Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Canamar"

**

Air date: 2/26/2003
Written by John Shiban
Directed by Allan Kroeker

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Captain, my superiors will want a report on..." "I'll give you one right now: Kuroda's dead, the other 11 prisoners are under guard. As you're aware, my engineer and I were falsely arrested. We almost wound up in Canamar. Makes me wonder how many others don't belong there. You wanted a report, you've got one."

— Enolian official and Archer

In brief: An excellent lesson in how to spin your wheels.

"Canamar" is a handsomely produced, slickly directed, watchable example of what is wrong with Enterprise. For 60 minutes my attention is held enough such that I do not feel a need to walk away from my TV, but once it's over I realize that I've essentially wasted my time. It's formulaic action fluff and that's all. It doesn't even try to be anything more.

Look, I'm not asking that every hour I spend in front of a TV lend me some great insight to the human condition. I'm not asking Star Trek to reinvent the wheel every week (I concede that is impossible) or shock us with some sort of unanticipated notion or character revelation. What I am asking is that the creators make an effort — or at least pretend — that their stories say something, mean something, or get to the heart of something. Anything — whether it's our characters, the guest characters, a message, or any story point worth thinking about. ("Future Tense" was not particularly meaty or conclusive, either, but at least it was adequate Trek with some good dialog and an entertaining plot.)

"Canamar" is your garden-variety prison-break concept, a plot about stopping a criminal who has taken over a prisoner transport vessel. That's it. It is nothing more. It offers no compelling characters, no interesting insights, no messages worth considering, and no hint that it wants to be anything but a mechanical manipulation of action plot pieces. Its redeeming quality is that it competently assembles all its pieces into something that moves us from Point A to Point B and makes logical sense. Beyond that, our hands are clutching empty air.

Let's start with the premise: a tried-and-true and rehashed concept if there ever was one. It's about prisons and convicts (not to mention the Trek cliche of our characters being wrongfully railroaded by an unjust alien system), as Archer and Tucker find themselves presumed guilty and aboard an Enolian prisoner transport ship headed for a penal colony.

I can think of any number of storylines about prisons and/or convicts. Some of them are very good. One of my favorite movies of all time is The Shawshank Redemption, which uses the prison system as a patiently unfolding canvas to show us how spirits are crushed and how hope can be the path to redemption. Among the Trek prison-drama examples are shows like DS9's "Hard Time" and Voyager's "The Chute," both which were effective in depicting the horrific psychological effects of extended incarceration. Now we get Enterprise's "Canamar," which really has nothing to do with the penal colony of Canamar. We don't even get to the penal colony because the ship (and the story) are hijacked by a run-of-the-mill criminal who must then be stopped. That's what the show is about. It's about stopping the bad guy.

His name is Kuroda (Mark Rolston). Early in the episode, Kuroda and his Nausicaan partner in crime (Michael McGrady) break free of their restraints and take control of the prison ship. The guards are restrained, but the pilot is injured, leaving Kuroda with the problem of having no one to fly the ship. His solution: Jonathan Archer, who is quick to volunteer his help. This puts Archer in the pilot's seat, and also in the position where he may be able to influence the outcome of a situation likely headed for disaster.

On the other end of the plot is the Enterprise's search for Archer and Tucker after they discover their empty shuttlepod. (One thinks the Enolian authorities might've impounded a shuttlepod involved in alleged smuggling activity, but never mind, as that would prevent the Enterprise crew from finding it.) The crew contacts an Enolian authority (Holmes Osborne) about their missing captain and engineer, and in what is the show's biggest, most welcome and refreshing surprise, the Enolian authorities are actually cooperative (!) people who admit the error and promise the immediate release of Archer and Tucker. (Par for this course would've had the annoying bureaucrats inform T'Pol that Archer and Tucker were in fact guilty, period, followed by an order to leave their space, a terse threat, and switching off the viewscreen. Thank heavens we didn't have to sit through that sequence again.)

