Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Anomaly"

***1/2

Air date: 9/17/2003
Written by Mike Sussman
Directed by David Straiton

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"All I'm saying is that this mission, whether it succeeds or not, is looking like a one-way ticket all the time." — Tucker

In brief: Thankfully, the F-key the writers used this time around was F5 — refresh.

Good heavens, why in the world didn't they make this the season premiere?

Last week's "Xindi," which mostly transplanted to the Delphic Expanse so many of the typical Enterprise cliches that are old and tired, ultimately arrived at a place where I mainly sensed a balloon (already) deflating. But with "Anomaly," Enterprise bounces back in a big way. This episode works for nearly every reason "The Xindi" did not.

Here's an hour that, unlike last week's "Xindi," actually feels like the NX-01 is in uncharted waters — physically, emotionally, environmentally, and morally. The crew makes some intriguing discoveries. Meanwhile, we discover just how determined Captain Archer has become to get answers.

This episode, for starters, is proof that action-centric Trek can indeed work, and work well. After the meaningless paint-by-numbers action scenes of "The Xindi," the action of "Anomaly" is tightly focused and staged with a legitimate purpose. This is clearly one of the best efforts on Enterprise from an action standpoint, and one of the better Enterprise installments so far overall.

"Anomaly" — a title that proves to be the weakest aspect of the episode — begins as, yes, a series of anomalies bombard the ship and play havoc with the laws of physics. The bulkheads bend, meal trays go crashing to the ceiling, and Archer's coffee goes floating in midair. The funkiness of the physical laws also has a more serious consequence: Warp speed is impossible, leaving the Enterprise stranded in the region until Trip can find a workaround.

About here is where the Enterprise happens upon a ship floating dead in space. The crew, along with members of the MACO team (who, in a goofy costuming choice, wear their backpacks even when running around their own ship), investigate the derelict and find its dead crew — killed in a violent raid. This investigation scene at first seems like a redundant replay of "Fight or Flight" from two years ago (darkened corridors, corpses, etc.); the scene is brief, however, and the story keeps us moving forward toward answers, which is among the episode's strengths.

Lest they be attacked by the perpetrators who raided the alien ship, Archer orders the Enterprise to get as far away from the derelict as limited speed will allow. But the Enterprise is quickly found and boarded by the alien assault team anyway, leading to a protracted action sequence that for once works, despite — and perhaps even because of — its drawn-out nature. The same sort of shootouts and fights that I complained about in "The Xindi" are effective here, because they are well-executed pieces in a puzzling situation, rather than well-executed pieces in a meaningless and obvious situation. Jay Chattaway unleashes an aggressive score of in-your-face drumbeats, which suggests that maybe the musical attitudes for TV Trek are being revised.

The alien raiders are actually of a race called the Osaarians, whom Phlox recognizes as not indigenous to the expanse. Before being repelled and escaping in their ship, the Osaarians steal a bevy of supplies from the Enterprise, including all the fuel reserves, which introduces a dire situation in need of a swift answer. Also, one of Trip's engineers is killed in the raid, which I believe is the first crew fatality since the series started.

One Osaarian raider (Robert Rusler) is captured and thrown in the brig. Archer wants information from this prisoner that may help the Enterprise find the Osaarian ship and recover the stolen supplies. The prisoner balks. Archer threatens. The prisoner looks Archer in the eye and tells him he is too "evolved" to resort to the kind of tactics he will need to in order to get answers — at least, for now. After some time trapped in the expanse, he says, the Enterprise crew will learn to become ruthless predators in order to survive. (According to him, the expanse lets you in, but it doesn't let you out. It's an interstellar Roach Motel.)

In some of its basic elements, this episode reminded me of Voyager's "The Void," in which Voyager became trapped in an area of space not unlike what is represented here by the Delphic Expanse, and was assaulted by supply thieves not unlike what is represented here by the Osaarians. If the basic premise of "Anomaly" reminds me of "The Void," where it goes from its starting point does not; "Anomaly" is sort of a "Void" in reverse. "Void" was about Janeway cooperating with others to find a mutual escape. There is no such hope of that notion here. If "Void" was the ultimate in idealism and optimism and unbending Trekkian values, then "Anomaly" is the ultimate in ruthless pragmatism and buying survival for whatever it might end up costing you.

