Star Trek: Enterprise

“Observer Effect”

3 stars.

Air date: 1/21/2005
Written by Judith Reeves-Stevens & Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Directed by Mike Vejar

"Hold on. You ran a floating poker game at STC."
"The way the regulations were worded, gambling was an honor violation only if it took place during duty hours. So I only ran the game on weekends."

— Trip and Hoshi on why Hoshi got kicked out of Starfleet Training Center

Review Text

In brief: Fairly standard material elevated by lots of good acting and directing, and an ending with a nod to the original series.

Here's proof that old Trek standbys can be put to good use, in a story that feels surprisingly unpredictable — even though the end result, in retrospect, was more or less inevitable, I guess. "Observer Effect" has in its employ Powerful Non-Corporeal Aliens, a Deadly Virus, a Ticking Clock, and a Human Message Denouement delivered Big Speech Style by the captain. All are familiar elements, but the way they are assembled and performed here ends up being more engaging than you might guess from a plot outline.

There's also a tie-in to the original series that is both subtle and sublime. Subtle enough that many knowledgeable fans might not even catch it; sublime in its prequel-that-sets-up-the-sequel kind of way.

As television, "Observer Effect" is the very definition of "bottle show." Here's an episode that features no new sets, zero guest stars, minimal visual effects. The end result: a pretty good hour of nuts-and-bolts Star Trek, where the interest of the plot is in watching the crew trying to straightforwardly work a difficult — maybe unsolvable — problem. No slam-bang excitement; just a commitment to observation and plausible procedure.

Trip and Hoshi return from a planetary away mission in a shuttlepod and realize during the return trip that they have become ill. They are quarantined in the decontamination chamber while Phlox runs tests. It turns out they are suffering from a silicon-based virus — incurable, but Phlox is certainly not prepared to give up. The race for the cure is on; Trip and Hoshi only have five hours to live. (Archer: "If you mean how much time you have, it's too early for that kind of talk." Excuse me? It's five hours. I'm not sure what to make of Archer's statement. Either he's a delusional optimist or he's trying to shield his officers from the cold, hard, very imminent truth. Either way, I tend to think a Starfleet captain would owe it to his officers to be a little more direct, bad news or not.)

Earlier in the episode the harbingers were already setting the story in motion. The whole scenario is being observed by two non-corporeal aliens who have taken the bodies of Reed and Mayweather as hosts. In the opening scene, they're playing chess at high speeds, while discussing the events they know are forthcoming. "Somebody always dies?" asks one alien. "Always," says the other.

What makes this episode more interesting than a straight-on crew-perspective tackle of similar material is the fact that as audience members we're put in the aliens' shoes. Since they already know what's going to happen, and because we are privy to their conversations, we don't merely have to watch an obvious plot unfold. Instead, it's also about the process of how these aliens watch it happen. In addition, it's about the ominous foreboding by those who have more knowledge than us: "This will likely be one of the times where everyone dies," notes one of the aliens at one point.

The aliens are on an observational mission, the results of which will determine whether they make first contact with their newest subjects. Their mission is simply to watch how their human subjects react to the crisis of a hopeless illness brought back from a survey mission. They are not permitted to interfere. I was a little confused as to what kind of response to the given crisis would warrant making first contact. Obviously not just survival, which the Klingons managed by destroying the shuttle before its infected crew members could return to the ship and infect anyone else.

These aliens must not initiate contact with very many species. Perhaps only those who can spontaneously adapt to the virus and become non-corporeal super-beings. You'd think that would leave them as a pretty lonely species. (Maybe not on TOS, where there were all too many all-powerful non-corporeal lifeforms.)

The two aliens are supplied two distinct voices. The one inhabiting Reed has a drier persona, more rigid about protocols and the status quo. The one inhabiting Mayweather is more inquisitive and empathetic; he's not looking forward to passively sitting by and watching his subjects die when he could, if it were permitted, step in and prevent it.

So Phlox searches for a treatment while Trip and Hoshi sit in quarantine and deteriorate. There are some nice (and rare, these days) character scenes where Hoshi talks about how she got kicked out of Starfleet Training Center. The series usually doesn't have time for supporting characters to have this kind of dialog; I suppose it's saved up for situations just like these, where characters have nothing else to do but sit and wait and talk.

At one point, Trip and Hoshi are suddenly paid a visit by Archer and T'Pol ... except that it's not really Archer and T'Pol, but the aliens. There's a creepy reveal shot that is musically cued just right, and for a moment the decontamination chamber feels like a zoo.

Later, I liked Hoshi Goes Haywire. When she becomes delusional and claustrophobic, she starts raving in whatever language comes to mind: Spanish, Russian, Klingon. Although, I'm not so sure her code-breaking methodology is possible. "Math is just another language," she says, before overriding the computer codes and breaking the quarantine seal. The notion of one person breaking crucial security with such ease defies common sense.

Because of this incident, Trip and Hoshi are subsequently sedated. This sets up a scene where Phlox becomes aware of the alien presence and ends up in a bizarre — but informative — conversation with them. What I like best about it is the balance of perspectives. Phlox's response in this situation ("Your behavior is appalling" — great line delivery) fits into the story just as well as the aliens' matter-of-fact explanations for their willful inaction. It's all about point of view, not necessarily right and wrong. The scene also clears up all the questions we have about what happens to the people who are inhabited by these aliens and why they don't remember anything.

I mentioned that the episode doesn't feel as predictable as its synopsis sounds. This is mostly because of the way Hoshi and Trip are allowed to die at the end of the episode. You'd think the way the episode ends up reviving them would be beyond obvious — and, really, it is — but I found myself caught up in the moment, wondering how the crew was going to solve the problem. The bottom line is that they can't, and they don't, because the aliens solve it for them.

The more empathetic of the two makes contact with Archer through Trip's corpse (and I think I'd be far more freaked out than Archer is, but then I don't work in outer space), and then the other one takes control of Hoshi's corpse and starts an ideological debate. The empathetic alien argues for reviving Archer's dead crew members. The other one staunchly argues the protocol of non-interference. I liked the quiet irony that this alien is essentially arguing for his species' version of the Prime Directive. (And I still wonder if that question will be definitively tackled in the course of the season.)