Back aboard the prison ship begins a series of trust games, as Archer tries to keep a lid on an escalating situation while Kuroda plots his escape, violently if necessary. Kuroda, a repeat offender, has already spent many years at Canamar and has no plans to go back. He intends to rendezvous with another ship of criminals in the orbit of a planet, get off the prison ship, and let the prison ship crash into the planet, killing all the other prisoners and guards. He sees this as a simple matter of pragmatism: The Enolian officials will assume all the prisoners died in the crash and will not have any witnesses to say otherwise. (I'm not so sure my investigation would end there if I were the Enolians, but I suppose Kuroda is free to make his own assumptions.) Obviously, Archer can't let this happen, so he plots a last-minute attempt to take control of the ship from Kuroda, and manages to convince Kuroda to release Tucker.

This leads to the extended action sequence of the last act, which is a compromise between the effective and the frustrating. There's a lot going on here, with the docking of the other ship and a series of changes in the upper hand. At a certain mechanical level, the action at the end of "Canamar" works. It is effectively staged and directed — better than some. The increasing noise and camera-shaking lends a certain amount of intensity as the prison ship enters the atmosphere, and it goes on for so long that we begin to sense the ship is seconds away from breaking apart. The action score, by (I think) new-to-Trek composer Brian Tyler, is effective.

At the same time, the inability to contain Kuroda borders on the frustratingly contrived. There's a point where he's shot and rendered unconscious, but then left to wake up and cause more trouble (and, hence, more action). Archer and Kuroda end up going mano a mano, which is well-choreographed in terms of technical action (and by now we're annoyed enough with Kuroda's lack of reason that we're hoping Archer will kick his ass and be done with it), but it had me questioning the logic of events: Surely the security team could've focused its efforts on restraining Kuroda rather than permitting him to get away again and again. Kuroda essentially writes his own death sentence by staying aboard the ship ("I won't go back!" he states adamantly) as it plunges into the atmosphere — a visual which we are spared, quite possibly to avoid unpleasant reminders of the Columbia tragedy.

In the end, the problem with "Canamar" is not in what is here but in what is missing. This story finds no point and relies on little in terms of ideas or attitudes. It is a prison-based setup that arrives only at the most simplistic of action payoffs. Kuroda and indeed none of the prisoners emerge to reveal personalities or perspectives or interesting dialog. The people are there to service the action and little else.

There's a last-minute bit where Archer, who is not very happy with the Enolians, bluntly confronts their official over the possibility of other innocents who have likely been condemned in their screwed-up justice system. Archer's aggressive tone is both warranted and believable (and well delivered by Scott Bakula) given the ordeal he's just been through, but it's all too brief and the message feels perfunctory. The episode is content only to make the briefest and most obvious point about an apparently deeply flawed justice system. It doesn't look the slightest bit deeper, because the show is not about any of that. It's about Archer stopping Kuroda from killing everyone.

And that's what's presently wrong with Enterprise. It is content to go the obvious plot-only route rather than asking provocative questions or digging any deeper into its characters' personalities or thoughts. It is dangerously close to turning into a mechanical process. And that's both a shame and a waste.

Next week: A month of reruns begins with "The Communicator."

Previous episode: Future Tense
Next episode: The Crossing

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12 comments on this review

NoPoet - Fri, Apr 10, 2009 - 8:45am (USA Central)
I didn't like this episode when I first watched it, thinking it was yet another filler episode where Archer is taken prisoner yet again. Having just watched it again I found myself enjoying it a lot more the second time around.

The special effects were excellent, the music was good, the acting was much better than the usual staid performances we see in many episodes of Trek (not just Enterprise). I enjoyed Archer's fight at the end. I just liked it all round.
Dipads - Sun, Jan 31, 2010 - 10:15am (USA Central)
It seems that Enterprise acquired all the scripts that were shelved from TNG, Voyager, @ DS9. No wonder it lasted just 4 seasons.
RockRedGenesis - Wed, Mar 10, 2010 - 11:32am (USA Central)
So, this is Star Trek's version of Con Air, and unfortunately not a good one.
Carbetarian - Fri, Dec 17, 2010 - 11:44am (USA Central)
The only thing I really enjoyed in this episode was Trip's annoyance with the guy sitting next to him. That worked for me in exactly the way it was supposed to.

Now let's discuss something that didn't work. Oh my God, that ending sequence! It was just ridiculous. The bad guy came back so many times, it was almost laughable. I found myself actually saying "Archer, you idiot! Just let him die already!" out loud several times during that end sequence. I get that Archer is on a "mission of peace" and all that crap he repeats ad naseum every week... But, seriously, the whole thing was way too over the top. Why would he want the two bad guys on that shuttle? Does his "mission of peace" out weigh everyone else's right to safety on the shuttle craft?

