WARNING: Is "A Night in Sickbay" a night to remember? Read on, but 'ware the spoilers.�
In brief: No.�
"A Night in Sickbay" Enterprise Season 2, Episode 5 Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga Directed by David Straiton Brief summary: Archer spends the night in sickbay when an away mission threatens Porthos' life.
Okay, this one will be quick.
"A Night in Sickbay," despite a couple of decent scenes here and there involving Dr. Phlox's culture, was one of those episodes that made me deeply embarrassed to be a regular "Enterprise" watcher -- because, with this episode coming straight from the minds of the creators, it's clear that the series, or at least this aspect of it, assumes I am part of a very particular demographic.
That demographic, from all appearances, consists primarily of oversexed junior-high boys who drool with anticipation at the prospect of maybe possibly kinda getting to catch a glimpse of Jolene Blalock's breasts.
Color me unimpressed.
"A Night in Sickbay" started off on shaky notes and descended from there. We start with the ever-wonderful decon chamber, with Archer trading gel with both Hoshi and T'Pol, with Porthos tossed in for good measure. Archer's annoyed because, after apologizing and playing the polite guest, he's yet again managed to somehow offend the Kreetassans (last seen in "Vox Sola"), who have an important plasma injector that would replace the one going bad on board.
In other words: a single episode after the Enterprise was *completely and utterly fixed, good as new*, something significant goes wrong and we have to go visiting a race that was in competition for Least Interesting Race of Season One. This is not, to me, a good beginning. (One almost wonders if B&B noticed that we'd gone a few episodes without seeing Vaughn Armstrong and decided to make this one ... and keep in mind while I'm saying this that I *like* Armstrong's work.)
Regardless, Phlox releases everyone from decon except Porthos, who's picked up some kind of pathogen and needs further treatment. Archer fumes for a while about the Kreetassans, and it turns out that Porthos is a lot sicker than was originally thought -- the pathogen, which shouldn't be affecting him much if at all, is attacking his immune system.
If you can put aside the fact that the "this shouldn't be affecting him" mystery is something brought up and never alluded to again, this isn't a bad scene -- Bakula, in particular, does a good job here projecting Archer's concern for Porthos without going overboard. (I've noticed that he generally does much better with soft scenes than with "Archer gets belligerent" ones -- perhaps he's just too nice a guy at heart.)
Porthos' plight also gives Archer a further reason for anger, since (he believes) Porthos wouldn't be sick if the Kreetassans had actually bothered to look at the genetic profile Phlox sent down of the landing party (pooch included). All well and good -- except that frankly, given the last time we saw the Kreetassans, to put the life and health of the landing party in their hands is an intensely stupid act, and I'm surprised no one calls Archer on it. (Forget T'Pol questioning Archer's priorities -- I'd have had her question his judgment in heading down without doing a check of the atmosphere himself, especially if he's *that* concerned about Porthos.)
What's worse, Porthos is also at the heart of the diplomatic fracas, as the reason the Kreetassans are offended this time is that Porthos, while on the surface, piddled on one of their sacred trees. Y'know, when the "where no dog has gone before" line came up in "Strange New World," I saw speculation that we'd one day see Porthos cause an incident by "going" where he oughtn't. I figured it was a joke. I need to learn better.
Regardless, however, that's the premise. The Kreetassans send up a lengthy list of tasks Archer needs to perform in order to show proper contrition for this offense, and Archer needs to decide whether to apologize while worrying about Porthos' continued health. Fair enough.
Archer can't relax in his own quarters (there's a good shot of him seeing Porthos' empty bed), so he decides to spend the night in sickbay, so he can be close to his dog and one or both of them can draw comfort from that fact. I can sympathize -- I'd be inclined to do the same thing were one of my cats in such a state.
Unfortunately, what we get from here on in isn't touching -- it's funny, or at least it's supposed to be. Apparently Phlox is only allowed to be a competent doctor in episodes like "Dead Stop" -- here, he's the plucky comic relief whose alien nature lets us laugh at him. WATCH! as the Phantastic Phlox clips his toenails and feeds them to one of his critters! SEE! the Phenomenal Phlox comb his gigantic tongue! MARVEL! at the Dynamic Duo's attempt to catch a Tiberian bat!
Yeah. Check, please.
As if that weren't enough, after Archer snaps at T'Pol questioning his priorities, Phlox decides to psychoanalyze the good captain, and asks him how long it's been "since [he] was intimate with a woman." Phlox has observed growing friction between Archer and T'Pol, and believes that it's because Archer's attracted to T'Pol and suppressing it as inappropriate.
To repeat: Yeah. Check, please.
First, there hasn't been much evidence of "growing friction" between the two -- in point of fact, if the end of the first season and much of this season has been trying to show us *anything* it's been trying to show us quite the opposite. Second, there are a great many reasons why Archer would be on edge at the moment, and just as many reasons why T'Pol's opinion would be important to Archer in ways that don't involve sexual attraction in the slightest. This came completely and utterly out of left field.
