Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Chosen Realm"

**

Air date: 1/14/2004
Written by Manny Coto
Directed by Roxann Dawson

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"These people you're fighting: What makes them heretics?"
"We believe the Makers created the Chosen Realm in nine days. They believe it took 10."

— Archer and Yarrick, reducing extremism (and, by extension, allegory) to blatant absurdity

In brief: Allegory that starts okay before turning silly.

The problem with "Chosen Realm" is that it's conceived as a show about ideas but executed like a show about cliches. It's really hard to get into things when the last half of the show feels like it was inevitable. The action climax, by this point in this action-upped season of Enterprise, has become such a predictable punctuation mark that my brain had no choice but to automatically tune out. I am officially beyond caring about any scene featuring the MACOs, because they obviously were conceived as interchangeable action pawns rather than actual soldiers. At this point, call them the Mundane Action Choreography Omens.

Granted, it makes logical sense to use them in a situation where the ship must be retaken, but therein lies the problem: Here's an episode that tries to tell a relevant and topical story, and then finds no avenue except a slew of Trek standbys. I feel like I've seen this story a dozen times. Maybe I'm old and jaded, or maybe Enterprise is tired and predictable. It's unfortunate, but "Chosen Realm" is lessened in part because it comes at a point in the season where the off-the-shelf pieces it's made of have long since lost their luster. Of course, it certainly doesn't help that the episode scuttles its own would-be allegory.

The day religious fanatics killed 3,000 people by hijacking airliners and crashing them into office buildings was predated by, oh I dunno, maybe a hundred episodes where bad guys hijacked starships on Star Trek to use for whatever reason. The only difference with "Chosen Realm" is that now hijackings and terrorism are more urgently topical. But topical isn't enough. Topical also needs to be thoughtful, interesting, or with some sort of character theme. "Chosen Realm" doesn't get to the crux of extremism, but simply uses extremism as an action-framing device.

Or perhaps that's my own cynical take on the matter. After all, one of the unavoidable truths of extremism is that, well, it's extreme, and not about mutual understanding but simply about blindly believing in something and being willing to forcefully impose it on others. Black and white. In this case, we have a group of aliens from a race called the Triannon, who believe the mysterious Delphic Expanse spheres are religious icons that were created by their gods, called the Makers. The Delphic Expanse they see as a holy ground known as the "Chosen Realm."

What makes them extremists, or zealots, or whatever you want to call them, is that they're willing to go to war with any "heretic" that doesn't believe what they believe. The leader is a man named D'Jamat (Conor O'Farrell), who is a zealot, yes, but a well-spoken one who is not insane and shows a façade of reasoned understanding. Of course, sanity isn't the issue here; like most zealots, the issue with D'Jamat is that he is absolutely, completely convinced he is right and is willing to destroy those who do not agree with him, because in his mind his cause is righteous.

The writers do their best to have the Enterprise hijacked without making the crew look like clueless dolts in the process. This is achieved by having D'Jamat's followers carry organic explosives in their bloodstreams, turning them into the ultimate suicide bombers, a tactic that goes undetected because Phlox does not scan them on the account that medical scans go against their religious beliefs. Leave it to terrorists to have arbitrary rules that work in whatever way suits them: Medical scans go against the Makers, but filling your blood with explosives is perfectly okay, since you're doing it in their name. To show that he's serious, D'Jamat has one of his followers blow himself up, taking an Enterprise crew member along with him.

What we have here is a relevant dilemma, although not groundbreaking. There's nothing really wrong with the first half of "Chosen Realm," aside from, I guess, that it just didn't really grab me. In and by itself, extremism isn't a particularly interesting issue. The problem is that it essentially boils down to: These guys think they're right, and they're going to kill everybody who disagrees. That doesn't leave much room for debate. (Sort of like watching a "debate" with Bill O'Reilly: He already "knows" he's right, the opposing viewpoint is already invalid, so what's the point of the conversation?)

No, what makes extremism worth studying is in the analysis of the issues and politics and history that surrounds such people and points to the root causes. Because the Triannon are unknowns who exist apart from any society or belief structure this series has looked at, we're unaware of their point of view, and "Chosen Realm" is loath to give us much, especially in the way of the opposing Triannon viewpoints with which this group is at war. We know nothing about the enemies D'Jamat's group intends to destroy, aside from what D'Jamat tells us. Not exactly someone you'd call a reliable source.

There are some dynamics that hint at potential conflict within D'Jamat's group. One of his followers, a man named Yarrick (Vince Grant) is conflicted over whether extending hostilities to a third party is right; D'Jamat responds with a speech that boils down to, "The Makers speak through me, so if you disagree, you are going against the Makers," which is about as self-righteous as you can get.