Archer makes an impassioned speech about compassion, empathy, and the things about human beings that should trump logic and protocol. Will he convince the alien skeptic to take a risk and try something different? (The answer is the same as the answer to the question: Will Trip and Hoshi stay dead?) It's old-hat Star Trek, but that's what this episode sets out to be, and it mostly succeeds. Along the way it remains watchable as something that believes in Trek as humanist science fiction rather than just an adventure show.

Of course, the underlying ironic joke here is that, at the end, we learn the aliens are the Organians. Some (although probably not all) fans of TOS will remember the Organians as the race of super-beings who prevented — with their limitless powers — the Klingons and the Federation from going to war in "Errand of Mercy." The clear implication is that the events of "Observer Effect" represented the change in the Organians' policies from non-interference to blatant interference in the interests of preserving life.

And what I like best about that irony is how at the end of "Errand of Mercy," Kirk and Kor complain to the Organians that they have no right to interfere and stop their war. I guess they should take it up with Archer.

Next week: Andorians, Tellarites, weird "interplanetary relations," and an alien puppet master on a throne using two Nintendo Power Gloves.

Previous episode: Daedalus
Next episode: Babel One

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Comment Section

77 comments on this post

    "At one point, Trip and Hoshi are suddenly paid a visit by Archer and T'Pol ... except that it's not really Archer and T'Pol, but the aliens."

    Minor slip here: They are visited by (aliens) Phlox and T'Pol, later (real) Phlox gets a visit by (aliens) Archer and T'Pol.

    The major flaw in logic in the episode is that one of the Organians comments at the end that by interfering this time and allowing the humans to live they wil never be able to run this test again.

    Why exactly? They said themselves at the outset of the episode that not every crewmember dies every time, anyone who has lost some of their crew could leave a warning beacon in orbit. Given that they erased everyone's memory anyway could they not have done this prior to Archer leaving any kind of warning for anyone else and simply allowed Enterprise to continue their mission.

    That way they could have continued to run this test as long as they wanted.

    As Craig (poster above me) says, "The major flaw in logic in the episode is that one of the Organians comments at the end that by interfering this time and allowing the humans to live they wil never be able to run this test again."

    When the Reed-Organian said that, I immediately thought of the warning buoy that Archer said he was going to put into orbit. Why would that disrupt the Organians' plans? They can make dead people come back to life but they can't destroy a warning buoy or make Archer believe he's deployed it when he actually hasn't?

    Awesome stand-alone episode! I don't care about the reset button or the minor flaws, I still get caught up in this simple, effective story every time I watch it. Excellent acting, production, and music... and, oh yeah--two words: Mike Vejar!

    Yes, it feels like I've seen this one before, but it was enjoyable, if predictable. Didnt feel any real drama as everyone knew they weren't going to die. So all in all it was okay. 2 point 5 popcorns. Didnt the Organians stop the KLingins and the Colation of United Federation of Planets from fighiting in the old 60s Star Trek. I think so. Confusing that they are the same alienn.

    @Mister Teeterman: Huh? Confusing why, exactly? The review makes perfectly clear, even to someone like me who hasn't seen either this episode or Errand of Mercy in quite some time, what the link is and the humorous aspects of it. How is this confusing?

    I feel this episode would have been more effective if I hadn't seen "Dear Doctor" back in season one. Knowing that Archer is a total hypocrite somewhat lessened this episode's ending for me. Otherwise though, it's a very good outing.

    "I found myself caught up in the moment, wondering how the crew was going to solve the problem."

    The reason the plot worked, I think, is because the suspense wasn't about whether Trip & Hoshi lived or died but about whether the crew would pass the test, whatever it was.

    This could easily have been a TOS plot, but for the fact that the episode involves the whole ensemble. Could you imagine a scene where Scotty and Uhura banter about their lives? Or where Sulu and Chekov have philosophical dialogues? In its place we probably would've seen more debate between Spock and McCoy about the ethics of trying to cure an incurable disease.

    Funny how Travis was the most interesting he's ever been when possessed by the Organian.

    Wow! The crew felt like an actual, complicated, functioning crew, where everyone was a real character for 45 minutes - and even while being possessed.

    That's one darn big landmark right here.

    Am I the only one who thinks that this entire episode proves what a sack of crap Dear Doctor's "moral" was?

    Phlox is a bloody hypocrite. Archer too, but his hand was forced by UPN.

    The aliens suffering a virus in Dear Doctor could easily have made the same speech to Archer that he makes to the incorporeal beings here. Anyway good to see that he learned what it's like to be on the other side, and that the incorporeal aliens learned to exercise some compassion for once. Growing morally is what life is all about -- too bad Archer didn't figure that out in Dear Doctor.

    I really see this episode as penance for "Dear Doctor", and moreover, the various episodes of TNG ("Homeward", I'm looking at you!) that presented really reprehensible ethical decisions under the guise of the almighty Prime Directive. Archer's speech on compassion and empathy is surprisingly touching, and the episode hits all the right marks. This is Star Trek at its best, and all in a bottle episode to boot!

    Observer Effect is one of my 2 or 3 favorite ENTs up to now, 4 stars all the way. I was actually riveted by the story and I thought the acting and direction were top notch. I even liked T’Pol’s controlled but noticeable concern for Trip at the end plus Archer’s speech was very good and believable. The aliens were cool and I like how they introduced them at the start with the chess game … it had me doing a double take, are they making these 2 chess masters out of the blue? It was realistic that Trip and Hoshi immediately noticed Mayweather’s odd visit to quarantine though the aliens were played a bit off but not very obviously off which would raise alarms. The slow explanation of their race, what they were doing and their powers was nicely done. Finding out more about Trip and Hoshi was also neat. It occurred to me that, unlike TOS with Spock, this ship’s Vulcan science officer might only be the third smartest person on board after the linguist/cryptographer/security prodigy (and black belt!) and the multi-advanced degree alien doctor/scientist/exobiologist (and great basketball shooter!). The ending in sick bay was intense. I knew that somehow both Hoshi and Trip would survive, this isn’t BSG after all. But Archer and Phlox and the direction were very convincing plus the make up on Hoshi & Trip made it seem real. I’m glad that it was a non-violent solution not pew-pew, sensor pulse, quantum blah blah that defeated the aliens. Archer used human nature and qualities to convince the aliens they were on the wrong path. Really, a superb Trek and done with zero guest stars, just the normal cast with good writing. Excellent!

