Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Vox Sola"

**1/2

Air date: 5/1/2002
Teleplay by Fred Dekker
Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga & Fred Dekker
Directed by Roxann Dawson

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Are you staying for the movie tonight?"
"What's playing?"
"Wages of Fear. Classic French film. No, you'll like it. Things blow up."
"Hmm. Sounds fun."

— Mayweather and Reed

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.

Previous episode: Detained
Next episode: Fallen Hero

Season Index

20 comments on this review

David - Tue, Jul 7, 2009 - 2:29am (USA Central)
I liked this one for the ways it brought the individual personalities and worldviews of the characters, particularly in the scenes with Reed and Phlox, and Hoshi and T'Pol.
Marco P. - Fri, Oct 22, 2010 - 2:02pm (USA Central)
Another poorly executed episode.

The premise of "crew-meets-lifeform" has been done in much better form in TNG episodes "Emergence" and "Galaxy's Child". And the result in those is much more satisfying.

Also... water polo? REALLY?
Jay - Sat, Dec 18, 2010 - 10:10pm (USA Central)
So...what were the motivations of this lifeform? It releases everyone once it finds out it gets to go home, which means its behavior until then was an intentional attack, but why?

Also, why did it grow so huge, and more importantly, how did it shrink back down again, to a size much smaller than when it first came aboard? Phlox's "it needed contact with another life form" doesn;t explain the increase in size.
chris - Mon, Oct 17, 2011 - 2:40am (USA Central)
Awfully boring, uninspired episodes so far. I am starting to think that buying Enterprise season 1 was a bad choice after all. It can't reach the TNG standards, even Voyager (with amazing characters like Tuvok, Seven, the Doctor, B'Ellana) was way better than this.
Paul York - Sun, May 13, 2012 - 1:07pm (USA Central)
I liked this episode because it struck me that the two first contacts it portrayed were much more realistic than most portrayed in ST:

1) aliens who are deeply offended by us for reasons we don't understand, and

2) non-humanoid life forms that are completely alien and dangerous to us.

Dr. Phlox's refusal to let the tendril be tortured was admirable, but his rationale was rationally inconsistent: because it was intelligent. He keeps non-human animals in cages, as captives, which is a form of harm to them, though not torture, yet he balks at harming an alien because it is intelligent?

Why is intelligence a criterion for non-harm? What about different levels of intelligence then? If humans are less intelligent than Vulcans does that mean it's okay to harm them? ST should confront the problem of specieism -- what is here called "inter-species ethics" -- more often, IMHO.

The translation shown here was good, I thought: it makes sense that an alien language is totally foreign.

Very similar to the Andromeda Strain, but in that film/book the parasitic alien did not communicate - it simply took over, like a virus.

Confronting alien parasites and viruses and diseases will likely be the foremost challenge for early space pioneer, if humans ever do manage to survive global warming and resource depletion and the threat of war, and develop ward drives (improbable at this point, but not impossible).
Locke - Sun, Jul 15, 2012 - 7:40am (USA Central)
This episode is pretty average throughout, however I REALLY like the very ending sequence, when they go back to the planet. It's weird, eerie and very atmospheric - the music is fantastic... that whole part feels truly alien and could have been an iconic scene in a famous movie.
Captain Jim - Thu, Jul 19, 2012 - 10:23pm (USA Central)
On an intellectual level, this is good science fiction. But on a practical level, the episode seemed slow and boring. Two stars.
Moegreen - Sun, Aug 26, 2012 - 5:50pm (USA Central)
I had to switch it off when the CGI tentacles 'attacked' the crew. They were too willing to use CGI before its time. It was used to great effect in DS9 for space vehicles and luckily they didn't use it for aliens or characters (not that I remember). Species 8472 was one of the first awful examples also. If Lucas couldn't get it right in the Phantom Menace with all the cash at his disposal, how could a weekly TV show hope to? It still often doesn't work 10 years later (Chris Pine's big hand; funny but looked cartoonish) and sometimes has the effect of making the older shows such as DS9 look more contemporary than subsequent shows like ENT.
Rosario - Thu, Nov 8, 2012 - 10:27am (USA Central)
I honestly thought the creature died when it stopped honking and that it was dead in the box when they returned it. Then it wriggled away. Would have found it more compelling if it had died, right on the verge of a breakthrough. But then the ending would have been required to say something and it was just easier to... return Odo to the Great Link :P
Rach - Wed, Jan 16, 2013 - 9:19pm (USA Central)
Introduction of force fields was a good element.
Q - Mon, Jan 21, 2013 - 3:40pm (USA Central)
I don't agree. Vox Sola is probably best thinked (even if poorly executed/directed) ENT episode, but introduction of force field was ordinary fan service and Doc Brown's/Tony Stark's deus-ex-machina resolution.
Arachnea - Fri, Feb 8, 2013 - 5:05am (USA Central)
Well, I sincerely believe this episode is underrated. It's all about characterization and it's very "Trekian".

