Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Reed Whines His Way Through A Romulan Attack In “Minefield!”

The Good: Good character development, Special effects.
The Bad: The epitome of stiff acting, Huge continuity problems, Obvious progressions/plot assembly
The Basics: In an annoyingly improbable first contact with the Romulans, “Minefield” gives Reed the chance to develop his character more, but does little else well.

In my guts, I liked “Minefield,” the episode of Enterprise wherein the NX-01 Enterprise has an encounter with multiple Romulan ships as well as an entire cloaked minefield. I want to like Malcolm Reed, the reticent Armory Officer (security chief in every other incarnation of Trek), and “Minefield” puts him front and center. Unfortunately, his place as the focus of “Minefield” is to whine so vociferously as to attempt to distract the viewer from the fact that the first contact with the Romulans is occurring in a painfully problematic and formulaic way. Add to that mediocre performances all the way around and what could have been an intriguing character study quickly degenerates into a blasé thriller that serves more to undermine Enterprise and its place in the larger Star Trek pantheon than it does to flesh out the history of StarFleet.

So, rationally, I loathe “Minefield” and my feelings for the episode diminish somewhat fast when I consider that Reed goes from being an interesting fatalist and realist to a whiny, annoying pessimist with very little to substantially contribute.

An incredibly awkward breakfast shared by Captain Archer and Malcolm Reed is interrupted by a call from the bridge. A nearby M-Class planet has been discovered and the Enterprise reroutes to investigate it. On the way there, a portion of the saucer section explodes and the crew realizes they have hit a mine. Shortly thereafter, using the device they used to find the cloaked Suliban outpost (in “Shockwave”), the crew discovers there is an undetonated mine attached to the hull and that they are stuck smack dab in the middle of a minefield.

Reed, having the most experience with ordinance disposal, goes out in an environmental suit to deactivate the mine while Trip comes up with an alternate way of saving the Enterprise; jettisoning the panel upon which the mine is attached, which will allow is to explode away from the ship. But when the ships that laid the mines appear out of nowhere and Reed is impaled through the leg by the mine he is trying to defuse, the situation becomes even more perilous. With Archer out on the hull trying to complete Reed’s work while Reed tries to relieve the captain of the pressure of trying to save his life and the ship, T’Pol, Trip, and Ensign Sato work to negotiate with the Romulans on their way out of the system.

As much as I want to like Reed, one of the biggest issues with “Minefield” is the acting of Dominic Keating. While usually he is able to make Reed, a character characterized largely by a lack of sharing information with other characters, interesting. While he begins “Minefield” caught in an interesting situation – having a personal code that makes it virtually impossible for him to loosen up with Captain Archer or any other superior officer – Reed rapidly loses the sense of intrigue, despite Keating being given pages of characterization and exposition to deliver. Keating’s purposeful stiffness (a reticence within the character that serves to underscore the character’s sense of internal conflict) quickly gives way to the sense that Keating is just having trouble finding a way to make the character interesting in the episode. To wit, when the mine impales Reed, Keating does not emote at all and it makes it very hard to believe his character is suffering. The result is that his sudden willingness to die comes across as an unfortunate variation of melodramatic and whiny.

While the special effects are decent, they serve a story that is anything but. Just as with “Acquisition” (reviewed here!) that sought to get around the fact that the Ferengi were not introduced until centuries later to “local space” simply by not saying that the Ferengi who appear in the episode are Ferengi, John Shiban gets around the Romulans appearing by never showing a Romulan. When the Enterprise hits a mine, I was instantly attentive to the fact that one of the characters was Hoshi Sato. This made me believe that Shiban was actually going to make an intelligent episode. After all, with Sato wounded, she could not translate Romulan. With her not present to translate Romulan, there was no one to note that Romulan shares a root grammatical structure with Vulcan, which was established very firmly in “Unification, Part 2” (reviewed here!). But no, despite Sato being removed from the Bridge, she is back in action and translating just fine before the end of the episode . . . and not noting that Romulan and Vulcan are very close languages. While this preserves the “surprise” for the first episode of Star Trek in which the Romulans appear, it makes no sense whatsoever in the context of either this first contact or the larger franchise. In other words, if Romulan and Vulcan are such similar languages and Sato is translating Romulan, by the 23rd Century, it ought to be no surprise whatsoever that Vulcans and Romulans are related (the obvious way around this would have been for T’Pol to “suddenly develop an aptitude” for translating for this episode and have her translate Romulan and as the series built toward the Romulan War, Vulcan communications specialists serve on all StarFleet vessels. Alas, nothing so clever or considerate for the canon here!).

Ensign Mayweather gets his chance to prove he is actually an ace pilot in “Minefield” and it is cool to see Anthony Montgomery’s character showing his efficiency. Unfortunately, the starship Enterprise is outfitted with (I kid not) a joystick that he uses in this episode to fly the ship and that is just groanworthy bad.

What could have been a tense drama or a compelling character study is robbed by long sequences where very little happens or what does flies in the face of reason. The Romulans in “Minefield” are characterized as neither particularly cunning nor overtly threatening. They simply have possession of a previously unexplored system and Enterprise is forced to withdraw from it. Given that, it is almost hard to imagine how the Romulan War ever began. After all, if StarFleet is so respectful of other race’s territory, what could possibly have gone wrong between them?

The three biggest gaffes in “Minefield:”
3. The Romulans in “Minefield” are clearly a significant distance from home (otherwise, Romulus would be vastly closer to Earth than it appears in Star Trek: Nemesis and every other incarnation of Star Trek. How the Romulans got pushed back so far to where the Neutral Zone will later be established is unfathomable given that Earth has (at this point) one Warp Five capable ship, uncertain allies and not very many of them,
2. T’Pol once again lies, albeit by omission, when she does not volunteer anything she knows or suspects about Romulans and their ties to Vulcans,
1. Cloaking technology was a new invention by the Romulans when Kirk’s Enterprise encountered it in “Balance Of Terror” (reviewed here!). Kirk seemed alarmed by the technology and Spock pointedly noted that the new tactical advantage would give the Romulans a devastating advantage over StarFleet. Yet, in “Minefield,” the Romulans already have fully-developed cloaked ships and mines!

[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!


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