WARNING: Spoilers have gathered here for ENT's "Civilization."�
In brief: Not entirely riveting, but pretty solid.�
"Civilization" Enterprise Season 1, Episode 8 Written by Phyllis Strong & Mike Sussman Directed by Mike Vejar Brief summary: The Enterprise's investigation of a pre-industrial society finds contamination from another culture.
Well, that's one Trek tradition firmly in place.
I don't mean the TOS-era tradition of the captain getting involved with woman after woman -- we may yet see that, but haven't done so particularly strongly yet. No, I mean the modern Trek tradition of truly *terrible* previews. Based on last week, I think almost anyone would've guessed that Archer's romance with Riann was the main point of the show, when in fact the preview pretty much covered the entire screen time of said romance. Sheesh.
Unlike the preview, then, the actual episode "Civilization" established that we're still in a pre-Prime Directive era, in a manner somewhat different from what "Terra Nova" did earlier in the season. The earlier episode questioned (albeit briefly) whether Archer could swoop in and play God with a newly developed society, even if that society was once fully human. This is the first time Archer's had to deal with a fully developed but previously unknown civilization, and one unaware of space travel to boot. Thus, we get T'Pol pointing out, rightly, that a trip to check out the planet could affect their culture.
Archer's response is basically "we'll try to be careful, but too bad." Now, that's extremely consistent with his character -- he holds extremely pro-explorer, human-centric views and doesn't subscribe to caution easily, so I've no problem on that score. On the other hand, it means that *yet again* we've seen Archer do something reckless and not have it come back to bite him. In fact, this time he can argue quite well that he's done a lot of good by checking the Akali out. If we're moving towards a situation that Archer can't resolve (or at least one where someone points out how incredibly lucky he's been so far), then I look forward to it -- but if this is going to be the status quo for much longer it's going to start wearing somewhat thin.
That said, "Civilization" is in some ways reminiscent of TNG's 'Thine Own Self," partially because of the Akali. In "Thine Own Self," Picard and company have to set things right after the environmental catastrophe caused by Data's crash-landing while trying not to influence a somewhat medieval culture too much. Ring any bells this week?
Fortunately, I quite liked "Thine Own Self," and liked "Civilization" quite a bit as well. Perhaps first and foremost, that's because the episode didn't condescend towards the Akali, as sometimes Trek has been known to do. Archer treated Riann as an equal -- an equal he had to keep certain information from, but an equal nonetheless. Phlox even acknowledges that Riann is an extremely capable scientist given the tools she has and the surroundings in which she lives. I certainly wouldn't expect any regular or sympathetic character to be as callous as Garos, but sometimes Trek has fallen into the trap of "save the civilization because we're the Good Guys, so we can show you how to help your backward ways." (I always got a sense of that from TOS's "A Private Little War," for example; not having watched the show in a while, I'm not sure how justified it is, but it's there.)
It seems a little odd to appreciate a show for what it didn't do, but I also appreciated the general lack of technobabble. The closest we really got came when Phlox started analyzing the water sample T'Pol collected from the apothecary -- but even then, it was very brief. We found out the name of the contaminant, what it's used for, and that it could very plausibly be the cause of the problem. That's enough to move the show on, and move on it did. In other areas, we could have had long digressions on the nature of Garos' energy barrier, but we didn't. (Good thing, too, as there's no real reason these characters should be able to *know* that.) "Enterprise" has generally been reasonably good at avoiding the Technobabble Virus, and I'm hoping it keeps it up.
At its heart, "Civilization" is primarily a tale of Our Heroes trying to blend in with another culture in order to solve a problem. It's well- worn ground, but in part that makes it slightly more appealing here: given how many other approaches we've seen crews take, we can judge a lot about this Enterprise crew by what and how it does.
In almost every way, I think the initial attempts to blend in were pretty successful, both internally and in terms of the show. The only thing which really made me wonder was bringing T'Pol along: assuming that Phlox's cosmetic alterations don't involve trimming her ears back, I'd think that T'Pol would refuse to go on the grounds that she'd be most easily found out. Given her repeated concerns about cultural contamination, it seems a bit short-sighted -- and it's not like she collected any data that others couldn't have gotten. Archer and Trip's subsequent breaking into Garos's shop seemed a little reckless, but at least sensibly done once you get past their initial decision.
Before long, though, things get complicated: Riann discovers them and accuses them of complicity in causing the sickness affecting the city, and we discover that Garos isn't one of the Akali either. Garos' claim that he's an explorer is legitimate enough on the face of it, but not exactly a suspense-builder: given the character's general look and Wade Allen Williams' sinister delivery, did *anyone* expect he was being remotely truthful? (Just once I'd like to have an episode where it turns out the apparent bad guy is completely right.) Archer and T'Pol investigate further, getting information from Riann (both directly and sneakily), and we soon discover that there's an industrial contaminant getting into the city's ground water.
