01/03/2002. Contributed by Timothy W. Lynch
Timothy W. Lynch braves radiation poisoning from his malfunctioning TV set to bring you another Star Trek Enterprise review; and discovers that while Silent Enemy is a bit artificial, it's certainly entertaining enough.
Brief summary: The Enterprise faces off against a mysterious ship which refuses all communication.
After "Cold Front," which is primarily a plot-driven (and indeed premise-driven) show, Enterprise's first season brings us "Silent Enemy," which in many ways is much more character-driven.
The resulting episode, while an entertaining enough hour, comes off feeling a bit disjointed. In part, that's because its two storylines require radically different atmospheres.
The title plot, with Enterprise coming under repeated threat from a ship which is (a) entirely unknown, (b) very powerful, and (c) utterly uninterested in any sort of communication, is one that by rights should ooze tension, suspense, and probably desperation. (Some obvious analogues are "The Hunt For Red October" and, perhaps even more relevant, TOS's "Balance of Terror.")
With Archer making the difficult decision to head home for help and questioning his own desire to "rush" the ship out of Spacedock to prove something to himself, we should feel like there's an emotional turning point at hand, even without a threat of global repercussions.
On the other hand, if the second storyline isn't downright sitcom-like it's certainly a lighthearted fluff piece, Archer decides he wants to do something nice for Lt. Reed on his birthday, and enlists Hoshi in an all-out quest to discover Reed's favorite food.
The closest analogue I can think of here, at least within Trek, is DS9's "In the Cards," where Jake gets rather obsessively interested in getting his hands on a baseball card in order to cheer up his father.
Neither story is particularly bad on its own -- they just don't mesh well together. "In the Cards," to use one example, had a lot of serious material mixed in with the Jake/Nog plot, but the serious plot was more one of "ominous storm clouds gathering on the horizon" rather than one of an immediate life-and-death crisis.
"In the Cards" jarred a bit on first viewing; this one had a jarring enough combination to threaten whiplash. More than anything, I think that's the episode's primary flaw: it jumped back and forth so much that it never really established a particular mood, which tended to keep me at more of a distance than was probably intended.
In and of itself, each storyline worked reasonably well. The main plot suffered a bit in my eyes simply because the enemy *was* silent and basically faceless: while it heightened the tension among the crew, it also meant that the episode pretty much had carte blanche to let the threat take any form it could -- we didn't need to buy into the enemy's motives, as there weren't any particularly visible ones.
Thus, "invasive scans" and commands that Archer surrender his vessel, but no sense of what they actually *wanted*. There's nothing particularly wrong with that story, but doing it requires that either the atmosphere or the characterization be truly top-notch if it's going to draw me in properly. (The original "Alien," for example, didn't exactly boast strong motivations for its villain :-), but just oozed atmosphere out of every frame, which was plenty.
That's what happens when you make a good horror film, I guess.) Archer's decision to turn the ship around was definitely noteworthy from a character standpoint, but even more striking, at least to me, was his willingness (after thinking about it) to ask the Vulcan High Command for help.
Given how much antagonism he's had towards Vulcan attitudes in the past, that decision can't have been an easy one - - and director Winrich Kolbe makes some good use of silence when he actually decides to do it.
Archer can't bring himself to actually verbalize the order -- he just nods in such a way that Hoshi knows to get on it. Good job. Archer's subsequent soul-searching with Trip about whether he's put his crew's lives at risk just so he can prove a point about humans is good, though it suffered a little bit from an overuse of the whole "we knew the risks" attitude.
Virtually every other scene in the entire show has some version of "it's an acceptable risk," "we knew the risks," "of course this is risky," "risk is our business!" and so on. (No, the last one didn't actually appear -- it's an old Kirk line -- but it certainly fits the basic thrust of the show.)
I agree with the theme, actually -- I just think it got brought up so many times in *exactly the same way* that it got a little tedious. There must be some other ways to address it in subtext, or at least in different words. (I did, on the other hand, like "Are your ears a little pointier than usual?" A nice way of coming at a point in some way other than head-on.)
