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WARNING:  If you're single-minded in your quest to avoid spoilers, then skip this review of ENT's "Singularity."�

In brief:  Some nicely menacing moments, but could've used a stronger story.�

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"Singularity" Enterprise Season 2, Episode 9 Written by Chris Black Directed by Patrick Norris Brief summary:  Radiation from a nearby black hole affects the crew's behavior in some unexpected ways.

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Very early in the original series' run, an episode called "The Naked Time" was made.  In it, while orbiting a planet showing extreme gravitational shifts, the crew is infected by a water-borne contaminant which releases most of their inhibitions.  Some people got very silly, some rather obsessively morose, and some inadvertently menacing. In the end, we knew a great deal more about some of the lead characters (particularly Kirk and Spock).

Sound familiar?  It should, as "Singularity" follows much the same arc.  Granted, there were some "updates" to bring it more in line with contemporary thinking:  radiation becomes both the cause of the behavior and the major threat, and the effects aren't quite as simple as releasing inhibitions.  The shows have such similar cores, however, that it's folly not to at least look at the two side by side a bit.

Unfortunately, "Singularity" falls short in that comparison -- and the fundamental reason why is that while it captures a lot of "The Naked Time" superficially, it lacks much real depth.  After "The Naked Time," we found out a great deal about Kirk and Spock -- Spock's constant state of war with his own impulses, for instance, and Kirk's obsessive attachment to his ship.  Both were fundamental parts of that character's nature, both informed some of the character's actions later in the series, and neither was something we could have found out remotely as easily were the characters not laid so bare by outside forces.

What did we find out about our heroes from "Singularity"?  They can get obsessive when an outside influence forces them to be single- minded.  With a few exceptions (Reed in particular), that's about it. The obsessions were often used as comic relief (Trip's work with Archer's chair, for instance, and Hoshi's obsession with her recipe) and occasionally crossed over into more menacing venues (Phlox most of the time, Archer occasionally), but there wasn't much there to illuminate the characters.  It's not as pointless as, say, DS9's "Dramatis Personae," which saw everyone basically playing out roles assigned to them and not much else, but it feels like a lot of missed opportunities.

For instance, there didn't seem to be much logic about what characters became single-minded about.  From the look of it, most people began to dwell on whatever was uppermost in their mind when they were first affected -- but since different people were affected at different times and there was no clear triggering moment, it's maddeningly vague.  (I'm all for ambiguity when it's intentional and thought- provoking, but not when it's simply the result of sketchy motivation.)

That said, there were times when the episode was genuinely creepy, or at least disquieting.  The teaser, for instance, did a great job of grabbing attention -- not only are we treated to the sight of everyone but T'Pol unconscious and T'Pol's own warning that they're likely to be dead soon, but it's also one of the shortest teasers on record.  It made its point, got us wondering "what the heck is going on?", then got out of the way and let us stew.  I appreciate that.

That impact, unfortunately, gets blunted by the necessity of going back and setting up the premise.  As a result, we see a lot of seemingly trivial scenes -- yes, they're important in the context of showing everyone examining his or her own trivial matter, but they're still trivial scenes which aren't going to sustain that same level of interest the teaser created.  Archer wants Trip to look at his chair. Chef is ill (and apparently has no backup), so Hoshi wants to fill in for him.  Archer's trying to write the preface to a biography of his father.  Reed's working on a security protocol (being the one person who understands his job, it seems).  Phlox worries that Travis's headache might be more than it appears.  To swipe shamelessly from "The King and I":  Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

The most interesting object of obsession, I think, is Reed's idea of creating some sort of "tactical alert" that will bring critical systems such as weapons and shie...er...hull plating up to power when needed. I'll admit that I think Reed's turning out to be a little too advanced, given that he's installed the first Starfleet phase cannon (with Trip's help), created Starfleet's first stable force field, and now effectively brought about the first Starfleet red alert (or "Reed Alert," perhaps, given the dialogue), but the idea behind this alert is a good one.  (In fact, it's a sufficiently good one that I really have to wonder why it hasn't existed up to this point.  Don't Navy ships, for example, have something akin to Red Alert *now*?  I know, I know, Starfleet's not military.  It's still a good idea.

As all the various obsessions begin to grow -- Trip tells T'Pol in no uncertain terms that the captain's comfort is a life-and-death component of the ship, Hoshi makes her old family recipe over and over so that she can get it "just right," and so forth -- the mood of the show really bounces back and forth.  Given that we know where it's going given T'Pol's log, the tone should be far more menacing than it is -- even those obsessions that appear humorous, like Trip's or Hoshi's, should be tinged with a sense of its later effects.  Instead, it felt as if I was being asked to alternatively listen up and lighten up in rapid succession, and it was too jarring -- it's as if someone spliced together your typical Adam Sandler film with "Das Boot."  (Then again, if it means drowning Sandler I suppose I could deal with that temporarily...)

When the episode picks a paranoid atmosphere and hangs around with it, it succeeds more often than not.  Archer's reaction in his quarters to T'Pol's suggestion that he leave is a good case:  as before, Bakula proves that he does quiet scenes much better than he does histrionics.  Archer simply stands, towers over T'Pol for a moment, mutters, "I'm busy," and goes back to work.

