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Warning:   If you haven't seen "Fight or Flight" yet, either fight the urge to avoid spoilers or take flight away from this review.

In brief:  Somewhat formulaic from a plotting standpoint, but holding together pretty well on characterization.

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"Fight or Flight" Enterprise Season 1, Episode 2 Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga Directed by Allan Kroeker Brief summary:  The Enterprise happens upon a derelict ship which forces Sato to question whether space is truly the place for her.

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After "Broken Bow" last week, a student of mine commented that she really didn't care for Hoshi Sato as a character.  I don't remember her exact words, but she felt the character was way too jumpy, and said something like, "I just know we're going to get one of those 'she must overcome her fears' episodes before too long."

While she's certainly right in terms of the latter, I don't really share her distaste for the idea or for the character.  Given that this Enterprise is the first Earth vessel to really do any serious deep-space exploring, it makes an awful lot of sense to me that some people might not really know what to expect from an extended mission. Yes, even now in 2001 we've had people up in space for a few months at a time, but always with the knowledge that they could get home reasonably fast if they wanted to -- and no one has particularly been expecting the ISS (or Mir, earlier on) to run into abandoned alien ships.

So it certainly makes sense to me that Sato could be very unprepared for some of what her mission might actually entail, and very ambivalent about her role as a result.  I rather like the way Phlox put it when trying to reassure her:  "You should be grateful that your body of experience doesn't include rooms full of corpses."  It especially makes sense to me in her case because of her skills.  As a linguist and translator, the type of exploration she'll be most interested in is cultural, not physical -- and the two can be very different experiences.

That said, of course, if every time we get a Spooky First Contact [TM] Sato winds up "[screaming] like a 12-year-old" and we have to go through this all again, I'll be a lot less willing to grin and bear it. I'm not saying her fears should vanish overnight -- in fact, it would be extremely unrealistic if they did -- but I think we should see her working through them and making progress, not backsliding every time the story demands someone be frightened.

If "Fight or Flight" is typical of what we can expect from "Enterprise," however, I'm still cautiously optimistic.  There may not be masterfully intricate plotting as yet, but for the most part I'm getting the sense that things are being thought through.

One element of that is Sato's reaction, as I said; another is Trip's. Where Sato is a little uneasy, Trip is starting to feel restless and maybe a tiny bit bored.  There may well be better ways to get across the point that space is big and adventures can be few, but I'm hard pressed to think of any right at this moment:  having Trip (and, to a lesser extent, Archer) start to feel like all the crew's been doing is marking time strikes me as a very reasonable reaction under the circumstances.

Another aspect I was rather partial to was the issue of the targeting scanners.  Early on in "Voyager," I suggested that the ship should gradually be getting less and less functional as supplies and spare parts became more and more scarce.  With the exception of a couple of reset-button moments here and there, that never happened, which did a lot to hurt the show's credibility.

"Enterprise," on the other hand, should almost be following the opposite path.  Yes, the ship's been ready for months if not years -- but that doesn't mean it's had proper field tests on an actual shakedown cruise.  As a result, it makes sense that there'll be a few bugs as the ship really gets going.  We should, however, see those problems fading away as Trip, Reed, Mayweather, et al. start fixing what needs to be fixed -- the ship should be getting more functional with time.  I liked the scanners this time around for making the point, but things like that shouldn't be long-term issues.

In fact, that could also describe Dr. Phlox.  While his observations on humanity to Trip make it clear that he'll be one of this series' "discoverer of humanity" characters a la Spock, Data, Odo and Seven, it's extremely possible to overdo things like his interest in human mating ("do you think they might let me watch?").  Much as he suggested, "Optimism, Captain!" in the pilot, I'll respond with "Moderation, Doctor!"  I like him, but let's not go overboard with it.

Archer is shaping up nicely, I think.  I particularly liked his dinner scene with Trip and T'Pol, where he decides to go back and try to help the slaughtered crew.  It seems as though problems are more likely to weigh on him and really eat away at him than they did at, say, Picard, but he's also not going over the top about it the way Kirk often did (especially later in Shatner's career, but it's not just a question of acting).  Archer seems to be the type to seethe silently for a while, and I think that may well fit the tone of this series quite well.

T'Pol still seems somewhat uneven to me; there are too many times where she seems emotionally arrogant rather than calmly superior, and that undercuts a lot of Archer's gripes about her.  Blalock's portrayal here was a fair bit better than in "Broken Bow," however, and better in the latter half of this episode than in the former -- so I'm hoping that's a trend that will continue.

