Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Impulse"

***

Air date: 10/8/2003
Teleplay by Jonathan Fernandez
Story by Jonathan Fernandez & Terry Matalas
Directed by David Livingston

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Wait 'Til Next Year." — Chicago Cubs fan mantra

In brief: Effective as atmosphere. Just don't look for much else.

"Impulse" is a workable outing of style trumping substance, and of aggressive production design trumping sometimes-goofy action. Action shows like "The Xindi" or last week's "Rajiin" don't do a whole lot for me because they're mostly transparent exercises with no edge. "Impulse," it must be said, is also a transparent exercise, but at least it has an edge, with enough grit to be entertainingly disorienting. The story may be slight at best, but these sort of shows, if pulled off, don't necessarily require much story. Atmosphere — not insight — is the name of the game. If you're looking for more, you're going to be disappointed. You have been warned.

In the couple hours before and during the time that I watched the tape of "Impulse," I drank a bottle of wine. I'm not sure whether that was a good idea or a bad one, but it did make the experience somewhat more ... sensory-driven. Not that I'm recommending alcohol consumption (or abuse) in the face of "Impulse," because as it is this is an episode that doesn't need any sensory enhancements. Watch it with the lights turned off. That ought to do the trick. An e-mail correspondent wrote to me, "I think I am on the verge of a seizure," after watching this episode. In that case, turn the lights back on (or drink a bottle of wine).

The Enterprise receives a distress signal from the Vulcan ship Seleya (as in Mount Seleya?), which was pulled into the expanse some time ago. The last Vulcan ship to enter the expanse — the one that we learned in "The Expanse" was destroyed after its crew went mad — was the Vankaara, which was actually sent in to find the missing Seleya. The Enterprise discovers the Seleya adrift in an asteroid field that also happens to be rich with Trellium ore. The away team (Archer, T'Pol, Reed, and MACO Hawkins) boards the Seleya to rescue its crew, but instead they find a battered ship and a crew of Vulcans who have been infected in some manner that turns them into violent monsters. In a paranoid, zombie-like state, they attack the away team. It is not open to discussion.

This is, I must admit, a plot somwhat reminiscent of the Andromeda episode "Dance of the Mayflies," a horrendous hour of action camp that in retrospect was a clear warning sign that I would not be an Andromeda viewer for much longer. The difference between "Mayflies" and "Impulse" is that "Mayflies" offered unwatchable camp while "Impulse" steers in the direction of respectably intense atmosphere. The show is just this side of plausible: The Vulcans may be implacable monsters who do not have the power of reason (so why have they not slaughtered each other, and why do they gang up on the away team, etc.?), but at least they aren't cartoon players. The action uses them within a semi-plausible physical world, in a horror-movie setting with unfriendly mise-en-scene rather than colorful bubble-gum flavors.

The Vulcans seal off the corridors so the away team cannot get back to their shuttle, so they must now fight their way through another route. At stake here is T'Pol, who is afflicted by the same condition that has doomed the Seleya crew to terminal insanity. T'Pol begins her own slow descent into madness and paranoia, becoming more of a liability for the away team than an ally. There are some scenes that work reasonably as tension, like when T'Pol pulls a phaser on Archer, who must then try to appeal to T'Pol's rapidly fading sense of logic. Jolene Blalock is game for these scenes, although her loss of control feels a little too "acted" to be genuinely effective.

Thinking too hard about any of this will only reveal the silliness of the plot. My advice: Don't. Okay, I will point out that it strikes me as unlikely that Vulcans whose emotions are allowed to run rampant would simply become perfect movie monsters interested only in killing everyone. I also find it a bit convenient that the Enterprise happens upon the Seleya at just the right time to find that the crew has gone insane but hasn't died of the illness or by their own hands.

