Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Dullness Of Simple Survival Is Explored In “The Catwalk.”

The Good: Decent realistic mood, Moments of character, Special effects.
The Bad: Nothing interesting on the performance front, Minimal character development, Pacing, Virtually plotless.
The Basics: “The Catwalk” has the entire crew crammed into one small area, resulting in a series of pointless interactions that drag out for forty minutes.

One of the unfortunate aspects of heavily plot-centered television episodes is that they provide very little room for the actors to stretch and grow; to add nuance to their performances and their character’s persona. With Enterprise there are frequent examples of episodes where the purpose of the episode is to explain how a technology was developed (i.e. “StarFleet actually got early Holodeck technology from X aliens . . . on this mission” or “the first time the transporter was used on people happened when . . .”) and to create a sense that the Enterprise is on its own without the StarFleet resources every other incarnation of Trek has had at its disposal to fall back on. “The Catwalk” is one of those episodes.

“The Catwalk” is unfortunate in that it is hard to care about the characters, especially as they become irritable and whiny. This is a very whiny episode of Enterprise and given how T’Pol shows irritation early in the episode, it feels rather fast like the writers were stretching to make the limited concept of the episode work.

The Enterprise is in orbit of a new planet when it is hailed by an alien race that advises them of an incoming neutronic front. Unable to outrun the massive spatial phenomenon, Tucker and Archer propose taking refuge in a remote area of the ship, the catwalk section in the warp nacelles. There they plan to weather the storm and as a humanitarian gesture, Archer allows the three Takret aboard. Their leader claims they are stellar cartographers, though it quickly becomes clear that they are not. Facing eight days inside the storm, Archer reluctantly powers down the ship so the crew can survive the phenomenon.

After a few days, nerves get frayed. The Takret keep many of the humans awake with their rituals, Reed gets spacesick, and T’Pol and Reed begin to whine excessively and illustrate annoyance with their peers. When the matter and antimatter injectors come online without warning, Trip is sent to deactivate them. In his spacesuit, he discovers aliens working in Engineering and throughout the ship without any protective suits. He also finds an alien ship attached to the Enterprise and he realizes that the warp systems coming back online is not a glitch. Confronting their guests, they learn the truth about the invaders and face more dangers inside and outside the catwalk.

“The Catwalk” is like the Enterprise version of “Starship Mine” (reviewed here!) or any number of other episodes in the franchise where the ship is taken by invaders. However, it takes two thirds of the episode before that even happens, so it plods along in an uninteresting way for the bulk of the airtime. While Reed has been characterized as a pessimist, he has never before simply been a whiny jerk. Reed ought to be a professional, like the rest of the StarFleet crew, so why he treat Trip badly for his lack of ability to prepare for this exact contingency makes him seem more like a jerk than a character with layers of emotion to him.

More disturbing is T’Pol. While only relevant to a single scene, T’Pol illustrates a very un-Vulcan lack of control when she and Archer share close quarters for resting. Even if T’Pol is irked by Porthos, Archer, and the situation, she should not show it. Spock was able to go several days without rest without emoting and he was only half-Vulcan!

All that said, “The Catwalk” does some of what it sets out to do exceptionally well. The crew of the Enterprise is trapped and alone without any other resources to fall back upon. They only have their ingenuity and the idea of that would be far more compelling if so much of the episode was not spent with the crew’s initial adaptation to the spatial phenomenon they encounter. Moreover, after dealing (surprisingly quickly) with the invaders, the episode moves lazily toward an anticlimax that makes the entire episode feel like it was a waste of time.

While not terrible, “The Catwalk” meanders through itself allowing for nothing superlative or exciting to occur before it ends on a low beat. This is a clear stumble in the Enterprise series, though it is not from incompetence or incongruity with the rest of the franchise, merely its failure to produce anything remotely interesting in and of its own right.

[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 works with Zach Grenier, please check out my reviews of:
Fantastic 4: Rise Of The Silver Surfer
Fight Club
Tommy Boy


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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