WARNING: Spoilers lie ahead for ENT's "The Communicator."�
In brief: A fairly involving story ... so long as you don't think too much.�
"The Communicator" Enterprise Season 2, Episode 8 Teleplay by Andre Bormanis Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga Directed by James Contner Brief summary: When Lieutenant Reed loses his communicator on a landing mission, he and Archer return to retrieve it before it contaminates that planet's culture.
"The Communicator" continues the slow improvement that _Enterprise_ has seen since the depths of "A Night in Sickbay," but like some of its predecessors it's an episode that's less successful the more deeply you look at it. It's not so much that you can enjoy it without serious thought; it's that you need to avoid such thought to have even a hope of enjoying it without reservation.
The idea behind the show works just fine from where I sit. Having Reed lose his communicator is entirely plausible, and Archer's heard enough complaints from T'Pol about "cultural contamination" that he'd naturally be inclined to retrieve it. Most of what happens from there consists of matters going from bad to worse, when Archer and Reed's attempt to get the communicator results in the pair of them getting arrested as spies.
In principle, no problem -- and this is also a story that's more plausible in _Enterprise_ than in chronologically later series, as a century or two down the line one could presumably just find the communicator and beam it out. In practice, there are several instances of Stupid Plot Syndrome, where the story only continues because the characters (either our heroes or the villains) act like morons.
Exhibit A: Hoshi's scans suggest that the communicator might be in a tavern where the three of them sat and rested, so Archer and Reed head back there. That's fine, but what do they do once scans indicate it's nearby? They get up *while the bartender is making their drinks* and both head not-at-all subtly towards a deserted hallway. Is it any wonder they were arrested? The sensible thing to do there would be to do various non-threatening things, leave, and come back after the bar has closed: that way you've got a better chance of getting to the material without being spotted. (Sure, there's evidence of a break-in, but that's not exactly something that will raise more than routine suspicions.) Since it was clear in this case that everyone was on to them anyway, this wouldn't have changed the outcome ... but it would have made Archer and Reed seem an awful lot smarter.
(A corollary to this that you'd think Reed would already have a story devised in case they were arrested: he's generally so cautious in areas of security that I'm surprised he didn't. But that's not a big deal.)
Exhibit B: Apparently it's standard procedure on this world for accused spies to be held in the same cell without any sort of monitoring. Pardon me? If this government were half as paranoid as the episode makes it out to be, it would immediately separate the two, interrogate them separately and look for contradictions in their story. The only reason to keep a group together in this case is to bug the conversation and hope they let something juicy slip out. No wonder these guys have worries about "the Alliance" -- they're not much for basic intelligence operations.
Exhibit C: When the pair go a while without responding, T'Pol decides to hail Archer. Good plan, that -- now you've confirmed that it's a transmitter *and* given away your existence. Beeping the communicator would have been more than sufficient.
That said, however, the show's a decent cautionary tale about how good intentions can make matters worse, and about how a suitably paranoid culture can twist events to their interpretation all too easily. It's all a bit derivative, feeling like one part "Detained," one part "Civilization," and one part TNG's "First Contact" (the episode, not the film), but it's engaging enough.
I was particularly pleased to see that the pair were revealed as different physically without much of a problem. Phlox's cosmetic enhancements are rather clearly designed to let the user walk around without incident, not to resist serious scrutiny -- and seeing a loose bit of latex combined with red blood was a very plausible way to up the ante. (I do wish that they hadn't been referred to as "surgical alterations," though, since they were pretty obviously just latex attachments and not surgical at all.)
After this, it's a race against time. Worried that the crew's effect on the planet will only get worse the more time and technology become involved, T'Pol lets Trip work up a rescue plan ... while in the meantime, General Gosis and his staff become more and more convinced that they're dealing with aliens rather than simple spies.
Since Trip's rescue plan involves using the Suliban cell ship they obtained back in the pilot, I'd normally be very pleased about everyone paying attention to past history. On the whole, I actually am pretty happy that they remembered that it was lying around ready to be used (and I'm comfortable assuming that the events of "Shockwave" happened so quickly that the Suliban couldn't retrieve their ship). My only reason for reticence is that, yet again, it's put Trip in the realm of comic-relief filler. Last week saw Trip play- acting as Archer to appease some Vulcans, and this time he winds up with a partially cloaked arm after something goes wrong with his work on the cloaking device. Boy, wackiness just follows Trip around wherever he goes, doesn't it? The Trip subplot also threatens to derail the mood of the rest of the episode, which is pretty consistently somber and worried the rest of the time.
I fully expect this episode to open up a can of worms about how far officers should properly be expected to go in order to safeguard a culture from their own effects on it, and I think that's a fairly big plus to the episode. Archer's conversation with Reed in their cell about the consequences of revealing their true nature is a good one -- I don't think it's meant to be a definitive statement on the subject, but it raises the argument and highlights one facet of it. Personally, considering the number of times Kirk did a lot more than leave a communicator a century after Archer's time, I think Archer's viewpoint feels a little out of sync with 22nd-century attitudes, but it'd hardly be the first time that's happened.
(I also wonder whether the communicator should even be considered worth it. A pair of them, perhaps, since you can use one to let the other function, but a single one is of no value short of whatever technological innovations the inhabitants could glean from it. Would those really be that great?)
