Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"The Catwalk"


Air date: 12/18/2002
Written by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong
Directed by Mike Vejar

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Reed: "You knew we'd be stuck in here for over a week. You might have given a little thought to making it tolerable."
Tucker: "I only had four hours, Malcolm. You're lucky we've got a toilet."

In brief: Average. 'Nuff said.

So, here I am, returning after nearly seven weeks of reviewing hiatus to run my critical eye over "The Catwalk," which itself aired some six weeks ago. One might wonder why I waited so long to review this episode. There really isn't any particular reason; it just worked out this way in the big procrastination machine that is (my) life. With so long to think about this episode, one might expect I'd have something major worth waiting all this time to unload.

Well, I don't. "The Catwalk" is one of the worst types of episodes to write about, because there's so little I feel a need to discuss, for good or ill. I can't blast it with a paragraph full of pretentious and dismissive put-downs like "Precious Cargo," and I can't dig for character psychology or useful insight like with "Vanishing Point." "The Catwalk" is quite simply ... average. It's competent television, reasonably diverting, but not the slightest bit original or suspenseful. And it doesn't get to any crux of any issue that is at the heart of Star Trek.

I'm beginning to wonder now if "average" is the biggest threat Enterprise as a series faces. I recently admitted to a magazine writer that Star Trek excites me far less now than it once did. Is that because the franchise has become older and more stale, or because I've simply moved on or become more jaded? Probably both. One of the problems, I suspect, is exhibited by the very fact that Star Trek is constantly referred to as a "franchise." As if to say: It's not about ideas; it's about marketing.

Anyway, before this review becomes fodder for a cynical epitaph arguing the obsolescence of the Star Trek franchise, I will say that "The Catwalk" is fairly successful on its given terms — those of narrow adventure scope. We have The Problem and then The Solution and then Some Aliens and then The Twist and then some Alien Invaders and then The Action, all of which are executed adequately.

The Problem is that a violent storm "saturated with radiolytic isotopes" (ah, technobabble!) is approaching. I'm not so sure I believe in massive spatial storm systems that travel at high warp (with diameters that span light-years), but then I also don't believe in transporters — or warp speed, for that matter. I just wonder why the crew can't land the ship on the planet, unless the planet is also going to be unprotected from the storm's radiation. If that's the case, I guess any life (or at least selective life, given later plot developments) on this planet is SOL. Somebody had better tell Earth to forget about tracking collision-potential asteroids in our solar system and start looking for violent radioactive — I'm sorry — radiolytic storms moving through space at high warp.

The Solution is that the crew will seal themselves into a maintenance area known as the catwalk, located along the warp nacelles and the only place on the ship that's both large enough to house the entire crew and also protect them from the deadly radiation levels. Meanwhile, Some Aliens — three, to be precise, who warned Enterprise about the approaching storm — inhabit the story's background and are obviously more than they appear to be.

The early acts are arguably the best, content to watch the crew as they prepare for this eight-day hassle of cramming into a limited space with no amenities. I for one was glad that the show directly acknowledged the need to set up a latrine in this confined area; this is one of those times where pretending no one in Star Trek uses the bathroom would've come across as a glaring omission.

I also liked the way a little tension gradually set in as the confinement period stretched on. There's a scene where Reed's annoyance with this situation becomes quite clear; when he gripes at Trip for not having installed a shower, I was in sympathy. I also liked Trip's response: "I only had four hours, Malcolm. You're lucky we've got a toilet."

There's also some material of value between Archer and T'Pol, where T'Pol does her best to stay away from the other crew members. She admits she is not skilled at "fraternizing" with the crew. Archer would like her to emerge from her shell and learn to try bonding with the people around her. While this is hardly groundbreaking material — and completely typical of Trek — it's a character sentiment that works, and the quiet exchanges between Bakula and Blalock are becoming a pleasant trademark of sorts.

It's about here where we get The Twist, when some Alien Invaders show up, and the story abandons the "day in the life of an inconvenient situation" approach in favor of routine adventure plotting. Trip goes below decks in an EV-suit to fix a problem in engineering. While down there, he sees aliens walking the corridors of the ship. These alien invaders turn out to be of the same race as the aliens who are sealed in the catwalk with the Enterprise crew. (The Twist: The three friendly aliens were hiding something! But of course we knew that, unless we were temporarily brain dead.) The Invaders, who are searching for our three friendly aliens, are a part of a crooked military government; the friendly aliens are wanted deserters who refused to continue participating in the corruption and villainy of their military.

