Sunday, August 4, 2013

The History Of War Crimes Lives In The Familiarity Of “The Breach.”

The Good: Good themes, Decent make-up, Good character moments
The Bad: Very familiar plot and character elements
The Basics: “The Breach” is a good episode about medical ethics and the power of history . . . which is utterly familiar to fans of the Star Trek franchise.

Critics of movies, television, and literature are frequently known to say “it’s all been done.” That might well be true; virtually every story has probably been told in one form or another and at this point in human history, the magic of great cinema/literature is the way in which a familiar story might be told. In the case of the Enterprise episode “The Breach,” the a-plot is not only far too familiar to fans of the franchise, but it is hardly fresh in that the episodes it most closely resembles were done recently within the franchise. The Star Trek franchise is pretty wonderful about exploring the ramifications of war crimes and history, especially as they pertain to issues of medical ethics. Before “The Breach,” the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Nothing Human” (reviewed here!) presented virtually the same medical ethical dilemma and between that episode and “Jetrel” (reviewed here!), the concepts in the episode have been pretty much done to death.

“The Breach” breaks a long trend of Enterprise episodes that have completely lame teasers. The episode is instantly intriguing, but in perfect support for the idea that the franchise has already shot its wad on this concept, “The Breach” is filled up with a b-plot that is entirely different from the story’s main thrust and is plot-based without truly advancing any of the characters. Given how heavy the a-plot is, the simple cave exploring/survival story gels poorly with the rest of the episode and pulls focus from the more potentially riveting aspect of Dr. Phlox’s character development.

Opening with Dr. Phlox receiving news from the Denobulan Science Ministry, the Enterprise is diverted to the politically unstable planet Xantoras. The Xantorans are xenophobic and are removing all off-worlders from their planet. While Mayweather, Reed, and Tucker go spelunking to try to find a team of Denobulan scientists who are somewhere beneath the surface exploring, the Enterprise comes to the aid of an evacuating ship that has engine problems. Phlox is visibly shaken seeing one of the members of the alien crew and when the alien awakens, he refuses treatment from Phlox.

Phlox reveals to Archer that the Denobulans and Antarans have been periodically at war with one another and the alien is willing to die rather than let Phlox treat him. The Antaran reveals to Archer that the Denobulans have killed more than 20 million Antarans and he is willing to die rather than let Phlox treat him. When Mayweather is severely injured spelunking on the planet, Tucker and Reed have to go on alone to try to find the Denobulan scientists, who are reticent to leave.

“The Breach” feels very much like what one expects of Star Trek. The episode has a strong moral issue that is explored, even if it is an incredibly familiar issue. What makes “The Breach” work as well as it does is that the episode hinges upon the performance of John Billingsley as Phlox and he lives up to expectations. Often characterized as goofy, Billingsley is very much like Ethan Philips from Star Trek: Voyager in that he is marginalized so frequently that one usually forgets his talent until the producers and directors actually bother to focus on him. Billingsley provides an exceptional emotional range for the character and he makes the mood swings and character journey seem organic as opposed to erratic.

As well, Billingsley and the guest star who plays the Antaran (sadly, he is not named in the episode and yet the aliens in the cast list are, so it is only my best guess that makes me believe is it actor Henry Stram) play off one another exceptionally well. Billingsley and Stram are able to credibly play the subtle anger between their two characters perfectly. In fact, they play it so well that one almost does not question how a guy knocked unconscious and suffering from severe radiation sickness would recognize instantly an alien not seen by his people for more than three hundred years (or how the Denobulans apparently live for more than two hundred years as Phlox references that his grandmother lived through the last war, which was clearly and repeatedly established as ending more than three hundred years prior).

As for the b-plot, it suffers some from being unremarkable, but also from having acting that is unconvincing and occasionally cheesy. Connor Trinneer plays Trip Tucker as utterly unconvincing when he confronts the Denobulan scientists and he does not adequately rebuff the points they make. In fact, when the Denobulan scientist points out that the government on the planet topples pretty fast and regularly, after seeing how hard it was for the StarFleet personnel to get into the caverns, one has to ask why Tucker didn’t agree and just give the scientists some phase pistols to defend themselves!

Ultimately, “The Breach” is a refreshing change of pace for Enterprise, but it misses several opportunities. For example, of the rescued Denobulan scientists, none of them are Phlox’s children and none of them interact with the Antaran to either prove Phlox’s point that the Denobulans have been trying to repent for their past or illustrate that Phlox is an extraordinary alien by showing how hate sometimes survives. Either way, the resolving scene between Archer and the Antaran is anticlimactic considering the variables the episode puts into play. Even so, “The Breach” is worth watching, even if it distracts occasionally from its own purpose.

The three biggest gaffes in “The Breach:”
3. Yet again, a plethora of new aliens are seen in what should be the heart of Federation space,
2. In talking to T’Pol, T’Pol reveals that Phlox is lucky to have come from a planet that embraces other cultures. In Enterprise, Vulcans have been characterized as xenophobes, in the rest of the franchise, the Vulcans embrace infinite diversity. T’Pol’s attitude in this episode either contradicts her own previously-stated beliefs or the cultural values of the Vulcans of this time,
1. The episode begins with Phlox educating Sato about Tribbles. If Tribbles were well-known by the Denobulans, there would be no reason they would be a novelty in “The Trouble With Tribbles” (reviewed here!) a hundred years later.

[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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