Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Cold Station 12"

***1/2

Air date: 11/5/2004
Written by Michael Bryant
Directed by Mike Vejar

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Why are you so surprised? Whenever a group of people start believing they're better than everyone else, the results are always the same." — Archer to Soong

In brief: A solid show balancing action and characters, which comes together in one particularly good scene.

There's a scene in "Cold Station 12" that had full command of my attention in a way that only great scenes do. It involves an unthinkable situation where one man is forced to either watch another man die, or divulge dangerous information that his duty demands he not allow fall into the wrong hands.

Dr. Soong has arrived at Cold Station 12 with his Augment "children," including the rather ruthless loose cannon, Malik. Cold Station 12 stores more than 1,800 embryos left over from the Eugenics Wars, and Soong, in his misguided quest to give these enhanced human embryos a chance to be born, intends to steal them. All he needs is the code to gain access to the vault. Only Dr. Jeremy Lucas (Richard Riehle) knows the code, and Lucas is refusing to give it up, even after taking a beating from Malik.

Malik comes up with the idea of putting one of Lucas' colleagues in a sealed chamber and exposing him to a horrible, deadly virus while Lucas is forced to watch. Soong expects Lucas will cave, but when it becomes clear he will not, the scene becomes one of panicked urgency. Soong suddenly realizes that a man is about to die, and that's not something he ever wanted. Suddenly, because of his obsession, Soong finds he has backed himself into a very dark corner. "How can you let this happen?!" he demands of Lucas. "How can you?!" Lucas demands back. Both are demands of complete desperation. Finally, Soong tells Malik to release the anti-pathogen. "No," says Malik, defiantly yet somehow still matter-of-factly. Soong is too late anyway; the man is dead.

I really admire this scene, because there's a lot going on in it. The levels it works on are impressive, because we don't just have one man being forced to watch as another man is tortured (which is acted and directed with great tension and urgency), but we also get into the feelings, motives, and conflicts of the people doing the torturing. It's one of those rare scenes where we are suddenly identifying with everybody at once, on all sides of a mess careening out of control.

The rest of the episode is pretty good, but as far as I'm concerned, this scene is the episode. It sums up everything about the characters and their actions in one dramatic stroke. They say actions speak louder than words, and this scene works as proof of that adage. The surprise on Soong's face when Malik disobediently tells him "no" says as much about Soong as any amount of dialog could. Later, Archer pointedly asks Soong, "Why are you so surprised?" Everybody can see the writing on the wall but Soong.

Soong is essentially a misguided idealist who turns a blind eye to history and breaks the law, certain that this time, under his tutelage, things will be different. In the episode's opening teaser, set 11 years earlier, we see Soong teaching his young Augment pupils that they're special but unjustly feared because they're different. "You are the future," he assures them.

What we don't find out is where things started to go wrong. Obviously Soong was captured and imprisoned, and the children, still young and impressionable, had to go on alone. Was the fact Soong was absent the reason they eventually went astray? Or was Soong himself responsible, for having hinted that they were meant to replace humanity's current developmental status quo? Regardless of when things went wrong, an argument could be made that disaster was unavoidable (which, indeed, is why Earth is said to have banned genetic engineering). If part three of this story follows from this one, Soong inevitably and solemnly will be pondering the error of his ways.

The episode's plot is a straightforward implementation of The Chase. Soong and the Augments got away, and now Archer must find them. Searching for clues, the Enterprise first arrives at Soong's old hideout where the Augments were raised. There the crew find clues that suggest Soong plans to go to Cold Station 12 to steal the rest of its 1,800 embryos. (These embryos, by the way, weren't destroyed following the Eugenics Wars because of the controversies of the times. One would think that a century or more to think it over might've yielded an acceptable answer, but I guess not.)

They also find Udar (Kaj-Erik Eriksen), left behind by his brethren when the Augments abandoned the colony. Udar's nickname is Smike, a literary reference to his handicaps; he does not have the advanced biological abilities of the other Augments. The fact that they chose for this reason to leave him behind is revealing. Archer attempts to connect with Smike, and reaches out to him with history lessons about Earth that don't have the same spin of alienation and doom that Soong had put forth.

