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Unexpected

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WARNING:  The episode is "Unexpected;" spoilers for it shouldn't be.

In brief:  Occasional fleeting moments, but definitely the series' first major dud.

==Edit

"Unexpected" Enterprise Season 1, Episode 4 Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga Directed by Mike Vejar Brief summary:  Trip's three-day stay on board an alien ship turns out to have a most startling consequence.

==Edit

"Unexpected" nicely encapsulates a lot of what turned me away from "Voyager" in 1994; I'm hoping and expecting that it's not representative of what's to come in "Enterprise."

Having said that, the show started off in reasonable fashion.  Trek has always had a spotty record with its light comedic moments, but "Enterprise" has hit that mark more often than its predecessors. Archer trapped in the shower as gravity in his quarters failed was impressive from a visual standpoint, was nice in that it showed the ship's still not entirely functional ... but mostly it was just plain entertaining, and I've no objection to that.

(Well ... there is a small science nit to pick.  Why is it that when gravity fails, people, water, etc. immediately start floating around? Newton might have something to say about that.  There are certainly obvious explanations one could advance, though, at least for Archer, so I'm not seriously objecting -- just noting it with a sigh.)

In fact, everything up until Trip went over to the Ziralian ship worked reasonably well.  The rapid-fire "Enterprise has problems" sequence was a little overplayed, perhaps, but reasonably effective -- and I particularly liked Archer and T'Pol's combined efforts to find the ship hiding in their wake (even if Berman and Braga were a little too coy about avoiding the term "cloaking").  Trip's preparations for and nervousness about spending three days on the other ship seemed reasonable as well.

Once Trip actually met the Ziralians, however, things went downhill fast.  First, we got the weird perceptual tricks that turned out to be all in Trip's head.  I don't have any objection to having tricks played on me, at least in principle -- but I assume I was supposed to react with a "gosh, this ship is really alien!"  Instead, I found myself thinking, "Yep, this part was definitely Brannon's idea," along with wondering how director Mike Vejar was going to handle it all given his past work.  Odd tricks like that should pull you *into* the story, not push you out of it, and at least in my case the latter is what happened.

(A related issue:  if the only problem is that Trip's perceptions were skewed, why were we seeing *him* through those skewed perceptions as well?  Something there doesn't seem to fit.)

Trip's simple conversations with Ah'Len were somewhat more effective at getting across the "alien-ness" of the encounter, particularly the bit with the telepathic "game."  After my criticisms of Connor Trinneer last week, I should also give credit where credit is due:  Trip seemed quietly overwhelmed by it all, just trying to take it all in, and Trinneer did a nice job showing that.  I'm starting to wonder if his talents are better suited to quiet scenes than emotional outbursts, but I think it's a little early to make sweeping judgements like that.

Once Trip gets home, though, the episode goes downhill fast.  The "unexpected" part of the episode (at least, unexpected if you haven't seen the preview or heard all the publicity) is that Trip becomes pregnant as a result of his encounter with Ah'Len -- and as the saying goes, "much hilarity ensues."

That would be fine with me, except for the fact that almost none of it was actually *funny*.  In the "gory details" scene in sickbay, the only character who came off particularly well here was Dr. Phlox, who clearly just saw this as one more new thing to explore and to study -- and who also got off the best line of the scene with "we have no data on Ziralian mating practices, but surely it can't be *that* hard to remember..."  He was outweighed, unfortunately, by T'Pol, and this is starting to become a habit.  T'Pol disapproving I can understand; T'Pol making some sort of observation on human nature is reasonable; T'Pol being flat-out snide is not.  I don't even consider this one an issue with the actress -- I just think it's the wrong character for that dialogue.  (Archer could have tried to bring up the "she took you to see her planet?" issue as an old-buddy-joshing- around attempt to lighten the mood, for example.)

After that, there was little effort made to make this pregnancy seem remotely serious -- instead, it's an alleged laugh-fest.  Trip gets hyper-sensitive about safety features in engineering.  Trip gets suspicious that everyone's looking at him.  Trip suddenly gets a raging appetite for chicken tetrazini.  All very routine -- if you're a twenty-year-old sitcom.  In terms of actual amusement value, it fell just a bit short on humor and very long on stereotypes.

Were there bright spots?  Sure.  The fact that Trip's pregnancy was completely unintended by both parties, and that Trip didn't even know he'd had any sort of mating with Ah'Len, was a nice touch. Once the Ziralians are found hiding in the Klingons' wake, Archer's attempts at diplomacy seemed to ring true, and T'Pol's willingness to defend her captain against this particular threat was a welcome surprise.  Individual moments here and there were, if not truly shining, at least of decent quality; unfortunately, the reason they stuck out is that they were rare.

