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Canamar (Star Trek Enterprise)

01/06/2003. Contributed by Timothy W. Lynch

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Archer and Trip, falsely accused of smuggling, find themselves on an Enolian prison ship headed for the dreaded penal colony of Canamar.

"Canamar" Enterprise Season 2, Episode 17 Written by John Shiban Directed by Allan Kroeker.

If you want to see Archer play out his fantasy of being on the wrong side of the law, this is the episode you've been waiting for. Unfortunately for the rest of us, however, there's very little here in the way of surprises, characterization, or plot logic.

In fairness, "Canamar" starts off with a nice image in the teaser - Archer and Trip's shuttlepod is adrift in space with the gravity shot, and we see items inside floating around aimlessly as Hoshi asks for a report. It's a nicely eerie shot ... but it's mostly downhill from there.

Star Trek Enterprise CanamarFrom a plot perspective, "Canamar" is awfully high on the list of plots that create conflict by creating a totally artificial situation. We're told that Archer and Trip were falsely arrested for smuggling after visiting Ketto Enol, and that they're now en route to Canamar.

It's clear after watching the episode, however, that the reasons for their arrest are completely and utterly irrelevant from the show's point of view: they might as well have been arrested for speeding. We're never shown what alleged contraband was found, we're never told what they were doing on Ketto Enol in the first place, we're never given much of a peek into the Enolians' lives other than the fact that their officials wear a lot of black ... and so on.

The core problem was resolved by the Enterprise showing up and saying "you falsely arrested these men," and the ranking official saying, "gee, you're right." This is not exactly gripping drama.

The characters don't seem to find it gripping either: absolutely everyone on board Enterprise was acting as if Chef had slipped a few sedatives into that morning's breakfast. _Enterprise_ is a show given to low-key performances at the best of times, but this didn't feel low- key so much as half-asleep.

It would have helped, for instance, if while Hoshi was calling the pod she actually showed, oh, some signs of actual worry, or if T'Pol were to change the cadence of her voice even once during the show to something other than "I'm trying to be threatening and my brow is furrowed." And it's not that Jolene Blalock isn't capable - whatever concerns I may have had about "Stigma," it certainly showed that she's got more of a range than she showed here.

Things are somewhat more active on the prison transport. After some obligatory scenes showing that the guards are Not Nice People, the transport crew gets word that Archer's to be released. Before that happens, however, one prisoner manages to slip his shackles and stage a revolt. He and a Nausicaan ally overpower the guards and the pilot, then take control of the ship, leaving Archer in a delicate position.

At this point, however, we discover that not only was the setup for the drama fairly artificial, but that the plot only moves forward by virtue of everyone on board being a complete dolt at one moment or another.

For one, I have difficulty believing that this is the first time a revolt's ever happened, yet the guards appear to be utterly clueless: opening doors, having to dig through cabinets for weapons, and so forth (Actually, "utterly clueless" is perhaps unfair - they act precisely as cluelessly as they need to in order to get the show moving.)

The ringleader, Kuroda, tells Archer that he's thought "every detail" of this plan through - yet it's clear he's no idea how to even fly the ship he's stolen, and his only response to being pursued is "we have weapons - use them!" And, of course, Archer, for whatever reason, seems to think that his best chance of survival is to try masquerading as a master criminal himself, and ingratiates himself with Kuroda as quickly as he can.

I'm not sure Archer's actions are all that bad in principle, really - if the alternative is hoping that these two don't get far before Enterprise can shoot to disable the ship, running a bluff is at least a good way to keep the transport itself safe.

On the other hand, though, wouldn't he expect Kuroda to expect him to prove his loyalty in some vaguely lethal way - say, by shooting a prisoner who talks too much or firing on a ship? I think Archer's actions are sort of two parts desperate, one part naive - which could be neat if anyone recognized it, including Archer himself.

Alas, so far as we can see this was pretty much a day at the office - hell, Archer barely breaks a sweat. Sigh.

There's also no reason for him to spin a story this involved unless he just enjoys it - and mentioning Earth specifically is really not the best way to represent Earth in a larger community, as he claimed to be concerned about just a couple of episodes back. If it weren't for Kuroda dying at the end of the episode, I'd be lobbying to have that come back and bite Archer sometime.

Kuroda had the potential to be a very interesting character. Mark Rolston's is a face genre fans have seen before - in TNG's "Eye of the Beholder" as a killer and in B5's "The Quality of Mercy" as ... hmm ... a killer - and he's generally good at projecting someone who's both menacing and a little bit unpredictable in the process.

Certainly Kuroda himself had some moments - his continued refusal to eat prison rations made me think that there was something more to it than just his stated reasons, and his assurance that Archer would definitely be intrigued by what Kuroda had in mind as a partner made me wonder whether Kuroda's "friends" would be at all familiar to us.

In many ways, though, all of that hinting wound up being about not much. Apparently Kuroda's story - being falsely accused and imprisoned as a youth, then "putting his skills to use" in real crime afterwards - really is all we're supposed to take from the guy.

There's something to be said for not making every character a mystery wrapped in an enigma, but when someone's being deliberately set up as more complex than your average guest prisoner, it's a shame when it turns out not to be so.

One other tendency that's come up many, many times this season is to put Trip in situations where he can get comically frazzled. Granted, Connor Trinneer does a more than decent job under those conditions, and I'm all for playing to an actor's strengths - but it's getting to be something of a cliche at this point.

