Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"The Communicator"

**1/2

Air date: 11/13/2002
Story by Andre Bormanis
Teleplay by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by James Contner

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Improvisation isn't my strong point." — Reed, demonstrating a drawback to this episode

In brief: A good premise and decently executed action, but with misguided character decisions and an obvious lesson.

"The Communicator" is a straight-ahead serious take on The Original Series' "A Piece of the Action," which had a similar theme but a relentlessly non-serious comedic tone. The theme is one of not contaminating less-advanced alien cultures. It's treated as dead serious here, but one problem is that the characters have not thought out how they would face such a situation. The situation arises, and they're just barely on the other side of cluelessness.

This is a decent story, decently executed, with decent ideas and dialog. The big picture, unfortunately, is undermined by the way its protagonists blunder their way through their difficult situation. By the time the closing dialog rolls around, the lesson is so obvious we shouldn't have to hear it put into words. But hear it we must, because the dialog is necessary to keep our captain from looking downright oblivious (a label he does not entirely avoid).

The premise takes the final lines of "A Piece of the Action" and builds a storyline from there: The away team returns from an undercover study mission on a world that's on technological par with early to mid-20th century Earth, and Lt. Reed realizes he's missing his communicator. He apparently lost it on the planet surface; if found and examined, the technology could contaminate the planet's natural social evolution. Archer and Reed return to the planet to retrieve the missing communicator.

Cultural contamination is an interesting Star Trek topic, and the story, as I've said, deals with it seriously. The characters react with a genuine concern and urgency, which is exactly how they should react. (Reed berates himself for losing his communicator, a character touch that very much rings true given previous examination of Reed.) Archer and Reed retrace their steps to a restaurant where they are able to pick up the communicator's signal. But they act too suspiciously, are confronted by military officials in the restaurant who think they are spies for the enemy "Alliance" (with whom this society is on the brink of war), and are quickly taken into custody. (As Archer and Reed think they are about to be confronted, they attempt escape via a sudden bar fight, going two on five. This seems rather foolish, all but guaranteeing their capture.)

This presents a new problem. With Archer and Reed captured, not only does this alien military have possession of a Starfleet communicator, but now a second communicator, two scanners, a phase-pistol, and the two humans themselves. And what happens if they find the empty shuttlepod? The dilemma is an interesting one that has us wondering how our characters will get out of it. Too bad we're also wondering how they allowed themselves to get into it in the first place.

The residents of this planet are not idiots. What's more, by being on the verge of war they are suspicious of enemy infiltration. Given these facts and the underlying premise that we don't want to contaminate their culture, the whole notion of the first away mission in this volatile region seems like, well, not a very good idea at all. And if it's not bad enough that the communicator went missing, Archer and Reed end up putting themselves in a very vulnerable situation with no backup, getting easily captured. This is one mission that should've been better researched from the outset, and a response to a crisis (the lost communicator) that should've been better prepared.

"The Communicator" poses some intriguing questions about away missions. It isn't long before Archer and Reed are beaten for information about why they are spying. Reed starts bleeding, and one of the interrogators realizes in surprise, "His blood — it's red." A medical examination is immediately ordered, where it's discovered that these two have impossible anatomies to go along with their impossibly advanced technology. The implication here is interesting: The very presence of a human on an away mission can contaminate a culture should the human's anatomy be investigated.

But, again, I found myself wondering why preparations were not made to avoid exactly such discoveries at all costs. And also why more thought wasn't put into contingency plans for when such discoveries are made. Starfleet apparently had no rules for interacting with pre-warp alien cultures when the Enterprise set out on this mission, and Archer apparently set up no specific guidelines for these sort of foreseeable problems. Sure, getting captured is not exactly something you would hope would happen on an away mission, but you should be prepared for the possibility as best you can. You should have a cover story so you can explain yourself. Based on what happens here, that's not at all the case; Archer and Reed are improvising on cue ... and they're not improvising much that's in the best interests of themselves or in avoiding cultural contamination.

