Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"The Breach"

***

Air date: 4/23/2003
Teleplay by Chris Black & John Shiban
Story by Daniel McCarthy
Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"If you don't start moving in the next five seconds, I'm going to take my phase pistol and shoot you in the ass. One, two..." — no-nonsense Trip

In brief: A nice hour of very traditional Star Trek.

The feeling best captured by the early moments of "The Breach" is the feeling of futility — the realization that no matter what you might feel or try to say, it won't be enough to communicate your good intentions to the other side that hates you. When feelings of long-held suspicion and a default position of hatred are stronger than a desire to judge a situation on the facts, it's gong to be a mountainous climb to reach the other side where understanding lies.

Perhaps the most crucial aspect about Star Trek is that it believes that mountainous climbs are (a) possible, and (b) worth doing. No matter how cynical the problems in our society may sometimes make us feel, an episode like "The Breach" is here to remind us that good things are possible and that a decades-held (over even centuries-held) attitude can be carefully peeled away to reveal understanding, albeit guarded understanding.

A nearby world has been taken over by an internal militant group that immediately expels all off-worlders from the planet. Enterprise is sent in to evacuate three Denobulans on a research mission. While in orbit of the planet, Enterprise comes to the aid of a damaged ship; among the ship's passengers is a man named Hudak who is in urgent need of treatment for radiation exposure. Phlox prepares for surgery.

Hudak turns out to be an Antaran, who immediately and adamantly refuses to be treated by Phlox on the basis that Phlox is a Denobulan. Phlox must respect the patient's wishes in accordance with Denobulan medical ethics. Without treatment, Hudak will die in a matter of days.

The bitterness here runs beyond deep. When Archer inquires about the situation, Phlox explains that the Antarans and the Denobulans were once, some three centuries ago, locked in a brutal war. The facts are left somewhat vague (Phlox is not particularly comfortable discussing it in detail), but it seems the Denobulans slaughtered millions of Antarans in the course of this war, using some especially ugly battle methods. "It wasn't our proudest moment," Phlox says quietly.

After the war ended, there began a bitter divide between the Denobulans and the Antarans. The societies no longer had any sort of relationship or dialog between them, but each society would pass down its history and hatred for the other side — from one generation to the next. Many of those feelings have survived to the present day, even though Denobulans and Antarans haven't encountered each other for six generations.

The story is about the possibility of the healing process and whether healing can overcome centuries of learned prejudice. Hudak, being the guest character, represents the side that initially does not want to budge. Phlox, being a permanent resident of this series, represents the more comforting side of the situation: a man with an open mind who does not wish to judge those on the basis of ancient history. Can an understanding be reached between these two? (Well, I've already answered that question. The answer is, this is traditional Star Trek.)

The early sense of frustration I mentioned is best shown in a scene where Phlox loses his self-control and uncorks his bottled feelings after Hudak persists in baselessly slandering his intentions. Phlox lets loose a brief tirade: "I have tried to treat you with respect, but I refuse to listen to these insults. You're the reason we haven't been able to put the past behind us. You've kept this hatred alive. No Denobulan would want to be in the same room with you!" It's a potent moment; the suddenness of Phlox exploding into this angry outburst comes across almost like an involuntary result of pent-up frustration. It felt very real and also worked as an attention grabber. John Billingsley shows a credible ability to turn on a dime from his usual affable nature to sullen and then emotional.

After Phlox settles down, the story also settles down into a series of dialog scenes that gradually try to strike an understanding between these two characters. The story's (obvious) message is that prejudice is learned, and that it continues to survive because of those who are either unwilling or unable to challenge the assumptions that have been passed to them. This, of course, shows the dangers in passing along harmful ideas to your children when you have not taken the time to fully consider what those ideas stand for. (Hate is learned, people. The "default position" I mentioned earlier is made default only in lieu of being taught more tolerant points of view.)

In a scene in the mess hall, Phlox tells T'Pol the story of one of his grandmothers, who passed these negative ideas along. Phlox ultimately rejected the antiquated prejudices, but he recalls an instance when his grandmother labeled an entire planet "tainted" merely because Antarans had once lived on it, years earlier. That's some deep, deep resentment. It's the sort of resentment that Hudak has held for Denobulans his entire life.

