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The Seventh

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WARNING:  "The Seventh" is the episode:  the spoilers for it begin right after the next line.�

In brief:  Not a bad story about manipulation once it gets there, but it takes an act and a half to get going ... and who the heck are those characters claiming to be Vulcans?�

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"The Seventh" Enterprise Season 2, Episode 7 Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga Directed by David Livingston Brief summary:  T'Pol asks Archer along on a classified mission which threatens to reveal an incident she has long hidden from herself.

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I'm starting to have the sinking feeling that "Minefield" and "Dead Stop" were the flukes of the season.  Here we are, seven episodes into the season, and the episodes sitting at the "ho-hum" level or lower are outnumbering the interesting ones.  That's not an encouraging sign.

In fairness, "The Seventh" isn't nearly as weak a show as some of its recent predecessors.  It's not as horrifically unfunny as "A Night in Sickbay" or as baldfacedly generic as "Marauders."  "The Seventh" has some interesting material at its core, which is of itself an improvement -- the concerns this time are more related to the path taken to reach some of that material.

One of the main goals here seems to be giving T'Pol a dark past.  We discover early on that she used to work as part of the Ministry of Security and had at one time a mission to bring in Vulcan undercover operatives who refused to return to Vulcan after finishing their duties. She missed one at the time, however -- one who has only just been found, thus giving T'Pol an opportunity (and an order) to finish what she once began.  Unfortunately, a part of that past has been excised from her memory:  after killing Menos' partner and being unable to tolerate the feelings of guilt and remorse, she underwent an ancient ritual that let her simply forget that little event happened.

For the most part, that's all well and good.  I find it a little distressing when characters are given a dark past in lieu of an interesting present, but I've no real problem with the idea of T'Pol essentially being someone who used to do special ops.  There are certainly story possibilities that can spin out of such a move, and there's no obvious conflict inherent in giving her that job.

However, I have a lot of problems with it being used as the premise for this particular assignment.  When Archer asks why T'Pol has to be the one to finish this assignment, her response is that the Ministry of Security "considers it a point of honor."  "How very Vulcan," muses Archer.

Well, Jon ... no.  How very *Klingon*, perhaps -- but Vulcan? Vulcans will go with the logical and efficient solution, not one that lets someone avenge a past injustice.  And in this case, the logical choice is to avoid using T'Pol at all costs.  Why?  Well, here are the top two reasons:

-- Menos knows what she looks like, since she nearly apprehended him once before.  Send someone from an allied race who can get close without being recognized.

-- Since it's evident from later in the episode that T'Pol still has a lot of unresolved trauma from her previous attempt to apprehend Menos, it's criminal stupidity to send her back out there where Menos can play head games with her and get away again.  Even if we accept that the Vulcans didn't know that T'Pol's "therapy" would break down, they knew that she'd had problems beforehand.  So don't send her!

The unfortunate thing is that there's a very good reason for sending T'Pol that remains completely unspoken:  if it's taken seventeen years to track Menos to ground, simply make it so that Enterprise is the only ship in the neighborhood.  If T'Pol is the only person with a chance of apprehending Menos before he moves on again, *then* you've got a good reason for sending her and an equally good reason for the Vulcans to do so only reluctantly.  As it is, the logic looks entirely too tortured to justify the premise.

As long as we're on difficult things to swallow, did anyone out there buy even for an instant that Menos is a surgically altered Vulcan who's refused to come home?  I certainly didn't, and there was no real reason to make him that in the first place.  If he's a fugitive that the Vulcans want for some reason, that should be sufficient reason in and of itself.  Call me old-fashioned, but if he's a Vulcan I think he ought to exhibit at least *one* Vulcan trait, be it a physical trait like strength or a mental one like a relentlessly good analytical mind.  Menos showed none of those -- he was good at playing on emotions, yes, but apart from that he's got more in common with Hannibal Lecter than he does with any Vulcan I've ever seen.  (Let's keep in mind that he didn't even have any clue how T'Pol could have 'forgotten' the ritual that let her remove her memories.)  This is another part of the premise that raises lots of plausibility questions without adding anything to the story in the process.

Having said all that, once you put all that aside and simply accept the premise as a given, most of the show works reasonably well.  At its heart, it's a psychological duel between Menos and Archer with T'Pol as the middleman:  Menos plays on T'Pol's doubt and fears about what happened on Risa, while Archer continually reminds her that she's here to apprehend Menos and return him to Vulcan, not to play judge and jury herself.  It's a dynamic that's certainly appeared in many other places and times, but in this case that's because it's a dynamic that carries a lot of meat:  even as telegraphed as some of the ending was, seeing Archer in the snow effectively talking T'Pol into shooting Menos down had a certain visceral appeal.