Once their exotic physiology is discovered, Archer makes a split- second decision to bluster like an Alliance agent. He and Reed improvise a story about them being genetically enhanced prototypes with new technology and new physiologies to make them the ideal soldiers. Their captors find the story potentially plausible, but the doctor argues that the only way he can do a more thorough examination on their organs is if said organs are removed. General Gosis immediately orders their execution by hanging, to take place in just a few hours.
This sets up the final jeopardy angle well enough, but it's also taking a left turn right back into the land of idiot plotting, mainly on the part of the bad guys.
Exhibit D: Archer's story is one that wouldn't have a prayer of holding up once people think about it. Why would the Alliance send all their prototype people *and equipment* on a single mission? This is perfectly forgivable, though, considering that Archer basically made up something in an instant of panic.
Exhibit E: Even if the examination is needed, there is no reason to kill both of them. Perhaps you tell the prisoners that they'll be executed unless they start singing a little more sweetly. Perhaps you separate them (yes, that again) and tell each one that the other will be executed if they don't cooperate more strongly. Perhaps you kill one of them and keep the other alive for other information. To kill off both your captives is to remove any chance that they can give information beyond the content of their organs, and that's shortsighted beyond belief.
Exhibit F: Okay, you've decided that you need to execute both prisoners for whatever reason. Why tell the prisoners in advance rather than keeping them in the dark? If they've got an ace in the hole, you've pretty much just guaranteed that they'll know now is a good time to use it -- and that's not a way to keep your base safe. (Similarly, sending an open communique that Enterprise can intercept is not the brightest of moves.)
Exhibit G: On the Enterprise side, why does no one even for an instant consider the transporter? It's obvious from later events that they know *exactly* what building they're in. Beam a communicator to the cell, then beam the prisoners up one at a time. A risk, yes, but if they're about to be hanged anyway I'm not seeing how it's any more risky than the mission they chose ... and it'd have a much smaller impact on the populace. There might be any number of reasons why this wouldn't work, but rejecting it outright is a lot more palatable dramatically than simply forgetting its existence and hoping viewers don't notice.
In the end, of course, Archer and Reed are rescued from the hangman's noose in the nick of time, with the Suliban ship landing right in the prison compound and a massive firefight ensuing. The firefight itself is fine, but I was particularly fond of one of the closing shots: as the ship leaves, we see Gosis standing there almost slack- jawed amidst the wreckage of his prison complex. He wasn't evil or railing against the injustice of it all -- just trying to comprehend what had just happened to him. In its own quiet way, it was very striking.
The closing Archer/T'Pol scene did everything but print its moral on the screen, but was a solid scene apart from that. Archer's relieved to be back, of course, and T'Pol glad to have him -- but she at least recognizes that an awful lot more damage was done than simply leaving the communicator be might have been. Thanks to all this, as she and Archer collectively point out, this group now believes the Alliance can create super-soldiers, particle weapons, and invisible aircraft. Looking around at the state of Earth circa 2002, I think it's obvious that that belief could be a seriously destabilizing influence. I wish the "you don't have to leave technology behind to contaminate a culture" line hadn't actually been said, as I think its message was obvious anyway, but it's a decent enough scene.
Other quick thoughts:
-- Tech gripe of the week: When Archer warns Reed that the surveillance towers are coming up, Reed says, "The hull plating's already been polarized." Um, great, Malcolm -- how the hell will that stop you from being seen? "Polarize the hull plating" is one of those phrases that's simultaneously nonsense and a writer's crutch, since it can apparently do almost anything. Bleah.
-- One wonders why the communicator isn't routinely equipped with a failsafe that you could trigger (from orbit) to melt out all the useful components. A random chunk of metal is hardly going to contaminate a culture. Obviously no one would have thought of that here in the 22nd century, but why isn't it standard two centuries later given the events of this episode and others like it?
-- As goofy as the "Trip cloaks his arm" plot was, I do like that he couldn't just figure out the cloaking device without problems. That technology seems awfully far ahead of 22nd-century Starfleet work, so it's not something he should decipher without a serious fight.
-- T'Pol is avid that any contamination be avoided. Discuss in light of the revelations about her ancestor shown in "Carbon Creek."
That more or less does it, I think. "The Communicator" has a solid core that I like very much, but a lot of plotting gaffes that keep getting in the way. That's a step up from shows which are complete fluff, but I'm definitely hoping for better.
So, wrapping up:
Writing: Major "idiot plot" moments marring a potentially very strong story. Direction: Apart from one or two good shots (the final one of Gosis, for instance), nothing especially striking in either direction. Acting: I was more impressed with the guest cast than usual; the regulars were fine but not riveting.
OVERALL: Call this one a 7 or so. Fine, but not one you'll want to come back to and pore over.
Time for a mysterious disease!
Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
"One problem that recurs more and more frequently these days in
books and plays and movies is the inability of people to communicate
with the people they love: husbands and wives who can't
communicate, children who can't communicate with their parents, and
so on. And the characters in these books and plays and so on -- and
in real life, I might add -- spend hours bemoaning the fact that they
can't communicate. I feel that if a person can't communicate, the very
least he can do is to shut up."
-- Tom Lehrer
Copyright 2002, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
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