    I refuse to allow Dear Doctor into continuity so this wasn't so bad. If you do allow Dear Doctor into continuity, however, you face the fact that Archer and Phlox are hypocrites. When it's someone else dying and they have the cure, we can't interfere because evolution demands it. But when someone else has the cure and we are dying, well they're not compassionate even though evolution demands we die. Apparently.

    Oh that's a really neat and clever tie-in with TOS, I absolutely love that. I'm not familiar enough with TOS (watched it all, but only once) to have spotted it myself, but knowing it's there... I just think that's brilliant.

    "It's old-hat Star Trek"
    Yes, yes it is... and that's exactly what I've been wanting all along. The 'human values' thing does need to be spaced out in between other things still, because otherwise it'd be too preachy, but at times ENT was devoid of it and so I really appreciate episodes like this.

    Interesting indeed how it fits in with Dear Doctor, and the missed opportunities for further exploring the hypocrisy / penance there. Oh well.

    I must say I was pleased to hear Archer refer to his abysmal genocidal decision in 'Dear Doctor'.

    I wonder what ethical wise the deciding differences are between letting people die because of the Star Trek creationist's "natural evolution" or because of an "accident." Too bad that Archer lets it slip away by starting to yell that they have lost compassion and empathy.

    Now what is it? Is "natural development" the criterion, or "compassion and empathy"? From the flow of the discussion Archer definitely places the latter above the former, but doesn't draw the conclusion that he was horribly wrong in 'Dear Doctor' and all those other episode he let people rot due to his "non-interference" treatment.

    And again we meet aliens who are creeps because they are so super developed. It's stupid that they should be learned a lesson by an inferior species. "I'm very non-corporeal and developed, so I don't use my own brains. Instead I use regulations from our master society, whatever the outcome." "Hey, my fellow super-developed beings, another ship. Let's watch them die!"

    I would have liked a bit more background information about their excursion. They went through an old Klingon dump. Trip as the engineer is the obvious choice, together with a few of his men, but Hoshi? Do you regularly bring a linguist with you when you're going to visit a landfill?

    Tip o' the hat to Jay for his remark about Travis :)

    CeeBee: You may think it's stupid that "super developed" aliens would need to (re?)learn compassion and empathy from us. I think it's logical, and better than the (incredibly clichéed) alternative.

    First off, there's the massive development gap. Think about the varying degrees of difference in sophistication between us and various animal species, and how that affects our view of them.

    When an insect dies, even while under observation, few of us notice and fewer care. Sure, most well-adjusted adults won't go around torturing bugs to death, but they'll also swat mosquitos without a second thought. There's so many of them, and we believe them to be simple and emotionless.

    When a wild dog dies -- for example, due to combat with another wild dog, or from disease -- most of us would feel mildly sad for it, and perhaps moreso for the pack members it leaves behind. They may poke at the corpse or remain close to it for a bit, as if mourning or expecting it to get back up, but they ultimately move on. We don't think them truly capable of the same degree of grief and sorrow we know we are, and we must always consider whether any "grieving" we see them perform is just us anthropomorphising our grieving onto them.

    Ultimately, to an advanced mind, we just look like animals, running around on instinct and crudely emulating their own vastly more complex emotions. And to a mind so advanced as to be beyond our comprehension, we can just look like insects -- ants whose group behaviour and colonies should perhaps be studied, but whose individual fates are largely inconsequential.

    Secondly, they may see the universe in a completely different light than we do.

    What if we were super-advanced non-physical beings and we discovered that life was just a temporary phase -- that there really is some concept of a "soul", and that it moves on to greener pastures at "death"? Or reincarnates into new life? Death would have no negative meaning to us, or perhaps even a positive one.

    What if we had been non-physical beings so long that we had forgotten what death was, or what it was to be physical? All we would see is biological creatures growing from single cells into a complex multicellular organism, running around doing their various funny physical-world things, and then eventually ceasing to exist. The others around them briefly behave in an odd fashion, apparently due to some fluctuations in their hormone levels, but almost all eventually return to normal behaviour.

    I suspect it would be easy, perhaps even natural, to become detached from the whole thing. Again, we'd start seeing them as we might see an ant colony -- interesting to watch, perhaps worth watching with a statistical eye to see what patterns emerge from different species or how they react to problems, but ultimately not really worth our empathy.

    Thirdly: If you ask me, the _least_ believable super advanced alien is the one you see in a lot of space opera, particular Star Trek -- the kind of alien that wields godly power and yet insists on using it to interact with _us_.

    Particularly unbelievable is the "doting mother" style of aliens, the ones that watch us and step in at key moments to save us. That's akin to us setting up surveillance in the wild to watch for animal fights and swooping in to stop them.

    To demonstrate what's wrong with that: Let's say you do that. You watch a group of animals, and every time they fight, you stop them. Every time they're starving, you feed them. If they have disease, you do your best to cure them.

    What you've effectively done is to _domesticate_ them. They now depend on you, and if you cease to help them, they'll probably die. They'll also start picking up on your own behaviours as well. For animals, that's a limited set of mannerisms and trained responses, including Pavlovian ones. But for sentient species, it can be a whole lot more.

    Give an intelligent species free food when they're hungry? They'll probably consider you generous and altruistic and may model themselves after you. Demand some sort of payment for it instead? They may embrace a system of barter or currency and go down the path of the Ferengi. Hide the food so that they might or might not find it? They'll say that you work your "miracles" in "mysterious ways" and probably end up like some religions today.

