Saturday, November 16, 2013

Star Trek: Enterprise Gets Back On Track With The “Chosen Realm!”

The Good: Good themes, Decent performances
The Bad: Predictable plot, The CG bat is not quite right
The Basics: When the Enterprise is taken hostage by zealots, Star Trek: Enterprise continues the long-running Star Trek theme against organized religion.

Say what you will about Gene Roddenberry’s vision for the Star Trek franchise, but there are few aspects of his vision that have survived like his distrust of organized religion. Roddenberry had surprisingly few episodes of Star Trek that he actually wrote, but one of the first was “The Return Of The Archons” (reviewed here!) and it had a strong correlation between religion and cultism. That connection has been upheld in virtually every incarnation of Star Trek, with cults being very specifically targeted in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s “Covenant” (reviewed here!). Star Trek: Enterprise followed in that long tradition when it presented “Chosen Realm.”

“Chosen Realm” is likely to offend those who deny religious hypocrisy and the issues that come with religious belief being taken to the point that one would kill for it. While it might offend some, Star Trek fans are likely to find the episode surprisingly formulaic. There might not be a ton of character development in “Chosen Realm” – Archer is given the choice of one crewmember to kill to save his ship and his choice is fairly obvious – but the episode still flows surprisingly well.

Having discovered a third Sphere in the Expanse, Tucker and Mayweather return to the Enterprise in a Shuttlepod, inadvertently bringing the Triannon with them. Not long after, the Enterprise receives a distress call, while T’Pol is looking over the data concerning the Sphere. The distress call comes from the Triannon, who are a spiritual people who worship the Spheres. At dinner with their leader, Pri’Nam D’Jamat, describes the Expanse as the Chosen Realm, and reveals that he has visited twelve of what he claims are thousands of Spheres. D’Jamat believes the spatial anomalies the Spheres create are the breath of their gods, the Makers. Given how much faster the Enterprise is than the Triannon ship, D’Jamat uses his followers as suicide bombers to take control of the ship.

While Phlox resists being confined to quarters, the Enterprise falls under the influence of D’Jamat. D’Jamat takes control of the Enterprise with a very different mission. He wants to bomb his enemies on Triannon out of existence and he gives Archer a lesser sentence for the crimes he accuses the Captain of. Given a choice of saving his ship at the cost of one life, Archer fools D’Jamat with the transporter and while the invading force is no longer considering him, he and Phlox work to disable the Triannon organic explosives and retake the ship.

Despite feeling like a bottle episode, “Chosen Realm” is a decent chapter in the serialized third season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Written and produced at a time when anti-Muslim sentiments were high in the United States following the September 11, 2001 attacks, “Chosen Realm” lacks a sense of subtlety and thematic nuance. The Triannons under D’Jamat’s influence have been fighting a religious war for centuries over one sect’s belief that the Expanse was created in nine days vs. the sect that believes it took ten days. That level of absurdity makes the themes of “Chosen Realm” painfully obvious, though in the long-term the comparison to Christian fundamentalists in America might resonate better than the “religious zealot as terrorist” aspect that was born of post-9/11 paranoia.

On the acting front, “Chosen Realm” is dominated by Scott Bakula and guest star Conor O’Farrell. O’Farrell is a recognizable character actor (in “Chosen Realm” more for his voice than his appearance, as he usually appears with less hair and no prosthetics!) and he has the on-screen gravitas to hold his own opposite Bakula. Bakula continues the portrayal of Archer as a moody, somewhat introspective, captain and O’Farrell plays the opposite as D’Jamat. O’Farrell is able to express zealot passion and anger with his eyes alone and director Roxann Dawson is smart and savvy enough to linger on O’Farrell’s face during key scenes.

“Chosen Realm” is simplistic and it is definitely biased by the times – Indava, one of the Triannons, wants an abortion, which is against the Triannon religion – and heavy-handed (the last shots of the episode are pretty obvious), but the episode is not bad. Fleshing out the beings that live in the Expanse works fairly well in “Chosen Realm” and makes the episode worth watching, though the performances are the biggest selling point.

The two biggest gaffes in “Chosen Realm:”
2. D’Jamat had access to the Enterprise’s computers and prior log entries before Archer bamboozled him with the transporter. As a result, D’Jamat should have been able to see: a. what the transporter was for, b. that the Enterprise had never carried out any executions (much less using the transporter for it), and c. that executing prisoners violated StarFleet beliefs (given that this precedes “The Menagerie,” reviewed here, there would be no crimes that carried the death penalty for StarFleet officers),
1. Once again, Vulcans are actively part of a deception (though T’Pol’s lies in “Chosen Realm” are more lies of omission), which is not a cultural conceit of the Vulcans.

[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 works with Connor O’Farrell, please visit my reviews of:
Revolution - Season 1
True Blood - Season 5
Flash Of Genius
“Rogue Planet” - Enterprise
Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season Four
“Little Green Men” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine


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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