Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Strange New World"

***

Air date: 10/10/2001
Teleplay by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong
Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by David Livingston

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Gimme your boot!"
"What for?"
"So I can squash it!"
"Are we allowed to squash alien lifeforms!"
"If they're inside your sleeping bag! ... Where'd you put the phase pistols?"
"You want to shoot a bug?"
"I'm just gonna stun it!"

— Tucker and Mayweather, a first contact for the ages

In brief: A routine plot elevated by good characterization and sustained tension.

There's nothing strange, new, or otherwise interesting about the world in "Strange New World." Like last week's "Fight or Flight," this is not an episode sold on an ingenious plot but instead on solid characterization.

The oddity is that for a series that's ostensibly about capturing the essence of space exploration, Enterprise has thus far been pretty tepid. There is virtually no element of wonder in terms of what could be called "exploration" in the general Trek or sci-fi sense.

At least, not from our perspective. Through the other series, we've been to many, many places these characters have not. So there's a certain charm, I guess, in watching Archer and his crew reveling in the exploration of their first uninhabited Earth-like alien planet. (Have I mentioned that I like the NX-01 landing party baseball hats?) Archer seems content to simply be stopping the starship in orbit in order to set a shuttle down on the surface and smell a few roses. Archer asks "Trip" Tucker to take a picture of him with T'Pol. "Smile!" Archer says. T'Pol does not.

After employing some general "exploration," i.e., walking around some fields with scanners, five members of the crew set up camp while Archer heads back to the Enterprise. Soon a windstorm approaches and the landing party is forced to retreat into the caves, where dissension and paranoia begin to set in.

That, my friends, is the plot — very lean, I suppose one could say. There's absolutely nothing inspired or even particularly good about this plot, but the episode is a worthwhile exercise in characterization, where we can watch how the characters respond as they engage in some fairly routine actions, followed by some not-so-routine ones.

For example, we have our crewmembers sitting around a campfire as Mayweather tells a ghost story. (The episode was co-written by Mike Sussman, who wrote Voyager's "The Haunting of Deck Twelve," where characters also sat around a campfire to hear a scary story.) In addition to Mayweather, on hand are Tucker, T'Pol, and two non-regulars, Elizabeth Cutler (Kellie Waymire) and Ethan Novakovich (Henri Lubatti). Here's hoping that on this series, unlike Voyager, we might actually get recurring characters as crewmen instead of an implausibly endless supply of unfamiliar nobodies.

Odd Vulcan out is, of course, T'Pol, who is constantly told that the emotions she as a Vulcan lacks are exactly why we pesky humans find this adventure so much fun. She evidently would not be nearly as amused as I was with the incident involving the "scorpion thing" that ends up in Tucker's sleeping bag. In a funny exchange, Tucker announces his intentions to shoot it with a phase pistol.

The story's actual crisis comes once the storm forces the landing party into the claustrophobic confines of the caves. To make a long story short, the crew members begin hallucinating because of their exposure to a toxic pollen that blows down from the mountains during the storm; the hallucinations lead to paranoia.

Mayweather thinks he sees people outside the cave. Tucker goes along to check and concurs. Apparent LSD-like effects cause our characters to see shapes and movement in the rocks. Elizabeth hallucinates T'Pol talking to someone else in the caves, prompting Tucker to accuse T'Pol of conspiring with these "rock people." It must be the Vulcans hiding something from the humans again, he concludes.

The core of the story exists in Tucker's distrust of Vulcans, pumped up here into a raving insanity that begins to snowball with each scene. Tucker is delusional, but there's a deep-rooted prejudice in his distrust, and we begin to see just how fragile the human/Vulcan relationship can be. There's a lot of resentment here — long-standing resentment for having been bottled up by the Vulcans who were bent on keeping humans out of the interstellar community. While I'm still a little leery about the writers' hazy depiction of the Vulcans' motives, I do appreciate that we have some conflict built into this series.

