The Cynics Corner



by David E. Sluss

4 May 2002

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: A step up from recent outings, but isn't the heavy-handed allegory schtick getting a little tired?


TWO-BY-FOUR TO THE HEAD OF THE WEEK: If I wanted to spin this episode in a positive way, I could claim that this was a gutsy allegory addressing the United States' reaction to the recent terrorist attacks, and in particular the indefinite detention of suspects in the wake of those events. But, of course I'm not going to spin it in a positive way. This story is typical of recent Trek allegories, in that it obliterates shades of gray in favor of a clear demarcation of Good and Evil, while claiming that it's looking at all sides of the issue. The Suliban here are apparently all noble innocents with nary a Cabal sympathizer among them. Meanwhile, the Tandoori are all portrayed in a bad light; all of the guards are thugs (without a single stock "friendly" character), and even Grat, who is so carefully portrayed as reasonable through most of the episode, ends up frothing at the mouth about the Suliban threat. The script has Mayweather advising one of the Suliban (and by extension the viewers) to see past preconceptions and stereotypes, but by its monolithic portrayal of the two alien races, the episode doesn't practice what it preaches.

In addition, the episode very obviously evades the issue it is supposedly addressing. Unlike some of the better allegories of the original series, which were clearly and unapologetically drawn from the events of the series' time, such as the Vietnam War and the struggle for civil rights, this Enterprise episode dodges them. The story sets up the Tandoori as parallels to present-day Americans; the Tandoori have faced Suliban terrorism and have mistreated all Suliban in their effort to combat it. But the script runs away from the story's obvious implications by putting a speech in Archer's mouth paralleling the Tandoori situation, not to the handling of Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners or the detention of Muslim suspects in the United States, but rather to America's treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, more than half a century ago. It strikes me as a cop-out, plain and simple.

STARFLEET UNINTELLIGENCE OF THE WEEK: Archer has for the most part been operating under a "stealth Prime Directive" up to this point. Had he put a little thought into it, he might have realized that he picked the wrong species to interfere with for history's first big Prime Directive Violation. Everything Grat said suggests to me that the Tandoori shouldn't be messed with. They apparently have a reach that extends more than a hundred light years, and an intelligence force that operates in the Rigel system very close to Earth, based on Grat's detailed rundown of the events of "Broken Bow" and "Cold Front." And in the end, what was accomplished -- eighty-nine prisoners freed, their fate uncertain? The ending implies that Archer will go back to his ship and agonize over whether he did the right thing; the remaining Suliban prisoners (including Sajen's wife, who seems to have been forgetten somewhere along the way) will presumably have to live with increased abuse as the Tandoori lock down the remaining prisons even further after the escape. There should be consequences to Archer's choices here somewhere down the line; Enterprise has been surprisingly good about following up, so there's at least a chance.

STARFLEET INSECURITY OF THE WEEK: Grat downloaded details from Enterprise's past missions from the shuttlepods database. Assuming the information was in any way secured, is there any reason for all of that data to be stored in the shuttlepod's computer in the first place?

NEW TECHNOLOGY OF THE WEEK: In "Silent Enemy," a heroic engineering effort was required just to install phase cannons on the Enterprise when the parts were in stock. Now, we see that at some point the crew has apparently built new ones from scratch and put them on the shuttlepods as well. Technology creep, it's a bitch. Speaking odf which, I didn't care for the Enterprise being able to communicate in real time with Grat, whose prison planet initially was five light years away from Enterprise's position; sure, you can explain it (Enterprise was using Tandoori subspace relays, or whatever), but real-time communication is something that is starting to get taken for granted, and I don't think it should be the norm on Enterprise.

CONTRIVANCE OF THE WEEK: How convenient that the Tandoori garaged all of the aliens' confiscated vessels right next to the prison...

CONTRIVANCE OF THE WEEK RUNNER-UP: Malcolm being in disguise was supposed to be cool, I guess, but let's get real. Assuming the prison staff has any professionalism at all, the guards ought to be able to notice a different "Suliban" during the inspection (or at least be able to count; there were only supposed to be 89 prisoners, after all). And why didn't Malcolm beam down into the human cell -- just so he could surprise Mayweather, as well as any inattentive viewer who hadn't figured out what Phlox was up to in his one scene?

Previous: "Oasis"
Next: "Vox Sola"
NEXT WEEK: A CGI creature takes over the ship and menaces the crew.



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This review is copyright 2002 David E. Sluss
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