Star Trek: Enterprise
Air date: 5/14/2003
Teleplay by Hans Tobeason and Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong
Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by Roxann Dawson
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Why aren't you popular with the Chicago Police Department?" — Jonathan Mardukas, Midnight Run
In brief: A pedestrian and obvious main plot saddled with a shameless, obvious, and dumb, dumb, dumb subplot.
Just how many times can Jonathan Archer be kidnapped, captured, or thrown into a holding cell in a single season? With "Bounty," the answer is no less than four. He was held in a cell in "The Communicator," he was sent out on a prison ship in "Canamar," he was put on trial in "Judgment," and now he's captured by a Tellarite bounty hunter (hired by the Klingons to return him to Kronos after his escape from Rura Penthe) in this episode. I'm thinking the writers have played one plot card too many in regard to Archer being wrongly imprisoned. How many iterations do we need on this tired, tired device?
The main plot for "Bounty" is about a bounty hunter with a conscience. He wants his bounty payment, but he also begins to sympathize with his prisoner. The story follows an arc similar to the 1988 comedy Midnight Run. Archer is Jonathan Mardukas, the Tellarite bounty hunter is Jack Walsh, and the Klingons are Jimmy Serrano's crime syndicate. Unfortunately, "Bounty" is not a fraction as entertaining as Midnight Run, because that story (which itself was a formula) had priceless profane dialog, great deadpan comic timing, and a memorable chemistry between Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin. "Bounty" is simply going through the motions of a formula plot. Will the bounty hunter eventually let Archer go? Well, what do you think?
"Bounty" also has a subplot, in which T'Pol contracts a virus, or something, while on an away mission. This forces her and Phlox to be quarantined in the decontamination chamber until the virus is eradicated. It also triggers the premature onset of T'Pol's pon farr cycle, causing her to go into extreme sexual hyperdrive. "It's finally happened!" the trailers exclaim with glee. "T'Pol's in HEAT!" Please kill me now. Yep, that's what I've been WAITING to have "finally" happen on this series; I've been waiting and waiting and WAITING for the show where T'POL IS IN HEAT. Because, God knows, a show like that couldn't possibly have predictably dumb results. Are we going to see Jolene Blalock's Hot Bod [TM]? Is she going to slink around like a sex kitten in skimpy clothes and sweat and pant and moan? Gee, I wonder. Not that the trailers left any question. The ever-embarrassed Phlox, meanwhile, awkwardly tries to fend off the aggressive advances while the two are locked in decon. I'm thinking it's about time the producers just admit their eventual goal for a soft-core series on Cinemax: Star Trek: Decon Chamber. Gene would be proud.
The oh-so-clever spark within this plot device is that it's caused by a virus-of-the-week. This allows (a) the problem to be reduced to a technical point that can be easily solved by waiting rather than having anything that requires anybody making actual decisions, and (b) means that the writers can have T'Pol go through pon farr all over again at any future time of their choosing, since this one is artificially induced and therefore doesn't "count." Gee, I can't wait until next season when we get to do this story all over again, but for real!
And by the way: Since when does pon farr affect Vulcan women? Every previous reference in the Trek canon has said that the pon farr affects adult Vulcan males. The writers are once again tweaking if not rewriting Trek history for their own benefit (and, I suppose, for the benefit of horny teenage boys across the country who do not have access to Maxim). Suffice it to say, this plot is utterly shameless and brainless. It is about watching T'Pol go berserk with sex on the brain, and photographing her rubbing herself with gel (which in the plot has allegedly medicinal purposes — ha!). It's puerile camp from the IQ Vortex, and my reaction was one of groaning and eye-rolling.
Now, there's absolutely nothing wrong with sexual titillation, but there must also be a context and a purpose behind the content — otherwise it's just wannabe masturbation fodder. (And news flash to Paramount: On an 8/7c-airing show rated TV-PG, the operative word is "wannabe.") Unfortunately, there is no context here — none — assuming there's even any content. Of course, that may be the point if UPN's demographics targeting is any indication, but that's not why I watch the shows I watch. To UPN, it's not enough to have a Hot Chick on a show; the fact that there's a Hot Chick has to be rubbed in our faces at gunpoint. Subtlety is a lost virtue, and sex is no longer sex, but simply hollow marketing.
Nope, this subplot is just as dumb as the trailers make it look. The music tries to make this intense and aggressive, as if to say this is an awful ordeal forced upon T'Pol (which, by the way, it is — but it's the writers who are forcing it), but who are they kidding? This isn't tense or funny or anything else. It's campy juvenile sexploitation, contrived by an arbitrary sci-fi catalyst. Hey, I'd be all for seeing sexual situations on Star Trek, which has been far too sexless in the past, but I want to see it in a real-life sophisticated way that is relevant or thoughtful, not this lame-ass crap.
The Midnight Run plot fares a little better but is still way too recycled, obvious, recycled, predictable, and recycled. The Tellarite bounty hunter is named Skalaar (Jordan Lund), and he just wants to collect One Last Bounty so he'll have enough to Get Out of the Business. Then he can finally finance the opening of his coffee shop — er, I mean, buy back his cargo vessel and resume his life as a cargo ship captain. Archer plays the guilt card as frequently as he can to get Skalaar to soften and ultimately relent into releasing him. Meanwhile, Enterprise chases down Skalaar's ship to rescue Archer.
There's another bounty hunter here (Robert O'Reilly, who played TNG/DS9's Gowron) who also wants Archer, which would make him the Marvin Dorfler character, I suppose ... but are you really interested in this off-the-shelf plot? I can't say that I was. I suppose I should laud the fact that this episode follows up on "Judgment," but I have too many reservations. The point of Archer's escape in "Judgment" was that it was orchestrated via payoffs and corruption within the Klingon prison system itself. Now here we have the notion that Archer is the only person to have ever escaped Rura Penthe — which I severely doubt — and that the Klingons are willing to track him across light-years to get him back. I don't think this tracks; it misses the whole point of their system's corruption in "Judgment."
The show ends with the usual imagination-free phaser shootouts in the corridors, while the Enterprise exchanges fire with the Klingon ship. This hoary material isn't badly executed per se, but by this point I wasn't interested in it, because there's precious little in terms of surprise or suspense. The ruse put together by Archer and Skalaar is reasonably telegraphed, but it requires mediocre Klingon security to allow Archer every opportunity to free himself.
Skalaar is not an unsympathetic figure, but he also isn't too bright. He jumps through all these hoops for a payoff that is not what he expected so he can buy back a ship that no longer flies. You'd think he'd do his homework before working for the Klingons, whom he knows to be corrupt. Skalaar is no Jack Walsh.
After this, I'm thinking the writers need to post a rule on the brainstorming board that says, "No more Archer-in-jail shows." For that matter, I hope they also post a note that says, "No more T'Pol pon farr shows." After all, it's not like they can't or won't find plenty of other ways for Jolene Blalock to take off her clothes.
Next week: Something Real Bad happens to Earth, allegedly resulting in a dramatic new direction for the series. (Season finale.)