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Sat, Dec 3, 2011, 10:23am (UTC -5)
Re: ENT S2: The Expanse

Max from the more recent past: the Xindi aren't time-travelers. I, like everyone else, wonder why the Xindi didn't test their weapon in a place where Earth wouldn't have noticed, and thus given humans a reason to muster defenses against a future attack. (Then again, characters don't always behave rationally, either in fiction or in real life - even when it comes to military matters of life and death.) But the Xindi didn't have the capacity to send things back in time; they could have tested the weapon in a different place, but not in a different time.
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Fri, Dec 2, 2011, 2:08am (UTC -5)
Re: ENT S2: The Breach

Two little callbacks to earlier episodes help contextualize a couple of the things Jammer mentions:

1) "Two Days and Two Nights" shows Travis as a fairly accomplished/experienced rock-climber (accident aside), so I'm guessing Chris Black (who wrote the teleplay for that earlier episode, and co-writes the teleplay here) decided that Travis's rock-climbing skills might as well become caving skills, particularly considering the nature of the episode's cave.

2) The business with Phlox and his estranged son was introduced during the otherwise execrable "A Night in Sickbay." The explanation for that distance went unexplained there, and I was a bit surprised the writers remembered to explain it by working it in here.
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Sat, Oct 8, 2011, 1:33am (UTC -5)
Re: ENT S1: Dear Doctor

Trek is more comfortable with slapping weird foreheads on non-human characters than in actually exploring non-human mindsets. When it does the latter, it often pulls back and “sides with the humans” by episode’s end – or, even worse, spends most of its time contemplating similarities between the two, always with humanity as the baseline for comparisons. Even the Klingons, who acquire a genuine culture on TNG, eventually get homogenized into something safe. (They may take honor more seriously than we do, but each race refers to the same concept when it uses the same word.)

When it comes to diversity and unity, Trek has always wanted to have its cake and eat it too; the similarities inevitably matter more than the differences. That’s fine – it’s a hopeful message, and since so much of televised science fiction essentially functions as comfort food, that approach makes sense. After all, it’s insanely difficult to try to understand and restate the thought processes of a non-human mind, whether it’s a fictional alien or a culture’s chosen divinity.

But I’d submit that Trek loses something when it does this, even though it positively influenced my attitudes towards the Other as a child. (I will always be grateful for that.) At its core, the people we see on the screen are supposed to be explorers. In the best cases, we’d learn something new from the screen, or at least be challenged by it. When the “human perspective” consistently wins the day – when it, in fact, never loses – Trek begins preaching to the choir.

We understand how humans are supposed to react to the Valakians’ plight. As Phlox states, baldly and repeatedly, we have an obsession with helping those in need – particularly if, in a neat twist, we can convince ourselves we’re superior to them.

This, along with one other thread, is the tie that binds the episode together. Archer “anthropomorphizes” Porthos, something that flummoxes Phlox. Tucker’s moved to tears by the plights of fictional characters, sympathizing with them despite his powerlessness (how could he change what’s been written?). Cutler criticizes the Valakian/Menk sociological structure not on the basis of whether it “works” (which is Phlox’s primary criterion), but whether it’s “right” (a moralistic viewpoint, with moralism equated with humanity repeatedly during the episode). And that moralism isn’t even consistent: she chooses to evaluate the Valakians’ behavior from an anthrocentric perspective, but barely raises an eyebrow over Phlox’s complicated marital situation because, well, he’s Denobulan, and they’re different.

That difference is that aforementioned other tie binding the episode together: Phlox’s sheer alienness. To us, he seems jovial, knowledgeable, and kind. But that’s our anthrocentric (ugh, I’ve used that word twice) bias creeping in. In actuality, Phlox sees the world in a fundamentally separate way from the rest of us. That’s why he’s writing to his Counterpart in No Man’s Land, the single human living amongst the Denobulans. Both men are in situations where most of what goes on around them is kind of recognizable while still being kind of baffling.

This is why we get the sequence where Phlox is confused by Porthos, confused by the movie, and confused by Cutler’s advances: he reacts differently from us to the same stimuli.