The interest in this situation would theoretically come in how Archer and our crew react to this ideology. But given the threat level and the fact that D'Jamat has made his intentions (using the Enterprise to destroy his enemies) very clear, what choice does Archer have? He can't exactly allow his ship to be turned into a rogue WMD. He could blow it up (and probably, ultimately, should), but I think we all know that isn't going to happen.

The episode doesn't take us far enough into the question of whether Triannon religion exists anywhere in a healthy form. Yarrick and his wife would seem to indicate that it does, or potentially does, but even with their doubts about killing they're still affiliated with a zealot like D'Jamat. What does that say? Perhaps that the desperate sometimes seek guidance through misguided leaders? Not in this story. It's little more than an avenue of plotting so Archer will have someone to turn against D'Jamat. (Though it might explain the last scene of vast destruction.)

All the parties involved ultimately service a stultifying battle-for-control-of-the-ship situation. Archer is able to free himself by tricking D'Jamat into believing Archer is killed by dematerializing in a transporter beam. (This seems a little too cat-and-mouse-y for an allegory show, and I was left wondering how D'Jamat didn't know about the transporter if he had earlier been scouring Archer's logs.)

Yarrick is obviously the guy who will be turned and will help Archer retake the ship. And, as I already mentioned, there's plenty of resulting boring corridor fighting/shooting involving Archer, Reed, and the MACOs. During these scenes, I could feel my eyes glazing over. My favorite part has to be when Archer and Reed have a terrorist in their crosshairs, tell him to stop, and then instead of shooting him they stand there and let him inject himself with the explosives igniter. Then they shoot him. Hello? (Yes, their plan had Phlox flood the air with a gas that disabled the explosives, but what if it had failed? The notion is so obviously staged for the audience's benefit that it comes off just looking stupid.)

There's a moment in the episode where all hope for real-world depth is lost and replaced with a laughable point that reduces the episode to an exercise in absurdity — nearly as absurd as TOS's lame "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield." Archer asks Yarrick, "These people you're fighting: What makes them heretics?" Yarrick responds, "We believe the Makers created the Chosen Realm in nine days. They believe it took 10." Um, yeah.

What kills me is that the delivery of this line is such that Yarrick seems to be scoffing at it, as if even he doesn't believe it. Why, then, is he a part of D'Jamat's cause? I only hope this is not intended as an allegory for something in the real world like, say, Israel and Palestine. These days the Israeli/Palestinian conflict seems utterly hopeless, but there are contexts there involving major disputes rooted in history, sacred ground, and ideology. The "Chosen Realm" war is essentially one of silly semantics, a dispute given no realistic weight or reason. Is that the point? If so, it's a cheap one.

A pity, because the first two acts aren't bad, and Conor O'Farrell brings a credibility to D'Jamat that makes him not simply a villain, but a dangerous ideologue.

But as Star Trek message shows go, "Chosen Realm" is ultimately a mediocre one.

Next week: Shran and the Andorians are back, claiming they want to help Archer in his mission.

Previous episode: Carpenter Street
Next episode: Proving Ground

Season Index

25 comments on this review

BenSisko - Mon, Mar 16, 2009 - 9:08pm (USA Central)
Looking at it as a straightforward action outing, I think it was quite effective. After all, this is "Enterprise". We shouldn't be expecting anything particularly thought-provoking...
Dead to me - Sat, Dec 5, 2009 - 1:55am (USA Central)
After I finish watching an episode of Enterprise, I come on to this site and read your review of the episode. It pains me to say that I almost don't want to read your usually insightful views anymore because of this review. You even admit you didn't give this episode a chance because they have an action scene at the end which is admittedly far overused but perfectly acceptable (and well done) in the context of this episode. I...I just can't express how abhorrently annoyed I got after reading this review. I would hope you would give this another chance, it is by far one of the better enterprise episodes. It struck me that you didn't even try to find any good in it, something I would hope a "reviewer" would never put into print.
James - Wed, Mar 17, 2010 - 11:01am (USA Central)
@Dead to me: Would this striking be despite the fact that the second-to-last sentence specifically mentions two good things about it?
Joseph S. - Tue, Jun 15, 2010 - 7:14pm (USA Central)
It did sound silly to hear that the difference between believers and heretics here is that the former believe the Chosen Realm was made in nine days and the heretics in ten. But as a religion major, I'm forced to consider some beliefs that equally may sound silly to us, but have formed irreparable fractions, like:

1) In Christianity, does the Holy Spirit proceed only from the Father, or from both the Father and the Son?

