Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Detained"

***

Air date: 4/24/2002
Teleplay by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong
Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by David Livingston

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"The last thing we wanted to do was build these detention centers, but we had no choice. When the Cabal began their activities there was a great deal of fear among the Tandarans. There were instances of violence. Fourteen innocent Suliban were killed in one day alone. We had to find a way to keep them out of danger." — Grat, undoubtedly revealing only part of the story

In brief: Reasonable and relevant — albeit not at all groundbreaking — social commentary.

You decide: "Detained" is either (1) a reasonable social commentary that sells out to superficial action by the end, or (2) an average action show elevated by an underlying foundation of social commentary. Is there a difference? Perhaps. It seems wrong to take relevant allegorical themes and wrap it all up with a safe and simplistic action conclusion — whereas it seems almost admirable to create an action show that actually tries to insert relevant social points. It's all in how you look at it.

I'm kind of torn. "Detained" goes to great lengths to make fairly obvious points and yet I don't feel it should be faulted for that. For the even remotely informed it will come as old news, revisited lessons. Of those people, how many will it make a real impression upon?

Consider: Mere weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, The West Wing aired a reactionary drama, much of which played like an hour in Talking Down to the Audience. Among the messages: generalizing of people and cultures is bad, not being familiar with how the world works is a potentially dangerous form of ignorance, and in difficult times we might be tempted away from better judgment in favor of quick, comforting would-be fixes. Well, intelligent people already presumably know these things and ignorant people are not likely to be educated by the likes of Aaron Sorkin, so who exactly is the benefactor?

Perhaps the point is simply to reinforce ideas that we should be thinking about in times when emotions are allowed to run rampant. I see no problem with such reinforcement. I also want to stress that "Detained" does little to break the mold. But it has Good Intentions and for the most part good execution, so that's probably all you need to know.

That said, the writers have done a fairly interesting thing by tying this all back into the Suliban, who aren't all simply "bad guys" but are a nomadic people with a subset of Cabal operatives waging the temporal cold war.

The never-veiled allegory is, of course, the current-day need to draw the distinction between Arabs and the much tinier subset of Arab terrorism. The issue of internment camps, of course, hearkens back to Japanese Americans being rounded up and held in the U.S. during World War II (a decidedly better choice for metaphor than the current-day situation of detainees in Camp X-Ray/Delta at Guatanamo Bay, Cuba — a situation far too new and uncertain for me to comfortably draw conclusions about).

Archer and Mayweather wake up in a holding cell in a detainee camp where Suliban prisoners are being held indefinitely by the Tandarans, with no charges pending. Right from the beginning the episode makes a point about assumptions when Archer makes an assumption and finds out he's quite wrong: These Suliban are not genetically engineered members of the Cabal and are not prisoners because they committed any crime. Their crime is that they happen to be Suliban.

In charge of the detainee facility is Tandaran Colonel Grat (Dean Stockwell), who explains to Archer why he and Mayweather are here — their shuttle wandered into Tandaran space and was captured as potentially hostile. Tandarans are not too forgiving toward trespassers, it would seem. Considering they are apparently on one of the fronts in the temporal cold war, perhaps their apprehension is justifiable.

Grat is not a bad or unreasonable man; he's simply a product of his situation. That itself may serve as a warning statement, since he has come to accept that the Suliban may never again have rights in any real sense, and that they may live the rest of their lives as innocent prisoners. The line of thought going on here is that they're Suliban and that's unfortunate for them, but nonetheless necessary for Tandaran society to lock them away in the interests of safety.

Interesting how Grat cites not just the safety of Tandarans but the safety of the Suliban. The Suliban no longer have a habitable homeworld (at least, not if one isn't genetically engineered to survive there), so they mostly live among other cultures. The Suliban who lived among the Tandarans were a part of their society until the temporal war broke out and they became automatic Cabal suspects. Tandaran citizens were quick to accuse the Suliban among them, leading to violence against the Suliban. The internment camps were seen as a temporary solution to curb this problem. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Or in this case, self-serving intentions have their own convenient built-in justifications.

We see the Suliban point of view through a character named Sajen (Christopher Shea) a man with a daughter who is also in this facility and a wife who is in another facility far away, and whom he hasn't seen in years. Shea brings just the right balance of bitterness and personal defeat to the character, creating a believable and sympathetic figure who speaks in raspy whispers that nonetheless reveal a great amount of textured emotion.

Grat, meanwhile, turns more sinister and self-serving every time Archer defies him, eventually believing Archer to be a resource as much as a troublemaker stirring up prison intrigue. Grat's intelligence reports reveal Archer's previous encounters with the Suliban. It's interesting and perhaps all too true how the question "What do you know?" becomes as much a grounds for being held as "What have you have done?" Especially frustrating and disturbing is the prospect of being held because you're a potential witness, not because you're suspected of having done anything wrong.

