Star Trek: Enterprise
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?
"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!