If there's any strong objection to "Civilization," it's that much of the time things are a little too pat. Archer discovers Garos is an alien; check. We discover Garos is responsible for the illness; check. Archer gets romantically interested in Riann; check. Archer and Riann trace a delivery to an alien ship; check. Archer's cover is blown; check. Archer and Riann manage to break in and find out all about Garos' mining operation; check. Thanks primarily to some nice acting from the three main people involved -- Scott Bakula, Diane Delascio (Riann), and Wade Alan Williams (Garos) -- and some nice directing from Mike Vejar, the scenes are individually engaging, but there's nothing here that's jumping up and saying "I'm a great story!"
It was nice, however, to see Enterprise clearly outgunned for a change. When Garos' ship shows up to safeguard his operation, the only way we win is by some creativity: Archer manages to get the dampening field around Garos' shop down in the nick of time, and Trip manages to beam the antimatter reactor (and environmental culprit) onto the Enterprise, and then out into the path of the Malurian ship. Given that humans are the new kids out in space, they *should* be at a lower level of technology compared to most of the groups they meet, and that should be reflected in a lot of their battles. (Similarly, I appreciated the fact that Trip couldn't beam the reactor into space directly, but had to make it a two-part trip.)
I was somewhat less pleased by the firefight that erupts in the town square between Garos (with aides) and Archer. On a goofy technical level, I seem to recall that Archer's phase pistol only has two settings, with "flash-fry and boil this liquid" not one of them. On a much more important level, however, the battle felt very contrived. Garos has a ship, and has gotten Archer and Riann out of the shop's basement where his mining operation is concealed. What is to be gained by publicly blowing his cover by using advanced weaponry to kill Riann, one of the city's better-known citizens? Killing them in the basement where they can simply "disappear" makes sense; running after them rather than working to re-establish the dampening field and safeguard his property makes an awful lot less sense. I know, I know -- we want some danger involving the captain. Does it have to be so ill-thought-out, though?
(And yes, it's possible that Garos simply got annoyed and irrational -- but that's so against the cautious and calculating nature we saw throughout the show that I'm not willing to assume it without some evidence.)
In the end, then, everything's pretty much wrapped up. The Malurians are gone, Archer's getting the Vulcans to look in on the planet on occasion and make sure no one else unscrupulous shows up, the populace is healed, and Archer bids a lingering farewell to Riann before moving on. All very tidy -- a little too much so for my taste. (And on a scientific point, simply curing the people doesn't get rid of the toxin in the water -- I would hope they did that when they removed the mining equipment, but a quick line from Archer to that effect would have been nice. It wouldn't have needed more than half a sentence while he's telling Riann how to medicate her people.)
Some shorter thoughts:
-- With a title like "Civilization," it's a pity that the episode didn't give us a better look at one. All we really know about the Akali is that they look mostly human, have apothecaries and have enough collectors to make antique shops reasonable. Some more exploration of their culture might have been nice.
-- Jay Chattaway did an exceptional job with the music this week, I thought. At least twice during the show, I really sat up and took notice of the music (in a positive way), and that hasn't been the case for a while. (The two times, for the record, were during the initial exploration of the city, and during Archer's battle in the forest.)
-- Wade Alan Williams, for the record, was recently seen on "Buffy" towards the end of last season; the voice is unmistakable.
-- I appreciated Archer mistaking Riann's brewing of tea for a more complicated experiment. Among other amusements, it called to mind a Bond/Q scene in "Never Say Never Again" -- if you've seen the film you'll probably remember the scene I'm talking about.
-- So, is "sorry, my universal translator broke" the 22nd-century equivalent to "oh, look, we ran out of gas?" [And isn't Archer worried about getting pregnant? :-) ]
-- I also very much appreciated the little set-to between Trip and T'Pol when she orders they prepare to leave orbit. Trip jumps to a conclusion that's wrong, but very understandable given past history and his own opinion of Vulcans, and T'Pol sets him straight. Short- lived conflict, perhaps, but good nonetheless.
-- The romance between Archer and Riann felt a tiny bit forced, but that may have just been a reaction to how strongly it was played up in the preview. The two actors seemed to have pretty good chemistry, so the warmth certainly felt very genuine to me.
As I said before, then, there's nothing about "Civilization" that particularly screams "great story!" to me -- but it's a decent story reasonably well told. I'm hoping for better, but this isn't bad.
So, wrapping up:
Writing: Generally good on characterization; a bit too pat on the plot side. Directing: Some nice use of light and shadow here (particularly in the first trip into Garos' shop), and generally the sort of solid work I expect from Vejar. Acting: Generally quite strong, both from regulars and guest cast.
OVERALL: Let's call it a 7. Not fantastic, but good.
Mayweather's crisis of conscience?
Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
"Seventy-eight light-years to get here, and our first act is breaking and
"Maybe you don't have to mention this part in your log?"
-- Archer and Trip
Copyright 2001, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
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