Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Dead Stop"

***

Air date: 10/9/2002
Written by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong
Directed by Roxann Dawson

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Reed: "It can't be ethical to cause a patient this much pain."
Phlox: "It's unethical to harm a patient; I can inflict as much pain as I like."

In brief: A few missteps, but good continuity and plentiful sci-fi weirdness that's for the most part intriguing.

There can be something inherently disconcerting about artificial intelligence, particularly unfamiliar AIs with crude communication interfaces. I think it has to do with an underlying wariness that an AI is based on complex but ultimately uncompromising directives rather than flexible reasoning; when you don't know those directives you quickly develop the understanding that they could cause you harm rather than good. This kind of AI has no conscience; it does what it wants. Your benefit or harm is incidental.

In "Dead Stop" we have an automated repair station with an elaborate computer system that's obviously complex enough to qualify as an artificial intelligence, albeit with a crude user interface. There's something about it all that's slightly ... unsettling. It offers hospitality and promises miracles in repairing the Enterprise's damage, but one almost senses an ulterior motive somewhere beneath the surface. The price quoted is awfully low considering the services it will be providing. Damage that would take months for the Enterprise crew to repair on their own will take this repair station only a day and a half. All it wants for compensation is 200 liters of warp plasma. "Those repairs are one hell of a bargain at 200 liters of warp plasma, don't you think?" Archer muses, mildly troubled and suspicious. I'm inclined to agree.

"Dead Stop" is a good episode that benefits from genuine sci-fi weirdness. While artificial intelligence and the concept of a machine with its own implacable agenda are familiar elements, this episode employs them well and surrounds them with atmosphere. The repair station becomes a character of its own, simultaneously inviting and ominous.

Its docking bay reconfigures itself specifically to fit the Enterprise, and the air inside is made human-ready. (Beforehand it was "270 degrees below zero." I'm assuming that's Celsius, which is 3 degrees above absolute zero; can any computer really function at that temperature?) Inside, the walls are all white; there's a long entrance corridor. There's an unmistakable sense that we should all be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Kudos to the production designers, and the special-effects wizards who designed the CG model of the station; they succeed in giving this place a sterile yet creepy personality.

Who built this place and why? Archer would like his questions answered, but the station's computer is not prepared to give him any. "Your inquiry was not recognized," it repeats uselessly. A computer this advanced and with such an ability to adapt should be able to recognize and answer Archer's questions with a more human touch; my only explanation is that perhaps it's being intentionally vague. (Although not credited, I'm 100 percent sure the station's computer voice is supplied by director Roxann Dawson — a nice touch.)

Still, Archer and the crew don't much feel like they can refuse this invitation. The Enterprise has fairly extensive damage — borderline crippled — and needs to be fixed. Let's talk for a moment about continuity. As I'm sure many could've predicted, I was practically ecstatic to see that the damage sustained in last week's "Minefield" was not miraculously gone by the time this week's show began. Far from it — the gash to the hull has dire side effects. (I also liked the continuity surrounding the injury to Reed's leg; he's undergoing physical therapy at the beginning of the episode.)

The next question is whether it's a cheat to have a "miracle repair station" that can fix all this damage (and Reed's leg) in a single episode. Well, yes and no. Yes, it's a somewhat-cheat in that the setup claims this damage is a Big Deal, and instead of having the crew struggle, the plot drops a miracle cure in their laps. No, it's not a cheat in that the miracle repair station is given the storytelling weight necessary to more than justify its presence.

In the new-technology arena, the crew sees firsthand what in future Trek incarnations will be called a "replicator," capable of conjuring matter from energy. It's handy for scraping up a meal, or spare parts. Trip is particularly intrigued, and in what is clearly the show's stupidest action on behalf of the characters (but necessary to set up the plot's solution, alas), Trip convinces Reed to go sneaking through the station's crawl spaces to try to find the station's main computer. Reed points out this might not be such a good idea; the computer might not take kindly to trespassers. Trip's response: "I didn't see any no-trespassing signs." How brilliant. When the plan fails and the computer beams them back to the Enterprise, I was frankly glad Archer yelled at them. (Another nice little follow-up from last week: Archer, on Reed's case: "You've made it clear to me that you think discipline on board Enterprise has gotten a little too lax. I'm beginning to agree with you.")

