WARNING: Sensor-cloaked spoilers lie ahead for ENT's "Rogue Planet."�
In brief: Pretty run-of-the-mill.�
"Rogue Planet" Enterprise Season 1, Episode 17 Teleplay by Chris Black Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga & Chris Black Directed by Allan Kroeker Brief summary: While investigating a "rogue planet" without a solar system of its own, Archer and the crew meet a group of hunters who seek a most unusual prey.
If I had to come up with a single word to describe "Rogue Planet," that word might be "generic." There were no long-term consequences, no massive story arcs begun or continued, no huge character revelations ... this was pretty much a plain old story of "our heroes come across a situation, uncover a problem, and try to solve it." There's certainly nothing wrong with that per se -- things like B5's "Believers" and TNG's "The Most Toys" are proof enough that you can have a purely stand-alone episode that's nevertheless a solid hour of television -- but for it to work the story needs to be pretty compelling in some fashion or another. "Rogue Planet" wasn't particularly bad, but it felt like a retread of so many things that "compelling" is not the first word that leaps to mind.
We begin when the Enterprise encounters the titular "rogue planet" and finds that although there are no humanoid life signs, there are signs of a ship on the surface. Archer, naturally, decides to head down and bug 'em ... er, that is, say hello. Once on the surface, he leads the team (telling Reed to "let me play captain for a while," despite the fact that Reed probably *should* be at the head of the team given his job), finds the aliens' campsite, and sends Reed and T'Pol out to explore while he and Hoshi sit tight in case the residents come back. Before long, Reed and T'Pol are captured by two of the "campers," who come back to find Archer in conversation with the third.
As you might have guessed from my tone in the previous paragraph, I was fairly underwhelmed by all of this lead-up. It may be entirely in keeping with Archer's command persona so far to be a bullheaded git, but usually I've had the impression that there's a boyish curiosity or a grudge against the Vulcans underlying it. This time he just led the team in as obnoxious a manner as possible without actually starting to ransack the campsite -- it felt like some of Archer's previous characterization taken to extremes. (And as usual, Archer never has this sort of thing blow up in his face, or even has others questioning whether his ideas are the best. Sigh.)
Once we meet the hunters, things pick up a bit. In part, that's because I was having fun playing Spot-the-Genre-Television Actor, what with Conor O'Farrell (DS9, Buffy, Dark Skies), Eric Pierpoint (TNG, DS9, B5, Alien Nation) and Keith Szarabajka (B5, and currently a recurring player on "Angel") all in attendance. The three also did a good job making the characters somewhat distinctive from one another: Pierpoint's Shiraht has almost no subtlety in him, O'Farrell's Buzaan is capable but overeager, and Szarabajka's Damrus is clearly the only truly cagey one of the group. It's easy to make a group like theirs seem monolithic, and I appreciate that a monolith isn't what we got.
Our heroes take rather different interests in the hunters after that. Reed's interested enough in the hunters' technology that he wants to come along on one of the hunts (after promising Archer that he won't kill anything), and eventually everyone turns in for the night except Archer. Archer then hears a woman calling his name, and pursues that voice into the jungle, where he sees a beautiful woman whom he seems to know somehow ... only to see her vanish when he turns his light to her. No one else believes his story, or at least his claim that the woman is real -- most people, crew and hunters alike, feel he simply imagined it.
From here on, unfortunately, most of the show became quite predictable -- or if not predictable, then certainly plodding. While Reed's off on the hunt with his new friends, Archer insists to Trip that the woman he saw is real, not any sort of hallucination ... and then winds up drawn to her again. She tells him she needs him to understand something, but then her attention is itself distracted ... just as the hunting party, now split into two groups of two, is attacked by ... something.
Granted, at that point it's supposed to be pretty obvious that the woman is a projection of the vaguely leech-like thing being hunted, and that the hunters are after something far more intelligent and more sentient than they've let on. I can even accept the fact that it takes a full act for Archer to put it all together -- he's not seeing all the events we are, and he also hasn't seen a few hundred hours of filmed Star Trek to know how this usually works. What does concern me is how glacially the story actually unfolds: keeping the characters in the dark longer than the audience is fine, so long as those characters can be doing something interesting in order to figure it out.
We didn't get that. What we did get, interspersed with many, many "walking through the dark jungle" sequences, was an awful lot of telling instead of showing. After Buzaan is injured by a wraith and sent to the Enterprise for treatment, Phlox comes down with a rare attack of technobabble. He shows Trip some "cellular residue" in the wound, which exhibits shape-shifting properties. Then Archer's mystery woman tells him flat-out that "we can become anything you see" and that they're sufficiently telepathic to tell what people want to see. I'm fine on that point, as she's trying to win his help. However, in the following scene the Eska wind up telling their guests everything about the wraiths: their telepathic abilities, past hunts that threatened Damrus's father, and the chemical signature the Eska have discovered which helps them track the wraiths despite their shape-shifting.
