Friday, February 14, 2014

Post-Khan, Pre-Khan: “Borderland” Stuffs Enterprise With Villains!

The Good: Fast-paced, The few moments of character, Decent acting
The Bad: Creates big continuity problems in the franchise, Underwhelming on the character front
The Basics: Brent Spiner returns to the Star Trek franchise as one of Dr. Soong’s ancestors, a corrupt scientist bent on being reunited with his genetically-enhanced creations.

In the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise, the writers worked hard to make the series – which was strongly divergent from the rest of the franchise from the outset – fall in line with the rest of the franchise. Sometimes, in order to make references to the original Star Trek - which Star Trek: Enterprise was a prequel to - Star Trek: Enterprise went in some truly extreme directions. Such was the case with “Borderland,” the first of a three-part arc that involved the Augments.

The Augments are the genetically-modified (though how is entirely unclear) humans who were spawned from embryos that were genetically enhanced from the Eugenics Wars. The Eugenics Wars were a late-20th Century conflict invented in the Star Trek episode “Space Seed” (reviewed here!). The concept of that episode was that genetic engineering would lead to heightened violence and aggression in addition to increased intelligence, ambition, and strength. Despite supposedly being super-smart, the primary antagonist of “Borderland,” Arik Soong, makes the exact same mistakes as those who engineered Khan Noonien Singh.

A Klingon ship near the space controlled by the Orion Syndicate captures two humans. When they do, the Klingons are abruptly killed violently by the humans and the humans stage a jailbreak for their fellow genetically-enhanced friends. Captain Archer arrives at the StarFleet prison cell of Dr. Arik Soong. Soong was a brilliant, but unethical, scientist captured ten years prior. Now his experiments, augmented genetically-enhanced humans, led by Raakin, are staging attacks. Insisting that only Soong can track down the Augments in the space controlled by the Orion Syndicate, Archer conscripts Soong to stop the Augments.

En route, the Enterprise is attacked by Orion ships and several of the crew are abducted. With T’Pol, several other women, and Ensign Pierce, abducted, Archer reluctantly lets Soong go free in order to get him into the slaver auction where his crewmembers are being sold. After T’Pol is sold for millions, Archer and Soong arrive at the slave auction. As the Augment Malik convinces Persis to back him, Malik stages a coup on the Augment leader, Raakin. As the Enterprise crew and Soong break out the enslaved StarFleet officers, their victory is short-lived as the ship finds itself in the crosshairs of both the Orions and the Augments.

“Borderland” follows on the heels of “Home” (reviewed here!) and it marks a number of important continuity events. T’Pol has been married and “Borderland” is her first day as a full-fledged StarFleet officer (though why she is not given a proper uniform by Archer makes absolutely no sense). The episode marks the relaunch of the Enterprise and that is handled with sufficient fanfare. As importantly, Archer is still being treated as a celebrity, much as he was in “Home” and that makes for some wonderful snarky remarks from Dr. Soong.

Dr. Soong is played by Brent Spiner and the episode is thrilling to see him back in action in the Star Trek franchise. Spiner plays Soong with as much intelligence as the character is written – there is something seriously disturbing about the fact that Soong learned nothing from the mistakes of the prior generation of genetic engineers – and with menace that reminds viewers almost instantly of how he played Lore on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Spiner is good and the role of Arik Soong in “Borderland” allows Spiner to play much more to his comedic side in a way he was seldom allowed to on Star Trek: The Next Generation. When he is not being funny, Spiner’s performance is very familiar. Spiner plays smart, funny, and menacing well.

“Borderland” also marks the final appearance of actor J.G. Hertzler in the Star Trek franchise. Hertzler plays the anonymous Klingon Captain in the episode’s teaser and there is a sense of symmetry to his final appearance the franchise; his first appearance was as a Vulcan Captain who was killed in the teaser of “Emissary” (reviewed here!). This is not his most significant role at all, but Hertzler makes the most of the opportunity he is given.

The rest of the acting is unremarkable in “Borderland.” Dominic Keating is understated as Reed and Jolene Blalock is given ridiculously little to do other than be flopped around by the giant guest stars playing the Orion slavers. Connor Trinneer gets the short end episode as his character is not given a realistically-written part. Trinneer’s Tucker finally admitted his love for T’Pol and at the climax of the prior episode Trinneer delivered a heartwrenching performance as Tucker was forced to watch T’Pol marry someone else. The writers of “Borderland” fail to follow-through on the character’s angst and only make a passing reference to Trip asking about T’Pol’s honeymoon. Tucker’s character is so unimpressively presented that it takes Arik Soong explaining why he thinks Tucker must hate him for it to make any sense when Soong accuses Tucker of having those feelings. While this is supposed to make Soong seem especially perceptive, it only serves to accent how sloppy Tucker is presented in “Borderland.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the actors playing the Augments are good. Abby Brammell plays Persis well-enough to explain her character’s attachment to Malik long before it is made explicit in the episode. Alec Newman’s Malik is a convincing villain, as is Joel West’s Raakin. Raakin is generically villainous in a way that instantly harkens back to Khan.

Ultimately, “Borderland” is an action-adventure episode of Star Trek: Enterprise and it is more enjoyable than it is objectively good. Packed with villains, it is a compelling first part to the next major Star Trek: Enterprise arc.

The four biggest gaffes in “Borderland:”
4. Given how the effects of the attacks by the Augments were incredibly widespread, the Augments are a huge example of issues with human genetic engineering. As a result, it is a much more relevant, StarFleet-related, and current example of why genetic engineering would be outlawed by the Federation, and yet it seems to have slipped the minds of Bashir and everyone else in “Statistical Probabilities” (reviewed here!),
3. If the Orions are truly so powerful and right off the border of Klingon space, it makes no sense that the Klingons would not wipe them out before ever attempting to attack the Federation in the era of Star Trek,
2. The Enterprise goes to warp within the solar system – actually between Earth and the moon – which is considered exceptionally dangerous and environmentally destructive in all subsequent incarnations of Star Trek. In fact, it is so dangerous that it is only under the most extreme emergencies that starships go to warp within a solar system. No such crisis exists in “Borderland,” making the warp jump unnecessarily dangerous and pointless,
1. The Augments and the Eugenics Wars are spoken about as common knowledge. Why it takes a specialized officer in “Space Seed” to remind the crew about Khan makes no sense given that happens only a few decades later.

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


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© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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