There's a plot "twist" that sets up the story's key revelation, and that's where I'm a little more skeptical about "Dead Stop." Mainly, my problem here is how the story decides to kill off a character in a way that, dramatically, doesn't work and smacks more of Trek cliche than anything. Ensign Mayweather is fooled by the station AI (using a faked simulation of Archer's voice) into going below decks into off-limits repair areas where he's zapped by an energy charge. This leads to Phlox finally getting to say, "He's dead, captain," followed by questions and frustration and autopsies and unexpected results and medical technobabble explanations and finally the conclusion that Mayweather is, in fact, not dead after all, but rather abducted after having been replaced with a dead clone. While there's some potential interest in seeing Archer's initial reaction to losing a crew member (after my discussion of said topic in last week's "Minefield"), this would-be death is probably more annoying than it's worth precisely because it's such a transparent plot twist.

Problem #1: Okay, so they introduce the woefully underutilized Travis Mayweather into a plot where up to this point in the episode he's been a non-factor. What do the writers do? Give him good dialog? Character development? An active role in the story? Nope — they "kill" him and have him lie on an autopsy table as a corpse. This indicates pure writer desperation in concern to this character. Have they no clue what to do with this guy?

Problem #2: Okay, so they're going to kill a character. How many people in the audience aren't going to expect a resurrection of the character when he's a member of the principal cast? If you want this twist to interest us, either (a) kill off a red-shirt (such that we're genuinely surprised by the eventual resurrection), or (b) kill off one of the main characters who is not so woefully underdeveloped (such that dying is not the most significant thing they've gotten to do in nearly a year).

I'm actually fine with where this setup eventually takes us — to the discovery (albeit a foreseeable one) that this station abducts living beings so it can tie their brains into its computer network and expand its processing power. It's an adequately bizarre sci-fi-ey idea, and I liked that the story did not dwell on the particulars or try to offer unnecessary explanations for how this station evolved into an AI beast that kidnaps people. It's simply a Halloween mystery and the episode wisely leaves it at that.

Under Dawson's direction, the show's pacing is dead-on. It begins slowly, quietly, mysteriously. As mysteries give way to revelation, however, the pace picks up and the camera moves with much more freedom. The Enterprise's escape from the station, accompanied by a crescendo of noise and explosions, is skillfully depicted, with good directing, editing, logical flow, and music.

By the end, it feels like we've been taken for a brief trip through the Twilight Zone. The last shot is of the ruins of the repair station beginning repair work on itself. Like all living things governed by instinct, its mission is to continue surviving according to the logic of its existence — an intriguing statement, conveyed with a compelling image.

"Dead Stop" is an episode I liked quite a bit. I might've liked it even better had its spell not been broken with Mayweather being cloned, kidnapped, and swapped with a corpse. Being manipulated as a plot device is about the last thing his character needs.

Next week: Judging by the trailer, Archer suffers from blue balls. Or something.

Previous episode: Minefield
Next episode: A Night in Sickbay

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17 comments on this review

stallion - Sat, Nov 24, 2007 - 2:28pm (USA Central)
I agree with you. If they made someone else get killed instead of Maywether than this episode would had been perfect. Maybe the actress who played crewman Cutler(RIP) would had been a better choice.
Admirable Chrichton - Mon, May 19, 2008 - 7:55pm (USA Central)
Yes the computer voice is indeed Roxanne Dawson.
RockRedGenesis - Sat, Mar 6, 2010 - 5:43pm (USA Central)
I do like this episode, one of the better ones of the second season. And i laughed out loud with the exchange between Reed and Phlox at the beginning of the episode

"It can't be ethical to inflict this much pain."
"It's unethical to harm a patient; I can inflict as much pain as I like."

