Star Trek: Enterprise
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.