Phlox also relates to Hudak (and us) the story of how he made every effort to teach his own children to accept others as individuals rather than viewing them in blanket terms. This material is all, of course, at the very heart of the most traditional Trekkian civics lessons. What also helps is that the storyline works as character development for Phlox, and as an interesting, if limited and nebulous, peek into Denobulan society, something we know very little about thus far.

This is not only about Phlox trying to reach an understanding with Hudak, but also about old wounds that Phlox himself is still carrying. Specifically, one of Phlox's sons, Mettus, rejected his father's attempts to raise him free of prejudice against the Antarans. Mettus unfortunately accepted the views of other influences in his life. He chose to embrace the prejudices, and this drove a rift between Phlox and Mettus; the two haven't spoken in years. This gives the story a crucial personal meaning for its principal character: Phlox has carried the guilt for what he sees as a failure in his role as a parent. This idea is carried through to the final scene where Phlox sits down to compose a letter to Mettus — the sort of detail that makes "The Breach" a character story as well as a message show.

The story's subplot, where Mayweather, Tucker, and Reed go into underground caves on the planet to find the Denobulan researchers, ups the action quotient in an otherwise dialog-based show. Mayweather is apparently the Enterprise's resident expert on caving, although I found myself wondering how he acquired this experience considering he spent basically his whole life aboard a cargo vessel. (Perhaps he took the opportunity during his Starfleet years?)

There's a literal cliffhanger sequence where the three officers almost plummet to their deaths in the brief moments before, during, and after a commercial break. Of this scene I have the following observations: (1) The setup effectively embodies the cliffhanger notion, by creating a seemingly impossible situation of jeopardy that makes you say to yourself, "Now how will they get out of THIS one?" (2) I have my doubts that Mayweather could hold the complete weight two men suspended from a rope, even if for only a brief time. (3) I almost hesitate to suggest this, but I'll do it anyway to continue my harping on the theme of the writers' apparent Conspiracy Against Mayweather: He's sidelined here with a broken ankle, requiring Tucker and Reed to continue without him, thereby reducing Travis' number of scenes in a storyline where he was allegedly the leader. (4) Director Robert Duncan McNeill effectively milks every inch out of what is undoubtedly a small cave set. From a technical standpoint, these cavern scenes are sold remarkably well and photographed in a way that makes them seem large and believable.

This week's Ticking Clock [TM] is in the form of the impatient militant government, which has set a strict deadline with harsh consequences and is not prepared to move it for any reason, no matter how much sense Archer's requests make. This is predictably forced plotting, but it and the cave scenes work reasonably well as action unrelated to the main thrust of the story.

As for that main thrust, it's ultimately cautiously optimistic about the possibilities of tolerance and abandoning long-held prejudices. It's certainly more optimistic than one might be about the real world we live in, where fierce tribalism, hatred, and notions of "ethnic cleansing" continue in parts of the world and do not seem likely to stop any time soon. I talked of this show's early scenes' ability to depict futility. I should probably also say that a cause for such feelings of futility is better found on any given installment of the evening news.

Next week: Sci-fi properties write a new definition to the term "three-way."

Previous episode: Horizon
Next episode: Cogenitor

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16 comments on this review

AR - Mon, Mar 24, 2008 - 1:47am (USA Central)
No matter what else the episode was about....I'll never forget watching that poor tribble being dropped into the cage as a snack for some....thing
CW - Thu, Jan 1, 2009 - 12:43pm (USA Central)
A fairly average episode that has its moments, i.e. the dramatic (and hilarious) cave-fall and more info on the Danobulans.
Craig - Thu, Sep 2, 2010 - 7:11pm (USA Central)
Yes, this was an episode of traditional Star Trek - preachy, "utopian" and patronising. Prejudice really is that simple folks, and all you need is an inspiring speech to end it.

God, for the days of DS9.
SouthofReality - Tue, Nov 1, 2011 - 1:47pm (USA Central)
It's all too apparent that the writer(s) never did any climbing because of the farcical climbing scenes. Also, climbing technology hasn't improved apparently since 1920 in the Trek universe. And I would have thought they would have anti-grav units or something.

