Star Trek: Enterprise
Air date: 11/20/2002
Written by Chris Black
Directed by Patrick Norris
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"And if I hear that alarm one more time, I may have you taken out and shot!" — Archer to Reed
In brief: A paper-thin, derivative plot, and yet reasonably amusing as "crew driven insane" episodes go. Call it a near-miss.
There will be no points awarded for originality this week, seeing as "Singularity" came straight from the book of derivative staple sci-fi concepts. There also will be no points awarded for plot, since "Singularity" has minimal plot. If you're looking for plot or originality, you are strongly advised to look elsewhere; they are not to be found here.
If, however, you want to see weird, nutty behavior — behavior that's as amusing as it is ultimately meaningless — you could do far worse than "Singularity," which has plenty of characters behaving weirdly, eventually to the point of bouncing off the walls.
How many times has this basic idea been done on Trek? A dozen, perhaps? Tell me this doesn't sound blatantly familiar: The crew is gradually driven to bizarre behavior because of the initially undetected radiation from a black hole. The black hole is just the specific device du jour. In episodes past it has been alien pathogens ("Dramatis Personae," "The Naked Time," "The Naked Now"), spatial anomalies ("Bliss"), telepathic Betazoids ("Fascination"), or even telepathic obelisks ("Memorial"). Naturally, the phantom radiation here will eventually pose a health risk. If you guessed that "health risk" means "lethal," you have just won today's special prize — half off the usual cover price of Jammer's Famous Reviews. This means you save $0.
There's another cliche at work, which is that of "crew member tells story in flashback with occasional log narration." This is a pointless device here, added, I suspect, to manufacture "suspense" at the beginning or to provide a storytelling shortcut to account up front for the emerging weird behavior.
The most redeeming quality of "Singularity" is that it's ... well, kinda funny. This is not an episode billed as a comedy, but it almost should be. Despite the fact the crew and ship are threatened, the tone suggests we are not to take any of this too seriously. The episode comes with a wink. When Hoshi starts fretting about her family's cooking reputation being on the line — while demanding, "CARROTS!" — how can we not assume there's a wink involved?
In this episode, the pathology is exhibited by strange obsessions over mostly unimportant minutiae. The trivial task that begins the day for a given crew member eventually becomes their focus of monomania. At the beginning, Archer asks Trip to look into an important area of engineering: the issue of the captain's uncomfortable chair. By the time insanity has crept in and seized the crew, the subject of adjusting the captain's chair has become Trip's single-minded fixation. All other priorities are rescinded.
And so it goes, with the captain fixating on writing the introduction to his father's biography, Reed on instituting new tactical procedures, Hoshi on getting her recipe just right, Phlox on diagnosing Mayweather, and Mayweather on not being demoted into an oblivion where he would have an even smaller impact on the Enterprise than he already does (if that's possible). There's a certain quirky amusement in watching these fixations (I was reminded of Sisko being obsessed with building a clock in "Dramatis Personae"). Eventually the whole situation takes on a colossal absurdity. The Enterprise is a chemistry lab of wacky characterization.
That pretty much covers the broad strokes. The entertainment value is in the details. Details like Reed's need to revamp tactical protocols and be ready for hostile situations. This obviously is documenting the road that will end with the invention of "Red Alert" (which is kind of a fun piece of trivial lore to explore). Reed's alarm concepts are hilariously annoying. "They both sound like a bag full of cats," Trip notes. I am in agreement; shut off that noise at once.
With everybody obsessing over their own thing, priorities come into conflict and the zaniness eventually crashes headlong into itself. Somewhat effectively depicted is how the loon factor begins subtly and escalates slowly. Well, for a little while, anyway; at some point the escalation accelerates spectacularly and the episode becomes a free-for-all. Finally we have characters shutting themselves into rooms, preparing unauthorized surgeries, shouting at each other, and even getting into shoving matches on the bridge.
This works if you can suspend disbelief and grant that this particular form of madness would cause this particular type of behavior (all while no one really notices the weirdness they are witnessing and/or participating in). The interaction between the characters benefits from some acerbic wit and good individual lines. There are a number of chuckle-worthy moments. The performances are solid. The actors carefully navigate the line separating sincerity and satire; look carefully, for example, at the early scene between T'Pol and Reed where his fixation on tightening security is acted sincerely even as the story knows it's ridiculously exaggerated to the point of humor (Reed wants to assign everyone a security code in case they are replaced by shapeshifting impostors). Later in the episode when things turn more heated, the actors go for broke with hyper, anger-edged energy. These scenes also work.
In the middle of the madness is T'Pol, a bastion of sanity in the face of absurdity spinning out of control around her. When Trip rants about being disturbed from fixing the chair, T'Pol doesn't react. There's something about her demeanor that I like; she's sizing up the situation and not responding to it, as if aware a response would be akin to gasoline on a fire. I think, however, she's a little slow to react to the larger situation. She doesn't do much of anything until the crew starts falling apart and the situation has become one of desperation. She notes odd behavior, but her slow reaction to it is motivated more by the story's needs to build a crisis than by T'Pol's need to prevent one.
Eventually, only T'Pol remains awake, leaving it up to her to plot a course out of the radiation field. She can't do it alone, so she hauls Archer out of a deep sleep, throws him into the shower and explains the situation so he can pilot the ship. I liked the T'Pol/Archer scene in Archer's quarters; it highlights their professional relationship and developing friendship.
Unfortunately, as a story, all of this adds up to jack squat. It's superficial — essentially just an exercise in goofiness. As such, it's something of a guilty pleasure that I sort of liked on that level. I cannot argue in favor of the premise or the events that arise from it. I can argue in favor of crew weirdness depicted entertainingly. It is what it is, and I guess it's well enough on those terms.
Just one last question: When do we get to meet Chef?
Next week: Transporter terror, in an episode that we absolutely cannot miss, by mandate of the trailer.