With the thing between Travis being dead, he's kind of like Harry in Voyager, he didn't get much character development within the first four seasons of VOY, unfortunately Travis will never get much more, as i think Montgomery is a fairly good actor and was too underutilised.
Boris - Thu, Mar 25, 2010 - 3:35pm (USA Central)
I liked this episode too, but why does this seem like it would have been better as a Voyager episode? Having this mysterious station in the Delta Quadrant where no one from the Federation will ever stumble across it again works better with this plot than the logical question of "why is there no subsequent mission to study or destroy the thing?"
Russs - Mon, Nov 8, 2010 - 6:28am (USA Central)
I like this episode. It had an original idea that was plausible.

But the Enterprise sure is reaking havoc.

For an exploration mission they sure blow up a lot of things.
Marco P. - Fri, Nov 19, 2010 - 12:36pm (USA Central)
I'll jump on the bandwagon: I liked this episode too (for a *change*!!).

This episode had many elements that make (made) Trek great over the years: the exploration and marvel over superior technology, a bit of an intrigue, and enough mystery to veil the ever-present flaws/inadequacies of the script (as usual, stop by www.firsttvdrama.com/enterprise/e30.php3 for a complete list).

That is probably the best thing "Dead Stop" has going for them: the mystery of this sentient A.I., and the aliens that put it there along with this "benefactor" repair station. "Disconcerting" is an appropriate word here indeed.

Of course, somehow the writers still managed to f*** things up in the end, with a disappointing use of an under-utilized character and a dubious plot twist with rather severe ethical issues. So the Enterprise crew wanted to save their shipmate, fine. Did they have to blow up the station and kill all the other sequestered people in there? The doctor explains it away as "they're all brain-dead anyway". How convenient.

Still ultimately, if a friend asked me to show him the best 5 episodes of ST Enterprise, "Dead Stop" would be one I'd pick. Partly because I'd want my friend to be spared the pain & suffering I had to go through, which is having to sit an entire season (and counting) of *regular* Berman & Braga nonsense.
Carbetarian - Tue, Nov 23, 2010 - 10:26pm (USA Central)
I liked this one too! I always feel happily surprised after a good episode of Enterprise. There have been so few of them so far.

Travis is a totally undeveloped character. I rather like the idea of "boomers". It's too bad the writers chose to throw that plot point away so casually. I would have liked to have seen more interaction with freight ships in the beginning of the show. Travis could have been a really interesting character. But, instead the most interesting thing he ever does (as Jammer says) is get cloned and sort of get himself killed. That's unfortunate.

There were so many things that they could have done with this show, but just didn't. There are many episodes where it feels like they're doing "Voyager presents TOS!" instead of an independent show.

I want to see more of what lead to the federation. I want to know more about the species who founded it. I would have enjoyed a show that stuck close to the same areas much more than one like this; where they sort of drift around aimlessly saying hello to the random alien of the week. For example, I liked the episodes regarding the Vulcan/Andorian conflict last season. I would have liked to see more story arcs about that than the random stuff we've been seeing.

I second Boris in wondering why this thing was apparently never further investigated and Marco's thoughts on all the other "brain dead" people left inside the station.

However, I enjoyed the episode all the same. Also, I thought that last shot of the station repairing itself was very ominous and really well done.
Cloudane - Wed, Jul 6, 2011 - 12:10pm (USA Central)
I agree with every word of the review.

A few conveniences, and the whole deal with Mayweather was indeed a bit crap (why not kill one of the regulars off permanently like with Yar.. have some balls.. nobody would miss this guy anyway) but it had a lot of good to it.

As cliché as it is I always enjoy seeing them marvel at the technology that "we" took for granted in the future-set Trek series. And how rapidly it replicates huge sections of the ship and puts them into place at least goes some way towards explaining why Voyager kept getting nearly blown up and ending up perfect a week later.

