Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"The Augments"

**

Air date: 11/12/2004
Written by Mike Sussman
Directed by LeVar Burton

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"How long can we sustain warp 5?"
"As long as the captain wants it. Or until we blow up — whichever comes first."

— Soong, Trip

In brief: An unremarkable finale to a trilogy with more potential than the writers end up tapping.

The problem with "The Augments" is the Augments. They just don't seem very bright. More specifically, their leader, Malik, doesn't seem very bright, and the rest of them are supplied no screen time, so they become faceless lemmings willing to follow Malik over a very obvious cliff. As Kirk once said, I'm laughing at the superior intellect.

The lone exception is Persis, who has a conscience and is smart enough to think on her own, but not smart enough to stage her own power play by killing Malik and taking command over the other Augments. Based on what we see of the Augments, there's little reason to believe that they wouldn't be willing to follow Persis as blindly as they follow Malik.

And that's the problem. The crux of the story is reduced to an unremarkable three-character power struggle that is supposed to be a microcosm for the trouble that comes with genetically engineered super-humans, but comes across instead as overly bland and tidy drama. On one hand we have Malik, the crazed lunatic who's willing to kill anyone who stands in his way. On the other hand we have Soong, who wants only to save his "children" and teach them right from wrong. And in the middle we have Persis, who wants to come to the right decision and do the right thing, but doesn't have the prudence to be proactive about it.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise desperately hunts the Augments' Bird of Prey in order to supply the plot with the timeless story device of The Chase.

All of the characters are wearing blinders in their own way (and in the case of Soong, that's the point), but the big problem is that Malik simply seems too stupid. He lashes out and is quick to look for the violent solution to a given problem. This is very obviously going to be his own undoing, but he's too blind to see that. When Soong suggests that the Augments lay low in the Briar Patch so Soong can birth the other Augment embryos, Malik suggests an alternative plan: launch a bio-attack on a Klingon colony that will kill millions of Klingons. His logic: Since humans will be to blame, the Klingons will launch a counterattack on Earth that will "keep Starfleet busy for years." In the meantime, the Augments will be safe from the Klingons and Starfleet.

Please. I for one don't buy it — not unless Starfleet and the Klingons are both equally as stupid as Malik's plan ... which I guess is what the script is betting on. In reality, both the Klingons and Starfleet, even if they went to war (which, by the way, is a completely contrived scenario on the plot's behalf), are still going to be looking for the people who actually did it.

There was a reason Khan gave in to his emotions and threw logic and intelligence out the window: because it was personal. He was obsessed with Kirk and wanted to get even, period. Malik doesn't have that excuse, and his argument that his plan is the best chance of ensuring the Augments' survival is pure idiocy.

Meanwhile, I kept waiting for Soong to just get it over with and throw Malik into a holding cell. Time after time, Malik disobeys Soong, and time after time, Soong lets him off with a sternly worded warning. It's obvious to everyone in the audience that Malik's power play is imminent, and yet Soong sits back and lets it happen. Part of this is admittedly the point; indeed, it's the arc of Soong's character — he doesn't let himself believe Malik will actually take things to such extremes. But with all the warning signs, you'd think Soong would put his foot down once Malik starts whispering plans to murder millions of Klingons in order to incite a war that will kill still millions more.

Eventually, Soong is thrown into a cell, with all the Augments backing Malik except Persis, who pretends to go along with Malik long enough to break Soong out of the cell and get him off the ship in an escape pod. The Enterprise finds and retrieves the pod, at which point Soong explains to Archer the details of Malik's deadly plan, which the Enterprise must now prevent, upping the ante in The Chase. In the midst of The Chase through Klingon space, the Enterprise runs into some Klingon patrols. One of these encounters ends with a rather weak con by Archer that shouldn't be fooling anybody; perhaps, based on this gullibility, the Klingons really are dumb enough to launch a war on Earth if the Augments destroy one of their colonies. In another showdown, Soong tries to reason with the Klingons by speaking in Klingon. I like how he speaks Klingon in an American accent. ("I tried," he says. Reminded me of high school Spanish class, where some of my classmates would use American pronunciation that bordered on laughable.)

Back aboard the Augments' Bird of Prey, Malik suspects Persis of letting Soong out of the holding cell. But of course he should. The question is why Persis didn't anticipate Malik's suspicions and kill him right away, before he even knew Soong had been freed. Surely she had to know Malik would suspect her and probably kill her. If any of these characters were as smart as they're supposed to be, we wouldn't have to sit through so many transparently inevitable scenes. The scene in Malik's quarters that escalates from lazy pillow talk to Persis' death is one of those where you know simply from the demands of the script who must live and who must die, and yet the story goes through the motions as if there were actually any question about it.

