Star Trek: Enterprise
Air date: 2/25/2005
Written by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Directed by David Barrett
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Never thought I'd see the stars like this." — Tucker, the first human being to be outside a starship traveling at warp speed
In brief: Watchable but disappointing. Too much mindless action and not enough character or story.
There's a fine line between audacity and goofiness, and "Divergence" flirts with it perilously. I see what's on the screen. I see that they're trying to do something new. I see that the envelope is being pushed on tech-action concepts. Do I believe what I'm seeing? Not exactly. But the real deal-breaker is: Does any of this feel necessary beyond the mechanics of a busy but meaningless plot? No.
If you will recall from the end of last week's "Affliction," the Enterprise's engine room was infected with a Klingon computer subroutine (i.e., virus) that caused the pressure in the warp core to build up (or whatever). The only way to relieve the pressure was to keep accelerating. Unfortunately, the ship is now maxed out and the pressure is still building. The only way to save the ship from a catastrophic core breach (i.e., explosion) is if Trip can get aboard and use his superb engineering skills to purge the subroutines and reinitialize the engines.
Already, the episode was losing me with its arbitrary tech solutions to arbitrary tech problems, and I had to wonder if this plan by the Klingons to destroy the Enterprise was more elaborate than it needed to be. Wouldn't it have been more honorable and glorious to take on the Enterprise in a direct fight rather than by sabotaging its engines? That doesn't seem particularly Klingon to me. But neither does it seem very prudently Starfleet that an entire ship has gone racing into hostile Klingon space to rescue one man. Check that; two ships.
The Enterprise's new chief engineer — Lt. Cmdr. Kelby — is apparently not up to the task of cold-starting the engines. Inconvenient for the crew of the Enterprise, but convenient for story conventions, which require zany stunts so that a hero can come in and save the day.
A warp-speed use of the transporter is not considered to be viable under these conditions. So instead, this leads to a crazy stunt that I'm calling a 49-to-51 percent blending of audacity and goofiness, with the slight edge going to goofiness. The Columbia rendezvouses with the Enterprise, inverts itself so that the bottoms of the two ships are just a few dozen meters apart, and then a tether is used to go between the two ships, attached at each end in the launch bays. Trip then lowers (raises) himself from the Columbia and into the Enterprise. Halfway through, he pauses to look at the stars warping by, and says, "Never thought I'd see the stars like this." No kidding.
I have to give credit for the spirit of this sequence — reckless and unprecedented and kind of memorable for its strangeness. At the same time, my voice of skepticism was saying, "Oh, come ON." Ultimately, I think the problem is that it feels too much like a stunt for the sake of itself. It ends up being neither good nor bad but merely a neutral fact whose surrounding events are both created and solved under completely arbitrary conditions.
Trip is able to purge the engineering systems and cold-start the engines, in a frenetic bit of plotting that is based on meaningless ship operations. I don't know or care about how to cold-start the engines, so Trip's geek-speak is all false urgency where there's nothing to understand as it unfolds. Maybe content isn't the point. Maybe the stunt is the point. But a clever stunt does not constitute substantive storytelling.
Fortunately, there are some story points here that aren't based solely on tech stunts. The Section 31 storyline is intriguing up to a point, including a scene where Archer gives Reed a way out but also an ultimatum: He tells Reed he has to choose a side; he can't maintain loyalties to both Starfleet and this shadowy intelligence agency. Archer launches an investigation into Reed's Section 31 contact, a man named Harris (Eric Pierpoint), who tells Archer that the fine print of Starfleet's code gives him the authority to make back-alley deals with the Klingons.
In this case (minus whatever lies Harris uses to cover his ass), the deal is that Section 31 permitted the kidnapping of Phlox so he could cure the Klingon outbreak, because a stable Klingon Empire is in the best interests of Starfleet.
I've always liked the notion of Section 31. It's too bad that it's a subplot here that doesn't get quite enough coverage. (Perhaps a Section 31 origin story might've been more intriguing.) And the down side is that Section 31— which is actually working in conjunction with a Klingon admiral named Krell (Wayne Grace) — finds itself deceived by its own co-conspirators. If Section 31 is supposed to be such a smart, skillful organization that survives for centuries in secret, they should not be so easily thwarted the way they are here by Krell.
Krell's orders on behalf of the Klingon Empire are to destroy a Klingon colony (with millions of inhabitants) to contain the deadly outbreak. Phlox's hope is that he can find the cure before Krell's ships arrive. Also on hand at the colony's base are Antaak (John Schuck), who also wants to save lives, and General K'Vagh (James Avery), who wants a cure that will also create superior, genetically-enhanced Klingon augments. The plot is about all the maneuvering of the players at this base, while the Enterprise and Columbia (and Krell's ships) head toward it.
Ultimately, all parties arrive at this planet, with the Starfleet ships and Krell's vessels in orbit around the colony, and Phlox on the surface trying to finish the cure. Phlox is close, but Krell does not have any patience and is ready to carry out his mass-extermination mission.
Where the show runs off the rails is in these final 10 minutes, which feature frenetic action crosscut with a crazed approach to solving all the problems of the plot by using Archer as a human host to accelerate the synthesis of the cure. "It won't be pleasant," Phlox warns. He's right; eventually we're watching Archer's facial contortions as he groans and convulses while strapped into a chair. It simply looks too silly to work; we're painfully aware we're watching an actor's less-than-convincing writhing.
And there's too much going on that's less exciting than it wants to be. All logic and story flow is lost to a general sense of mayhem. The way Phlox and Archer gain the upper hand and convince Krell to stand down is a little hard to swallow, requiring an obstinate character to immediately believe what he is being told.
The ship-based battle scenes are painfully routine, with phasers pummeling everyone, and sparks exploding on the bridge(s), and terse warnings of "hull plating down to 32 percent," which is about the only line that is actually worse than "shields down to 32 percent" — a line that has been in need of being expunged from Star Trek for at least half a decade. Really, when are they just going to invent shields for the Enterprise? Hull plating works exactly the same way as a contrived level of scripted protection, only less believably.
For some reason, Enterprise sets up these entertaining multiple-episode stories, but often has trouble delivering a satisfactory finish — "The Augments," "The Aenar," and now this. The biggest problem here is that we have too much plot and not nearly enough interesting storytelling or characters who are invested with depth or personalities. In particular, I was hoping to see Captain Hernandez (Ada Maris) in action here, since one of the story's selling points was that we get to see her ship working alongside the Enterprise. But the story's action doesn't permit her (or anybody) any decisions or actions that demonstrate leadership or personality. Everyone is too busy firing phasers and shouting about the hull plating. It's boring.
It's too bad, really, because the basic plot is okay and the idea that this disease and its cure creates the non-ridged TOS Klingons is reasonable. The plot elements are here and could theoretically work. But this is a show that's too concerned with moving pieces around a chessboard, and doesn't consider the fact that the pieces should be people, and their movements should feel organic rather than mechanical.
Upcoming: Reruns until mid-April, followed by Enterprise's final six episodes.