Saturday, December 28, 2013

Consciously And Unconsciously Against Everything Star Trek, “Damage” Is A Broken Episode.

The Good: Moments of moralization, Pacing, Special effects
The Bad: Very stiff acting, B-plot is a huge problem
The Basics: Archer consciously crosses an ethical line while the writers of Star Trek: Enterprise unconsciously create a messy plotline for T’Pol in “Damage.”

There’s a good rule for a franchise that all future writers for the Star Trek franchise should heed: if you’re going to steal from somewhere for your ideas and plots, steal from somewhere other than your own franchise. Star Trek: Enterprise severely “borrowed” from the Star Trek franchise when it ended with the ship virtually destroyed in one episode and opened with the damaged ship virtually incapacitated and surrounded by enemies, much like in “A Time To Stand” (reviewed here!) and “Rocks And Shoals” (reviewed here!).

That said, “Damage,” which follows directly after “Azati Prime” (reviewed here!), is a fairly grim and realistic episode that finally reveals the Sphere Builders to the audience. Unfortunately, the b-plot, which involves T’Pol degrading fairly consistently, makes little sense in the internal continuity of the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise. In “Impulse” (reviewed here!), Trellium-D – which is used to protect the starships from the effects of the Expanse – is determined to be the cause of the Vulcans going crazy within the Expanse (in protecting their ships, they inadvertently poisoned themselves). The resolution to “Impulse” has Archer deciding not to fortify the ship in order to protect T’Pol and T’Pol is advised not to go near the ship’s store of Trellium-D. So, there is no good reason given that T’Pol would be degrading the way she is in “Damage” (and “Azati Prime”).

Opening with the Enterprise without warp drive, Degra, Jannar, and the leader of the Xindi-Primates demand that Dolim release Archer. Unwilling to trust the Xindi Reptile leader, the Xindi Aquatics take custody of Archer. With E-Deck virtually destroyed, T’Pol prioritizes restoring the deck so Tucker can try to repair the warp drive. When the Aquatics send a shuttle with Archer back to the Enterprise, the Captain is revived and learns that fourteen of the crew are dead with three more still missing. Shortly after T’Pol finds herself unable to control her limbs and emotions, the Enterprise gets a distress call from a nearby ship, an Illyrian vessel.

The Illyrian Captain is eager to trade with Archer, but he is unwilling to strand his own vessel in the expanse by trading away a warp coil that the Enterprise desperately needs to get the warp drive working again. After the Illyrian ship leaves, T’Pol has a nightmare and recovers some of the Trellian D, which she injects herself with. Sato realizes that the Xindi Aquatics are about to take Degra’s children hostage in order to insure he completes work on the weapon and Archer makes the decision to violate his own set of ethics to save Earth and the Enterprise. Ordering Reed to assemble an armed boarding party, Archer is ready to pirate the warp coil the Enterprise needs. When the Sphere Builder is called by the three members of the Xindi Council sympathetic to Archer, she reveals that she has aided the Xindi Reptiles and Insectoids without the rest of the Council knowing. Degra, however, has been swayed by the fact that Archer has provided proof for his story whereas the Sphere Builders remain enigmatic and out for their own agenda. With T’Pol advocating an ethical stance against Archer’s plan of attack, she and Archer come into conflict as Archer steps over the line to board the Illyrian ship and steal their warp coil.

“Damage” is a troubling step back for the character of T’Pol. The retcon concept of T’Pol “medicating” herself with Trellium-D makes no sense whatsoever. While sloppily writing off her entire character arc with Tucker as a drug addition, the fundamental problem with the concept remains tied to what came before. The Vulcans in “Impulse” went much crazier through much less direct exposure to the Trellium-D. Given the sloppy way in which T’Pol has been “self-medicating,” it seems like she would have poisoned herself much worse far before she ever became addicted and the result would have been much more potentially catastrophic before this ever happened. As well, T’Pol has been in Sickbay several times since she started poisoning herself with Trellium-D. And if she wanted to experience emotions, she didn’t need a drug, just to lower her conscious control. And in “Twilight” (reviewed here!), she either would have been dead, much more emotional, or prone to admitting her addiction to the future version of Archer because she had no reason to keep it secret. In other words, the T’Pol plotline with Trellium-D is just an absolute mess.

The exchange between Scott Bakula and Casey Biggs is packed with technobabble. As Archer tries to get a warp coil from the Illyrian Captain, the two actors exchange lines with a stiffness that is difficult to watch. The lack of emotion and realism – the disconnect between the words and the sense that the actors saying them fully understand them – makes the scene flop entirely and the viewer is left feeling like neither actor truly landed it.

Similarly, for all of the problems with the T’Pol plotline, one of the bigger issues is that Jolene Blalock does not truly sell the concept. Blalock does not make T’Pol an emotional junkie and she fails to sell the idea that T’Pol would have started down the path for the emotional exploration that the episode retroactively creates. Blalock is not extreme enough in her character’s degredation, nor subtle enough to make the viewer convinced that the character had such ambitions.

Despite that, the emotional journey of Archer is good. It calls to mind the difficulty faced by Sisko in “In The Pale Moonlight” (reviewed here!) and the idea of how far Archer will go to save humanity is a compelling one. “Damage” presents that, and the physical destruction to the Enterprise, well-enough, but not enough to make the episode worth watching for anything other than its place in the heavily-serialized arc.

The three biggest gaffes in “Damage:”
3. The T’Pol plotline completely undermines the internal strength of Vulcans and their lack of emotionalism, making it unrealistic that the cultural conceit of Vulcans lacking emotions would endure for hundreds of years,
2. The Sphere Builder looks like the entity that is the genetic basis for all life in the Milky Way galaxy, revealed in “The Chase” (reviewed here!). However, the Sphere Builders come from an entirely different dimension, so there is absolutely no reason they ought to bear such a similarity to the base entity,
1. Mayweather notes that the Xindi Aquatic language sounds like music and that allows Hoshi to start translating the language. Xindi Aquatic sounds quite a bit like whalesong; Hoshi’s ability to translate the language ought to have made is a much quicker leap for Spock and the Federation to evaluate the whalesong from the probe in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (reviewed here!).

[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 Rick Worthy, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Heroes - Seasons 3 & 4
“Proving Ground” - Star Trek: Enterprise
“Rajiin” - Star Trek: Enterprise
“The Xindi” - Star Trek: Enterprise
“Equinox, Part 2” - Star Trek: Voyager
“Equinox, Part 1” - Star Trek: Voyager
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - “Soldiers Of The Empire”
Star Trek: Insurrection
“Prototype” - Star Trek: Voyager


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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