No, the best part of that episode was the fate the tribble. After that, it was downhill ...
historypeats - Fri, Dec 2, 2011 - 2:08am (USA Central)
Two little callbacks to earlier episodes help contextualize a couple of the things Jammer mentions:

1) "Two Days and Two Nights" shows Travis as a fairly accomplished/experienced rock-climber (accident aside), so I'm guessing Chris Black (who wrote the teleplay for that earlier episode, and co-writes the teleplay here) decided that Travis's rock-climbing skills might as well become caving skills, particularly considering the nature of the episode's cave.

2) The business with Phlox and his estranged son was introduced during the otherwise execrable "A Night in Sickbay." The explanation for that distance went unexplained there, and I was a bit surprised the writers remembered to explain it by working it in here.
Cloudane - Wed, May 30, 2012 - 4:54pm (USA Central)
Naw, I enjoyed it, it was good to get back to a real classic Trek episode again. Phlox's speech about his sons was first class, and I don't think I've heard such a good "short, but extremely effective speech (TM)" since Picard :)

I could have settled for digging into the moral debate and peacemaking a bit more instead of all the rock climbing, but whatever.

Facepalmed at the sight of a Tribble, but was glad to see it cut short (d'aww, poor thing) before it became another Trouble. It seems the people that came before Kirk's crew were at least a little more informed, if only because of Phlox.

D'oh at the return of the infamous "Hard Headed Aliens" problem that plagued Voyager (this time in the form of completely inflexible deadlines and the usual "fire upon" consequences). I hope that got nipped in the bud, and quickly.
Brock - Sat, Aug 4, 2012 - 3:47am (USA Central)
I think someone else noted it here too, but I had a problem with the climbing tech they used....so obsolete, even for 2003. At that time motorized repellers were already invented and used....heck how about a jetpack? or some plasma daggers to dig into the rock? Little obvious things like that bug me when you have warp 5 capable star-ships and matter transporters -- C'MON.
duhknees - Tue, Aug 21, 2012 - 9:08am (USA Central)
One of the fun things about rewatching a series is being able to stop and research some of the guest actors, most of whom are not household names, but who are able to lift an otherwise static scene, and to do so from under layers of makeup. Henry Stram did that lying on his back. I'll probably never get to see him onstage, but I enjoyed his brief performance here. And to think he's the son of the great coach!
Zane314 - Fri, Sep 7, 2012 - 8:29pm (USA Central)
John Billingsley is awesome. There I said it. He's got range, is believable, and seems able to make all his interactions, even mundane ones, interesting. His story in this was excellent. The b-story with the rock climbing ... ... was extremely skippable, and I did skip it! Gotta love watching stuff on disc, dvr, and online. I'd go 3.5 stars on the Phlox story.
Captain Jim - Sat, Oct 27, 2012 - 10:12pm (USA Central)
Zane314 said, "The b-story with the rock climbing ... ... was extremely skippable, and I did skip it!"

But, if you didn't watch it, how do you know it was skippable?
Annie - Sun, Nov 25, 2012 - 6:16pm (USA Central)
I have been watching Enterprise for the first time on Netflix, usually a few episodes at a time. I was going to go to bed, but stayed up to watch The Breach when I saw it would be a Phlox episode. I agree with what seems to be the consensus that the writers and Billingsley did a great job of fleshing out a character that many of us feared would be Neelix 2.0.

With that said, I wish this episode had taken more of a risk with Phlox's character. We learn that Denobulans and Antarans have hated each other for centuries--but of course, Phlox is the Good Guy, the Boy Scout who not only cast away any prejudices of his own but also judges those who are prejudiced, leading to his becoming estranged from his son. How much more interesting would this episode have been if it turned out Phlox did hold certain prejudices against Antarans? Billingsley is so capable, he could have portrayed a Phlox with a few demons but is still a likeable, relatable character. After all, we all have our thing.