While "Cold Station 12" is, yes, a plot-oriented action-adventure show — complete with hostage crises, space battles, auto-destruct countdowns, a cliffhanger ending, and a fight scene where Persis the Ass-Kicking Chick punches a guy with an uppercut that makes him do a laughably stylized back-flip — its strength is that it doesn't lose sight of its characters and dialog.

Archer and Phlox have a nice scene where they discuss the pros and cons of genetic engineering. The Denobulans had managed to integrate genetic engineering into their lives without destroying themselves in the process, perhaps because their goal was to benefit medicine rather than making supermen that would shatter society with their ruthless ambitions. Archer's own personal conflict is that his father died of Clarke's Syndrome, a clearly Alzheimer's-like disease that Soong claims to have a cure for — if only the procedures for developing the cure were legal. This is obviously meant to prompt us to draw ethical parallels between genetic engineering in the 22nd century and our current controversies regarding the future of stem-cell research and similar research.

Then there's the countdown to inevitable disaster between Soong and the highly rebellious Malik, who begins to see Soong not as his father but simply another weak human unworthy of respect. Malik is a ruthless megalomaniac, through and through, who respects only strength. Watch the way he winces at the sight of Smike hugging Soong, as if Smike doesn't deserve being loved simply because he's weak. It cannot be said that Malik is a deep or multifaceted character, but he makes for an effective and despicable villain who is good at manipulating Soong's weakness of compassion for his children. He's the proof waiting to be exposed to show Soong how things went wrong and will go wrong again.

And, as I said, it all culminates with the extended sequence on the research facility, with that well-realized torture scenario. Dr. Lucas is the same Dr. Lucas who is the good friend and pen-pal of Phlox ("Dear Doctor," "Doctor's Orders"), and who is played by Richard Riehle, a recognizable character actor who brings integrity to the character and does not easily back down (this certainly is not the guy who concocted "Jump to Conclusions" in Office Space).

Because of this compelling scene, a good episode that deftly balances characters with a middlebrow sci-fi action storyline is elevated into something more dramatic and memorable, and emerges as the best installment so far this season.

Next week: Will the Augments spark long-standing tensions between Earth and the Klingons?

Previous episode: Borderland
Next episode: The Augments

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12 comments on this review

Derek - Fri, Oct 9, 2009 - 6:20am (USA Central)
I really like Richard Riehle and it was cool to see him pop in Star Trek after so many years...I think he was also Batai in TNG's "The Inner Light." He's definitely an actor the producers should have brought in more often, a la Jeffrey Combs.
Jake Taylor - Tue, Aug 3, 2010 - 2:00am (USA Central)
What a super episode of Star Trek: Enterprise! WAtching online at cbs.com it went from the end Xindi floolishness to this.WOW what a difference in tone. The USS Enterprise Nx o1 looks very nice all fixed up and painted blue! Mr. Spiner is an excellent actor. It was smartly written and exciting! My favourite Enterprise program episode so far. This series should have started with shows like this instead of two years of seen it before episodes. Then a year of the best of trek elements streched out over a year. But too little toooo late.. So sad to bad bye bye for enterprise. But this is some excellent pineapple cake and am happy to eat with Mr. Malcom here this Cold Station number 12. Why coun't they cut the fluff earlier
Grumpy - Sun, Apr 24, 2011 - 11:56am (USA Central)
Seems odd that the embryos are locked in a super-secure vault while the deadliest pathogens in the galaxy can be ordered up with a keystroke, like an Egg McMuffin.
Marco P. - Sat, May 14, 2011 - 12:10pm (USA Central)
Funny, I felt this one was a bit inferior to its "Borderland" prequel, yet you gave it 3.5 stars Jammer. I find 3 stars to be more appropriate. The reason why is there a number of elements in this episode that bother me. Little things, but they do add up in the end.

