Star Trek: Enterprise
Air date: 9/24/2003
Written by Andre Bormanis
Directed by LeVar Burton
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"You never say please. You never say thank you."
"Please don't be an idiot. Thank you."
— Bayliss and Pembleton
In brief: I think not.
When Archer, Reed, and Sato get transformed into savages and start jumping around like the guys from the Tim Burton version of Planet of the Apes, there's only one course of action: Remind yourself that at least a new Law & Order will be on later tonight.
As it happens, this episode coincides with the renaming of this series, which now includes the franchise branding. The new name is apparently Star Trek: Voyager.
"Extinction" plays like a bad Voyager episode. There's nothing about this episode that couldn't or wouldn't have happened (or, rather, can't or won't happen in the future 24th century; wink, nudge!) in the Delta Quadrant, as opposed to the Delphic Expanse. More to the point, this is an episode that borrows so much from the Voyager bag-o-tricks that it more resembles bad-tier Voyager than bad-tier Enterprise. Three episodes into season three, coming off the impressive and focused "Anomaly," this is not what I had in mind. Writer Andre Bormanis, one of the few Voyager veterans who came to Enterprise, plunders the archives of his previous series. Unfortunately, he plunders mostly unsuccessful material.
Most notably, we have Fun With DNA [TM], a trademark I get to dust off after years of non-use (an archive search shows that season four of Voyager was the last time). Voyager practically reinvented Fun With DNA by way of the infamous "Threshold," and DNA trickery persisted in episodes well after that one.
The trick assumes that a person's DNA can be "rewritten," like a hard drive, or perhaps a rewritable CD, and that can thus transform them into something else — often anything else. Another infamous example is TNG's "Genesis," in which the entire crew devolved into creatures (or, as the episode so brilliantly put it, "de-evolved"). In "Extinction," an away team shuttles down to a jungle planet and is infected by a virus that rewrites their DNA and turns them into aliens. For all dramatic purposes of the show's first half, however, the virus "de-evolves" them: Archer, Reed, and Sato become instinct-driven savages who run around in a confused frenzy. T'Pol, however, is not severely affected by the virus because she has Plot-Driven Vulcan Immunity, which, of course, is the key to the eventual cure that will ultimately reverse this unfortunate condition. (Curing someone's rewritten DNA is apparently like formatting a hard drive and then restoring the original person from backup DNA, replete with their original memories, etc., etc.)
As you can probably guess, I never bought into the whole Fun With DNA thing, and I'm not going to start now. DNA is not magic. If your DNA is being rewritten, I don't expect you to survive the process, especially as new bones grow under your face. I also find it amusing that the episode initially attributes radically altered biology to the Weird Properties of the Delphic Expanse (as if Voyager ever needed Weird Properties to have Fun With DNA).
The problem with this episode isn't simply that the sci-fi is more "fi" than "sci"; the bigger problem is that the episode's alien oddities are too clunky and boring for too long. Call it a bias, but I just don't find much entertainment value in watching savages run around while T'Pol tries to get through to them. Once the Universal Translator allows them all to communicate, we then must sit through tedious scenes where T'Pol gradually tries to gain their trust. These scenes and their lame dialog are DOA. Basically, the mutated away team wants to go to a place called Urquat. But not before cracking open eggs filled with grubs and fighting over them. (The goofy savagery coexists with their ability to think on a higher plane, and it has no consistent foundation. It's random, disjointed, and silly, with dialog in one scene and then animal instincts taking over in the next.)
About here is where a decontamination vessel (from a stock Voyager-type alien race) arrives. The decon commander (Roger Cross), informs Trip aboard the Enterprise that the planet has been under strict quarantine for decades because of this nasty virus, which aims to biologically mutate people into Loque'eque, the race that created the virus centuries ago. Why did they create it? Because the Loque'eque went sterile and had no other way of reproducing. Ain't science grand: They can create a virus capable of mutating multiple alien species into Loque'eque, and yet they can't find the cure to their own sterility. In a word: Doubtful. The only other question, which the episode has no answer for (because it doesn't ask it): Where are the Loque'eque now?
The quote of the week is Trip's, about the planet's quarantine status: "It wasn't very well marked." My thoughts exactly. If this is such a dangerous world holding such a dangerous virus capable of wiping out entire populations in favor of its own, why is it not surrounded by armies of blockades to prohibit curious folks like our gallant Enterprise crew from taking shuttles down to the surface? (Or, even better, why not destroy the planet or make it uninhabitable so the quarantine is unnecessary?)
From a structural standpoint, the episode also blows its central mystery by showing us certain cards at the wrong time. Consider: Mutant Archer feels drawn to a place called Urquat. So the story's central would-be mystery is finding out what Urquat, in fact, actually is. But it doesn't remain a mystery for long, because on the other end of the plot we're given the full explanation from the decon commander about how the virus makes those who are infected feel drawn to the Loque'eque's home city of Urquat. With ill-timed over-explanation, the show destroys all mystery surrounding both Mutant Archer's dream sequence (one of few good scenes of any interest) and the scene later on where the mutated away team finds the ruins of Urquat. What might possibly have been interesting and puzzling is instead painfully obvious because we're supplied all the answers from the outset. Most of the last half of the hour, consequently, becomes completely predictable.
We get the usual conflicts between the decon commander, who wants to incinerate the away team ("We're going to contain this outbreak!"), and Tucker, who needs Phlox to find a cure before the alien decon vessel opens fire on the Enterprise. Will Phlox find a cure in time? I'm on the edge of my seat here...
If only it didn't all feel so forced. Of course the decon commander is utterly against the possibility of the Enterprise looking for a cure; after all, a cure obviously doesn't exist since his people haven't found one in all the decades of dealing with the virus. And, of course, our brilliant doctor can find the cure in a few hours flat, despite having never encountered the virus before. But of course even these few hours will be too long for the decon commander to wait, because we must have our dose of forced conflict/action rather than allow the characters to listen to each other and exercise a reasonable level of patience and restraint. The cure is found and administered just in time to prevent a major incident, allowing Archer to walk onto the bridge with perfect timing. Too perfect, if you ask me.
I have a serious problem with the ending. Archer orders Phlox to save a sample of the virus, on the rationale that it is all that remains of the extinct Loque'eque that created it. Archer's logic goes something like this: The Xindi intend to destroy humanity, but while we're in the expanse looking for them, we're going to be Better Than That by not destroying all that remains of the Loque'eque, i.e., the virus that could repopulate them.
Um, excuse me?
With all due respect to your Evolved Human Sensibilities, captain, are you on freakin' crack? (1) This is not a remnant of an alien culture, it's an extremely dangerous contagion responsible for infecting tens of millions of people who had to be destroyed to prevent the total annihilation of another society. The virus might as well be the biological equivalent of a Borg scourge, assimilating everything it comes in contact with, destroying whatever existed before. (2) No character here so much as questions the morality of a race that created a virus to, yes, save their society, but at the cost of genocide to others.
And Archer wants to put it in cold storage?
I'm sorry. There comes a point where common sense must wake up and smell the coffee. This is a misguided ending to a misfire of a show.
"Extinction" on UPN, by the way, was brought to us in part by Nextel, who was at least kind enough to supply us a hilarious commercial depicting a 30-second performance of Romeo and Juliet. This is a concept, and execution, far more entertaining than anything in "Extinction" itself.
Next week: Beautiful Alien Sex Slave!