In brief: Some nice moments and an ending that rings of genuine sci-fi, but overall just a little too average.
"Vox Sola" begins with a shaky alien first contact that sets the stage for an even bigger, shakier, more awe-inspiring alien first contact. This is not a story sold on an original premise or even new takes on old ideas. Rather, the truth here is in the details.
I sort of liked the details. This is an episode that goes to the core of the "seek out new life" clause in the Trekkian mantra and seems to genuinely believe in it. The question is whether this particularly journey is worth our time.
Almost. I sort of liked this episode, but not quite enough to give it a pass. In terms of fascinating content, there just isn't enough here. But I enjoyed the story's payoff, which manages to generate enough wonder to qualify as true sci-fi.
Something Is On the Ship. Our illustrious crew is not sure what, but it has webs of gelatinous tendrils that are good for reaching out and grabbing somebody. It starts by grabbing two engineers before the captain and Trip wander down to investigate and are also snared. The rest of the episode is an exercise in figuring out how to communicate with this lifeform and get our people released.
It also serves as a reminder, as Phlox says to Reed in a brief and calm argument I appreciated, that we're out here to explore and contact new life. This weird gelatinous thing would seem to qualify as a perfect example, but the crew is uncertain whether the creature is sentient. Meanwhile, the lives of four crew members, including the captain and chief engineer, lie in jeopardy.
Quite simply, I have little to say about the way this mystery is solved. The usual courses of investigation and tech are documented in competent ways that, gladly, do not threaten to grow too tedious. Nor are they worth the time of summarizing in a review.
On the character front we get Hoshi facing what is perceived as an early failure in translating an alien language, resulting in their becoming greatly offended and storming off the ship. For audience members paying attention, this should trigger the Full Circle Alarm. Will Hoshi be tested again in this new situation involving the strange lifeform's language, which seems rooted in mathematics and musical tones? Hmmm.
Hoshi doesn't appreciate the boss nagging her, though. T'Pol seems to go out of her way to remind Hoshi about the importance of having this second chance go right, with a little bit of attitude buried in that Vulcan calm. Or perhaps not. My take? T'Pol should be a little more forgiving, Hoshi should ignore subtle digs, and this might all be more interesting if it didn't feel quite so tired and forced anyway. (I liked the T'Pol/Hoshi interaction better in "Sleeping Dogs.") On the other hand, I liked the unforced humor in the dialog between Travis and Malcolm regarding a French film where "things blow up." (Insert grin here.)
Alas, Anthony Montgomery is less effective in serious scenes, as when he talks with the offended aliens over the viewscreen while on an empty bridge. Montgomery, who every day seems more like the weak link in the Enterprise cast, is far too wooden to make the scene work; the whole thing comes across as stilted. Perhaps there's a reason he's been getting so little screen time this season.
But never mind all the setup, which works only because of the cumulative effect of watching the crew tackle the problem at hand. Where "Vox Sola" comes together is in the payoff where Hoshi communicates with the lifeform. It's a strange and well-conceived sequence that uses sound effects, slowly building revelation, and Paul Baillargeon's surprisingly workable score to create an inspired moment that works as true science fiction; it feels like we're making contact with a truly alien presence rather than the usual routine involving humanoids and the universal translator. I was reminded of the communication at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Granted, the moment doesn't make for a fully satisfactory episode. This is all pretty routine stuff — exploration of the Star Trek ideal in the most rudimentary, if reliable, of ways. The alien lifeform ends up as not much more than something you think of the crew later documenting in a report after the mission is complete: "Captain's log: This bizarre thing happened today." But hopefully in the details of such a report, it would reveal itself as a bit more interesting, and we'd see the curiosity of our space travelers emerge.
Next week: Two episodes for the price of one.