One thing that's especially convenient in story terms is how the invading aliens are impervious to the toxic radiation that would kill the Enterprise crew. This gives the invading forces an advantage. But the Enterprise crew has their own advantage — namely the element of surprise, since they are all hidden in the catwalk unbeknownst to the invaders. Eventually we get The Action, which involves a cat-and-mouse game with Archer running around the ship in an EV-suit and futilely trying to negotiate with the unyielding alien captain (Danny Goldring, effective in a stock-issue role). This leads to the requisite phaser shoot-outs, and then Archer's threat to destroy the ship by flying it into storm turbulence unless the invaders leave — a threat that, notably, the crew seems prepared to carry out.

This is all more or less by the book, with the conclusion never in doubt and the road to the conclusion pretty much taking every step you would expect it to take. Mike Vejar is perhaps the best of the Trek directors — and he keeps the story's momentum going in the direction it needs to be going — but he can only do so much with the material at hand (as was the case with "Marauders"). The way this all plays out is clockwork routine, unsurprising, and sold on competent technique rather than fresh storytelling. It is, in a word, average.

A little too average, if you ask me.

Footnote: Chef appears on camera in this episode, but only from the chest down. This is likely the first of multiple gags where we encounter "the mysterious Chef," who never has an actual line and whose face we never see.

Previous episode: Precious Cargo
Next episode: Dawn

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18 comments on this review

Jakob M. Mokoru - Wed, Oct 8, 2008 - 4:12am (USA Central)
Well, the episode was entertaining, yet average. I fully agree with your review!
penguinphysics - Mon, Sep 21, 2009 - 10:49am (USA Central)
I, for one, found it surprising that Maris....er....Chef wore white rather than Starfleet blue/grey. Who knew that Captain Stubing would moonlight on this show?
Marco P. - Thu, Jan 20, 2011 - 9:20pm (USA Central)
"the mysterious Chef, who never has an actual line and whose face we never see."

You mean Travis nÂș2?
Jeremy Short - Sun, Jul 24, 2011 - 2:48pm (USA Central)
I like that we had a "bad guys take over the ship" episode that actually didn't make the crew look like morons. This was way better than the Ferengi knock-out gas, or any number of ways Voyager got taken over.
Cloudane - Sun, Sep 25, 2011 - 12:12pm (USA Central)
Agreed on the feeling of ENT being average. I'm trying to think of an episode that has been groundbreaking (like say BoBW, The Circle or Year of Hell) and can't really think of one.

It's not deliberately, offensively average like the mid seasons of Voyager, just... plain average.

I hear it got better just before it got the axe.
Steve - Sat, Feb 18, 2012 - 1:55am (USA Central)
Wasn't it established that sick bay was shielded from the radiation? So why was the doctor so upset that there was no room for all his critters? And wouldn't that have been a better place for the captain to have his head of operations?
Scott of Detroit - Tue, Jul 31, 2012 - 9:37pm (USA Central)
I thought this episode was above average. I found watching the crew preparing to be entertaining. It makes me think of situations at my work where I've been sent down into the data center to complete some kind of mission critical task on a short time line and everyone pulls together.

I like that a large amount of crew (extras) were used to get a feeling for the amount of folks that are on the ship. The whole "camping" aspect of the show was fun, and we can all go back to a situation where we were camping and had much less space.

The alien takeover was a little too predictable in its ending, but we can't complain too much about that, because the writers can't destroy the crew\ship.

I liked that they dug into T'pol's character a little more, and made her a little more likable.

I would give this episode 3 to 3.5 stars. It was different, fun, predictable, but enjoyable.
Brock - Fri, Aug 3, 2012 - 2:40am (USA Central)
I think it's above par for Enterprise, especially considering the string of bad episodes that came before it (still trying to get over your 3.5 of Vanishing point).

Everything about this episode just clicked for me. The plot made perfect sense, the technobabble seemed grounded and realistic, the mystery of the aliens was well thought out and executed, and I loved the vibe of the crew taking shelter and becoming closer (as Archer said "It's like we're camping"). The turning point of the story also came at the perfect time, and I had no idea who were the good guys and who were the bad guys until near the end. Entertaining, suspenseful, with a dash of feel good comradery and teamwork.

