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Oasis

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WARNING:  An "Oasis" awaits -- not filled with delicacies, however, but with spoilers.  Tread lightly.�

In brief:  Solid enough in concept, but it takes an awfully long time to get going.�

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"Oasis" Enterprise Season 1, Episode 19 Teleplay by Stephen Beck Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga and Stephen Beck Directed by Jim Charleston Brief summary:  A search for spare parts leads the Enterprise crew to a crashed starship with a surprising secret.

==Edit

Almost a decade ago, there aired an episode of DS9 called "Shadowplay."  In it, Odo and Dax found a planet in the Gamma Quadrant with a somewhat mysterious village.  That village's inhabitants, it turned out, were all holograms -- all but one, who'd created the village around him after his own people were destroyed by the Dominion.  Now, eight years later, Rene Auberjonois gets to play the other side of the scene:  rather than coming across the scene, his character engineers it (pun firmly intended).

Okay, so presumably the purpose of the episode isn't really what I wrote above -- but the parallels between the episodes are strong enough, and well enough amplified by Auberjonois' presence, that it's hard not to make that connection.  The primary plot of "Shadowplay," for the most part, came off pretty well -- did "Oasis?"

Yes and no.  The story hangs together fairly well, in that there are no gaping plot holes or woefully out-of-character moments needed to keep the plot going.  On the other hand, it took absolutely forever to get moving, which can be a problem even if your ending is strong.  If there any viewers out there who didn't figure out the big secret at least ten or fifteen minutes ahead of the characters, I've yet to meet them -- and as I said just two weeks ago with "Rogue Planet," that's fine *if* the characters are doing something interesting in order to figure it out (or at least while time passes).

Early on, they weren't.  After a trader tips them off about a crashed ship which (a) might have the parts they want to scavenge, but (b) might also be haunted by the spirits of the dead crew, there's the usual conversation on board where someone voices reservations and Archer decides to go ahead anyway.  (At least it wasn't T'Pol this time -- and Travis's concerns about desecrating a tomb were actually pretty well taken.)  Once down, the quartet splits into two teams of two, and onwards they go into darkness.

Not metaphorical darkness -- literal darkness.  Just as with "Rogue Planet," there are an awful lot of scenes which don't come off as spooky so much as "damn, the studio forgot to pay the lighting bill again."  I'm all for atmosphere, but I never get the sense that the characters bought into it very much -- when everyone still seems matter-of-fact, even jovial, during scenes which are supposed to give us the creeps as viewers, it falls flat.  Thus, I was doing a lot of checking my watch for the first quarter or so of the show.

(The conversation between Trip and T'Pol was a good, if somewhat bizarre, example.  Trip's side of it seemed fine, but T'Pol spends half her time playing Data and asking for definitions, and the other half flatly asserting that she never gets frightened by anything.  Ho-hum; all I wound up doing during that scene was plotting out half an episode where Trip tries one practical joke after another to scare T'Pol properly.)

Ere long, of course, Trip and T'Pol find a dampening field hiding the true crew of the ship, and Archer and Mayweather quickly join them. They (and we) hear that the ship was attacked and crash-landed three years ago, and they've remained hidden ever since.  Archer offers to help take them home, and when turned down at least offers to hang around and conduct repairs on their ship for a while.  He's really good at never, *ever* taking a hint.

The middle section of the show has Our Heroes gradually figuring out that All Is Not Quite As It Seems aboard the ship.  Trip befriends Lianna, daughter of the ship's engineer, who's very curious about all that he's seen and gently deflects questions about her own world.  Lt. Reed gets suspicious when scans of the engines reveal no signs of battle damage, and when he and Travis realize that their aeroponics bay is far too small to support a crew of that size.  (It's good that Travis was one of the ones to notice that, by the way -- as a boomer, he certainly should be attuned to that sort of thing.)  Before long, an off-camera Hoshi decodes enough data modules to discover that there was no attack: after some sort of accident, the ship did indeed crash -- *twenty-two* years ago, not just three.  Trip is surprised, but there's more: they find an escape pod still in orbit, open it, and find the corpse of someone Trip remembers talking to on the surface just an hour earlier.

As I said before, the story's holding together pretty well (right down to Trip recognizing the computer core as having elements similar to the Xyrillian ship he examined earlier, which fits if he's seeing holographic technology).  The only issue I had here was the pacing, primarily -- each individual element worked, but the episode as a whole just felt sluggish.

I should back up a bit, however, and note the one character who fairly consistently didn't work for me here.  Perhaps not surprisingly, it was T'Pol.  This time, as soon as Trip starts making friends with Lianna, she turns from our resident Vulcan into the Pointy-Eared Soap Bitch [TM].  She's not skeptical about Trip's friendship with Lianna -- she's downright catty, saying things like "the last time you found someone this competent, you wound up carrying her child."  If her point is merely that Trip needs to make sure he's not letting his hormones do his thinking for him, that's fine, and the Xyrillian ship is a reasonably good example for her  to be using -- but not in this manner.  When she's claiming not to be affected by emotions such as fear, and less than half an episode later is acting like a jealous ex-girlfriend, and *no one notices this incongruity*, the character is not being well drawn.

