In brief: It ain't no "Visitor."
To write a review of "Daedalus" is to extract small victories from an overall failed episode. Here's a plot too transparent for its own good — painfully inevitable by what seems to be intentional design — yet with characters who are invested with believable qualities. But even though we may believe the central character is psychologically possible, his arc is developed from ancient archetypes, and nothing in the plot can possibly emerge as unexpected. The emotional payoff is so preordained, so inevitable, that it carries very little impact. The show sinks because nothing is ever in doubt.
For a sci-fi concept that evaluates the tragedy of losing a loved one to a fate more complicated than death, you may find your mind going back to DS9's "The Visitor," a show infinitely better than this one.
In "Daedalus," the brilliant scientific mind of Emory Erickson (Bill Cobbs), the inventor of the transporter, comes aboard the Enterprise with his daughter Danica (Leslie Silva) to conduct a scientific experiment for a new type of extremely long-range transporter that could in theory beam a person across light-years of space. In a line inspired by "The Ultimate Computer," Archer jokingly asks Emory if he intends to put starship captains out of business.
Emory was one of Archer's father's closest friends, and has been "like a second father" to Archer. Danica is, by extension, like a sister. But there's trouble quietly brewing. The first sign that something is wrong comes when we discover They Are Hiding Something. Danica tells Emory that she feels awful about lying to Archer about the real reason they are out here. The real reason quickly becomes obvious, although the dialog takes its time in getting to the scene where it's spelled out for us. It can be frustrating to be so far ahead of the plot revelations. The revelations, when they come, are more like confirmations.
The would-be experiment is being conducted in the Barrens, where "there's not a star system within 100 light-years." To briefly nitpick the jargon, I would like to point out that how far away you are from the nearest star system would depend on, well, how far into the starless region you've actually ventured.
About this time, a strange anomaly begins appearing on the ship. In a scene that is humorous in the way it pointlessly tries to be suspenseful, the anomaly makes all the lights in the armory go out. Lt. Reed and a nameless guy we've never seen before go walking slowly through the dark with their flashlights, trying to find the cause of the disturbance. Honestly, if the nameless guy hadn't died, the audience would've justly rioted. Obviously, a situation like this is the reason that red shirts will be invented at some point between Archer's time and Kirk's.
Cutting to the chase: Fifteen years ago, during a similar experiment, Emory sent his own son Quinn (i.e., Icarus) through a transporter beam. Quinn never materialized and was lost in transport. This experiment also took place in the Barrens. No points for surmising that 2+2=4, and that the anomaly is actually Quinn, trapped in some state of eternal transporter limbo (Alive? Dead? Who knows?), and that Emory and Danica have actually come aboard the Enterprise because they think they can rescue Quinn. Why must this be a secret? Beats me, although the story concocts a halfhearted reason. Why does the Quinn-anomaly seem to chase after people like a creature in a monster movie? I couldn't say. I suppose being trapped in transporter limbo for 15 years might piss you off a little.
The outcome of the story is never, for a moment, in doubt. We have no doubt that Emory's deception must be exposed, that his obsession will lead to urgent pleas to Archer, and appeals to his emotions (Quinn, go figure, was like a brother to him). And we have no doubt that the rescue attempt upon Quinn will end in failure, and that an old man's obsession to right a wrong from 15 years ago will only end up destroying him.
Fifteen years ago, Emory knew — but was in denial about — the possible risks, and that he could theoretically even lose his son. He went through with it anyway, because of his need to further advance transporter technology. The story's argument is that great minds are clouded by their own need to top themselves. Emory was relatively young when he invented the transporter, and from that point "there was nowhere to go but down." I wonder why it is people like this feel so much pressure to top their own breakthrough. Isn't it enough to revolutionize transportation in your society? Is it pure narcissism that drives a man to need this much achievement at any cost?
The irony of the situation is Emory's attempt to right a wrong by committing yet another wrong — lying to Archer — which indirectly causes the death of the crew member. Obviously, the writers are setting this man up for an inevitably tragic downfall (reckless actions are rarely rewarded in these types of stories). At times, Emory's sadness and regret approaches a poignancy, but the story can't carry the notions through to the end.
The problem is that this all comes across as going through the motions, and Emory, while a character whose flaws and obsessions we come to understand, and who is nicely performed by veteran character actor Bill Cobbs, is a man we pity more because of his own inability to turn the mirror on his own actions than because of his dilemma and obsession. His hope is that he can redeem himself by rescuing his son. Part of me thinks a man this brilliant should be incapable of such blindness. (But then ultimately the whole reason for his deception feels contrived.)
Then there's Archer. He reluctantly agrees to see the rescue attempt through, even despite all the initial lies and the dead man lying in sickbay. Trip challenges Archer on this decision, accusing him of letting personal feelings get in the way of the ship's safety. I certainly can't say Trip is wrong. And Archer laying down the chain of command and making these kinds of questionable decisions without consequences is getting a little old.
Still, there are good things to find here. I liked the overall familiarity between Archer, Emory, and Danica — and Danica's dilemma of putting her life on hold to take care of an elderly parent. Despite the fact these are invented characters inserted retroactively into Archer's backstory, the actors do a good job of making the relationships believable. I also liked the credible notes in Trip's hero-worship of Emory. Trip is initially in awe of this man, and there's a scene early on where Emory tries to use this against Trip to get him to surrender control of the experiment. Trip tries to remain gracious even as he senses the old man trying to strong-arm him into something. Later, after the deception is revealed, Trip feels bitterly disappointed and betrayed, in scenes of equal believability.
In the periphery, it's also good to see that T'Pol is still reeling after all the Vulcan upheaval as a result of "Kir'Shara." She finds all of her beliefs being challenged by the newly unveiled writings of Surak. While the sweeping changes across Vulcan seem a little swift in their depiction, it is nice to see the storyline followed up.
Less successful is the Trip/T'Pol "breakup" scene at the end, which seems as clueless as the rest of their "relationship." I find it amusing that the writers think they need a scene like this when considering that after the "relationship" supposedly began with the sex in "Harbinger," T'Pol has since been married and divorced — and only now feels that Trip needs an explanation. (I suppose what happens here is more of an answer than a breakup, but still — the whole thing is just silly. Perhaps now we can move beyond the will-they-or-won't-they question.)
The emotional payoff, in which the rescue of Quinn is attempted and (inevitably) fails, is too much acting for what is not nearly enough story. Simply put, I never knew Quinn as a human being, and I just didn't care about him. And it seems to me that Emory's character arc ends up being too soft. Something like this, which has consumed the last 15 years of his life — should be crushing when it ends in failure. But the episode wants to let us off the hook by dodging anything too depressing. (And I don't even want to ask all the logical/tech questions about how Quinn survives 15 years in a transporter beam, but only now, conveniently, does Emory theorize that his signal is on the verge of degrading.)
Bottom line: This show is too dead at its core, as opposed to a show like "The Visitor," which was a lyrical journey that was alive and vibrant.
Next week: Aliens study the Enterprise crew.