The most obvious example is when the interrogators begin demanding answers about Archer and Reed's technology and anatomy. Archer initially tries to tell them nothing, but he eventually decides to fabricate lies rather than revealing the truth that he and Reed are, in fact, aliens from outer space. Archer says their devices are Alliance prototypes. Following Archer's lead, Reed chimes in that they are genetically engineered prototypes developed by the Alliance. Archer says the shuttlepod is not a space module but rather an advanced experimental aircraft the Alliance has constructed.

Whoa, there.

Of all the lies to tell these people, why in the world would you tell them that? These are lies of absolutely the most inflammatory kind, which is a good way of not only contaminating this society but doing so in a potentially violent way; it's likely to incite a war. Why not tell them nothing, and let them draw their own conclusions with evidence that on its own can't prove anything conclusively?

Archer and Reed are ordered for prompt execution, a story development contrived mostly for an inflated dramatic countdown and which I don't totally buy. (I was reminded of a sarcastic line from the previous week's episode of South Park: "That's called a ticking clock. Works great in the movies.") Wouldn't Archer and Reed be more useful to the military officials alive — where they could potentially supply more information about the Alliance — than dead?

The crew aboard the Enterprise works the problem from the other end, trying to mount a rescue attempt. I again find myself wondering why the transporter is not so much as mentioned as a possibility. Given the gravity of the situation, it would be a logical choice, but there isn't even dialog here to rule it out. I'm thinking this series should simply have opted not to have a transporter at all, because the writers apparently would rather not depend on it — a good thing except for the fact that the ship is obviously equipped with one.

There's an unexpected plot development here when Trip decides a rescue attempt would be best served by employing the cloak-enabled Suliban pod captured in "Shockwave, Part II." I for one did not know that the crew had acquired this craft. The details at the end of "Shockwave II" implied that Silik was released while he was still unconscious. Unless I'm missing something, this new detail would imply that the crew left him floating in space. (*)

Nonetheless, I must admit that the Suliban pod is an effective and unexpected attention grabber, along with all the weirdness that comes along with it. There's a point where Trip get zapped while working to fix the cloaking device, and his entire forearm is rendered invisible. It's the sort of jarring detail that keeps the story from falling into routine patterns.

The action in the final act is actually quite good as these things go. There's a desperately improvised descent in the Suliban pod (see "ticking clock" above), with the cloak only half-working and alien aircraft in pursuit. And the rescue of the prisoners — about to be hanged — and retrieval of the technology involves a shootout that actually makes reasonable logical sense. For once the shooting and movement of the action matches up with what needs to be accomplished on a plot level, a far better approach to action than simply having people stand behind objects and indiscriminately firing to gratuitously fill screen time.

Indeed, what works best about "The Communicator" is its ability to confidently move the plot details forward and end with an effective action sequence. The story's progress and implementation is convincing even if its plot details raise questions.

The lesson at the end is one I found too obvious, showcasing Archer as too slow to catch on. He talks with T'Pol about how the important goal was achieved — that all the technology was recovered. Until T'Pol brings it up, Archer doesn't acknowledge how all this mayhem will likely impact the planet's sociopolitical scheme. Given everything else, I'm glad the issue was addressed in the episode's closing dialog. But I must also point out that the lesson had already occurred to me while Archer fabricating stories about the Alliance's would-be prototype technology.

This episode shows exactly what can go wrong when interacting with alien cultures. On that level it's fairly effective. But the way it goes about it has me thinking that some forethought should've gone into this mission, rather than improvising solutions to a crisis that should never have been allowed to get so far out of hand. Archer needs to set some serious protocols to avoid these sort of situations.

Better yet, let T'Pol set the protocols. She's less oblivious.

* Erratum: The Suliban pod was acquired from "Broken Bow" and apparently not "Shockwave, Part II," although I don't recall any mention of the pod after "Broken Bow" and before this episode.

