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Mon, Sep 23, 2019, 12:08am (UTC -6)
Re: ENT S3: Doctor's Orders

Three stahs.

I love creepy, psychological terror stories.

I especially like any Trek episode that goes against the Trek grain. Ask me about any TNG episode featuring Lwaxana Troi...

Aside from seeing an episode or two way back in the day, I'm on my first real run of Enterprise. I've been hearing so much about the 'Xindi arc' for so long, that I've found myself, frankly, let down. As yet, the Xindi seem to have little agency; most episodes seem to boil down to them ominously kicking the can further and further down the road, in meeting after meeting which could easily *all be the same meeting* for as much as I can tell.

Paradoxically, the Xindi Arc seems designed to come at the expense of substantive, cogent, entertaining stories on a per-episode basis WHILE ALSO kicking the can so far down the road as to suggest that the writers really had no idea where they were going with the arc. It's a... strange place to be.

As a bottle episode, Doctor's Orders felt free of the shackles of the Xindi Arc. The episode felt free to be its own thing, and it felt like a breath of fresh air as a result.

Phlox and T'Pol are *easily* the best characters for my personal taste. Billingsley obviously can act circles around the rest of the cast, while Blalock's performances are... extremely underrated IMO. She's oddly adept at communicating a wide range of responses via a very subtle mastery over a limited set of facial expressions, body language, and inflections.

I don't mind the fact that the plot here was thin -- like I said, it's a breather from the sorta overbearing ineffectiveness of the Xindi Arc thus far.

Seeing the ever-cheerful Phlox slowly descend into paranoia while attending to duties far beyond his qualifications, aboard an effectively deserted ship built a rather effective sense of quiet desperation. Where other commenters found the episode to be poorly paced, I found it to be a satisfying slow-burn punctuated by moments of real confusion and terror. Xindi insects on board? Radiation-poisoned Hoshi? I thought it was paced wonderfully.

While I was initially confused as to T'Pol's first appearance, I didn't suspect the twist until roughly the near-euthanasia of Porthos. It seemed odd to me that T'Pol wouldn't arm herself, just in case the things Phlox was saying were true. The scene on the bridge, where T'Pol never even once goes to her station to check anything is where I pretty much knew. The engineering scene became a bit... silly. But I can let that slide, the price to pay for an otherwise great episode.

The interesting question -- why did Phlox conjure T'Pol? Jammer points out that it seems like an odd fit, considering how introverted Vulcans tend to be, compared to the extreme socialization of Denobulans.

Frankly, I think Phlox conjured T'Pol *because* of how private she is. Limited interaction means fewer clues for his conscious mind to pick away at. T'Pol's value for privacy and limited interaction is a credible means for Phlox's subconscious to 'protect' the illusion. If Phlox conjured up a more engaging person, he'd likely interact with that person more. More interaction increases the chances of him spotting something 'off' with the other person. If he does, he realizes how mad he's going, and probably goes all-the-way crazy, leading to the demise of the NX-01.

Phlox actually had to be crazy, in order to maintain sanity.

This may sound a bit dark, but as Phlox was waking up Archer, I was kinda hoping for one last terrifying twist where the ship exiting the anomaly was a hallucination, and the entire crew died because he woke them too soon. Alas.

Anyway, great episode. Three stars solidly earned. The concept was solid, and the execution was awesome.
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Mon, Sep 2, 2019, 3:13pm (UTC -6)
Re: ENT S3: Extinction

Hi Jason. Viruses do indeed change the DNA of the cells they infect. In the majority of cases, however those changes cause the cell to stop functioning, and die. By that point, the virus has used the cell to reproduce, and infect more cells, but as the infection spreads, the host cells will likely keep dying. Or, they'll often become cancerous. Both situations are bad for the host.

There are exceptions, but for a race to design a pathogen that could successfully infect species from another planet is... really improbable. By "successfully", I mean that it could rewrite the DNA of the infected individuals such that it doesn't end up killing them.

This would require knowledge and understanding of the target species' genome, which is exceedingly unlikely as in the case of this episode. It would require tailoring the pathogen specifically to the target genome so that it would have any chance of working as intended at all.

On top of that, the crew showed *very* significant physical changes. Changes in bone structure, almost instantaneous massive hair growth, gills, and I think that x-ray zoom into Archer's chest showed him spontaneously popping a second heart into existence?

Such drastic physical changes *might* be able to be encoded into a person's genome, but it would need to be done before the cells begin differentiating. Basically, this pathogen would need to have been injected into a very early fetus for any hope of working.