On the other hand, the general characterization of Vulcans in the script strikes me as a little off-kilter.  I've no problem with casting Vulcans as overprotective parents, which is what a lot of this could boil down to, but when I hear T'Pol saying that Vulcans "don't share [humans'] enthusiasm for exploration" I have to protest.  They may not be as fond of physically poking around new ships, places and things as humans are, but they are most certainly explorers.  Let's not forget that the reason we made first contact with them is that *they found us*, not the other way around.  They obviously have deep-range vessels even as early as the 22nd century, and they've got entire Vulcan-crewed ships in Starfleet within 100 years.  If we stick with the "Vulcans as overprotective parents" analogy, almost every adolescent thinks his or her parents are complete fossils -- but in this case, most of the viewers should know better about the Vulcans. Let's not go overboard here.

Plot-wise, there's not a lot here that's earth-shattering, but it was serviceable enough.  The visit to the ship felt like Berman & Braga had several goals in mind.  First, let us see that exploration isn't quite as simple now as in later eras -- there's no magic tricorder, translation abilities are spotty and time-consuming, the physical act of getting over to the other ship (not to mention getting back) is a lot tougher, and so on.  I think almost everything on that level worked fine.

The other half of the Creepy Alien Ship plot boiled down to "aliens are stealing someone's Precious Bodily Fluids [TM] amid much spookiness, and we need to make sure it doesn't happen to us."  I can live with this in moderation, but it's something we've seen a lot of already, from the Vidiians in Voyager to the insectoid subspace critters we saw in TNG's "Schisms."  They don't do much to build suspense, at least on my end of things.

That's probably my main criticism this week:  the show did well on the character end, but there was little about the story that made you wonder how it'd turn out.  We all knew Sato wasn't going to leave -- after all, she's listed in the opening credits.  We all knew the mysterious bad guys weren't actually going to overpower Enterprise. We knew Sato would overcome her fears enough to translate properly when push came to shove.  I enjoyed the majority of how we got from A to B, but I'm hoping to get some shows that give us a few surprises here and there.

Some smaller points:

-- I've some science nits to pick.  First, T'Pol referring to the derelict ship as "not moving at all" immediately had me asking "relative to what?"  [It then had me MSTing "congratulations, T'Pol, you've proved Einstein completely wrong again this week," but that's beside the point.]  Second, when Sato and Phlox return "Sluggo" to a more reasonable environment, if it's an argon-rich atmosphere they should probably be wearing breathers.  Third ... aren't they introducing a species onto some world completely unprepared for it?  I'd love to see them come back a century later and discover that the planet's been completely overrun by Sluggo's descendants.

-- Speaking of Sluggo, having recently moved to northern California I was amused to see that she was apparently played by a banana slug.

-- So, only 1 in 45,000 planets supports intelligent life.  Given the likely number of planets in the galaxy, that actually suggests a pretty impressive population.  (If, say, we figure half the stars have planets and each of those has about 6, that's something like a trillion planets total -- 1 out of every 45,000 still leaves 20 million planets with intelligent life.  Even dropping that to 10% of stars instead of 50%, we're at 4 million.  Not bad odds, those.)

-- When T'Pol persuades Archer to go back on course, someone (probably director Allan Kroeker) makes really good use of the height difference between Bakula and Blaylock.  For a moment or two, he's just towering over her; one got the sense that Archer is looking down on T'Pol in more than a literal sense just then.

-- The production values, in general, are looking very crisp. "Broken Bow" generally had good effects, but the editing felt sloppy; this time, there are an awful lot of small scenes crammed into a given act, but it didn't feel particularly cluttered.  (The effects themselves, needless to say, are pretty nice -- I particularly liked the torpedo only partly impacting on the asteroid, along with Enterprise's docking arm.)

-- TOS buffs should recognize the name "Axanar" here -- we don't know much about the race, but Kirk had some act of heroism helping the planet out early in his career.  Might be interesting to see if they pop back into view from time to time.

So, to wrap up:

Writing:  Good on character, good on some underlying plot points, a           bit dull on the "jeopardy" plot. Directing:  Definitely better than "Broken Bow," and in general             moving at a pretty brisk pace. Acting:  Apart from some residual worries about Blaylock and a hope          that Linda Park doesn't have to scream all that often, not bad.

OVERALL:  Call it an 8; punch the plotting up and we're headed for higher numbers.  Not a bad "regular" start!

NEXT WEEK:

Planet Paradise proves a less than heavenly stop.

Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department) tly...@alumni.caltech.edu        <*> "At least we know they're bipeds." "What gives you that idea?" "The ladder."         -- Sato and Reed on the power of deduction -- Copyright 2001, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*.  Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.

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