Although there's plenty else going on, the primary conflict in "Anomaly" is the showdown between Archer and the uncooperative prisoner, and the question of the lengths Archer will go, or not go, to get crucial information out of him. What is perhaps most striking about this episode is its focused single-mindedness. Once the plot is in motion, it doesn't let up or become distracted with irrelevancies. It becomes a series of clues and follow-ups, punctuated by bigger mysteries, action sequences, and Archer showing a determination that edges into obsession.

Let's talk for a moment about Archer, a changed man compared to last season. Just like in "The Xindi," we have here an Archer who is utterly determined to complete his mission. He exhibits a steely resolve and an all-business demeanor, apparently born from the massive weight put upon him. He isn't unpleasant to his crew, but he isn't exactly friendly, either. He's got a darker and more decisive sensibility; he's terse, direct, serious. In his scenes with T'Pol, for example, he's quick to make up his mind and challenge anything that resembles inaction. In his mind, inaction will lead only to disaster.

I'm not sure yet whether or not I'm ultimately going to like this new version of Archer, or whether it should've grown more gradually over the course of the season, but dramatically I do find him interesting so far, and Scott Bakula's performances make it worth watching. There's a scene where Archer opens a channel to the Osaarians and tersely says: "This is Captain Archer. Remember us?" — a greeting that I found refreshing in its unwillingness to screw around and waste time with needless verbiage.

I'm also not sure if this new Archer will make for a weaker T'Pol, who has here the thankless role of being the quiet Voice of Reason in a situation that seemingly demands far more impulse and guts than reason. When Archer proposes a plan to go up against the Osaarians, T'Pol quietly says, "They are heavily armed. Are you sure it's wise to engage them?" The way she says it — virtually walking on eggshells — is almost child-like, which could be a major pitfall for this character.

The episode does its best to keep supporting characters alive. Trip offers a realist's voice that works because it doesn't venture too far into forced cynicism. In discussing with Reed the crewman who died in the Osaarian assault, Trip bleakly muses, "I doubt he'll be the last," and calls the Enterprise's mission a "one-way ticket." (I welcomed the weighty tone of this scene.) The episode also shows Trip as overworked and still unable to sleep, and I found myself interested in the idea that he could possibly become dependent on sedatives for sleeping, if Phlox were not barring them.

The chase plot turns out to have a surprising amount of enticing material. The Enterprise follows the Osaarians' ion trail into a cloaking field that hides a massive spherical space station 19 kilometers in diameter, more than 1,000 years old, and apparently capable of generating huge amounts of power. It might hold the key to some other Delphic Expanse mysteries, like the source of the strange anomalies that defy known physics.

Visually, I was impressed by the straightforward clarity with which the cloaking field and the sphere are envisioned. The crew ventures inside the sphere (some more wonderful visuals) and finds that the Osaarians are using it as a storage base for their piracy operation. Here the crew is able to retrieve their stolen supplies and find information in an Osaarian inventory database, which leads to Hoshi's subsequent discovery of Xindi words printed on a looted item.

That word, "Xindi," appears to be the word most likely to send Archer into Crazy Mofo mode. Archer Needs Answers Dammit and interrogates the Osaarian prisoner about what he knows about the Xindi. More balking prompts Archer to drag the prisoner into an airlock and vent the atmosphere. Archer makes demands while the prisoner begins to suffocate. This is a dramatically potent scene, made compelling by Archer's no-nonsense, bordering-on-obsessive single-mindedness; the moral questions; and the aggressive filming technique. Would Archer have actually let the guy die if he hadn't agreed to talk? I tend to doubt it, but the extent of the action speaks for itself — this is an edgier Archer who may end up doing some questionable things in the interests of getting the job done.

