Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Civilization"

**1/2

Air date: 11/14/2001
Written by Phyllis Strong & Mike Sussman
Directed by Mike Vejar

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"It's remote and sparsely populated. If you're exposed there's a reduced risk of cultural contamination."
"This must be why aliens are always landing in cornfields."

— T'Pol and Archer discussing a shuttle landing site

In brief: A story about the negatives of interfering with alien cultures ... except without arriving at the conclusion that we shouldn't interfere with alien cultures.

Maybe the Vulcans were right not to let humans go out into space for so long. From the evidence here, the issue of non-interference in alien cultures has barely entered anyone's minds, let alone the Starfleet rulebook.

Which would be okay if "Civilization" were actually about that very issue. Ultimately, though, it's not; it's a routine "adventure" outing that ends without the characters having learned much of anything. If we're going to sit through a story about the Prime Directive (non-interference) issue, we should at least have some sort of evidence that the characters in the show have learned something.

Aside from having one of the most boring titles in recent memory, "Civilization" isn't a bad hour of television. But it's surprisingly nondescript and doesn't begin to exploit the potential of this series' concept. Let's face it — what happens here could happen on any of the Trek series, or, for that matter, any non-Trek show set in space.

One thing that's beginning to tire a bit is the automatic challenge of T'Pol whenever she mentions anything that represents erring on the side of caution, even if it's reasonable. When she expresses reluctance to interact with this society out of concern for cultural contamination, Archer is quick to fall back on the stock-issue human-and-proud-of-it "we were sent out here to explore" line. True enough, but you also didn't come out here to contaminate less advanced cultures by making contact with them. T'Pol seemingly is becoming a voice drowned out more often by cowboy bravado than reason.

Under makeup effects administered by Dr. Phlox, Archer & Co. go undercover to investigate the mystery of an anti-matter power source that this planet shouldn't have the technology to possess. Archer tracks the power source to inside a shop in the city. The investigation is interrupted by a woman named Riann (Diane DiLascio), a native scientist who tells Archer that she's also investigating a mystery about this shop. She takes Archer and T'Pol back to her house, where she has her own lab, and explains how she thinks deaths linked to the contamination of the local water supply are related to some sort of production from near or inside this shop.

Like other episodes of Enterprise so far, "Civilization" proceeds at an initially slow pace. In particular, the scenes inside Riann's house seem overly padded out with long pauses and silences. Slow is not necessarily bad, but the slowness here seems unnecessary to the point that it's as if the characters are standing around trying to avoid turning into an awkward situation.

The next day, Archer returns to the shop, now open, where he finds that the shop owner, Garos (Wade Andrew Williams in a wooden performance), is actually an off-worlder himself, also undercover. But he's not a Good Undercover Infiltrator like Archer; he's a Bad Undercover Infiltrator who is exploiting this particular region to produce goods he ships off-world for profit. His anti-matter reactor is what's poisoning the water supply. Right there is your evidence that this episode could be about the problems of contaminating other cultures, but the episode has no real desire to follow it through with any sort of thought pattern or to any intelligent conclusion. It just sort of drops it in our lap and proceeds with the episode's superficial adventure and romance aspects.

Yes, romance. No points for guessing that Archer will begin to fall for Riann (even if you hadn't already seen it in the trailer). It always kills me how two TV characters can fall instantly for each other, even though both have more pressing matters on their minds. There's a bit of goofiness here involving a malfunctioning universal translator, a misunderstanding Archer must cover up by "spontaneously" kissing Riann. I'm still not sure how those darn translator things work; it's maybe a better idea just to accept that they do and leave them off the screen.

The best shot in the episode is an homage to alien abduction/conspiracy stories, in which cargo is lifted from the ground by a mysterious beam of light into a small spaceship that takes off. This would seem at home in The X-Files or some other alien conspiracy or UFO abduction premise, and seeing it on Trek is a somewhat new-seeming visual. Based on the activity of the Bad Undercover Infiltrators, this planet would undoubtedly have a high frequency of UFO sightings.

Although not the slightest bit original, I also liked the concept of a hidden underground facility. The story includes a scene where Archer stares down through one of those glass windows in an operations room that allows one to observe the factory floor.

