Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"United"

***

Air date: 2/4/2005
Written by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Story by Manny Coto
Directed by David Livingston

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Is this your homework, Larry?" — Walter

In brief: A TOS story channeled reasonably through modern Trek sensibilities.

There should be a tally somewhere (and come to think of it, there might be) of just how many societies in the Star Trek mythos have employed a fight to the death as a matter of honor and/or custom.

But first things first. The Romulans are busy causing mayhem with their remote-controlled drone, as they themselves sit in a control room on Romulus. Occasionally, an unhappy senator checks in on them, flanked by two Remans, in a nod to the movie that was the nail in the coffin of the TNG film franchise (snark). They destroy a Rigellian ship while masquerading as the Enterprise. They apparently want to do more than drive a wedge between the Andorians and the Tellarites. It's an attempt to "destabilize the entire region," says Archer — a line that seems rooted more in news headlines than in Star Trek.

The Romulans are loath to man these ships, because they want to cause this mayhem without the possibility of it being traced back to them. The Romulans seem to believe — for reasons beyond my comprehension — that the drone can absolutely not be traced back to them. Obviously they have severely underestimated the fact that their technology is recognizable — enough for T'Pol to have easily put the pieces together in last week's "Babel One."

Because of this common threat to the region, Archer's mission is to hunt down and stop the drone, with a search radius that will require a small fleet. He thus attempts to forge an alliance between all the involved parties — the Andorians, Tellarites, Vulcans, and Rigellians — with the Enterprise coordinating the search as the command ship since it seems the humans are the most neutral of everyone involved. This is a bit simplistic, I will admit, but it serves its purpose as a hint of the kind of obstacles and eventual cooperative efforts that will pave the way to the founding of the Federation. (Manny Coto said his idea of a fifth season, had the show not been canceled, would've had focus on the formation of the Federation as a United Nations-like case study. That could've been interesting.)

But of course it's not going to be that easy. Talas ends up dying from the phaser wound she suffered at the end of the previous episode. This results in a bereaved Shran demanding the Tellarite who killed her answer for his crime in a traditional Andorian Ushaan — a fight to the death using traditional (and wicked-looking) Andorian ice-cutting blades. The scene where Shran demands the Ushaan is a nice showpiece for Jeffrey Combs, who walks into the room and starts off quiet before unleashing the yelling and histrionics. Combs does a good job here of overacting without it coming across as bad acting.

The fight to the death storyline has "original series" written all over it — especially once it becomes clear that Archer is going to stand in for the Tellarite under the death match's right of substitution rule. Now we have a match between two people who are essentially friends — reminiscent of "Amok Time" — although this whole Andorian notion seems awfully Klingon-like in terms of honor, respect, etc.

What I like best about this idea is the way Archer is boxed in by the pure logic of the situation. If the match is prohibited, the Andorians will pull out of the alliance. The Tellarites refuse to participate, and even if they hadn't, any outcome would likely end in the withdrawal of one party. So Archer volunteers to fight, since he knows Starfleet will go forward with the alliance effort even if Archer dies. Noble, logical, and brilliantly foolish.

What I thought was painfully lame, however, was the script's way of getting out of this with both Archer and Shran still alive. The fight scene itself is adequately staged as action/fun, but the loophole that allows Archer to defeat Shran without killing him completely lacks imagination. We learn after the commercial break that the rules say the match ends "when one fighter is rendered defenseless." That's so disingenuous on the script's part that it's not even a loophole. How can the fight be a death match if the rules themselves don't specify that the fight only ends when one fighter is, well, dead?

With the fight settled, the alliance can proceed, marking the first time these species have worked together in a common effort. It's not the founding of the Federation, but it's a start.

Meanwhile, Trip and Reed are trapped aboard the Romulan drone and attempt to override the controls. When that doesn't work, Reed goes for a lower-tech solution: sabotage by overloading his phase-pistol. Apparently, the overload feature is actually in the phase-pistol manual, hopefully in a chapter called Blowed Up Real Good. The Romulans struggle to regain control of the damaged drone, and in one scene, they lock Trip in a room and expose him to deadly levels of radiation. I'm not sure if radiation exposure works like this; my thinking is that if you're doubling over in pain because of radiation poisoning, the damage to your body is already done. Removing you from the room isn't going to reverse the damage like giving a suffocating man oxygen. Call it the plot-device version of radiation poisoning.