- How can anyone purport to understand the Divine? But this seemingly small matter contributed to the division of the Eastern and Western Churches, which continues to this day.

2) Does Jesus Christ possess two natures, a human and a divine, that then fuse together in him? Or is it one sole nature that is both human and divine at once?

3) At what precise moment does the bread and wine in the Christian Eucharist become Jesus' literal body and blood? Or do they ever become so literally? Or is it simply symbolic?

- I don't think I have to mention all the blood spilled over THAT one.

I agree the line isn't delivered in the best way, but it does in a very real way mirror some of our history.
Terry - Sat, Oct 9, 2010 - 9:02pm (USA Central)
When I heard the explanation for the conflict between the sects my immediate thought was that it was more than a bit daft. After a moment's reflection, however, the only difference between the fictional Triannon and some of their factual counterparts I could think of was the level of violence they were prepared to go to.

The fanatics in this episode built their beliefs on a false premise. Namely, that the sphere-builders were gods. And in time the believers split into warring factions over how long it took the Makers to construct the spheres. Doctrinal arguments between sects don't usually end in war. Violent conflicts are more usually political or economic in origin, though they could just as easily be between sects as between different religions.

I don't believe the writers were referencing any particular conflict in this episode. It doesn't fit any that I can think of. They should perhaps have thought the story through and pointed up additional religious differences and introduced, however briefly, additional non-religious reasons for the war. Of course, it may simply be the case that these particular aliens would go to war to settle minor differences of opinion! They are aliens after all!

D'Jamat, the main zealot, was clearly too one-dimensional. It was also glaringly obvious that he ought to have known about transporter technology having gained access to Archer's logs. A sure fire entry for any future Nitpickers' Guide.
RussS - Fri, Nov 12, 2010 - 1:34am (USA Central)
I like your reviews, but sometimes I think you are too hard on the show.

Yes,the message was one-dimensional and the plot was predicatable. But the major flaw for me was actually the mediocre acting. In TOS, the corresponding show (half white/half black face) had superb, over-the-top acting and it made the show. The hum-drum made-for-tv performances here weren't convincing. Where was the passion?

Still, this was classic trek in the spirit of TOS. The answer is peace. Silly to some, maybe not realistic, and maybe too flat for non-TOS fans. But remember, most people don't do a lot of reflecting about 'extremism' or religion at all.

This episode had a positive purpose, and I hope people got something from it.
Carbetarian - Mon, Dec 27, 2010 - 12:35pm (USA Central)
I enjoyed this one! I peaked at your review before watching though. So, I wasn't expecting much. Maybe that's part of why I enjoyed it... Lowered expectations. Although, admittedly, my expectations for Enterprise are always pretty low whether I read your reviews or not.

Seriously, never has a Trek series set the bar so low as Enterprise. Voyager was not great either. But, a bad Voyager episode tended to end with me being angry about some plot hole or reset button misuse. A bad episode of Enterprise usually ends with me in a coma! I'd rather be angry than unconscious from sheer boredom.

Anyway, back to this episode. This might be the first time the obligatory action sequence at the end didn't bore me to tears. I wasn't super emotionally involved with these people. But, I cared just enough about everyone's plight to want to know what was going to happen to the "enemy" ships and what was going to happen to our terrorists. That's better than Enterprise usually manages.

The transporter thing didn't bother me that much. I took that scene to mean that Archer told them he would be beamed into oblivion. Just because the aliens know Enterprise has a transporter device that can move people from place to place doesn't necessarily mean that they know enough about it to dispute the claim that it can also be used for executions. They thought Archer was a man of honor, so they took his word for it. Is it a stretch? Yes. But, did it bother me? Not really.

Here's what did bother me though. The girl who watches the terrorist blow himself up has no reaction whatsoever to seeing this guys skin turn blue. That alone bothers me. But, on top of that, why didn't Archer immediately make an announcement to the crew that they were dealing with suicide bombers? The whole scene was badly written and horribly acted.

Also, I too am bothered by the MACOS officers. It's almost as if they keep them in stasis somewhere until they're needed. They're like military robots. What a missed opportunity. Where do these people sleep? How do they interact with the crew? What are their feelings about this mission? Ugh. I'd like some real character development instead of GI Joes in space. Can you imagine how the writers on DS9 would've handled them? They would be more than comic book characters, that's for sure.

But, back to the things I liked. I actually enjoyed the scene with Phlox and his bat. But, most of all I really enjoyed the landscape of the destroyed world at the end. The effects department on this show is top notch. If only the writers could live up to the visuals!