So Archer states that every principle he holds dear demands that he help the Valakians – indeed, that compassion guides his judgment, not blinds it. I imagine those who were most offended by Phlox’s “misunderstanding of evolution,” as I’ve seen it phrased elsewhere (because God forbid an alien see the same thing differently), stood and cheered. And for Phlox to be unmoved by compassion, to be “unmoved” by these people’s plight…well, that means he’s a monster.

But the episode very clearly shows that Phlox feels, if not exactly identically to Archer, something very close to his level of sympathy for the Valakians. The difference between the two men lies not in their feelings, but in the degree to which they allow those feelings to guide their judgment. Phlox ISN’T an unfeeling monster: he feels.

Instead, the doctor essentially argues that, by helping the Valakians, we’d be interfering in something that we perhaps shouldn’t be messing with. Think back to Tucker’s tears in that movie theatre. If we gave him editing control in mid-movie, let him change the script and re-shoot the scenes, it might have a happier ending. He’s also savaging the movie’s integrity and fundamentally changing “the way it was supposed to be.” (This would have been more interesting if Enterprise had ever figured out what to do with the Temporal Cold War and its focus on altering vs. restoring timelines, but I digress.)

Phlox’s argument is that nature has been writing and composing the Valakians’ extinction for thousands of years, repeating the same pattern that’s taken hold on thousands of other worlds that weren’t subjected to outside interference (even in the name of compassion). In those places – alluded to throughout the episode – coexistence doesn’t work for whatever reason, and the end result is that one humanoid race ultimately reigns supreme, not two.

Archer’s objection – OUR objection – is to say, “Well, if that’s what nature’s written, then it’s a damn good thing the universe gave us editing powers.” And indeed, we believe – many have passionately argued – that to voluntarily withhold one’s editing powers, one’s ability to assist, is tantamount to committing the atrocity itself.

That is how we see it. That’s how we’re SUPPOSED to see it. That’s how years of civilization have conditioned us to react.

But Phlox isn’t conditioned that way. His thoughts seem nonsensical or illogical to many, as they should – he’s not human. So he says that we shouldn’t interfere.

That’s the point of the episode, if I may speak for the authors: to see the universe filtered through a decidedly inhuman mindset, to have our willingness to invest emotion in others (at least to the degree that we allow that empathy and consideration for the needs of others to dictate our decisions) questioned.

The point is NOT to be the “first Prime Directive story.” Yes, Archer makes an allusion to the future creation of the Directive. But T’Pol points out that the Valakians have made first contact with warp-capable species. In fact, the story neatly decouples noninterference from the far more baggage-ridden Directive, and chooses to use that ideal – one we’d surely struggle with were we ever forced to abide by it – as a mirror to use for questioning the nature and justification for our ideologies and thought processes.

So yes, you can be offended by the episode’s conclusion. In fact, you’re supposed to be: the human rationale didn’t carry the day, and there’s really no way for us to cope with that.

But since the episode set out to be a show in which alien mindsets and opinions weren’t immediately dismissed (as poor T’Pol is throughout the first twelve episodes) or reshaped into something that reflects humanity’s versions of the same things, I can’t understand why people are giving it zeros, let alone saying it’s the worst episode of all time.

“It offends me!” Yeah. And? Was the acting bad? The score unimpressive? The characterization insincere? (That’s kind of a big deal, but “Dear Doctor” is relentlessly true to its characters even as it allows them, in Archer’s case, to change a bit.)

To the point that one can make objective statements about art, I don’t believe one can objectively say any of those things. By television’s standards, the acting, score, and characterization are good, fine, or excellent – take your pick, but they’re not bad. The makeup design is perhaps a bit bland, and maybe the CGed city is showing its age, but we all know that’s not why people freaked out over the episode.

People reacted as they did because the writers went looking for ways to freak them out by allowing an inhuman mindset to carry the day. Even though that’s a difficult thing to convincingly write, they did it: the prevailing reaction was that Phlox’s conclusion was inhuman, was offensive.

Those people who share that reaction are the ones who should be giving this show high praise. I can’t think of another episode – not “A Matter of Honor,” “Darmok,” “The Inner Light,” or too many DS9 eps to count – where Trek more convincingly explored how an alien would approach existence, let alone existence’s grayer areas.

Thus I can say something I rarely say: the conclusion bothered me, and in doing so earned my respect.
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