The drone itself is agile and erratic, making the dogfights a little more interesting as it darts here and there and tries to make people dizzy. At one point, Trip and Reed go to an airlock and are ejected into space and somehow thrown clear of the drone. I suspect this works much like when someone is "thrown clear" during an auto accident — ejected from the vehicle and yet somehow, miraculously still okay. The drone then escapes back to Romulan space.

"United" somewhat challenges conventional structure if this is to be considered part two of a trilogy, because the central storyline involving the formation of the alliance is wrapped up here. Indeed, the episode ends on yet another twist, as it's revealed that the pilot hooked into the drone is not Romulan but what resembles an albino Andorian. It's a bizarre revelation that does not follow from anything we would've expected from watching the story unfold. Think of the last five seconds of "Zero Hour," but in a way that's intriguing instead of merely distracting.

Next week: Who are the white Andorians?

Previous episode: Babel One
Next episode: The Aenar

Season Index

13 comments on this review

Grumpy - Thu, Apr 28, 2011 - 11:38pm (USA Central)
Reminiscent of Soval's comments in "The Forge" about how humans are the middle-of-the-road species, Archer says here that humanity is defined by the capacity to cooperate. In one scene, the prequel tries to explain the most fundamental oddity in all of Trek: why the Federation is headquartered on Earth and why Starfleet is mostly humans.

Archer has a couple of other funny lines: "If I've learned anything these past few years on Enterprise, it's that the future isn't fixed" and, "Things have a way of turning out differently than we expect." Given Coto's commitment to continuity, I must assume those were intended as sarcastic commentary on the Temporal Cold War.

More meta-humor when Travis joined Hoshi on the bridge. "What are you doing here?" she asked. "People were complaining that I wasn't getting enough screen time," he may well have answered. Which would also explain Travis's otherwise inexplicable presence at the high-level briefing in Act 1 and giving him credit for designing the sensor net.
Marco P. - Tue, Jul 26, 2011 - 5:46am (USA Central)
Much of my comments for last week's "Babel" can be applied to "United" as well: it's a well-constructed, contrived (the drone ship's vastly superior dogfighting; the sensor net conveniently requiring the input of not two but FOUR species to be successful; the loophole found by Archer to defeat but not kill Shran during the duel) yet entertaining episode.

It's always a pleasure to see Jeffrey Combs in these situations because as Jammer says, he does just enough to be entertaining yet does not turn Shran into a caricature by going overboard.

And yeah, the Andorian Ushaan smells a lot like Klingon (the blades they use almost look like inverted Bat'leths) but hey, it gives us an excuse to see an interesting new take on the "Fight to the Death"[TM] concept: tying the two duelists together with a short rope (ok, maybe the concept isn't so new, but it's still fairly innovative within the Trek realm).
Max Udargo - Thu, Nov 10, 2011 - 12:06am (USA Central)
Romulans sure is pudgy.
Archer's Dog - Sun, Apr 15, 2012 - 9:57am (USA Central)
I thought the Ushaan deathmatch fight loophole was pretty funny and somewhat plausible. Presumably, previous Ushaan fights has only been performed between two Andorians. I think both fighters know not to cut off the antennae. It's a sensitive subject, both "Andorian" fighters would rather die than get their antennae cut off. As Shran said, "you humiliated me" lol
Milica - Wed, Jul 4, 2012 - 7:53am (USA Central)
I agree with "Archer's Dog" - the loophole in the deathmatch is plausible, because losing an anthenna is worse than dying to Andorians. Too bad there was no fifth season, as Shran was planned to become a member of the ENT crew and therefore regular in the show.
I love the way they explained how humans have the central role in the Federation.
I dont look for small plot holes as most people here do - you seem to forget what Star Trek is all about - namely, there are so many big loopholes, such as the humanoid appearance of almost all species throughout the universe, the same composition of the air they breathe, the same gravity requirements, the famous explosions in space with no oxygen, the universal translator being able to figure out the whole language based on ten words it gets... But of course, we dont mind this - this is science fantasy and not science fiction - we all engage in a "suspense of disbelief". If we can disregard all those elephants in the room, why do you constantly have to look for much smaller plot holes? Just relax, imagine a better future and enjoy the show. I love Star Trek anyway they serve it.
Joseph B - Fri, Jul 13, 2012 - 7:35am (USA Central)
Quote from "Milica":
"Too bad there was no fifth season, as Shran was planned to become a member of the ENT crew and therefore regular in the show."
WOW!! I had not known that, but there's not much doubt that that would have been a huge asset to the show.
I'm only just now getting an opportunity to view "Enterprise" via Netflix, and I have to agree with the "general consensus" that this show really took off in the fourth season following the termination of the unfortunate Temporal War plotline. At this point in the fourth season I'm having real *fun* with the show -- and it really feels like a true prequel to TOS. It's really too bad that it took so long for this show to evolve to this point.
Cloudane - Sat, Dec 22, 2012 - 10:29am (USA Central)
Wow, Shran as a permanent crew member would've been all kinds of awesome. A pity it didn't get that far and that sadly, season 4 was too little too late to save the franchise as we know it.