Finally, I am wondering if all that deleted information was really deleted or if they will find a "back up" copy in the next episode. I am interested to see how they will deal with that.
Carbetarian - Mon, Dec 27, 2010 - 12:36pm (USA Central)
*peeked at your review
Elliott - Sun, Jan 2, 2011 - 6:54pm (USA Central)
I think James pointed out exactly the buried potential in this episode. The way it was written, we the audience, through the crew, see immediately how ridiculous a premise the division between "believer" and "heretic" is, but had the premise been told us early on, it could have been very effective. Jammer is too forgiving of religious mumbo-jumbo, but he's right about this one being poorly written: as an allegory it would have been more accurate for none of the "peons" to really understand why the others are "heretics"...I can tell very few Protestants and Catholics understand the differences between their religions and in many cases you could stick them in the other's service without either noticing a difference, but they do "know" that their religion is the "right" one. That should have been Yarrik's journey, brought about through sharing earth history (factual and theoretical) with him.

On execution and effectiveness, I think this review is too generous, but the hidden potential I suppose is at least worth tuning in.
Elliott - Sun, Jan 2, 2011 - 6:55pm (USA Central)
*Joseph, not James
Matrix - Tue, Oct 25, 2011 - 7:06pm (USA Central)
I was waiting for Cat from Red Dwarf to show up and explain it was because they disagreed on what colour the hats at the hot dog stand on Fiji were going to be. It was retarded but it didn't need to be.
Jasper - Tue, Nov 8, 2011 - 10:49pm (USA Central)
The major flaw of this episode for me is the continuity problem.

Let's take a look at the options they have for continuing on the deleted information problem.

1) They can make Enterprise gather information for more episodes. Because many of the viewers that were invested in the search for information have seen how easily that information is dismissed here, they won't be invested in it anymore. Uninvested viewers is a Bad Thing (TM).

2) They can have the disappeared information cause the crew to look at the situation from a new perspective and have this perspective be a sudden solution (if they aren't successful, file under (1)). While sort of a hack, I suppose this is not the worst way out. I would say it should have been done in this episode, though, not in the next. Star Trek doesn't often do cliffhangers, but it would have been an obvious one. On one hand it would have made the fact that the information disappeared not too much of a problem, while on the other it would actually be the good kind of cliffhanger that actually invest the viewer in the upcoming episode through a promise rather than a threat. Promises are a Good Thing (TM) (as long as you manage to deliver upon them).

3) They can have the crew find their backup module. I think this is one of the better options. Admit you made a mistake and fix it.

4) They can ignore the issue all together. It is pretending the mistake ever happened. May sound almost as good as (3), but has the unfortunate side-effect that continuity (within ENT) is devalued, which isn't exactly a good thing. Devalued continuity means less invested viewers. Bad Thing.

As you see, a negative situation in each case. Perhaps (2) is an exception, but even then the execution is off. Thusly, I present: a mistake in any case.

If anyone knows of anything the writers can do outside those four scenarios, you're welcome to tell me, I'd be interested to hear it.
chris - Tue, Nov 22, 2011 - 5:18pm (USA Central)
I hope there is a Recycle Bin installed in Enterprise's computer to someway recover this 18 XB of deleted data...
Matrix - Tue, Nov 22, 2011 - 5:24pm (USA Central)
5) Pretend the episode never existed. And it wasn't that hard either since I didn't remember that the billibytes of data was deleted anyway.
Jasper - Sat, Nov 26, 2011 - 2:26pm (USA Central)
@Matrix: That's a specialized version of (4), a way of ignoring the issue at hand here.

I would like to add that denying an entire episode from being canon is a privilege I will hold for the horrors like Threshold.
This one does not even score close to that episode.
Joseph B - Tue, Jul 3, 2012 - 1:33am (USA Central)
Regarding Archer's "deception" with the transporter:
If you notice, he was careful not to use the name "transporter"; he instead described it as a "device to dispose of hazardous material". And then a demonstration was provided of the "device" being used for that purpose. (There was even dialog regarding the "disassembling of the molecules" during the demonstration.) Without a frame of reference, it's quite believable that D'Jamat would not have made the connection to the machine's true purpose. After all, it was still designated as an experimental device in Enterprises' computer and the various records he had time to review regarding exploration of the spheres were universally carried out by the shuttles.
CeeBee - Tue, Jul 24, 2012 - 5:29pm (USA Central)
Even I, in the 21st century, backup my files. On a daily basis, mind you. Each day. Backup.
Where did that crew get its training? Clown college?
Cloudane - Tue, Nov 27, 2012 - 12:35pm (USA Central)
So they don't have backups and just anyone can waltz up and delete the lot in one button? Who designed these IT systems, the British Government?

