Instead, the episode is filled with scenes like Phlox and Archer chasing around a computer generated bat that serves no real purpose except to break up what could otherwise be clunky exposition scenes (oddly, the writers for the last few Star Trek series’ have avoided long, straightforward monologues, something that was not lacking on Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). Both John Billingsley (Phlox) and Scott Bakula (Archer) make their way around the virtual creatures well.

It is odd, then, that director David Straiton would include takes that have poor line readings. There is a great example of particularly terrible acting when Bakula’s Archer asks if Porthos’s condition could be life threatening. The lines are delivered in a broken up fashion that does not sound like a human being talking, even one in shock over a loved one being hospitalized.

Ultimately, “A Night In Sickbay” is a weird little standalone, follow-up episode that tries to be funny, but is a waste of time outside the few character-building moments where Jonathan Archer is not whining or reacting loudly to the Kreetassans and his sick dog.

[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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