One sequence that seemed a bit silly was the action cliche of Which Button to Press. Blue button or yellow button? One solves the plot's problems. The other sets of the alarm. The story has Archer press the first one to manufacture a crisis and some suspense, and has him press the second one to fix the crises. How very nice.

The episode turns up the heat in the final act, which includes a phaser shootout on a crowded sidewalk and an attack on the Enterprise by the Bad Undercover Infiltrators' ship, which proves that this Starfleet vessel will have to outsmart its opponents since it definitely won't be outgunning them. The Enterprise doesn't even have shields; I wonder, how long can it last against enemies that do?

The problem I'm having with "Civilization" is that there's precious little I can put forward in terms of useful analysis. The plot is straightforward and easily followed, but without any hints of depth or serious intentions. It's no more than the means for an action-oriented payoff. You're on your own if you bought into the romance; Riann is pretty and Diane DiLascio is an acceptably likable actress, but there's just nothing here in terms of substance. The romance is based on the whims of scriptwriters (perhaps fulfilling the opening stretch's Archer Must Kiss a Girl quota), not because of characterization or motivation.

"Civilization" doesn't say anything new or interesting, or have anything that can be called a "point." It ends without asking any sort of question about the dangers of interfering with alien cultures, particularly those who don't have the technology or understanding to defend themselves from the social effects of a more advanced alien influence. The plot is stock-issue adventure with little in terms of compelling characters or debate. If Enterprise is going to be about the early lessons discovered by a new human crew in its early explorations, then the writers owe it to us to make the stories hinge on these ideas rather than ignoring them.

Next week: Stop the presses — Mayweather voices an opinion!

Previous episode: Breaking the Ice
Next episode: Fortunate Son

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19 comments on this review

chris - Fri, Oct 7, 2011 - 2:36pm (USA Central)
Watching for the very first time the Enterprise series, I have to say that I am very dissapointed, the first episodes are rather boring and uninspired, and there is no chance to be compared to Next Generation, or even Voyager.

I hope the episodes get better later.
Michael - Thu, Oct 27, 2011 - 3:35pm (USA Central)
So, we have an infant civilization, which: (1) Looks anatomically almost exactly like humans, (2) has women who cover their hair, (3) builds houses with red roof tiles, (4) has streetlights using what look like incandescent lightbulbs, (5) uses doors with squeaky hinges.

This is getting really old.

Who cares about the rest of the episode; the above put me off in the first five minutes. Have they NO imagination whatever???
Michael - Thu, Oct 27, 2011 - 4:30pm (USA Central)
One more, one more: So, El Jefe and whoever-the-guy-with-him-was are cornered by a broad brandishing a weapon. T'Pol sneaks up to her and tasers her, and the "captain" body-slams T'POL with "Was that really necessary?" WTF!?!?! No, Archer, coz usually when you've got someone angry and aggressive pointing a weapon at you threatening to pop you, what you want to do is offer to hug them and talk about their misplaced belligerence, rather than try to neutralize them using a non-lethal method. Dumbass.
Captain Jim - Mon, Jul 2, 2012 - 10:23pm (USA Central)
I partially agree and partially disagree with Jammer's analysis here. Nothing of substance here? Probably not, but I still found it enjoyable. I understand being anxious for more substance early in the first series, but I don't mind the occasional episode like this.

Not really sure why this is a prime directive matter. It was the other ship that was interfering in the affairs of this world, not Enterprise. They were simply trying to stop that interference, drawing as little attention to themselves as possible.
duhknees - Tue, Aug 7, 2012 - 8:51am (USA Central)
Just because they didn't end with a trite discussion on ethics doesn't mean they didn't learn something. These are the experiences on which the prime directive was later verbalized.
Krog - Sun, Oct 14, 2012 - 3:43pm (USA Central)
I fell asleep watching this episode.
Freddy - Mon, Mar 18, 2013 - 3:30am (USA Central)
Sometimes i just love certain episodes for what they offer,despite their lack of substance

The first time i watched 'civilization' i felt very entertained by solid pacing, a terrific and innovative score by JAY CHATTAWAY, an adorable guest actress, well executed action sequences and, above all, a stunning production design ( watch all the details in the shop).