Trip's dealing with a woman who's flirting with him? Look comically resigned and flustered. Trip's fighting for his life on a planet with big temperature swings? Look comically resigned and flustered. It's something being imposed on the character as a default reaction, not something flowing naturally.

This time, Trip's foil of the week is another prisoner named Zoumas (Sean Whalen), who's the boyish, sympathetic, and slightly nerdy prisoner one always sees in these sorts of stories. It's never clear what Zoumas has been taken into custody for - talking officials to death, perhaps - but as Trip's seatmate, he talks incessantly about anything: food, plastic surgeons he'll see when he's free, the time he spent with an Orion slave girl, you name it.

I imagine most of us know someone like Zoumas - someone who you want to be nice to, but is so desperately unable to pick up on social cues that you're tempted to invest large sums of money in gags.

Hell, some of us might be that person in some situations. Zoumas is a perfectly valid character - but he was also so incredibly annoying, even in small doses, that by the second scene where he's going on about something I was reaching for the mute button. Sorry, all, but I prefer to reserve my patience for real life: I should not need to be gritting my teeth and being that patient with a character I'm presumably watching for entertainment.

The eventual problem, if a bit predictable, is fairly well carried off. Kuroda, assuming that people will be less likely to look for him if he's presumed dead, tells Archer that once he and his people are on board the shuttle that's coming for him, Archer should program the transport into an orbit that'll burn them up in the atmosphere, thus making it look as though everyone died attempting to land. Naturally, that doesn't sit well with Archer, so he and Trip decide it's time to make their move.

That "move" involves taking out the Nausicaan thanks to a well- placed blow from behind, but unfortunately Zoumas warns Kuroda at the wrong moment and things go sour quickly. The only reason Archer and company are saved is that the Enterprise crew has commandeered the shuttle once held by Kuroda's associates, and manage to get the drop on the villains.

As I said - predictable, but fairly well done. I'm not quite certain how Archer communicated any instructions to the Enterprise (as Reed implies was done), but the sequence of events is once that's both somewhat suspenseful at the time and sensible in retrospect.

I wish that we hadn't descended into one final cliche, however - did Kuroda really have to come to and go into the "enemies battle on the cusp of imminent death" thing? For one thing, I've gotten more than a bit tired of seeing Archer beaten up so often - but much more importantly, it's something that I think every viewer could pretty much call beat for beat once it starts.

Kuroda will fight, Archer will win, Kuroda will refuse help and stay on 'til the bitter end because he's Just That Opposed to going back to prison. Nothing to see here, folks, move it along.

How much more interesting it might have been to (a) have someone be intelligent and stun Kuroda again to make sure he's out, or (b) better yet, have either Trip or Archer make a conscious choice to leave Kuroda behind. That could've led to some real character conflict - but apparently, we'd all rather see Trip yuk it up with someone taking annoying lessons from Neelix instead. No, thanks.

Just as the very first moments of the show were nice, however, so were the last. As Archer and Trip return (with prisoners in tow), the Enolian bureaucrat on board apologizes for the "inconvenience" of their false arrest, then says his superiors will want a report.

In what's probably the truest and rawest emotional moment of the episode, Archer wheels around and gives him one: He all but spits out, "As you're aware, my engineer and I were falsely arrested. We almost wound up in Canamar - makes me wonder how many others don't belong there. You wanted a report, you've got one," and stalks off. That felt like honest human emotion - it's one I'd love to see more of on occasion. Kudos.

Other thoughts:

- Among the other moments of "idiot plotting," we also have Kuroda saying that he escaped his shackles because of the "subdermal implants" he received, implying that the guards wouldn't notice them.

Y'know, even here and now a prisoner of that notoriety would be going through metal detectors. If the intent was to make us think the prison system's run by dopes, fine, but if the idea was to impress us all with Kuroda's cleverness I think I'll have to politely decline.

- Idiot plot moment #26A: Archer's ploy of venting plasma and igniting it shouldn't have worked if the pilots had any brains at all. The moment that transport does anything it shouldn't, open fire. Done deal. (The venting also happened so slowly that the ships should have had plenty of time to move out of the way.)

- I find it interesting that one ad which appeared twice during "Canamar" (at least here in the U.S.) was for FHM magazine, and specifically its "Baywatch Blowout!" issue.

For those not familiar with it, FHM is short for "For Him Magazine," and features lots of women in skimpy clothing amidst articles about cars, beer, and babes - it's sort of a Playboy for those who don't want to be carded or somehow looked down upon. Seems that Paramount has settled on the demographic it thinks it's attracting. (Anybody know whether there's a connection between Viacom and the publishers of FHM?)

- For a hardened criminal, Kuroda seems awfully squeamish about killing the guards, doesn't he?

- One wonders why Travis was given a role in the final firefight. Reed's got security teams, and you really should be keeping your best pilot on the shuttle itself to make sure you can get away...

That should wrap it up. I'll confess to being a bit mystified by the choices this series is making: during February sweeps, one of your most important rating periods, to include such well-worn stories as "Canamar," which says very little about your basic premise other than "damn the plot, boys, full testosterone ahead!" seems an ill-conceived choice. Here's hoping for better.

So, to sum up:

Writing: A lot of predictability and a lot of forced plotting. Some nice moments here and there, but that's all.

Directing: Could this have been much lower in terms of energy for most of the show?

Acting: Decent performances from Connor Trinneer and Mark Rolston, but I'm not in a hurry to rewatch most anyone else.

OVERALL: A 4.5, for the strength of various individual moments. Not a real keeper, this one.

Tim Lynch

(c) Timothy W. Lynch. 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.

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