Tension like the kind found in this episode depends almost entirely on acting. Connor Trinner carries the last two acts with a strong performance that mounts in intensity, bringing urgency and conviction to scenes that very easily could've fallen flat in the hands of a lesser actor.

I'm a little less enthused about Jolene Blalock. Don't get me wrong — Blalock isn't bad at all, but performing a Vulcan character is very difficult to pull off effectively. My main problem is that T'Pol is just too soft-spoken a lot of the time. Being calm is one thing, but T'Pol is quiet and unanimated almost to the point of creating audience boredom. It's almost a relief here when she's finally pushed to her limits, briefly loses control, and raises her voice.

The story's crises are simple instead of elaborate, and I like that. The shuttle rescue attempt in the storm makes sense. It fails because of wind and not because of technobabble. Similarly, the threat to the crew is because of toxic exposure to a hallucinogenic pollen. Simple, effective, and to the point. Not incredibly exciting or interesting, but it serves the purpose of bringing out the characterization. And the emergency rescue of Ethan reveals a transporter failure that is enough to create doubt in transporters but without resorting to tragic extremes.

I'm a little skeptical about the way Archer talks Tucker into lowering his weapon, concocting an elaborate story to convince him that some of his paranoia is warranted. Is all this necessary? Couldn't T'Pol have simply pulled the trigger and stunned Tucker with her phase pistol? I understand she had a deadly weapon pointed at her, but Archer's long-winded solution to this crisis seems impractical and a bit unbelievable.

"Strange New World" is almost surprisingly tame and restrained. In a way, that's part of why it works. There is no real enemy, no unrealistic influences, no elaborate twists of the plot. The enemy comes from within Tucker's own prejudices, amplified by the symptoms of the hallucinogen. Is this character conflict of the truest kind? Perhaps not, since it requires drugs to bring it to the surface. But that itself is perhaps part of the issue. Tucker says things here that he normally wouldn't, but clearly he has a certain buried ill-will when it comes to Vulcans. And the interaction between the humans and Vulcans is an element on this series that seems to be somewhat important at this stage.

Look, I'm not saying this is a thrilling, original, or deep episode. But it's an effective one thanks to the performances. It gets the job done and sustains the tension. I liked its understated nature, punctuated by moments of fiery acting.

Next week: Trip gets knocked up. Huh?

Previous episode: Fight or Flight
Next episode: Unexpected

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17 comments on this review

indijo - Mon, Oct 22, 2007 - 11:54am (USA Central)
I expected some criticism about Archer's leap before looking onto this planet, in complete rejection of T'Pol's advice to use an unmanned probe before sending an away-team down. Obviously, by not using an unmanned probe or at the very least using the sensors to probe it in detail for a few hours, Archer demonstrates his complete disregard for the safety of his crew and his complete ignorance of the proper protocols for such alien planetary exploration.

I'm just saying, this kind of carelessness by Archer either makes him out to be an ignorant and/or inexperienced explorer or else he is following a bad script that intends to set him up for the kill.
Josh - Sun, Feb 8, 2009 - 11:36am (USA Central)
This episode is the favourite club for those who want to bash Archer for being a complete idiot. The "exploration" depicted here is just pathetic. In the video review over at sfdebris.com, it sums up the Enterprise crew as "white trash piled into a winnebago". A fitting description.
Marco P. - Fri, Sep 3, 2010 - 2:44am (USA Central)
Indijo and Josh's comments are dead-on. There's just something very very weak at work here, and at the root of it all is the way Captain Archer is portrayed in these first few episodes. I understand rash enthusiasm of exploration, which would make someone (even a captain) just want to jump out the shuttle and run through the grass, but here we are dangerously close to incompetence.

For instance, I'd imagine there would be PROTOCOLS in place for these kinds of missions, protocols designed for the safety of the crew above all. There is a reason why unmanned probes are sent before manned shuttles: conditions on a planet may change due to a variety of factors. Weather is one example as we see in this episode, but sunlight/darkness could be another one. I kept thinking of "Pitch Black" during the whole thing and wondered whether a flock of flesh-eating bat-aliens was going to swarm the campsite and eat everyone alive.

