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.