Next week: The crew is disabled en masse with disease-like symptoms. Sounds like Star Trek 101.

Previous episode: The Seventh
Next episode: Singularity

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19 comments on this review

David - Thu, Aug 20, 2009 - 12:46am (USA Central)
Not my favorite Enterprise show this season, but it had its moments. The bartender clearly alerts the three military men at another table about Archer and Reed's return, so they were being monitored as soon as they walked in the restaurant. Their fate was not affected at all by their "acting too suspiciously." Also, how could Archer's cover story incite a war when the two sides were already at war?
Chris - Tue, Sep 7, 2010 - 5:29am (USA Central)
I too would have given it the extra half star. The depiction of the beatings and summary execution orders were towards the gritty and realistic end of what is normally shown on Star Trek and made for effective drama.
Kevin - Tue, Sep 14, 2010 - 3:44pm (USA Central)
I didn't buy the storyline here. We never saw the reasoning behind their decision to go undercover into a society that was on the brink of war. For that reason alone they shouldn't have gone down. Also would the communicator REALLY have been such a contaminating factor in that society? They were obviously industrialised, had military aircraft, x-ray capability and an advanced understanding of physiology. We can even assume they had started exploration of their own solar system since they knew none of the other worlds within it were inhabited. In short, from their point of view all they would have found would have been a fancy Walkie-Talkie. Was it REALLY worth the risk trying to get it back?

To make things worse, the military force who captured Arthur and Reed were left with the impression that the Alliance had Genetic Modification, Laser Gun and Invisability technology. Surely he has now escalated their war to a level that it would never have gone to?!!
Josh - Tue, Oct 19, 2010 - 10:13pm (USA Central)
I tend to think the characters are much less stupid than you make them appear. Other than that, a pretty accurate accounting. I would have gone to 3 stars.

But, I'll let you have that 1/2 star after the South Park reference. They make enough Trek references..... haha
Carbetarian - Mon, Nov 29, 2010 - 4:21am (USA Central)
I completely agree with Kevin! Ditto to everything he said.

Jammer, I actually think you were way too generous with this one. It BARELY would've scraped two stars out of me.

I know I say this in most of my comments about this show. But, man, Archer is so incompetent. I especially wanted to slap him when he said that the people on the planet wouldn't believe the truth anyway. Um, WTF? There were fully prepared to believe that Archer and Reed were aliens! That was the first suggestion their doctor made! Of course they would have believed them! How could Archer think it was better to incite further paranoia in these people during war time than to either shut up entirely or tell them the truth? Poorly played captain, poorly played...

Also, I didn't buy that thing with Trip's arm. What? Is the cloaking device a spray paint now? That made no sense to me. But, I'm willing to give any storyline revolving around Trip a bit of a pass only because I enjoy watching him. He's one of very few people on the ship who has what feels like a real personality. Plus, he's cute. That said, I'm still not buying that the cloaking device works that way.

Really, I'm just not buying this episode all around I guess.
Marco P. - Sat, Dec 11, 2010 - 4:28am (USA Central)
Once again, the brilliance of the writers tops that of the Enterprise crew. "Negligent", "incompetent", and "just downright stupid" are adjectives which adequately describe both groups of individuals.

From firsttvdrama:

"Enterprise had already been to several pre-warp planets, almost always with conflicting rules and techniques on how they act around them (or Archer becomes a physic and magically predicts future Prime Directives). Here we have yet another one in which they try to give the impression this is a pre-planned mission with rules of conduct. But the fact is, they're still doing everything half-assed. They need to already have rules (which makes sense for Starfleet to have created prior to Enterprise's launch) or have no rules and mess up which causes rules to be created because of this. Neither happened here. In fact, nothing happened at all. Even in real life the government created rules for alien contact and even made it illegal to kill bigfoot, should he ever decide to come out of the woods.