Nice to see Travis given a couple of lines. Not sure about circling the camera round and round the table with him and Hoshi though, I got dizzy. 6_9

I'm fine with that theory about having an antenna cut off being worse than death for an Andorian. But it was described as simply that one side has to be incapacitated, which doesn't fit in with that. Oh well.

This series has a penchant for the "OMGWTF" cliffhanger...
Arachnea - Sun, Feb 17, 2013 - 3:37am (USA Central)
Thanks for true Trek !
The way I see it, what some viewers think of clichés, I take it as homage to TOS and I like it a lot.

There are obviously some problems with the canon (like the romulan war being fought with nuclear weapons), but unlike some hard-canon-fans, it doesn't bother me when the stories remain true to the essence of Trek. Like Milica said, if we can suspend our disbelief over big issues that are common in all Trek, we could overcome some license taken for the sake of storytelling.

@Cloudane "This series has a penchant for the "OMGWTF" cliffhanger...". I couldn't agree more, although these last cliffhangers are fun and make me want to know more, unlike the WTF nazis with red eyes !

I also regret there haven't been a fifth season (with Shran, a new dynamic, healthy conflicts and fun): the 4th season was meant to put Enterprise in the right direction, correcting many issues. I had hopes a 5th season would have given us an arc leading to the romulan wars and the slow construction of the Federation.
Paul - Mon, Feb 18, 2013 - 10:57am (USA Central)
It's too bad the Romulans were introduced SO early in TOS. Even five or 10 episodes later and some of the stuff that doesn't work with ENT -- because it's just goofy in the first place -- wouldn't have happened.

No. 1, the Romulans wouldn't ONLY have impulse technology in 'Balance of Terror'. TOS was always bad about stuff like this -- firing phasers at warp, etc. -- but early in the series is where it shows the most. By the time the Klingons show up in 'Errand of Mercy' it's pretty clear they have warp-capable ships.

Also, the talk that 22nd century war gave "no room for quarter" to hold captives is just ridiculous. I realize it was necessary for the big reveal -- that Vulcans and Romulans are related -- but it doesn't quite work as written.

And the point about nuclear weapons is valid, of course.
Mahmoud - Wed, Nov 13, 2013 - 12:29am (USA Central)
Obligatory comment because no one else has mentioned it on this page yet: the Tellarite makeup is again just gorgeous and incredible. Without a doubt the most convincing "alien" costume I've ever seen on ST or off it. Absolutely well-done and much kudos to the costume designers.

An alien that looks believable and not so cliché, different but not so different from your average homo sapien, and not laughably contrived for the sake of screaming out "these guys aren't from planet earth" (à la any of the ridged-forehead species)? Bravo.
Jack - Thu, Nov 28, 2013 - 6:23pm (USA Central)
This season the use of the transporter became about as standard as it is in the "later" trek shows...we saw the shuttlepods in almost every episode of the first three seasons, but in season 4 they've been scarce.

Shakaama Live - Tue, Jun 24, 2014 - 5:44am (USA Central)
In the 50's I could excuse the writers of saying such and so culture had honor slayings or honor fights to the death. But in 2,000, there's no excuse for it. It is impossible that you have a society that has warp technology, a single dominant species on the planet, and yet have 3rd century earth social systems.

This is supposed to be sci-fi, as in "futuristic". We're not so dumb anymore to willingly accept everything that comes across the screen as "good entertainment". And what's more, the writers are not trying to be campy. They seriously are trying to write a sci-fi drama. Bless their hearts.
Snooky - Fri, Jul 18, 2014 - 2:00am (USA Central)
Shran as a permanent crew member of the Enterprise? An idea made of win! Too bad we never got to see it. I wonder if the book authors have incorporated that idea in the Enterprise reboot novels.

ITA with Milica -- why nitpick silly small things when the very premise of the show is filled with holes big enough to fly a starship through? I've been enjoying this rewatch immensely now that I've seen every other Trek ever made. When an episode is in the spirit of Star Trek, as this arc has most definitely been, I am content.

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