There were three clear opportunities for the story to go this way: when Phlox was talking to the patient, when he was talking to Archer, and at the end, when he was writing a letter to his son. To the very end, I was hoping that through the letter, we would learn that while there was a rift between Phlox and his son because of their attitudes toward Antarans, it was Phlox who caused the falling out by being prejudiced, while the son was the more progressive one. Instead, the writers took the easy route by making Phlox a quiet champion of civil rights. I still enjoyed the episode, but it could have done a lot more to add a shade of gray to Phlox's character.
Zane314 - Mon, Dec 10, 2012 - 9:54am (USA Central)
Captain Jim said: "But, if you didn't watch it, how do you know it was skippable?"

Fair question. I watched some of the beginning of the rock climbing and became bored/dissatisfied. I used the Netflix timeline slider to preview stills of the upcoming rock climbing, I watched a bit of more and was bored again. Because of your question, I just looked at the rock climbing again and I found it boring - again.

This is how I approached the rock climbing which involved middling (for me) characters: Trip (aw shucks!), Reed (I'm British!) and Mayweather (who's this guy?). If the rock climbing had Phlox, Hoshi and Jeffrey Colmbs (as Shran, Weyoun, Brunt, anyone really) I'd have watched!

But to me rock climbing is inherently boring. Plus, I'm a die hard MST3K zealot and anytime "rock climbing" is mentioned I get twitchy with a crazed look in my eyes ... :)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJolhpz57RI
John the younger - Wed, Dec 19, 2012 - 8:32am (USA Central)
Agreed: A nice little story that all works out neatly in the end. Naw..

I would also agree with Cloudane who made a comparison between Phlox and Picard. I think John Billingsley's delivery saves this episode big time; much as Patrick Stewart did for many a TNG outing.

2.5
mark - Wed, Feb 20, 2013 - 7:23pm (USA Central)
Boring. So, so boring.

Of course Phlox and the Antaran guy would manage to find a way to put aside their ancient hatred in the space of an hour. The ending was a foregone conclusion. I don't know...maybe it's the fact that I don't really care about Phlox at all. I don't dislike him, he's just sort of "meh" for me. If Doctor McCoy was substituted for Phlox I probably would have loved the episode. (And the dialogue would have been a lot less preachy and a lot more entertaining.)

I'd give this two stars because I recognize the fact that the episode was competently written, acted and directed. But if I was grading it based purely on its entertainment value for me it would be one star at best.
Lt. Yarko - Thu, May 16, 2013 - 4:47am (USA Central)
Seems like Billingsley is losing weight. He looks good.

Good episode. Yeah, the prejudice thing was dealt with too easily, but that's trek. At least they didn't have dinner and hug before the Antaran left. That would have been a bit much.

Also, the near fatal fall into the abyss actually impressed me. I think that was the first time any action in Star Trek TV actually had me on the edge of my seat. What a fall! And I was also impressed that Travis busted himself up good stopping them from falling. How many times in TV and movies are ridiculous falls stopped completely painlessly? (Dumb-ass Star Wars episode 3 in the elevator shaft?) I fully expected Travis to stop the fall simply by digging his feet in. I thought of that fall in Batman Begins when Bruce stops himself and the Liam Neeson character from falling off the snow ledge by digging his glove spikes into the snow. Yeah right. Well, what a surprise. Someone actually got hurt. Bad. (Poor Travis. He is always getting hurt!) I felt like they had really gotten themselves into a pickle. Yeah, Travis could not have held them for that long, and yeah, popping a thing into a crack in the rock just after the rope finally slips was a bit much, but at least it wasn't a totally boring scene like when the walkway fell at the beginning of Voyager.
Shane - Wed, Jun 26, 2013 - 9:16pm (USA Central)
I was actually bored with the sickbay scenes in this episode and downright disliked the climbing stuff. I get sick and tired of the hard-headed unreasonable forehead aliens from Voyager and Enterprise and this one had a doozy with the patient spewing constant hatred while Phlox tried to save his life. Just sedate the mofo and get on with the treatment.

The climbing was annoying because, as had been mentioned by others, the creators don't seem to know a thing about modern climbing let alone what the future potentially holds. I'll give a pass to older Trek series for their limited budgets and time, but Enterprise could've done better with CGI or something. Or perhaps it's just further proof the writers have no imagination?

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