In brief: Quite respectable, although not transcendent.
"Exile" is a tale of two lonely people — one far lonelier than the other, although the other might be more lonely than she would ever admit to anyone, including herself. The concept reminded me somewhat of Voyager's third-season outing "Alter Ego," in which an alien taps into a holodeck character and through virtual reality becomes enamored with Tuvok. That episode might be more relatable to the real world, since the Internet has turned many of us into virtual conversationalists. "Exile" has more extreme (and ultimately less relatable, since it's clearly a fantasy) implications, because here an alien is able to tap directly into Ensign Sato's mind and read her thoughts.
With all due respect to my guilt-inducing three-star award to last week's all-execution, no-content "Impulse," the hour that is "Exile" is a much better, more rounded, more respectable three-star-rated episode, with actual storytelling and characters and advancement of the larger story arc ... and yet still only a three-star show. Funny how that works. This show is in no danger of transcending its material, although the material itself is clearly better than that in "Impulse."
I guess I have a soft spot for Hoshi. She's probably this series' most down-to-earth character, and seems like someone whom not only might you actually meet in the real world, but would want to. She's a real person with a real-world mix of vulnerability and strength (although she's certainly more brilliant than most when it comes to linguistics), and when there's a show focusing on her (all too rare, I would argue), you can be reasonably certain it will be a worthy character outing and not simply a testosterone-fest where people are thrown into holding cells and then freed in convoluted firefights. "Exile" plays like a throwback of sorts to kinder, gentler Trek, when manners could actually triumph over action sequences, rather than the other way around.
In "Exile," Hoshi is contacted by a telepathic alien who lives a life of seclusion on a desolate world. His mansion stands tall among a landscape of mountains and windy nothingness. The alien's name is Tarquin (Maury Sterling), who first appears on the Enterprise to Hoshi in her mind, leading to a series of familiar Hoshi-themed scenes pointing in the direction of That Darn Hoshi Is Imagining Things Again. These scenes remind us of similar scenes in "Vanishing Point" (a vastly underrated episode, in my opinion), where the only person convinced that something strange is happening here is the victim herself. These scenes are thankfully brief, and not overplayed, allowing us to quickly move forward with the story.
Meanwhile, sensors detect another storm of violent anomalies like the one encountered in "Anomaly," only stronger this time around. T'Pol runs a vector analysis of the distortion fields, or however the technical explanation goes (I draw the line at revisiting technical dialog), which indicates that the mysterious man-made sphere found in "Anomaly" — theorized as the source of the anomalies in that episode — might have a nearby sibling. This is an interesting discovery that plays as good continuity, and it should be noted that the jargon and computer graphics used to explain the discovery come across as straightforward, sensible, and refreshingly plausible. Captain Archer's response to T'Pol's discovery is a genuinely refreshing dose of understated excitement; he's able to show some enthusiasm in seeing a possible piece of the puzzle slide into place. It's nice to see his tone lightened when appropriate.
So the Enterprise briefly detours away from its new destination of this sphere to stop by Tarquin's planet. Tarquin has told Hoshi that he may be able to use his telepathic powers to help the Enterprise crew find the Xindi's homeworld (and, indeed, what he ultimately finds — a colony where part of The Weapon might be under construction — keeps the plot arc moving forward). Tarquin, however, has a very specific interest in Hoshi, and makes it a condition that she remain as his guest while he conducts his telepathic Google search. Meanwhile, the Enterprise ventures ahead to investigate the sphere.
At the crux of "Exile" is that Tarquin, who has been reading Hoshi's mind for several days, has come to know her quite intimately, leaving Hoshi at an extremely uncomfortable disadvantage. Tarquin knows things that she has never admitted to anyone. Furthermore, Tarquin is actually looking for a new companion; after years of loneliness (his previous companions have died of old age), and centuries of exile from a population that expels its telepathic minority, he has found Hoshi, whom he says has a "unique mind."
