In brief: Not bad, but not particularly good or conclusive, either. Just simply "there."
Here's yet another episode of Enterprise for the fence-squatters among us: an episode that does some things and does them reasonably, while at the same time not reaching a satisfactory destination concerning the issues it has raised. It's a family crisis story that ends up having the impact of some very routine drama.
Ensign Travis Mayweather, after nearly two seasons of Enterprise, looks right now to be this series' edition of the Harry Kim character, albeit for slightly different reasons. Harry annoyed me because through seven seasons of Voyager he didn't grow even one year's worth of experience. Travis doesn't annoy me the same way because he's scarcely given the chance to grow or to not grow; the writers have no idea who this guy is because they refuse to give him anything to do or any semblance of a personality. He's an empty shell of a character usually used as a tool of the plot.
It does not help that Anthony Montgomery — in his limited presence — usually plays Travis as a young, blank slate of a man, without a trace of insight or opinion. Bashir was young in the early days of DS9, but he had an amusing sense of brash, exuberant naivete, and opinions that could be revealed to himself as either right or wrong. Mayweather simply has no opinions, neither right nor wrong.
So imagine my relief that "Horizon" would be a true Travis Mayweather-oriented character show, which makes it the first Travis-centric storyline (whether it be a main plot or subplot) since "Fortunate Son" aired some 17 months ago.
The results here are mixed, giving us an hour of not-unpleasant storytelling and a few reasonable and relevant observations and details, but without being convincing at its emotional core. This needed to be an episode where we could feel Travis' plight and maybe walk in his shoes. Alas, I could not quite get there. There are barriers, the first being the script, which is incomplete in its arc from emotional crisis to resolution; and the other being Montgomery, whose performance is too wooden to draw us into the drama.
The general idea here is that the Enterprise's course puts them close to the cargo vessel Horizon, giving Travis a chance to visit home. He grew up on the Horizon, where his father is captain and his mother serves a dual role as chief engineer and medic. His older brother also serves on the ship. Travis hasn't seen his family in four years, and learns here that his father passed away of an illness just a few weeks earlier; he hadn't yet received the message informing him of the news.
This permits the story to explore some family dynamics aboard a cargo vessel, as Travis settles in for a rare visit that coincides with a family crisis. Naturally, lingering regret and guilt will find their way into the story, as Travis wonders whether joining Starfleet was tantamount to abandoning a family and ship that needed him.
The family dynamics are relevant but pretty routine. We've seen all this before: Protagonist visits home after long time away; protagonist is confronted with feelings of guilt concerning unresolved family issues; protagonist is given mildly cold shoulder by older brother, who feels protagonist abandoned family in favor of idealistic dream; etc. The problem with the arc of this story is not that it has bad ideas, but that it doesn't dig very deep into its ideas. This is simply not very challenging material.
Of course, even if not very challenging, it might've still worked by evoking our empathy for Travis' situation. In some ways it does, by supplying details of Travis' old home, taking him back to his old quarters on the Horizon, and introducing us to his mother (Joan Pringle).
What I liked best about "Horizon" was the simplified feel of the cargo ship and the episode's ability to escape from the confines of the ever-familiar Starfleet setting. This episode feels civilian rather than military, more recognizably human, with a sort of blue-collar, everyone-pitches-in mentality. And Travis' mom in particular is believable in scenes like the one where she inquires about the myriad of dangerous conflicts Travis has apparently faced aboard the Enterprise. Travis knowingly and wisely downplays all the danger of those encounters.
There's also the appearance of Nora (Nicole Forester), a young woman about Travis' age. The two apparently grew up almost like siblings, an apt detail for a story set in the confines of cargo ship (and which also made me curious about the onset of teenage sexual attraction in such confines). But the character has only the one scene and disappears after the initial visit.
The story's primary conflict is between Travis and his older brother, Paul (Corey Mendell Parker). Paul has taken over as captain since the death of their father, and word around the ship is that Paul may not quite be ready. Paul also is a bit uneasy with Travis around, especially when Travis starts suggesting Starfleet weapons upgrades upon the appearance of the episode's threat of alien pirates. Eventually there's a scene where Paul accuses Travis of abandoning them for the wonders of exploration promised by Starfleet.
These scenes constitute quiet character drama, but even on that level they don't quite come to life, and I think the reason for that is Montgomery's far-too-understated performance. He's too wooden. In the confrontation scene between Paul and Travis, for example, you can clearly see that Paul, as played by Parker, is the stronger screen presence. We can understand his emotions and point of view, even if they come across as forced under the circumstances (why not accept the weapons upgrades in a case where you clearly need them?). But I never felt that way with Montgomery's performances in these scenes. He needed to carry this show, but from what I see, most of the guest actors end up carrying him.
I also felt the story's conflicts are left largely unresolved. Paul has a comment to Travis that I found interesting in its aggressive tone: "Our problem is Starfleet and people like you." A strong statement. But the episode never really deals with the state of these cargo runners in what will someday undoubtedly become a sprawling Starfleet space arena. "Fortunate Son" last season was better at looking at that question.
Instead, we get another one of those action conclusions, which substitutes for an actual resolution between the two brothers and the issues between them. The pirates attack, and by working together Travis and Paul are able to fend off the threat. The story mistakes this resolution of action/jeopardy as a resolution for the rest of the character drama, which as a result is left unfinished. Does Paul understand why Travis went to Starfleet? Does he still hold resentment for it? Are cargo runners really part of a dying breed because pilots like Travis decide to join Starfleet instead? Is Travis really okay with the decisions he has made? The answers are perhaps implied with a happy ending of smiles and reassurance, but these are not answers of any depth.
There's also a slight-at-best B-story involving T'Pol's reluctance to attend movie night, despite being specifically asked by both Trip and Archer. The movie: 1931's Frankenstein. I thought this worked okay as lightweight filler material, but it doesn't really set out to accomplish much of anything. It certainly does not go out on a limb in any way, or try to build into an actual comedy on the concept of "Vulcan goes to horror movie." If there's a joke here, perhaps the punch line is "T'Pol becomes a movie critic," as she waxes analytical on the plight of Frankenstein's monster, comparing it to the plight of Vulcans among humans in the apparently tumultuous years following First Contact. Meanwhile, there's a visit to an uncharted planet that builds into ... well, nothing. I guess the plot revelation is that they chart it. This plot exists, I suspect, merely to give the story an excuse to cut back to the Enterprise.
Which is perhaps too bad, because the story aboard the Horizon might've benefited from being fleshed out some more. An episode like "Horizon" reveals Enterprise as an almost amazingly low-key series that seems unwilling to break free of its low-key shackles. I have nothing against low key (in fact, I tend to prefer it over ultra-action or melodrama), but what we need are some energetic performances, conclusive arguments and ideas, and characters whose problems aren't so neatly resolved with generic action scenes. In short, we need more episodes like last week's "Judgment" — something that looks and feels like real drama. "Horizon" is relevant enough, but does not emerge as compelling.
Next week: Phlox refuses to treat a man on moral grounds. Now that could be interesting.