    You can't help but have an impact. And if you leave the same impact with every species you meet, you're just going to raise a galaxy of species almost exactly like yours, instead of letting diversity flourish. Which is (IMO) the real reason that the Prime Directive exists.

    Under the rules of the Prime Directive, the Federation has been known to watch pre-warp cultures via careful surveillance -- much the same as these aliens did. They've been known to cover up their presence if necessary -- same as these aliens did. And if some of the aliens, even those under surveillance, contracted a disease they had no hope of curing, the Federation observers would have no real choice but to watch them die.

    The would-be exceptions only serve to prove the rule. That time when they moved some natives to another planet to prevent them going extinct? That was only because Wolf's brother had already violated the Prime Directive by beaming them aboard -- and by secretly making contact with them in the first place. Moving them was the only viable option at that point, short of a mass execution.

    As a thought experiment, let's take the entire plot of "Observer Effect" and transplant it to a planet with lots of sentient beings on it. The Federation is watching the planet. There's an island with a contagion on it -- native, not placed there by an alien species -- that will easily kill the entire crew of any seafaring ship that discovers it, unless they quarantine or open fire upon their sick crew returning to the ship. And due to the distance and rough seas, it's unlikely that a ship of dead crew would make it back to shore and infect the mainland.

    What would the differences be? Surprisingly few, I'd bet. The Federation probably wouldn't watch the contaminated island with the same sort of morbid curiosity as the aliens in this episode -- although they would likely be aware of it, and perhaps keep an eye on it from an epidimiologic point of view. They wouldn't destroy any "Danger! Stay away!" signs left by the luckier ships. And unlike (one of) the two aliens, when an infection inevitably occurred, they would feel empathy for the victims, and they would _want_ to help.

    But when it comes right down to it, they also probably wouldn't interfere with an infection when it happens. They wouldn't put up their own warning signs, or decontaminate the island.

    And when the "HMS Enterprise" finds the island, and two of their crew get sick, and their captain gets sick trying to help them ... unless they suddenly pull a warp engine out of their cargo hold, you're going to have three dead crewmen and some Federation observers who wish they were allowed to help.

    Even if it spread to the mainland, who's to say that stepping in would be the right course of action? What if it spurs the medical community to make leaps and bounds in medical science to combat it? What if it interacts with a select few species' or individuals' DNA and changes them in a positive way? Are we to play god and decide what happens to them? According to the Prime Directive, the answer is a very clear "no".

    Let's face it: When one of those ships finds that island and starts being struck down one by one by the disease, and they accidentally discover that someone has been watching over them and countless other prior victims, they're going to think the Federation and the Prime Directive as unfair and alien as Archer and Phlox did when they encountered the aliens and their "protocol".

    But you know what? There's a reason for that protocol. And frankly, I think the aliens should have stuck to it.

    (Then again, I also think they should've stopped being such jerks by presumably destroying other warning beacons just so they could use the disease as some sort of morbid personality test. Ah well.)

    I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this.

    I mean, the idea that humans are somehow more compassionate and unpredictable than any other species observed over hundreds of years is shamelessly appealing to our vanity..

    But all the same, I found this a pleasure to watch for all the reasons you've mentioned Jammer. Particularly the way it "believes in Trek as humanist science fiction rather than just an adventure show".

    3.5 from me. Best thing so far this season after The Forge.

    great ep... small quibble. if the virus is Si based, would it be dangerous? it would need more Si to reproduce and we humans aren't a good source.

    I want to translate some of Hoshi's rantings during her escape attempt, for viewers' benefit:

    As Hoshi first tries to leave quarantine in decom; standing at the exit interacting with the electronic "lock" panel:

    @20:50 Hoshi (in Spanish) "I know that I'm backward. Enterprise doesn't go until tomorrow. I only need five minutes."

    Hoshi and Trip at the airlock, minutes later:

    @22:05 Trip: "Hoshi, you have to stop. That's an airlock. You open those doors, we die."

    Hoshi (in Russian): "Of course. Goodbye."

    As the review puts it: great show despite traditional ingredients.

    And did anyone else was greatful that they chose to provide Travis with some screentime, even if it was not him exactly? Bitter irony.

    Little correction on Pon Farr's translation above... Hoshi says "I know I'm LATE..." not "I know I'm backward". Greetings from Argentina.

    Good episode... Such a shame that Enterprise couldn't get to 7 series like TNG, VOY and DS9... It really was getting better, and the other three certainly took their time to get better as well... Really sad, especially after the great Kir Shara arc.

    I think the criteria the aliens would accept to initiate first contact their way would be if the subjects are smart enough to diagnose AND develop a cure for the disease AND use it successfully to cure the affected. Hefty requirements for first contact!

    Wisq, I agree 100% with everything you've said (and taken quite a long time to explain intelligently and in detail). I think you have the definitive answer here and I've enjoyed reading you.


    Simplicity is its own reward, but I also contend that not all Godly being episodes of Star Trek are bad. Look at TNG "Q-Who", Q taught everyone a good lesson that our arrogance in Technical advancement could destroy us, when faced with foes that are beyond anything we have ever known, i.e. The Borg.

    Love this episode!!

    When I first saw it, I knew Enteprise had only 4 seasons so I thought Hoshi was gone (snif) Glad to see they didn't kill her off.

    Great TOS feel and link to Errand of Mercy.

    A rating of 10 from me!

    Is this episode penance for Dear Doctor? You be the judge.

    I don't feel like going back and forth on the details of this one, I was just impressed by Scott Bacula's acting in the final debate with the reanimated corpses of Trip and Hoshi. His quiet sadness rang true.

    Very interesting reading Wisq. I liked the parallels you drew.

    This was like watching Dear Doctor. Except the victims are now humans as opposed to being the alleged saviors. Interesting to see how desperate we became in our hour of need. Archer's speech about "playing God" in the aforementioned episode gets quickly put on the backburner when the shoe's on the other foot.