The final act provides a superb space battle that is an example of how action on this show should be done. For once, we get an action scene that employs an explicit goal (downloading a valuable Xindi database from the Osaarian ship's computer) while utilizing clever battle strategies with a logic we can follow.

"Anomaly" is, simply put, entertaining. It works as sci-fi, as action, as mystery, as setup. It provides lots of nice details that can be built upon down the road. It is not perfect. It doesn't scrutinize Archer's actions as much as it probably could. (When released, the prisoner tells Archer, "So, you have let your morality get in the way after all." Not sure I buy that line, since Archer already got the information he wanted and had no reason to continue holding him. Seems more like the writers are trying to let Archer off the hook for the earlier torture scene.) If there's a larger comment on Archer's growing obsession, it's done without words, in the final shot, where he loads the database onto the screen. As the Xindi information fills the room, Archer's ever-serious expression says all that needs to be said.

Next week: TNG's "Genesis" + DS9's "Children of Time" = ???

Previous episode: The Xindi
Next episode: Extinction

Season Index

14 comments on this review

Nic - Sat, Sep 26, 2009 - 11:19am (USA Central)
To me, this episode is the anti-Trek. And that's not a compliment. "Chain of Command" powerfully taught as that 'torture has never been a reliable means of acquiring information', something which has since been proved by scientific research. And fittingly, Gul Madred never manages to "break" Picard. But in this episode, with the torturer as the protagonist, somehow it works. I'm not buying it.
I pretty much decided to stop watching the show after this, and sceing the first few acts of "Extinction" the following week only confirmed my feelings.
I also like your comparison with "The Void." Obviously, this is television, so whatever choices (good or bad) our characters make, it always ends up being the right one. I would like to see an episode like "The Void" where the characters decide to stick to their values and it doesn't work. But they still stick to them, because if you aren't willing to die for what you believe in, you don't really believe in much, do you?
Jake Taylor - Mon, Jul 5, 2010 - 3:09pm (USA Central)
While much of this episode reminded me of Star Trek: The Motion Picture upon entering the dyson sphere, going thru the cloud, there rest was sorta hit or miss. The grametricl distortions that would trear Enterprise B apart here, just sorta of ripple thru Enterprise and make sparks fly and coffee stick in the air. Agree totally about the torute scene being the opposite of what Mr. Roddenberry would have shown in Trek. On that subject MacOS in general just dont seem to belong on Trek, and are we every gonna learn why one day we dont need them anymore? No where do they come from anyway. Alabama? Ha.
Back on track while entertaining the core of this episode has moral problems for me anyway. Jake T. #7 out.
Ken - Thu, Mar 31, 2011 - 7:19am (USA Central)
I think we have to remember that this show was writing for the times and not to be a timeless classic.

Enterprise was trying to create some parallel's with the 9/11 attacks in the Season 2 cliffhanger, so it's not really surprising to see torture in these episodes.

You also have to remember, 24 was a very popular show at the time and they constantly showed torture.

Archer was commonly criticized at the time for being a "wussy". I think this episode was the writer's response to this criticism.

I am not defending the show. It doesn't work in 2011. We know torture is not a reliable means of gathering information, and there's no reason to think the Osaarian would give the correct codes under duress. He's far more likely to give the wrong codes just to stop the torture.

I think in 2011, this episode is maybe 2.5 or 3 stars. It doesn't resonate very well anymore at all, and it doesn't feel like Star Trek. It feels like a show trying to be something it's not.

Season 4 was the first real season of Enterprise honestly. That should have been the first season of the series.
Charles J Gervasi - Fri, May 11, 2012 - 12:50am (USA Central)
I originally stopped watching the show around this point. I like it better now.

