In brief: Big, long, deep sigh.
In my "next week" comments, I like to belittle UPN trailers and offer up sarcastic comments. It's just a fun thing to do. And when I was dismissive in my "next week" comments for this episode, I was of course just kidding around, because I don't take the trailers seriously (often, how can you?). Even when I do, I usually try to poke fun rather than be serious.
"Mutiny aboard Voyager! I mean, Enterprise!" I wrote. Kidding.
Rest assured, come episode time, I was in serious, open-minded mode. In all honesty, I was looking forward to an episode that I hoped would supply some genuine tension, serious clashes of thought, and some meaty characterization and/or tough choices.
Well, now, after having seen "Hatchery," I can only report that this take on the mutiny plot is indeed about as authentic as any of the supposed mutinies that happened on Voyager ("Repression" comes to mind) — which is to say, not at all. There are some reasonably decent situational dynamics here, but the story is built on a cheat plot's foundation, where the mutinous behavior arises only because a Strange Alien Influence has compromised one or more of the characters — in this case, Captain Archer.
Sorry, but this is exactly the wrong kind of routine story to be telling. Andre Bormanis, who wrote "Extinction" earlier this season, which I said was an episode that made all the typical Voyager mistakes, has basically done it again. This is not an Enterprise episode; it's a Voyager rehash. It's the mutiny show done the only way Voyager could ever do it, with abnormal behavior caused by an outside influence and therefore having no lasting significance to the people who participate in it.
What's worse, the whole show is telegraphed from the very beginning, rendering the hour painfully obvious. While an away team investigates a crashed Xindi insectoid vessel on a barren world, Archer is sprayed by a Xindi insectoid egg sac — and the whole plot instantly reveals itself as an exercise in going through the motions. Phlox examines Archer in sickbay and determines that the venom poses no lasting danger. By this point, I'm rolling my eyes and talking to the TV screen: What are you, stupid? (Phlox obviously has not seen enough Star Trek episodes.)
Immediately afterward, Archer starts exhibiting strange behavior, none of which tracks with his usual opinions. All season long, Archer has been only about the mission to save Earth; it has been Priority No. 1. Now he begins to be protective of this hatchery to the point of monomania, and he gives new orders to do whatever it takes to bring the damaged Xindi vessel back on line so the hatchery can be made operable and the hatchlings will survive. Archer argues that such a good-faith display would show the Xindi that humanity is not the threat they think it is. (Considering the Xindi preemptively killed 7 million people, I wouldn't be so optimistic.)
Unfortunately, to do this will necessitate a delay in the trip to Azati Prime and, worse, expend one-third of the Enterprise's antimatter fuel reserves. When T'Pol confronts Archer with reasonable logic, and explains to him that the Enterprise (and humanity) cannot afford compromising the primary mission, Archer relieves her of duty and confines her to quarters for insubordination.
Now it's up to Trip to talk Archer out of this plan. Archer isn't particularly receptive, and after an incident that leaves an attacking Xindi ship destroyed, Archer blames Reed (wrongly), relieves him of duty as well, and then puts Hayes in charge of the bridge. With Hayes in charge of the MACOs and Trip in the tough position of trying to do what's best for the mission, the situation quickly begins heading toward a showdown between Trip's Starfleet followers and the MACOs. Archer stays off the main stage, obsessing over the hatchery in increasing mind-altered-behavior fashion. (Does it strike only me as a little sci-fi convenient that his behavior shift is initially so subtle that it seems reasonable as he argues his position? Of course, by the end he's a borderline loon.)
It's really too bad that all of this stems from a hollow contrivance, because some of the dynamics here are interesting, and some of the responses to this problem make sense. We have, for example, the idea of T'Pol voicing the first of the objections — and then when she's confined to quarters, she has a meeting with Trip that starts the talk of undermining the captain. (The MACO posted outside her door buys a lame story pretty easily; he should be fired.)
Later, there's respectable urgency to the T'Pol/Trip/Reed plotting, as, faced with a deadline, they discuss what needs to be done and who can be trusted to take control of the ship.
I also liked some of the earlier character interaction between Reed and Hayes, who after beating each other up in "Harbinger" are seen here as having reached a level of coexistence but without the added cliché of having become best friends; they still have an edge of competition. At one point Hayes shows Reed a battle simulation, and Reed finds himself expressing skepticism almost automatically. I like that he catches himself doing this and apologizes for it.
One important question when it comes time to stage the mutiny is whether or not Hayes can be trusted to also turn against the captain (the mutineers decide the answers is no). Hayes, with a more military background, is more inflexible than the Starfleet personnel in his regard for the chain of command, and the point of character analysis here suggests that Hayes is more likely to simply carry out the orders given to him rather than question those orders under special circumstances. That's a dynamic that's somewhat interesting as a demonstration of the differing philosophies of the MACOs versus the Starfleet officers. (Although one hopes there are limits; just how out of control would Archer have to be before Hayes would acknowledge there's something wrong with his decisions?)
Belying the actual details of the mutiny — which work to some degree as we see Trip, T'Pol, and Reed making their plans — is the inescapable fundamental problem here: I just didn't care about the end result. The whole episode is built upon the fact that none of it ultimately matters beyond the execution of the plot points. Since Archer is not in control of his faculties, there are no actual choices being made here. We're just watching a "mutiny" that's seizing control of an artificially created situation. There is no actual conflict of ideology here. It's just your garden-variety retake-the-ship episode, where our characters are retaking the ship from each other.
As a result, the show is a disappointment because there's no need for anybody to be accountable for anything. The mutiny is ultimately viewed as it must be: a necessary measure to get the mission back on track after the captain is held hostage by his mind-altered state, which is laid out for us by Phlox in a tedious scene of medical exposition. There's nothing interesting about it. We've seen it too many times, and it's a dramatic cop-out. Who cares?
Why not have a real story where it's Starfleet versus the MACOs, with a real cause arising from real issues and real opposing views and having real consequences? You know, a premise that makes us think about what is happening and where something is genuinely at stake? Is that so much to ask for?
Next week: It looks as if the crew finally reaches Azati Prime.
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