Note: This episode was rerated from 2 to 1.5 stars when the season recap was written.
In brief: Some good early moments worthy of this series' nature of exploration, but then downhill from there. Uneven, frequently silly, and with little lasting impact.
Why, oh why, do we need a holodeck in this episode? The episode features a first contact premise that's moving along nicely on its own terms when — presto — we get a holodeck, for which the audience's howls of familiarity will have far outweighed its story value. I'm thinking that holodecks on this series should be eschewed as a matter of principle.
"Unexpected" is a good title, because this is an episode with some strange, weird, and, yes, unexpected encounters that should be wondrous and new — and at first are — but which turn shallow in a hurry before being reduced to a lame punch line. And when we get moments that shout "prequel!" by including elements from the Trek-universe future (e.g., holodecks), we're more distracted than awed. The twist involving the appearance of the Klingons also turns out to be unexpected — so much so that it doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the story.
The best part about "Unexpected" is its attempt to depict a truly alien encounter. The aliens are called the Xyrillians, and they need assistance in making repairs. (Why they need Trip's help to fix their own systems which he would presumably know less about is beyond me, but never mind.) The early passages document Trip's away mission to the Xyrillian vessel. The environment there is very different; this is the first Trek in a long while, maybe ever, that I can remember requiring a character to spend three hours in a decompression chamber before walking onto the alien ship. (Although I find myself asking, why not just have Trip visit the alien ship in an environmental suit rather than having him waste a total of six hours in a decompression chamber?)
When he steps onto their ship, he experiences strange sensory effects, reminiscent of the time-slowing effect in the wormhole scene of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Trip teams up with their engineer, Ah'Len (Julianne Christie), to help make repairs.
Visually, I found some of this to be pretty good work. The set design is unique, and Mike Vejar, one of the franchise's best current directors, does a nice job establishing Trip's initial disorientation, with a dreamy, eerie quality to the camerawork, as if we're trying to move underwater. This is mostly razzle-dazzle, yes, but it serves its purpose; Trip's initial sense of being overwhelmed is a story aspect that works. For once, something as "simple" as visiting an alien vessel is seen as complex and taxing, both mentally and physically.
It's once the initial shock has passed that the story begins to lose its edge. For one, I began wondering exactly how Trip and the Xyrillians could even understand each other without an interpreter. It's established in the early scenes that a language barrier exists, but once Trip is on the Xyrillian vessel such problems immediately evaporate and take on the long-standing "invisible universal translator" solution that has characterized most of Trek. The concept of the universal translator has never made any real sense, but episodes of Enterprise had so far backed away from the device. That doesn't seem to be the case here; probably for logistic and acting reasons, the "everybody speaks English" shorthand is back.
Indeed, I'm wondering if the technical progression on this series might be a fine line to walk. This week, all the language translating goes much easier than in "Fight or Flight." While it would be very tedious to have to go through those kinds of translation gyrations every week on this series, setting it aside also begs the question of how quickly this Enterprise will grow immune to the very issues that make the series what it is.
Trip and Ah'Len develop a friendly rapport, and there's a scene that establishes a sensual curiosity between the two. The Xyrillians incite sparks wherever they touch someone or something; the visual effect is similar to one of those transparent globes with streamers you can buy in gift shops. "It's kinda nice," Trip notes.
But then we get a scene that had me almost laughing in disbelief, in which Trip has first contact with a Xyrillian holodeck. Berman & Braga, what are you thinking? Given how reviled the holodeck as a cliche has become, couldn't you at least go the first season — heck, the first month — without hinting at the possible historic origins of the holodeck?
After Trip reports his holodeck adventure to other shipmates upon returning to the Enterprise, Reed comments, in what must've been intended as a writer's joke, "If we had one of those on board, I can only imagine what it'd be used for." Yeah, like hijacking the ship! (Too funny.) I'm sorry, but even hinting at a holodeck seems to me like a bad idea if you're trying to push the notion of Trek going in directions we haven't seen before. (This proves one point I've argued before — that Enterprise faces the challenge of also having to be new to its viewers and do more than filtering old ideas through a crew that has yet to experience them. Yes, it may be new to them, but that doesn't necessarily make it fresh for us.)
Not long after Trip returns to the Enterprise and the Xyrillians head on their way, Trip notices that he's growing nipples. "You're pregnant," Phlox tells him. It apparently happened when Trip stuck his hands into a box full of granules at the same time as Ah'Len during a mental sharing process, permitting a Magical DNA Transfer™ of some kind.
T'Pol quickly accuses Trip of being unable to restrain himself. Here I must object. She should know better than most that there are alien cultures out here with different reproductive methods. As someone from a society that has been in space much longer than humans, T'Pol should be smarter about certain things rather than jumping to knee-jerk conclusions. Her attitude here seems to emerge from a distrustful grudge with Trip rather than from reasoned logic. And besides, why would the human definition of sex result in his pregnancy anyway? (Note: That's a rhetorical question.)
Much of the rest of the episode is played for mild laughs. It's not horribly unpleasant, but I can't say I was impressed. It's just sort of passive, content to follow Trip around as he complains about the prospect of possibly becoming the first human male to give birth to a child. Complains about the possibility of not finding the Xyrillian mother. Complains about having to possibly raise this kid and set aside his plans. Complains about thinking he's the laughingstock of the crew. Discovers his appetite increasing and plays out his unconscious paternal instincts in order to conform to the guidebook for Hilarious Pregnancy Cliches™. For a series supposedly about exploring the human condition, this reveals pretty small thinking.
When the Enterprise does finally track down the Xyrillian ship and Trip shows Ah'Len that he's carrying her child, what's her reaction? "I had no idea this could happen with another species!" Duh! By this logic, Trip could go sleeping around with non-human women and then claim surprise upon learning one or more of them was pregnant. Hello? What fool wrote the Xyrillian rulebook on contact with alien societies? I propose a new chapter for that rulebook: "Common Sense in Not Knocking Up Alien Men, Written Especially for the Common Senseless." Failure to observe this new chapter will result in immediately being locked into a torpedo tube and shot into space. It's nice to know humans aren't the stupidest people out here, but I hardly think the story intended Ah'Len or the Xyrillians to look so clueless.
Frankly, this premise could've been envisioned as a completely different kind of story, treated much more seriously, about child custody and/or parenting issues, and the importance of alien first-contact procedures. Instead it's a low-substance show played on the most superficial levels.
Before resolving Trip's baby storyline, the Klingons show up to provide a menacing tone that seems oddly out of place. While I appreciate the nod to "Broken Bow" and T'Pol speaking up on behalf of Archer possibly having saved the Klingons from civil war, I could've done without the excessively stubborn Klingon captain (Christopher Darga) who takes obstinacy to an extreme that plays like fingernails on a chalkboard. Yes, I suppose the Klingons are most definitely not the 24th century Klingons, but having an actor growl on about killing everybody is old hat.
It's funny how Trip is able to negotiate a truce and save the Xyrillians by offering up their holodeck technology to the Klingons. You'd think the Klingons would be more interested in the Xyrillian's stealth technology.
You know, I'm really going to have a long laugh if I find out that Starfleet later ends up acquiring holodeck technology from the Klingons. Perhaps such a transaction would be intended by the Klingons as a Trojan horse. There you go — centuries of holodeck malfunctions explained.
Next week: The mystery of the lost colony.