An adult human has more or less reached the end of the growth/development phase of life, so editing the DNA isn't going to result in sudden organ/bone/etc generation *unless* there's also a way to reset the host cells into a pluripotent state -- but that would also likely cause massive debilitating health issues.

On top of *that*, is the fact that the virus seemingly transmitted an alien consciousness into the team's brains, which I can't think of any sort of justification for.

Somehow, though, that's all a roundabout way of getting to my real issue with this epidode, and Berman/Braga era Trek in general:

The biological properties and functions of the pathogen in this episode are the *interesting* aspect of the show. And yet it's handwaved away, and treated as a means to an extremely uninteresting end. All that, so Archer could find the ruins of an ancient city? Meh.

If the episode actually focused on studying the virus itself -- if the hour was devoted to a detailed, analysis of how it does what it does, and if that analysis even *sounded* plausible enough, I might have liked the episode.

I mean, I can't overstate how significant this pathogen is to the Star Trek universe (you can turn a Klingon into a Vulcan? Hello!). A few decades of study by the Federation's top biologists should give you a cure to essentially any illness. Been exposed to Berthold Rays? Got Dorek Syndrome? Telurian Plague? Just take a hypospray of this stuff that can edit your DNA, and reset your cells back to normal! Doctors will be obsolete. McCoy will go into Anthropology.

A collective of cybernetic organisms comes knocking at Earth's door, hellbent on assimilating your population? Make giant bug-bombs of this stuff, and beam it onto their cubes! Massively edit their DNA to reject the cybernetic implants, and turn them all into tribbles! At the very least, reversing their own assimilation should be fairly trivial.

Alternatively, edit your own species' DNA to be assimilation-proof.

If the massive changes to the away team's bodies had killed them, or the treatment had killed them, or at the *very least*, left them with severe, debilitating medical conditions requiring them to resign from Starfleet, *that* would have been an episode worth watching.

You'd have a new captain (T'Pol, maybe?), security chief, and communications officer, so the show would have to deal with those ramifications, but that's what bothers me...

...The pathogen in this episode is a MAJOR discovery. Historic, even. The biology and physics behind its abilities are not trivial, and should be almost the sole focus of the episode.

The ramifications of the pathogen's very existence are crying out to be explored. The ability to change a person so fundamentally and completely into a completely different species, with a completely different personal identity is utterly terrifying.

But instead of focusing on the *actually compelling* aspects of this pathogen, it's used as nothing more than an infection-of-the-week to set in motion this utterly insipid, threadbare story about the ruins of an ancient city in a jungle.

This is Star Trek pulling its punches. It introduces a (frankly universe-breaking) concept/situation, and then goes on to completely sidestep and ignore everything that made the opening concept compelling, in favor of telling a generic, safe, non-compelling story.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As for the replicators, I'm not going to say they're more plausible per se, however...

...I would say we have enough established science on biology to set some upper limits on what a virus should be capable of.

I'd say that we don't have enough established science on quantum physics (which I tend to associate transporters/replicators with) to set any meaningful limits on what such a device should be capable of.

In other words, I think we know enough by now to know that this virus is nearly impossible.

I think we *don't* know enough yet to know that a replicator is impossible.

That might be a weak argument, but it's easier (for me, at least) to suspend my disbelief on a topic when it has less data screaming in my face "this isn't plausible!!!"
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Mon, Sep 2, 2019, 1:23pm (UTC -6)
Re: ENT S3: Impulse

I more or less agree with both Dave and NoPoet on this episode. Not much I can add to that.

Something brought up by kythe:

"I wouldn't have rated this more than 2 stars. I didn't see the purpose of this as a zombie story. Vulcans who can't control their emotions are just called Romulans. There is no reason to believe they turn into killing machines that don't speak."

This brings up a question that the show clearly (and unfortunately) had no interest in asking -- just *what if* Vulcans with no emotional control ARE, in fact, hyper-violent killing machines?

Following from that, what if their strict adherence to emotional suppression was merely the consensus best-available solution to a deep, fundamental flaw in the 'Vulcan Condition'?

Following further, what if the Romulans were simply a portion of the Vulcan populace who disagreed with the idea of emotional suppression, and simply developed different ways of managing the darker parts of the Vulco-Romulan psyche.

What if the 'fully matured' Vulcan and Romulan societies are the products of differing lines of thought, regarding the best ways to manage a hyper-violent Id? (a slightly re-worded version of the previous question).

From what I've learned over the years, emotional suppression is largely an unhealthy thing. What if the shared base tendencies are such that Romulan civilization

1) Allows for freer expression and management of emotions, thus...
2)... a given Romulan is --individually-- more emotionally/mentally/psychologically healthy than a given Vulcan, yet...
3) ... a civilization which allows such free psychological expression is susceptible to the darker elements of said psyche becoming a defining characteristic or guiding principle upon which the civilization as a whole is based.

