In brief: Bad. Bad bad bad bad bad. Bad.
If a casual viewer happened to tune in this week, they'd have but one question: So, this is what passes for Star Trek these days?
I sincerely hope not. I hope the producers realized this was a dog and aired it only because, faced with a deadline, they had no choice. I hope they can one day look back and laugh at this atrocity. Laughing is not likely to happen right now, however, as UPN and Enterprise continue to face woeful days of sagging ratings and a questionable future. With an episode like this, those lousy ratings are deserved. Have the producers no respect for their audience's intelligence and, more important, the audience's desire to be entertained?
"Precious Cargo" is nothing. Zero. Zilch. A test pattern. An empty vessel. A hollow corpse. A lifeless mass. A limp body. A vapid hour. A lamentable experience. A lousy outing. A table scrap. A scrap without meat. A piece of garbage. A test of viewer endurance. Television detritus. Hoary insipidity. A road to nowhere. A road from nowhere. Utter crap. Astounding banality. Awful dreck. A dismal failure. An abomination. A self-parody. A bad self-parody. An insult to the intellect. A slap to the face.
Did I mention it was bad?
At the risk of overstating my case, I'll just say that essentially, this episode is one big, long, long, long, long cliché. This is certainly one of the longest hours of Trek ever made. And one of the dumbest. And most boring and pointless. There is literally NOTHING here that inspires thinking. The actors are deer trapped in the blinding headlights of the script, coming at them at 60 mph. Wham. Yikes — looks like this one's a DOA.
The plot rehashes elements of TOS's "Elaan of Troyius," which I'm sure was already a rehash in 1968. "Precious Cargo" is a rehash without the benefit of humor or satire. It plays its premise basically straight, as if it were actually a legitimate story. It clearly is not. It's nothing more than an assemblage of clichés.
The plot in a nutshell: Two aliens are transporting a woman in suspended animation ("Precious Cargo" — get it?). Their cover story is that they were hired to transport her in this manner. The truth is that they actually kidnapped her and are holding her for ransom. In a series of contrivances, this woman emerges from her hibernation, Trip gets on board the alien vessel and is knocked unconscious, and one alien takes off in the ship with Trip and the woman. Trip and the woman must then team up in an effort to escape the alien ship. The other alien is left behind on the Enterprise, where he is subsequently interrogated in the episode's only scene that comes close to working, but is still not nearly as clever or satisfying as it should be.
The woman is named Kaitaama and is played by Padma Lakshmi, who is very nice to look at but delivers a terrible performance. It certainly doesn't help that Kaitaama is a walking, talking cliché — a typically ultra-haughty princess who is appalled at her situation and even more appalled that she might be rescued by a lowly peasant like Trip Tucker. The ongoing "banter" between Trip and Kaitaama is downright painful to be subjected to. Like Trip, we're trapped with Kaitaama for the whole episode, and she's unbearable while also being unconvincing. I never for one moment felt like I was watching actual people, but rather artificial constructions of a hopelessly recycled, lame-brained plot.
There are scenes of Trip and Kaitaama crawling through air vents, cramming into an escape pod (tight spaces, up close and personal; har har!), and finally crash-landing and traipsing through a swamp. All of this goes on for a very long time with very bad dialog and very obviously no dramatic reason for existing whatsoever other than to fill an hour of a floundering network's bandwidth. It's utterly perfunctory and pathetic and without purpose or merit or life or entertainment value. Eventually Trip and Kaitaama get in a shouting match before they then suddenly clinch/kiss, in an oh-so-predictable scene that is so horrendous as to induce eye-rolling and groans. Watching all of this is like witnessing actors sleepwalking through an hour in a meditative trance, while production mechanically soldiers on, pulling the machine's garbage-in-garbage-out lever.
What's perhaps worst about "Precious Cargo" is that it's awful without also being funny. It's simply awful while being relentlessly boring. Okay, I did laugh when Trip punched the bad guy/alien in the face about five times, and then the alien actually looked straight at Trip and exclaimed, "Ha ha!" How ridiculous. My laughter was one of incredulity. If the alien had a mustache, he'd be twirling it while tying Kaitaama to railroad tracks.
The best thing about this episode was its ending. Not because the ending was good (it wasn't), but because it meant the show was over. Just how bad was this episode? Let me give you some details for the sake of perspective. I taped it on Wednesday and watched it on Friday, and when I queued the tape backward one hour, the counter on my VCR told me exactly how long was left in the show until it was over. "0:00" meant the end. My VCR's countdown to zero was the equivalent of Burgess Meredith in Rocky, telling me to hang in there and get through this fight.
Next week: The ship is taken over by aliens and Archer considers blowing it up. Looks like the Cliché Patrol will be on duty again.