In the place of intended humor, what did we get?  Lots of stock devices for modern Trek, namely holodecks and technobabble.  In fairness, Trip's reaction to the Ziralians' technology was good; holodecks should evoke a certain sense of wonder, and we got that. On the other hand, I don't really see the sense of bringing yet another easy plot device into this series' time period, and I certainly wonder why we're now seeing the Klingons pick up holodeck technology two centuries ahead of humans.

The technobabble, on the other hand, went beyond gobbledygook into truly bad science.  "Resequenced photons" is one repeat offender, but the biggest offender was undoubtedly Ah'Len's "this is the closest we can come to water."  Boy, those hydrogen and oxygen atoms are just a real burden to find, aren't they?  Please; there's every evidence they had an oxygen atmosphere (if not, Trip wouldn't have survived regardless of whatever "decompression" he underwent), and hydrogen is the single most plentiful substance in the universe. Those eel-like creatures we saw in tanks had to be swimming in *something*, after all -- not to mention the smell of the sea air Trip said he could pick up during his holodeck visit.  Depressingly, the scene could have worked just fine with a realistic statement:  there are products right now that package water in gelatinous form so that there's little danger of spillage.  (Said gel is often used to keep crickets hydrated; they can drown themselves in water bowls.  No, I'm not kidding.)  Given what we saw with Archer's showering problems in the teaser, the Ziralians could easily have kept their water in gel form rather than as liquids prone to flowing everywhere; it still would have seemed convincingly alien, and would have made *sense* rather than seeming like an excuse to make Trip do jello shots.

Lastly, one of the other problems modern Trek has had is that of ignoring consequences.  TNG ran into it a fair bit, especially late in its run; DS9 was better than average, but still frustrated on occasion; Voyager excelled in avoiding consequences, enough to drive me away after two years.  Here, Trip's pregnancy winds up being a tempest in a teapot; he doesn't have to endure more than a week-plus of physical and emotional discomfort and a spot in the history books he didn't want.  If this had been an ongoing plot thread, that might have been groundbreaking -- it certainly would have been by Trek standards.  Instead, we get a quick pregnancy for laughs.  Sorry, folks -- "Red Dwarf" did it over ten years ago and was a hell of a lot funnier about it.

Other short thoughts:

-- One other technobabble issue:  Reed says that the "gravity plating" on a deck is offline, causing Archer's discomfiture.  Huh?  Gravity generators or something, sure; but individual deck plates?  It's not a big deal, but struck me as an iffy word choice.

-- The best line in the show was possibly "Thank you!" -- whether you pick Archer's after plummeting back to the floor or Trip's after hearing that the Ziralians have been found is up to you.

-- Worst line, other than the water bit:  "I can see my house from here!"  Please.

-- So, if the "baby" has none of Trip's actual genetic material, why is it characterized as a pregnancy?  Couldn't Phlox have said just as easily that Trip's body has been invaded by a parasitic organism that was feeding off him and would eventually emerge?  I suppose that wouldn't have been as "cute," though...

Fundamentally, then, "Unexpected" is a serious disappointment.  No regular character came off as horrible throughout -- Trip's early reactions and shock in sickbay are good, T'Pol's defense of Archer is as well, etc. -- but nobody escaped truly unscathed either.  The plot comes off as pretty forced, and the laughs were far fewer than intended.  I'm not worried about "Enterprise" as a series yet -- even if you think "Strange New World" was uneven as well, it's difficult if not impossible to find a single season of Trek that *doesn't* have two iffy shows in a row -- but I do hope we return to form shortly.

Wrapping up:

Writing:  Occasionally good if uneven on character, but funda-         mentally this was a mix of "let's show off a weird alien race"         with "let's do a pregnancy for laughs."  Neither worked all         that well. Directing:  Not bad, but surprisingly disappointing for Vejar -- the         perceptual shifts struck me as overdone, for one. Acting:   The guest cast struck me as weak, but the regulars came off         as well as they could given the material they had to work         with.

OVERALL:  3.5.  Here's hoping for better next week.

NEXT WEEK:

Enterprise searches for a lost colony.

Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department) tly...@alumni.caltech.edu        <*> "I hope you get pregnant, you little tart."                 -- alternate Rimmer to Lister, "Red Dwarf" -- Copyright 2001, 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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