Sunday, September 8, 2013

Enter The Bragaverse With “The Expanse!”

The Good: Good plot development
The Bad: Very light on character development, Stiff acting, Mediocre special effects
The Basics: “The Expanse” resolves the growing Klingon subplot in Enterprise and takes the time to establish the tenants of the third season when Earth is attacked by a mysterious, new, alien race.

Some say that I am way too hard on Enterprise in how I evaluate the show. I say it comes from having standards and a strong knowledge of the Star Trek franchise that allows me to be objectively rate each episode and put it in context of the larger franchise. Usually, trying to put Enterprise - especially early Enterprise episodes in context is a process of discovery by which fans realize just how little the writers and executive producers cared about the rest of the franchise. At the head of that team for Enterprise was Rick Berman and Brannon Braga and by the end of the second season, they were getting desperate to get fans (new or old) to come back and watch Enterprise. With “The Expanse,” Braga and Berman laid the framework for the “fuck you” third season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Under Braga’s creative direction, the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise would be the first one to bear the Star Trek name, but would be entirely detached from the rest of the franchise. In other words, the third season of Enterprise might be decent television, but it is absolutely terrible Star Trek. It could have been fine as Brannon Braga’s own project, but he stuck it in the Star Trek universe and that would pretty much be his last hurrah as a writer/executive producer for the Star Trek franchise. The get into the pocket universe of Brannon Braga’s, the second season ended with “The Expanse.”

And, to be fair to Braga – for all those naysayers who claim I am just blindly prejudiced against Enterprise - “The Expanse” has one big continuity boon. In “Homefront” (reviewed here!) on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Federation President Jarish-Inyo says that there has not been a planetary state of emergency on Earth for two hundred years (a continuity issue in and of itself given that Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home occurred roughly one hundred years prior and certainly qualified as a state of emergency for Earth). “The Expanse” actually illustrates the state of emergency on Earth referenced as being about two hundred years before the Changeling bombing of Antwerp. So, intentional or not, Braga and Berman actually aid the overall Star Trek continuity moments before they utterly gut the franchise.

After an alien probe arrives in orbit of and cuts a fiery swath from Florida to Venezuela, the Enterprise is recalled to Earth to investigate. The Klingons offer Duras a chance to regain his honor and command, which puts him on a collision course with Enterprise as it heads home. As information reaches Enterprise about the alien attack – too slow for Trip to learn about the fate of his sister in Florida – it is surrounded by Suliban ships. Archer is abducted and told that the Xindi are behind the attack on Earth and their strike is a preemptive attack because the Xindi have learned about how StarFleet destroyed their homeworld four hundred years in the future. Archer is told by the mysterious humanoid from the future that the Xindi are building a more impressive weapon with which to destroy Earth in the future.

Arriving at the Sol system, Enterprise is attacked by Duras’s Klingon ships. Rescued by humans, Archer makes it back to Earth where Ambassador Soval reveals that the coordinates Archer was given for the Xindi weapon is a three month journey away in the Delphic Expanse, which seems to be a spatial anomaly filled with horrors from which few starships ever return. Using quantum dating, Archer raises questions about the temporal origins of the alien probe. After a psychological examination from a Vulcan doctor, Archer takes on a military team. Phlox decides to stay aboard Enterprise while T’Pol debates defying the Central Command and staying with the ship. Tucker deals, poorly, with the death of his sister as Reed overhauls the Enterprise with photon torpedoes. Ambassador Soval reveals how a Vulcan ship’s crew reacted poorly to the Delphic Expanse, much to the horror of Archer and T’Pol. When T’Pol resigns her commission, Archer allows her to remain on Enterprise, which seems like it might be short-lived as Duras pursues the Enterprise through the perimeter into the Expanse!

“The Expanse” sets up an entire season in a spatial anomaly that was never even alluded to in the rest of the franchise. The macguffin used to convince StarFleet of the truth of Archer’s encounter with beings from the future comes from quantum dating the wreckage of the probe (which self destructs, apparently, for no reason evident). The physics of the quantum dating is ridiculous. Archer deduces that a piece of the wreckage is from the future because it comes up with a negative number. What the writers are hoping the viewer will not understand is how molecular dating works. It is based on decay rates of isotopes within an item. The thing is, a negative number for a decay rate is utterly ridiculous; that would indicate a molecular build-up. Isotopes, elements, and compounds in the future do not have inherently more subatomic particles and the addition of more subatomic particles to a compound would change the molecular compound making it unstable in a way that is physically impossible (which is why, for a simple example, hydrogen has only one electron and not 420 – it could not possibly hold those electrons to its core). So, even if the probe had components from the future inserted into the machine moments before it left the future, the decay rate would indicate that it was only days or hours old (or, by the time Enterprise reached Earth, weeks), not a negative number. If the writers had been careful, they could have easily used any scanner from the future to measure chronoton particles (given that that particle is a well-established Star Trek temporal particle), but Berman and Braga are not that careful.

In fact, much of “The Expanse” is a lesson in carelessness and a preparation for the utter, forthcoming “fuck you!” from Braga and Berman. Tucker’s conversation with Archer about how eager he is to get revenge on the Xindi serves only to prepare viewers for the idea that the Prime Directive will not be an issue for the entire next season. The Delphic Expanse is beyond the bounds of normal physics, filled with hostile aliens whose purpose is to wipe out humanity, so Archer commits to doing anything necessary to stop the Xindi. As Tucker spits out his line about despising the non-interference directive, viewers can almost hear Gene Roddenberry rolling over in his grave.

The character who gets utterly screwed in “The Expanse” is Hoshi Sato. Sato has absolutely no presence in “The Expanse” and Linda Park’s performance is utterly pathetic. When told Earth has been attacked, Park exhibits less emotion as Sato than Jolene Blalock does as T’Pol! But Sato, from the beginning, did not want to be on Enterprise. She was originally conscripted by the Captain to help deal with the Klingon language needs Archer had in “Broken Bow” (reviewed here!). Here, Sato is back on the safety of Earth with absolutely no obligation to continue on Enterprise. That even lip service is not paid to her and her choice as to whether or not to stay on Enterprise is a glaring oversight that reveals just how low a priority the character was.

The special effects in “The Expanse” are notably sloppy. The initial attack by the Xindi probe is visible from space, but in the close up is not cutting a wide-enough blast to actually pull that off. Virtual characters in long shots and real actors on virtual sets look entirely fake. While the space battles are decent, the finer effects are anything but.

“The Expanse” is a set-up episode that, in the process, completely undermines the established characters of Enterprise.

The three biggest gaffes in “The Expanse:”
3. In “Amok Time” (reviewed here!), the idea of Vulcan’s acting passionately and destructively is an audacious notion. Given how Archer, T’Pol, and Forrest all see footage of Vulcans acting homicidal, that such things might stay secret for hundreds of years is ridiculous,
2. The Xindi are yet another alien race who originate in what will be the heart of Federation space that are never before referenced,
1. The Delphic Expanse is similar to any number of spatial phenomenon encountered throughout the Star Trek franchise yet is never once referenced before. Given how integral the mission Enterprise is going on is, humans one hundred and two hundred years later should still have a visceral response to giant spatial phenomenon, like the one in “The Immunity Syndrome” (reviewed here!) as a result of the Xindi attack from the Delphic Expanse.

[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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