The actors do their best. The always reliable Brent Spiner delivers a good performance under the circumstances, considering he has to convince us that he never saw any of this coming. Abby Brammell is effective as Persis, able to look hard-edged in some scenes and vulnerable in others. Her scenes with Soong in particular reveal a humanity that is refreshing after all of Malik's annoying posturing. Alec Newman convincingly creates a character in Malik we dislike because of his arrogance; too bad that the overall dynamics aren't more interesting.

The episode has some nice cross-references with the other Trek outings. My favorite is the way Malik, after the Enterprise's attack on his ship, stumbles out from under the rubble and confronts a control panel. The writers and director LeVar Burton successfully cite Khan's similar emergence from the rubble on the bridge of the Reliant; they do this using only visual cues.

But the story ultimately fails to draw us in or understand the plight of the Augments. By making the show completely about Malik and his madness, we don't understand what motivates everyone else. And Soong's arc, while expected, doesn't have enough of the right notes of regret. The episode ends on a note of forced whimsy, in which he decides that cybernetics are the direction he should now apply his brilliant mind. (This, of course, explains how future generations of Soong will eventually invent Data.)

Perhaps this story was simply content to show absolute power corrupting absolutely. Unfortunately, aside from Persis, none of the Augments stop to think about what they're doing or why, and the story of Malik is content to blandly repeat the story of Khan, but without the crucial personal motivator of revenge. I think the writers owed the material more than this.

Next week: A three-part story takes us deep into Vulcan culture.

Previous episode: Cold Station 12
Next episode: The Forge

Season Index

25 comments on this review

philadlj - Mon, Mar 24, 2008 - 5:24pm (USA Central)
You gotta love how Klingons don't have escape pods...unless the plot necessitates it, of course.
Jakob M. Mokoru - Fri, Nov 14, 2008 - 7:51am (USA Central)
I liked this trilogy - it wasn't great but quite good. It's always great to see Brent Spiner and I particularly liked the character of Persis - not (only) for obvious reasons. Yet I wondered why she showed almost everything when she was in her "Augment-Overall" but dressed quite "chastely" when in bed with Malik. Kinda strange, isn't it?
lost4 - Mon, Aug 2, 2010 - 2:07pm (USA Central)
I actually agree with you on pretty much everything for once. Very disappointing trilogy that could have been done awesomely.

Personally I hated the ridiculous homage Malik performed to WoK emerging from rubble on the bridge. It was so pedestrian and obvious that I think my groan woke up the neighbours. At this point I was waiting for Malik to start reciting lines from Moby Dick.

I might have enjoyed that kind of predictability. I mean if you're gonna copy WoK so obviously why not just go all the way?
Joe Menta - Mon, Oct 4, 2010 - 10:07am (USA Central)
Future generations of Soong will go on to create Data? I just assumed that Brent Spiner was playing the same Dr. Soong we've known and loved for years. After all, it's not hard to fathom that the brilliant scientist found a way to keep himself alive all the way to Next Gen's timeframe, where he was clearly depicted as being very old.
Dustin Hatchett - Fri, Nov 19, 2010 - 5:02am (USA Central)
This episode also did one of the things that bugged me about Enterprise (as is blatantly obvious in the screwed up finale). The writers throw in a reference to Insurrection; as if the writers are screaming, “The Briar Patch has always been here, it was not a bad plot device for a lame movie”.

P.S.
Thank you for doing the reviews as I check out Enterprise on HULU. I am watching episodes I missed due to my local channel moving the shows time every month; half a decade ago. :)
Paul - Thu, Feb 3, 2011 - 10:58am (USA Central)
Big question: How does Soong end up having descendants? Are we to guess that Data's creator is a nephew? Considering that Arik Soong viewed the Augments as his children and the other implied events of his life (prison, years in the Borderland, etc.) he can't possibly have biological children, can he?

One thing about Enterprise that works here and throughout the series is regular turmoil, but not all-out war, with the Klingons. Enterprise didn't always get continuity right -- and it stretched too much to tie up loose ends here and there -- but the Klingon backstory generally leads well into TOS.
Grumpy - Sun, Apr 24, 2011 - 12:00pm (USA Central)
Paul... Making descendants was Step #1 in Soong's cybernetics initiative. If you could've read the paper he started writing at the end of the episode, it said, "Dear Match.com..."
Marco P. - Mon, May 16, 2011 - 8:56am (USA Central)
Have to agree, the Augments trilogy didn't come to the best of resolutions. Khan's people deserved more.