    I do wish the writers had chosen to not let the aliens help the crew, though. They should have been made to accept the inevitable just as the Valakians were forced to. No reason why the Prime Directive shouldn't cut both ways.

    I also agree with Markus. Travis gets more screen time, just not as himself. The irony of that wasn't lost on me either.

    There is one little problem with this episode: the biochemistry is bogus in a very elementary way.

    The virus is silicon-based; it needs silicon compounds to grow. There is no silicon in human bodies. So how could it grow in us?

    I could imagine it infecting windows, wine glasses, ceramics, silicon based electronics (if such electronics are still in use in the mid 22nd century)... but not humans or animals from Earth.

    Otherwise, it's an ok episode.

    To me this has a kind of TNG type feel - powerful aliens putting humanity on trial sort of thing. But the possession aspect is a neat little narrative trick that really works well here - although it's noticeable that this is the most Travis has had to do for weeks and he's not even himself.

    However, even if the delivery is fresh the story isn't nearly so inventive and it plays out like so many other ticking clock episodes. The reference to the Organians is a nice touch, but I never picked it up not being a TOS fan. 2.5 stars.

    Wow - brilliant, 4 out of 4 stars for me! Pretty much the same opinions as Zane 314 commented on. I was enthralled from beginning to end with this witty, intelligent and rather complex episode that rewards the viewer with a great script, solid acting and heaps to say and think about with a lot of the Prime Directive issues in the ST universe.

    Although on the surface it may appear a rather conventional "bottle episode" the more you look into it the more I got out of it. In my opinion.

    Like chalk and cheese compared to the woeful episode that preceded it.

    This is one brilliant episode. This is pretty much what defines Star Trek for me - yes, SI Viruses are bogus, and although i am one of those ST-Fans that love the Technobabble, this is one of the exceptions i really don't care.

    And i agree with Wisq for most of his wonderful write up - with a slight exception. I don't think, Archer and Phlox are Hypocritical. There is a difference between changing two Species, and getting involved in their normal development in getting "one Species". That would be like - as it was an example in that episode - giving the Homo Sapiens an advantage or disadvantage.

    But that's not what the Organians did and it's a very different situation. If Star Trek has taught me one thing it's that not one single situation is black an white and there is always more to what meets the eye. Giving the Homo Sapiens an advantage or an disadvantage is completely game changing.

    Using Wisq's example about the Island, this would be like the Federation stepping in to relief the suffering - but not letting them know why. "Miraculous healing" would also spark that curiosity, the leap in finding a cure for something, that nobody ever has seen. It would take a bit longer, but it's no where near what happened in "Dear Doctor", because i am with Hoshi, regarding who the Valakians treated the Menk, and especially after the reaction from the Valakians, when they where told that the Menk are actually pretty intelligent and so on - bottom line is: Asking for the (metaphorical) Cure and the Warpdrive was not something Archer did in this Episode. Getting back to the Island, they would have been cured by the Federation - but they have no idea, why. Yes, it's an interference, but that's more like caring for the broken bone in the wing of a bird - the bird isn't going to depend on you. So is the interference from the organians. It's not something that will be changing the history of humanity (well, actually, if Archer would have died...well, it probably would have infuriated Daniels ;) ), or the course of humanity.

    It also doesn't make a difference if Phlox would have found the cure to heal the captain - or if Starfleet Medical will find one in a few months from the Episode. But Hoshis, Archers and Trips deaths are not necessary for that cure.

    I think this must be another one I dozed off during, as there are a couple of references to scenes here from the latter part which I don't remember, so I should reserve judgement til I've re-watched it - and I feel a bit more like moving on.

    I'm a little less enthused about this - seems rather like it's all too familiar - but perhaps that's because I missed out on the best bits. It's certainly a vast improvement, as far as one-off's go, over Daedalus.

    I was stunned at the start of this episode - Mayweather gets a major part in an episode! Except it's not Mayweather, is it - it's a non-corporeal alien occupying his body. It's a true measure of how bereft of character this character is, that nowadays the only time they'll give him any screentime is when he's someone else...

    1. - Wisq and Andy's Friend are a credit to what human wisdom can look like and should be examples to aspire toward for most of the rest of the commentators on this site. It's been very sad for me to see so many people show so little imagination or recognition of what they're seeing and instead choosing to just draw comparisons to previous episodes, tell us how they feel, or, worst of all, insert their 20XX political views into their perception of what they saw in the episode. Some of all of that seems okay, but it makes up such a great portion of what gets typed in these episode followups that it leaves me feeling that the entire point of Star Trek and science fiction remains beyond the viewers, who seem instead to want to subject matter to cater to their personal ethics.

    To have the occasional folks use their minds to delve deeply into the philosophy of Star Trek and to imagine the future uncolored by the present is great fun. I recommend reading the posts by Andy's Friend in the comment thread for Season 2: Cogenitor.

    2. - You can use the keypad to break out of quarantine?

    3. - Either nobody had ever left a buoy until the humans or the Organians were preventing it. Either way, the Star Trek Universe is just as - if not more - tumultuous and brutal as the Warhammer 40k one.

    4. - There's no way for the doctor to do surgery while in a bio-hazard suit? We can do that in 2017...

    ARCHER: ...I understand why you won't get involved with a species' natural development. I've faced that decision myself. It isn't an easy one to make.

    An obvious reference to 'Dear Doctor' by the writers, and seen that way by other posters, but I don't see how this episode is somehow analogous to 'Dear Doctor', or it's opposite.

    In this episode all Archer (and earlier, Phlox) wanted was for the aliens to cure three people of a sickness that they could prevented them from getting in the first place. Asking someone to save three people isn't asking them to interfere with the human species' 'natural development'.

    That would be like Enterprise finding a planet infected by a virus and then three Vulcans show up and he doesn't warn them and they travel down to the planet and they get sick and he refuses to help them, letting them die, even though he has the cure. Of course he would warn them first. And if he couldn't for some reason, he would certainly help them afterwards.