It turns out that poisoning from the Trellium in the asteroid field is the cause of the Vulcans' condition, because it breaks down the neural pathways that allow them to suppress their emotions (or something). This has an interesting implication, because the Trellium that Trip and Mayweather salvage from the asteroid field can't be used to protect the ship from anomalies because it would kill T'Pol. The episode's one iota of substance comes when T'Pol volunteers to leave the ship so Archer can install the Trellium, and Archer refuses because T'Pol is part of his crew. Moving, no. Palatable, yes.

I also liked the pseudo-twist ending, where movie night segues into T'Pol's distressing nightmare. Psychological terror can make for some interesting imagery.

About all I can say is that either you like the execution of all this or you don't. David Livingston has opted to shoot most of the scenes aboard the Seleya with a shortened film exposure that gives the motion a harsher look — a trendy technique that Enterprise has been using much more of lately, but one that fits the material here. There are also lots of nifty special-effects shots depicting a convincing asteroid field where big rocks are constantly slamming into and pulverizing one other. And inside the confines of the Seleya are strobe lights. Lots of strobe lights. Visually, this works; the cumulative effect manages to boost the show's intensity.

"Impulse" is sort of a guilty pleasure. It is entertaining solely for its superficial visual qualities — hard metallic surfaces, gritty debris, stylized lighting, a cramped setting that manages to close in on the characters, horror-movie-inspired images that are about style rather than content. I can't commend this show on the basis of its substance, because there isn't any. But this is an episode that looks really good and works on its basic chosen level, which this week seems like enough for a qualified endorsement.

Next week: Hoshi. An alien. A big choice. (Hey, the preview didn't give me much to work with.)

Previous episode: Rajiin
Next episode: Exile

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13 comments on this review

urfrend - Sat, Sep 15, 2007 - 10:36pm (USA Central)
Not a bad zombie episode. But why does the commando side-character get more lines than Travis? Most of the other Trek series took the time to flesh out all of their characters-- even that Morn guy. This series only focuses on the 3 characters.
Omega333 - Mon, Oct 8, 2007 - 10:42pm (USA Central)
A few weeks ago, an illness featuring vulcan immunity.

This week, an illness featuring human immunity...

Nice how that works out. I am sure were the show not from a human point of view, there would be more illnesses that would affect the center species more.

I found it odd that once they found out they couldn't help them they kept with the stun setting 'sure, we could be killed by them, but god forbid we murder them before we have a chance to murder them in a family friendly manner!'

Still, the show seems to have a good deal of continuity going this season, which never hurts.
LWG - Sat, May 29, 2010 - 9:28pm (USA Central)
Jammer is spot on with this review. There is not a a whole lot of substance here, but it had good lighting, action, pace and atmosphere. I felt Impulse was entertaining enough to hold water. It was roughly the equivalent of a monster-of-the-week type episode, and such shows usually provide a good diversion from an ongoing story arc, in this case the Xindi.
Jonathan - Mon, Mar 21, 2011 - 2:14pm (USA Central)
Vulcan Zombies... only in the expanse. Great episode for watching late at night. I jumped quite a few times haha.
Fido - Mon, Apr 16, 2012 - 12:51pm (USA Central)
I like what the episode was going for...a zombie movie. Unfortunately, the episode just didn't hold my interest. Other than several chase scenes, there really wasn't much plot to focus on. I thought the reveal of T'Pol's delusions was actually a lame device and was another thing that put me off this episode. But, hey, what do I know?
Scott of Detroit - Mon, Aug 20, 2012 - 8:21pm (USA Central)
I did not find this episode very entertaining. My wife was having issues with the strobes, she has epilepsy.

Not much of a story at all. It was like one of those zombie-end-of-the-world movies you see.

I give it two-stars.

Watchable, but not much further than that.
kythe - Tue, Aug 28, 2012 - 3:32am (USA Central)
I wouldn't have rated this more than 2 stars. I didn't see the purpose of this as a zombie story. Vulcans who can't control their emotions are just called Romulans. There is no reason to believe they turn into killing machines that don't speak.