So all in all, captain Archer's lack of consideration is just inexcusable for a Starfleet captain, especially one who has been put in charge of the important mission to explore the galaxy and making first-contact with new civilizations.

I find it ironic then to read Jammer underline "strong characterization" as one of this episode's positive traits. I suppose the picture *is* indeed painted strongly and the actors do a fair enough job despite working with a mediocre script/storyline. Nevertheless, the final result is really sub-par in my opinion, and I find it astonishing to see a series calling itself Trek can only offer characterization as an attraction point, completely ignoring a compelling storyline (at least so far).
Paul - Mon, Jan 17, 2011 - 10:43pm (USA Central)
It seems a bit odd to hear people berating Archer for his "inexperience" as portrayed in this episode, when this is meant to be something like week two of the first ever Warp Five exploration mission - isn't that meant to be the whole point, that there AREN'T books full of Starfleet protocols to cover all this sort of thing, which is all part of the reason why the Vulcans are trying to hold the humans back because they are not ready for solo flying yet.

Archer IS inexperienced - surely that's a big part of the point in these early episodes?
josh - Sat, Mar 19, 2011 - 8:16am (USA Central)
Paul, no. There is a clear difference between mistakes due to inexperince and mistakes due to stupidity. The mistakes made on this mission (neglecting to do any preliminary study of the planet before exposing personnel to it and then stranding then on it overnight) are not the result of inexperience. They are the result of incompetence and even gross negligence. Any idiot should have known that a strange new world should be studied first before leaving your crew vulnerable to its hazards.
Paul - Sun, Mar 20, 2011 - 9:39am (USA Central)
Josh, yes. indijo spefically said "complete ignorance of the proper protocols for such alien planetary exploration."

WHAT protocols, given that this is probably the first space mission.
Cloudane - Sun, Apr 17, 2011 - 2:07pm (USA Central)
I'm with Paul on this one.

In a sense it's a problem related to having a prequel - we're so used to the 24th century Starfleet with their strict protocols and prime directives (strict probably *because* of past mistakes) that jumping to the past before any of this was established gives off a sense of stupidity and incompetence.

But really, these lessons haven't been learned yet. We've already seen that humanity got rather overexcited when they discovered life other than our own (wouldn't this happen in reality too?) with the episode of Voyager where they find a probe that Earth sent back around this time with a message of peace and instructions for creating anti-matter reactors(!) and the consequences that had.

Humans in general seem to be a little irrational with their excitement - this seems true enough to life, and whilst the Vulcans can sometimes be portrayed as the enemy to some degree, they're probably right. Nobody likes the negative/sensible person of any group, but they're still important and usually thanked for it in the long run.
Michael - Fri, Oct 21, 2011 - 8:48pm (USA Central)
Opening shot: A tootsie is reading a paper book. Yeah, perfectly normal because quite a few current-day N.A.S.A. operatives pass their time scrolling through parchments... *sigh*

A campfire ghost story, geez. Let me guess: Something similar is about to befall the away-team. Well, whaddaya know, it has. Is it Halloween already?

An alright show. Nothing really new or revolutionary; seen it before, I'm sure.

Some breathtaking scenery *thumbs up*
Nathan - Tue, Nov 15, 2011 - 3:27am (USA Central)
I guess it's like the cautionary Prime Directive tales in TOS.
Paul York - Sat, May 12, 2012 - 7:29pm (USA Central)
Humans come across as paranoid, fearful, suspicious, hostile, violent. Tucker seems to confirm everything Vulcans have thought about them. However, Archer manages to talk him down, to his credit. In real life humans appear this way to intelligent non-human species on this planet: violent, unpredictable, aggressive, insane. They rightly fear us. I could well imagine the Vulcans fearing that humans with warp drive would use their space ships to deliver weapons of mass destruction across the galaxy. No wonder they made first contact and subsequent efforts to keep humans in control: we represented a future threat, overshadowed only by the more immediate threat posed by Klingons, Andordians, and many others. Yet they would have also sensed our potential for goodness and rationality, if those qualities were cultivated in us systematically -- thus they institute themselves as teachers.
Captain Jim - Tue, Jun 26, 2012 - 9:48pm (USA Central)
Cloudane said, "In a sense it's a problem related to having a prequel - we're so used to the 24th century Starfleet with their strict protocols and prime directives (strict probably *because* of past mistakes) that jumping to the past before any of this was established gives off a sense of stupidity and incompetence. But really, these lessons haven't been learned yet."