Putting that aside for a moment, however, the Trip/Lianna relationship did hold together fairly well.  That's almost certainly in part due to Annie Wersching's performance as Lianna, which seemed to have just the right mix of innocent curiosity and isolated strangeness.  I found Lianna somewhat intriguing myself (to say nothing of cute), so I'm not too surprised that Trip might feel that way as well.  (The initial stages of their friendship seemed a bit forced -- was I the only one who noticed that the conversation turned from food to women in about eight seconds? -- but the general sense of it worked fine.)

We then get an act where it's clear something's wrong, but not what. (It's not clear to Archer et al., anyway -- by now it seemed obvious to me that we were headin' for holograms.)  T'Pol finds something during repairs, but is taken prisoner before she can return to the Enterprise to report.  Archer, Trip, and Reed take Lianna back to her ship, but are met just inside the door by an armed party who confiscate the weapons, put Trip to work, and send Archer and Reed packing.  They, of course, immediately plan a rescue mission, and Trip meanwhile has a little confrontation with Ezral (Auberjonois), Lianna's father, telling him, "You've got a lot to learn about makin' friends!"  Ezral, in a cute touch, tells him that "I've made all the friends I need."  The hints are getting more obvious, but it's still a good line.

Archer and Reed return, only to be ambushed and pinned down -- and while Lianna tells Trip what's really going on, Archer's weapons fire goes right through some of the crew, finally making this "ghost story" clear to everyone.  Lianna, not wanting deaths on her conscience, pulls the plug on the holograms while in the computer core, and we see everyone wink out -- except, of course, for Ezral.

It's a pity that the show takes so incredibly long to get to this point, because it means we only get one act (and a short act at that) which gives Auberjonois anything to do, and that's a shame.  Auberjonois certainly isn't perfect at everything all the time, but he generally gives his roles a certain authenticity which some guest stars lack -- and in a case like this, where he gets to play someone so different from Odo, it seems a pity not to use him more.  He does, however, use his few minutes for all they're worth.  When Ezral tells the true story of the ship's crash and his hand in it, the anguish seems exceptionally real -- particularly when he slaps away Archer's every attempt at sympathy. (I particularly liked his scoffing at Archer's "you did everything you could" bit -- "They're all DEAD.  Apparently I didn't do enough.") These holograms are his friends, his family -- and really the only people Lianna's ever known.  They're home, and they don't want to leave.

Or, it seems, at least Ezral doesn't.  He concedes to Archer later on that perhaps he's simply too comfortable to want to leave, but decides that Trip is right -- Lianna deserves to see more than this for her life. He requests some parts from Archer, then decides to let "his" crew repair the ship and take Lianna home.  The Enterprise moves on, but not before Trip and Lianna have a touching farewell.

As I said, Ezral feels like a very real character to me, and his plight seems real as well.  Unfortunately, by not really getting to the point of the show until ten minutes away from the end, there's not much chance for us to really appreciate that plight for what it is.  Had the mystery been a real mystery, a revelation shortly before the end works, because we then get to spend lots of time evaluating things in a new light.  Unfortunately, when the mystery is one that the viewers figure out way ahead of time, you simply wind up with a resolution that's too quick, and thus a bit unsatisfying.  (This is especially true of Ezral's conversion:  one tongue-lashing by Trip and he's ready to abandon twenty years of work?  If we'd had more time to see him think it through, that might have helped a lot.)  I liked Auberjonois' work, but it was far too much in a vacuum.

Overall, then, there are good ideas hiding in "Oasis," but I think too much time was spent on the spookiness and not enough on making the mystery actually mysterious.  It definitely gets points for making sense after the fact and for all the little touches (like Trip's recognition of holographic technology), but the story as a whole felt just a bit off.

Some other notes:

-- Talk-show and game-show host Tom Bergeron played the trader we meet at the outset -- and based on his performance, Bergeron really, *really* wants to be John Fleck's understudy.

-- Trip's line about "programming a holographic doctor" if Lianna gets hurt was perhaps a bit obvious, but still cute.

-- I'm intrigued in general that Enterprise is even looking for spare parts.  It's something Voyager as a series rarely seemed to have the intelligence to do, and there were absolutely no starbases around there to help.  Enterprise, at least, has the option of heading home once in a while -- and I'd like to think that occasionally we will see Earth.

-- Captain Kuulan says of the computer core, "You might say it keeps us alive."  A nicely double-edged line, that.

-- I said it before, but it's worth repeating:  Turn on some lights, wouldja?

That should pretty much do it.  "Oasis" suffered a bit in terms of pacing and obviousness, but it was a fairly reasonable story, and at least some of the little touches help it hang together in the final analysis.  It's not a standout, but it's at least worth a look.

So, to sum up:

Writing:  Badly designed in terms of pace, but well designed in terms         of the overall story.  (A bit off for T'Pol, though.) Directing:  Sluggish ... and too dark. Acting:  Solid work as ever from Auberjonois, and kudos to         Wersching as well.

OVERALL:  Hmm.  Call it a 6.5:  worth catching once.

NEXT:  Some reruns.  See you in a few weeks. Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
tly...@alumni.caltech.edu        <*>
"What happened to your crew?"
"They're gone, Captain.  Isn't it obvious?"
"Your *real* crew."
"They didn't seem *real* to you?"
                        -- Archer and Ezral
--
Copyright 2002, 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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