A lot of the episode's successes can be firmly laid at the feet of Bruce Davison (Menos).  He may not have been a remotely convincing Vulcan, but I see that as more a choice than a fault -- because he *did* convince quite nicely as a master manipulator.  Menos made a few dumb choices which were possibly out of panic (such as firing at Archer in the bar when he was first apprehended), but once he realized that he had T'Pol had a disadvantage when it came to knowledge and to emotional control, he exploited it for all it was worth.  (I got the feeling that he was initially trying to bring Archer and Mayweather over to his side, then switched to T'Pol when he saw that she was a more effective target.)  In nearly every scene after Jossen's death is finally brought to light, Menos harps on T'Pol having "killed an innocent man" and implies that bringing him in will be every bit as much of a death sentence as the one she carried out herself.  It may not be the masterpiece of manipulation that, for example, Garak exhibited with Sisko in DS9's "In the Pale Moonlight," but I'm not sure there's a character anywhere on the Trek roster who can match Garak for sheer guile ... and even being reminded of such an example speaks somewhat well of the Menos/T'Pol interplay.

Given my past reviews, you're probably expecting that I'll now say that Bruce Davison did an especially good job compared to Jolene Blalock.  Surprise:  I actually thought she did a decent job through most of the episode.  Granted, the "I said STOP TALKING!" line that we got in the preview ranks as one of the worst line readings of the season, but it was also an exception:  Blalock plays "haunted" reasonably well.  Writing for T'Pol must be an interesting challenge at this point, since all evidence suggests that Blalock plays the *aftermath* of trauma well while falling down when it comes to exhibiting the trauma itself -- I wouldn't want to have to write for that combination myself, but that's why I'm not on staff.  :-)  (Well, that and many other reasons...)

The "twist" ending, where it turns out that Menos is in fact smuggling biological toxins, was something of a mixed bag.  I suppose it'd be more difficult to actually make T'Pol responsible for an innocent man's death, but in principle that's the only real down side -- and Davison did a great job switching from playing the wounded innocent to someone substantially more calculating and cold-blooded.  On the other hand, the ending suffered a bit in execution, since Our Heroes had to act like fairly serious idiots in letting Menos get away during the final firefight.  So far as I can tell, when he's proven this calculating and this slippery, as soon as he gives up you stun him and be done with it:  that's why you *have* the damned stun setting, guys.

As a "bring back Menos" story of psychological warfare, then, "The Seventh" wasn't bad.  I have trouble tying any of it to Vulcan, and have the nasty sensation to boot that Vulcan is being made into far more of a dystopian society than I'm even remotely comfortable with, but in and of itself the main plot was okay.

Meanwhile, back on the ship, our time was completely wasted by watching Trip learn that being acting captain means more than special lunches in the captain's mess.  The big Trip/Phlox/Reed scene ran almost three minutes, and was worth maybe a third of that time. Bleah.

Some other observations:

-- Editing glitch:  at one point, Menos is referred to as "Mai-nos" and "Mee-nos" only a sentence apart.  I can understand when different actors will read names a little differently, but in this case it was the same actor a single sentence apart.  Sheesh.

-- Kudos for tying P'Jem into T'Pol's memory purge.  If you're going to purge memories from your mind, a hidden recon base is probably a good place.  :-)  (Actually, it also begs the question of whether T'Pol might have seen something *there* she shouldn't have as well and had that purged at the same time.  Could be interesting.)

-- So T'Pol underwent the "falara" ritual to purge the memories of Jossen's death from her mind.  All well and good ... but since "Fusion" already established that Vulcans of this time don't know about mind-melds, does anyone else wonder how such a ritual would even be possible?

-- Boy, that "you can't go out, the deck is covered with acid" tease evaporated awfully quickly, didn't it?  Menos' big escape attempt comes only minutes after T'Pol returns, and the implication is that the deck was still dangerous as of the time she came back.

-- Note to smugglers:  when shipping dangerous biological toxins, be sure to put them in transparent containers so that everyone can see the Really Cool Bright Green Glowing Stuff That Doesn't Raise Any Suspicions At All.  Mm-hmm.

That's probably about it.  "The Seventh" is a step up from "Marauders" and "A Night in Sickbay" simply by the virtue of not making as many mistakes, but I'm still getting the ugly feeling that "Minefield" and "Dead Stop" were the exceptions and not the norm. Here's hoping I've proved wrong as soon and as often as possible.

So, wrapping up:

Writing:  A decent core with lots of horrible plot contrivances to get         there. Direction:  Nothing especially striking one way or the other. Acting:  Kudos to Davison; Blalock was uneven, but positive on the         whole.

OVERALL:  5.5.  Just enough meat to come out ahead of "dead neutral."

NEXT WEEK:�

An attempt to retrieve lost technology results in ... complications. Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department)
tly...@alumni.caltech.edu        <*>
"If all of the Ministry's reports about me were true, I could easily
shapeshift and slip out of these restraints, or sprout wings and fly to
my ship."
                -- Menos
--
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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