I find that last utterly unbelievable. Damrus in particular has been very closemouthed up to this point about what's going on -- he suggests alternate hypotheses for Archer's visions, initially resists sending Buzaan up to the Enterprise, and lies through his teeth when asked what attacked Buzaan in the first place. Why would he suddenly decide that now is a good time to come clean? We do see the entire group drinking, but Damrus goes pretty light on everything. Why say anything now?
What's worse is that, in many ways, the plot didn't even require that. Damrus's sudden exposition makes the two previous revelations (from Phlox and the woman) virtually meaningless, as Damrus says everything they've already told Archer and then some. I have the sense that the scene was supposed to make Archer look fairly clever: by playing dumb, he asks just the right questions to get the information he needs. It didn't wind up making him look smart, however; it just made everyone else look awfully careless. I don't buy it.
That said, I did like the solution Archer came up with. Faced with the knowledge that he undoubtedly can't stop the Eska from returning to this world for countless more generations, Archer has Phlox work up something that will mask the chemical signature the wraiths produce when frightened. Once that masking has taken effect, the Eska's advantage will be gone, and the wraiths will have a good fighting chance. The scene where the hunters discover the new status quo is pretty effective, particularly because in this case we're not even sure how much time has passed, or whether the masking agent has been produced. Kudos to that.
On the other hand, we also discover that the form the wraith's chosen is the image of a woman Archer heard repeatedly in a Yeats poem read to him as a child, and she's taken that form to convince him never to stop chasing "what seems unattainable." That's more than a bit forced from where I sit, particularly when the first inkling we get of it is Archer's very abrupt "Do you know any poetry?" two scenes earlier to Trip. The idea of it seems reasonable enough, but it was exceedingly clunky in execution.
Archer's abruptness wasn't limited to that scene, though: Bakula felt pretty off on the whole. Archer seemed much stiffer than usual -- I was actually reminded in spots of some of Michael O'Hare's weaker moments on B5. (I'm not one who believed O'Hare was a blight on the acting community in B5's first season, but there were certainly some places where his performance didn't connect.) The forceful "I'm not ready to leave" when Damrus suggests the Enterprise crew pull out and most of the scenes with Archer and Trip felt extremely flat.
On an entirely different note, I felt that "Rogue Planet" was trying to remind us of an alien race we've seen before without actually making any connections. Think about it: a system-less planet traveling through space, and a race of shape-shifters who can become anything, and who take that form so completely that even a scanner can't tell their true nature. I can't possibly have been the only one who was thinking of the Founders, can I?
What puzzles me about that reminder is why it even came up. It wouldn't make any sense for this world to actually have Changelings on it, given that Foundersworld is half a galaxy away -- so why make the connection so close? Is there some special evolutionary niche on planets like that which only shapeshifters can fill? Somehow I have my doubts. There's no reason anyone on board should make that connection, given that humans won't meet the Changelings for two centuries or so, but the similarities just nagged at me.
Some other notes:
-- Technical annoyance #1: there's a lot of plant life on that world, and some of it is clearly green plants ... y'know, those things that *photosynthesize in order to live*. Life existing near thermal vents I'm perfectly happy with ... but photosynthetic plants on a world that's as close to pitch-black you can get and still be filmable? No.
-- Technical annoyance #2: Malcolm gets very intrigued when he discovers the Eska's sensors can read infrared. Heaven knows why: it's probably the same thing your own night-vision goggles are doing, Mr. Reed. That's how most night-vision goggles *work*.
-- A positive science note: I did like seeing the bioluminescent critter on the tree when Archer et al. first start exploring. It looks cool, and has the side benefit of actually making sense.
-- A couple of character moments definitely stood out as positive touches, both of them involving Reed. First, he actually claps Trip on the shoulder when they're all getting ready to turn in, which undoubtedly wouldn't have happened before the events of "Shuttlepod One." Subtle, but effective. Second, the "merit badges" conversation between him and Archer was great fun.
-- The "let's take the captain's portrait" sequence in the teaser, however, was milked for far too long. It did, however, lead to the most unintentionally funny line of the show: T'Pol's "Vulcans are revered for their accomplishments, not for the way they look." Reeeeeeal convincing coming from the one character in a form-fitting catsuit, that. :-)
"Rogue Planet," then, didn't come off as an especially effective outing to me. There's little here in the way of actual bad ideas, but lots of poor execution, and it really added up. Here's hoping next week's is a stronger offering -- though given the subject matter, I doubt anyone will be surprised that I'm doubtful...
So, to sum up:
Writing: The basic idea: fine. A lot of the character choices: not fine. The amount of show-padding in exposition and jungle scenes: also not fine. Directing: Allan Kroeker undoubtedly needs to get some of the flak for the extended "running through foliage" sequences as well. The cross-cutting during the first wraith attack was good, though. Acting: For the most part, the guest cast came off better than the regulars this time. No one really stood out in either direction, however.
OVERALL: 4. (I may have to retroactively up "Fusion" -- there was more there I actively disliked, but on balance it's a lot more interesting than this episode.)
NEXT WEEK: �
Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
"We spot any more creatures like that and we'll earn our exobiology
"Actually ... I already have that one."
-- Archer and Reed
Copyright 2002, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
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