The Trip/Reed flare-up about whether Reed's modifications constituted an "acceptable risk" didn't rile me nearly as much, interestingly enough. I suspect that's because risk assessment is part and parcel of what both of those two should be doing *anyway*, and because that sort of argument is one they should both be dealing with fairly frequently.
On another level, it meant we got actual character conflict on a level beyond "Archer disagrees with T'Pol and does something stupid" -- this time both of them had solid, professional reasons for suggesting what they did.
Kudos. The actual threat itself didn't really do much one way or the other for me -- there was some nice music during the alien visit to Enterprise, and certainly some interesting (if brief) visuals when we saw the aliens themselves, but I never really bought into the danger, maybe because the mood kept shifting.
The presentation had its moments, to be sure, but this was mostly a "can we get the defenses finished before we're finished" race and not much else. (Of course, that didn't stop me from being pleased when the new phase cannons actually worked in a crunch!) On the directing side, Kolbe definitely played around with our perceptions a bit.
First, we got not one but two very atypical act breaks after the second and third acts; second, we got the "aliens talking using Archer's likeness" bit on the viewscreen.
Both were quite successful. The secondary plot was also relatively successful, though I don't know that it aimed to be much more than "pleasant sitcom fodder." The high point was probably the scene which could have misfired the most, namely Hoshi's invitation that Reed visit her quarters for dinner.
In the wrong hands, or extended any longer than it went, that could've been disastrous: I can't have been the only one fearing that the rest of the story might spiral out of control based on that one scene's misunderstanding.
Fortunately, thanks to nicely understated work from both Dominic Keating and Linda Park (particularly the former) and a general crispness in the dialogue, the scene reached the point of being funny without passing the point of being wearing. (The seemingly-endless scenes of Hoshi hitting up one or another person for information didn't quite fare as well, though.)
That's really all the deep (or even relatively deep) commentary I've got: this isn't an episode that lends itself to much analysis.
Various shorter notes, then:
-- When Reed and Trip are doing their last-minute adjustments to make the phase cannons overload again, Reed actually calls Trip "Trip" rather than his usual formalities. Interesting.
-- For actor-watchers, Reed's mother is played by Jane Carr, known to SFTV fans as Londo Mollari's wife Timov from "Babylon 5." Although the scene as a whole went a little overboard on the "thanks, we're British, so we're entirely too reserved about absolutely everything" motif, it was fun speculating about Reed's Centauri ancestry. :-)
-- The demographics of the engineering and armory sections look interesting. It's not quite exclusive, but during Trip and Reed's "pep talk," I seem to recall a veritable ocean of white males, and not much else.
-- Speaking of said pep talk, was Reed just a *bit* too enthusiastic about his "phase-modulated energy weapon?"
-- The technobabble, both biological (with Phlox/Hoshi) and physical, was generally reasonable, as I'd expect with former science advisor Andre Bormanis at the writing helm. However, even he made one fairly serious units glitch, where the phase cannon's reported to have a maximum power output of 500 gigajoules. Giga*watts* would be more like it. Not a big deal, but I tend to notice these things. :-)
(I also wonder if having the ships close to within a few thousand *meters* was intended: it could well be, but damn, but that's awfully close in a spaceship context...)
-- The Hoshi/Phlox sickbay scene did have one seriously good humor bit: "I don't suppose scanning his taste buds would help?" "Medically speaking, there's no accounting for taste." Ooch.
-- I seem to recall reading somewhere that we were in store for a lot of "bottle" shows in the latter half of this season, given how much money had already been spent on the season to date. Given that we only saw the aliens in question here for a few CGI-laden seconds and that no guest star had more than a dozen lines or so, I wonder if this is the first of them.
That pretty much covers everything, I think. "Silent Enemy" isn't exactly a riveting show to come back from reruns with, but it's a decent enough way to spend an hour.
So, wrapping up: Writing: Each story by itself -- basically okay. Both combined -- not a great mix. Directing: Generally fine, particularly with some of the transitions. Acting: No real complaints.
OVERALL: Call it a 7. Not thrilling, but certainly not bad.
Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
Copyright 2002, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask. This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and express written consent of the author. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.
Add SFcrowsnest.com daily news updates to your own web site or blog - just cut and paste the code below...
Stephen Hunt's novels - USA