Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Singularity"

**1/2

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.

Previous episode: The Communicator
Next episode: Vanishing Point

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11 comments on this review

indijo - Wed, Nov 21, 2007 - 8:50am (USA Central)
Imo, this episode was a fairly humorous departure from the routine. It felt good to get some laughs from an episode that wasn't dominated by assinine Ferengi stupidity.
Rachael - Fri, Jul 10, 2009 - 2:07pm (USA Central)
I actually thought this was one of Trek's funnier episodes. The acting was spot-on and never over the top, and reminded me again why I like Dominic Keating so much. The nuttiness emerged gradually and subtly, so that when matters came to a head, it didn't feel forced. The scene in the mess when Hoshi is freaking out over her "family's honor" and Archer starts fighting with her, and then Reed's obnoxious klaxon goes off was just a great comedic moment, played with perfect timing. No, you can't take this episode seriously, but I don't think that's the point.
Elliot Wilson - Thu, Feb 18, 2010 - 3:54pm (USA Central)

Isn't it a near-HIT? That's the same type of crap as in the airlines. A COLLISION is a near-miss! Watch George Carlin if you don't believe me. :D Regarding this episode... sounds funny. I have GOT to see it soon.....
Carbetarian - Thu, Dec 9, 2010 - 8:18pm (USA Central)
I was a little disappointed with the resolution to Trip's story line in this one. When Archer was talking to Reed in his ready room, I was just waiting for him to call Trip in and say "Trip, you've acted like an idiot for the last two days. But, man, that chair was f*cking sweet!". Missed opportunity.

All in all, this episode was well acted and really pretty funny to boot. I had been putting off watching it, on account of the tired old plot giving off a seriously lame "we ran out of ideas" vibe if you just look at the capsule synopsis. But, the actors pulled it off well! I might have even gone for three stars on this one.
Marco P. - Sat, Dec 11, 2010 - 4:45am (USA Central)
It's really bad when the supposedly "unusual" behaviour of these characters is undistinguishable from their usual musings. This series has accustomed its viewers to a very basic idea: the Enterprise crew are so stupid and the script so moronic, that any attempt to increase the level of said stupidity one level higher goes by unnoticed. Indeed there is a big difference between 1 and 10, but not much between 1001 and 1010.

ARCHER: "You're lucky you're a good engineer, because you obviously don't know anything about writing"
TRIP: "I'm not the *only* one!"

No shi*! A golden self-referential nugget from Chris Black (the writer).
CeeBee - Sat, Oct 13, 2012 - 4:55pm (USA Central)
I thought it to be a funny episode showing the actors having fun to be (and look) as idiotic as can be. I liked the scene between Archer and T'Pol where he hangs over her and says "I'm busy" like a maniac.
High point was the scene in the kitchen.

Everyone is busy obsessed with him- or herself, not even listening to or arguing with the other. I know this theme has been done to death in Star Trek but it's fun all the same, more fun than the Naked Now or the Naked Time.
I wonder though what the Vulcans thought. After all, T'Pol sent them a distress call.

The plot device is idiotic but irrelevant.

I like it that the recurring theme for Mayweather has become sickbay, broken legs, allergic reactions, broken legs, broken legs and broken legs. And being duplicated and killed off. And a broken leg. And almost braindead.

And Phlox is one inch away from becoming a maniacal killer. Spooky.
Lt. Yarko - Mon, May 13, 2013 - 10:25pm (USA Central)
I liked this episode a lot. I especially liked Phlox becoming an evil doctor. Scary stuff. Lots of funny moments. The most I have laughed so far in the series.

@Elliot: A near-miss is what Jammer intended, I think. Unless I am mistaken, that means that it is a hit that almost missed which matches his star rating. Carlin would be happy with Jammer's careful verbiage.

Marco: 'It's really bad when the supposedly "unusual" behaviour of these characters is undistinguishable from their usual musings.'

They aren't normally that crazy. That's not an accurate assessment.
Nancy - Thu, Sep 12, 2013 - 8:36pm (USA Central)
Sure, it had its flaws, but this was one of the most entertaining episodes so far, IMHO. The crew's manias were well-acted and I liked the build-up. There was comedy, but also a layer of menace that gave the plot some suspense as well.

I too was a bit disappointed Trip never finished the mega-chair!
Ken - Thu, Mar 13, 2014 - 2:38am (USA Central)
I am only 5:30 into the episode, but I'm already starting to see a big trend with the direction of the characters in season 2, and I think this probably what disgusted people so much about the series so much.

In this episode, Archer seems to care more about his chair than the impulse manifolds. He also can't take responsibility for writing a preface for a book he agreed to write, and even wants T'Pol to write it for him.

Reed, in the last episode, misplaced the communicator, and has been generally acting fairly immature many times in the season. Same with Trip.

A Night in Sickbay assassinates all of the characters.

I think the writers making the characters not behave like adults has had a tremendous impact on the quality of the series. Yes, the plots and safe, and many episodes are familiar territory. The show doesn't take risks, and most of the writing is average. But none of those problems are nearly as problematic as the childish behaviour we see from the Captain and other characters.

To be honest, the characters were written better in Season 1. Season 1 isn't that bad. It's not great, but it's not bad. Season 2 is the mark of when things really got bad. It's so difficult to separate these childish behaviours from the characters when things try to get "serious". It has permanently destroyed the credibility of the characters, and the enjoyment of the rest of the show.

The humour the writers are going for isn't even worth it most of the time, so they are assassinating the characters for basically no payoff.

I didn't know why the show was so bad back in 2002/2003 - I thought it was just bland storytelling, or plots that didn't cover the issues and plot lines I would have expected. But now all of that doesn't matter to me anymore - mostly because my expectations have been crushed already - I see that the real problem is behaviour these characters exhibit. I just don't like them.
Ken - Thu, Mar 13, 2014 - 3:07am (USA Central)
And now that I've watched a lot more of the episode, I realize the point of the Singularity is having an effect on the crew. Some of the following scenes are funny, while others are a bit annoying or crinch-worthy.

Still, the Singularity doesn't excuse prioritizing the captain's chair and things like this, because that happened before they set a course to investigate in the first place.

And if memory serves me, this childish behavioural problem doesn't stop until season 3, where Trip and Archer over-compensate and go in the other direction, unnaturally.
David - Tue, Apr 22, 2014 - 3:58pm (USA Central)
I would rate this episode at least 3 stars. I only have 2 issues with it. 1. The slow buildup bothers me. It drags. Perhaps better pacing would have solved it. 2. I wish they had the extras exhibiting the same monomania. The radiation effects shouldn't happen to just the command crew. The extras shouldn't steal focus, but I would have appreciated seeing several in the background obsessing over something. All we see out of them is normal behavior while our stars obsess and then they are passed out.

I don't require plots to be original. I watch mostly for the acting. If it's engaging then I go with the actors and story.

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