Instead, we get yet another go where their "mission" just sort of coasts on whatever direction the writers decide they want the wind to blow to fit their current story and create a false jeopardy to stall for time as filler until the next episode happens. That is after all what every episode of Enterprise seems like: filler until the next episode, which is filler until the one after that."

Enough said.
Mike - Thu, Aug 25, 2011 - 9:33pm (USA Central)
"Enterprise" is child's play.

I'm absolutely amazed at how incompetent Archer is at times. Why in the world would he go down to an alien civilization for observation without having first set protocols on rules of engagement much less even being aware of its importance in the first place? Captain Archer seemed completely clueless at the beginning of the show and only realized its importance at the end; the effects of cultural contamination HAD to be pointed out by T'Pol! This is complete nonsense. A captain of any kind would know these things and to assume that the audience wouldn't understand this reality feels like a serious sucker punch in the gut. We are NOT that dumb!

First of all, when you're on an observation mission and observing a less developed culture you just simply would not bring any instrument or device what so ever less an accident or carelessness create an incident that could cause contamination. Second, like Jammer so pointed out, why didn't Archer simply just beamed out the communication device in the first place? Alternatively, the communication device could be remotely destroyed by a detonation device in the communicator. Hey, ladies and gentlemen, this is Protocol 101! This is how it's done in the real world and how it should be in fiction.

Finally (now I pause a bit here as I'm clearing my throat), as brutal and ruthless as this sounds, the real protocol that would be executed in the event of a potential contamination of this magnitude is nothing short of ice cold, surgical in its precision horror. The truth is all the people innocent or not and possibly the entire property site would be killed and destroyed. The crew of Enterprise even with its level of science and technology would have little choice without an alternative. Statistically, when you crunch the numbers down to its pinpoint essence it is paramount to preserve the integrity of the natural state of an alien culture as a whole, even if it means obliterating a small group for the sake of the many. Perhaps, however, Dr. Flox might spare Archer and his crew such course devilry by synthesizing a chemical compound that would induce a permanent amnesia to all parties involved in the incident. Naturally, the agent delivered would be dropped in an IED.

"Enterprise" may be child's play and much to be left desired in its script, story imagination, and delivery as many episodes are rife with plot holes and insipid devices, the show does, however, lend itself as humorously superficial, lighted hearted fluff that puffs its way through its episodes.
Nathan - Fri, Nov 18, 2011 - 10:38pm (USA Central)
So he breaks into what could be a lost-and-found. Great.
Steve - Sun, Feb 12, 2012 - 2:36am (USA Central)
Was the teleporter broken? And perhaps they should build a self-destruct mechanism into the communicator in the future....
Paul York - Sun, May 13, 2012 - 6:17pm (USA Central)
On Earth Henry Starling was responsible for micro-computers -- a gift from the future via the 29th century. So why not allow a communicator to "infect" this civilization? This idea of non-contamination seems a bit ridiculous at times, unless the technology being introduced is a weapon that could be used to harm people -- then there is a clear moral issue. It's not about warp vs. pre-warp necessarily, as much as harm vs. non-harm. Introducing an indigenous culture to complex technology clearly harms their way of life, but if the society already has electronic components, how can it truly harm them? Also, everytime humans visit a world they are influencing it in many ways they don't know or don't understand. The idea that there is a "natural evolution" of a society or a world seems manufactured. Everything influences everything else in the universe, indirectly. One atom out of place can affect history. The chief issue is to do no harm. Someone's suggestion above -- to murder the inhabitants -- is a violation of that moral duty, but forgetting a communicator? Also, the idea that humans have forgone their war-like ways seems a bit far-fetched. Violence is part of the human condition and probably always will be. That does not excuse it, but it makes it improbable that our descendants will solve the problem of war and poverty as pictured in ST. These things are caused not by want but by greed and lust for power. I don't see how humans will overcome this part of themselves now or ever, on a large collective scale. I hope they do, but so far in our history we have not done so.
Paul York - Sun, May 13, 2012 - 6:33pm (USA Central)
The most improbable thing about this entire series is that Archer et al seem to be operating independent of Star Fleet and Vulcan High Command most of the time. They take matters into their own hands, have no protocols or rules, make stuff up on the fly, botch things frequently. It is unlikely that Star Fleet would prepare for warp travel for 100 years and send a bunch of amateurs operating without any real rules to do the job. However the episode does point to an important issue, one that is discussed a lot in previous ST series, so it's interesting on that level.
Captain Jim - Sun, Aug 5, 2012 - 9:55pm (USA Central)
Perhaps no forethought was given to eventualities like this because of a sense of imperviousness or naiveté on their part. Hopefully an important lesson was learned here.