Yes, I agree with this. This is really quite different than watching TNG, DS9 or Voyager. It requires quite a paradigm shift on the viewer's part.

Other than that, I would personally rate this and last week's episode slightly lower than Jammer; they hold one's attention, but that's about all. But better episodes are coming.
ceebee - Sat, Jun 30, 2012 - 7:18pm (USA Central)
In the end, T'Pol turned out to be right about everything. And because cpt. Archer wouldn't listen to her, she was almost killed by a fellow officer.

The idiot didn't even apologize to her for his stupid behavior and its consequences.
Message delivered: just screw up and don't learn anything. That's why cpt. Picard never needed all those protocols and directives. Oh, yes, he did. Never mind. That must have been another timeline.

And a training to recognize when you're on drugs teaches you not to recognize that you're on drugs.
Not to mention, the more unfamiliar you are with the circumstances, the less cautious you are in 2151. Even today we have more sensible procedures in space flight.
My god, why are these humans so stupid 150 years from now?

Small wonder there are still crew members living three episodes into the series.
Rosario - Sat, Nov 3, 2012 - 6:39pm (USA Central)
To whomever said something about the difference between stupid mistakes and "mistakes of inexperience:" Once one has experience and looks back on all his "mistakes of inexperience" they look pretty stupid. All mistakes are stupid. But I can forgive a stupid mistake, if next time they come across a random habitable planet they approach it differently. Even if the different way is also stupid, as long as it's not this particular brand of stupid again. Thanks called learning! Whoo!
Peremensoe - Thu, Dec 6, 2012 - 8:32pm (USA Central)
"WHAT protocols, given that this is probably the first space mission."

It is nothing of the sort.

Humans by this time have thoroughly explored the Solar system, and there are slower (but still warp-speed) freighters making regular runs to nearby systems.

This is just the first mission traveling this deep, this fast. But humans have probably landed on a few dozen alien worlds before Archer and co. come to this one.
T'Paul - Sat, Aug 10, 2013 - 7:40pm (USA Central)
The planet was rather Earth-looking.

Would perhaps have been more interesting had the rock people been real.

Not awfully convinced by the "Alien" languages on Enterprise... seem a bit like Americans speakin' "foreign".
Moonie - Sun, Sep 15, 2013 - 6:47am (USA Central)
I liked this episode overall, but Archer shouldn't be allowed to command a school bus, not mentioning the first human spacecraft to explore other galaxies.

I don't think the captain of a space ship should need "protocols" to know that you don't leave people on an unexplored, unknown, strange planet. *I* know that. I think if we were in that situation today, we would send probes first. Doesn't take a rocket scientist (or space ship captain) to figure that out. It's common sense.

Of course, if he had done that, there'd be no story. I don't know - to me that's lazy story-writing, because I think there would have been a way to make things more credible. Sometimes it seems like the writers just can't be bothered to put a little bit of grey matter in their plots.
themadworld - Tue, Dec 10, 2013 - 4:57am (USA Central)
You know what's funny?

This debate we're having? Only exists because the show invites us to have it (due largely to poor writing). How many times have the captains of previous series landed on an alien planet after all scans said things were completely fine, only to discover that something was wrong on the planet. If T'Pol hadn't said anything, it probably would have never occurred to anyone on this board that they should have sent out some sort of probe. Of course, it would have been nice if the episode had addressed this after T'Pol's initial warning, but that's another debate entirely.

On a side note – yeah, I'm not fond of Archer. He's overaggressive, and petulant, almost as if the writers wanted an action hero for their new series.

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