    That situation is a very very different scenario than what was presented in DD.

    In DD they happened upon this planet and discovered them already in the midst of this worldwide epidemic genetic disease. They had no control over how or whether or not they got it in the first place. And in DD there is an entire species facing extinction, which prompted some huge moral dilemmas for Archer and Phlox. Should they interfere with the development of an entire planet? Who are they to say that one species is more worthwhile than another to live? Etc. They weren't just deciding whether or not to save a few people.

    In DD if they had come upon that planet and three of the people living there had been shot and been about to die, say, and the people there didn't know how to keep them from dying, of course they would have helped them. But that's not even close to the same thing as what the episode was actually about.

    Good episode. 3 1/2 stars.

    I found it interesting that the two alien beings inhabited Reed and Mayweather, the two main cast characters with the least developed personalities. If they had inhabited other characters and caused them to act out character, perhaps the crew could have caught on to what they were doing. And Archer's big noble speech doesn't match his past actions, which I've found very disturbing at least once. But I can make allowances that as he gains more experience, perhaps his ideas about first contact are evolving.

    Very interesting episode. This type of exploration is exactly why I watch Star Trek. For me , 3 1/2 stars.

    Observer Effect is one of my favourite episodes.
    It's one of the few episodes of Star Trek i watched where i actually felt like anything can happen.
    It was brilliantly written and acted and it made all of the characters interesting.
    It's an easy 4 out of 4 stars from me.

    Who mixed this soundtrack? The background music in this episode drowns out the dialog at many times through the showing!

    In my opinion, this is a nice antithesis to the "appaling" Dear Doctor episode.

    What is the essence of being "human"? Compassion? Sympathy?

    It is a shame Phlox and Archer were not allowed to remember their direct interactions with the aliens, but I loved the irony.

    To me, the message is bluntly clear: the Prime Directive, or whatever you name it, doesn't apply when there are humanitarian issues.

    4 stars! The TOS reference is just a plus, it makes no difference.

    Wonderful episode. I was really reminded of "The Empath" here, which is one of my favorite TOS episodes. There Kirk gives the Vians Archer's empathy/compassion speech and the Vians cure McCoy -- they were observing Gem's ability for self-sacrifice just as the Organians were observing the NX-01 crew. I see the similarities with "Dear Doctor" as well with the roles reversed. As for the Organians - awesome to throw them in -- the race of super-beings who then take a different tack in "Errand of Mercy" when dealing with Kirk & Kor. They don't seem to mind death here but abhor violence at the time of TOS.

    What really works here is the viewer watching from the perspective of the Organians -- so they are going through this elaborate experiment to determine who to initiate first contact with. I think this was quite creative and with a few tweaks from prior episodes felt fresh and original.

    This episode benefits greatly from the acting performances. Pretty much everyone was on point. I liked the dialog between Trip and Hoshi where Hoshi talks about breaking her boss's arm in a poker game. I hate to say it but Travis's acting was decent here because he was acting as an Organian for the most part (the sympathetic one).

    Thought the scenes with Archer and Phlox (here's the similarities with "Dear Doctor") trying to save Hoshi and Trip were gripping. It's not that we know that obviously they won't die but it's how their deaths don't happen. They actually do die but I'm glad it just wasn't just Phlox's radiation BS that saved them. And Archer even has to tell T'Pol that she's in charge etc. after he becomes infected. This act really worked for me.

    I think the plot is pretty clever in letting Hoshi break free. This really should not be possible but it forces Phlox to get her and Trip to sedate themselves. Then the Organians discuss their plans inhabiting these 2 and Phlox observes them and reads the Organians the riot act for what they're doing. That serves to soften up the Travis Organian and then along comes Archer with his compassion speech.

    Where the episode gets "docked marks" for me is that with the Organians -- super-beings with limitless powers -- there will always be questions about why didn't they do this or that. So like why don't they just communicate telepathically so that Phlox can't listen to them in decon? There are other things that I also thought of but won't mention (like why bother with first contact with a species so significantly inferior to your own etc.) This is only a minor knock on what is truly a terrific episode.

    Archer's speech, while some may say it's trite or whatever, wasn't bad (Kirk's to the Vians was better) but it touched on the classic Trekkian themes of what it is to be human -- he says that the Organians can't just observe to understand humans etc. I liked this and how the ending played out.

    3.5 stars for "Observer Effect" -- truly a diamond in the rough. Just really well conceived, felt like some fresh sci-fi with great acting and probing moments. Definitely goes back to some of the most basic themes in sci-fi and does it without the need for fancy VFX etc. It's very much like "The Empath" also because it's very basic -- just a good story with quality performances that make one not be put off by suspension of disbelief (silicon-based virus or super-beings).

    I thought this was a good one, Reed and Mayweather were interesting in this one.

    Maybe aliens should refrain from dissing chess if they're capable of losing a game in 7 moves with the white pieces.

    Here is another great episode, loving this series but some of the episodes piss me off :)

    An episode about a deadly virus that begins with coughing. Not what I was hoping for. I feel like I’ve seen this episode in real life everyday for the past 7 months. Despite that though, this manages to be a good episode that comes along at the right time in the season. I agree with 3 stars

    One of the best Enterprise episodes. They get great mileage out of the inherent spookiness of body possessions.

    It’s indeed a clever mashup of The Empath and Errand of Mercy. Archer even gets a solid Kirk speech and Bakula delivers it well.

    While I have never been a fan of Enterprise bringing in other races (Borg, Ferengi) from older Treks, and to avoid continuity issues, nobody remembers or whatever, it works well here because the aliens being Organian is in no way significant

    I also really liked that defib type device. Whatever the technobabble, it looked and seemed like a real medical device somewhere between current technology and 23rd century magic.

    I was thinking about how Discovery pulled a similar trick in its latest season (which I won't spoil just in case), and how that felt like a completely arbitrary and hamfisted addition, while here the TOS connection is like the cherry on top of an already terrific episode.

    And boy, am I glad I didn't get to this episode until after a recent bout of covid!