Convenient also that it didn't cross the enemy's mind that the device would be a transporter. Lucky Archer (no doubt if he didn't think it would've worked, he wouldn't have had that noble moment of picking himself. Wouldn't been the most useless crew member for the chop. Sorry Travis :))
Wisq - Thu, Jan 3, 2013 - 7:31pm (USA Central)
Twelve minutes in to this episode, I'm already ready to turn it off.

Seriously, what is it with Hollywood and hostage situations? More generally, with refusing to let the hero(es) shoot first?

This episode should have been over the moment the guy said he had two agents near the warp core. He already demonstrated that he needed to call them to make them detonate themselves. Stun the guy, send security teams out with orders to stun all aliens on sight (starting with engineering), put them all back on their ship, and leave.

Sure, fine, you don't know if maybe the leader's communicator has a dead man's switch that will tell everyone to detonate at once. But it takes them quite a while to do it, and with fast enough engineering personnel, you can undoubtedly stop them in time, or drag them away.

Also, the rule against medical scanning wasn't arbitrary, I strongly doubt it was part of their religion. Rather, it was obviously designed to prevent Enterprise noticing they were all walking bombs.
Wisq - Fri, Jan 4, 2013 - 12:14am (USA Central)
I should probably clarify my post above. I'm not actually saying that Trek should adopt a "shoot first, ask questions later" policy. That's obviously not in the Roddenberry tradition.

Rather, I'm saying that if you, as a Trek writer, create a situation where the (non-lethal) "shoot first" solution is *so blatantly obvious and correct* that your characters look like morons for not doing it, then you've failed as a Trek writer. You're no longer creating a realistic scenario, and the entire rest of the episode is going to seem shallow and contrived -- because it never should've happened if anyone was doing their job correctly.
John the younger - Wed, Jan 9, 2013 - 10:54pm (USA Central)
Pretty much all the series had episodes where the ship/station gets taken over a bit too easily. For me, it's just unfortunate for Enterprise that it is the last/latest show, as now we the viewer (mostly) have less patience with it. Myself included.

I mean, you're in the middle of a we-must-prevail-at-ANY-cost scenario and yet you allow a newly met species into critical areas of the ship. I don't think so.

But ultimately the main issue, as Jammer states, is the over-simplified, pointless allegory.

Sure there are religious tensions on Earth that have started out on minor differences but they're always about something more that has happened over time. None of that is even suggested here. It strikes me as a very convenient way of looking at extreemists; that all their arguments are laughable and none of the grievances they have are part of a bigger issue.

In effect, they say the bad guys are bad because they see things in black and white, and yet we, through the good guys, are encouraged to also view things is such limited terms.

So yes, there is some entertainment value here, but I just can't accept this story as plausible, responsible or terribly interesting.
Nebula Nox - Thu, Apr 18, 2013 - 4:33pm (USA Central)
Yes, ships get taken over too easily, but being in trouble every week is also hard to accept.

The look on Archer's face as the files were deleted has reminded me to do a personal back up.
Sam S. - Mon, Jul 22, 2013 - 4:06pm (USA Central)
The writer seem to have put this episode together with the difficult choice made in the episode called damage. If you think about it, the choice that archer had to make in that damage episode mirrors the choice that the leader of the terrorist group made to kill a child in war. Think about how both episodes connect. One of the weaknesses of reviewing the television episode series episode by episode is that often times these types of connections are not made until Time and distance allow for proper reflection. Although this episode is somewhat mediocre and damage is somewhat well-made, both episodes act as a bookend of sorts. It is better to think of this series as a set than individual parts.
Jack - Wed, Nov 27, 2013 - 1:12pm (USA Central)
Enterprise destroys the spheres and the Chosen Realm at the end of the season. One would think these guys would come gunning for Earth afterwards.
Captain Jim - Thu, Feb 6, 2014 - 5:01pm (USA Central)
Given how this entire season was inspired by the events of 9/11, I suppose an episode like this was inevitable. True, Star Trek has had hijackings before, but I don't recall offhand any of them being at the hands of "suicide bombers." It seemed to me that Archer was put in a real predicament here: turn over control of the ship or we destroy it. Going along with the demand while looking for an opportunity to take back control seemed like the logical course of action.

I thought these religious extremists were portrayed pretty realistically throughout most of the episode. Given their point of view, some of the things that Enterprise had done would have indeed seemed like sacrilege. The exception, of course was the 9 days vs. 10 days thing, which just seemed silly. It certainly didn't ruin the episode for me, though.

I'd give this at least 2 1/2 stars, maybe three.

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