Take for example the moment when, while devising the plan to board the space station, Malik suggests to knock out the station's life support, wait a few hours, and enter the station unopposed. Dr.Soong immediately rejects the idea saying "no one is to die". He does not give an explanation to Malik, thereby planting the seed of the latter's doubts (and presumably later, rebellion) towards "Father".

This moment I think symbolizes this episode's weakness, and by extrapolation that of the Augments trilogy. I feel a person of the intelligence of Dr.Soong, who has no qualms to resort to illegal means for what he considers a "greater good" but obviously cares about the value of human life (as we have seen), here missed an opportunity for guidance/teaching. Instead of imparting the notion of not-killing-because-killing's-bad (not explicitly stated but implied), I wish Soong would have instead opted for the "don't-come-down-to-their-level" and "protect them" approach.

Consider for instance a race of genetically superior organisms who, knowing of their status vis-à-vis their creators, decide to rise above them not on the physical but on the intellectual level. A situation where the children become the parents, taking care of the latter because the former no longer "know any better". A very idealistic notion granted, but one Soong could have at least *attempted* to impart, especially given the lessons to be learned from the Eugenics wars. If then the Augments' megalomaniac behaviour (exemplified by Malik, his quote of Nietzsche's "Mankind is something to be surpassed" included) would *still* have continued, one could have deduced to be because of their inherent genetic makeup. Soong would still have failed in his teachings, but at least he'd have, to my mind, tried harder. It would have made the ultimate moral & lesson of the story, genetic engineering for the purpose of augmenting is too dangerous/controversial, even more poignant.

Also I found the way Udar/Smike is instantly ready to trust Archer's evidence (the datapad with his real parents, Dr.Soong's background) a bit convenient for plot devices. After years of indoctrination from Soong I'd have expected he'd be somewhat more resistant. One could argue being abandoned by his brothers might have played a role in his readiness to listen, but the on-screen portrayal does not emphasize this fact.

Finally in terms of casting, I have the echo the comment made by Jay in the review of the previous episode. Comparisons between Alec Newman and Ricardo Montalb√°n would be a little unfair (though appropriate), but his demeanor does indeed invoke petulance rather than superhuman menacing presence. A Khan he is not, that much is certain, but perhaps that serves as a praise for the episode itself. It generally takes a good script to distinguish poor actors from thespians, and it's a distinction Enterprise has made very difficult until only recently.
Marco P. - Sat, May 14, 2011 - 12:12pm (USA Central)
Addendum: the last paragraph in my previous comment obviously refers to Malik.
Paul - Wed, Apr 4, 2012 - 11:03am (USA Central)
I thought the bit about Archer's father was needless. No. 1, if Henry Archer died when Jonathan was 12 -- and was somewhat incapacitated for the previous 2 years, per Jonathan's comments to Phlox -- would Henry have had the time to be so involved on the Warp 5 project? Especially, when you consider that "Henry Archer's engine" is being thrown around 30 years later?

Scenes in "Broken Bow" show Jonathan with his father at about the age of 10. Henry doesn't look that old (maybe 40?) so he apparently made quite an impact on the Warp 5 project at a young age.

This isn't impossible. But the creators could have made this more plausible -- and less of an obvious backstory re-write -- if Henry had died when Archer was, say, 16. Or, if another character in Jonathan's life (his mother?) had died of Clark Syndrome.

Moreover, I think Season 4 of Enterprise rewrote some of the series' own history. In the first season, Archer makes endless comments about how the Enterprise crew is "the first to be out this far" and "history every lightyear." But the fourth season (particularly the Augments trilogy) seriously diminishes that. The crew at "Cold Station 12" is made up of humans in part, and they're apparently very far from Earth. Also, Soong was in the Borderland between the Klingon Empire and the Orion Syndicate at least seven years before Enterprise launched (to say nothing of his time as director of C12). How did he get there? It's possible he booked transport on some alien vessel, but we never really know for sure. Either way, Enterprise might have been the first human vessel out that far -- but the Enterprise crew members certainly weren't the first humans to go far beyond Earth's solar system.

