In brief: Well-intended but underwhelming, labored, redundant, and built on a completely illogical foundation.
"Rogue Planet" goes to great lengths to create and uncover a mystery whose solution is predictable, and whose reason for being is downright illogical. By the time the "mystery" was uncovered I was wondering why it had been allowed to be a secret in the first place, let alone a secret for so long. There's no rationale except for the fact the writers must try to entertain us with it. A few lines of dialog would clear everything up, but the guest characters — for reasons that are artificially imposed by the writers — don't divulge key information until late in the game, at which point I was wondering why they chose now to finally divulge that information. Meanwhile, the central subject of the mystery — a strange woman — intentionally creates confusion where it is not warranted.
Worse yet, this is a story that steps perilously close to being a total yawner, with the first three acts belaboring the same points repeatedly. It ends with your typical Star Trek respect-all-life moral — a reasonable message boringly conveyed. At the very least, the story is inoffensive and respects its emotional undercurrents, misguided as they may be.
The rogue planet (no star system so therefore no daylight, which begs the question — glossed over with useless pseudo-science — of how it can plausibly support so much plant life) is an always-nighttime hunting ground for a species called the Eska. They use this planet for safari purposes. Archer and his team come across three Eska (Conor O'Farrell, Eric Pierpoint, Keith Szarabajka) during their initial survey, and camp out with the hunters in the interest of cultural observation. One little character bit I appreciated was that of Lt. Reed taking an interest in the actual hunt action, for strictly tactical educational purposes, of course.
About here is where the central mystery begins. Archer starts seeing a beautiful, mysterious woman (Stephanie Niznik) who calls to him and says she "needs" him. She tells him he is not like "the others." Vanishes ominously. When Archer tells the others what he has seen, they write it off as hallucinating or dreaming. Meanwhile, Reed and the Eska go hunting and one of them is attacked with alarming swiftness and surprise, leading to eventual speculation that there's more here than meets the eye. But of course we already knew that, because if you're even remotely paying attention you know where this story is going from the moment the mysterious woman shows up.
Unfortunately, that's about all there is to "Rogue Planet." Acts two and three are drawn out and redundant, as Archer, convinced there's a mystery here that must be solved, is drawn into the forest where he again sees the woman, who has cast a strange spell upon him, and who again vanishes at the convenient time when T'Pol and Trip come near, lest they see her themselves and be convinced that Archer isn't imagining things.
The solution is that the woman is one of a race of shapeshifters indigenous to this planet. They can read minds, which is useful in defending themselves from Eska hunters who consider them to be the best hunting trophies. It's also useful in reading Archer's subconscious and predicting that he might take a moral stand against the hunters, which is why she has come to him asking for his help.
The problem is that the events of the story's construction are purely illogical if you step outside its need to create this artificial mystery. If the mysterious woman wants Archer's help, why doesn't she just ask for it and explain what she is? Why go to the trouble of speaking in riddles and ominously disappearing, prompting everyone else to think Archer is crazy? The simple answer is that because if the woman didn't create a mystery, this story would have little else to do and would be over in about 20 minutes instead of 60.
Similarly, we have the Eska writing off Archer's sightings. But they know about the shapeshifters and their abilities. Why don't they explain what they know? The obvious answer would seem to be because they know Archer would disapprove of their hunting of a sentient species — but no, because near the end of the story they lay all the cards on the table voluntarily. What makes them decide to do this, when nothing about the situation has significantly changed? This answer is also simple: because the story had 15 minutes left and it was time to uncover the mystery so we could now deal with its implications, leading Archer & Co. to help the shapeshifters by sabotaging the Eska's technology.
Aside from all the silly mystery plotting, "Rogue Planet" has a few good points. I liked the cinematography in the darkened setting. Allan Kroeker does a good job of managing space and motion on what is undoubtedly a few tiny sets. I also appreciated the sentiment behind the idea of reaching deep into Archer's subconscious and finding the image of this fictional woman, who has been in his memory since childhood and whom he hadn't thought about in years. It's an interesting idea with some nice psychological elements, employed by the plot, alas, in absolutely the wrong way.
The lesson here is in the tradition of enlightened Trek but far too derivative and obvious: Hunting sentient species is bad, and we should help those who are in need.
Perhaps another lesson to be learned here: The next time your life is in danger and you need help, go to the cops, but be sure to send them on a convoluted chase where the clues eventually lead them back to your actual problem. I'm sure they'll find the exercise a whole lot more interesting that way. Or not. Hopefully you won't be dead by the time they figure out the game you're playing.
Next week: Ferengi — just what the doctor didn't order.
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