Speaking of Voyager, a very Voyager-esque moment in the early part of the episode when they realise it'd take 10 years to limp back. I like that. Even though it was resolved a bit conveniently, I appreciated the feel of complete helplessness (and couldn't help but smile at the almighty Starfleet having to send out a distress call)
James Cray - Mon, Aug 1, 2011 - 11:38am (USA Central)
Possible spoiler warning here- this comment is to Boris there. There's a pretty good reason why they didn't plan a mission to this thing- because they blew the dang thing up completely when they left. There's no reason to go back to "investigate" a rather large pile of worthless metal chunks.
So far I've been watching episodes of Enterprise and I'm a bit saddened at how quickly they resort to blowing things up on this show. Klingons being bullies? Set 'em on fire! Mysterious space station kidnaps one of your crew? Blow it up!
Crush! Kill! Destroy!
One of the things I loved about Trek was that in a lot of episodes, especially TNG, there was a concerted effort to actually resolve issues BEFORE the phasers came out. Guns were a total last resort when diplomacy failed.
I'm only a few episodes into Enterprise Season 2 so far- does it stay on its violent course?
Nathan - Fri, Nov 18, 2011 - 4:13am (USA Central)
Now that's more like it. This had a very TOS-like feel to it. Too bad A Night in Sickbay is next...
ceebee - Sat, Jun 30, 2012 - 7:36pm (USA Central)
A great SF episode. A weird station, desolated. When did it become autonomous? Did it ever decide to replenish its diminishing power with living, yet comatose brains? Did it decide to do that on its own, or did the makers decide to use inferior species to function as their repair station's computer brain? So many weird possibilities, so many consequences.

Too bad the station seems to be in the vicinity of Earth and other inhabited planets in the overcrowded Star Trek universe. No doubt almost every species will eventually discover it and dismantle its dangerous ways. After all, we're not talking about tribal people being abducted, we're talking about civilizations with highly sophisticated spaceships and weapons and all.

Too bad most SF writers have no clue about the vastness and emptiness of space. But nevertheless a great episode. Reminded me of "Rendez-vous with Rama".
Locke - Sun, Jul 15, 2012 - 7:49am (USA Central)
My favorite episode of enterprise. This could have been a Twilight Zone episode, it's very weird and full of unanswered questions (as Ceebee noted above) with a cool last 5 seconds (the part where the repair station starts repairing itself).

The thing that always gets me about this episode is how damn well it conveys the sense that the station is being deliberately ignorant. It understands every word and it chooses it's "your inquiry was not recognised" reply very deliberately. I also really liked the scene where Archer gets angry with it, and the view shifts to inside the screen in the station - simple but very effective.

Did anyone else get that impression of the station as a living thing? sort of a predatory plant? it waits in space, then it opens itself to let prey in, and then pounces... it's.. just s wierd idea, is it sentient? How did it come to be like this, more creature than place. Jammer put it fantastically well when he suggested "its mission is to continue surviving according to the logic of its existence"

As a completely stand alone episode of sci-fi TV this is nice work, it definitely made me think afterwards more than most Enterprise eps.
Captain Jim - Sun, Jul 29, 2012 - 10:29pm (USA Central)
I notice that Jammer gave both this and last week's "Minefield" three stars. That seems about right in this instance; I liked this episode a lot. But it just goes to reinforce my belief that Minefield was rated too high. Dead Stop is a much, much better episode.
Annie - Sat, Nov 10, 2012 - 8:35pm (USA Central)
I've been relegating Enterprise to background TV, but the shot of the station expanding its docking area made me close the laptop and sit up straight. Some beautiful scenes in this episode.

As much as I loved the last moments of the station repairing itself, I had to wonder how it did that with its humanoid brainpower now gone. But that is really a small nit that I'm more than happy to overlook for a very cool episode.
CeeBee - Thu, May 23, 2013 - 3:57pm (USA Central)
And maybe.... the designers and operators of the station aren't gone at all, but lie amidst the other victims of the station.... (ominous music)
Nancy - Tue, Sep 10, 2013 - 8:21pm (USA Central)
This episode had me intrigued. The mood, set up, visuals.... All well done. I would have liked more explanation about the motive of the station to use people as processing units - seems rather inefficient - but overall one of the series' best episodes so far.
Mahmoud - Thu, Sep 19, 2013 - 2:03pm (USA Central)
I felt like the intro scene really deserves more mention than it's getting - I fully expected to see it lauded in Jammer's review.

A very humbling and poignant moment, it takes a lot for the captain of the flagship vessel to realize starfleet isn't above putting out a general distress call of their own. I want to say this has never been done before, but I might be wrong? Regardless, it was well played and not overdone - just the right amount of hesitation and resolve.

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