Finally, I'd note that this isn't the only Star Trek series to do this. DS9 seemed to forget a lot of the details from seasons 1-2 (particularly regarding Dax) after the Dominion and the Defiant became parts of the series. For both series, it was almost as if the creators unwittingly (maybe intentionally) decided that the first two years weren't good enough, and that the continuity after the series was restarted (after the Xindi attack, after the Dominion attack) was all that mattered.
Moegreen - Thu, Aug 30, 2012 - 3:25pm (USA Central)
Good episode as described in the review. That backward somersault punch, though, bloody hell!! Awful.
Zane314 - Tue, Sep 18, 2012 - 5:44pm (USA Central)
I liked the episode Cold Station when it was a movie called X-Men with a good guy named Professor X and a bad guy named Magneato who both led mutants and not rip-off augments. The similarity is striking, especially in the opening Spiner dialogue with the kids. Except the ENT augment arch had a wimpy leader and tween augments with no personality/gravitas.
Cloudane - Fri, Dec 7, 2012 - 6:15pm (USA Central)
Wondered where I'd seen that guy before. The Inner Light, eh...
I could swear I've seen someone like him before, albeit either evil, or a lot more rebellious in the face of someone trying to do evil TO him. Hmmmm. I can't place it.

Not another long arc! Never thought I'd say it, but I'm ready for some Voyager style "one episode at a time"

A bit too grim and graphic in places for my liking.

I liked the little exchange "I don't need a history lesson from you!" "you need one from someone"

No particular complaints
auralgami - Tue, Jan 15, 2013 - 12:09am (USA Central)
Wow, such an improvement over "Borderland"! That was about nothing in particular, but this was genuinely about something interesting and substantial, with no easy answers.

More than that, the episode was surprisingly subtle, on a show which is frequently anything but. The overall theme has to do with genetic enhancement, but there's very little black and white here. The inclusion of Udar/Smike means that Augments aren't bad just because they're genetically enhanced. The reactions of Soong and even Persis show that one's humanity isn't solely dependent on genes but on the choices you make and how far you are willing to go. Archer's query to Phlox about his father (a seed planted by Soong) cements that this episode is not about pronouncing any one thing good or bad, no matter its source, but exploring the issue and weighing the concerns. This is refreshing.

Soong is particularly interesting for desperately wanting to be the father of the future but not being a very good parent. Soong is clearly uncomfortable with what he must do, and willing to accept blame and fault, but Malik has no such qualms, and this conflict is interesting because there's no guaranteed outcome. We know Malik is dangerous, but Soong is unpredictable. We know it won't end well, but how it gets there and who pays the price along the way isn't set out in neon.

The episode does a lovely job of showing much of this complicated nuance without telling. We don't get lectures or speechification, which makes lines like Archer's and Lucas' just crackle. Continuity is put to great use, using Phlox's longtime relationship with Lucas to influence both characters' actions. Smike is won over by Archer's actions; seeing his reaction to the datapad with his parents' info is more effective than any blahblah Archer could deliver. The groan-inducing Augment dialogue that brought down "Borderland" is nowhere to be seen, making me wonder why they bothered with that in the first place. We learn everything we need to know about Malik in this episode, and don't need "Borderland"'s ham and cheese.

The only complaint I have is that the cliffhanger countdown to destruction is unnecessary and even a bit silly. After the hostage crisis, where things were genuinely tense and it wasn't a given who was going to live and die, it seems a letdown to end the episode on such a cliche, one that we know will be resolved.

There are other minor quibbles I could make, but the episode made an effort to make the characters smart and competent, with plans and contingencies, and so it comes off like a game of chess that spirals out of control. Here's hoping it continues at this level of quality, as I found it captivating and interesting.
John TY - Wed, Jan 16, 2013 - 1:36am (USA Central)
Maybe I was hoping for too much again.

Yawn.
tlb - Fri, May 30, 2014 - 11:38pm (USA Central)
Richard Riehle was in "The Inner Light." He was also Seamus in the Voyager episodes with the quaint Irish town on the holo deck.

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