In my opinion, other TV-Series can't offer even half of the dedication that was put into ENTERPRISE.
And not every single episode has to be a lesson about right or wrong choices, as long as they're entertaining.

ROGUE PLANET for example was boring AND without substance or any kind of productiom value.

'CIVILISATION' will always remain one of my favourite season One episodes


Lt. Yarko - Thu, May 9, 2013 - 5:45am (USA Central)
I really have been enjoying this series. Although, yeah, a lot of it is pedestrian trek (which I really like anyway), I am enjoying everything about them being fresh out in space.

But, this episode really fell down. After the final firefight - where are all the people? How are they affected by all this action in the middle of their city? The episode didn't address this at all. They just disappear and that's the end of that. Talk about lazy.
Sintek - Sun, Jun 2, 2013 - 6:06pm (USA Central)
I so wanted to like this episode, but after the intro I paused it and made a little list in my head:

1. if Archer goes down he will meet a woman.
2. the person who ends up helping the away team will be an open-minded genius way ahead of their time.
3. Archer, ever the bumbling fool, will be found out and be seen as a demon/sorcerer/whatever.
4. Oh there's an anti-matter reactor now? So much for the list, this episode already sucks.

Well, 3 out 4 isn't bad. I really hoped that they, for once, wouldn't reveal how super duper awesome advanced they are to the backward yokels, but there was the scene not even half way through.
J.B. - Thu, Jan 30, 2014 - 4:51pm (USA Central)
I liked Chattaway's score. It was the first time I really noticed that they were going for a different tact with the music (and that became especially prominent starting with the third season).
NCC-1701-Z - Sun, Feb 16, 2014 - 1:27am (USA Central)
I laughed so hard when Archer kissed Rianne. I saw it as the writers' personal in-joke/homage to TOS times when Kirk would always get the girl. That was my personal interpretation anyway, especially since this was an episode made in the grand tradition of Star Trek-style beam-down-to-the-planet-of-the-week-exploration.
Gskunk - Sun, Sep 21, 2014 - 7:35am (USA Central)
I guess T'Pol is to this show what Worf was to in TNG...the crewmember who says the reasonable thing and immediately gets shouted down by others who need the plot to get going.
Eli - Mon, Oct 13, 2014 - 1:38am (USA Central)
This episode is a great example of why I like Star Trek: Enterprise so much. I think the episode was understated and contained great interactions between the characters. The love story was convincing and compelling. Some have complained about the series in general being underwhelming. I instead, find it subtle and restrained, intelligent and sincere. The captain's thoughtful approach really embodies this spirit.
Yanks - Mon, Oct 13, 2014 - 7:30am (USA Central)
So when the Captain kisses a beautiful Alien woman its a problem?

...only on Enterprise...
Peremensoe - Mon, Oct 13, 2014 - 8:35am (USA Central)
Who said the kiss was a problem? I see two mentions more-or-less appreciating the joke.
NCC-1701-Z - Mon, Oct 13, 2014 - 10:19pm (USA Central)
@Gskunk: If you haven't already seen this video I think you'd appreciate it:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=edflm7Hh3hs
Yanks - Tue, Oct 14, 2014 - 8:32am (USA Central)
Peremensoe,

I read Jammer's reviews.

Jammer: "There's a bit of goofiness here involving a malfunctioning universal translator. Archer must cover up by "spontaneously" kissing Riann."

Jammer: "The romance is based on the whims of scriptwriters (perhaps fulfilling the opening stretch's Archer Must Kiss a Girl quota), not because of characterization or motivation."
Peremensoe - Tue, Oct 14, 2014 - 8:38pm (USA Central)
Hm. I missed the second bit, read the first as approving.

I thought it was clear that the kiss is meant to be funny, both in the "goofy" context of the moment and as a meta reference to Kirk.

I guess I don't see Kirk's Beautiful Alien Woman dalliances as any less writer-whimsical. I'm not sure why Jammer's looking for more from Archer.
Yanks - Wed, Oct 15, 2014 - 2:48pm (USA Central)
I'm not sure why anyone would require more of Archer throughout the series. They treat him like he is part of an organization that's been around for 100 years... they seem to forget he's the 1st one out here.

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