Now, if it were just Phlox jumping to some odd conclusions, that'd be one thing. However, everything we get on this topic later in the show suggests that he's right: Archer eventually accepts it, and even T'Pol strongly hints that the attraction is noticed and even potentially reciprocated. Things hit a particularly fevered note (and the preview from last week gets most of its footage) during a dream sequence of Archer's where he and T'Pol are the ones who have to remain in decon, and he finds T'Pol stripping down so as to better ... service ... the cause of medicine.
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Dawson's Starship. Will T'Pol choose Archer or Trip this week? And will anyone be left watching to care?
I know I've said this enough times that people are likely getting tired of reading it, but it's certainly worth repeating here. If there's someone on a series I'm going to find attractive, that choice needs to be mine -- not that of the producers. I do not take kindly to having a message of "Hey! She's the BABE!" shoved down my throat any more than I do being preached at in other ways. And if I want titillation, "Enterprise" is not going to be my first choice of viewing no matter how much skin you decide to show off. (Even sticking to network television, "Buffy" has far better dialogue most of the time and a much more attractive cast.)
Now, having ranted sufficiently, the "to apologize or not to apologize" plot actually dovetails reasonably well with the Porthos plot. Phlox eventually finds a treatment that removes the pathogen and salvages Porthos' immune system, but Porthos' pituitary gland is damaged beyond repair, and Phlox has no real choice but to transplant the pituitary gland of a chameleon into Porthos to save the dog's life.
Archer, after getting over his shock and some of his anger, assists with the surgery. He and Phlox discuss Phlox's own romantic structure (the polygamous unit mentioned in "Dear Doctor"), and Archer eventually apologizes for accusing Phlox of insensitivity. "And to think," muses Phlox, "T'Pol said you were incapable of apologizing." Archer decides to go down to the surface and make a fool of himself after all, earning the precious Techno-McGuffin and collecting two spares in the bargain.
The "apology" sequence itself was pretty absurd, but the further insight into Phlox's culture was somewhat interesting. I especially liked that he acknowledges how complicated his own family life can be -- "of course -- why else BE polygamous?", and that he seems more than willing to share his own personal life when it's appropriate to do so. I like that Phlox -- I wish he'd gotten more than three minutes of screen time this episode.
But, of course, we have to get back to the sex, since after all it's apparently what the show's decided it's best at. Archer apologizes to T'Pol for the recent friction, and when she notes that said friction is inevitable when people work in such close quarters, he adds, "especially when the two are of the opposite sex." Had this caused T'Pol to break out in the first Vulcan belly laugh of the series, or even caution Archer not to flatter himself quite so damn much, I'd have had a lot more respect. Alas, she says something about how it's a good thing they're not in a position to become attracted to one another then, and exits hastily, leaving viewers tantalized at the prospect of the inevitable Archer/T'Pol pairing.
In terms of sheer screen-time ratios, "A Night in Sickbay" is actually a fairly mixed bag: a decent piece of the Porthos plot borders on touching, for instance, even though I'm not a dog person in the slightest. The completely forced setup and the sexual tension, however, do a distressingly good job of overshadowing everything else.
-- While thinking of possible spoiler warnings, I was hit with the idea that this episode would've been a lot more entertaining had "A Night in Sickbay" been modeled after "A Night at the Opera." Picture it: Phlox in the Groucho role, Trip as Chico, Reed as Zeppo, Mayweather as Harpo (since neither one gets to speak), and T'Pol in the Margaret Dumont role. I think there's potential here. 'Course, it'd help to have that film's writers as well...
-- I'd also have fun if it turns out that Phlox has it all wrong: Archer's actually been nursing a subconscious attraction to Trip all these years instead. Let's challenge some assumptions, shall we?
-- I enjoyed Phlox's little deadpan jest about Porthos being able to blend into the background when frightened now. Phlox works well with *dry* wit, not slapstick.
-- Blooper note: when Archer first arrives with his sleeping gear, the sickbay doors start opening well before he hits the button to open them.
-- The CGI for the bat wasn't too bad -- it's still tough to get flight right, but this struck me as an improvement over some past attempts.
All in all, then, "A Night in Sickbay" is likely to send you to your own personal sickbay. Avoid it. As for me, I'll apologize to anyone who started watching as a result of my last two reviews and landed on this -- sorry, folks. I didn't know it was coming either.
So, let's sum up:
Writing: Some okay cultural stuff for Phlox, far overshadowed by the truly horrific sludge in between. Direction: No major glitches, but nothing that salvaged this either. Acting: I'm so embarrassed for everyone (particularly John Billingsley) that it's hard to tell.
OVERALL: 3, with one of the points due solely to the warm fuzzy I got when Porthos finally got to go home. This is one hell of a split- personality season.
NEXT WEEK: a rerun of "Shockwave, Part II."
Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
"If Porthos pulls through, will he need a special diet or treatment,
having a chameleon's pituitary gland?"
"You may have some difficulty finding him. He'll have the ability to
blend into his background when frightened."
"Yes, I am."
-- Archer and Phlox
Copyright 2002, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
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