As a matter of plot, I enjoyed the continuity references ("Have you ever been to Oklahoma?" Grat asks Archer suspiciously) to the Enterprise's previous Suliban run-ins in "Broken Bow" and "Cold Front" (strange and also kind of fun, seeing Bakula and Stockwell exhibit increasing tension here after their easy rapport in their years on Quantum Leap).

What perhaps seems too simplistic for this story, then, is turning it into a jailbreak concept where Archer, with the help of the orbiting Enterprise, decides he's going to help some of the innocent Suliban escape. This seems a little on the cavalier and short-sighted side, especially considering the lesson Archer learned in "Dear Doctor" concerning non-interference. Yes, there is an injustice here. Yes, the episode addresses Archer's previous decision in favor of non-interference and calls this case an "exception." But such exceptions are exactly the sort of thing likely to get Archer and Starfleet burned, and the exception made here gets generous assistance from tunnel vision.

This leads to the typical action payoff, i.e., the phaser shootouts, a crew member in disguise (Reed as a Suliban), and even the episode resorting to use of the transporter, something that has been generally and thankfully avoided for most of the season save the first few episodes. The action seems to substitute for an ending that could've come to some sort of revelation or dramatic insight, but doesn't find it. It bothers me a bit. Fortunately, the episode seems to realize that it doesn't solve these Suliban individuals' problems so much as create further uncertainty for them, and for that I'm glad.

But still — this is the sort of ending that makes you mull the unconsidered consequences, like the kind of grilling Sajen's wife is likely going to be in for in the wake of her husband's escape from another detainee facility. What does she know? I can almost hear the Tandaran interrogators asking.

I cannot cheer for the story's oversimplified solution to a complicated situation so much larger than Archer, this one prison, or this one society. Archer presumes to know everything he needs to know to interfere in an alien society. Does he know enough? Would it have been better to do nothing instead of something? I'm not sure. But it might've been nice for the episode to point out the possible consequences of all this action. Imagine how the U.S. government would respond if a foreign country managed a prison break at Camp Delta.

Next week: First contact with a giant fungus?

Previous episode: Oasis
Next episode: Vox Sola

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11 comments on this review

David - Mon, Jun 29, 2009 - 2:22am (USA Central)
Stop looking for "groundbreaking" in every episode, or you will be disappointed in every television series you watch. I don't need that when I visit the Trek universe- I just want to spend some time in an interesting place with interesting people. With 500-some previous Trek stories, it's even more of a challenge for Enterprise to be "groundbreaking" when the ground is so well-trod. If I get one or two '"groundbreaking" shows a season, and mostly good stories (even if they are variations on a familiar theme) I'm satisfied.
Will - Tue, Dec 15, 2009 - 1:30pm (USA Central)
@David. Agree 100%
Marco P. - Fri, Oct 22, 2010 - 1:55pm (USA Central)
I disagree David. I for one am not looking for "groundbreaking" in every episode, but settling for mediocrity isn't my M.O. either.

Like you said, the Star Trek ground is well-trod with quality material. So it isn't unreasonable for a Trek find to expect quality in what they are watching. Unfortunately everything Trek from TOS to Voyager has raised the level to a standard ST Enterprise seems unable to live up to.

"Detained" is another good example, because as Jammer pointed out the good intentions of providing social commentary and background info on the Suliban situation, is simply negatively counterbalanced with poor execution and selling out the phaser action sequence (TM).

On a sidenote, I have been a Quantum Leap fan for many years. Alas even the reunion between Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell (which the producers undoubtedly though would create some buzz around this episode) is botched, a poor script making their interaction somewhat uninteresting.
Firestone - Fri, Mar 18, 2011 - 6:05am (USA Central)
This is such a different Star Trek than with TNG. Here we have a captain who believes the prisoners on their story, does not tell the Tandarans simple and possibly helpful information on his experiences with the Suliban, let his ship attack military ships and an a detention camp, indirectly kills at least three guards and destroying parts of the facility ánd set free near to a hundred prisoners that steal impounded ships and then run like hell.
If this would not be considered an act of war, I would be surprised.

There was barely anything on whether those prisoners were really so innocent or whether they might actually join the Kobal. Nor did it show anything on the bigger picture such as the other camps or the issue of officially setting them all free.