In my comment of the previous episode I faulted Soong for being short-sighted. He displays similar behaviour here when instead of trying to *convince* Malik & Co. what they're doing is wrong/immoral/has an alternative, he lets things degenerate to a mutiny and then counter-plots to stop Malik *physically* (enlisting Persis's and Enterprise's help). Too little too late, which makes the ultimate (expected) morale of "the teacher has failed" a little harder to swallow for me. Like I said before, perhaps this teacher didn't try hard enough.

As for Malik, I can only echo Jammer's comments: for someone superiorly intelligent his decisions are rather perplexing. Yet consider the scene where Soong and Malik discuss the doctor's choice to alter the genetic code of the next generation of embryos, suppressing "aggression" and "violent behaviour". Perhaps the writers wanted to emphasize that in *spite* of his superior intelligence, Malik is genetically predisposed to act violently: he cannot help himself, even it means long-term ramifications his intelligence did not consider and which are ultimately self-defeating. If that is the case, the intent can be commended but the final result isn't very effective. Emotion as a reason for irrational behaviour (as in the case of Khan) works a lot better than DNA.

I also agree as far as the rest of the Augments (Persis excluded) are concerned: lemmings blindly following their leader without offering any kind of debate? Bit poor.

Some other notes, more of a technical nature:
• How the hell did that grappler trick on the Klingon ship work??? "Shearing forces"? I really don't buy it.
• Couldn't Archer have beamed the Augments aboard Enterprise before the Klingon ship detonated?? Malik did it!

I thought the final scene, foreshadowing the creation of Data, was a nice touch however.
Paul - Wed, Apr 4, 2012 - 11:18am (USA Central)
Rewatched this one last night. There are some other logical gaffes:

1) Could an escape pod be jettisoned successfully while a ship is at warp? Wouldn't the shearing forces kill anybody inside and possibly destroy the pod?

2) What's up with the Augments' clothes? I guess the idea is that they're wearing the same things they've worn for years, but wouldn't they also be less well kept (hair cuts, shaving, makeup)?

3) Where did the bed that Malik and Persis use come from? Klingons, famously, don't have beds.

4) I guess the Klingons were cool with Enterprise disabling one of their battle cruisers?
Joseph B - Sun, Jul 8, 2012 - 10:27am (USA Central)
In an attempt to answer Paul's questions above:
1. The escape pod would have residual protection from the warp "bubble". It would "fade" into normal space. So no gravimetric shearing.

2. Chalk this one up to Writer’s License.

3. It's logical to assume that supplies from the Augments' initial planet would be brought aboard the captured "Bird of Prey".

4. Since the Enterprise saved millions of Klingons and possibly averted an interstellar war, their actions would have been deemed "Honrable" by the High Councel.

As to the ep:
It was entertaining enough to warrant at least 3 stars from me. But it had to be looked upon in context with the entire trilogy.
karatasiospa - Fri, Dec 7, 2012 - 3:37pm (USA Central)
i think there were two flaws in the augment trilogy:
1. These were not super humans. They were just thugs. No Khan here.
2. None of the actors that were playing the augments was Ricardo Montalban
Cloudane - Sun, Dec 9, 2012 - 12:08pm (USA Central)
Can't really say much that wouldn't be an echo of everything else, so I'll just say..

Archer shot a hole through him! o.o

Can't exactly blame him for using maximum setting this time.. I think he'd had enough of Malik just as we all had :P
CeeBee - Wed, Jan 2, 2013 - 4:58pm (USA Central)
Thank goodness the Augments are all wiped out. Else we would have to organize a fundraiser to properly clothe them.

A nice trilogy, too bad that the Augments were such dumb cardboard characters. Maybe that is the message: superhumans are super in everything, including dumb and destructive. Wasn't there a war about the subject in Trek canon? A good explanation given.
Wisq - Mon, Jan 7, 2013 - 1:38am (USA Central)
CeeBee: Hah, yeah, their clothes were ridiculous.

I don't know whether they were meant to suggest they'd been combat training so much that they'd torn everything, or that they had been so long without supplies that everything was torn, or that they just thought it looked cool, or what.