Also, there shouldn't have been any gravity on that small asteroid Trip landed on. It wasn't even large enough to hold a spherical shape, yet even small bodies like the moon or mercury have significantly reduced gravity. They should not have been able to land on that asteroid at all because there is nothing to hold them there.
Cloudane - Sat, Nov 24, 2012 - 5:23pm (USA Central)
"I can't save humanity without holding onto what makes us human" - THANK YOU Archer, that's more like it! That's what I wanted to hear a couple of episodes ago. That gave me the warm "Star Trek" glow that has been missing this season so far. There's hope for this guy yet.

I see we have the classic "little asteroid with enough mass to have the same gravity as Earth" thing again...

Not sure about what was basically zombies, but it worked well enough particularly to see some fear put into our Vulcan.

As for the lighting, I felt on the verge of a seizure too and I'm not even epileptic. The strobing in this episode was intense and there was one part where it was genuinely quite uncomfortable watching it. They really need (well, needED, I keep talking as if it's still airing) a new way to convey a battered ship than the classic "blinking lights".

Also I agree with Omega - given the criticisms a couple of episodes ago about Vulcans always being immune to things, it's nice seeing them weak to something for a change.

It was fine - I'd go so far as to say the best episode of the season so far, unfortunately that's not saying much :P
John the younger - Tue, Jan 1, 2013 - 12:59am (USA Central)
A Trek zombie movie is a bit like watching pornography that doesn't have any nudity in it.

Also, aren't Vulcans meant to have 3 times the strength of humans? Even a mildy 'sick' T'Pol is weak as piss.

Also, how has the Vulcan ship not been pulverised by asteroids by now?

Also, all the other criticisms people have made.

2 stars.
Lt. Yarko - Sun, May 19, 2013 - 12:36pm (USA Central)
Vulcan zombies! Sweet! The strobing lights were way too much tho. A little of that goes along way.
NoPoet - Fri, Dec 13, 2013 - 4:37am (USA Central)
I must step in to defend this episode from some of the bashing it's received. What is this elusive "substance" that the episode is lacking? What prior episodes provided a baseline to look for this "substance"? Enterprise is basically a Bermaga love-child, it was hardly going to be competitive against contemporary drama. The only Trek which consistently provided us with politics, consequences and character growth (I assume these qualify as substance) was DS9.

I purely love this episode. It creates a terrific atmosphere, intense, claustrophobic, with a genuinely dire situation. The action is intense with the shortened exposure actually making a Trek fight seem like it was made for a contemporary audience instead of people shooting down corridors while someone walks up behind them and blasts them.

I also love the fact that T'Pol berates the MACO for setting his gun to kill. The Vulcans might be homicidal zombies, but they're living beings and Star Trek's heroes does not condone the killing of living beings.

The long shot of Enterprise dwarfed by bizarrely clashing rocks is excellent. The B-plot seemed an unnecessary way to involve other characters but just added more peril.

As for Archer refusing to coat the NX-01 in trellium D for T'Pol's sake, I am actually shocked that Jammer disagrees with this decision. What is T'Pol going to do, take a shuttlepod and float around the expanse? Settle on some unknown world? Die of insanity? It seems like yet another excuse to bash Archer's decisions, something which has likely become a habit by this point in his reviews.

There are many points in the review I DO agree on but I think the criticism is way too nit-picky. Can't people just sit down and enjoy an action-oriented episode, especially when it's as well-presented as this? Can ENT ever win?
John G - Wed, May 21, 2014 - 5:09am (USA Central)
The highlight of the whole episode for me was the diss by T’Pol during the dream sequence at the movies, and Trip’s gaping well-i-never reaction. Yes, it was over the top and silly, but I *loved* it.

I didn’t care much for this one. Zombie Vulcans just seems way too formulaic for me, even more than usual in this series. I agree with NoPost that a lot of the criticisms here have been nit-picky and generally am happy to go along for the ride, but this one just seemed like some teenager thought it would be kewl to have zombie Vulcans because zombies are keel and Vulcans are kewl. Ice cream and porterhouse steak are great, too, but I wouldn’t want to mix them.