    I'm a fan of this episode too, H. I've heard some fans say that season 4 was full of fan-service, but I think they handled things just right. The show felt like a prequel to TOS without trodding the exact same ground and without throwing in a ton of Easter Eggs and in-jokes.

    I like Scott Bakula, but I think he may have been miscast as Archer. And I don't always like how Archer was written. However, this episode really gets the character right, imo, and Bakula does a great job. I wish the character had been written in the earlier seasons a little closer to what we get here.

    The aliens were unbelievably sloppy at their job. They spent half the episode loudly discussing their mission in public areas of the ship. And I was laughing every time the possessed crew members just stared through the quarantine window and asked the most stilted, inhuman questions imaginable. We're supposed to believe one of these guys has been at this for 800 years? I guess it is all just hand-waved away by the memory altering.

    Just a reminder of how cool Hoshi could have been if anyone had realized it earlier in the series. Even Anthony Montgomery's acting passes muster in this episode!

    Also this is a more original episode than most are giving it credit for. Humanity on the other side of the Prime Directive. Not something we get to see often, at least not to this extent. If Enterprise had been making these kinds of episodes all along . . . ah, well.

    Indeed a very good episode. I particularly enjoyed all the actors playing the aliens, I found myself trying to guess which one is who when they switched.
    For once humans being on the receiving end was also an entertaining intellectual exercise.
    The parallel to Dear Doctor is obvious, one cannot help but lament at the inconsistency of Archer as a character. Kinda became laughable. Although I will admit the situation is not 100% identical (entire specie vs. a few specimens to be saved), the similarity is too big not to be noticed. I am convinced there was an intention on the part of the writers to correct the damage of DD.
    The very end is the only part that bothered me. The aliens were not trying to *understand* what it meant to be human, they were *judging* humans to know whether they should initiate first contact or not. One might argue that in order to judge you need to understand the subject, but I was not convinced by the sudden decision to interfere based on just a speech about compassion being the way to understand humans. Sort of felt like humans are the most advanced species, teaching 10,000 year old super-evolved super-intelligent non-corporeal beings how to improve themselves… very presumptuous and arrogant if you ask me.
    I think it would have worked better if Archer had made a plea to the aliens’ already existing compassion, and convinced them that helping out a few humans and deleting their memory would not have any meaningful impact. Sort of how a pre-warp species could have convinced Archer to bend the prime directive.

    Interesting episode. Of course Archer is hypocritical, but for any human on this planet, I am sure they are taking certain decisions that, if the role were reversed, they wouldn't at least plead that it be another way. I liked that Archer's realization of his own hypocrisy is evident on his face. But this realization also helps him understand quickly that an appeal will not overcome the Organian non-interference directive. This is why he takes a different approach, a trick if you will. Offers the Organians the chance to learn compassion! This quickly-shifting-attitudes-to-see-what-works approach is the hallmark of Captain Kirk's dealing with aliens. Archer has to do it here while smarting from the realization of the consequences of his own previous actions.

    So, I agree with RonB above, that it would have been better if Archer could have won an appeal to compassion. But he actually loses that argument. He wins due to a last-ditch feint, not a philosophical dialogue. This episode makes us feel the way insects feel -- irrelevant; but then we feel relieved too. By whatever luck, our friends scraped through just this once.

    Good episode, my only criticism would be the arragonce that these aliens have studied different species for 800 years and only humans have shown this level of compassion. Timely that we are currently going through an actual pandemic and while there are stories of compassion, I think the overall grade for humanity would be a failing one.

    *arrogance (hate to leave a spelling mistake that lasts for eternity)

    Good acting all around, especially Organian Travis. He came alive to a greater degree than default Travis /facepalm

    This is one of my favourites. It has philosophical value in that it makes us wonder if humans will some day evolve in to higher beings. Will we study primitive civilizations because we've forgot how our predecessors use to live? It has it's flaws like the deus ex machina ending but I can forgive them.

    I think the Organians pointing out how few possible chess moves there are seemed to lack insight, they should realize how primitive humans are.

    Over all score: 8/10

    Really enjoyed this episode! Totally twisted & turned in fun, unexpected ways, regardless if the final outcome was inevitable. This is what great Trek is all about!

    One of the series' best. The cast did a great job as their possessed versions and the script did a good job of delivering a traditional Trek message. If only Coto and the Reeves-Stevenses had come on board sooner this show may have not been prematurely canned.

    p.s. A gif of an oddly hypnotic swaying Hoshi from the the opening shuttlecraft scene:

    "'Math is just another language, (Hoshi's alien) says, before overriding the computer codes and breaking the quarantine seal. The notion of one person breaking crucial security with such ease defies common sense."

    Why not? Cassandra Cillian did it often in the 2014-2018 series The Librarians.

    Nit picks
    1. It would have been better if, during the chess game, Travis (Reed?) said "Oh, mate in 134 moves. I resign". "Mate in 5?" Seems like something a neophyte would say.

    2. Hoshi bypassing security? Why wouldn't you simply put a deadbolt on the door? Why have any capability to open it from the inside?

    3. RE: "Dear Doctor". I too think the situation is completely different. In DD, Archer and Phlox were faced with a species-altering decision either way and they decided (rightly or wrongly) to not interfere. Here, the stakes are much less: the lives of 3 humans. Daniels aside, there's no obvious reason to NOT save the lives.

    Nice to see the Organians. Though I wonder how much they actually have changed between ENT and TOS. In TOS, would have they done *anything* if their planet hadn't been of strategic importance? They did say that exposure to [corporeals] was annoying (?, I forget the exact term they used); did they interfere just to make the humans and Klingons go away? I'm not sure they really cared.... an analogy might be: Your neighbors are having a loud domestic disturbance at night and you don't care how it resolves, you just want them to shut up so you can get some sleep. Perhaps forcing a peace treaty was the least interfering thing to get them off their planet.