Not every show has to be super intelligent and thought out, but this was just about a captain who, after only one day, disagreed with the internal affairs of an unknown society and therefore decided to blow them to hell and fly off afterwards.
Michael - Sat, Dec 10, 2011 - 8:29am (USA Central)
More politically-correct propaganda. In times of war of course that potential fifth columnists are kept under close surveillance and sometimes even interned or deported. Given what we know about the Suliban and their masquerading skills, I'd say internment in what seemed like quite comfortable accommodations was in no way disproportionate or uncalled for. Yes, it's unfair, but if I was a Tandaran, I wouldn't take my chances letting members of my enemy species roam around unchecked.

Jammer: This is not comparable to Gitmo. The Suliban are not prisoners but mere detainees. Their situation is more comparable to the various Jewish ghettos in Eastern Europe in days of yore, with the proviso that the Jews forced into them were not actually at war with their host nations or any kind of threat to them, whereas the Suliban are.

Of course, the writers simply HAD to portray the Tandarans as increasingly malevolent and violent, leaving the average viewer with little choice but to side with the Suliban. After all, a big bad Tandaran manhandles a little Suliban girl. A pathetic, cynical attempt to play at our heart-strings. And, of course, idiot Archer walks right slap-bang in the middle of the dispute and starts dishing out his wisdom and getting all self-righteously indignant.

Ironically, the more the show cast the Tandarans is a negative light, the more I supported them. It was just blatant, and issues are very rarely black and white.

I'm halfway through the episode and now Archer is agitating for an escape bid. This beggars belief: He spends two days in an obviously relatively comfortable detention facility, speaks to a couple of inmates, sees someone sent to solitary confinement for a night, and he's already so certain about the rights and wrongs of the situation that he is planning to spring the detainees out of the facility. What a bunch of bullshit.

In short: Simplistic to the point of offensive, hypocritical, unrealistic, emotive. Crap.

1* I'm outta here.
Captain Jim - Tue, Jul 17, 2012 - 9:38pm (USA Central)
"Quite comfortable accommodations"? Are you serious? Then maybe you wouldn't mind having someone imprison you for nothing other than your race? Sheesh, this guy is unbelievable.

Three cheers for Archer, who did the right thing. Of course it didn't solve the larger problem, but at least it gave this group a chance for a new life. I don't even see this as a "noninterference" issue, since Enterprise wasn't interfering in Tandaran culture as much as they were stopping the Tandarans from interfering in Suliban culture.

I'm also with David and others in not needing something "groundbreaking" each episode.
Rosario - Wed, Nov 7, 2012 - 4:03pm (USA Central)
So heavy-handed. I feel like a gauntlet just took me full in the jaw. When that Suliban fellow said, "They said when the Cabal was destroyed we could go home. Well it's 8 years later and we're still here!" all I could think was, well, the Cabal is still around. Sit tight.

I also agree with Michael, in that the more the episode tried to demonize the Tandarans, the more I began to side with them. I also pictured the Suliban as Jews in the Middle Ages.

The "chance for a new life" for the Suliban probably lasted all of 20 minutes. Tandarans have to assume that those Suliban are Cabal soldiers and I bet they won't bother with diplomacy when they catch up with all those little shuttles.

And Mayweather... he's just nothing. Nothing that looks like it is going to cry. All the time.
Sintek - Sat, May 25, 2013 - 6:36am (USA Central)
I had no idea so many conservatives and libertardians watch Star Trek. Tell you what, I'll give you a million bitcoins to move to an underwater utopia and die.
Rosario - Sun, Jun 16, 2013 - 4:39pm (USA Central)
@Sintek:

While your political ideology goes unstated, I believe I can safely assume you are a liberal/progressive. I thought Liberalism/Progressivism are/were supposed to be about the free exchange of ideas with no respect or disrespect to the expresser of those ideas based on their age/color/gender/ideology? You know, one earth, one sky, one people. Where is honest debate in telling those who merely disagree with you to die? Is it a cold disregard for a segment of humanity that disagrees with you that drives your statement? Or is it just hate?

You now have some idea of who those people watching Star Trek around the globe with you are. For some this might lead them to re-think their pre-disposed notions and perhaps consider that almost all men have a brighter vision for the future. You could even engage those with opposing ideologies directly referencing Star Trek as a basis for debate and discussion leading to a free exchange of ideas towards how we can achieve such a bright future.

Or perhaps in wishing death on all who have opposing viewpoints you really are trying to shape the future into Star Trek. After all, warp-drive was created by capitalistic greed amidst the ashes of a war that devastated the world. I think I'd rather live to see that future though.
Dwane - Wed, Sep 25, 2013 - 10:09am (USA Central)
Me and my dad watched this episode recently, and for the most part, it was a good episode.

But the ending. Christ, the ending. It sucked!

What happened? Did the prisoners escape to the stars? Where did they go? Did they get destroyed? We don't know!
Bryon - Fri, Sep 27, 2013 - 3:34am (USA Central)
And remember, Grat spelled backwards is targ.

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