Meanwhile one thing that occurred to me, given all the comparisons to “Voyager”, is that I for one enjoy “Enterprise” far more than I did “Voyager”…in part because Phlox is far more interesting and entertaining a character (not to mention just plain better acted) than Neelix. If I were Janeway I would have put Neelix out the airlock first chance I got. Phlox, however, is possibly my favorite character on the show, with Trip a close second.
Petrus - Sun, Jun 22, 2014 - 2:15pm (USA Central)
This episode provides an example of why, with no disrespect intended to Jammer, I am starting to feel that these reviews are plagued with several problems.

In continuity terms, "Impulse," is an important episode. We've known for a while that the Enterprise needs Trellium-D on the inside of her hull, to guard against the weird spatial anomalies in the Expanse. With this episode, however, we learn several things, which have implications later.

a} Trellium-D destroys Vulcan emotional control.

b} This is likely the reason why T'Pol displays an uncharacteristic lack of emotional control throughout the rest of the series; from memory, elsewhere we are actually told this.

c} This episode gives us resolution of, and a (decent, in my opinion) rational explanation for the Event Horizon-like footage which was sent back to the Vulcans from the Seleya.

d} Although it isn't explicitly mentioned, this will likely cause major problems for Vulcans wishing to travel in the Expanse in the future. Their government would probably need to come up with some sort of treatment to protect them from the effects of the Trellium.

In other words, contrary to what Jammer states, from my perspective there actually *is* insight to be found here, and a decent amount of it. The degree of chaos which Vulcans are depicted as experiencing once their emotional control is removed is exaggerated, (I think Tim Russ' portrayal of Tuvok in "Meld," was probably more realistic) but that was the only real problem I had with this episode.

The other reason why I point this out, is because a lot of the time, Jammer not only neglects to mention continuity which does exist, but he also complains that there is none, when very often that is not the case. I recently did another re-assessment of Voyager, and subsequently wrote an episode guide of my own on Reddit. As a result of that process, I discovered that Voyager actually did have quite a large amount of continuity in various ways. It generally wasn't strictly episode to episode, no; and it also wasn't always explicitly stated, but it was there. You'd often get foreshadowing of certain events which came later, as well as sequel episodes to various concepts, which sometimes came a year or so after the original episode.

Character development to me was often implicit, as well; I felt that Barge of the Dead built on earlier material in B'Elanna's character arc, to the point where she probably wouldn't have been developmentally ready for that experience, if it hadn't been for the other stuff she went through first in "Faces," or "Blood Fever," etc. Then of course there was her relationship with Tom; by the time "Day of Honour" rolled around, they'd already been circling each other for a while.

A third major problem with these reviews, which only becomes apparent after you read a number of them and re-watch the relevant episodes, is that I think Jammer really *did* suffer from an overwhelming degree of positive bias towards Deep Space Nine in particular. He tended to judge pretty much anything else here, on the basis of a comparison with DS9. There have been numerous times when I've seen bad reviews here for a given episode, and after watching it and discovering that it was at least decent, (if not stellar) have been left with the impression that the main reason why Jammer didn't like it, was simply because it wasn't DS9, or perhaps didn't have the focus on interpersonal drama that DS9 had.

The TNG episode "Justice," comes to mind as an example of this. Yes, a lot of the framing material was absolutely mediocre, but at the episode's core was what I considered to be an interesting and worthwhile dilemma, concerning the Prime Directive; and whether or not Starfleet were simply going to adhere to it when it was convenient, or uphold it consistently, even if that meant their own people dying as a result.

My advice to future readers, as a result, is that while these reviews *are* genuinely valuable, they should be taken with a certain amount of salt, and not necessarily regarded as the final word. Jammer is human, like the rest of us. If you're anything like me, you will often find yourself disagreeing with him, and you will likely also notice things that he has missed.

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