We discover or are reinforced in the ideas of who each main character is. T'Pol is not human and her way of dealing with Hoshi is obviously wrong from a human perspective, but we also witness her adapt and give encouragement instead of "repression". Hoshi lacks confidence and is on a learning journey, which is great. Malcolm is a typical security man, focused on the danger (and likes things being blown up :p). Trip and Archer share a genuine friendship. The captain pouts when something doesn't go his way... Well, you get my point, I could continue on little details, but it's unnecessary.

The plot was well conceived, but the pace was a bit slow. The truly alien life form was interesting and the developement of the force field was great. I was interested in watching more of Mayweather, but the last episode and this one make me agree with Jammer: his acting is unfortunately very very poor.
Sintek - Sun, Jun 2, 2013 - 7:26am (USA Central)
Quite a futuristic 4:3 screen for movie night. Is it connected to their 32MB Radeon All In Wonder video card with a composite cable too?

Strange for a series shot and broadcast in 16:9.
Jack - Fri, Aug 2, 2013 - 8:42pm (USA Central)
The creature gave latitude and longitude coordinated, but longitude would be useless without knowing the Prime Meridian...
T'Paul - Wed, Aug 14, 2013 - 11:06am (USA Central)
I think this was a step up... good intercrew relationships, new type of alien, a role (shock, horror) for Mayweather... certainly an improvement
Mahmoud - Thu, Sep 12, 2013 - 11:11pm (USA Central)
I'll leave the debate on whether or not this was good Star Trek fair to others, but I just wanted to acknowledge Paul Baillargeon's incredible musical score in this episode.

Having watched all other Star Trek series and most of the episodes therein, I want to say that this episode features what is in my opinion possibly The Very Best (TM) musical composition we've seen (heard!) to date, starting from when Hoshi and T'Pol work on communicating with the alien. You could almost see the music setting the pace and serving as the underlying structure for everything else. It was uncanny how it seemed the music was the real point of the show for those brief few minutes and everything else was just icing on the cake. Baillargeon completely outdid himself here.

Side note: I think Enterprise's introduction of elements we're familiar with from "future" earlier shows is not necessarily a bad idea, but I'm always so disappointed to see it so quickly rushed. The usage of the force field in this show had a promising start: it was unreliable, ugly, and crude. But one "we'll need some adjustments to the lower right quadrant" later and it's a perfected technology.

This same thing was seen with the transporter and the holodeck. It's a real shame as I think some of these, particularly the transporter and the force field, could have each been stretched out over the course of an entire season!

Imagine how much better it would be if in the pilot references were made to emerging tech that would enable transportation and then an entire season sporting incremental improvements and accidents gone wrong, building up to the "let's risk the transporter and see if it can get us out of this situation" moment from the pilot used as the season finalé plot?

The force field is an even better candidate for such development. Have Malcolm (as security/weapons) and Trip (as engineer, though until now I see him as a cowboy and have a hard time thinking of him doing anything that requires any sort of thinking) mention it in an episode, Archer demand they research its feasibility and design further when they find a different solution, realizing how much better/easier/safer things would have turned out with force field technology, and then carry that through a dozen or so episodes. Incremental improvements, a small, unsustainable field here, a dangerously lethal field there.. Why does everything have to be so rushed in this show!?
Moonie - Thu, Nov 14, 2013 - 3:22pm (USA Central)
For me, this episode is the one ENT episode so far that really made me feel like this was Star Trek.
David H - Thu, Feb 20, 2014 - 9:45pm (USA Central)
Seems like a mixed response. On the Blu-Ray release there's a behind-the-scenes documentary on the creation of this episode. It serves as a reminder of the hundreds of hours of hard work from dozens of talented people in front of and behind the scenes, all to create an episode that so many of us are pleased to casually crap on.

Some episodes will always be better than others, but every single one of them took a heck of a lot of time and effort to bring into existence.
Buck - Sun, May 11, 2014 - 4:03pm (USA Central)
Hoshi whining about not being good at her job. Wow ... what an original concept ...
Jerry - Thu, Oct 30, 2014 - 5:29pm (USA Central)
Not a bad episode, except for Dawson's incredibly annoying directing. Good directing is invisible; Dawson's is noticeable every single second, which is, at best, distracting and, at worst, STOP WITH THE FRICKIN' FOCUS PULLS!!!

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