Ugh, I keep praying that this show will get better. Right now it's almost like a poorly done parody of Star Trek. What a joke.
Darren - Sun, Jul 31, 2011 - 10:33pm (USA Central)
A Star Trek clip show with ConAir thrown into the mix (although the SFX of the conjoined ships entering the atmosphere were cool).

The ultimate mission of the starship Enterprise was to see how many times members of its crew could get abducted before it got canceled.

When Enterprise was on-air, I bailed on it mid-way through the first season. Now watching it straight through on Netflix. My friend keeps telling me Season 4 is really good, and I kind of want to see where the Trip/T'Pol thing goes. But good God, episodes like this make it difficult to stick it out.
Nathan - Sun, Nov 20, 2011 - 7:09am (USA Central)
Alt-tab is key for getting through episodes like this.
Cloudane - Sat, May 26, 2012 - 5:59pm (USA Central)
Can't argue with any of the review really. It wasn't a waste of time or anything, but like most of the latter Trek days, nothing special. It was a Voyager episode set on Enterprise.

Yay for the pleasant but chatty prisoner with leaves growing out of his face. Poor guy, he only wanted to be nice but came off as quite irritating :P

The fist fight went on far too long. I got bored.
Captain Jim - Fri, Aug 17, 2012 - 10:44pm (USA Central)
I guess I'm just weird. When I've been well entertained for an hour, with good acting, special effects, etc., I'm not likely to say I wasted my time.

I'll agree that it was an average episode, and nothing really special, but is that really so terrible? Do they all have to be classics?
duhknees - Sun, Aug 19, 2012 - 12:00pm (USA Central)
Let me get this straight: Good music, good direction, good action, good special effects, good dialogue equals two stars? All because you weren't, what? The lack of movement on the story or character arc maybe takes one star, but that equals three for me. The chatty guy was a cute addition. My only complaint is Travis ... Can't a brother get a line or two?
Elphaba - Sat, Sep 15, 2012 - 3:56am (USA Central)
It only gets two stars because it was a bland boring rehash of done to death action cliches. We've all seen this episode or this movie before. It's boring. And it's exactly why Enterprise was canceled after only four seasons.

And it's not Star Trek. The Star Trek most of us know and love wouldn't have to rely on special effects and action to hold an audience's interest for an hour. There's nothing wrong with special effects and action, certainly. But there has to be a point to it, a goal and a story being told with the help of that special effects and action. It needs to be a means to tell the story, an aid to telling the story. If the writers rely on it to carry the hour of television, they're not doing their jobs correctly.

Action, if used, needs to be a means to an end rather than an end in and of itself. Action gets outdated. Look at the sixties Star Trek action scenes or even the early Next Gen action scenes. But a good story lasts so much longer. The Visitor, In the Pale Moonlight, Far Beyond the Stars, Yesterday's Enterprise, The Inner Light are all episodes that have hardly any action scenes but are some of the most beloved stories in all of Trek history. Best of Both Worlds is an excellent example of using action as an aid to telling the story. The action aids the story, not puts it on the back burner. The action of Best of Both Worlds is outdated, but we all remember the story and the psychological effects it has on the characters.
CeeBee - Sat, Oct 13, 2012 - 5:23pm (USA Central)
It seems if you become a space faring race, you revert to a justice system we abolished centuries ago. It's a fair warning that the future holds species that most of the time are belligerent, inhospitable, in rags (in their space ships) slave drivers (see the Orions and their ilk) and neolithic in their justice system. Let's stick to Earth.

And what the hell is a canamar? We didn't see one canamar all episode long. It's like calling your episode "London" and having Blake's Seven running around the other side of the galaxy.
Chris - Wed, Jul 9, 2014 - 11:43pm (USA Central)
Funny you should directly mention Shawshank in your review of this. The actor playing the villain appeared in that flick..."Boggs". Perhaps you subconsciously recognized him? ;)

As for myself, I thought it was a nice little bit of "turn-the-brain-off" fare. Not even close to quality Trek, but not terrible for what it was either. Liked it far better than Con-Air. It was shorter and no Nick Cage.

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