An entertaining, though somewhat flawed episode.
CeeBee - Sat, Oct 13, 2012 - 5:52pm (USA Central)
I'm a caveman. I discover a quantum computer from alien visitors. It immediately contaminates my culture.

I reverse engineer it, going "wogga, wogga" while examining the quantum bits and extracting them for my own caveman technology. Within a week, I develop technology that is so advanced and out of place, that I'm contaminated beyond recognition.

And so microwave cooking was developed 150,000 years before it had to be invented. Ceramic cooking plates are being dug up from the Olduvai Gorge. Civilization came to an end, because all cooking technologies had been developed before their time.

So let's get back for that communicator and tell them to start a war.
John the younger - Wed, Dec 12, 2012 - 9:33am (USA Central)
Seems like I wasn't the only person shaking my head in consternation while watching this episode. Sadly, an all too common occurance.

2 stars, tops.
mark - Wed, Feb 13, 2013 - 8:47am (USA Central)
Archer's improvisation under questioning was far more damaging to this society than the actual truth would have been, and Archer came off looking like a fool because of it. That and the fact that the transporter wasn't even mentioned as an alternative really damages this episode for me. I'd give it 1.5 stars.
Lt. Yarko - Mon, May 13, 2013 - 3:30am (USA Central)
I don't know why they just didn't tell them that the communicator was a child's toy. Maybe a radio that didn't work. Didn't they do that in the original series? Might have kept them from getting captured in the first place.
Jeffrey Bedard - Wed, Mar 5, 2014 - 5:27pm (USA Central)
Imagine this scenario...the alien doctor admits to being astounded at Archer and Reed's alien anatomies. Archer realizes this is the perfect opening to hopefully fix a bad situation. Rather than continue to lie about his identity...Archer confirms that he and Reed are indeed aliens. Give them the rundown of Starfleet (too bad the UFP doesn't exist yet). Explains the historic alliance of Earth and Vulcan and the Enterprise's mission of peaceful exploration.

Imagine that this information opens up the eyes of the alien species (too bad Archer, Sato and Reed visited the planet and we never learn the name of their species). And they let Archer and Reed go, knowing they are not working for the Alliance. And instead of a joke scene featuring Trip's cloaked hand, we end on a scene of the alien soldiers deciding to make an overture of peace with the Alliance.

Would it be repetitive of previous TREK episodes? Sure, but the franchise has plenty of examples of repeating itself. Would it still feature cultural contamination? Of course. But here ENT would be living up to some of TREK's ideals and rather than leave this planet in a state of chaos, fear and a certain-to-escalate war, the Enterprise would be leaving having (hopefully) helped this planet stop fighting with its neighbor. Again, not a new story for TREK. But it would feel better.
Jack - Thu, Oct 2, 2014 - 6:15pm (USA Central)
They peel off a rubber forehead thing and then say "you've been surgically altered". Is gluing something on your face really surgery?
Jack - Thu, Oct 2, 2014 - 6:37pm (USA Central)
The moral of the story seems to be that they should have just left the communicator there. And maybe add a component that allows for its power source to be destroyed by remote control.

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