Phlox's behavior in sickbay is another good case, if a bit more obvious.  The dark side of Phlox's interest in seeing what makes humanity tick, it seems, is that he's more than willing to observe the ticking process on a cellular level, chopping out what interests him as need be.  I imagine pretty much everyone saw the "at least let me give you an analgesic!" feint for what it was well before Travis passed out, but Phlox's reaction to T'Pol is another good one:  "Please remove your hand.  I won't ask you again," he says while quietly bringing a scalpel to bear.  Brr.

The other success would be Reed, who's getting some of the more consistent characterization of the season.  Since "Minefield" made it clear that Reed disagrees with many of Archer's security decisions ("Minefield," hell -- I think we saw it as early as "Terra Nova" or "The Andorian Incident"), it's only fitting that one of Reed's interests would be in beefing up security as much as possible within Archer's guidelines.  The success of Reed's story here is that he gets something to do that's really relevant to his character:  both his early interest in the tactical alert and his sheer paranoia when left to his own devices seemed entirely plausible and good fodder for future stories. (He got so obsessive that he just teetered on the edge of turning into "Red Dwarf"'s Rimmer, but fortunately hung back a bit.)

On the other hand, it seems that the powers that be have permanently relegated Trip to the status of "goofy comic relief."  If he's not learning that being acting captain is uncomfortable or having an arm turned invisible by a Suliban cloaking device, he's trying to create the UberChair.  Once is okay -- three episodes in a row is threatening to disembowel the character, and certainly doing a disservice to Connor Trinneer, who's capable of much more.  The only time Trip got interesting here was during his little face-off with Reed on the bridge, but that was way too short-lived.

From a plot standpoint, T'Pol eventually figures out that the problem is radiation from a black hole they're heading for (lovely things, those radiation anomalies), and that the only route which is fast enough to save the crew's life is extremely difficult to navigate.  Thus, she manages to revive Archer and have him pilot the ship -- and with a little help from Reed's new alert system, they escape safely.

The last act was mostly okay so far as it went, but felt pretty ... well, "standard" is the best word that comes to mind.  All the usual objections could be raised -- apparently there are no qualified pilots on board other than Travis, for instance, despite the fact that Travis can't be on the bridge 24 hours a day -- but this was one of those situations where you almost have to say "okay, let's just run with it." I'll admit that Archer's demeanor desperately asked for a quick cameo from Leslie Nielsen telling Archer "I just wanted to say good luck, we're all counting on you" a la "Airplane," and further that the "wait, Reed's new alert just saved us!" surprise was anything but, but the scene as a whole was certainly okay.

Two character notes come to mind in that last act, however.  First, it seemed entirely too easy to snap Archer out of his obsession.  He's easily distracted during the final act, but not once does he mention his beloved preface.  If it's that easy, why not wake a few others as well so you don't have to work multiple stations?  Second, and more interestingly, I'm not sure I buy T'Pol's claims of immunity at all. One could make a serious argument that T'Pol simply got obsessed about the trinary system's radiation, and that her obsession simply happened to be a fruitful one by blind luck.  I don't know that leaving this ambiguous is so bad, but I do wonder if the ambiguity's intentional.

Some other musings:

-- When Travis first goes to Phlox, Phlox mentions that he's been wanting to check on Travis anyway after his experiences from "Dead Stop."  Very nice.

-- T'Pol implies that black holes are very rare in trinary systems.  I doubt they're any rarer than trinary systems themselves:  certainly black holes are very commonly found in *binary* systems, and there's not much reason for trinaries to act differently.  This isn't even on the level of a nitpick ... just a comment.

-- As usual, as soon as the ship clears the radiation field all the effects disappear instantly and permanently.  Sigh.

-- Most of T'Pol's narration works fine, but the line about "although I appeared to be immune, I discovered the captain was not" is utterly unnecessary.  Let us see that for ourselves, guys.

-- Archer:  "You're lucky you're a decent engineer, because you obviously don't know anything about writing."  Trip:  "I'm not the only one."  Me:  "You just handed me way too easy a shot.  It's no fun when it's *this* easy."

That should about do it.  "Singularity" had a few individual scenes which stand out as solid -- but fundamentally, it's one of those shows that could've been far more compelling and interesting than it was.  It didn't have enough fun dialogue to succeed in most of its humor, and had sufficient humor that it kept tripping up the tension.  It got "The Naked Time" right on a basic surface level, but there wasn't enough spark to keep up a sustained flame.

Time to sum up, then:

Writing:  A bit too split-personality:  by trying to be funny and         menacing, it never wholly succeeded at either. Direction:  Some nice sickbay moments (and one or two with Reed or         Archer), but basically "okay." Acting:  Solid work from Keating and Billingsley, mostly okay from         everyone else.  Pity Connor Trinneer.

OVERALL:  6.5.  Not bad, but not stellar.

NEXT WEEK:�

Where there's a spatial anomaly, there almost has to be a transporter accident the next week... Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
tly...@alumni.caltech.edu        <*>
"The headache's gone.  What'd you do?"
"Very little.  Fortunately."
                -- Travis and Phlox
--
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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