    The hypocrisy with dear doctor and this was astounding yes, but I'm starting to think the writers of these episodes have some deranged mindset, trying to convince people that this kind of torture for the purpose of satisfying curiosity or "evaluating a lower species" is OK. It's not! It's barbaric and truly evolved species that are so advanced wouldn't turn to such brutal and stone age methods of "testing" people. The way they write the storylines seems like they are casually trying to dismiss basic morality (which should increase with evolution, not decrease) and basically state any actions whatsoever are justifiable in the name of science/research. Both the aliens AND the prime directive are wrong for this very reason. Yes Archer is a hypocrite but both episodes are attempting to give viewers a very dangerous and backward moral mindset, which is wrong. A species 10,000, or even 1,000 years more advanced could learn all they need to know from accessing their computer databases, personal memories of the "hosts", time travel..etc, whatever. This idea that keeps popping up in star trek (at least 4 episodes so far: scientific method, this one, homeward, dear doctor, and multiple other TNG episodes) that the only reasonable way to make first contact with a species is to infect them with a virus and see how they deal with it or stimulate random segments of their DNA for fun to see how they react, or watch them suffer when they can easily lend a helping total LUNACY. It's scary how many people, especially in the reviews of the dear doctor episode, think this kind of experimentation is OK. Humanity is advancing in technology, but going completely backward in reason/morality/common sense, with this stone age level thinking of "suffering is good" and downplaying the value of basic human rights to medical care and freedom from cruel experiments. You can see this is modern politics today, how many increasing numbers of people think humans should have to "earn" things like food, water, shelter, and Medical treatment, and that anyone who requests help with these things is "primitive and entitled". Enough already. The prime directive is in no way a "proper way" to do space exploration (as I commented about in Dear Doctor), and advanced aliens would not do things like this. Good episodes in terms of plot, but the morality/reason behind them is senseless and based on total barbaric ideologies.

    Also, quick comment about the chess at the beginning, I'm a chess player, and I gotta say for an alien species 10,000 years advanced thinking with the moves they played (clearly visible), that black wins in 7 moves from that position, is Lunacy, stockfish from 2023 would refute that in half a second. But hey, at least this was actual higher intelligence beings claiming to be chess experts, instead of the ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS crap in the TNG where counselor troi is suddenly a chess master calculating 8 move checkmate against a COMPUTER (data), or Riker calculating 20 moves ahead in menage a troi. Is being a chess supergrandmaster a requirement to graduate the academy for Christ sake? Just glad this episode didn't include THAT kind of laughable scene lol

    And the bad science in this episode is really bad this time. It took billions of years of evolution to slightly change the physical forms of life form on Earth, how in 10,000 years would people "evolve" into pure energy beings capable of doing all this? How do non corporeal beings erase memories and take control of corporeal ones? Even the parapsychology and NDE research that's done now, indicates that it is not the case, that the effects of the mind and spiritual consciousness on the real world are VERY weak. Further how would a silicon based organism thrive on carbon based human cells? Even if this episode was intended to be an uno-reverse on Dear Doctor (which I highly doubt, as star trek writers can't even keep concepts consistent across on episode, let alone seasons), the premise was seriously flawed. 3 stars for being edge of your seat entertaining, but minus a star for the absurd morality/bad Science. When the doctor saw what was happening on the view screen, he should have immediately made a shipwide announcement like "crew members are being controlled by invading aliens, red alert!" notifying everyone at once. There were only 2 of them, they wouldn't have been able to control everyone.

    Great ep!
    Watching story about a virus, race for a cure etc was particularly relevant now in COVID era.
    Props to acting performance here by Connor Trinneer, Trip looked truly sick. I mean he looked messed up!
    Very heroic turn by Archer, I hope his conscience is bugging him now about his appalling decisions in Dear Doctor!

    I really enjoyed this one. Hoshi is such an interesting character when the writers remember to use her. I appreciated the acknowledgement that she's a genius (since her ability to learn alien languages in minutes is preposterous) and learning more about her history. I wonder if "make Hoshi suffer" is the Enterprise equivalent of DS9's "make O'Brien suffer.

    Given all of the comparisons to Dear Doctor, I feel compelled to point out that the Enterprise did NOT have a cure to share with--or withhold from--the Valakians. Phlox came up with what he could, and the Enterprise left without solving every problem on the planet or sharing all of their technology, neither of which was a reasonable ask.

    Just because one *could* solve another's problem with enough time and resources doesn't mean that they're obligated to do so. You don't have to go to medical school if a relative gets sick, you don't have to buy an apartment for a homeless person, and you don't have to solve an alien species' genetic flaw.

    Here, the Organians had the power to solve the silicon based disease and chose to simply let people catch it and die. It was cruel and unnecessary -- there are plenty of other ways to interact with new species. It's a totally different scenario from Dear Doctor IMHO. (I'll get down off my soapbox now.)

    >Here, the Organians had the power to solve the silicon based disease and chose to simply let people catch it and die. It was cruel and unnecessary -- there are plenty of other ways to interact with new species.

    I admit it seems cruel but to be fair (and as Jammer correctly pointed out) the Organians had mellowed out by Kirks era as seen in "Errand of Mercy". I wonder if we'll ever see them again, there has been missed opportunity for it already.

    I look at it this way, humans study and even experiment upon animals that we are far more advanced than. May be the 22nd century Organians use the same excuses that we do, justifying it in a similar fashion.

    Except they weren't doing it for any productive research purposes or to help anyone in the future (not saying forced experimentation is right even for that reason), but they already could cure them and didn't just for their stupid curiosity and lunatic "first contact protocols". And they've been doing it for 10,000+ years. Dear Doctor was just as wrong, the aliens asked for help, Enterprise developed a cure, and they with-held it because of some irrational fears of how that could affect their evolution 10,000 years from now. Even lied and said they couldn't develop one when they already had. Couldn't imagine the insanity if we refused to develop antibiotics and vaccines because "what if it prevents some other sentient life from forming in the far future". It's lunacy. Even now we should have mandatory organ donation for everyone after death. It's insane how we give dead people more rights than living, sentient, suffering sick people.

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