Saturday, October 12, 2013

Finally Returning To The Vulcan Problem: “Impulse!”

The Good: Interesting plot, Convincing acting
The Bad: Mediocre special effects, Odd crew separation choices, No real character development.
The Basics: “Impulse” is the Star Trek: Enterprise episode that features . . . zombie Vulcans and many groans from the viewers.

One of the problems with Star Trek: Enterprise that cannot be overstated is that the series has exceptionally weak teasers. The teaser, for those who do not know the lingo, is the first part of the episode - seldom long enough to be a proper act – before the opening credits. The purpose of a teaser is to set up the episode and to ensure that viewers will want to continue watching the episode after the first commercial break. Star Trek: Enterprise has a tendency to present teasers that are around thirty seconds long and do not tell the viewer much of anything about the episode they will be seeing. The series more often than not sets up a problem that viewers have little reason to return to.

I mention this at the outset of the review for the third season “Impulse” because the entirety of the teaser for the frenetically-shot episode is T’Pol screaming in pain and fear. Those who have no idea what the Expanse is, what Vulcans are or why T’Pol might be screaming are not likely to be even curious as to why a character is screaming incoherently; as a fan of the franchise, I found myself utterly unsurprised and uninterested. All “Impulse” promises viewers is that after months in the Expanse, Star Trek: Enterprise is actually going to revisit the problem promised in “The Expanse” (reviewed here!), namely that the spatial anomaly causes Vulcans to lose their emotional control and essentially go crazy . . . violent angry crazy.

A day before T’Pol wigs out, Trip Tucker proposes restarting movie night as Archer worries about his crew. Called to the bridge, Tucker, T’Pol, and Archer learn of a distress signal from the Vulcan ship, Seleya, a ship T’Pol once served aboard. The Seleya was the ship the Vulcan crew that went psychotic was looking for when it visited the Expanse in the cautionary video Ambassador Soval showed Archer after the attack on Earth and after entering an asteroid belt, the Enterprise crew finds the Seleya. The one person the crew finds alive aboard the ship is a psychotic Vulcan. Soon after, the rest of the Away Team is attacked by more Vulcans, all of whom have a distinctly undead quality to them.

The Away Team barely escapes the zombie Vulcans, who recover very quickly from the stun shots. T’Pol admits to being emotionally compromised and when she gets one of her former crewmates to examine, she finds him little more than a mindless, pustule-covered animated corpse. While Tucker and Mayweather try to harvest some Trellium from the asteroid field, T’Pol begins to suffer the same effects of the Expanse as the crew of the Seleya.

One of the biggest problems with “Impulse” comes in the special effects. I can live with the Star Trek version of The Walking Dead, but “Impulse” is riddled with mistakes that make it clear the producers and director David Livingston were prioritizing style over substance. On the effects front, this comes in the form of the Seleya. The Vulcan ship is missing huge sections of the hull. Those sections have clearly been picked apart; the framework of the ship below is clearly undamaged (it is steel colored, not burned) and it is symmetrical. In other words, the ship was not destroyed by the asteroids, it was systematically picked apart . . . then not hit by any asteroids, despite being stuck in an asteroid field that is visibly unstable.

More important is the lack of sensibility to the Away Team. Mayweather is the ship’s best shuttle pilot and the only way it makes sense for him not to pilot the shuttle that brings Archer and T’Pol over to the Enterprise is to service the b-plot. The b-plot does not make organic use of Mayweather, it just teams another one of the regular cast up with Tucker, even though that plot does not get off the ground until well-after the Captain’s Away Team is aboard the Seleya.

The emotion-crazed, zombified Vulcans work in tandem and have survived their exposure to Trellium-D for years. These are high-functioning crazy zombies and that idea is about as ridiculous as rewriting 28 Days Later (reviewed here!) to have those suffering from the Rage building skyscrapers.

What “Impulse” has to its credit is a decent plot progression. The episode moves fast, even if it does nothing to build any of the characters. There are moments when the episode is actually exciting. As well, the acting is homogenously good. This might be one of Jolene Blalock’s best performances as T’Pol as she plays the Vulcan science officer as slowly going mad in a disturbing way. She is unsettling to watch and that is exactly what the episode calls for.

Otherwise, “Impulse” just seems like an attempt to create a Star Trek episode for zombie enthusiasts. T’Pol is left in an unenviable position that has the potential to give Blalock a chance to show her acting range, but outside of playing batshit crazy effectively, whether she can rise to the occasion is not yet evident.

The three biggest gaffes in “Impulse:”
3. Given how many episodes of Star Trek where Spock is paranoid and succumbing to emotion, T’Pol doing the same should have prevented Spock getting ill ever being a novelty,
2. Dr. McCoy spends much of Star Trek amused by the idea that Vulcans have no emotions, so Spock’s human side must be asserting itself. Yet, in “Impulse,” T’Pol freely admits that Vulcan’s not having emotions is a common misconception; they have emotions, they just repress them. Why would McCoy still have such a misconception if, in one of their earliest meetings with Vulcans, that is a known misconception?! Is StarFleet Academy the worst educational body ever?!,
1. Corporal Hawkins has his phaser rifle set to stun; (normal) Vulcans have been seen in other Star Trek incarnations as easily resisting a single stun shot. Why earlier technology would actually stun Vulcans is virtually inconceivable and for a battle-hardened M.A.C.O.S. grunt to not have a weapon that could actually work is pretty lousy.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the penultimate 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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