This begs the question: Isn't Tarquin's telepathic invasion of Hoshi's privacy ... well, just plain creepy? Let me tell you: If someone were reading my thoughts at will and knew things that I'd never confessed to anyone, I'd feel extremely violated, even if it was by a really attractive person who said she wanted to sleep with me (which, by the way, Tarquin is not). Much has been made of this story's "Beauty and the Beast" parallel, but that's not really much of an issue here (aside from Tarquin's seclusion and the fact that he has a nice dining room setup).
It is perhaps a measure of the story's civility, performances, and direction that we accept Tarquin's telepathic invasions at the level that Hoshi does — one of mild, rather than massive, discomfort.
Tarquin, as performed by Sterling, comes across as a well-intended but desperate man in need of a cure to his loneliness. Despite Michael Westmore's intentionally extreme makeup design, we never see Tarquin in anything but emotionally human terms — which is the point here. Given his powers and his predicament, Tarquin is as restrained and benign as he probably can be under the circumstances — and while he becomes aggressive in his attempts to persuade Hoshi to stay with him, he never pushes so far as to turn completely unsympathetic. Hopelessly unrealistic, yes — but not unsympathetic. (Although, the way he threatens the Enterprise at the end is probably pushing us to the limits of our sympathy; I could've done without the jeopardy notion altogether.)
What's also interesting here is that the episode gets into Hoshi's own personal feelings, which Tarquin cites in his efforts to convince her that he has something to offer her. It would seem that Hoshi is somewhat self-isolated; she doesn't feel that she's truly understood by many people and as a result is somewhat closed-off. Linda Park turns in a good performance in an episode where Hoshi listens far more than she's required to take action. She is patient and careful with Tarquin even in the face of what must be sheer awkwardness — sort of like being on a date with someone you are desperately waiting for the right opportunity to feed the line, "Let's just be friends."
It's perhaps worth noting, however, that the episode doesn't venture as far as it could've and perhaps should've. For all of Tarquin's dialog about Hoshi's repressed feelings, Hoshi herself is mostly silent on the subject. I'd have welcomed a reflective coda aboard the ship where Hoshi talks about all this, but we don't get it; the episode would rather scratch the surface of Hoshi's character without venturing too deep into her feelings. It's a bit of a shame. But even though we don't reach quite a satisfactory conclusion, the interaction between Hoshi and Tarquin works because of solid performances. Scenes like the dinner-table scene between Hoshi and this alien-looking but human-seeming person are the types of conceptual scenes that Star Trek is known for.
The B-story also works, and turns out to be of significant story-arc interest. Tucker equips a shuttlepod with Trellium shielding, permitting Archer and Tucker to investigate the sphere in a region where the unprotected Enterprise cannot venture. A mishap disables the shuttle's sensors and forces them to land on the sphere to make quick repairs.
This prompts an admittedly irrelevant but nevertheless great scene that's kind of brilliant in a Three Stooges kind of way. Trying to fix the sensors, Trip inadvertently triggers a thruster on the landed shuttlepod, which then begins to lift away from the surface of the sphere as Trip and Archer look on with surprise. They must then shoot down the shuttle by knocking out the thruster with a phaser beam. My thinking was: This is something I haven't seen before. It's a thoroughly fresh and amusing take on the uh-oh situation, warranting the best yet invocation of the Tuckerian exclamation, "Son of a bitch!" — which pretty much says exactly what needs to be said, and in the best way one could've said it.
T'Pol's subsequent analysis of the shuttle data indicates that these spheres are a part of a vast network of at least 50 spheres throughout the expanse. This conclusion in turn leads to the inevitable and sensible theory that perhaps the entire Delphic Expanse was artificially created by these things. And since this is the prequel to a Star Trek where the Delphic Expanse apparently does not exist, one could conclude that this series will at some point document how the spheres are turned off and the expanse is effectively dismantled. That, I must say, is a pretty neat story idea, with clues set up nicely here and in "Anomaly." Now all they have to do is execute it.
"Exile" represents a good balance between standalone storytelling and advancement of the ongoing story arc. Both story threads work on their own and within the larger context. If "Extinction" was an example of how not to plot this season of Enterprise, then "Exile" is an example of being on the right track.
Next week: A rerun of "The Xindi," and thus a week for me to slack off already.