Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Average Abduction Story: “Affliction”

The Good: Decent acting, Good effects/sets, Moments of character development, Decent retcon.
The Bad: Holds up poorly independent of episodes that preceded and followed it.
The Basics: Starting the arc involving the Klingons and how their make-up changed, “Affliction” is entirely a set-up episode.

One of the dangers of creating well-serialized television is that individual episodes in the series may hold up remarkably poorly on their own (but great in context). The fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise was heavily serialized with multiple two- and three-episode story arcs. Unfortunately, some of those episodes were very much intended as parts of a whole and the individual episodes suffered. “Affliction” might be the worst of those episodes.

“Affliction” is the first part of a two-parter that finally explains why the Klingons looked different in Star Trek (the original series) from how they appear in the rest of the Star Trek franchise. The practical, production, answer of course is that make-up techniques were not as sophisticated in the 1960s as in the late 1970s when the revamped Klingons were introduced. Since then, the fan explanations for the different Klingon races were numerous and were jokingly canonized in “Trials And Tribble-ations” (reviewed here!). For Star Trek canon, “Affliction” and “Divergence” create an in-universe explanation for the difference. More than just understanding why such an explanation would be necessary (which is not a part of “Affliction”), viewers have to have extensive knowledge of the Star Trek universe. The Section 31 subplot is meaningless without “Inquisition” (reviewed here!), the Augment revelation is meaningless without “Borderland” (reviewed here!) and understanding why Tucker is leaving Enterprise is a mystery to those unfamiliar with “The Aenar” (reviewed here!).

When a Klingon is injected with a virus, the rest of the bridge crew is horrified. When the Enterprise returns to Earth to drop off Tucker and attend to the launch of the U.S.S. Columbia, Sato and Phlox go out to dinner. There, Phlox is abducted and the crew of the Enterprise scrambles to find him. While Tucker settles in as the Chief Engineer of the Columbia, Reed looks into how Phlox was abducted and meets with the mysterious Harris who tells him he has a way to help find Phlox. T’Pol, with Archer’s help, follows her own lead; mind-melding with Sato to figure out what language the assailants were speaking. As the Enterprise hunts down the Rigellian freighter they think Phlox was taken by, Tucker adapts to the Columbia.

On the Klingon ship, Phlox is introduced to his captors. The Klingon General K’Vagh wants Phlox to cure a disease that is sweeping through the Klingon Empire. With the aid of Doctor Antaak, Phlox begins to isolate the virus that is menacing the Klingons. Investigating the destroyed Rigellian freighter that Phlox was transported on, Reed is exposed for tampering with the evidence that leads to the Klingons. When Phlox discovers what the cause of the affliction among the Klingons is, he quickly realizes that humans may be involved in trying to wipe out the Klingon Empire!

Because the Klingon storyline is not at all resolved in “Affliction,” the real story of the episode is the Reed plotline. Reed is involved in a proto-Section 31. I write “proto-“ because Section 31 was defined as being a secret organization that was incorporated as part of the Federation charter. It can’t actually be Section 31 if it predates the Federation. The concept that Reed is working for the proto-31 is an interesting retcon and it works well. In fact, there is nothing specific in Reed’s character that would contradict the idea that he has been working for Section 31 all along. Given how secretive his character has been, Reed working for Section 31 is a clever retcon. What does not work is how the proto-Section 31 plot interacts with the rest of the franchise. One of the few reasonable concepts in Star Trek Into Darkness (reviewed here!) was that Admiral Marcus was concerned about the Klingon Empire could attack Earth and that fear was driving him to extreme measures. Section 31’s desire to protect Earth above all else should have led Harris and Reed to want to get Phlox back faster so the established Klingons would wipe out the infected ones, thus weakening the Klingon Empire.

As for the Klingon front, the explanation for the different Klingon races is made plausible in the long arc of the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise. The reference to Dr. Soong is a clever one and the idea that the Klingons were concerned about the Augments makes a great deal of sense. That they would attempt to create their own Augments is a neat idea.

On the acting front, “Affliction” features a number of guest actors used very well. The return of Ada Maris as Captain Hernandez is almost as notable as the return of Seth MacFarlane as Ensign Rivers, who provides viewers with a reason to keep watching through the Tucker subplot. Eric Pierpoint is well-cast as Harris and the strength of his delivery creates an entire subtext for his conversation with Reed. The recently-deceased James Avery is wonderful as K’Vagh and John Schuck plays yet another memorable Klingon as Antaak (which has to be one of the least-Klingon names yet!).

Amid mind-melds, repressed sexual tension, and conspiracies, the character development in “Affliction” is minimal. Most of the actual development is focused on Reed, who suddenly finds his loyalties completely divided between Archer and Harris. Otherwise, Archer is the determined Captain one expects, Phlox is the diligent doctor and T’Pol’s continued sexual desire for Tucker is only news to Sato and viewers who have been asleep for the entire prior season. “Affliction” is a good set-up episode, but it is a mediocre standalone episode as it hinges extensively on other episodes to be comprehensible, much less enjoyable.

The three biggest gaffes in “Affliction:”
3. Archer orders Reed to look for transporter activity in the system when Phlox is abducted. Because there has not been transwarp teleportation developed – it’s developed by Scotty in the reboot universe of Star Trek (reviewed here!) – such a search is ridiculous. Computer records of all StarFleet transporters would have been much more appropriate,
2. In “Dagger Of The Mind” (reviewed here!), Dr. McCoy is unfamiliar with Vulcan mind-melds; that type of secret could not be maintained if Archer has knowledge of them and directs T’Pol on how to perform a mind-meld here,
1. The Klingon first infected with the virus seems to believe he will be killed as part of a sentence against him. Lethal injection is not a Klingon method of execution.

[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!

For other works with Brad Greenquist, please visit my reviews of:
The Lone Ranger (2013)
“Dawn” - Star Trek: Enterprise
“Who Mourns For Morn?” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“Warlord” - Star Trek: Voyager


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

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