WARNING: The episode is "Detained," but the review is not -- so the spoilers are fresh.�
In brief: The analogy's a bit too blunt for my tastes, but it's a reasonably solid hour.�
"Detained" Enterprise Season 1, Episode 20 Teleplay by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga Directed by David Livingston Brief summary: Archer and Mayweather find themselves in prison with several dozen Suliban, who are both more and less than they appear.
Trek, in pretty much any form, has often been known for its morality tales -- sometimes thickly cloaked, sometimes delivered with all the subtlety of mortar fire. It's no surprise, then, to see _Enterprise_ taking a cue from its predecessors. Where "Detained" tries to moralize, I think it falls a bit short of the mark -- but unlike some of its predecessors, it provides a fairly entertaining story along the way.
The story puts Archer and Mayweather in a prison camp after their shuttle is attacked by forces unknown. Although they initially believe the Suliban are their captors, they quickly discover that the detention camp is run by Colonel Grat (Dean Stockwell), a Tandarian -- and that the Suliban have been imprisoned by the Tandarians after the Suliban Cabal began attacking the Tandarians years ago. Archer finds this plausible enough, and Grat seems relatively civil and forthcoming ... but when he talks to one of his fellow prisoners, he discovers that the Suliban imprisoned with him are *not* members of the Cabal, but non-enhanced Suliban whose only crime is "being Suliban."
If your moralizing alarm is starting to flash warningly at you, it should: "Detained" is a rather conscious attempt to parallel the internment of Japanese-Americans in the U.S. after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and by extension to warn us not to let the same thing in the wake of September 11. (Why do I know it's conscious? Well, the fact that Archer explicitly mentions Manzanar to T'Pol tends to be a good hint as to the former, and I have difficulty picturing the latter as unconscious.) This is the second WW2 parallel I can think of in modern Trek history, the other being Voyager's "Jetrel" -- and while "Detained" is a far superior product to "Jetrel," it suffers from some of the same flaws.
Why does the moralizing not quite work? Probably because, like many people, I tend to resist being preached at, particularly if the moral is one that seems obvious to me. "Jetrel" was so obviously a Hiroshima parallel that you could almost draw a point-by-point comparison, and except for what it illustrated about Neelix, it was as a result crashingly dull to watch. (Besides, what was the message there: Hiroshima was a tragedy? Boy, there's ground-breaking social commentary there.) "Detained" falls victim to some of the same problems by making its points too bluntly -- the Suliban are all a little bit *too* benign and the Tandarans a bit too overeager to punish. I'll grant that the Tandarans you want in charge of the prison camp are not the ones likely to sympathize with their prisoners too much, but surely there are some Suliban who think the Cabal may be doing something right, for instance. Not only would it paint a more realistic picture, but it'd make for better drama.
Not only are the two sides painted a bit too clearly for the viewer, but it seems to take all of ten minutes for the sides to be crystal clear to Archer. Grat's argument that the Suliban are being held for their own protection, for instance, is something that could potentially carry some weight -- I'm not saying it's a particularly good justification for the Tandarans' actions, but by having Archer do nothing but scoff "oh, really?" at them it doesn't give the viewer a chance to decide: we're more or less told what to think.
Within those parameters, though, "Detained" manages to present something of a range of characters. Among the Suliban, there's Danik (Dennis Christopher), who while initially gruff is willing to talk to Archer when Archer shows he's interested in hearing another side to the story, and there's also Sajan (Christopher Shea), who latches on to the humans' initial reaction to Suliban and takes that as proof that the humans themselves can't be trusted. Among the Tandarans, Grat is clearly intelligent, civil, and manipulative, while Klev, one of the guards, is nothing more than a thug, and generally an uninteresting one at that.
Does "Detained" tell us anything new about our regular characters? Not particularly, unless you consider "Archer will pretty much move to right any wrong if he can, regardless of the risks" a stunning surprise. Apart from Archer and Mayweather, most of the regulars are little more than chess pieces -- Phlox, for example, gets about three lines and is only present to do a little cosmetic surgery. That's not necessarily a problem -- not every show can be as character- centered as, say, "Shuttlepod One" or "Dear Doctor" -- but when you combine a blunt morality tale with a dearth of new character insights, the storytelling better be awfully good if the show's to be worth the time.
Fortunately, most of the storytelling is pretty decent: "Detained" is at its best when considering strategies. Grat, for example, continually shifts the focus of his conversations with Archer in an attempt to get any sort of valuable information and to keep Archer off balance -- and once the Enterprise manages to find out where the prison camp is, much of the show focuses on Archer's plan to let all the prisoners escape from the prison and from Tandaran space.
The best thing about watching Grat's shift of focus is that you realize why he's stuck as commander of a prison rather than holding some high-ranking military position: the man is just not very good at this. The Tandaran intelligence service is clearly something to respect, given how much they found out about Archer and how quickly, but towards the end, when Grat wants to know what Archer knows, he gives a lot more information than he gets. (There's no need for him to mention, for example, the Temporal Cold War: if Archer *didn't* know anything about it, you've certainly gotten him interested in looking into it now.)
