In brief: Some admittedly good character moments, but the story is too bland and not really about anything.
The most prevailing sense I get from "Sleeping Dogs" is that it wants to be a submarine movie, but, no, it doesn't really know what it wants. It doesn't tell much of a story; it simply documents a recycled situation, and that's not adequate.
To be fair, there's some reasonable character work in the middle of all this, particularly with young Hoshi Sato. But there's also a sense that the plot is simply rounding the usual bases. After last week's insightful "Dear Doctor," this week's "Sleeping Dogs" has almost nothing in terms of insight, and opts instead to tell a simple, watchable, pedestrian plot. It's not that I disliked it; it's that I didn't care.
If you want to see a Trek submarine story of a ship trapped in an unforgiving atmosphere, I more urgently recommend DS9's "Starship Down." At least that maintained some level of tension. "Sleeping Dogs" is too often lackadaisical in execution, which is fatal for any story like this.
The run-down. Away team takes shuttle to investigate ship adrift in gas giant's atmosphere. Team boards ship, finds out ship is Klingon. Ship's Klingon crew is unconscious and/or dying. Lone Klingon woman attacks away team, steals away team's docked shuttlepod. Away team is now trapped on Klingon ship slowly descending into atmospheric pressures that will eventually crush ship. Enterprise can't mount rescue because pressure is now too great.
So now it's time for our characters to work the problem. Like any submarine thriller, the enemy here is the clock, as the crush depth becomes nearer and nearer with every passing minute. If our away team — Hoshi, T'Pol, Reed — cannot figure out a way to power up the ship, they will perish along with it. Meanwhile, Archer attempts to work the problem back aboard the Enterprise; he captured the Klingon woman who tried to escape in the shuttlepod and he now tries to enlist her help in saving the downed Klingon vessel. Her name is Bu'Kah (Michelle C. Bonilla), and she's not particularly wanting to help, which is perhaps an understatement.
One of the annoyances of "Sleeping Dogs" is its painfully simpleminded approach to the Let's Work Together storyline of Archer reaching out to Bu'Kah. Of course she doesn't trust him. Even though it's beyond obvious that the humans are trying to help her, she maintains the standoffish You Are My Enemy rhetoric. This leads to a line that may hold more practicality than Archer may realize, as he says to Trip, "Remind me to stop trying to help people." When you try to help the Klingons, they get offended on the grounds of bruised honor.
But, of course, Archer probably should have known this, particularly after the events of "Broken Bow" and "Fight or Flight." There's a scene after his initial failed olive branch where Archer studies the Vulcan database on what's known about Klingon culture, and he learns what every Trek fan already knows — that they consider most encounters in terms of a potential conflict and that they are based on a rigid code of warrior honor. That Archer hadn't already read this material is approximately as suspect as the notion in "Silent Enemy" that the crew could be out here for months with plans and materials for installing phase cannons, yet chose to wait until their backs were against the wall to begin construction.
Back aboard the Klingon ship, Hoshi attempts to decipher the Klingon language ("Reading it is a lot harder than speaking it") in order to work the ship's controls and get the vessel up and running. This proves difficult, however, and the away team is unable to reactivate the engines. But they do figure out the weapons system. One nice character bit: When Hoshi reads a display that says "photon torpedoes," Reed, the weapons guy, perks up with immediate interest. Any character who by nature likes to blow things up is cool in my book.
A lot of the plot plays like documentary footage of three people walking around a ship and trying to work a problem. That is to say it's not a misguided story subject, but it's also not terribly interesting. Part of the appeal, I think, is supposed to emerge from the fact that our characters get their first up-close-and-personal look at the inside of a Klingon ship (the walk through the mess hall in particular is depicted with a heavy intent of Ominous Foreboding). The lighting and production design aims for "strikingly dark and mysterious" and succeeds in reaching that goal.
What's lacking is any sort of surprise or pattern of deep thought whatsoever. There are, to be fair, a couple good character moments, mostly surrounding Hoshi's attempts to get her "space legs" by accepting this away mission in the first place, which hints at actual character growth following up "Fight or Flight." The scene where T'Pol tries to calm Hoshi's agitated nerves is notable in that we see T'Pol opening up a little bit to her human crewmates, but the Vulcan calming method employed here seems a little too much like magical hypnosis left unexplained. Potentially interesting, the plot instead runs away from the moment as quickly as possible. Much like a lot of the episode, it ends up sitting idly.
In the final act, our desperate away team resorts to firing and detonating photon torpedoes and hoping the shock wave will push them upward into lower-pressured areas of the atmosphere. The tricky part is in not shaking the ship apart with the shock wave in the process. I liked how Hoshi stood up and forcefully voiced her opinions as the situation turned more desperate. The rest of the solution depends on Bu'Kah helping get the engines operational, which Archer convinces her to do in scenes of surprising banality. But then the whole conflict is forced in the first place, because Bu'Kah and the Klingons are required to be flat-out dumb to believe the Enterprise crew is responsible for their predicament, or a threat in any way.
I was left unsure as to exactly how (or even if) the Klingon crew was cured (to say nothing of why they didn't simply die in the first place). Presumably Archer gave Bu'Kah the antidote to the poison that had disabled them, but there's no scene that shows or talks about that happening. It's left a little muddled.
The icing on the cake is how the Klingon captain arrogantly threatens the Enterprise after we have just saved his ship! Archer stands his ground and threatens back (and has a far better hand), and I admit to laughing at the way the Klingon captain switches off the transmission in defeated disgust, but come on — is this necessary? The Klingons come off here as stupid ingrates and clueless thugs, which — I don't know — might be the point. I'm honestly not sure what the point is.
If there's a lesson to be learned, I wonder if it's that we shouldn't bother helping the Klingons anymore. They don't seem to deserve it, and they clearly don't want it. I hope someone reminds Archer about that in the future.
The final scene takes place in the decontamination chamber, not seen since the infamous T'Pol/Tucker rub-down scene in "Broken Bow." The decontamination chamber should be renamed the Reduced Clothing Zone, as that is its more obvious purpose. This scene is no more or less interesting or inappropriate than most scenes in "Sleeping Dogs," which methinks serves as a commentary on both the scene and the episode, if you see what I'm saying.
Next week: A follow-up to "The Andorian Incident." A test of continuity?
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