I agree that the torture part made no sense. If that guy was so intent on withholding information, he could have just lied. It made sense he'd talk under threat of torture, but tt didn't make sense that he'd provide 100% accurate info.
Paul York - Mon, May 14, 2012 - 9:55am (USA Central)
I agree with the above comment, that torture is "anti-Trek." The entire point of ST is that humanity has evolved from barbarism to enlightenment, past poverty, war, and presumably torture. But here we see Archer using torture and thus degrading himself and all of humanity in the process. Would it not have been easier to use a mind meld, as Spock did countless times, to extract information humanely? They have a Vulcan on board after all. I am really disappointed in this show, for its blatant sexploitation (T'Pol massages), for its species prejudice, and for portraying torture as acceptable. These are very poor messages -- the contrary of the ideals that ST usually stands for. Granted Star Fleet is in its infancy, but surely the writers of Enterprise can do better than this.
Brock - Sat, Aug 4, 2012 - 12:18pm (USA Central)
Oh my god will you wimpy "Star Fleet ideals" nerd wackos shut up please. You have to remember they are in the Delphic expanse; not only is that messing with there mental stability, but the Earth attack is fresh on their minds. Star Trek doesn't always have to be like Batman, where they always let the bad guy go and that same bad guys ends up just killing more people. That's not how the real world works. That's how ideological idiots think. Some people only respond to violence, because it's all they know.

And I love how everyone here has a Ph.D. in torture and psychology now because one guy read an article and the rest of you read his comment and thought "yea what that guy said". That's the one bad thing about the internet everyone thinks they know everything cause they can google/wikipedia it. *derp*
Ken - Sat, Aug 4, 2012 - 5:03pm (USA Central)
Brock, it's not about being anti-Trek and "Star Fleet ideals" - it's about simple facts and logic. Torture doesn't give reliable, and there are far better methods to get that information without using torture. We know the truth today, so why don't humans know this hundreds of years later when they know how to build starships?

As I said before, the episode was written for the times it was aired - back when lots of people had 9/11 on their minds, and torture was suddenly "Acceptable" in the minds most Americans, mostly because they were sad and pissed off at the time. It appealed to them. I don't think it appeals to many people anymore, mostly because of the re-education about torture - and the evidence of what has happened since 9/11.
duhknees - Thu, Aug 23, 2012 - 10:09am (USA Central)
I liked the new, fiercer Archer. This reminded me of the DS9 episode where Sisko had to make a similar, ethics-bending decision. He, too, said he could live with it. I think leaders frequently have to do this. Mr. Rogers would never make a good president or starship captain.
Cloudane - Fri, Nov 23, 2012 - 5:10pm (USA Central)
Yeowch. It's "good" in that it's powerfully bold, but unfortunately with the torture I feel that I've lost most of my respect for Archer at this point.

Yes this was just after 9/11 when many Americans were pissed off and found torture acceptable. To me, this only goes serves to make the show and its writers look weaker: assuming it goes on like this, one event was enough to bring a 35 year old vision of an enlightened humanity down to its knees.

As a show in general, 4 stars seems about right...

As Star Trek, I'm sorry, 1 star. Roddenberry will have been turning in his grave.
Cloudane - Fri, Nov 23, 2012 - 5:12pm (USA Central)
Maybe I'll get off my high horse and mellow out to it, remains to be seen..
On a lighter note, wasn't that alien ship a repainted Voyager?
DG - Tue, Dec 11, 2012 - 5:34am (USA Central)
Yay!!! Lack of Gravity!! Finally... I know it's in one of the movies, but Finally!

Other than that... why am I watching this? Oh yeah, 'cause I'm out of things I want to watch and can't find Babylon 5.
John the younger - Mon, Dec 31, 2012 - 1:27am (USA Central)
Not sure what was so good about this one. Other than it being a little better than the season opener and a little darker.

I'm not sure how a human body would recover from the kind of bending and wrenching we see the ship take.

2.5
Nebula Nox - Thu, Apr 18, 2013 - 12:38am (USA Central)
Justification for waterboarding. Ouch.
navamske - Wed, Sep 11, 2013 - 7:54pm (USA Central)
@Cloudane

"wasn't that alien ship a repainted Voyager?"

I had the same thought.

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