Also rather comical that Persis' underwear is perfectly fine in the second episode's bedroom scene (or "what passes for sex on Star Trek" scene). I don't know about you, but my underwear tends to develop holes/rips a lot sooner than my clothes. So I guess that kills the "no supplies" theory, unless they had some pretty lopsided supplies. (Maybe they ran off to start up "Dr. Arik Soong's Augment Training Camp and Underwear Emporium" or something.)
Wisq - Mon, Jan 7, 2013 - 1:50am (USA Central)
I also love Malik's questioning/accusations regarding Soong's alterations to the embryos. What right does he have to alter them to be "docile"? The same one the scientists had when they altered them to be strong, smart, etc. Duh.

And who's more likely to know what the original scientists did or did not intend for the embryos? One of their fellow scientists, or one of their flawed creations?

There isn't even an argument to be had, there. As Jammer's mentioned, for someone who's supposed to be twice as smart as humans, he sure doesn't act it.
Christian - Tue, Jan 8, 2013 - 3:30pm (USA Central)
Ditto the above question: why are the brilliant augments not-so-brilliant. Brent Spiner shines nicely, though. (I busted a gut during the gag where he's watching the Big Show sway, and finally fall. Watch Spiner's face. Might be worth the whole arc.) Also agree with the disease torture scene, which raised the level of the whole arc.
auralgami - Tue, Jan 15, 2013 - 1:37am (USA Central)
In short: blah

Everything that was subtle about Cold Station 12 is blasted out an airlock here. Malik is back to scene chewing and bad dialogue. Soong and Persis are oblivious. The gotcha ending is so stupid they don't even try to offer an explanation.

Where Cold Station 12 offered shades of grey, here we get the Augments are defective and bad. Should we even feel sorry for them, since they never even had a choice but to be evil? Was this even written by the same people? It chronologically comes after the previous episode, but has none of its smarts, character, or logic.

Brent Spiner does what he can, but he comes of more like Borderland -- half jokey, slick, and over the top. All of the wonderful drama that came from his character losing his grip on his children seems to evaporate, as this Soong just seems criminally dense and unaware.

Soong doesn't seem to be concerned about the glaring warning signs seen in Cold Station 12. There's also no followup to poor, unfortunate Smike. While I generally despise speechification, it's pretty bad when Soong doesn't even try to tell Malik that murder is bad and mass murder is worse. Parenting, is like, hard. What can you do with kids these days?

The references here failed for me. When Malik crawls across the bridge of the Reliant, it just reminded me of a better story containing characters I actually cared about. Malik doesn't even have enough substance to be Khan's second in command, much less Khan. The throwaway line about cybernetics also does double disservice -- not only does it remind us about better episodes, but it insinuates that a genius in genetics would know squat about robots. This is ludicrous.

Where Cold Station 12 showed all the characters as smart and competent, here they just pull out tricks that are never discussed before or after. Changing the warp signature. Super duper sensors. Pushing the warp drive. Torpedos targeting torpedoes. Archer moving components around to stop the Xindi weapon, sorry, pathogen release. Archer's conversation in faux Klingon. These aren't characters acting smart -- these are contrivances. "Cuz if we find we're in a bind, we just make some sh*t up" indeed. It's bad when the majority of lines for *all* the characters are just to get them from point A to point B.

What a disappointment. Cold Station 12 was great, but this episode dumps everything that was good and complex and replaces it with cliche. Malik sums it up several times with his line: There is no other choice. Really? That's all you've got? We have a super genius coming back with a grade school response that any Vulcan would brand as illogical.

Trip and T'Pol get a good scene, and Spiner does some good work, but there's no issue or discussion or weight here. It's all stop the bad guys with kewl tricks that ultimately mean nothing.
Arachnea - Sat, Feb 16, 2013 - 1:45pm (USA Central)
I was also disappointed by the wrap up of this trilogy.

However, watching it, my explanation for the augments to be so dumb is simple. Being smart or very intelligent doesn't mean you can't be stupid and do dumb things. If there's no balance between intelligence and emotions, the result is obviously flawed. In addition, they've been left to themselves at the adolescence, the time when children most need guidance. These augments obviously lacked affection, structure and limits, with only some stories they heard when they were kids: it's easy to twist the stories and become twisted yourself.

So obviously, you can't compare Khan to these children. I didn't have a hard time believing that some of them blindly followed a leader, because they are themselves a bit lost. However, I'd have liked to see more reactions like Persis: what made her different ?
mark - Sun, Mar 3, 2013 - 5:44pm (USA Central)
I loved the whole trilogy because, finally, this seems like a Star Trek show. Now if only the "Vulcans" would stop being douchebags.

