Star Trek: Enterprise
"A Night in Sickbay"
Air date: 10/16/2002
Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by David Straiton
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"You know, this isn't some guinea pig you're working on here. This is Porthos, my beagle, my pal. And from what you're telling me, the closest thing your people have to pets are furry little things that go well with onions."
"Perhaps you're right, captain. Perhaps I'm insensitive to the bond between you and your subservient quadruped. I'll leave the procedure up to you. But whatever your decision, make it quickly."
— Archer (absurd nonsense), Phlox (perfect response)
In brief: This one's really a dog. I said "dog." Get it? Porthos? Dog? Ha! I kill me. But I should've killed me before this episode aired. Okay, better stop now before the "in brief" becomes too long to be considered brief. "Long." I said "long." Hee hee. I bet Archer would really like to be "briefed" by T'Pol. While in his "briefs." And only his "briefs." And only staying "briefly" in his "briefs" before he's no longer in his "briefs." Heh heh heh heh heh...
Ah, here we are at last, the bona fide uber-loser, an episode bereft of ... well, anything and everything resembling content.
Okay, it's not bereft of dumbness. There's plenty of that, since this is easily the dumbest concept for an episode of Star Trek since Voyager's holodeck was hijacked by the residents of Fair Haven (see "Spirit Folk," or, on second thought, don't).
Evidently, the writers are not treating this as season two of a series, but rather season nine (or later) of an aging dinosaur. An episode all about the captain's goddamned dog you'd think would be reserved as desperate sitcom fodder for the latter seasons, not brought to light as episode #5 in season two. You'd be wrong, but you could think it. Whatever.
"A Night in Sickbay" succeeds not only in being unfunny, pathetic, and dull, but also manages to elevate character assassination and embarrassing nonsense to a kind of grand efficiency. It manages to make a mockery of Archer, T'Pol, Phlox, and an entire unknown alien culture in a shade under 45 minutes plus commercials. You could count Porthos in that list as well (who has his pituitary gland replaced with that of a lizard's), except for the fact that ... well, he's a freaking DOG, for crying out loud. In other words, NOT A CHARACTER. On a series where Ensign Mayweather's biggest contribution in remembered history is to be presumed dead in last week's "Dead Stop," who in the world gives a care about Archer's stupid beagle? Hint: Not me. (Note: You are forbidden to argue in favor of this episode on the grounds that you are a dog lover. Dog lovers may certainly argue, but they may not make the fact they are dog lovers the principal basis of their argument. So, nyaaah.)
Here is the plot (I mean "plot"): Archer & Co. return from a botched diplomatic away mission on an alien world. Archer finds out Porthos contracted a disease while on the planet. (Did I mention that Porthos was included on the away team? And that I find that to be hopelessly inane?) Archer gets real mad, because the aliens should've warned him that Porthos might get sick (the inconsiderate bastards). Archer then spends a night in sickbay holding vigil over poor little Porthos, who could possibly die if Phlox can't find a way to treat him. (Pardon me while I grab a Kleenex.)
But wait; there's more. While in sickbay, Phlox tries to get to the bottom of Archer's foul mood (apart from his sick dog) and commences psychological deconstruction. Phlox determines that the captain is suffering from sexual tension in regard to T'Pol and is lashing out at her as a result. (That's all we need — sexual-harassment issues aboard the starship Enterprise. Whee.)
Archer is appalled at this notion, but in perfectly scripted/telegraphed/lame self-fulfilling prophecy fashion, he then has Freudian slips involving the words "breast" and "lips" when talking with T'Pol, in front of Hoshi for added comically hilarious embarrassment, ha ha. Later he has a dream where the crew attends a dark and rainy funeral for Porthos, which is followed by some Archer/T'Pol action (yes, that kind of action) that should under no circumstances have been allowed past the first story break meeting, lest it actually find its way into a real-life script and, God forbid, actually end up filmed and edited and viewed and inevitably compared to bad fan fiction.
This tracks with little of what we've seen before concerning Archer and T'Pol's relationship, which has never hinted at anything beyond pure professionalism and a developing captain/first-officer trust. Look no further than, say, "Shadows of P'Jem," where they're tied up together and you see absolutely nothing in terms of a sexual component. Nope, the notion here is glib sexuality scripted out of nowhere, doubtlessly motivated to satisfy UPN demographics, and I don't buy it for a minute.
Oh well, at least it's only a dream.
But there's also two iterations here (one real, one dreamt) on the Decontamination Chamber Rub-Down Scene [TM], where T'Pol gives Archer a rub-down while Archer gives Porthos a rub-down. Eyebrows are raised. You know what they say: Sometimes a beagle is just a beagle. But other times... (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, har-de-har-har!)
Should I even mention the scene where Archer and Phlox are running around sickbay with nets, trying to catch an escaped bat-like creature? It leads to Phlox falling down, ha ha, and getting some sort of strange goop spilled on him, hee hee. How about the scene where Phlox cuts his toenails, or where he (I think) shaves his 8-inch tongue? That Darn Denobulan and his crazy hijinks! (Cue canned laughter.)
It's a testament to John Billingsley's abilities that Phlox manages to remain a consistently watchable and affable persona, despite the script's best efforts to humiliate him (and everyone else). It's grace under pressure, dignity maintained in an atmosphere that warrants none. Consider the scene where Porthos' condition takes a turn for the worse and Phlox suggests a risky and desperate treatment. Archer, acting like an idiot, regards Phlox with an inexplicable confrontational attitude that flies in the face of reason (Phlox is obviously brilliant, so why not let him do his job to save your dog?). Phlox responds with a calm appeal to logic that is absolutely priceless, revealing Archer as the fool he is.
Any attempt to look seriously at events in this story (not recommended) only reveal how badly the writers mangle Archer's character into that of a selfish hothead. He says things that are completely based on irrational emotion rather than any reasoned thought or consideration. He's angry with the alien society because they weren't thorough enough in determining the risk to Porthos in their environment. Because they are arrogant and anal-retentive. Because they would have the audacity to take offense at Porthos urinating on one of their sacred trees. They, they, they. How about you, John? There's all this reckless anger and overstated ranting and raving and selfishness (all because Archer took his dog on an away mission!), and all I'm thinking is: This is the commander of the human race's first grand mission into deep space? Grow the hell up, stop being so petty, and take some responsibility for your own actions.
Not that the aliens are of much help. They're equally annoying, with hokey makeup and absurd "customs." The crisis of diplomacy is solved with a ritual that employs the corniest aspects of Star Trek alien-society cliche. The episode apparently finds offbeat humor in the notion of a chainsaw, I guess because chainsaws have never been seen on Trek before (and why would they?).
All in all, this episode meets the criteria for the what-were-they-thinking hall-of-shame show. Porthos had better not be the basis for a story on this series again. Ever.
Tune in next week, folks, for "A Night in the Crapper," when the crew visits an alien planet and returns with mass dysentery! I can't wait! No, I mean, I really can't wait! Vacate the bathroom at once! Har har har har har...
Next week: A rerun of "Shockwave, Part II," oddly billed by the trailer as an episode of "Star Trek: Enterprise," in what is obviously a brilliant new UPN marketing strategy. (With any luck, the week off should give me a chance to review Tuesday's upcoming 2-disc DVD release of "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.")