Archer's plan works a bit better, primarily because he's one of the Good Guys [TM], but it's also fun to watch because we're not privy to all the details in advance. Phlox is clearly doing cosmetic surgery on someone, but we don't know on whom or for what purpose; we quickly recognize T'Pol's stalling tactics for what they are, but aren't sure exactly what she's stalling about. We even see Trip beam something down, but come in at the end of the transport and thus don't know exactly what he's managed to slip into the camp while sensors were jammed. Director David Livingston is to be commended for making the show flow well around all that uncertainty, and the uncertainty itself was great fun. (One of my favorite such moments is back in TNG's "The Defector," when we discover that Picard's got three Klingon ships with him at precisely the same time the Romulans do. When it hangs together afterwards and is plausible, I do love being surprised.)
And although there were no character revelations, most of the characters came off fine for what they had to do. Of the guest cast, Grat and Danik came off as the most fully-rounded: Grat may be a villain, but he's also sincere in his beliefs about the camp, and while Danik is something of a stock "put-upon prisoner" character, he comes across as plausibly embittered as well. (I particularly liked the Tandaran nursery rhyme he recited.) Of the regulars, most of T'Pol's statements and reactions seemed a little off this week -- for instance, she was so decidedly un-Vulcan in her final conversation with Grat that I didn't see how she'd convince him of much of anything. (I was also amused by her "you have to live by other cultures' rules" speech, especially when she said that Archer would undoubtedly agree if he were here. Actually, I'm fairly certain he'd have disagreed emphatically with knees jerking all the while...) Most everyone else was fine, if under-utilized.
From an acting point of view, the big draw here was of course seeing Scott Bakula work opposite Dean Stockwell again after years of "Quantum Leap." I'll admit that I never particularly got into QL and so am not as familiar with their combined work as some (in fact, my two sharpest memories of Dean Stockwell are from the David Lynch films "Dune" and "Blue Velvet," and let's just say that this performance didn't remind me much of either one), but they played off one another here pretty well. Bakula still does better with quiet scenes than he does with angry ones (in particular, I thought the "this isn't about my rights, it's about theirs!" line came off as horribly forced), but Stockwell painted a pretty convincing portrait of Grat.
Other pretty convincing performances included Dennis Christopher (Danik) and Christopher Shea (Sajan), though the latter made it very easy to remember his role as a Vorta in DS9. I didn't buy David Kagan's guard much, though -- even lines like "unless you want to join him [in isolation], do as I say," which should carry a certain menace, came off as a bit flat. Of the regulars, Dominic Keating got to be a bit less staid than usual, which was fun, (even if I doubt he fooled many viewers when Reed was disguised as a Suliban), and Anthony Montgomery was fine if uneven. (His initial "that's not true!" when Sajan confronts him about his prejudice seemed weak, though his return speech an act or so later made up for it.)
As for the ending, I'm a little bit perplexed -- not by Archer's inability to answer what will become of the escapees, but by the actual fate of some of them. The last we saw of Danik, he was pinned down in a firefight and Sajan decided to go back and help him -- but then we see all the ships launching. Since no one seems to be upset over the loss of a ringleader (or wondering what Danik's daughter would do without a father), I'm assuming both men survived -- but I feel as though a scene verifying that was cut for time or something. Things felt even more unresolved than I think they were intended to, and that's not so good.
Other quick thoughts:
-- I'm wondering about the long-term impact of the series a bit more. The Suliban are clearly not a fly-by-night villain: they have significant enough impact over a sector to affect other races' politics. As a result, I'm starting to wonder why no one in later centuries ever mentions them.
-- I also think that Grat's extensive information is something that needs to be followed up in some way. Either the Tandaran intelligence service is of Obsidian Order level and needs to be a concern, or Archer's actions are all *WAY* too public.
-- I did like the "kill him with kindness" strategy used to overload Grat's sensors: just send down the entire Earth historical database. Fun.
-- Poor John Billingsley: he got into full makeup for what, three lines?
-- If you want a good example of a "sledgehammer Trek morality tale" that nonetheless works, I'd personally go with TNG's "The Drumhead." It's about as clear-cut a McCarthyism parallel as you could want, but everything builds so gradually that it's also eerily easy to see how such a situation could arise now.
-- So the Suliban homeworld's been uninhabitable for 300 years. One wonders if we'll see more detail on that sometime down the line. (I wouldn't be surprised.)
That more or less does it. I feel a bit as though "Detained" was so concerned with getting me to think the Right Things that it got in the way of me thinking much at all, but the characters were generally real enough and the story solid enough to keep the hour going smoothly. It's not one to come back to again and again, but I've seen far worse.
So, in sum:
Writing: I like my metaphors laden on a bit less thickly, thanks -- but solid enough plotting in terms of schemes. Directing: Livingston kept things moving well, though I do wonder about the confusion at the end. Acting: Kagen was unconvincing and Montgomery was a bit uneven, but most everyone else was fine.
Overall: 7. Fine once, to be sure.
Okay, who let the Jell-O mold achieve sentience?
Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
"Be careful of their wicked smiles -- their shining yellow eyes.
At night they'll squeeze right through your door -- and everybody
-- Danik, quoting a Tandaran nursery rhyme
Copyright 2002, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
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