I think of all the Voyager episodes that couldn't even come close to the caliber of this episode. Solid stuff in my opinion, and worthy of 3.5 out of 4.
CeeBee - Sat, Oct 13, 2012 - 5:40pm (USA Central)
I liked the fact that thugs in this episode were no cardboard characters like most thugs in Star Trek. The alien captain was interested in the ship and its crew, and played a psychological game with Archer instead of a stupid barking game.

And why didn't they use two catwalks? Enterprise has two, after all. They could communicate with each other, so why have a problem with "allocated space"? Heck, give Phlox's cats and dogs their own nacelle.

Myself I would be much more stupid and probably contact the aliens as soon as I discovered they boarded the ship. Isn't that the logical thing to do? But alas, in the future our universe has shrunk to tiny proportions; withing a 100 light years it's teeming with "civilizations", most of them out to fight or capture others in battle.

Alas, the future of mankind is dim.
mark - Sun, Feb 17, 2013 - 9:15am (USA Central)
I would have liked this a lot more if instead of the alien invaders routine--a problem which arose and was solved too conveniently--the episode instead focused on T'Pol's attempts to "fraternize" with the crew. It's the kind of story the character desperately needed, and the one moment we get in reference to it (T'Pol being part of Movie Night at the end) was better than anything else in the episode.

This could have been ENT's "Lower Decks". Instead we got a forgettable action adventure. A pity. Two stars from me.
Lt. Yarko - Tue, May 14, 2013 - 1:48am (USA Central)
To the people who asked why they didn't use sick bay and/or the other catwalk: It seems to me that splitting up the crew when not necessary means that they need more than one medical station, and, really, they only had 4 hours to prepare. Getting everything and everyone to one location seems to me to be the most efficient and safest plan.
Lt. Yarko - Tue, May 14, 2013 - 1:50am (USA Central)
Oh, and yeah. Pretty typical star trek episode. Not amazing, but not bad either.
T'Paul - Fri, Aug 16, 2013 - 1:00pm (USA Central)
I agree with those who said it wasn't too awful...

Some fairly stock events/characters but it could have been far worse.

Plus it does deserve those extra points for realism and crew interaction.

Perhaps we could have done with this week's situation of jeopardy, but it added a bit of movement to what would have perhaps otherwise become dull.
Susan - Sun, Nov 3, 2013 - 11:16am (USA Central)
Isn't space huge? Like mind bogglingly huge? The isn't as big as space itself, and when Archer looks out the window and sees the storm you can SEE space both ABOVE and BELOW it. So.... why didn't they just go above or below the storm, why go through it? IF they'd just gone straight down from their current position or straight up from their current position they could have avoided the storm altogether. Why hasn't anyone else thought about that?
Capitalist - Mon, Jan 5, 2015 - 2:33pm (USA Central)
I know Susan's comment was from about a year ago, but I thought I'd give an answer a shot anyway, in case anyone else happens along.

The reason that you could see both the "top" and "bottom" of the storm out the window was that the storm was still so far away at that point. Remember it's moving at high warp, so even with around an hour or so before it hits, it could be many light-years away.

As an example, take a look up at the sky on a clear dark night in the country, and you can see the milky way cutting across the sky. That's the middle of our galaxy you're looking at (or at least one of the major arms; I'm not sure which) and it's hundreds of light-years thick. Yet we're so far from that crowded center that we can still see space both "above" and "below" that band of stars.

That's what they were seeing out the window.
NCC-1701-Z - Wed, Jan 7, 2015 - 11:53pm (USA Central)
Fun fact: The Takret captain is played by the same guy who played the dying soldier in DS9's "Nor the Battle to the Strong" (Danny Goldring).

The story was good, but I fell asleep about halfway through. I think that says it all.
Corey - Wed, Feb 18, 2015 - 7:48pm (USA Central)
Like Voyager's NIGHT, this episode spoils a great premise with a needless "action plot". The episode's core idea was good enough to sustain a full episode. Why mar it with a hijacking?
Yanks - Mon, Feb 23, 2015 - 11:16am (USA Central)

I think I agree with you here. Star Fleet 1st deep space mission. The fist time this crew has dealt with a hazard like this. It could have carried this episode.

That said, I didn't mind it so much. Rather enjoyable episode in my book.

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