WHEREAS Vulcan civilization:

1) Insists on --frankly oppressive-- emotional suppression of the individual, thus...
2) A given Vulcan is more psychologically unhealthy than a Romulan, despite their often calm outward demeanor, yet...
3) ... a civilization which works so hard at suppressing their emotions, and which ostracizes those who can't/don't, ends up out-thinking the hyper-violent tendencies which would otherwise make that civilization unsustainable in the long run. The unhealthy self-denial of the individual allows the civilization to flourish alongside many other worlds.

This could be seen as the Vulcans choosing a sort of conceptual dictatorship -- where logic is the dictator, and slavish subservience is ensured through strict social conditioning. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few... or the one.

The Romulans, on the other hand, choose a certain freedom of expression, which allows a toxic and fundamental aspect of their psyche to take hold on a civilizational level. This makes them less amenable to diplomatic relations with other worlds.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

BUT, as I said earlier, this show isn't interested in asking these questions. The following quote from Cetric proves as much

"You just have to look into their distorted, mutated faces to understand the effect goes more far than just switching off logic and turning on paranoia. The Vulcan chief engineer interrogated by T'Pol isn't capable of recognizing her, a former ship mate, lest saying something. He was turned into a beast, we have to assume what's left of the Vulcan brain is an animal-like horde drive which makes them behave like they do. And other physical changes go along with it."

This condition goes FAR beyond simple inability to control emotion. This loss of all higher functions altogether. This isn't representative of a possible Vulcan psyche, but rather what's left of their reptilian brain (or equivalent) simply reacting violently in a violent situation.

And it's too bad. Dave pointed out the 'what if', with regards to the possibility of rescuing the Vulcans, and having to deal with the fallout of having 140+ new residents on your cramped vessel, all recovering from a severe psychological illness during a desperate mission to save your own world from annihilation. That's a story I want to watch. But Enterprise pulled its punches by making the Vulcans a lost cause, and blowing them up.

Similarly, exploring the possibility that Vulcans *are* in fact a fundamentally hyper-violent race, and what that implies about both how Vulcan AND Romulan society developed in response, offers a potentially fascinating and status-quo breaking insight into both civilizations. But again, Enterprise pulls its punches, by turning the Vulcans into straight-up zombies.

This is the major failing endemic to Berman/Braga era Trek. FAR too often, compelling problems are presented, but then completely worked in such a way that all the compelling aspects of said problems are ignored/evaded completely, in favor of some utterly toothless, unrealistically convenient, uninteresting, 'safe', status-quo-maintaining resolution.

I often get the sense that whoever was making the decisions in the B&B era, be it writers, producers, or network, didn't actually *see* how compelling the situations they came up with were. The situations were just a means to an already-scripted end.

Maybe it's the fault of the more episodic TV of the time. I don't know.

I haven't seen Discovery yet, but I hope it goes all-in on asking the compelling questions.

Having said that, I absolutely enjoyed the production value and presentation of the episode. I'll give it three stars for being utterly watchable, despite the shying away from the big questions, and despite the seizure-inducing visuals, Seriously. They should have put a warning in front of that episode.
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Fri, Aug 16, 2019, 8:31pm (UTC -6)
Re: ENT S3: Extinction

This was the worst hour of Star Trek I've ever sat through. No, I'm not exaggerating -- The worst. Zero stars. No, scratch that. -2 stars.

It was uncomfortable watching reasonably talented actors run around like neanderthals in an utterly unnecessary episode. Apparently, designing a virus which can turn an alien into one of your people by literally rewriting their DNA and booting up a copy of your species' brainwaves is so easy a caveman can do it.

"Pretty laughable really, when those same folks have accepted Warp drive, replicators, transporters and sub-space communications as gospel for 50 years."
- Yanks

I don't think this is a sensible comparison. Warp drive and transporters are a founding conceit, without which we wouldn't have Star Trek. I mean, we *might*, but we'd have to sub in cryostasis ships/generation ships and shuttlepods. But I'm getting away from my real point which is:

Warp drive and transporters, while obviously not real, are somewhere on the very fringes of speculative science. We may never have those technologies -- they may, in fact be entirely impossible. *However*, we don't know that yet, and there are actual, real physicists who are entertaining the thoughts. Replicators are just a variation on transporters.

Subspace -- okay. There's no such real hypothetical that I'm aware of. Maybe you could say it's just another name for extra dimensions/bubble universe theory, which is also somewhere on the fringe of speculative science.