As for Malik's behavior: he's only about 20, he grew up from the age of ten without a parental figure, he knows nothing about human beings and so he considers them disposable cannon fodder, he's reckless, certainly, and arrogant enough to think no one can stand in his way. Comapred to Khan he's a kid. And I have to disagree with you about the potential effectiveness of his plan to wipe out the Klingon colony. Consider: the Klingons have nonsensically been chasing Archer--a man who's done nothing but try to help them, up to and including saving their ridiculous Empire from a civil war--for three seasons now, and they have violated Earth's territory and attacked Enterprise to get to him. That's already an act of war. Of course the Klingons would attack Earth if their colony was wiped out. They'd attack Earth if they stubbed their toe. The Klingons on this series have always been stupid thugs, and Mailk is just going by past history. Millions of Klingons dead by human hands (admittedly augmented humans but that would make no difference to the Klingons) and you really think the Klingons would be satisfied with capturing the augments alone, even if they could find them in the briar patch at all? They'd go after Earth with everything they had.

Also, we must remember that the augments aren't just human beings who happen to be smarter. They're genetically altered, so asking why Malik consistently attempts violent solutions to problems--essentially, the most efficient means to an end without regard for morality--is like asking why a Doberman is meaner than a cockerspaniel. It's in his nature. Khan was the same way, though he had decades of experience as a ruler of a quarter of the planet to give him insight into the human psyche--insight Malik doesn't have.
Markus - Wed, Jul 31, 2013 - 1:33pm (USA Central)
Maybe I didn't notice... but how would there be any descendats named Soong when this one is locked up for the rest of his life?
fluffysheap - Fri, Aug 2, 2013 - 2:42am (USA Central)
The Dr. Soong from TNG can't be the same person as this one, as they have different first names, and humans don't live quite long enough. In TNG, McCoy has one foot in the grave, and he hasn't even been born yet at the time of this episode, when Arik is already somewhat old.

But considering all the evidence:
1) Arik and Noonien Soong look identical, are both mad geniuses, and both seem to have the same tragic flaw of not quite being able to believe that their "children" could really be evil,
2) Arik doesn't seem to be married or have any biological children, and might be too old for it,
3) Noonien Soong considers Data and Lore his children, and artificial procreation to be completely reasonable for him,
4) The Soongs in general are pretty weird,
5) Arik Soong is a geneticist.

I think the best conclusion is that Noonien is a clone. The technology exists in the time period ("Up The Long Ladder") and, even if Arik decides that cybernetics is the way to go in the future, he's not going to just forget all his biology.

Given the long lifespans of humans in Trek, Noonien's advanced age in TNG, and Arik Soong's talent for biology (and presumably life-extension), it's possible that Noonien could be a first generation clone of Arik, or maybe there are one or two intermediates.

Is there a novel that explores the Soong family tree? If so, what conclusion did it draw about the line from Arik to Noonien?
T'Paul - Mon, Aug 26, 2013 - 6:44pm (USA Central)
Ditto to that last comment...

That's a novel I'd like to read.
navamske - Tue, Sep 3, 2013 - 11:25pm (USA Central)
@Marco P.

"I thought the final scene, foreshadowing the creation of Data, was a nice touch however."

Oh, I hated that. It was at best gilding the lily and at worst "Star Trek for the Irony-Impaired." It was the equivalent of the writers' saying, "See this guy who's played by Brent Spiner and whose last name is Soong? He's an ancestor of the guy who created Data!" Duh. And it didn't even work on another level: I don't believe that "interest in creating artificial life" is something that would be likely to be passed down from one generation to the next -- and certainly not as many generations as exist between Arik and Noonien. One of my great-grandfathers was a cabinetmaker, another one was a peddler, and a third was a butcher -- among the three of them, they have many, many descendants who are my second cousins, none of whom has become a cabinetmaker or a peddler or a butcher, and, BTW, none of whom even knew their great-grandfathers.
dgalvan - Mon, Feb 10, 2014 - 2:35pm (USA Central)
I'm glad they touched on this subject in Enterprise, as it feels familiar given the ToS outings (Space Seed and Wrath of Khan).

What's interesting is that the Federation maintains its operation to genetic enhancements for over 200 years as evidenced by the Deep Space Nine episodes dealing with Bashir's enhancements.

In the Enterprise trilogy, it's mentioned that the Denobulans have got genetic enhancements figured out without any megalomaniac problems. Why can't humans do the same?

dgalvan - Mon, Feb 10, 2014 - 2:36pm (USA Central)
The "concentrate on cybernetics" things was silly. Arik Soong didn't have any children.

. .. although, that raises the question about Noonien Soong being descended from an Augment?

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