Point is, I (and apparently millions of Trek fans) are willing to suspend disbelief when the science seems at least somewhat plausible.

Rewriting DNA, and suddenly undergoing extreme physiological changes (altered bone structure, extreme hair growth within seconds, altered respiratory system [sudden gills],) is simply not plausible. Not even the fringes of biology (to the extent that I'm familiar) has *any* speculative science to support the idea that a virus/pathogen could literally turn you into a different species, write new data (language, memories, personhood etc) to your brain, radically re-engineer your respiratory, circulatory, and/or nervous systems, do so within minutes, AND somehow leave enough of your previous body/identity intact so as to return FULLY back to normal with the simple injection of an antidote?

That's not how biology works. That's not even how biology *could* work. If you make sudden, massive edits to a person's DNA, they get cancer and die.

Things like warp drive and transporters are a plausible --even if just on a fringe level-- conceit that allows Star Trek to exist. The completely asinine 'Extinction', 'Threshold', and 'Genesis' ideas on biology are the stuff of saturday morning cartoons (I should know, see my username).

I like saturday morning cartoons. But Star Trek isn't --and shouldn't!-- be a saturday morning cartoon. Not the live-action, mainline canon series, anyway.

Star Trek should ask sensible, compelling questions. Or even fringe-sensible, but still compelling questions. This asked neither. This is dreck.
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Mon, Aug 12, 2019, 9:27pm (UTC -6)
Re: ENT S3: The Xindi

So. I actually *liked* the opening song for the first two seasons. I know, I know. But this weird island remix? That's not a good thing. That's bad.

I love the MACOs. It's incredibly refreshing to *finally* have a platoon of appropriately trained and equipped infantry on a Starfleet ship.

On a slight tangent from the above; It's always been a bone of contention of mine that Starfleet tries so hard to define itself as a non-military force, despite being THE arm of the Federation which conducts every military activity, up to and including total war.

Every Starfleet vessel should be staffed with MACOs from ENT through VOY and beyond. It makes absolutely no sense to fly headlong into deep, unknown, often hostile space, relying on a frankly insufficient "security team" for the inevitable combat scenarios.

My only fear with the MACOs is that they're being deliberately setup as a sort of 'thematic effigy' to be burned at the alter of 'Gene Roddenberry's Vision™', and will eventually be revealed to be stereotypically 'military jock bully' types. This will be used to show how 'enlightened' and 'superior' the non-military, pacifist, Starfleet Way is in comparison.

Maybe they won't do this. I really hope they don't do this.

On a related note, I *really* can't stand Reed. The guy has such an aggressive, overbearing inferiority complex, it's insane. It really feels like every time he opens his mouth, it's to whine, complain, or fish for sympathy. It's absolutely grating. His unilateral measuring contest with Maj. Hayes over who should do what on the rescue mission was immature to the point of being unprofessional. I'm glad T'Pol agreed with Hayes.

Speaking of T'Pol, let's talk about THAT scene. No, not the not-sex-but-Trek-sex scene with Trip, but rather the earlier scene with Phlox. The scene that somehow *no one* is talking about.

I have the utmost respect for Phlox. He might just be my favorite character so far. But, the hell?! His pressuring T'Pol into committing a very intimate act with a crewmate was plain unsettling. I get that Denobulan (and Vulcan, for that matter) ethics aren't necessarily in lockstep with human ethics, but T'Pol and Trip were *both* clearly uncomfortable with the idea, yet Phlox pressed on anyway. He both pressured T'Pol into the act, and lied to Trip about a treatment, so as to set up the encounter.

I *get* that he wanted to help Trip relax, so he can focus and perform while on the job, but really. Would he pressure Sato into having sex with Reed, to help him get over himself? Because that's essentially what he did. This feels unprofessional, unethical, and wrong. Maybe it could almost work if the whole Xindi situation became incredibly desperate, urgent, and dire, but this is literally the beginning of the arc. We're not there yet.

As an aside to T'Pol, sexuality, and feminism -- I find it interesting that during TOS, it was considered a show of sexual liberation and female agency, that women could wear somewhat... accentuating attire. From TNG through ENT, however, dressing this way developed a presumption of sexual objectification.

Having said that, I also do believe that there was a concerted effort (from B&B? The network?) to overly sexualize T'Pol (and Seven before her), and it would have been gratifying to see T'Pol switch to a Starfleet uniform in this episode.

The prison break was... eh. The MACO shootout was enjoyable, largely because of how cathartic it is to see a competent combat team at work in the Star Trek universe.

But seriously -- enough with the kidnapped/imprisoned captain. The one time it worked, there were four lights.
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